Cultural Triangle

The Cultural Triangle is often used to refer to an area in Sri Lanka that consists of five UNESCO World Heritage sites full of archaeological treasures dating back two millennia. Cities to the north and northwest of  the capital Colombo outline the Cultural Triangle which is a key highlight for first-time travellers to this teardrop shaped island.

Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, situated in the centre of the island, is filled with unique archaeological treasures dating back two millennia, boasting of a longstanding ancient civilization. The ancient cities encompassing the area referred to as the Cultural Triangle are Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kandy, Sigiriya and Dambulla all of which are UNESCO heritage sites. Anuradhapura, considered as the first capital of ancient Sri Lanka, was founded around the 10th century BC. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, situated roughly 170km from Colombo’s International airport. This ancient city was the intellectual centre of early Buddhism which was continuously supported by the royalty of the times. Such encouragement resulted in a number of iconic religious monasteries and stupas. Most remain in good condition to date, making Anuradhapura a sought-after destination for pilgrimage by the locals. The ancient ruins include a number of majestic Buddhist stupas, monasteries, bathing ponds, etc.

Polonnaruwa, the second ancient capital city of Sri Lanka, is situated on the topmost position of the cultural triangle, 100km from Anuradhapura. The Chola dynasty invaded the country around the year 993 and established its kingdom in Polonnaruwa. Initial occupancy of the Indian monarchy did not last long as the Sinhalese Kings regained the throne and made Polonnaruwa a flourishing agricultural hub. To date the irrigation structures developed during the ancient times remain intact and are far superior to those that are found in Anuradhapura. After the golden era, the throne went back to South Indian kings. As a result, a fine mix of cultures and religions are visible today from carvings to the ancient ruins. The ruins, unlike in Anuradhapura, are in close vicinity to one another making exploration easy for travellers.

There are number of large and smaller ruins to explore. These include Vatadage (a circular Buddhist structure), Gal Viharaya (a rock temple with four stunning Buddha statutes carved on the rocks), stupas such as Kiri Viharaya and Rankoth Viharaya, the Royal Palace and the great big manmade lake Parakrama Samudraya that was the heart of successful irrigation during the golden era. The architectural marvels in Polonnaruwa are unique in design as they are influenced by Sri Lankan and South Indian designs. Kandy, the last Sri Lankan Kingdom and the capital of the hill country, is located on the plateau of the central highlands, around 135km from Polonnaruwa in the southernmost tip of the Cultural Triangle. This city is famous for its Temple of Tooth where Buddha’s sacred tooth relic is securely placed. It is also Sri Lanka’s second-largest city and an important economic hub, plus a place of pilgrimage and worship of the locals.

Kandy is a picturesque city with old-world charm with many other key highlights that include ancient temples, Royal Botanical gardens, and colonial architecture. Sigiriya and Dambulla are smaller but equally important heritage sights in the Cultural Triangle. Sigiriya, an ancient Rock Fortress was built between 477 – 495 AD and remains the biggest highlight of Sri Lanka. Dambulla on the other hand is overshadowed by Sigiriya. Dambulla Cave Temples, also known as the Golden Temple, consists of five caves, although there are many other smaller caves in the vicinity which are yet to be explored. These five caves hold 153 Buddha statues and 23,000 sq. ft of murals. This is by far the best-preserved cave temple in Sri Lanka. These caves are believed to have once been the habitat of prehistoric people in the area prior to the arrival of Buddhism. Dambulla Cave Temples are a unique and beautiful place to visit.

The Cultural Triangle can be easily incorporated into an itinerary at the beginning of a journey. Anuradhapura and Sigiriya are to be explored first before continuing towards Kandy. To explore the entire Cultural Triangle a minimum of 5 nights is recommended. The weather varies between travel. Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and Dambulla remain dry and warm with an average high of 35°C to a low of 25°C, while Kandy remains mild and cooler with an average temperature of 25°C. There is a large array of accommodations available throughout the Cultural Triangle. These include midrange, quaint, boutique hotels to more upmarket and exclusive accommodation, plus a handful of large resort type accommodations.


Here are sample itineraries featuring the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Click below to read more about things to do in the cultural triangle including Sigiriya, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla and Kandy or get in touch to receive a detailed, tailor made itinerary for your Sri Lanka holiday.


Amazing trip! We absolutely loved it. Sri Lanka is now a country we would definitely like to go back to and explore further.Thank you so much for all the work you did in putting the trip together for us. It was a great mix of places for us to get a good feel of the country. We will be encouraging all our friends to go to Sri Lanka.