The charming city of Anuradhapura has been a vital part of Sri Lanka since the 4th century BC, having been one of the ancient capitals of the country. Now it is one of the most exciting places to visit and the perfect location to absorb ancient Sri Lankan culture.
The city is divided into two main parts; the Ancient City and the New Town. In leafy New Town tourists can find many friendly homestays and guesthouses within easy reach of the main street. The centre of Anuradhapura gives you a great taste of true Sri Lankan life. Walking through the city you can stop at traditional bakeries, fend off tuk tuk drivers and even enjoy the air-con of the modern shopping mall. The bakeries here are some of the best in Sri Lanka and are a must if you want to try the incredible local food – the vegetable roti is beyond imagination!
The tourism industry is relatively new to Anuradhapura and so there isn’t a huge amount of choice for budget travellers, but it is possible to find good value accommodation if you venture slightly further out of the centre. As with the rest of Sri Lanka the key is to stay in guesthouses and eat traditional food.
The other must-see part of Anuradhapura is the Ancient Precinct, which is the reason why so many people travel to the city. The best way to view the sacred town is by bicycle. Whilst you can of course hire a car for the day, it is more enjoyable and much cheaper to hire a bike. Start your day off at the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree, where Buddha reached Enlightenment. Once you discover your inner Zen, cycle over the grass paths to join the local pilgrims visiting the Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba; a religious and architectural landmark.
Head back towards the main road and go north towards the sacred Moonstone, stop off at the incredible brick Jetavanaramaya Stupa; a shrine, the tallest building, and the subject of much controversy over the years on your way.
Cycling from sight to sight gives you a real feeling of adventure and allows you to spot native animals like the monkeys and lizards who share the city with tourists and locals, just be careful of the komodo dragons which occasionally wander across the road! You should also venture off the typical tourist track and enjoy meeting the smiling locals.
Anuradhapura is particularly important to visit as in many ways it represents the newly established peace in Sri Lanka. Until 2009 a civil war was fought between the government and a terrorist group called the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). Most of the fighting happened in the north and east and much of the country was too dangerous for locals – let alone tourists – to visit. Since the end of the war the country has begun to open up to tourism and Anuradhapura now welcomes visitors. The slightly higher presence of security forces is enough to remind you of Sri Lanka’s past but also highlights how special it is to explore the city. Anuradhapura is a definitely a treat not to be missed!