Stretching over a 4km long site, the extensive and varied ruins of the medieval city of Polonnaruwa are both atmospheric and absorbing - well worth the US$25 entrance fee and braving the hot and humid micro-climate. In this major World Heritage Site, there are at least six clusters of buildings you will want to see. As they are spread out, you are probably best hiring a bike or getting a lift from one location to another. In the twelfth century, much of Sri Lanka was ruled from Poḷonnaruwa's Royal Palace and the nearby council chamber in the citadel in the heart of this garden city.
Poḷonnaruwa was also bestowed with some remarkable religious buildings, with lavishly carved buddhist shrines and temples, as well as mysterious bell-shaped dagobas. The re-discovery of these ancient stone structures, which had been subsumed by jungle, in the twentieth century must have been extraordinarily exciting for archaeologists and adventurers alike. If you can visit when there are few tourists around, Polonnaruwa is still peaceful enough to make you feel like an explorer stumbling across a lost civilisation. Although there are a handful of hawkers persistently flogging their wares around the main sights, they do take 'no' for an answer and there are many quiet corners where you will be left entirely alone. 9/10