Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, is a bustling seaport and home to more than 5 million residents. Sitting off the southeast coast of India, this ancient port city was an important stop on the East-West trade route for thousands of years. Its culture is a rich mixture of Asian, Portuguese, Dutch and British influences.
In recent years, Colombo has morphed from a rundown stopover to a vibrant city with plenty to offer holidaymakers. Stylish eateries, museums and galleries are popping up in Colombo’s old quarter, while the bustling CBD is making way for sleek hotels and a blossoming café culture.
To really get the feel of Colombo’s culture and heritage, and to get your bearings right, embark on a day or night walking tour of the city. Whether you choose a personalised or self-guided tour, experiencing Colombo by foot is well worth it.
Culture vultures will love spending time browsing the extensive exhibits in the National Museum of Colombo. Built by the last British Governor and opened in 1877, this building is a beautiful example of colonial architecture.
Escape the hustle and bustle of the city centre for a few hours of peace and tranquillity at the Gangaramaya Temple. Home to Buddhist monks and hundreds of Buddha statues, the exotic temple sits nestled on the banks of Lake Beira. You must take a night ride on a local tuk-tuk to enjoy the thrill of the city lights at dark.
Eat and Drink
Famous for their curries – ask any local and they will say they make the best curries in the world – a Colombo dining experience is not complete without sampling one of these rich dishes with all the trimmings. Fish curries are immensely popular here, and with a thriving crab industry in Colombo, it’s little wonder that they cook a wicked crab curry. Add a piece of mouth-watering roti bread and you will think you are in heaven.
For relaxed dining with a spectacular view, take a 20-minute taxi ride to Mount Lavinia beach where there’s a host of popular restaurants and bars to choose from. Grab a table on the sand and watch the sun set over the horizon.
For fine dining away from the beach, head to Fort in the CBD where you can enjoy a meal followed by a night of dancing. If you are looking for a sugar hit after dinner, make your way along Galle Road and delight in the many street stalls selling colourful Indian treats to indulge your sweet tooth.
Where to Stay
The majority of the luxury hotels in Colombo are found in the cultural hub of Fort. Here you will find luxury accommodations that scream colonial sophistication. The other option for lavish hotels is at Galle Face, a pretty waterfront district that sits just south of Fort.
There are plenty of mid-range accommodations in Colombo’s city centre, or for a beach-style holiday you can head to the popular enclave of Mount Lavinia. This trendy beach destination has countless accommodation options to suit all budgets and is also close to Colombo’s thriving bar scene.
Like shopping in style? Drop into the Old Colombo Dutch Hospital for some retail therapy. This historic building was built during the 17th century by the Dutch and is one of the oldest remaining buildings in Colombo. A multimillion-dollar makeover has added a bit of glitz and glamour to the shopping and dining precinct.
For international fashion labels, homewares and cosmetics, head to the district of Colombo 7 where you will find the city’s largest department store. This area also has a few local Sri Lankan designer goods and souvenir stores worth browsing.
If you are up for a bit of haggling, check out the Pettah open air markets. Here you will find everything from clothing and food to electronic goods. Don’t forget your bargaining skills.
Colombo Like a Local
To experience Colombo like a local, take time to stroll the green waterfront promenade of Galle Face Green to sample the delicious Sri Lankan cuisine from street vendors. Mango milkshakes and thambili (orange and coconut juice served in a fresh coconut) are the specialties here. Galle Face Green is a perpetually popular hotspot, but it really comes alive on the weekend when locals meet and picnic together.