It would be an understatement to say that Colombo, the financial capital of Sri Lanka, has undergone a serious makeover, over the past few years. From a city that suffered from the repercussions of a civil war that lasted 30 years, Colombo has now risen up, quite literally, to a city that (almost) never sleeps.
With a population of close to 5.6 million people, Colombo is divided into 13 suburbs, and is also considered as the most ethnically mixed area of the country. As a result, you will be able to come across a diverse array of experiences, including many places of different cultures and religions, people, local cuisine, and much more. Located in the west coast of the island, Colombo remains the busiest and most vibrant city to visit, with a mixture of old, colonial architecture, and modern skyscrapers.
Planning to visit Colombo any time soon? Put on your comfy shoes, and slap on some sunscreen, and check out our top 10 must-visit sites in Colombo listed below.
1. Tuk Tuk Rides
It’s all the trend in social media right now! Tuk Tuk (also known as Trishaw, or Threewheeler), is a three-wheeled contraption that are one of the most commonly used modes of transportation around Colombo. Vibrantly decorated with vivid colors, graphics, trinkets, and occasional wisdom quotes plastered across the back (search for #TukWisdom on Twitter and Facebook; you will not regret it), Tuk Tuks are the easiest way to get around town. But sadly, it could also be the nastiest experience you’d get while in Sri Lanka unless you’re aware of it. You can read more on that on our Tuk Tuk Guideline here.
2. The National Museum of Colombo
Built in 1877, the National Museum was founded by Sir William Henry Gregory, who was the British Governor of Sri Lanka at the time. The is the largest museum in Sri Lanka, with a library also established in the same year, where a copy of every document printed in the country is required to be kept. The museum houses various artifacts that portray the cultural and natural heritage of Sri Lanka. Among the most famed exhibits are the Statue of Tara, as well as the throne and the crown jewels of the last King of Kandy.
The National Museum is located at Colombo 07, and it is open everyday from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm. You can easily get there by hailing a tuk tuk, and you can find the ticket prices here. History connoisseurs, ready your cameras, ‘cause you are in for a treat.
3. Colombo City Center
The newly-opened international shopping mall in the heart of the city, The Colombo City Center rises among the new skyscrapers that have been popping up all around town recently. Inside, you can find a number of outlets for international brands such as Charles & Keith, Aldo, Mango, etc., as well as outlets of prominent local businesses, such as Odel, and Galleria. The 3rd floor of the mall houses the first food atrium of Sri Lanka, where you can enjoy a range of international cuisines, whilst enjoying the Colombo skyline and the Sun reflecting off of Beira Lake from the open terrace. Colombo City Center also includes the largest cineplex in the country, hosting a total seating capacity of 700 and six screens, with latest cinema technology such as Dolby Atmos.
4. Gangaramaya Temple
Gangaramaya is considered to be one of the most famous temples in the country, mainly because of the annual ceremony of Navam Perahera held by the temple every February, which has been the most lavish cultural celebration in Colombo for decades, with a grand procession that includes tuskers dressed in magnificent, bejewelled cloaks, and hoards of traditional dancers.
Visiting the temple complex itself is a unique experience. It is well known for the vast amount of Buddha statues, and the extravagant gifts from devotees, on display. The temple also includes a museum and a library.
Gangaramaya is open for visitors from 6.00 am to 8.00 pm. Easiest way to get there would be (again) taking a Tuk Tuk or a cab. When visiting the temple, you are required to hand over a donation of Rs.100 instead of paying for a ticket.
5. Seema Malakaya Meditation Centre
Right across the road from the Colombo City Center, Seema Malakaya is a small but alluring meditation centre on a tiny island on the east side of the Beira Lake. Designed by Geoffrey Bawa in 1985, and managed by Gangaramaya Temple, this is considered to be one of the most photographed sites in Colombo. The pavilions and the bronze statues of Buddha is a sight not to be missed when they are flooded with twinkling lights at dusk.
6. Art Market – Green Path
Local artists and art vendors gather every Sunday morning to put their artwork on display alongside the Green Path (or check map for Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha), which is known as Kalā Pola, or Art Market, and it is a sight not to miss. As hundreds of local artists proudly put up their work for the world to witness, the roadsides come to life with a plethora of colors and boundless creativity.
Open to all, and entrance free of charge, regardless of whether you are an art fan or not, the experience will be enchanting, and you just might be able to find a treasure at a bargain price.
7. Streets of Pettah
Colombo 11, or most commonly known to locals as Pettah, is a huge area filled with small shops selling anything and everything: from fruits and snacks to clothes, shoes, and household items.
It can get tricky to navigate around Pettah if you’re not willing to encounter crowded streets, dingy alleys, weird smells, and a few stares. But the following highlights will make the effort worthwhile:
The magnificent “Red Mosque”, aptly named after its red and white brick build, dating back to 1909. This is located on the corner of 2nd Cross Street and Bankshall Street, Colombo 11).
Dutch Period Museum
Built in the 17th Century, the building was first used as the residence of the Dutch governor at the time, and has since been accommodated as a Catholic Seminary, a military hospital, a post office, and a police station. Now, it displays various colonial artefacts from the Dutch era. Located at 95, Prince Street, Colombo 11, the museum’s opening hours are 9.00am to 5.00 pm Tuesday to Saturday.
This church was built in 1749 and it is considered one of the most significant Dutch buildings to still stand in Colombo. Located at Wolvendaal Lane, Colombo 11, the church is open from 9.00 am to 4.00 pm, daily.
8. Independence Square and the Independence Memorial Hall
Tucked away in Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo 07, amongst some lush greenery is the Independence Square, where a monument stands to commemorate Sri Lanka’s independence from the British in 1948: The Independence Memorial Hall.
Inspired by the Royal Audience Hall in Kandy, the architecture of the Independence Memorial Hall represents the signing of the Kandyan Convention, which took place on the 5th of March, 1815, at the Royal Audience Hall, marking the end of the Kingdom of Kandy and surrendering the territory to British rule.
Entrance is free and the grounds are open daily. You can find a small shopping arcade (named “Arcade”, too) a little ways ahead from the Independence Hall, with a few fast food joints like Burger King, so this would be an ideal place if you need to wind down after a walk around Colombo. Easiest way to get here would be to take Tuk Tuk or a cab.
9. Galle Face Green
Located south of Colombo Fort, Galle Face Green is a large stretch of lawn next to a narrow strip of the Colombo beach. The area was originally cleared to provide a direct line of sight to the Dutch canons, and now it has been converted to a common, peaceful spot of land for people to enjoy the sea breeze while taking a stroll down the promenade.
It’s the perfect place to sit back and watch the sunset, while nibbling on an “isso vadai”, a Sri Lankan street food delicacy, almost exclusively found at street vendors along the Galle Face promenade. You can even sit down to have a full meal under the stars; Nana’s is the most famous food vendor of Galle Face and it is considered to be a legend for its food.
10. Old Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct
Located at the heart of Colombo Fort, the Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct is a luxuriously restored complex of Dutch colonial-era buildings, dating back to the early 1600s, now hosting an array of eateries and pubs. Enjoy a pause from the bustling streets of Colombo to kick back and have a cold drink or a hot meal. Some recommended places to visit here would be:
- the local pub TapHouse by RnR,
- Luv SL by Odel for some pricey but high-quality souvenirs,
- Spa Ceylon for local aromatherapy products and a relaxing massage,
- The Steuart by Citrus, a scottish themed pub and restaurant, which also houses a hotel,
- Heladiv Tea Club known for its unique, tea-infused menu of drinks and snacks.
Friday nights are the most vibrant times here at the Dutch Hospital Complex, with various events and festivals hosted by the main patrons. Located at Bank of Ceylon Mawatha, Fort Area, Colombo 01, and open daily from 10.00 am to 10.00 pm, it is easily reachable by Tuk Tuk or a cab.