Things to do in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Things to do in Colombo, Sri Lanka

The busy streets of Colombo, with the hustle and bustle of the long-standing markets which have been there for many hundreds of years. Colonial buildings stand out from the more modern Sri Lankan buildings which surround them. 

Things to do in Sri Lanka

History

The port at Colombo was the gateway between Asia and the West for many hundreds of years. It started when the Arab trades came, followed by the Portuguese, then the Dutch before the British arrived. When the British arrived, Colombo soon became the capital city of Sri Lanka, however since Sri Lanka gained independence from the British, the formal capital of Sri Lanka is in fact, Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte. This does not stop Colombo being referred to as the capital city because Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte is a suburb of Colombo.

Colombo experienced many bombing during the civil war, which ravaged the country for over 30 years. The war is now over and the country is rebuilding its infrastructure, tourism and much more.

Colombo Fort, Colombo Sri Lanka

Sights

When we visit Sri Lanka our base is always Colombo, mainly because we have family and friends which reside here. This, however, gives us a great advantage to explore many of the areas around the city. Colombo is broken down into suburbs or postal code areas within Colombo. Our recommended sights to see in Colombo have been broken down into these suburbs of Colombo.

Things to do in Colombo Sri Lanka

Fort
As you can tell by the name, this was once a fort. However, today it doesn’t resemble much of a fort, but there are still some old colonial building, and a lighthouse which remains. To see the fort, it is best to walk it, just mind the tuk-tuk drivers bothering you.

The famous Red and White Mosque in Colombo Sri Lanka

The president’s residences can be found here, but it is unlikely you will see the president, due to the high walls and the premises being highly guarded but also the president doesn’t live here. Standing tall is the world trade centre, not quite the same as the one that once stood in New York, but has the same name. There isn’t much inside other than office buildings. The one thing which stands out and one of our favourite places in Fort is the old Dutch Hospital built in the 1600s, which is just opposite the world trade centre. The Old Dutch Hospital once looked after any sick seafarers, but has been now been transformed into a shopping precinct, with shops, bars and restaurants. A great place to relax and have some food and drinks. Many people are found here in the evenings having a few drinks and a bite to eat, and it is a relaxing place to meet friends or family for a few drinks. This Old Clock Tower built in 1857 stands in the middle of a junction and is a focal point of the Fort.

Pettah

This is the oldest part of Colombo and is a thriving market area selling various food and clothing. Colombo Fort Train Station is located here in Pettah. This part of Colombo is so ethnic, with a famous Mosque, Catholic Churches, Hindu Temples and Buddhist temples. You may find it easier to take a tuk-tuk to these places around Pettah.

Things to do in Colombo Sri Lanka

From the Dutch era, Colombo has the Dutch Period Museum, this is no ordinary building, it was once a 17th-century Dutch governor’s residence, but is now a museum housing old Dutch furniture and many other artefacts.  Wolvendaal church has its date stamp of 1749 above the door. It is no longer in use, and the sorry state of repair is seen from the outside. When the British colonised Sri Lanka, they built the Old City Hall in 1865, another building which is no longer in use and in a sorry state of repairs. To get a great bargain, then head to Pettah markets, and take a stroll around the market stalls on what is on offer, be careful pickpockets are known in this area.

A lot of the locals I know often don’t like to come to Pettah and find it strange how we travellers revel in the area. We always like to visit religious buildings, and Pettah is the place to see this all in a close proximity. With the famous and huge red and white Mosque (also known as Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque or Red Mosque) which was built in 1908, what we thoughts was strange, is that this Mosque really stands out not only because of the colour of it but it is surrounded by dilapidated buildings and is very popular with travellers to just see this unusually coloured building. In Pettah alone there are three Hindu Temples known as Kovils, all in a row down Sea Street. The Kovils, Sri Muthu Vinayagar Swamy Kovil, Old Kathiresan Kovil, and New Kathiresan Kovil where built in 1830, and celebrations are held here in July/August when a huge Vel (trident) chariot is dragged to various Kovils in Colombo.

New Kathiresan Temple in Colombo Sri Lanka

Galle Face Green

Galle Face Green is right on the seafront, and one of the great spots to see the sunset. It isn’t quite as green as it is in its name, it is sandier than green grass but all the same, we think it is a  lovely area to stroll along. You may find the views a little spoiled, this is due to the new port which is being built on its doorstep.

Slave Island and Union Place

Slave Island was once an area in which the Dutch kept the slaves during colonial times, but what gives this place its beauty is Beira Lake. This is a great spot for a lovely romantic stroll, or even having a go on the peddle boats. If you fancy taking some time out to have a bit of peace and quiet, then come to Seema Malaka. With Buddhist statues surrounding the outside of the building. Just next to here is another tranquil spot to relax at Gangaramaya Park, great place to bring the children to feed the ducks and to see if you can spot any other bird species. When we are in Sri Lanka, we will always stop at least once at a Buddhist temple, and what a better place than this to visiting Gangaramaya Temple, they even have an elephant at the temple. What is sad to see, is the elephant chained up at the temple. The best time to come to Gangaramaya Temple as for Navam Perahera which falls on the poya (full moon) in February.

Things to do in Colombo Sri Lanka

Cinnamon Gardens

This was once an area full of cinnamon plantations during the Dutch era, now not a single cinnamon plant will be found here. There is now large mansions, embassies, museums, art galleries and restaurants, cafes and bars. The current Town hall stands tall peering over the Viharamahadevi Park, while the large Buddhist statue looks back. Viharamahadevi Park is a large expanse of a green park with water fountains down the centre. The old Town Hall sits at the other end of the park. Since the war ended nearly 10 years ago now, this area is thriving. The previous president built the Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaska Theatre.

Independent Square and the Arcade is very family orientated, but also a great way to get out for a run and exercise. Just off from Independent Square is the Race Course, if you are lucky you may see a match being played here. Next to the Race Course is a bike hire where you can hire bikes and cycle around their 800-metre track for one hour. If you don’t fancy cycling but going for a run or walk, then why not run or walk on the paths around the cycle track and let your children cycle around the safe track. After exercising take a lovely stroll back to Independent Square to marvel at the Independent Memorial which was built to commemorate when the Sri Lankans became independent from us British in 1948. In the very short distance of Independent Square is the Arcade, this was once an old Dutch Hospital, which held the mentally insane patients which have been converted into a shopping mall, with a cinema and restaurants. After exercise, this is the best place to refuel. We have to keep fit an health on holiday, and can always find us here most evenings when the weather is cooler.

Things to do in Colombo Sri Lanka

Mt Lavinia

We have to be honest, this isn’t one of our favourite areas of Colombo, but is definitely worth visiting for a more quieter and relaxed part of the trip. If you haven’t had enough of the beach life else were in the country then coming to Mt Lavinia is a must, the sandy beaches, with restaurants and cafes dotted along the side of the beach. To get to some of the restaurants, bars and the beach, you may need to cross the train lines. The tracks are not live, but keep your ears and eyes open when crossing the lines.

Havelock Town

This is our mainstay when we come to Sri Lanka, our family and friends live here. Our favourite place to spend time is at Isipathana Buddhist Temple. This is right on the road, yet when you enter the temple it is so quiet and no road noise is heard inside. We love to come here and pray and just spend time inside the temple with the tranquillity.

Bev & Shams in Colombo Sri Lanka

Places to stay

When we visit Sri Lanka and Colombo, we stay in our own accommodation with family! We will often go on trips around the country, and stay at least one night in a 5* hotel in Colombo, so we save a few pennies which give us the chance to stay in a 5* hotel. This year, however, was different! A work colleague asked if they could join us when we go to Sri Lanka next. With the additional person with us, we had to plan on their accommodation. We used a friend who has rented their small apartment out in Colombo on Airbnb. Our friend didn’t rate the accommodation much, but it was affordable. He only stayed there for 2 nights, as we were off on our first trip, but on our return, we managed to book another friend’s apartment which is right next to where we stay which was ideal, they are not on Airbnb but they do rent out the apartment to travellers.

Should you wish to book their place, then you may contact us for more information.The hotels we have stayed in are:

Cinnamon Grand

With amazing food and good rooms, but the poolside is lacking slightly compared to its other hotels in Colombo. Cinnamon Lakeside, the food wasn’t up to the standards of its sister hotel Cinnamon Grand, but the poolside makes up for the food. The rooms are also of good standard. Every year we visit, we will always come back to the Lakeside just for the pool.

Independent Square in Colombo Sri Lanka

The Kingsbury Hotel

Is in the perfect location right in Fort, the rooms are of good standard, the food is again ok, but the High Tea is sensational and one definitely not to be missed, again the poolside is ok but much prefer the Lakeside for its pool. This is another place we come annually  just for the High Tea.

There are many other luxury hotels, but hostels are coming up for budget stays. Airbnb is another great place to book accommodations in Colombo.

Buddhist Temple in Colombo Sri Lanka

Food

The food in Sri Lanka is incredible, we love to eat homemade curries and rice which our aunty makes when we stay with her. We can’t get her to cook for us all the time, so when we do go out for food, we often stop at Thalis. It is a south Indian restaurant in Colombo 5 (Havelock Town), in which we will always order Paneer, Idly and Dosa. They do the most amazing food and would highly recommend this as a stopping point in Colombo. For the best kothu in Colombo is again in Colombo 5 from Tasty Caters. Tasty Caters is a little street food stall, and they serve appa (hoppers and egg hoppers), and noodles. Thalis and Tasty Caters, are very reasonably priced so it won’t break the bank to eat out. Sir Lankan food is often found to be very spicy, so if you don’t want to eat Sri Lankan food, then western food is available, you can also find fast food restaurants such as Mcdonalds, and KFC, they also deliver too, sadly fries wouldn’t be delivered. There is a pizza restaurant and take out in Colombo 5, or Pizza Hut and Dominoes are also deliverable in Colombo.

There are many photogenic spots in Sri Lanka. If you want to take the best photos, then check our The Most Photogenic Places in Sri Lanka (a unique itinerary)

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