Sigiriya or Lion Rock is a 180-meter-high column of reddish-colored rock near Dambulla where King Kassapa (around 477 AD) wanted to build his new capital. The landscape all around Sigiriya is flat, which makes this rock fortress even more astounding to see and visit. There are incredible frescoes here, and many myths and legends surround this glorious place in Sri Lanka. This is a stunning part of Sri Lanka to explore, so here’s our guide on how to visit Sigiriya.
THIS POST MAY CONTAIN COMPENSATED AND AFFILIATE LINKS MORE INFORMATION IN OUR DISCLAIMER
King Kassapa is infamous for engineering the assassination of his father and attempting to dispossess his brother. He built his palace on the top of this rock, which was deemed impregnable, as he feared fraternal vengeance. As such, Sigiriya has had tourists since the 6th century – and the frescoes gained their own set of admirers, who inscribed their admiration in the form of poems onto the rock. This “Sigiri graffiti” is considered to be one of the most ancient texts in the Sinhalese language. Here’s what to know about Sigiriya and how to visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Why Visit Sigiriya
Sigiriya, or Lion Rock is one of Sri Lanka’s most recognisable landmarks. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a hardened block of magma that came out of a volcano and it was created more than 2 billion years ago. It is most famous as an ancient rock fortress.
There is a huge amount of history here, and some stunning views too. Although it could be argued that the best views of Sigiriya itself are from the neighboring Pidurangala rock, the frescoes and artwork here are stunning, and all the more surprising for being out in the open.
How to Get to Sigiriya
You can travel to Sigiriya from Colombo (there’s a train that goes from Colombo Fort to Habrana which is 17 kilometers 10.5 miles away from Sigiriya), but most people still travel to Dambulla, stay there, and visit Sigiriya from there.
You can take a tour of Sigiriya with all transport and guiding services included, from Kandy or Colombo. This is a great option if you are short of time. These tours also include visiting the cave temples of Dambulla.
All other options for getting to Sigiriya involve long days of travel on public transport, so if you’re going to come to Sigiriya from anywhere other than Dambulla, I’d recommend taking a tour.
You can take a tour to Sigiriya from Colombo, from Hikkaduwa, or Kandy. Check the options available here.
From Dambulla to Sigiriya you have two options.
Dambulla to Sigiriya by tuk tuk
The most convenient way to travel from Dambulla to Sigiriya is to take a tuk-tuk. It’s about 30 minutes journey time, and it should cost around 1500 LKR.
Dambulla to Sigiriya by bus
Buses run from Dambulla’s main bus station to Sigiriya from 06:45 until 18:00. These buses take an hour and run every 30 minutes or so. They’ll cost you 50 LKR and the stop is 10 minutes walk from the Sigiriya main ticket counter.
Where to Stay to Visit Sigiriya
If you’re planning to travel closer to Sigiriya to visit, then it makes sense to stay in Dambulla. You’ll be able to visit the Dambulla Cave temples too. It’s worth bearing in mind that Dambulla was where we had the BEST ever Sri Lankan curry, and to my mind, it’s worth traveling and staying here for that alone!
Key Information for Visiting Sigiriya
It’s entirely possible and relatively easy to visit Sigiriya independently, but you’ll need to plan your travel ahead of time. Whether you choose to go to Sigiriya by bus, tuk-tuk, or tour, you’ll need to arrange it and also plan for how you’ll pay for your entrance fee too. Here’s what you need to know about visiting Sigiriya.
Sigiriya Entrance Fee
The entrance fee for Sigiriya is US$30, which feels very steep in Sri Lanka. I think it’s worth the entrance fee, as the experience of heading up the Lion Staircase and seeing the frescoes is incredible. All the funds that come from fees like this go into a Central Cultural Fund for Sri Lanka.
Payment for entrance fees to Sigiriya must be made in CASH, in Sri Lanka Rupees. I’d advise ensuring that you have this cash with you before getting there, as while there is an ATM near the ticket office, it may not be working.
You HAVE to buy your tickets from the office before you go into the complex. If you get as far as the Lion’s Staircase without a ticket you’ll have to come all the way back to the ticket office. There’s nowhere else to buy them. This Sigiriya entrance fee also includes your entrance to the museum at Sigiriya, and that’s worth a visit too.
If this entrance fee is too high for you, then you can head to neighboring Pidurangala Rock, where the entrance fee is just 500 LKR. You’ll get great views of Sigiriya, but there are none of the frescoes, gardens, or museum there.
Sigiriya Opening Hours
Sigiriya is open from 06:30 until 17:30 every day. The last entrance allowed is at 17:00.
Best Time of Day to Visit Sigiriya
Most of the tours that come to Sigiriya come in the morning (and usually also take in Dambulla’s Cave temples), as it is generally cooler in the morning than it is in the afternoon, which means that you’ll be cooler, however, its quieter if you come in the afternoon.
How long do you need to visit Sigiriya?
If you’re traveling independently you’ll want to put aside a half day to visit Sigiriya. It will take about 30 minutes to get here from Dambulla. If you explore the museum and then climb the Lion Staircase, spend time on the top of the rock, and then return, this is a good half-day activity.
How long does it take to climb Sigiriya Rock?
There are about 1,250 steps on the Lion’s staircase. It will depend on how many stops you make. We took about 35 minutes to go up.
Our Visit to Sigiriya
King Kassapa built his fortress up here on Sigiriya, but he also made it rather beautiful. The gardens at the base are rather lovely and well laid out. He also decorated the sides of the rock with colorful frescoes. He was, however, defeated in 495 and promptly cut his own throat.
You’ll find the frescoes about halfway up, in a rocky shelter, are of 21 female figures – the Maidens of the Clouds – and they’re comparable to the paintings in Ajanta, India. (You can read about our explorations in Ajanta here)
Foreigners get their own separate entrance and parking lot, and while I might have read up on Sigiriya before we arrived, I hadn’t seen more than a passing thumbnail as to what it looks like.
The first sight is magnificent. Truly, truly magnificent.
The first thought is a gulp that we’re going to climb it. (At this point we hadn’t seen Adam’s Peak, nor had we climbed it, but this was pretty tame compared to Adam’s Peak, you can read about our hike to Adam’s Peak here.!).
It was a damp day when we visited. Overcast, but not yet raining.
Our tickets cost us US$30 each. Our tuk-tuk from Dambulla a further 1100. We started in the museum (as the exit to the property is nowhere near the museum, you need to see it first) a strange little place, with lots of reasonably well-labeled artifacts, once you get past the bizarre entrance.
Then we grabbed a few short eats in the nearby cafe and headed into the gardens.
The ruins of the first set of gardens are quite lovely. The water gardens, says the Insights guide, are like a tiny piece of Versailles transported to Sri Lanka. (I think that’s something of a push, but they are pretty).
The fountain garden includes a miniature river, channels, and pools and the boulder garden, where the Cobra rock is should be self-explanatory. A little imagination probably helps.
Leaving the boulder garden, we headed up. After a few minutes of stone steps, we reached the bottom of a set of spiral staircases, one to go up, one to go down. This was the entrance to the frescoes, the Maidens of the Clouds.
Impressively maintained considering the environment here (storm clouds were ominously gathering at this point), the paintings are delightful.
They also contain lots of improbable boobs and hand-span waists. Sri Lanka clearly didn’t always used to be such a conservative society.
Heading down the next spiral staircase we find the mirror wall. Personally, I couldn’t see the reflection, but there was the hint of centuries of graffiti, and also a few spots of rain.
The path built into the side of the rock continued, the overhang protecting us from the elements, lush, verdant jungle below us as far as the eye could see.
We arrived at the foot of the Lion Staircase – although not much of it remains, it’s possible to see the memory of ancient splendor. The only way, then, as they say, is up.
There’s now a combination of steps built into the rock, metal rods, and a tower-like staircase.
That said, when a group of large Westerners came striding on the down path, I did hold on to the rail just a little tighter and looked for where I might jump to if the whole lot just rattled loose.
Once at the top, the views are staggering.
Not just of the surrounding countryside, but also of the complex itself. How magical it must have been here. It’s at least 5 degrees cooler here than in the humid jungle below.
Ruins of walls, of pools remain, all against a glorious green well-maintained lawn. There are few restraining walls and while the odd sign does ask you to not climb on walls, no one stops you from rambling across the entire site.
Final Words on How to Visit Sigiriya Sri Lanka
This is one of Sri Lanka’s eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, and the combination of the stunning location, and the frescoes makes it well worthwhile to visit. The entrance fee might be steep, but heck you’re probably saving a lot of money on other things like transport and accommodation in Sri Lanka, so don’t miss coming here. The frescoes are glorious, the views are stunning and it’s a unique thing to see here.
We receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using our affiliate links. We do not represent World Nomads. This is not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.
ASocialNomad is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, and amazon.ca. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.