Sigiriya, a sleepy, picturesque village in central Sri Lanka. As the sun rises on this tiny Sri Lankan village, it is bathed in a misty pale light that reflects off the waterlogged rice paddies and serene lakes. Sigiriya’s diverse wildlife comes to life to greet the morning and the sounds of bicycle bells and bird song drift down the backstreets. Getting up early is a treat, not a chore here, and you will want to savour the cooler air while it lasts.
Sigiriya is one of the most visited places in Sri Lanka due to the famous Sigiriya rock, but many people don’t know that there are a lot more things to do in Sigiriya than first meets the eye.
Sigiriya was the first destination we visited on our trip to Sri Lanka, and it remains one of our favourite places to stay for many reasons. We don’t want you to miss out on some of the best experiences Sri Lanka has to offer, so we have put together the ultimate guide for things to so in Sigiriya below. Hopefully you will be convinced that it deserves more than just a day visit!
Things To Do In Sigiriya
#1 Of Things To Do In Sigiriya: Sigiriya Rock Fortress (Otherwise known as Lion Rock)
Entrance fee: 4,600 rupees / £30
It’s the front page image of every travel guide and Sri Lanka blog post-Sigiriya rock fortress is iconic and one of the number one things to do in Sigiriya. When you see it for the first time it is pretty darn impressive. It rises imposingly out of the ground, and looks equally as mysterious and dramatic from close up and from a distance. In fact, I’d probably say I preferred the view from a distance, as the flat scenery all around only adds to it’s wonder.
We weren’t really sure what to expect of our visit to Sigiriya rock. We had of course seen the incredible pictures, but knew nothing more about what we were paying such a steep entrance fee to see. We debated for a long time whether it was worth paying, but our trip to Sri Lanka was a once in a lifetime kind of trip, and we didn’t want to leave with any regrets. We’re glad we spent the money, and here is why!
What To Expect From Sigiriya Rock
Sigiriya rock fortress is an ancient rock fortress near the town of Dambulla in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. It is a site of huge historical and archaeological importance, built on and around a massive column of rock that is nearly 200 metres high.
The site was selected by an ancient king as the place where he wanted his new capital to be built, and he chose the prime estate for his palace-the top of Sigiriya rock. On a small plateau about halfway up the side of this rock he built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion.
The remains of the palace can be found at the very top of the rock, and the lion entrance is amazingly preserved. You will have to walk up one giant stair master to get there, but the views alone are worth it! It is fascinating to walk around the ruins of the palace and imagine what an incredible place it must once have been.
Sigiriya is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site, and one of the most visited places in Sri Lanka. We can see why!
But How Was Sigiriya Rock Formed?
A little geography for you! We were fascinated to find out that Sigiriya Rock was formed around 2 billion years ago! It is a large block of molten magma that hardened and formed a plug in a volcano. The whole area was once full of volcanoes, but these have now long gone, leaving only the towering Sigiriya Rock and it’s smaller sister Pidurangala Rock.
When should you visit Sigiriya Rock?
Our advice is to go early in the morning, as early in the morning as you can drag yourself out of bed! It gets very, very hot here, especially if it is the first place you have arrived and you aren’t yet adjusted to the weather.
You really don’t want to be walking up Sigiriya rock in the midday heat, as I mentioned before it is one huge staircase and will be pretty exhausting no matter what time of day you arrive. Save yourself a little sweating and get there early!
It also gets very busy, being one of the top things to do in Sigiriya, so try and beat the crowds by forgoing that lie in!
How long does climbing Sigiriya Rock take?
Obviously this depends on how quickly you walk! It took us around an hour to reach the lion statue, and then a lot of faffing taking photos and taking in the views at the top. The whole trip took us about three hours in total.
You could easily spend longer here and likewise, you could rush around in less! If you are short on time then try to spend a little less time here, as there are so many other great things to do in Sigiriya that you will want to really maximise your time!
Top tip: Check public holiday dates as this place can get really busy. We heard of tourists standing in one huge staircase queue to reach the top, which wouldn’t be much fun in the unforgiving sun. As we were leaving it started getting a lot busier too, another reason why earlier is better!
What time does Sigiriya Rock open?
Throughout most of the year, Sigiriya Rock is open from 7am till 5:30pm.
Our advice, as mentioned earlier, is to get there as early as possible to avoid both the heat and the crowds.
Sigiriya Rock Essentials
Sigiriya Rock isn’t a place of religious worship, so covering up isn’t necessary. That being said, there isn’t much shelter at certain times of the day, so it might be handy to have something to cover yourself from the sun. Also, if you plan on going straight to Polonnaruwa then you will need to wear clothes that are appropriate for visiting religious temples.
We recommend you wear shoes you can walk in, the stairs are uneven at times and there are a lot of them!
Bring sun cream, a sunhat and something light to cover yourself in case you’re out in the sun with no protection.
Obviously bring water, and if you skipped breakfast like we did to get there early, then why not bring a picnic breakfast to enjoy at the top?
How to get to Sigiriya Rock?
This depends on where you staying. We stayed in Sigiriya town itself and would highly recommend this option. We have included some potential options for you below to help you choose.
If you’re staying in Sigiriya
If you’re staying in Sigiriya town then you can take a tuk tuk to the entrance gates. Arrange one the night before from the tuk tuk parking area in town. If you’re feeling energetic then it’s more than possible to walk to Sigiriya Rock from most places in town. We’ve included a map below of the route you need to take.
If you’re staying further afield
If you’re staying in Polonnaruwa then a tuk tuk or taxi is still a good option. You can book them for the whole day, and see more of the things to do in Sigiriya before you return.
Top tip: If you’re coming from elsewhere, like Columbo or Dambulla, then it may be worth taking a tour. There are numerous different options so you can find the perfect one to suit you, and they all include skip the queue tickets and a delicious lunch! We like the sound of this tour, as it includes pick up from your hotel, a tour of Polonnaruwa, tickets and tax, lunch and an English speaking guide. We would have loved someone there to explain it all to us as we explored.
#2 best things to do in Sigiriya: Pidurangala Rock
Entrance fee: 500 rupees / £3.25
This is a popular hike and another one of the top things to do in Sigiriya for a reason. The rock itself isn’t that impressive compared to Sigiriya Rock, but the stunning views of Sigiriya that it provides make it a huge tourist attraction. If you are on a tight budget then this is definitely a better option for you than Sigiriya Rock, as it only costs around £3.
Although this walk is mostly very easy, there is a small section of scrambling to reach the viewpoint that was a little tricky. It is worth bearing this in mind before you go if you are a little less sure on your feet, or you are climbing with young children.
I would probably say that I preferred the views from Pidurangala, so if you’re limited on time then maybe consider adding this to your list of things to do in Sigiriya rather than Sigiriya Rock itself. If you’re in it for the history though, then choose Sigiriya Rock!
What to expect from your visit
The ticket office is part of a temple, so you will walk through the shrine to get to the route. The path is well trodden and easy to make out, although there is little in the way of actual signage. Stick to the most obvious path and you should be able to find your way!
Once you near the top you will see the path blocked by huge boulders. This is the tricky bit of the trek, because you have no choice but to scramble up them. It is possible though, and we even saw some more adventurous hikers manage it with a baby!
How long does the trek take?
It’s a short ‘trek’, taking around 20-30 minutes depending on how quickly you walk and how many stops you take along the way. To be honest, there isn’t too much to see on the walk up, just a statue and a small pool, so you probably won’t need to stop and take too many photos. It isn’t the walk itself that’s the interesting bit, it’s the views when you get to the top that you’re climbing for!
When to go to Pidurangala Rock
A lot of people get up at the crack of dawn (or before!) and aim to get to the top for sunrise. We had planned to do the same but jet lag had other ideas, and we’re pretty pleased it did.
We got there just as sunrise was over, and as we walked up there were crowds of people coming down. When we reached the top there was only one couple left up there and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We didn’t experience sunrise up there, but the solitude was lovely.
We have also heard that people go up there for sunset. We imagine this would be pretty special too, though make sure you have return transport waiting for you at the bottom as there are elephants that roam Sigiriya village at night and they aren’t too friendly if you accidentally get in their way.
In summary, I don’t think there would be a bad time to go, baring during the midday heat. Aim for sunrise or just after, or the cooler late afternoon.
What to take
The entrance to Pidurangala Rock is through a temple so you will need to take something to cover up your knees and shoulders for the first part of the trek. Make sure you also wear good walking shoes as a lot of the ground is uneven and you will need good shoes to climb the rocks at the top.
You will need sun protection for the way back down, even if you go early morning. The sun is strong here and you will feel it! Obviously you will also need water, and take something to eat if you’ve skipped breakfast!
How to get to Pidurangala Rock
Coming from Sigiriya the best option is tuk tuk. You can walk to Pidurangala from the entrance of Sigiriya and it’s about a 30-40 minute walk.
#3 Of Things To Do In Sigiriya: The Ancient City Of Polonnaruwa
Entrance fee: 3,920 rupees or £25
Polonnaruwa was the capital city hundreds of years ago and is home to some pretty impressive ruins. We thought it was a little like a smaller Angkor Wat, with intricate carvings and crumbling temples. The monkeys are the only residents there now, and it’s a show in itself to watch them swinging all over the temples like something out of The Jungle Book. It is definitely one of the top things to do in Sigiriya and should not be missed!
There are places to stay in Polonnaruwa itself, or if coming from Sigiriya, it’s about an hours drive. A driver for the day should cost you around 6,000 rupees / £40 from Sigiriya- you might even spot elephants on the way!
Some tips for your visit to Polonnaruwa:
The site itself is HUGE. You will not want to walk as the temples are so spread out, instead hire a bicycle or a tuk tuk to take you round. A bicycle should cost you around 300 Rupees, haggle the price down as they will start higher!
Top Tip: Bare in mind that the entrance is not the same as the exit, so if you hire a bike you will need to ride back on yourself after you leave the temples to drop it back off.
Normally we would be all for cycling as we love an excuse to exercise and the chance to explore places on our own. However, because we were staying in Sigiriya we hired a tuk tuk to take us there and all the way round, and we were so relieved we did. The heat of the day is intense in this area of Sri Lanka, and the temples offer little to no shade. We were exhausted from the heat and always pleased to get back to the shade of the tuk tuk.
The ticket counter and museum (small but worth a look) is actually a couple of blocks away from the main entrance, which makes it even more sensible to hire a tuk tuk or taxi driver. Don’t forget to pick up a map at the counter that will show you where all the temples are! Remember that there is one temple to the right as you enter. Make sure you visit that one first as all the others are to the left.
You’ll need about 3 hours to see the ancient city, but it’s so big that you could easily spend longer there if you wanted.
Keep your ticket handy. They’ll want to see it at the museum, the entrance to the city grounds, and to see the famous Buddha statues.
Make sure you bring water (lots of it), as there are very few places to get more inside the ancient ruins. We would recommend you also bring sun cream and something to cover up for going inside any of the temples, and to help shield you from the sun.
Where To Stay
You can stay in Polonnaruwa town. It’s busy and bustling and there’s a lot going on there so it might be best to split your time between here and the much quieter Sigiriya. You can check out accommodation options here!
#4 Of Things To Do In Sigiriya: Dambulla Cave Temple
Entrance fee: 1,500 rupees / £10
Dambulla cave temple is one of the best preserved temples in the country. It’s only an hours tuk tuk ride from Sigiriya and is worth the trip if you have time.
The temple is covered with intricate murals covering the surface of thousands of square meters. It has a total of five cave complexes, each one full of Buddha statues and paintings (over one hundred!).
Be prepared to take your shoes off as you enter and check them in at the shoe counter for a few rupees, and again, make sure you cover up as this is a religious site.
It’s worth hiring a guide to show you around. You can hire one at the caves themselves for around 1,000 rupees or take a tour from Sigiriya to save you the hassle of finding transport, queuing for tickets etc. An English speaking guide is included in the tour, and will be able to teach you more about the spot’s incredible historical significance.
#5 Of Things To Do In Sigiriya: Minneriya National Park
Entrance fee: 2,300 rupees / £15
This national park in the north central region of Sri Lanka is a feeding ground for elephants from all around during the dry season. It provides brilliant opportunities to see these incredible animals in the wild and is a little different to some of the other things to do in Sigiriya.
It’s not as large or popular as Yala National Park or Udawalawe, but is a smaller alternative for those in the area interested in a safari, and a less crowded option due to the fact that it is less well known.
You will need to book a jeep to drive you and pay entrance to the park (around £15) on top of that. Obviously the more people you can find to share a jeep with you, the cheaper it will be.
We ran out of time on our visit to Sigiriya, but we really wanted to do this well reviewed full day tour that was recommended to us. It includes a canoe ride and lunch in a local village, and is something a little different to other trips you will find around Sri Lanka.
#6 Of Things To Do In Sigiriya: Kaudulla National Park
Entrance fee: 2,300 rupees / £15
Kaudulla National Park is another of the major places to see the gathering of elephants. The gathering takes place in August, so if you happen to be visiting during that time you won’t want to miss it!
As well as elephant spotting, it is also an important location for bird watching, and there are lots of national species here to look out for. The National Park has become an increasingly popular thing to do in Sigiriya because of this.
Just like Minneriya National Park, you’ll need to rent a jeep for the day. You can do this at the entrance of Kaudulla National Park, just explain to your driver what you are planning and he will help.
#7 Of Things To Do In Sigiriya: Hire A Bike And Explore The Rice Terraces
Sigiriya village is a beautiful spot, and not just for the views of Sigiriya Rock. Exploring the place by bicycle would make for a half day well spent, and if you’re feeling energetic you could use this mode of transport to get you around the local attractions.
Much of the beauty of Sigiriya can be found in the surrounding countryside, where there are pretty rice terraces and lakes, and local farm houses adding to the feel. We loved the sights in the early morning light, when the world was waking up. Be careful not ride around after dark, as elephants roam the area. The locals are very quick to warn you of the dangers.
You may well be able to hire bikes through your hotel or guest house, but if you can’t then take a walk down the main street and there are a few small shops offering bikes for rent.
#8 Of Things To Do In Sigiriya: Go On A Hot Air Balloon Ride
The Sri Lankan ballooning season runs through from November to April, and is certainly one of the most unique and special things to do in Sigiriya!
A few local companies operate throughout the area, each offering sunrise hot air balloon rides. Unfortunately we visited out of season and so didn’t get the opportunity to try this, though it looks incredible if you manage to get a clear day.
Obviously prices aren’t cheap, but it may be worth it for a special treat!
#9 Of Things To Do In Sigiriya: Take A Day Trip To Kandy!
If you are planning on staying in Sigiriya for your whole trip to Sri Lanka then we would highly recommend a day trip to Kandy, in the mountains of Sri Lanka. It will give you a taste of Sri Lanka’s diverse scenery and culture, and the chance to experience a vibrant and bustling Sri Lankan town.
Kandy is most famed for it’s Buddhist monuments (visit the Temple of the Tooth), but we were captivated by the incredible lake at the centre of the town, home to hundreds of bats that fly around at sunset (cover your head!!)
#10 Best Things To Do In Sigiriya: Climb Rose Quartz Mountain
Rose Quartz Mountain is the largest of its kind in all of Southeast Asia, and is a really unique thing to do while you’re here. It costs £5 to enter, and is a 45 minute drive away in Jathika Namal Uyana Reserve.
The route takes you through a forest, past some ruins that you get to explore, and then up a mountain made entirely of Rose Quartz. The mountain isn’t pink as such, but it does have a slight pink tone to it and you can see the quartz beneath your feet.
The hike isn’t too difficult, but wear walking shoes or trainers and don’t forget sun cream and water! The route takes about an hour or so to walk.
To get to Rose Quartz Mountain enter in Jathika Namal Uyana on Google Maps. Jathika Nmal Uyana is the name of the forest and the mountain which is where you start the walk. Your tuk tuk driver will be familiar with the destination and will be able to guide you to the entrance.
#11 Best Things To Do In Sigiriya: Go Watch A Cricket Match!
Sri Lankans are famous for their cricket, and will enjoy telling you how much they love it at any opportunity! Going to see a live cricket match in Sri Lanka is an incredible experience to have, even if you’re not a huge sports fan.
Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium is about half an hour from Sigiriya, and is well worth a visit. You can find out if there any upcoming matches here or find out more about Sr Lanka cricket on their official website here.
#12 Best Things To Do In Sigiriya: Discover More At The Sigiriya Museum
The Sigiriya Archeological Museum is in the same building as the Sigiriya Rock ticket office and is covered by the same entrance ticket, so you may as well take a little detour on your way to Sigiriya Rock to find out all about it’s historical and geographical importance.
It offers more in depth history about the Sigiriya Citadel, as well as information about the Lion Rock Fortress and ruins they have unearthed nearby. It is probably a good idea to visit the museum first, so that you are armed with all the information you need before you visit the site itself.
#13 Best Things To Do In Sigiriya: Dine Out In Relaxed Surroundings
Sigiriya has a few lovely little restaurants, ideally suited to backpackers and tourists. Out of all the places I have spent a first night in, after arriving from a long haul flight, Sigiriya was definitely the most relaxed and welcoming. Turning up for dinner in the main part of the village wasn’t stressful at all. There are only a few options to choose from, and all of them are great. They have pretty little balconies that are atmospheric and nicely lit, and they all serve a good range of western and Sri Lankan cuisine.
I wouldn’t come here expecting super high quality food and service, but expect to feel relaxed and looked after! Ahinsa Hotel is a good spot to meet other travellers, and seemed quite busy in the evenings. Chooty Hotel Restaurant and the New Sigiriya Cafe are on the opposite side of the street. Chooty is a great lunch spot as it has views of Sigiriya Rock from the balcony.
Where To Stay In Sigiriya
You won’t be short of somewhere to stay in Sigiriya. There is something for every budget, from the most simple home stays to luxury hotels. We have listed some options for you below, depending on your budget.
Budget Accommodation In Sigiriya
There are even cheaper camping options if you’re happy to get up close and personal with the local wildlife! Just search for the cheapest options on air bnb or booking.com to find them!
- Jaana Guest House, from £8 a night
- Nethmi Home Stay, from £8 a night
- Sigiri Tarushan Home Stay, from £9 a night
Mid-Range Hotels In Sigiriya
- Sigiri Aliya Tree House, from £16 a night
- Ali Kele Hotel, from £24 a night
- Castle Rock Sigiriya, from £20 a night
Luxury Resorts In Sigiriya
- Il Frangipane, from £39 a night
- Sat Nam Village Eco-hotel, from £44 a night
- Roo Mansala Boutique Villas, from £97 a night
How To Get To Sigiriya
Sigiriya is a popular tourist destination and so, as you would expect, it has good transport links. There are various options which we have listed below.
Buses run regularly from all major towns and cities in Sri Lanka. They are probably the cheapest option available to you, especially if you are travelling solo. They are sometimes an interest experience, and not always the most pleasant, but they will get you where you need to be! We used Rome2Rio to work out routes.
There are plenty of taxis that will drive you anywhere in Sri Lanka. Make sure you negotiate a price first and stick to it. If they won’t offer you a good price then the next taxi driver will happily snap you up. Uber said it was available in Sri Lanka when we were there but we never had any luck finding a driver in the area. It may have become more common over the last year. If it does become more popular over there this would be the best option, as you will know exactly what the going rate is.
You can actually rent your own tuk tuk in Sri Lanka, though the roads here are pretty terrifying so I’m not sure it would make for the most relaxing holiday! Better would be to hire a tuk tuk driver. They will drive you much longer distances that you would think possible in the little things, and they are cheaper (and obviously less comfortable) than a taxi.
The Best Option
If you’re flying into Sri Lanka and only planning on visiting Sigiriya, then it’s best just to grab some transport straight from the airport, rather than heading into a busy city like Colombo. We got a taxi straight from the airport to Sigiriya which, at the time of writing, came in at around 5,000 to 7,000 Rupees (roughly £30-£40). Between 2 or more people, that is very affordable, especially for the distance you are travelling. The ride should take no more than 4 hours.
Sigiriya is still one our favourite places to visit in Sri Lanka. It has culture, scenery and wildlife all in one, and if you stay here you certainly won’t find yourself short of things to do in Sigiriya! It should be a must visit on anyone’s Sri Lanka bucket list, and it definitely deserves more than a day trip!
As you can see from our list, there are countless things to do in Sigiriya and many more that haven’t made the short cut! If you’ve visited Sigiriya and think there is something we have missed, please leave a comment below-we would love to hear from you!
For help planning a trip to Sri Lanka, read also:
- 5 days in Sri Lanka: The ultimate guide
- Backpacking Sri Lanka: A two week itinerary
- How to travel on Sri Lanka’s most beautiful railways
For Sri Lanka’s best treks check out:
- Trekking in the Knuckles Mountain Range
- Lover’s Leap waterfall, Nuwara Eliya
- Trekking Horton Plains
- Lipton’s Seat