Top Sigiriya Sightseeing Destinations & An Authentic Sri Lankan Experience With The Locals

  • Thomas Altschwager
  • 25 Mar 24

Tom, a team member here at Bunnik Tours, shares his experience sightseeing in Sigiriya. On his recent trip to Sri Lanka, he climbed Sigiriya Rock and visited a local village for an authentic Sri Lankan meal with Bunnik Tours.

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka by Tom Altschwager

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka by Tom Altschwager

Read his first-hand recount to get a feel for what Sri Lanka, the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, has to offer the traveller. 




On day 6 of our journey across the northern part of Sri Lanka, we had the pleasure of not only visiting, but climbing to the top of one of the most majestic icons of this beautiful country.


Sigiriya 'Lion Rock' an ancient kingdom

The Ancient City of Sigiriya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is an ancient rock fortress located in the northern Matale district, close by to the town of Dambulla, in the central province of Sri Lanka. It is regarded as one of Sri Lanka’s most impressive sites to visit. Built by King Kasyapa, originally a 5-acre fort sat atop of the rock with a city nestled at its base, however now the city is gone and all that remains of the fortress are ruins.


Gardens of Sigiriya, a sightseeing paradise

Due to the warm weather, the best time to visit is early in the morning to avoid climbing during the heat of the day. We arrived for our climb at about 8:30 am, and even as we stood waiting to begin our journey, the view of the rock in the distance was breathtaking. The rock towers over everything around it, and the lush greenery surrounding it paints a perfect picture. It’s no wonder people travel from far and wide for sightseeing in Sigiriya!


Sigiriya sightseeing, Sri Lanka
Sigiriya by Tom Altschwager

Sightseeing in Sri Lanka: Limestone stairs leading up to Sigiriya Rock

The initial ascent towards the rock is through a garden landscape. This was once the site of the ancient city and offers scenic vistas and Sigiriya photo opportunities galore. We ascend slowly, to begin with, with sets of 5-10 stairs every 50 or so metres, so the initial incline is not too hard. The stairs are ancient and made of beautiful stone, and as you climb each, you are met with another level of lush greenery, picturesque water gardens and historic ruins.

As we advance closer and closer to the base of the rock, the sheer size and height of this colossal landmark ahead left us awestruck.  The real challenge begins as we reach the base – with over 1,000 stairs ahead! The intermittent landings provided stunning perspectives of the climb and the surrounding landscape, well worth the climb!


Lion's Paw Terrace: how the rock got its name

Sightseeing Lion's Paw Terrace: Lion's Paw Terrace at Sigiriya in Sri Lanka
Sigiriya by Lisa Turner

Sightseeing in Sigiriya, climbing Lion's Paw Terrace:Stairs up Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka

The main landing area at Sigiriya, at approximately the halfway mark of our climb, is known as the ‘Lion's Paw Terrace’. A significant architectural feature situated partway up the rock fortress, this area marks the beginning of the final ascent towards the summit, where the remnants of two colossal lion paws stand as a grand entrance to the upper palace complex.

The lion paws, originally part of a larger lion structure that served as a gateway, were designed to evoke the impression of entering the mouth of a lion, symbolising strength, power, and royalty. The paws, intricately carved from stone, acted as the base of the stairway leading to the upper levels of the fortress.


360-degree views of Sigiriya: a photographers dream

Sigiriya sightseeing, The Citadel: Citadel atop Sigiriya on a Sri Lanka tour
Sigiriya by Tom Altschwager

As we reach the top of the climb, awaiting is the magnificent, 360-degree views as far as the eye can see, over the jungle and remnants of the ancient kingdom that once lay below, offering a glimpse into the grandeur of the past. Here we spent close to an hour looking and taking photos of Sigiriya from various viewpoints, as well as gazing upon the central area of the summit. The palace complex can be seen, which includes foundations and outlines of the buildings that once served as the royal residence. Archaeological evidence suggests that these structures were adorned with intricate frescoes, elaborate gardens, water features, and possibly even pavilions!


The ancient history of Sigiriya

Eventually, it was time for the descent back down Sigiriya Rock, with a few stops along the way. Another famous site of Sri Lanka is the collection of ancient frescoes found in a sheltered area along the rock face. These paintings depict female figures believed to be celestial beings or royal consorts. While time and weather have taken their toll, some of these vividly coloured frescoes have survived, providing glimpses into the artistic skill and life of the ancient inhabitants.


A local village visit for authentic Sri Lankan cuisine

From here, it was time to fill our bellies with a well-deserved meal. Where better than a family home in a nearby local village? Upon arrival, we were greeted by a lovely family, who were more than happy to welcome us into their home and show us their traditions and authentic cuisine.


Sigiriya sightseeing, a visit to a local family for lunch: Local Sri Lankan woman cooking in a hut on a Sri Lankan tour
Habarana by Lisa Turner

Sigiriya sightseeing, meeting the locals of Sri Lanka: Local village hut with coconut palm leaf roof in Habarana on a Sri Lanka tour

As we observed, the preparation of a diverse array of local cuisine unfolded before our eyes. It was a captivating sight to witness the meticulous techniques and age-old cooking methods that had been passed down and mastered throughout many generations. The vibrant colours, aromatic spices and fresh ingredients were also a feast for the senses in all respects.

Learning these traditional cooking techniques firsthand not only expanded our knowledge of the cultural history of Sri Lanka, but also deepened my appreciation of the significance of the spices and flavours which have stemmed from Sri Lanka’s position along trade routes as well as being influenced by nearby India, Arab, Malay cultures.


Sightseeing: an authentic meal in Sigiriya. Sambal and bread on a palm leaf in Habarana village
Habarana by Shameer Muthalif

Sharing a meal with the locals in Sigiriya, sri Lanka, Spread of Sri Lankan dishes
Habarana by Lisa Turner

Finally, we sat down to savour the magnificent meal in a perfect blend of cultural exchange, culinary exploration, and heartfelt hospitality. What could be more perfect?


Time to go sightseeing in Sigiriya, a top destination in Sri Lanka

Want to explore the majesty of Sigiriya for an unrivalled sightseeing opportunity? Explore Lion Rock and experience authentic local Sri Lankan cuisine on either our classic Sri Lankan Discovery small group tour, or our deluxe Sri Lanka In-Style tour.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is it difficult to climb Sigiriya?

Climbing Sigiriya Lion Rock is moderately difficult. The climb up and back down will take anywhere from 1.5 hours to 3 hours. There are some 1,200 steps to the top of the rock, where you will be rewarded with panoramic views.


Which king lived in Sigiriya?

King Kashyapa lived in Sigiriya and was the King that built the ancient citadel during the 5th century.


Why is Sigiriya called Lion Rock?

Due to the two gigantic Lion's paws which sit on either side of a grand stone staircase. The paws gave Sigiriya the name 'Lion's Rock'. These majestic paws are all that remain of the carved stone Lion that sat guarding the final staircase to the ancient palace above.


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