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21 Things to do in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

21 Things to do in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

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Sigiriya, Sri Lanka, is a small town that has become famous because of one particular attraction – Sigiriya Rock. It’s easily one of the most amazing places to see in Sri Lanka.

Although I loved my visit to the rock temple, there are so many other things to do in Sigiriya and nearby that I loved too!

In fact, Sigirya became one of my favorite places in Sri Lanka. Not only are there three national parks nearby, but the delicious food and friendly locals made it a trip to remember.

I loved Sigiriya, and I discovered a side to the town that most people don’t about. With all of the exploring I did, I found 21 amazing things to do in Sigiriya (and only one of them involves climbing Sigiriya Rock.)

So, if you want to explore the cultural center of Sri Lanka, then this list of places to visit in Sigiriya and things to do is a great place to start!

Things to do in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

1. Climb the world-famous Sigiriya Rock

Sigiriya Rock Fortress
Sigiriya Rock Fortress

As I said before, the main attraction in Sigiriya is Sigiriya Rock. This rock is huge and is really a sight to see if you ask me. From miles away you can spot Sigiriya Rock seemingly out of place as it protrudes high into the sky.

King Kashyapa chose the rock back in 477 AD to be his new capital. He built the palace on Sigiriya Rock, and about halfway up, he also built an enormous lion used as a gateway. The entire structure is very impressive, and before climbing the rock, I recommend you visit the museum below to read up on the area.

I myself compare Sigiriya Rock to places such as Machu Picchu simply because of the huge effort that was needed to construct such a large palace on a free-standing rock.

It takes around 2 hours to climb Sigiriya Rock if you take your time and enjoy the views. However, some people do take longer, especially if you’re visiting during the hottest part of the day (there are 1,200 steps.)
The entrance fee to Sigiriya Rock is $30 USD and includes a visit to the Sigiriya Museum.

Check out this awesome full-day tour to Sigiriya Rock as well as a village in Sigiriya with a knowledgeable guide!

2. Watch the sunset from the top of Pidurangala Rock

Sunset up at Pidurangala Rock, Sri Lanka
Looking over at Lion rock from Pidurangala Rock at sunset

Don’t just climb Sigiriya Rock! Be sure to also climb the nearby Pidurangala Rock which sits right across from Sigiriya Rock.

Pidurangala Rock is the lesser-known rock temple in Sigiriya. Although to many, Sigiriya Rock is the highlight of their visit, Pidurangala Rock is also well worth a visit and one of the best things to do in Sigiriya.

The best time to visit is at sunset. Not only because the temperature is cooler, but the views are so much better. The walk up Pidurangala Rock takes around 30 to 40 minutes and is all stairs until the last section where you must climb over some boulders.

It costs 500 LKR (much cheaper than Sigiriya Rock) to enter. The ticket office for Pidurangala Rock opens at 5 am every day and closes at 6 pm. Along the walk expect to see monkeys, lizards, and maybe even a snake or two!

At the beginning of the walk, there is a strict dress code because you need to walk through a temple. Your shoulders and knees must be covered, and you cannot wear a hat. Once you walk through the temple grounds though, you can wear whatever you like. I recommend bringing a sarong to cover up for the temple section and then removing it afterward.

If you plan on visiting both rock temples, then consider joining this tour which takes you to both with a local guide.

3. Check out Pethikada paintings and crafts

Pethikada paintings and crafts
Some work from Pethikada paintings and crafts. Photo credit: Pethikada paintings and crafts

Pethikada is a small art gallery right in the center of town which has become somewhat famous through word of mouth. A local man named Jagath paints all of the artwork himself, and his style of art resembles that of the ancient images found on Sigiriya Rock.

There are also wooden carvings and other pieces of artwork available.

For many, buying a painting from Pethikada is the perfect souvenir. But even if you aren’t in the market for a souvenir, consider stopping by and having a quick look to appreciate the artwork. There is so much to see in this small art gallery that you have to visit! 

Related read: Check out the best things to do in Haputale

4. Learn about Sigiriya at the Sigiriya Archaeological Museum

Sigiriya Archaeological Museum
Sigiriya Archaeological Museum

Just outside the Sigiriya Rock grounds is the Sigiriya Archaeological Museum. The museum explains all about the palace and the entire city that used to live right where you are standing. I was very interested to learn about how advanced the city was and about their sewer and irrigation systems that were ahead of their time.

The museum is worth a visit so you get the background information and the history of the rock and the archaeological finds. There are also to-scale models of what the city looked like.

If you choose to climb Sigiriya Rock, the entrance fee to the museum is included in the ticket to climb the rock. I recommend visiting the museum before climbing Sigiriya Rock as it will give you some insight into the significance of what you’ll be seeing.

For those who didn’t climb Sigiriya Rock, visiting the museum is a good alternative. Here, you can learn about the rock, the history of the land, the paintings, and more. It costs $5 to enter without a ticket to Sigiriya Rock.

5. Visit the “Sigiriya Handyman”

The Sigiriya handyman who makes copper souvenirs
The famous handyman of Sigiriya!

Another popular thing to do in Sigiriya that has become known from word of mouth is a local man’s workshop. This man makes all sorts of things out of metals. He works with silver, brass, and copper and makes everything from bookmarks to tea tins to jewelry boxes.

His workshop is an authentic Sri Lankan workshop. There are tools everywhere and only one small shelf where he displays items for sale. When you visit him, he will show you how he makes designs in the metals – it is tedious and impressive.

You can visit just to meet him and learn about what he does. You don’t have to buy anything, but let me warn you, it will be tempting. The work is all very beautiful and the prices are reasonable.

He is currently teaching his son his skills so his son can take over the business.

You’ll find his store on the corner of Hotel Rd and Sigiriya Rd in the small shopping area. Unfortunately, you won’t find him on Google Maps, but the locals can point you to his storefront if you’re lost.

6. Shop for Handmade Wooden Souvenirs

Elephant wood carvings in Sigiriya
These elephants were huge but there are smaller items like the Christmas ornament we bought!

Lining the streets in Sigiriya are many shops that sell handmade items carved out of wood. While in Sigiriya, chances are you will be lured into one of these shops and end up getting a little wooden elephant to bring home with you.

The carvings are amazing especially the larger wooden carvings. Stopping in for a quick look around was worth it in my opinion. We picked up a cute Christmas ornament which is a travel tradition of ours!

The prices of the carvings start at around 300 rupees and go up to $3,000 USD!

7. Eat Roti at Pradeep Restaurant

Rotti at a restaurant in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Roti was one of our favorite foods in Sri Lanka!

Eating Roti is something you must do while you’re traveling in Sri Lanka. But not all Roti is as good as the next. However, after traveling in Sri Lanka for a month and eating A TON of Roti, I must say that none is quite as good as the Roti served at Pradeep Restaurant in Sigiriya.

Here, the Roti is thin, large, and wrapped up around your choice of filling. It is fresh, warm, gooey, and pulls apart. Honestly, the vegetable and cheese roti is excellent, but if you’re after something sweet, the chocolate and coconut won’t disappoint.

I recommend ordering both. Get the vegetable for your main meal and the chocolate coconut for dessert. A roti at Pradeep Restaurant only costs 400 rupees and after you taste them, you will be thankful for this advice – so you’re welcome!

8. Stay overnight in a Treehouse

A tree house in Sigiriya
The View from the Hide Out Sigiriya treehouse. Photo credit – Hideout Sigiriya

For a unique alternative to a hotel or guesthouse, stay in a treehouse! There are a few places in Sigiriya that offer this opportunity and it is one way to have a real jungle experience.

Some of the most highly recommended treehouse accommodations in Sigiriya include:

The Hideout Sigiriya – This hotel offers treehouse rooms with amazing views (where you might even see elephants!). Onsite they offer highly rated food and there is a large outdoor pool. Everyone who stays here has an amazing time and it is very reasonably priced.

Sigiri Aliya Treehouse – This family-owned and operated small hotel offers a personal touch at really cheap prices! The staff are incredible and the treehouses are comfortable. A stay here will be a good one and a unique experience!

Back of Beyond – This beautiful hotel offers treehouses with views of both Sigiriya and Pidurangala Rock. The location is ideal, close to the main tourist attractions but remote enough that you will see plenty of wildlife hanging around.

9. Hot Air Balloon Ride

Sri Lanka Balloon
Photo credit: Sri Lanka Balloon

Riding in a hot air balloon is one of those “bucket list things” that you just have to do at least once in your lifetime. In Sigiriya, a hot air balloon ride promises incredible views of Sigiriya Rock and the mountains in the distance.

Going on a hot air balloon ride in Sigiriya isn’t cheap though. Expect to pay about $200 USD per person for an hour-long ride including transfers. It is a fantastic thing to do for those happy to spend the money!

Sri Lanka Balloon is the company to go with. They’re Sri Lanka’s premier hot air balloon company and operate under the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka.

10.  Go on a Jeep Safari in Minneriya National Park

Elephants roaming in Sri Lanka
Watching wild elephants was a very special that moment we won’t forget!

Minneriya National Park is one of the best places to see elephants in Sri Lanka. The park is 8890 hectares so it is can only be explored in a jeep. On a safari in Minneriya National Park, it is possible to see elephants all gathering together in groups as large as 350!

Can you imagine?! Hundreds of elephants all in one spot – incredible!

The best time of year to see the large elephant gathering in Minneriya is from July to September (outside these months read about Kaudulla and Wasagamuwa safaris below.) But, all year round you will still be able to see elephants!

Minneriya is a great option for a jeep safari in Sri Lanka because it is much less busy than Yala or Udawalawe National Park. Since Sri Lanka has become such a popular tourist destination these national parks can be very busy with hundreds of jeeps all driving around the same small areas. But Minneriya is less popular making it the perfect choice!

A safari here costs around $55 USD per person but this price can change depending on group size.

11. Explore the Dambulla Cave Temples

Inside the Dambulla Cave Temples near Sigiriya
Inside the Dambulla Cave Temples

Only a short 30 minute drove from Sigiriya is the Dambulla Cave Temples. These temples are some of the most important in Sri Lanka. They are well preserved and extremely old. In fact, they found human skeletons in the temples that were 2,700 years old!

You must walk up a lot of stairs for about 10-15 minutes to reach the temples, but the effort is worth it as the views are incredible! Going for sunset is especially a treat (not to mention it’s cooler.)

Once at the temples, you must remove your shoes and cover your shoulders and knees. Be sure to bring the correct clothing as they don’t always have sarongs available for hire.

There are five different temples to explore all in a line next to each other. Inside the temples, you’ll find many Buddha statues as well as incredible paintings on the caves.

Once you’re finished exploring the cave temples, you can head down the hill to the large Golden Temple (another top attraction in the city of Dambulla.) This Buddha statue is simply huge and the walk to get there is also very nice – you’re sure to see many monkeys!

You can visit the temple on your own for the 1,500 rupee entrance fee or join an organized tour. The temple opens at 7 am and closes at 7 pm, however, the ticket booth closes at 5 pm.

12. Day trip to the ancient city of Anuradhapura

Lankaramaya Stupa in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
Lankaramaya Stupa in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka – Photo Credit: Dmitry Chulov on Bigstock

Anuradhapura is a UNESCO world heritage site. There is evidence of this city existing as far back as the 10th century BC. It was, and still is today, a sacred city for Buddhists with a 42 square kilometer area simply full of temples and monasteries.

For tourists, there is just so much to do and see in Anuradhapura in one day. The best way to see and do the most would be to go on a tour with a guide from Sigiriya for the day. This way, you can learn all about the history and religion behind what you are seeing and get the most done in one day!

Many of the best places to go in Anuradhapura are included in the UNESCO World Heritage pass which costs $25 USD. The office to buy these passes is closed on Tuesdays so make sure NOT to try and visit Anuradhapura on a Tuesday!

13. Visit Trincomalee for a day at the Beach

Taking our tuk tuk off road in Trincomale Sri Lanka
Exploring the beaches in Trincomalee!

If you’re only in Sri Lanka for a short time and not making your way to stay on the east coast for a while, you should at least make time for a day trip! From Sigiriya, you can get to Trincomalee in about 1.5 hours by car.

Trincomalee Beach is beautiful and a gorgeous place to relax in the sand and calm ocean water. Nearby Marble Beach is also pretty special and worth checking out.

In my honest opinion, I would spend a couple of nights in Trincomalee if you have time rather than visiting on a day trip from Sigiriya, but if that’s all you have time for at least spending a couple of hours at the beach will be better than nothing!

14. Cycle around Polonnaruwa

 ruins in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka
Exploring ruins in Polonnaruwa – Photo Credit: Radomir Rezny on Bigstock

Polonnaruwa is another World Heritage Site city. Although smaller than Anuradhapura, there is no shortage of things to see and do here. The benefit of visiting Polonnaruwa is that because it is a smaller more compact area it’s possible to get around on a bicycle making it a fun day activity!

Some of the best things to check out in Polonnaruwa include the Royal Palace and the Sacred Quadrangle (which is the most compact area of ruins.) Gal Vihara is also a place worth checking out as there are four Buddhas carved perfectly out of rock!

It costs $25 USD per person to explore the city. Just make sure you dress appropriately for temples (knees and shoulder covered!)

If you would prefer to explore Polonnaruwa in a car with a guide, check out this really well-priced tour!

15. Climb Rose Quartz Mountain

Rose Quartz Mountain near Dambulla Sri Lanka
Look at all that Rose Quartz!

Rose Quartz Mountain is one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka, hands down! It is such a unique thing to do, I highly recommend you make the effort to visit!

Rose Quartz Mountain is the largest of its kind in all of Southeast Asia! Here, you walk through a forest, past some ruins that you get to explore, and then up a mountain made entirely of Rose Quartz! It is very neat!

The mountain isn’t bright pink in color by any means, but it does have a dusty rose hue color to it and everywhere you step you can clearly see quartz beneath your feet.

To hike the mountain you must pay $5 USD. The hike takes about an hour or so and is not very hard but I would recommend wearing shoes with a good grip (runners or trainers will do) as some parts are steep.

From Sigiriya, it will take about 45-minutes to an hour to get to the base of Rose Quartz Mountain – but trust me, it’s worth the journey!

To get to Rose Quartz Mountain, enter Jathika Namal Uyana on Google Maps. Jathika Nmal Uyana is the name of the forest and the mountain, this will take you to where you start the walk.

16. Hiriwadunna Village tour

From Sigiriya, you have the opportunity to visit the small village of Hiriwadunna to see how people live. The day trip goes for about 5-hours and includes a boat ride to the village (where you’ll have the chance to see many birds and maybe even crocodiles) and then a walk around the village.

Expect to see people fishing, going about their daily lives, more wildlife, and then eat a home-cooked lunch made by the people in the village!

This is a unique cultural experience in Sri Lanka to see how many Sri Lankans still live today.

Tours to the village cost around $40 USD.

17. Day trip to Temple of the Tooth

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

Kandy is a large city and a popular tourist destination for those visiting Sri Lanka. However, there actually isn’t that much to do in Kandy specifically and in my opinion, you could just visit Kandy on a day trip from Sigiriya and hit some of the highlights.

The main attraction in Kandy is the Temple of the Tooth. No visit to Kandy would be complete without checking out the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. This temple holds the relic of the tooth of Buddha and is a World Heritage Site. 

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a very important religious temple for the Buddhist people and also a popular tourist destination. The entrance to the temple is 1,500 rupees but many tour companies in Sigiriya will include that in the tour price.

Some other attractions in Kandy include the botanic gardens and Kandy Lake.

18. Kaudulla National Park Safari

Kaudulla National Park is one of the best things to do in Sigiriya Sri Lanka
We never get sick of watching elephants!

In the months of October and November, the mass gatherings of elephants in Minneriya National Park actually move into Kaudulla National Park! So, if you’re visiting Sigiriya in October or November it’s best to visit Kaudulla as opposed to Minneriya.

In Kaudulla there is also the opportunity to see many other wild animals including the rare leopard! A tour here costs around $40 USD.

19. Ritigala – Archeological site and nature reserve

Ritigala the ancient monastery in Sri Lanka
Part of the ancient Monastery

For those who don’t want to do a full-day trip in Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa then visiting Ritigala is the perfect alternative. Here, you’ll see ruins from a city that existed well over 1,000 years ago. Back then the city was HUGE.

Unfortunately, when the British invaded Sri Lanka most of these ruins were destroyed, but 5% is left and that is what you get to explore.

Upon arriving at Ritigala a guide will give you a quick explanation about the place. He will also give you a map and directions before you’re on your own. You will wander through a forest, over ruins, and see what remains from the city.

I really enjoyed this archeological site because it felt very authentic. There weren’t hordes of tourists; in fact, Dan and I saw only two other people the entire time! The ruins are also in the jungle so it makes for a peaceful nature walk with the chance to see wildlife as well.

You can visit the ruins on your own but you’ll need to organize transport there and back (best to get your driver to wait for you). Most people book private tours which include a knowledgeable guide. The entrance to the site is 350 rupees.

20. Wasgamuwa National Park Safari

The last safari on this list of things to do in Sigiriya is Wasgamuwa National Park. From November to May the large elephant gatherings are found (as opposed to Minneriya and Kaudulla where the elephant gatherings are from July to November).

Wasgamuwa National Park is a lesser-visited National Park in Sri Lanka making it a really authentic safari experience.

21. Go see a Cricket Match

cricket match in Sri Lanka
Cricket is a very popular sport in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankans love their Cricket! If you are also a fan or even just a sports fan in general, then making sure you’re in Sigiriya for a match is a good plan.

The Dambulla International Cricket Field is located only 20-minutes from Sigiriya in Dambulla and the perfect place to watch an international or domestic match. You’ll listen to music, drink beer with the locals, and enjoy the game!

Where to Stay in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

view from our hotel in Sigirya, sri lanka
The view from our guesthouse in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka!

Sigiri Lion Lodge – This place is very nice and is one of the places we stayed in. A budget double is only $15 USD and it’s in a really good location. The hosts Ajith and his wife are awesome and the breakfast is pretty good. The rooms are basic though and the prices reflect that.

Sigiri Rock Side Home Stay – I have been traveling a long time but have never seen a place with over 1,000 reviews and have a rating of 9.4. But this place does and after scouring the reviews I can honestly recommend this place with confidence. Rooms here start at $30 a night and include an exceptional breakfast.

Hotel Sigiriya – This is arguably the most famous hotel in Sigiriya. Its pool is absolutely beautiful and has stunning views of Lion Rock. They include a top-rated breakfast and are in an ideal location. If I could afford the $100 a night I would love to stay here.

The places we recommended are highly sought after so if they are fully booked, then you can browse all of the hotels in Sigiriya here!

Related read: Check out the best honeymoon hotels in Sri Lanka

Getting Around Sri Lanka

tuk tuk parked at the beach in mirissa sri lanka
We rented a tuk-tuk for our entire trip around Sri Lanka.
Watching sunsets in Sri Lanka from our tuk tuk
Tuk-tuk is a great way to get around Sri Lanka.

To visit all of the best places in Sri Lanka, you’re going to need a mode of transport. You have a few choices when it comes to getting around Sri Lanka:

Rent a Tuk-tuk

Easily the most popular (and most fun) way to travel around Sri Lanka. We actually rented a tuk-tuk on our trip and absolutely loved it! Tuk-tuks are easy to drive, cheap to rent, and the freedom that comes with your own wheels is unmatched.

If you do decide to rent a tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka, be sure to go with a reputable company that provides quality tuk-tuks, such as Tuktuk Rental (who we rented from.) These guys not only offer an amazing service, but their tuk-tuks are actually rented from local families, providing income for the local community.

If you decide to rent from Tuktuk Rental, be sure to use the coupon code ‘DEST‘ for 5% off!

For more info, read our blog: The Truth about Renting a Tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka.

Hire a Driver

If you’re only planning on going to a couple of destinations, then a private driver is not a bad idea. In the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle, your driver can take you to your next destination. All you have to do is sit back and relax!

You can hire highly-rated drivers in advance to pick you up right from the airport when you arrive in Sri Lanka. This driver will take you to your hotel in Mirissa, Galle, Bentota, or Unawatuna. Whereas, this driver will take you to Kandy.

Of course, every time you want to change destinations you will have to arrange for another driver (unless you book this driver who will drive you around for an entire week). Car transfer can easily be organized through your hotel.

Take Public Transport

This is a choice I only recommend for those on a very tight budget and with plenty of time. Public transport is everywhere in Sri Lanka in the form of public buses and trains. It is also very cheap, costing less than a couple of dollars per journey.

However, it isn’t the most comfortable way to travel. The buses don’t have air conditioning and neither do many train services. They can also be slow-moving, stopping every couple of minutes to pick up more passengers.

With that said, public transport is popular with budget backpackers, and it is mostly safe. This is one way to travel for those who want to get around as the locals do!

Before you go…

I hope this blog has helped you plan your time in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka as well as inspired you to check out a few of the unique attractions around!

Or course, if you’re traveling more around Sri Lanka, be sure to check out the rest of our detailed Sri Lanka travel guides. Some that you might like include:

Things to do in Ella Sri Lanka – Ella is one of the top tourist destinations in Sri Lanka, and for good reason!

Things to do in Mirissa – Beaches, surf, cocktails, turtles…who could ask for anything more? Mirissa has it all!

Guide to Renting a Tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka – We honestly believe a tuk-tuk is the best way to travel around this island nation. Find out all about what it’s like to rent your own tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka!

Happy travels!

-Bailey

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