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The ruins of an usurper king’s palace, ancient rock murals, and one of Sri Lanka’s best views in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sri Lanka’s most identifiable landmark, Sigiriya Rock, looms above the surrounding plains: an ideal place for a fortress. However, when the usurper King Kasyapa built his base here in the 5th century, he didn’t merely build a fortress. Instead, he built a grand palace complete with pleasure grounds below. Today only ruins of the palace remain, but features such as a pair of ginormous stone lion’s paws give you a glimpse of its former splendor.

Evidence suggests that the site had religious significance as far back as the 3rd century BC, but it’s the 5th century ruins that attract the most attention today, and warrant its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. After the fall of King Kasyapa, the site was then used as a Buddhist monastery until it was abandoned in the 14th century. One thing that remains unchanged over the centuries is the uninterrupted views from the top, over miles of jungle and rolling hills. The rock sits proudly in the middle of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, which encompasses the relics of the Sinhalese Kingdom including Dambulla, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura.

Climbing Sigiriya Rock

If you simply set off to climb to the top of the rock without stopping, it will take about half an hour. However, the journey to the top is arguably best enjoyed with a local guide, who can show you the series of archaeological highlights along the way. You’ll pass through terraced gardens, cave temples, shrines perched on boulder tops, and a series of frescoes painted into the rock wall. Dating back to the 5th century, these painterly works detail a series of women possibly in worship, although very little is known of their origin.

You’ll also pass the Mirror Wall: a wall of stone so highly polished, it’s thought that the king could admire himself as he walked by. The highly polished surface provided irresistible to 8th- and 9th-century vandals, who wrote poems, declarations of love and, of course, their names, all over it. It’s now one of the only remaining sources of Anuradhapura poetry. While the climb itself is a series of well-maintained staircases, many cling to the side of the rock with steep drops below, an experience best avoided if you’re not a fan of heights.

The Water Gardens and Sigiriya Museum

Sigiriya Rock FortressIf climbing Sigiriya isn’t for you, this is still a site worth visiting. In fact, as most visitors head straight up the rock, before continuing on their journey, you’ll find that the surrounding geometrically designed gardens and temples tend to remain quiet. The gardens are touted as some of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world, and include a series of deep, angular pools which once housed small summer palaces.

Sigiriya Museum houses some of the sculptures, jewels, human remains and tools that were found during the various archaeological excavations of the site — which are still ongoing. And, if you decided not to climb, there’s a recreation of the murals that grace the side of the rock, as well as a video showing the views from the top.

In and around Sigiriya

A number of hotels and resorts are tucked into the countryside surrounding Sigiriya, making it a comfortable base for a few days. As you’ll see from the top of Sigiriya Rock, the surrounding plains are a rural landscape of paddy fields, small farming villages and swathes of forest. You can take a guided walk through Ehelagala, a village close to the fortress, where you can try some homemade Sri Lankan delicacies, before riding through the fields on a bullock cart.

For something a little more active, you could take a guided trek farther into the jungle, where you’ll pass small hamlets dotted with tree houses where farmers spend the night protecting their crops from wild elephants. The trail finishes at Thalkotewewa Tank, an ancient man-made lake with views across to Sigiriya Rock.

Best time to visit Sigiriya

It can get very hot and sticky in Sri Lanka’s central plains, so we recommend visiting Sigiriya Rock from December to April when rainfall is relatively low and temperatures are comfortably warm. If you’re visiting en route to the East Coast from June to August, you’ll find rainfall at its lowest, but visit in the early morning or late afternoon when it’s cooler.

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Audley Travel Specialist Niall

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Suggested itineraries featuring Sigiriya

Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in Sigiriya, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.

Map of Sigiriya

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    Places near Sigiriya

    Accommodation choices for Sigiriya

    We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Sigiriya. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.

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    Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Sigiriya, and which use the best local guides.

    • Sigiriya Rock Fortress and Polonnaruwa
      Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Sri Lanka

      Sigiriya Rock Fortress and Polonnaruwa

      Sigiriya Rock Fortress and Polonnaruwa

      You will start your day by visiting the mighty Sigiriya Rock Fortress which dominates the surrounding landscape. For many visitors, this is the most impressive site in Sri Lanka with stunning views from the top.

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