Colombo was hot for me, but I got to see a lot. It is Sri Lanka’s largest city and there are lot of places to go to if you have few days there.
1. Colombo City Tour
City tours are a great way to discover a city. If you have days to spare in Colombo, you could use a day to explore Colombo through the Colombo City Tour. They have buses with observational decks that takes take tourists during day and night tours on nicely designed packaged tour.
2. Take a bus
There are plenty of buses in Colombo and most originate and terminate in the bus station at Pettah. The Pettah bus station is a city bus station in the morning, and at night buses to elsewhere in Sri Lanka originate from here. I took my bus to Jaffna here. There another bus station that is run by the government from where buses to outside Colombo start and terminate.
3. Rickshaw Ride
Expensive option, but if you’d like to tour the city of Colombo using a rickshaw, the drivers more than welcome you and your money. They have local and tourist pricing too.
4. Beira Lake
This lake is in the heart of Colombo. There is an island in the middle of the lake with gazebo, it is connected by a bridge. There are benches around, often occupied by young people who fancies making out here. Other than this, it is a peaceful sight, the lake with trees. There is the Simamalaka temple in the lake. A walkway takes you to the temple. The temple has statues of the Buddha, Lord Ganesh, and Goddess Kali. Surrounding the lake are lot of commercial establishments.
Like the lakes inside cities, even this famous lake is getting polluted. I heard that over the years the lake got smaller. But, good news. There is a restoration project for the lake. This lake connects the Indian Ocean at Galle Face. At one point in its history it connected the harbour to transport tea. The lake is connected to the Indian Ocean at Galle Face. If duck paddle boating is your thing, there are some on the lake which once was home to the Colombo Rowing Club.
5. Gangaramaya Temple
A ten-minute walk from the Beira Lake is the venerable Gangaramaya temple. The Gangaramaya temple complex consists of several buildings that houses a museum, the sanctum, a library, and a Buddhist learning centre. There are a lot of ancient artefacts, stone carvings, and statues of the Buddha. Read more here.
Address: Sri Jinaranatha Road, Colombo
Timings: 5:30 AM to 10 PM
6. National Museum of Colombo
From the Gangaramaya temple, walk for 15 to 20 miniutes, you will reach The National Museum of Colombo is in a beautiful building that was founded by the then Governor of Sri Lanka, Sir William Henry. It was built in 1876 and houses some of the oldest artefacts of Sri Lanka dating back for 4BC to 6BC. There are royal swords used by the royals of Sri Lanka, and relics from Buddhist Sri Lanka. The highlight is the golden throne and crown as well. There are old items from India, China, Maldives, Southeast Asia as well. The courtyard has a café run by Barista, and a gift shop. There is also a Natural History Museum where most dead animals are redone using taxidermy.
Timings: 9 AM to 5 PM, closed on Fridays and on Sri Lankan national holidays.
Address: Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo
Entrance fee: LKR 600 for SAARC citizens (good for Natural History and the National Museum)
7. Viharamahadevi Park
Previously known as Victoria Park set up by the British, Viharamahadevi Park is famous for being one of the few green spaces in Colombo. The entrance to here is free, and there are lots of street food that is inexpensive, spicy, and nice. There is also a small park for children. The pathways are nice, well maintained, and there are lot of trees. There is also a public library in the premises. Next to the library is the War World I memorial built to pay tribute for Sri Lankan and European soldiers who died in the war.
8. Independence Memorial Hall
The Independence Memorial Hall is opposite to the Independence Square. It exhibits statues and busts of all the people who fought for Sri Lankan independence from European rule.
Timings: Open until 6 PM, and is free for all.
9. Dutch Museum
From the Cinnamon Gardens head to the Pettah area. Colombo has a Dutch influence and there is a museum to showcase it. It was once the residence of the Dutch Governor. When I got there the museum was closed, but the tuk tuk driver knocked on the door. The security guard opened the museum for me.
Address: 95 Prince Street, Pettah. Colombo
Timings: 9 AM to 5 PM, closed during the holidays.
10. The Pettah Market
The Pettah market is the best market to be at in Colombo, and certainly the most chaotic because there is a bus station near it. Fruits, vegetables, and stuff you can eat. Nice place to take some pictures.
11. Christian Reformed Church
In the Pettah area is the Christian Reformed Church. It is a Dutch church built in 1757 which means den of wolves. It is an old structure with impressive old furniture.
12. The Red Mosque
This is a huge red and white building in Pettah area. It was a small mosque, now being expanded to take more than 5000 footfalls it seems. Also called Jamiul Alfar Masjid.
13. Old Dutch Hospital
If you want to eat food that is contemporary, I recommend you come to the Old Dutch Hospital in the Colombo Fort area. Great place for a beer also. It was a hospital during the Dutch times, and it is an upscale shopping area now. The Colombo Fort area is a business district. The World Trade towers is opposite the Dutch Hospital.
14. Galle Face Green
Galle Face Green is Colombo’s promenade where families throng to during the evenings. Shrimp vade is a must eat. There is ice creams, and street food Sri Lanka style. There is a giant Sri Lankan flag. People fly kites in the evening. The Indian Embassy is at the end of the Galle Face.
This temple is on the banks of the Kelani River. It is about ten kilometres from the city centre. It is one of the sacred temples in Sri Lanka because the Buddha was here. As you approach the temple there is the unmistakable white stupa, and there is the Bodhitree. Evening is the nicest time of the day to visit this place.
16. Mount Lavinia Beach
On the way to Galle and far away from the Pettah are is Mount Lavinia Beach. Nice place to hangout. You could read about it here.
17. Watch kids play cricket
Sri Lanka is a cricket crazy nation. During a national holiday kids in Colombo play on the streets. Indian kids like to play cricket anywhere they want, but Sri Lankan kids want to play cricket at the beach. If you would like to catch the big league, visit the Premadasa stadium.
18. Join Cooking Classes
Lot of locals in Colombo like to teach Sri Lankan food. If you like to learn Sri Lankan food then there are lot of cooking schools looking forward to your admission.
19. Enjoy the nightlife
Colombo has a great night life. The best way to explore is to walk, or else take a night city tour, make friends, and hang out with them.
21. Check out Art
Colombo has lot of art museums. There are lot of street art as well. I saw one near the National Museum. Perhaps it exhibits all year long.
Tea, spices, handmade goods are some of the items to shop in Colombo. Head out to Barefoot, or Laksala. Laksala is my favourite. They have a huge showroom full of Sri Lankan clothing, furniture, masks, and much more.
One major reason I travel is to try food, and Sri Lankan food needs another post to talk about.
There are lot of volunteering opportunities in Colombo. I have seen volunteers take part in cleaning drives. Some of them come to work as doctors. There are turtle conservation places people volunteer at. I was researching about volunteering opportunities in Sri Lanka, and the above mentioned volunteering opportunities showed up. While I was checking out the Yamu website which is a Sri Lanka guide, I got introduced to Rishani who is the founder of ‘The Soup Bowl‘. She along with her friends run the very young organization.
Every Friday they provide lunch to the poor. They have people volunteer with them. I could not participate in one of their Friday food sessions, blame it on my travel schedule. They accept financial contribution to run ‘The Soup Bowl’. I tried to contribute financially. However, I found that it is easy to send money to Europe from India than send money within Asia. There are ways you can help ‘The Soup Bowl’.
- Spread the word, and tell people what an amazing job they have been doing.
- Encourage them to open a online account so that they can accept donations from outside Sri Lanka.
- You can help them by volunteering with them, help them serve food to people who come to their Friday food session.