[Photo Journal] A must visit place of history: the Lion Rock Fortress of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

The cultural triangle is one of the must tour areas of Sri Lanka. Within that, the Lion Rock Fortress in Sigiriya is the must see place of all must see places.

A large rock jutting out in the landscape, there was an old palace at the top where the king lived in ages past. It makes you think about what kinds of secrets must lay hidden in the rock. This is the “Eighth wonder of the world.”

The Lion Rock from the front

Story of Sigiriya

Sri Lanka used to have a King. I didn’t know this until I visited the country and went to see his old digs. King Kashyapa’s palace at the top of this rock must have been a sight to see back in the day!

Imagine workers carrying bricks to the top, zig zagging on the side of the rock all the way up. The layout of the palace itself is incredibly intricate, with rooms built into the rock surface.

This was the view from my guest house the night before I went to see it up close:
View of Lion Rock from nearby guest house

I sat in the shade of the treehouse in the garden area that afternoon and read a book. It was a little bit surreal to be able to look up occasionally and see such an iconic piece of this country’s history.

The owners’ cat napped in the corner, and eyed me as I was leaving.

Cat at the guest house

The Lion Rock: On the way up

It’s pretty easy to know which way to go once you are inside. You will be able to see the rock, and most people will be heading straight for it along with you.

Gardens
There are some interesting looking parts on either side of the main path to the rock. If you feel curious, check it out!
Walking up to the Lion Rock
The Lion Rock face

Winding staircase up to wall paintings
At one point, the path takes you up a winding staircase up to a ledge where there are wall paintings. You aren’t allowed to take photos or videos of the wall paintings. After you check them out, you go down the other winding staircase next to the one you went up to continue on the path.

On the way up to the top of the Lion Rock

The mirror wall
You aren’t allowed to touch this wall, but walking along it you can see how it would be reflective with the right light.

Nearly at the top, you will come to an area where there is the main stairway up to the very top and the palace ruins. Parts of this are stone, but most of it is a metal stairway. If you are afraid of heights, this might be scary, but it feels stable and safe. Just don’t look down!

At the top

This was by far the best part of the entire place. You can see for miles, and explore the ruins of the old palace.

A brick laid playground
Exploring and taking in the view at the top
A brick-laid playground
Exploring at the top

A 360 degree view
Selfie at the top of the Lion Rock
Views at the Lion Rock

On the way down

Going back down feels less windy and more direct. You can get a different view of the rock, and walk by some of the other interesting rocks beside it.

The Lion Rock from behind
Interesting rocks around the Lion Rock
Interesting rocks around the Lion Rock 2

Travel guide to Sigiriya Lion Rock Fortress

Unlike going up Adam’s Peak, going up the Lion Rock (aka the Citadel of Sigiriya) is doable for most people. If you are afraid of heights, there are some sections where you may get a little scared (see photos), but it is safe.

Foreigner’s tickets are 30 USD, and you will need to show your passport to buy a ticket. The ticket has several tabs on them for certain parts of the tour, and ticket takers will rip them off at the checkpoints. This means you might not be able to do some parts of the tour more than once with a single ticket.

The complex has a museum and a garden area which you can explore. The best way to do this is to go up to the top of the Rock first, and then explore the rest of the grounds later on. The path down from the Rock leads straight into the parking lots, so if you want to get back into the gardens you’ll have to find a way around fences back down.

It can get quite hot, so it is best to go all the way up as early as possible. There will be a steady stream of people from the time of opening through the whole morning, so going earlier may give you a better chance to explore the fortress with fewer people.

Towards the bottom on the way out, there will be people selling their wares. Some sell books, or carvings, or other pieces of art. You can haggle with them if you want, or buy multiple pieces from the same seller to get a lower price. Look around before you decide, though, as there are many options.

I spent about 2 to 3 hours inside, but you are welcome to spend more time exploring. The best time spent is at the top where the palace ruins are. You get all the best views and some breeze if you are lucky. If it is towards midday, it might get pretty hot up but there are a few trees where you can find shade.

Transport and accommodations
If you are going from Kandy, the local bus costs 100 to Dambulla. From there you can get a tuk tuk for 700 LKR, or wait for the local bus that costs 34 LKR. Tuk tuk drivers will be at the bus stop trying to get you to take a tuk tuk ride instead of the bus. They will suggest buddying up with other travelers to split the cost, but if you aren’t carrying many bags, the local bus is perhaps the better option. The ride is about 30 minutes, so it would be a long tuk tuk ride.

There are tons of accommodations in Sigiriya, and new ones being built all the time. I opted to spend a little bit more than I usually would for one night in a guest house for 4000 LKR. Instead of staying in a guest house in Sigiriya, another option is to stay in Dambulla, the nearest large town area, and take the local bus to Sigiriya when you want to go. I usually find that taking the local bus is the best way of getting around Sri Lanka. There are also other natural sights to see and hikes to do in the Dambulla area.

From the main road or your guest house, a tuk tuk should cost a flat rate of 150 LKR. You can book it the day before for a morning pick up if you want to. I walked from my guest house that was just off of the the main road near where the restaurants and the bus stop are, and it took me about half an hour.

Go to Sigiriya!

Most people who visit Sri Lanka will go to see Sigiriya, and for good reason! For not that much money, you can see an amazing historical site that also happens to have beautiful views. In my opinion, it’s completely worth it!

Make sure that Sigiriya is on your Sri Lanka itinerary! I think I would go a second time, and maybe a little earlier in the day so that I could try to beat the crowds.

Going to Sri Lanka? Pin this guide to Sigiriya for later!



SigiriyaLionRock

  • Wow, it looks busy! I had no idea that Sri Lanka is so popular!! $30 seems pretty pricey for admission?? The ruins on top look interesting, are there interpretative signs or do you join a tour to find out more?

    Pretty crazy to think that a palace was built on top of a rock!

    • Yeah, it was pretty busy! I think there were at least 10 to 20 big buses in the parking lot when I was there. People usually make this stop no matter what. $30 does seem pricey, but I didn’t have to pay for many other things in Sri Lanka so in the end the overall trip was still pretty cheap.

      You can join a tour if you would like. I tried to listen in on some of the tours, a lot of them were in Chinese. There aren’t many signs, but there is some information in their museum and online!

      Yeah, it’s kinda nuts if you think about it!