Colombo is a busy and vibrant city divided into 13 districts, with Colombo 1 or Fort Area being the center of the city. It is also the most ethnically mixed place in Sri Lanka with both Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Buddhists.
History has it that Sri Lanka was ruled by the Dutch, the Portuguese, and then the British, and the trails of which still reflect in Colombo’s cultural heritage. From the art to architecture, historical monuments to traditional restaurants, temples to amusement parks, and from scenic nature to smiling people you can see it.
Photo: Fusion of British and modern architecture on the streets of Colombo / CC0
Colombo Travel Guide
It is a city with a great mixture of modern life and architecture, and old colonial buildings and ruins from the time when it was the capital of the British Ceylon (from 1815 until Sri Lanka got its independence in 1948).
Colombo served as a seaport town back as the 5th century, as it has the perfect location for trade between Asia and Europe. It has since had Arab, Portuguese, and Dutch settlers so tourism is not a new thing for this island city.
Things To Do In Colombo
National Museum of Colombo
If you are a history lover and have a keen eye for architecture, the National Museum is probably one of the first few places to visit in Colombo.
Established during 1877, this is the biggest museum in the island nation and is undoubtedly the pride of Sri Lanka. The place houses some of the best and personalized collections of the ancient Kandyan dynasty rulers.
Photo: National Musuem of Colombo / CC0
Independence Memorial Hall
Independence Memorial Hall in Colombo was constructed to commemorate the occasion of Sri Lankan Independence from British Rule. The construction of this memorial was completed during 1953.
Prior to the construction of the Sri Lankan Parliament, this Memorial Hall served as the ceremonial assembly as well. This place currently caters to the needs of fitness enthusiasts as the open spaces here are used for jogging, cycling, public gym, aerobic sessions, and other relevant activities.
Photo: The Independence Memorial Hall / The Art of Travel Partners
Gangaramaya Temple is one of the most well-known Buddhist temples in Colombo. It’s exceptionally beautiful with the Beira Lake on one side and statues & carvings paving the way inside. The main sanctuary has a huge Buddha statue while the ceilings portray his stories. The temple also has training centers, a museum and much more to admire.
Photo: Buddha statues at Gangaramaya Temple/ CC0
Galle Face Green Promenade
Visit Galle Face Green Promenade at sundown for a spectacular view. The promenade stretches 13 acres between Galle Road and the Indian Ocean and it tends to attract children, teenagers, vendors, and families.
Usually, on Saturday and Sunday evenings, the land is filled with day-trippers, food vendors, and people picnicking. The Galle Face Green Promenade was reopened to the public in May of 2001.
Photo: The coastline of Colombo with its promenade / CC0
Open deck bus
Hop on to the most colorful, hep and happening open deck bus and enjoy one of the most fun things to do in Colombo – the city tour. First of its kind in the whole of Sri Lanka, embarking on a Colombo city tour on this bus is one of the most charming ways to explore the rich heritage of Sri Lanka’s capital city.
Note- Operates thrice a week from Friday to Sunday
Photo: The colorful open bus is the best way to explore Colombo / CC0
All around downtown Colombo 1, in the Fort Area, there are stunning monumental buildings dating back to the Dutch and British era of Sri Lanka. Back then, this area was a real fort as it was surrounded by the sea on two sides and had a moat on the landward sides.
Today though it is packed with stunning old colonial-era architecture masterpieces that have been restored with a mix of modern structures. The Old Dutch Hospital is a good example of this and well worth a visit. Also, this area houses the President´s House and various governmental buildings.
Photo: The older Fort Area of Colombo / CC0
There are lots of places to visit here like the aquarium, mini zoo, children’s play zone, war memorial, lake and the dangerous-yet-adventurous suspension bridge above it. Exploring the picnic hotspots, waterfalls, walking trails, and enjoying the thrilling rides, are few of the interesting things that one can experience at the Viharamahadevi Park.
When you and your kids are tired of running around the park, you can just relax on the cool resting places on the park, eating local delicacies like candy floss, corn and ice cream
Sri Lanka is known for its exclusive varieties of tea. The capital city of Colombo is covered with a green carpet of tea plantations that demands a separate tour in itself. The aroma of tea and herbs in these estates lend incredible magic to this place.
And for the tea lovers, this is like a heaven where you will get to taste after manufacturing directly from the factory.
Photo: Tea Plantations on the outskirts of Colombo/ CC0
A visit to the famous and tranquil Beira Lake is a must while holidaying in Colombo. Located right in the heart of the city, boating in a swan boat on the Beira Lake worth visiting. Cruise through the shimmering waters, explore the nearby Seema Malaka temple nearby and spend an eventful evening in the cozy cafes that adorn the lake.
Photo: Beira lake with the city backdrop/ CC0
Scuba Diving in the clear blue waters is easily one of the best things you can do when in Colombo. Few of the best sites to go diving are Medhufaru, Cargo Wreck, Nilgiri Drug, and Palagala. The boat time to reach all these sites doesn’t exceed more than 45 minutes, making it easy to explore multiple sites.
The dive centers in Colombo are certified, and thus diving is safe. Have a great time exploring the underwater sites as it is no doubt one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka in 2019.
Photo: Scuba Diving should definitely be on your list if in the country / CC0
Dehiwala National Zoo
Much famed to be one of the oldest zoos in the whole of Asia, going for wildlife interaction is one of the must-do things to do in Colombo. Home to more than 3000 animals, the travelers get to meet a wide range of indigenous and exotic fauna at the Dehiwala National Zoo.
At present, the zoo boasts of housing more than 72 species of mammals and more than 65 species of birds.
Be it the high-rising malls like the Odel, Majestic City, and Liberty Plaza, or the local markets which are perfect for street shopping in Colombo, the capital city offers endless choices for the travelers to experience shopping in Sri Lanka.
Famous Shopping Places: Barefoot, Plâté for antiques, Paradise Road, Arcade Independence Square, Selyn, and more.
Pettah Markets –You will find all kinds of colorful and delicious fruits and vegetables here.
Manning Market (Olcott Mawatha, Colombo 11, opening hours: 07:00 – 15:00) is located just east of Fort Train Station and is Colombos wholesale market of fruits and vegetables.
Central Market (Market Street, Colombo 11, opening hours: 07:00 – 15:00) is more modern than the other two.
Photo: Pettah markets / CC0
With a lot to offer to adults and kids, indulge in a day full of fun and frolic at the amazing amusement park of Leisure World Water Park. Featuring thrilling rollercoaster rides, and fun-filled water slides for everyone alike, spending a day at this adventure hub is worth it.
Ever dreamt of playing golf at one of the world’s finest and high-profile golf clubs? Royal Colombo Golf Club is just what you are looking for!
Constructed 130 years ago, this is the second oldest golf club in the world. Tourists coming to this club can try their hand at the 96-acre golf court by submitting proper identity documents and paying the relevant fees as per their requirement.
Photo: Try golfing at the country Golf club / CC0
Experiences to have
Striking a perfect balance between mental and physical health? An ayurvedic treatment and rejuvenating spas in Colombo offer the perfect relaxation which the travelers seek. Ranging from luxurious Swedish massages to traditional Shiatsu therapy, pamper yourself at the best ayurvedic spa places in Colombo.
Photo: Pamper yourself with a relaxing day at the spa / CC0
Tuk Tuk ride
The most fun, experiences to have is a tuk-tuk ride. It is the happiest, thrilling, and a fascinating ride. Making life easy in and around Colombo, tuk-tuk is an auto-rickshaw which happens to be the most convenient ways of getting around the city. Colorful and vibrant as ever, do not miss out on your tuk-tuk adventure.
Photo: A ride in the semi-open Tuk Tuk is sure to be exhilarating / CC0
Nightlife Hot Spots
7 Degrees North
7 Degrees North is a high-profile bar in which Colombo’s who’s who can be spotted quite frequently. The interior decorations are quite swanky and fashion personified. This place gets extremely crowded during weekends. Personalized service is available for guests coming to the bar as most of the people who come here are celebrities in their own fields.
Some of the other famous places for an all-night party are
- Sky Lounge
- Kama Nightclub
- ON 14
Best Time to Visit Colombo
Colombo is a year-round destination and can be visited at any time of the year. Apart from the heavy monsoons, which generally last between June and September, the weather is pleasant for most of the year.
Taxis are the best option if you want to save time and travel in comfort. Uber is now a great option coming from the airport. As of June 2018 an uber cost LKR 1, 800 to Colombo. PickMe is an Uber-like service for long distances.
Kangaroo Cabs is a very reputable taxi company in Colombo that has special deals starting at LKR 1750 from the airport to Colombo in new air-conditioned taxis.
You can also take the Tuk Tuks to get from one place to another within the city. They are convenient and squeeze through all narrow streets easily making it faster.
This is the cheapest way to get into Colombo. The air-conditioned public bus (number 187-E3), is operated by Sri Lankan Transport Board (SLTB), to Colombo central bus station from the airport. As of April 2017, the bus picks up from the bus stand across the street from the terminal
A world full flavors and spices, you just can’t have enough of authentic dishes in Colombo. Comprising of one of the best Sri Lankan restaurants, it is a must for every traveler to relish famous dishes like that of Sri Lankan fish curry, Dhal Curry, Vegetarian Kottu, and so on. And no vacation is complete unless you taste the local flavors of that place
Buy a “lunch packet” from street stands practically anywhere in the city. Typically, it will be a filling meal of rice and vegetables.
Also available everywhere are small bakeries selling rotis (either flat or folded into triangles filled with egg, vegetable or fish), hoppers (bowl shaped pancakes made with coconut milk), and other “short eats” (bread based snacks or fried foods).
Around Fort Railway Station there are several local restaurants with the sign “Hotel”, these actually are restaurants. These places have some hot dishes as well as various local baked items. The prices are very cheap, though if you are picky about hygiene you might want to avoid these.
Colombo has a McDonalds on Galle Road, which actually has some unique local offerings, as well as several KFCs, and a Pizza Hut in the Fort area. Though these are certainly not an authentic experience, they are one of the few air-conditioned places you will find and can be a lifesaver if you are about to die from heat stroke.
Photo: Try some street food near the fort area / CC0
Where to stay
Colombo is not friendly to budget travelers, if you visit expecting to find a 15-20 USD room that’s acceptable, you will be disappointed. There is accommodation at this price range, but the standards of hygiene and cleanliness will be unacceptable to anyone except the most hardcore travelers.
Expect to pay around 40 USD for a room that is up to international standards of budget accommodation. The same type of room you would get for 10-20 dollars in South East Asia. It is highly recommended to book accommodation in advance instead of arriving to look for budget accommodation
How Safe is Colombo
Colombo is like most other South Asian capitals. Although it is not as dangerous as one would think, tourists should be very vigilant. Many first time travelers to Colombo find themselves falling victim to scams and touts.
However, seasoned travelers to Sri Lanka are rarely scammed and it is very simple to avoid being a victim of scammers as long as you take precautions
March 9, 2019 2:00 am
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