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 is approximately five hours. 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 $20 USD ticket will get you day admission to all the sites of Anuradhapura itself, and admission is included in the Cultural Triangle ticket. Tickets can be purchased at the Archaeology Museum.
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.
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. Zam Zams has a wide assortment of products, from DVD-R discs to tupperware, and is a good place to look for anything you may have forgotten.
The Nuwara Wewa Guesthouse has quite nice, though somewhat westernized meals. Non-guests can eat at the restaurant. There are numerous other similar guest houses, and the Tissa Wewa guesthouse gets good reviews.
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.
Cargills Food City is a small grocery store which carries many Western products, as well as fresh produce and meat. You can get all the essentials for preparing your own meals here.
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 Carlsburg 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.
The Nuwara Wewa Guest House is quite nice, with a pool and excellent views of the Nuwara Wewa, which is a large irrigation tank and resembles a lake. There is also an on-site restaurant, and the rates are reasonable. There are also numerous other guest houses near Anuradhapura, and many more budget accommodations.
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 infront 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. 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 is a good internet cafe across the street from the bus station in the Anuradhapura New Town, but the internet connection in all of Sri Lanka is dial up, so please be patient.
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.
Nearby to Anuradhapura:
Tissawewa: This large irrigation tank was originally constructed in ancient times, but fell into disuse. It was rebuilt for irrigation purposes in the nineteenth century.
Mihintale: Located approximately 10km. (6.25 miles) to the east of Anuradhapura, Mihintale is a large rock outcrop, approximately 305m (1000 ft.) high. There are two stupas, a rock shelter with inscriptions, a temple with a large Buddha image, and an ancient hospital. There is an excellent view of the surrounding area from the top, and it is possible to see the three largest stupas of Anuradhapura emerging from the forest to the west. The general landscape is quite flat, with large rock outcrops and small mountains dotting the landscape. The parking lot is at the bottom of the mountain, and a large number of stairs must be climbed to reach the top, where the archaeological sites are located. Shoes and hats must be left at the top.
Ritigala: Located approximately 40km. (25 miles) to the southeast of Anuradhapura, on the Anuradhapura to Habarana Road, Ritigala is a small mountain approximately 765m. (2,514 feet) in height. The top of the mountain is a strict nature reserve, due to the unique climate associated with the gain in altitude. However, the mountain was the site of a series of orthodox forest ministries. There is a parking lot at the base of the mountain, and the visitor can walk up the Meditational Pathways to the various levels and Meditational Platforms. The walk is quite beautiful through a unique, forested environment. The visitor is awarded several nice views, especially from when the pathways cross a ravine. This is an excellent site to visit off the beaten path, as it is much quieter and less visited than Anuradhapura. It is quite likely that you will be the only foreigners visiting the site, should you choose to do so. However, don't expect the opulence seen at Anuradhapura. The orthodox monks did not believe in accumulating material wealth, but the forest environment is a perfect setting for the rock structures and long, winding paths.
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.