Sacred City of Anuradhapura
The oldest city on our list, Anuradhapura has been around for at least 2,500 years, with archaeological records hinting it’s a good 500 years old than that.
Situated in Sri Lanka’s heritage-rich Cultural Triangle, Anuradhapura used to be capital of the Sinhalese kingdom - one of the island’s most ancient peoples. For centuries the city was also the sacred centre of Theravāda Buddhism, which is predominant across Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand as well as Sri Lanka, and is still one of Buddhism’s most significant shrines. Its Bodhi tree, planted from a sacred cutting in 288 BC, is still alive after 2,303 years - it’s the oldest known fig tree in the world.
Many of Anuradhapura’s temples, shrines and monuments are thousands of years old too, including some that are still in use - the Ruwanwelisaya, a temple built in 140BC, is one of Buddhism’s most sacred stupas, and Thuparamaya enshrines the Buddha’s collarbone. Others make for very picturesque ruins. A series of ingenious ponds and reservoirs lay scattered through the landscape, and superb carvings and artwork can be seen across the city.
Aside from a high rainfall in November and December, conditions remain fairly arid throughout the year, although visitors during June and July may experience the hot, strong winds that help keep the south-western monsoon at bay.