Sri Lanka is an island paradise, surrounded by the Indian Ocean boasting of rich nature, wildlife and culture. A lot of tourists head over to the sea side towns or the hill country, but its commercial capital has much to offer as well.
With 5.6 million making up its population, this rising cosmopolitan city is quickly making its mark on the international map. Skyscrapers, luxury hotels, a new harbour port, however, Colombo's charm doesn't lie in these modern buildings, it can be found in the beautiful colonial era buildings and it's people - a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures which gives the city it's character.
Historical or otherwise, Colombo is a kaleidoscope of activity. Being the commercial centre of the Island, it attracts everyone and has something for anyone! From street food to art and music – this is a city that will not bore you.
Here are 5 interesting things you can experience in Colombo, keep reading!
Credit: @GangaramayaTemple on Facebook
Starting at the heart of Colombo, this temple is full of character with interesting things to see. The Temple is over 150 years old, and is the perfect place to head to if you want to escape the din of the city.
You will be greeted by a row of golden statues at the entrance, and once inside get ready to be swept away by the temple’s charm. The Temple houses a museum of artefacts that you won’t find at any other temple – quirky statues and ornaments, old coins, rare artwork and a lot more. You will also find a collection of vintage cars, gifted to the Chief Monk at the time.
The Seemamalakaya found on the Beira Lake is a part of the Gangaramaya Temple. Designed by the renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa in 1979, it was built as an assembly hall for monks. The floating structure offers incredible views of the surrounding city from the lake and makes for some incredible photos.
You have to purchase a ticket at the gates and remove your shoes before entering the Temple. They provide a separate and safe place for you to keep your shoes till you pick them up at the end of the tour.
A peculiar temple but with lots of charm! It will definitely leave you with a sense of wonderment.
Address: 61 Sri Jinarathana Road, Colombo 2
Operating hours: 6:00AM to 10:00PM (Daily)
Credit: @DutchHospital on Facebook
Dutch hospital is a colonial era building refurbished into a shopping complex with restaurants and cafes – it has a little bit of everything.
If you are in Colombo and want to cool off and relax for a bit after all that walking, Dutch Hospital is the place to be. There’s a myriad of restaurants and cafes, but a must try is the Ministry of Crab which serves authentic Sri Lankan Crab dishes – you will not experience this taste anywhere else.
You will also find a Spa Ceylon branch, a luxury spa specialising in using aryuvedic healing techniques to soothe the body. You can even purchase natural beauty products and get a massage to ease your aching feet.
There's also an Art and Jazz Festival as well as a Street Food Festival hosted annually so if you are in town during that time do try to pop in. These festivals are great for families on holiday in the city.
Be aware that there are also pubs and bars at the venue which serve alcoholic drinks, however you can easily find non-alcoholic drinks almost anywhere.
Bonus tip: The Dutch Hospital is very close to the hotel strip on Galle Road so don’t forget to check out hotels like The Kingsbury and, Galle Face Hotel – it overlooks the Galle Face Green, a great spot to enjoy the sunset from and has some great street food stalls.
Address: Hospital St, Colombo 1
Operating hours: 10:00AM to 10:00PM (Daily)
Credit: @colombocitycentre on Instagram
Shopping and eating makes up an important part of Colombo life, there are plenty of high end stores and shopping malls as well as numerous restaurants!
As there are many places to shop in Colombo, there are a lot of seasonal sales in the city, so if you are a shopping addict – Colombo is definitely the place to be! Also, if you are looking for places to eat in Colombo there are a lot of options – Upali’s for Sri Lankan cuisine, The Bay Leaf for Authentic Italian and Black Cat Cafe for good coffee amongst many others, just Google and you will be spoilt for choice.
Note: According to the workers at Black Cat Cafe, they are unable to confirm if everything on the menu is halal. Hence, we advice that you consume at your own discretion.
Head over to the newly opened Colombo City Centre for a more high end shopping experience which houses international brands like Armani Exchange, Swarovski, U.S. Polo Assn. and more! They also feature local high end brands, boutiques and, stores like Odel and Aviraté. If you want to watch the latest blockbuster head over to the multiplex cinema and grab a bite at the food court – The FoodStudio - which serves a variety of cuisines.
If you want a real Colombo experience hop on a tuk tuk and head to Pettah. A labyrinthine mix of wholesale shops, historical sites and cheap eateries serving authentic Lankan streetfood – the language spoken here is haggling and it will make for a more thrilling experience.
When in Pettah you have to try a Faluda – perfect for people with a sweet tooth (Sri Lankans love their sweets) or if you are more health conscious opt for a Thambili (Coconut water) – nature’s isotonic drink – these can be found on almost every street corner. You don’t have to worry about not being able to find Halal food because most of the restaurants and eateries are owned by Muslims, since they make a better part of the Pettah community. Almost all restaurants, cafes and hotels are Muslim-friendly as Sri Lanka has a population of about 1.9 million Muslims.
Credit: @cinnamonlifecolombo on Facebook
Sri Lanka is a melting pot of different cultures and religions, and Colombo is the epicentre.
There are many cultural and religious festivals you can witness while in Colombo. One of the biggest festivals is the Vesak Poya holiday, the Buddhist festival of lights which brings everyone together to enjoy beautiful light and lantern displays, as well as pandols. The Sinhala Tamil New Year is also a major festival enjoyed by all ethnicities and religions; it is similar to a spring festival which celebrates the new harvest of the season. Deepavali, which is the Hindu festival of lights is also a event that should not be missed.
Apart from the religious or cultural festivals, Colombo hosts many festivals pertaining to art, music and street food.
Be sure to head to the festival hot-spots like Dutch Hospital which hosts an exciting Art and Jazz Festival, Green Path for Foodies On The Street - a festival dedicated to street food and also the many free film and cultural festivals hosted by the different international embassies and organizations in the country. The city also holds music festivals like the Cinnamon Life Colombo Music Festival.
Colombo also hosts many shopping festivals, with the largest being the CMB Shopping Festival held annually at the BMICH. Find clothes, accessories and many other things for competitive prices. Colombo is fast becoming a top shopping destination like Bangkok and Dubai, so remember to add Colombo to your list.
Credit: @mydinemore on Facebook
Last but not least, everyone's favourite part about travelling - food. Colombo offers many options for places to eat and drink; almost all restaurants, cafes and, hotels are Muslim-friendly or Halal certified, as Sri Lanka has a population of about 1.9 million Muslims.
You can choose between a range of expensive or cheap eateries. One of the budget friendly local fast food joints in Colombo is Dinemore, that serves up a variety of dishes, their most famous being their submarine - the restaurant chain is Halal certified. It's the perfect spot to grab a quick bite and escape the Colombo heat. You can find branches in Colombo 2, 3 and 6.
Real Lankan street food is hidden in Pettah. A Pettah staple is Faluda – perfect for people with a sweet tooth (Sri Lankans love their sweets) or if you are more health conscious opt for a Thambili (Coconut water) – nature’s isotonic drink – these can be found on almost every street corner. Try the many types of Achcharu and the local cotton candy - Bombai Motai.
You don’t have to worry about not being able to find Halal food, most of the restaurants and eateries are owned by Muslims as they make a better part of the Pettah community.
Travelling in Colombo is very affordable!
Bus tickets are very cheap, also with the advent of Pick Me and Uber, you can easily get around the city!
Tip: avoid normal meter tuks that don’t belong to any taxi service company which may charge more, always opt for Pick Me or Uber or any other private taxi company.
Now you know what to do and where to be in this fun, fast growing city! Put on your shades, hop in a tuk tuk and enjoy Colombo!