Located in the heart of Sri Lanka, the Lion Rock in Sigiriya is probably one of the most iconic landmarks of the coconut island. Often referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World by locals, climbing the majestic Sigiriya rock is a must-activity. Together with its neighboring Pidurangala rock, which gives you a jaw-dropping panoramic view, it can’t miss from your Sri Lanka bucket list.
This natural phenomenon is a towering 200m square-shaped rock that rises high from the lush jungle over the surrounding plains. The fortress is one of the country’s eight Unesco World Heritage sites and is truly a breathtaking sight. Explore the ancient ruins of the former palace and enjoy the views over the in-fog-wrapped forests and lakes below.
This guide covers everything you need to know for climbing the Sigiriya Lion Rock. Travel tips, daypack essentials, how to get to the top, as well as accommodation tips, we got you covered. Because if you haven’t seen the famous Lion Rock, can you even say you have been to Sri Lanka?
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Complete guide to climbing the famous Sigiriya Lion Rock
Sigiriya is a small town in the central lands of Sri Lanka and is only a two-hour drive away from Anuradhapura and Kandy. Tourism skyrocketed in recent years in this little town, welcoming thousands of tourists every month. Most specifically for their biggest attraction: Climbing the famous Sigirya Rock. From miles away you can already spot the magnificent rock formation towering high above the trees.
Disclaimer: Prices in this travel guide to climbing Sigiriya Rock are indications and are based on the daily currency rate during our stay in Sri Lanka. Bear in mind that the Sri Lankan currency is currently heavily fluctuating due to inflation. We also advise you to check current travel advice to Sri Lanka due to the ongoing economic crisis. This has led to possible shortages of basic necessities (such as food and fuel), power cuts, and overall unstable security situations.
Visiting the legendary Sigiriya Rock
In the middle of the jungle, the Lion Rock was once a palace-fortress with lush botanical gardens, colorful frescoes, and water pools. Although only ruins are left on top of the rock, and you can only see the remains of the palace, it still holds major historical significance for Sri Lanka. It’s the most visited site and part of the cultural triangle, that stretches from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa and Kandy.
Sigiriya rock was formed from magma 2 billion years ago, coming from an extinct volcano. In the past, the whole area was filled with volcanic mountains, which is no longer the case. The only two rocks standing are the Pidurangala rock and the Lion Rock. The Sigiriya rock plateau has a 200-meter height, overlooking its surroundings. The views from above are absolutely astonishing. The fortress is the perfect example of advanced ancient engineering and architectural skills, with its marvelous structures. The design of the main entrance to the top of the rock has the shape of a humongous stone lion. This is how the rock earned its name, Lion rock, because of the image of the entrance. The name Sigiriya actually comes from the Sinhalese word Sihagri which means Lion Rock. Today unfortunately only the lion’s paws are left at the bottom of the stairs.
Just incredible how they were able to build a whole fortress on top of a rock. Let me tell you, it’s even more impressive in real life! Whether you are a history buff, adrenaline junky, or in it for the views. It was really a unique experience climbing Sigiriya Lion Rock, which I can only recommend to you.
Essential Travel Information for climbing Sigiriya Rock
Entry Ticket to the Lion Rock
The entry ticket to the Sigiriya rock is not cheap, definitely for those on a tighter backpacking budget. Entry fees for the Unesco World Heritage sites are the biggest expense in Sri Lanka compared to other things. It is one of the most popular and visited landmarks in the country, for which the entrance fee is 6900 LKR (~€30) for foreigners. Payment is in cash, but there is a smaller building further up with an ATM. You can also pay in dollars, but you will always pay the equivalent of $30 in rupees. So the rupee price depends on that day’s exchange rate.
Sigirya rock is open every day from 7 AM to 6.30 PM, with the last entry at 5 PM. Once you walk from the parking lot there is the main road going towards the rock. You have to go to the side street on your right to the museum to collect your ticket which is located here. Make sure to get your tickets before starting to climb Sigiriya Rock or they will send you back. They will check your ticket multiple times on-site, so hold on to your ticket for the whole visit.
Upon arrival at the site, there are plenty of guides coming your way offering their services, in case you’re interested in that. When buying your tickets you will receive a small booklet with facts about the rock and its history, which we found quite interesting.
Best time to climb Sigiriya Lion Rock
Sigiriya is best visited during the dry season, which runs between December and early April. March is overall the best time to go, in terms of weather conditions and visibility. This was also the time we visited Sri Lank (March 2022). Our day started a little foggy in the morning, but this added to the mystical atmosphere of the jungle.
However keep in mind it’s also the hottest part of the year, which we can fully confirm. It gets really hot and sticky during the day, imagine hiking up a mountain during that weather. Since it’s the best time of the year to visit, it’s at the same time peak tourist season, so expect bigger crowds.
This is why we recommend going as early as possible, the ticket office opens at 7 AM so aim at that. Our tip is to go straight up the rock, this way you avoid the heat and crowd. After that, you can check out the surrounding gardens and ruins. At peak time you might encounter queues for going up the rock from the middle plateau since everybody needs to take the same set of stairs. Otherwise go in the late afternoon for sunset, for cooler weather on your descent. The ticket office closes at 5 PM, so grab your ticket in time.
TIP | You can visit both Pidurangala and Sigirya rock on the same day. Since both rocks give you a 360° view of the surrounding green plains, you are not forced to choose one specific rock for sunset and sunrise.
How Long does it take to climb Sigiriya Lion Rock?
You will be pleased to hear that climbing Sigiriya Rock doesn’t take too long. The climb itself takes around 45 minutes to the top, depending on your fitness level. This doesn’t include the little breaks, time for taking pictures, and enjoying the overall scenery. If you are anything like us, count on around 3 hours to spend at the sight. Taking in the gorgeous views, wander around the ruins on the top and the royal gardens at the end of the climb.
There are around 1250 steps from the bottom all the way to the top. The attraction is pretty accessible for everyone and there are a few platforms in between where you can catch a breath. No matter what your fitness level is though, you will get sweaty. The hike is well-indicated with signs and easy to follow. The most challenging part is probably the last part, where you have to climb a steep metal staircase. I personally am not afraid of heights, but I wasn’t really thrilled about this part either. Do not worry the staircase is well secured and has a steady handrail to hold on to.
If you go climbing Sigiriya Rock in the morning you will be finished by lunchtime. There are some wonderful restaurants around to bridge the scorching heat of midday. After your break, you can walk the area towards Pidurangala to tackle the other rock for sunset.
Monkeys hang out very frequently around tourist attractions. Many of them got skilled in grabbing food and drinks so make sure that everything is put neatly away in your bag. We even saw one cheeky monkey stealing a coco-cola bottle, fluently opening the top, and enjoying the refreshing drink. No shame whatsoever, but entertaining.
On the grounds, you will also notice warning signs about bees and wasps in the area. Thankfully, we didn’t encounter any, but there are large numbers of nests around the rock walls. Each year there are multiple cases of attacks, so be cautious.
Photography and drone restrictions
Regarding the bees, there are signs that say they can get aggressive because of drones flying around. This is one of the reasons it’s not allowed to fly drones at the sight. Outside the area, it’s normally allowed to take drone footage from the famous Sigiriya rock. But always check the latest updates regarding regulations.
Camera photography is also banned in a few spots along the Sigiriya hike. More specifically on the frescoes wall, you will see clear signs that you can’t miss. This is for the protection and preservation of historic rock paintings. The ban is more strictly enforced nowadays and your camera might get confiscated or you have to delete the taken pictures if you ignore the rules.
No dress code
Unlike the other cultural attractions in Sri Lanka (including Pidurangala rock!), Sigiriya rock is not a sacred temple, so you don’t require any cover-up of the knees and shoulders. Still keep in mind that Sri Lanka is more conservative when it comes to clothing when picking out your outfit ;). Shorts and a top are fine, bring something to protect you from the sun and comfortable shoes.
Daypack essentials for climbing Sigiriya Rock
Here are a few items that we recommend to bring or wear on your Sirigirya hike:
Protection from the sun: bring a hat, sunscreen (like Sun Bum Original SPF 50), and sunglasses. Laugh all you want, or think we might be exaggerating but the sun here is excruciatingly hot and burning. We speak out of the experience. We both had our hairlines burned and the top of our heads, it was not pleasant.
Loads of water and snacks: You will be doing a small workout and with the heat, you gotta stay hydrated. There are small stands at the exit of the rock in case you need some extra refreshments.
Comfortable shoes: You will be on your feet all day hiking up and down, so good sneakers will be your best friend. Some parts can get rather difficult, definitely if decide to tackle Pidurangala later in the day. For this activity, you wanna skip the slippers.
Headlamp or flashlight: This is for the early morning or after sunset, it will help you guide your way on the descent of both rocks. At Pidurangla, which we visited for sunset, there are small solar lamps on the pathway, but some extra light will come in handy.
Camera: You don’t want to forget this one, the breathtaking views are just begging to be immortalized on camera!
The story of the rock
The history of Sigiriya goes way back and many stories have been told. The rock itself was formed out of the magma of an extinct volcano more than two billion years ago. In prehistoric times the natural cave shelters in the rock were inhabited by tribes and later reclusive Buddhist monks. Traces found of people living there date back to the 20 century BC. Some inscriptions made historians even theorize it was the Alkamandava or City of Gods.
A Royal Background
The origin of the Lion rock that we know today traces back to a royal family feud in the 5th century AD. The ancient rock fortress was built by King Kasyapa, the younger son of the king of Anuradhapura. He built his capital on top of this massive 200 meters high square rock.
The story goes that King Kasyapa plotted to seize power by first killing his father. Next, he took the throne from his brother Moggallana illegally, after which Moggallana had to flee to India where he was forced to live in exile. Out of fear of his brother’s retaliation, Kasyapa moved the capital from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya. This was the very reason he built the invincible fortress high up on a rock, for protection against a possible invasion. He transformed the rock into a royal residence with an immense resting Lion gateway, surrounded by royal gardens. Of which we can still witness the remnants today. This is where the rock got its name from, Sigiriya or Sihagiri, which derives from the Sinhalese meaning Lion Rock. The palace in the clouds would only last as the capital for a short 18 years.
His brother came back with a full army, taking back what was rightfully his. Kasyapa was killed in battle and his forces were defeated in 495 AD, after which the palace got destroyed. After this, the fortress became a Buddhist sanctuary until the 14th century, and later on, got abandoned again. It was only in the 19th century that Sigirya rock got rediscovered by Jonathan Forbes. The actual excavation only took place in 1980, and since then the legendary fortress has been visited by millions of tourists. In 1982, Sigiriya rock was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Climbing Up the Sigiriya Lion Rock
These days, climbing the Sigiriya Rock is one of the most popular attractions in Sri Lanka. Your visit starts by entering the main path of the surrounding terrace gardens, which offers you the perfect perspective of the rock ahead. These palace gardens are one of the oldest in the world and the pools are used to supply water to the fortress through ingenious irrigation systems.
From here the climb of the fortress starts. Be prepared for a small challenge and conquer 1200 steps to the top of the mighty Lion Rock. There are clear markings for the carved-out paths to guide you up and the rock is divided into three levels. Head straight up to the middle platform with the lion claws. On your way back down you take the iron bridge around the rock towards the frescoes and mirror wall.
The lion paw gateway
These are the lion paws that contributed to the Sigiriya rock’s name. The gigantic lion’s paws at the foot of the narrow staircase are guarding the entrance to the palace. In the 5th century, the whole stairway was surrounded by a full lion, with the stairs going through the lion’s gaping mouth.
Ascending through the lion’s mouth was a symbolic image for Buddhist devotees. It’s representative of Buddha being Sakya-Sinha or Lion of the Sakya Clan, meaning that his truth was as powerful as a Lion’s roar. Unfortunately, the lion’s head and upper parts got destroyed a long time ago, only the paws remain today.
The summit of the rock
After going up the last part of the narrow metal stairs, we finally make it to the top platform where the palace used to be. The palace complex on the top covers around 1,5 hectares and was at one point in time covered with buildings. Sadly today only the foundations remain and it’s up to our imagination to visualize the glory of a once luxurious palace. The fortress complex mainly consists of remnants of a ruined palace, canals, alleys, and a garden with ponds. On the east side, you can find the spot where a throne was carved out of a stone slab.
The most mind-blowing aspect of the summit must be the majestic views it offers. The rock gives you an incredible 360 degrees view of lush jungles as far as the eye can see. Temples and pagodas scattered over the green plains, with glistering lakes in the distance. You can also see the Pidurangala rock just a stone’s throw away which we will visit later today. What a reward at the end of conquering those stairs.
The mirror wall
After taking in the historic beauty at the top, we will start descending. The climb down should be easier, but careful not to slip. For the first part, you will return the same way on the metal staircase towards the middle platform with the lion paws and after that back to the first platform. From here instead of taking the stairs down, take the straight metal bridge along the rock. This will lead you to the mirror wall, which was supposed to be so polished back in the day that the king could look at his own reflection. The wall was made out of bricks with a polishing plaster finish, giving it a mirroring effect. However now it’s so old that it lost its shine, don’t even try to see yourself in it.
The wall had been “vandalized” with graffiti in the past. The writings on the wall date back to the 7th century when visitors to the place would leave a message behind. The writings usually praise the beauty of the place and its paintings. Some even left poetry, so it was not your modern type of vandalism. The inscriptions on the Mirror wall are proof that even back then Sigiriya was a kind of “tourist” destination. Obviously, you can’t leave your name or a tribute behind anymore in order to preserve the historical condition of the wall.
All the way at the end of the mirror wall you will bump into two spiral staircases. Don’t ignore them because going up you will encounter some incredibly well-maintained frescoes of damsels. The murals of the Maidens of Sigiriya still remain in beautiful condition and vibrant in color thanks to the overhanging rock that protected them from natural elements.
According to the graffiti on the Mirror wall, there must have been 500 of those painted all over the rock faces. Many archeologists also attempted to interpret the identity of the beautifully portrayed women in these ancient masterpieces. Some say they were King Kasyapa’s concubines heading towards the Pidurangala temple for worshipping and offering fruit trays and flower petals. Others said the damsels represent Apsaras or goddesses. Another interpretation by a Sri Lankan archeologist is that the damsels are a symbolic representation of rainclouds and lightning. The dark-skinned maidens are a symbol of the rainclouds, whereas the fair golden skin ones symbolize lightning. Unfortunately today not many frescoes are left and it’s forbidden to take pictures of them. This is in order to preserve the damsels since flash photography can damage the colors.
The royal gardens
Once you are done on higher grounds, there is still a lot to see while descending and on the bottom level. On your way, you will encounter many ruins and caves, of which the most famous one is the Cobra cave. Surrounding Lion Rock you have beautiful royal gardens which consist of water gardens, boulder gardens, and terraced gardens. They are believed to be one of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world. Complex hydraulic systems are running through the gardens in the form of underground water pumps, canals, and dams. It’s truly a lovely place to stroll through and maybe enjoy some snacks at the end of your Lion Rock climb.
Where to eat in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka?
We had a few hours to kill after climbing Sigiriya Lion Rock and before heading out for the Pidurangala rock. Besides we worked up quite an appetite, so we went on the hunt for a nice lunch place. We left the site via the south entrance and after just a five-minute walk we found our way to Tharumila restaurant. The main reason we chose the place was because of its location, it has the perfect view of Lion rock while you enjoy your food. The hostess was really friendly and we enjoyed an amazing Sri Lankan curry. Make sure to order one of their fruit juices which are divine, we can only recommend our personal favorite, the maracuja juice. The whole lunch with drinks came down to 1500 LKR (~€6), great value, and a relaxing place to enjoy a delicious meal!
Another favorite amongst tourists in Sigiriya is Pradeep restaurant. Many seem to like the place’s roti which is supposed to be one of the best. Roti is one of the traditional Sri Lankan dishes and one you must try while there. For a little bit of a party or just a great atmosphere to end the day, head over to Rasta Rant. They are known for their barbecue dishes and cocktails, but even more for their good vibes with their outdoor setting and music.
Where to stay for climbing Sigiriya Rock?
Where to stay: Dambulla or Sigiriya?
The town of Sigiriya itself is focused around the main road with multiple side alleys leading towards the jungle. The area is giving a relaxed vibe with cozy restaurants right in the greenery. Most of the guesthouses are scattered all over the area around the two rocks.
Staying in Sigirya is perfect if you are looking for a more idyllic location right in nature. There are plenty of accommodations to find, for everyone’s budget. Just for convenience make sure to pick one that is not too far from the rock, since most restaurants are around there.
As mentioned in our Dambulla post, it makes the most sense to pick one destination to book accommodation and from there explore all the sights in the area. You can easily get around from here to Polonnaruwa, Dambulla for the cave temple, as well as different safari trips. Choosing between a stay in Dambulla (which is about a 30-minute drive away) or Sigirya depends on personal preference. Dambulla is more hectic since it’s a trade hub and a more ‘strategic’ spot to stay since the main bus station is here. So in case, if you have a hectic itinerary that would be a good option for you. However, if you want a more laidback and relaxing environment we definitely recommend Sigiriya over Dambulla.
Accommodations for every budget
Below are some great options if you are looking for a nice place to stay in Sigiriya that suits all different budgets:
If you are looking for a nice guest house to sleep in, then The Cattleya Guest House might be the perfect fit for you. It’s a beautiful stay, with new and clean rooms with a cozy terrace towards the garden. Another guesthouse stay option is the Sigiri Rock Side Home stay, you will love the scenery of this one. Right in the lush green surroundings from the rocks. You can enjoy a relaxing evening on the porch of this little slice of heaven at the end of the day.
If you want to treat yourself to a beautiful hotel with a pool with a view of Lion Rock, there is the Water Garden Sigiriya. Surrounded by rice fields, this relaxing resort offers you your own luxurious villa. They offer top-quality service with a spa, pool, restaurant, and bar at your disposal.
BOOK ACCOMMODATION | See all hotels & guesthouse stays in Sigiriya
How many days do you stay in Sigiriya?
If you are on a tight schedule for your trip, then one night is enough to see the highlights around Sigiriya. Upon your arrival in the afternoon, you could directly head out to Pidurgala rock for the perfect sunset view of the Lion rock. In the morning you can climb Sigiriya Rock itself. If you would like to see the Dambulla Cave Temple, it’s perfectly possible to pass by just before jumping on a bus to Kandy or Anuradhapura. They have luggage storage, so you can drop them off while you go exploring. However, we would recommend 3 nights in total for Sigiriya / Dambulla to catch all the sights this area has to offer. Climbing Sigiriya Rock and Pidurangala, take a day trip to the historic city of Polonnaruwa, see the magnificent Cave Temples in Dambulla, and maybe squeeze in a safari trip to Minneriya & Kaudulla National Park.
How To Get To Sigiriya, Sri Lanka?
How to get to Sigiriya from Dambulla
Dambulla is the nearest city, where you initially arrive from your previous destination. Here you can catch the bus or a tuk-tuk to get to Sigiriya.
Tuktuk is the easiest and fastest option to get to Sigiriya, it’s only a 30-minute drive away. Ask the driver to take the road along Lake Kandalama. The drive is just a little longer but gives you amazing views of the landscapes of Sigiriya. Price-wise a tuk-tuk should cost you between 1000 and 1500 LKR (~€4-6), depending on your negotiation skills ;).
The local bus is another option, they are cheap and run regularly. You catch the bus at Dambulla Main Bus station, this is also where intercity buses arrive from other cities. Buses go every 30 minutes and will take you around an hour. The first bus in the morning leaves at 6.45 AM until 6 PM and tickets will cost you only 50 LKR one way (20 cents). From the bus stop in Sigiriya, it’s a 10-minute walk to the ticket counter of the Rock fortress.
How to get to Sigiriya from Anuradhapura
Besides hiring a private car, the only and best way to get to Sigiriya from Anuradhapura is by taking the bus. There are two bus lines running between Anuradhapura and Kandy, bus number 42 or 43 (line Kandy – Vavuniya), and they make a stop in Dambulla. Bus line 43 is the more ‘luxurious’ bus van with AC. These usually go every 30 minutes and the trip takes 1,5 hours. It will cost you around 400 LKR per person (less than €2), so it’s very affordable. Once arrived in Dambulla you will need to catch the local bus or a tuk-tuk to go to Sigiriya (see above).
How to get to Sigiriya from Kandy
The easiest and most budget-friendly way is to take the bus from Kandy to Dambulla and swap there to the local bus or tuk-tuk using the directions mentioned above. Go to Kandy central bus station (which is opposite the train station) and take bus 42 or 43 (the one with AC) in the direction of Dambulla. The journey should take a little over 2 hours and the air-conditioned bus will cost you 450 rupees (roughly 2 euros). Buses usually depart every 30 minutes.
How to get to Sigiriya from Colombo
If you are traveling from Colombo and you wish to take the train, head over to Colombo Fort Station. From there take the train to Habarana station, this is a town 15km up north from Sigiriya. Train tickets for the second class will cost you around 450 LKR (~€2) and take around 5 hours. You can check the train schedule here. Train tickets upfront can be booked through 12GO. However, buying your tickets directly at the station will be cheaper. In Habarana you have to transfer to the local bus or a tuk-tuk to Sigiriya. There are also frequent AC express buses running between Colombo and Dambulla. Take the bus in direction of Polonnaruwa.
BOOK TRANSPORTATION | Book a train, bus, or taxi to Sigiriya with 12Go Asia HERE
We hope you enjoyed this guide to climbing Sigiriya Rock. Make sure to let us know in the comments below if you liked it and find it useful! Don’t hesitate if you have any more questions ;). You can show some ❤ and support for the blog and help us share more adventures! Our travels are entirely self-funded, so any show of support is greatly appreciated. It allows us to keep writing helpful travel guides and gather information to make it easier for people to discover the world.
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