As the capital, the largest and most populous city in Sri Lanka, you won't be able to get away without spending at least one day in Colombo. You might be eager to reach the beautiful beach destinations of the island, or climb the hills to experience the colder side of Sri Lanka, but Colombo has plenty to offer itself.
Very much the concrete jungle in making of Sri Lanka, the city is full of modern buildings, but there are so many sites where it's history has been firmly safeguarded. The cosmopolitan city has several sides of it that you can explore, from the more trendy areas of lavish shopping, five-star hotels, chic cafes, and luxury apartments to the busy local markets, unique beaches, and so much more.
Here are some of the must-see places and experiences in Colombo:
- The Beaches
Once upon a time, if you wanted to visit the beach in Colombo, you only had one option: Galle Face Green, with it's unique grassy setting and the iconic Galle Face Hotel situated right across. While that still remains the most popular choice, recent developments of several other beaches have made more options available. Other beaches in Colombo that you can visit include the Crow Island Beach, and the “Golden Mile” of Mount Lavinia beaches.
- Places of Worship
With Buddhism being the majority religion of the country, there's no shortage of amazing Buddhist temples around the city. Buddhist temples of note in Colombo are Gangaramaya Temple with its museum and several displays of historic items from paintings to crockery, cars, and even cameras, Isipathanaramaya Temple, believed to be one of the oldest and most sacred in the city, Vajiraramaya Temple, and Seema Malaka Temple.
While Buddhist are the majority, Colombo is very much a multi-cultural city, which means there are several other places of worship that are well known. This includes mosques like the Jami-Ul-Alfar Masjid (Red Mosque), Dewatagaha Mosque, and Colombo Grand Mosque. Popular Hindu temples include Sri Ponnambalam Vanesar Kovil, Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil, and Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam. Churches that are famous in Colombo include All Saints' Church, St Anthony's Church, and St Lucia's Cathedral.
- Historical Sites
As we mentioned, Colombo still holds several pieces of its history very dear to its heart, which means there are many place around the city where you can explore the past. This includes places like the National Museum, the historical Beira Lake, Independence Square, colonial sites like the Colombo Dutch Museum, Old Colombo Dutch Hospital, and the Galle Face Green Hotel.
- The Malls
Although Colombo isn't known for its massive shopping malls, two that have been in place for years are Crescat Boulevard and Majestic City, both situated on Galle Road, a short distance from each other. But recent times have seen the development of several other high-end shopping locations like the Independence Square Arcade, and department stores like Odel, House of Fashion, etc. Construction on the Colombo City Center Mall, which will be Sri Lanka's first international mall, has also begun and is expected to be completed in 2019.
- The Parks
If you're visiting with family and kids (or even by yourself), Colombo's parks are great places to spend an evening relaxing and taking in the country's stunning nature. The most famous park in Colombo is the Viharamahadevi park. Although its been in place for a long time, it was recently refurbished and expanded into a beautiful park full of greenery and play areas for children.
Another popular park is Water's Edge, or Diyatha Uyana, situated on the waterfront, consisting of a mini aquarium, shopping tents, food court, and play area. There are also several other smaller parks scattered throughout the city.
- Lotus Tower
The Lotus Tower (Nelum Koluna), is the latest and tallest addition to Colombo city's skyline. This mammoth structure has been unmissable since it reached its height in the midst of construction from most parts of the city. Standing at 350m, it is the 2nd tallest building in South Asia, and the 19th tallest in the world.
While the primary purpose of it was to serve as a base of TV and radio transmission, there have been floors dedicated to commercial purposes like a shopping centers, banquet halls, food courts, an observation deck, and even a revolving restaurant! The tower is set to open very soon, so if you're visit falls after the end of 2018, don't miss it!
If you're looking for an authentic Sri Lankan experience, there's nothing more quintessentially Sri Lankan than walking the streets of Pettah, eating yummy “short eats” and achcharu, buyig fruit from vendors on carts, and bargaining for great deals on all kinds of bits and bobs, from electronics to fabric, food, and so much more.
Pettah is Colombo's primary wholesale market, but many of the vendors also sell items for retail for prices that are arguably cheaper than you would get anywhere else in the country.
The streets of Pettah are also filled with historical buildings, although you might not catch them at first sight among all the hustle and bustle. These building include the Wolvendaal Church, the old Khan clock tower, the Dutch Museum, and more. Situated in Pettah are also iconic religious buildings like the Red Mosque (a sight to behold, built in all red and white tiles), the New & Old Kathiresan Kovils (two Hindu temples situated right next to each other), and several churches including the Methodist Church (known to be the first Methodist church of Asia).
- National Zoological Gardens of Sri Lanka
Situated just outside of Colombo is the high-scale suburb of Dehiwala, where the National Zoological Gardens of Sri Lanka, or simply “Dehiwala Zoo” is located. The beautifully landscaped 30 acres premise is home to a wide range of mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish. A day at the zoo is sure to be fun and educational to not just the kids, but the adults as well.
- Good Food
Colombo is very much the gastronomic center of the country. While you get good local food around the country, and even international spreads at high-end hotels and resorts, it's nowhere near the range of variety offered in the capital city. Whatever you're craving, from Western to Asian, fine-dining to budget-friendly, we're sure you'll be able to find a restaurant that serves an amazing version of it. But, you cannot beat eating local food like kottu, short eats, etc. at street food vendors and small “potti kades” along the side of the road.