No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without including the ancient, mysterious city of Sigiriya. UNESCO protected and perched on top of a monolithic rock, this is the main reason visitors flock the area.

Linger a little longer in Sigiriya and you’ll discover that there are many ways to see the ancient city, and loads more to see and do in the area. We’ve rounded up the best sights and experiences to give you a reason to stay.

1. Gardens Of The Ancient City (Recommended)

Sigiriya Ancient City via Richard van Yperen

Within the Sigiriya Rock archaeological park, the royal gardens are a sight to behold. Giant boulders, once home to Buddhist shrines, dot the manicured landscape. Water gardens have retained their pools since the 4th century. Water features and ancient canals still function to this day and look particularly amazing during the rainy season. You can explore this site as part of the entry ticket to Sigiriya Ancient City, and either learn about its history by downloading a free phone app, or going with a guide.

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Opening Hours: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Entrance Fee: US$30

2. Sigiriya Ancient City Summit (Recommended)

The hike to the top of Sigiriya Rock begins at Lion Cave, once an imposing lion carved into the rock face. Now only two giant paws remain. Climbing steep stone steps, on paths hewn into the rock will get you to the top where the preserved ruins of the ancient city await. You need a fairly good level of fitness to make the climb. Apart from graffiti dating back to the 8th century, the crumbling remains of opulent palaces and bath houses, there are also incredible views of the Sri Lankan countryside at every turn.

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Opening Hours: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Entrance Fee: US$30

3. Archaeological Museum (Popular)

If you’re not hiring a guide and want to get a historic overview of the ancient site of Sigiriya, this little gem of a museum is worth a stop before the climb. A video shows the key players in the development of Sigiriya, back in the 4th century, and gives an insight into the cultural significance of the site. There are loads of little treasures that have been rescued from the ruins on display, so you can get a feel of life and times from back in the day. Overall, a good little spot to get a bit of background.

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Opening Hours: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Entrance Fee: Included in the ticket price to Sigiriya Rock

4. Cobra Hood Cave (Popular)

The Cobra Hood Cave is a must-see stop within the site of Sigiriya Rock. At the entrance, a naturally formed rock resembles the head of a cobra about to strike, giving the cave its name. Inside you’ll find perfectly preserved paintings, said to be of the many wives and lovers of King Kashyapa, the creator of the ancient city. The color and details still remain so you can admire the intricate works as though it was painted only yesterday.

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Opening Hours: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Entrance Fee: Included in the ticket price to Sigiriya Rock

5. Take A Village Tour (Recommended)

If you’re staying in the Sigiriya area, be sure to include a tour of a local village in your itinerary. A local guide will take you to one of the rural enclaves dotting the stunning countryside and you can experience a slice of provincial Sri Lankan life. Tours often include a ride in a traditional oxen cart, where you can watch daily life in Sigiriya go by. Some tours also feature a local cooking demonstration, so you can learn how local specialties are made with a chance to taste the delicious curries too.

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Opening Hours: Pick up from 8 a.m. drop off from 3 p.m.
Entrance Fee: Tours from local operators start from US$25

6. Sigiriya Craft Village (Off-beat)

Just on the outskirts of town there’s a local craft center where you can shop for souvenirs. There are workshops demonstrating how some of the local handicrafts are made using material from the surrounding hills. You might also get a lesson in how the beautiful fabrics are colored using natural dyes. There’s a showroom where you can buy bits and pieces to take home with you.

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Opening Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Entrance Fee: Free

7. Visit The Nearby Dambulla Cave Temples (Recommended)

This UNESCO heritage site is just 20 km from Sigiriya, making it perfect for a day trip if you’re staying in the area. You can take the half-hour long bus-ride to make your own way there, or choose an organised day trip with a guide. Five temples have been hewn into the rocks where paintings over 2000 years old have been beautifully preserved. There are ancient Buddhist statues lining the rock walls, and the entire complex ensure a mysterious atmosphere.

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Opening Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Entrance Fee: US$7

8. Climb Pidurangala Rock (Popular)

Just a few km north of Sigiriya Rock, climbing to the summit of Pidurangala Rock will reward you with stunning views of the ancient city rising out of the lush landscape and extending to the misty mountains beyond. It’s one of those Insta-perfect spots, totally worth the effort to get there. The climb itself is more of a challenge than the one to Sigiriya Rock, as it’s a 2-hour round trip over some rough, rocky terrain. The panoramic views are particularly stunning at sunrise, but remember to bring a torch with you if you’re going to climb in the dark.

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Opening Hours: 5 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Entrance Fee: US$3 (pay at the white temple at the bottom of the trail)

9. Safari At Minneriya National Park

After days of exploring temples and ancient ruins you might fancy a change of pace. Head to Minneriya National Park, 18 km north of Sigiriya, to get in touch with the wildlife of Sri Lanka. Home to one of the biggest gatherings of Asian elephants, this is the best place to spot Sri Lanka’s beloved animal. A safari drive with a trained ranger around the park would ensure you get a chance to see water buffaloes, monkeys and majestic birds of prey, not to mention, the stunning views of the lake where the animals gather.

Pro Tip: A guide is required to accompany you around the park, even if you arrive in your own car.

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Opening Hours: 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Entrance Fee: US$15

10. See The Sights From The Air

At sunrise, just as the countryside is waking up, you can catch a glimpse of the sleepy world from high up in a hot air balloon. With Sigiriya Rock rising out of the land, surrounded by lush greenery and peaceful farmland, this is one of the best places in Sri Lanka to take a ride in a hot air balloon. Flights are not cheap, and leave at around 5 a.m. but this is one of those experiences you won’t ever forget.

Top tip: Bring a bag of sweets with you so you can shower kids with them as you soar over local villages.

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Opening Hours: Flights begin around 5 a.m. and end around 9 a.m.
Entrance Fee: US$200

11. Go On A Bike Ride (Off-beat)

Renting a bike in Sigiriya, or taking a guided cycling tour is one of the best ways to get to know the little villages and pretty farmlands that surround the town. A series of small roads and dirt tracks have very little traffic, save the odd oxen cart, making this the perfect terrain to cover by bike. From the bike seat you can get a real feel of the area and meet locals working in the rice fields. There are a few bike shops in town offering rental and guided tours.

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Opening Hours: Tours begin around 7 a.m. and end around 2 p.m.
Entrance Fee: Tours from US$54

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