Many visitors to Sri Lanka only have the time or the archeological enthusiasm to visit one of the island’s two great ruined cities, but as the two are significantly different it’s difficult to call decisively in favour of either. The ruins at Polonnaruwa cover a smaller area, are better preserved and offer a more digestible and satisfying bite of ancient Sinhalese culture – and there’s nowhere at Anuradhapura to match the artistry of the Quadrangle and Gal Vihara. Having said that, Anuradhapura has its own distinct magic. The sheer scale of the site and the number of remains means that, although much harder to get to grips with, it preserves a mystery that much of Polonnaruwa has lost – and it’s far easier to escape the coach parties. In addition, the city’s status as a major pilgrimage centre lends it a vibrancy lacking at Polonnaruwa.

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