Anuradhapura is a city in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka.
It is possible to get to Anuradhapura on the A9 highway from Kandy. The drive from Colombo is approximately five hours by bus; or 4 hours by private vehicle. Buses travel along this highway, as well, and there is a bus station in the Anuradhapura New Town. Train service also runs to Anuradhapura from the south, with two stations being in and near Anuradhapura.
The A9 road will lead you out of the city, and you can find buses to Kandy, Colombo, and other destinations from the bus station in the Anuradhapura New Town. There are also two train stations in and around Anuradhapura, which can take you to Colombo.
Tuk tuks and buses are abundant. The New Town is relatively small, and can be walked from one end to another in half an hour. The Old Town (archaeological site) is quite large, and you can get around by tuk tuk.
The ancient city of Anuradhapura was first settled ca. 900 B.C., and served off and on as the capital of the Sinhalese Kingdom until ca. 1100 A.D., when the capital moved further south. The city was quite large in its heyday, and so there is a lot of archaeology to see.
A $25 USD ticket will get you day admission to all the sites of Anuradhapura. Tourist from SAARC countries pay half the price. Tickets can be purchased at the Archaeology Museum. Alternatively, most tuk-tuk drivers can get you in without paying the ticket. Some of them offer to take you in and tour you around for a price lesser than the price of the ticket. The ticket checks take the form of several (slightly unfair) roadblocks targeting foreigners. If you are on foot, or on/in a vehicle, you will be stopped at a couple of roadblocks and asked to show or buy a ticket. One easy way to avoid the ticket checks (which are not at any of the 'sights' themselves, only at the road-side ticket offices) is to walk around them on foot. The whole site is not too big to walk around despite what the guidebook says and on foot it's easy to evade the men who claim that you cannot use the public highway because you are both foreign and have not paid... Although I suspect if you were stubborn enough there is little they could do to stop you. Alternatively, borrow someone's ticket from yesterday, and give some story at the roadblock that you went round everything yesterday but the one sight on the other side of the office (and don't want to pay again) and show them your evidence of having paid the previous day - this (with persistence) should also work: particularly at the northern end (which is the hardest one to walk round). Decide for yourself between supporting local economy or supporting 'maintenance' (see if you can spot some) of historical monuments.
Apart from seeing the archaeology of the ancient city, it is possible to explore the area, and to spend time in the Anuradhapura New Town. There are many shops in the New Town, as well as a market, and the interested visitor may wish to patronize some of these.
The ancient holy site of Mihintale is about 12km to the east and easily accessible for a day trip.
Souvenir vendors are abundant at the popular sites within the Anuradhapura old town, as well as at Mihintale. You can go to them to purchase postcards, replica artifacts, carved wooden figurines, earrings, masks, and any number of other items. Vendors will also often follow you around, and will sometimes not leave you alone when you say that you are not interested. Some vendors attempt to sell authentic ancient artifacts. It is illegal to remove items older than 100 years old from the country, and you may face up to three years in Sri Lankan prisons if you are caught attempting to do so. Besides this, the looting of archaeological artifacts can lead to the destruction of archaeological sites, the loss of important artifacts, and ultimately, the loss of valuable archaeological knowledge. Please do not support looting by purchasing authentic artifacts. The vendor should confirm that they are replicas, and they should be priced as such.
There are numerous shops in the Anuradhapura New Town. Apart from food markets, there are photo shops, sari shops, and several others. Essentials can be purchased from Cargills Food City or at one of several pharmacies.
There are many hotels (Sri Lankan English for a small restaurant) in the Anuradhapura New Town, which offer an authentic Sri Lankan meal, at quite a good price. Smaller boutiques offer quick eats, such as pastries and rolls, which are also quite good and cheap. Stores and small markets in the New Town and surrounding area often carry snack food such as chips, chocolate bars and nuts, as well as cold drinks. Some also have fresh baking, and many markets sell fresh fruit. Lunch packets, generally sold between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. are an excellent lunch option. Unless you are a fan of spices, ask the server to not put in too many chiles when possible, as authentic Sri Lankan food is very spicy.
The drinking of alcohol in public is not an acceptable practice in Sri Lanka, and there are not many bars, and they tend to be somewhat secluded. Westernized Guest Houses have a full bar, and Lion and Carlsberg are the most common beers. There are two alcohol shops in the Anuradhapura New Town, where you can purchase arrack, a spirit made from coconut which is popular throughout Sri Lanka, as well as rum, whiskey, beer, wine, and other alcoholic drinks.
Non-alcoholic drinks are abundant. Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola, and Elephant soft drinks are sold at small shops everywhere, and water, juice, and other drinks can also be purchased at these. It is advisable to not drink unfiltered tap water, so it is a good idea to buy bottled water from small shops, or to buy large bottles from Cargills if you will be staying for a while.
There are numerous guest houses near Anuradhapura, and many more budget accommodations.
If you don't have and idea of where you'll be staying, any tuk-tuk driver will be happy to offer you rooms that he or his brother is renting, usually offering very basic comfort at a reasonable price (A price negotiation is necessary). Usually he'll take you to see the room for free before committing to rent one.
It is respectful, and indeed necessary, to remove shoes and hats when walking around sites of Buddhist veneration. The ground, especially the sand, can get quite hot, so step lightly and seek shade if you must.
It is also polite to circumambulate to the right; that is, walk to the left around the object so that your right hand, considered to be the clean hand, is constantly facing the object.
Women's shoulders should also be covered when exploring Buddhist sites, and respectful clothing should be worn. Sri Lanka is a very polite society, so please dress appropriately. One is also not supposed to turn their back towards a representation of the Buddha.
It is generally fine to take pictures, but be careful not to take any pictures of people in front of images of the Buddha.
Beware of the monkeys. Monkeys, particularly macaques (small, red-faced monkeys) can get quite aggressive, and have been known to steal personal belongs, including cameras, if left unattended.
Anuradhapura has more malaria than just about anywhere else in Sri Lanka. Certainly the most in places frequented by tourists. Be sure to talk to your doctor before departure, as there is little prevention available within Sri Lanka, and it must be started in advance. [UPDATE] In last 2-3 years there are very few case malaria have been reported in Sri Lanka, and there is no need to have prophylactic treatment for malaria when visiting Anuradapura, on the other hand wherever in Sri Lanka there is always a risk of Dengue fever. CDC seems not to mention malaria as a risk in Sri Lanka anymore.
Also, be careful not to become a snakebite victim. Avoid high brush without proper clothing, and don't stick your hand into dark or dim holes (including stone and masonry). If bitten, seek prompt medical attention regardless of whether there is pain and swelling.
There are many internet cafes in the Anuradhapura New Town. Anuradhapura New Town and suburbs are covered by most broadband internet service providers in Sri Lanka. Therefore reliable, low cost, high speed internet connections are available in many places.
There are numerous places from which to place an international phone call. Look for the "IDD" sign. There is a post office in Anuradhapura, as well.
However, pre-paid GSM mobile connections are almost free and charges are dirt cheap in Sri Lanka. It is more advisable to bring in a compatible handset and buy a new connection. It provides you instant access to IDD calls and high speed internet.
Nearby to Anuradhapura:
There are numerous other small towns and villages in the area around Anuradhapura, and it is possible to come across modern-day monasteries and temples, as well. It is worth exploring the area, as there are some beautiful and picturesque areas around Anuradhapura.