Want to include food, culture, architecture, adventure, shopping and much more into one single holiday destination city? Travel to Colombo, Sri Lanka and experience a cosmopolitan and commercial attraction with a mix of architecture including old Dutch and colonial era buildings.
With fewer options of family entertainment in the Asian region, Sri Lanka tourism believes that the Colombo tourist hub strategy can soon fill this market gap as a preferred ‘city tourism’ destination in Asia.
Recent Developments in Colombo
The tourism industry of Sri Lanka has recently announced its plans to create a “city tourism” strategy by promoting Colombo as a tourism hub in South Asia. With this strategy, they aim to develop and enable Colombo to be able host international events of high standards.
In an effort to attract international visitors to Colombo, Sri Lanka, the government made some decisions that made it convenient for international luxury brands to enter the Sri Lankan market, thereby making shopping a key motivating factor for intra-regional travel. While keeping in mind that local brands also have to be protected, the government made an effort to make the international brands competitive in comparison to other cities in Asia.
How does this strategy benefit Sri Lanka?
- Direct foreign exchange earnings
- Increased traffic from MICE tourists
- More employment opportunities
- Promotion of Sri Lanka as a 365-day travel destination.
Colombo Fort and Pettah
Walk through the colorful streets of Colombo’s most popular district market and trading hub – Pettah. Visit the Red Mosque, interact with local people, and delve into the city’s cultural diversity while you stroll through the streets. Don’t miss the Manning market, the oldest of its kind in Colombo, and take your pick on locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Dutch era sites in Colombo
Amongst one of the most interesting places to visit in Colombo city is the Dutch Period Museum. Unique architecture and a range of ancient personal belongings of the Dutch rulers on display is what attracts history lovers to this museum. A two storied building, this was once the official residence of Thomas Van Rhee, a Dutch Governor in Sri Lanka.
Another two Dutch colonial style buildings are the Dutch Hospital, which is now a vibrant eating and shopping destination as well as the Wolvendaal Church, which was a location sought after by the Dutch Sailors who arrived at the port.
Galle Face Green
Galle Face Green is a seaside promenade, an ideal leisure spot to walk along the sea shores, fly kites, blow bubbles or simply play ball amidst a backdrop of breezy winds and views of the Indian Ocean. Countless vendors are lined up to tempt visitors into local street food and kids into toys of all sorts. Galle Face Green is also one of the best spots in all of Sri Lanka to enjoy a phenomenal sunset!
Being the biggest of its kind, the National Museum of Colombo is the pride of Sri Lanka as it houses some exclusive personalized collections of the ancient Kandyan dynasty rulers, as well as artefacts dating back to several centuries. Amongst its shiny treasures, there is the grand golden throne of the King of Kandy and an invaluable collection of rare palm-leaf manuscripts. Established in 1877, the architecture reflects an Italian style, while the museum portrays cultural and natural highlights of the country.
Colombo Lotus Tower
Nearly 350 meters tall, this unique structure in Colombo resembles the Lotus flower. The primary purpose of this tower is to serve as a transmission hub to improve the quality of transmission communication and broadcast. The tower also features observation decks, shopping centers, restaurants and banquet halls.
The Independence Memorial Hall is popular amongst both tourists and locals. Families seeking outdoor leisure are seen here every evening jogging, playing ball, cycling, aerobics, exercising, and just having a good time. In 1953, this memorial hall was built as a tribute to the nation’s independence from British rule, and still holds the national day celebrations every year. A museum on the premises has been erected to commemorate the brave souls who fought for the nation.
Beira Lake and the Temples
Set in the heart of the city, beautiful Beira Lake gives visitors an element of picnic, adventure and pilgrimage. As one of the most beautiful places in Colombo, Beira Lake is also where the Gangaramaya Temple and the iconic island temple – Seema Malaka Temple is located. Furnished with beautiful idols of Hindu and Buddhist deities, this area has plenty of religious appeal.
The Gangaramaya Temple from the 19th century is a mix of modern architecture and cultural essence, accompanied by Buddhist monks and Buddha Statues. The Seema Malaka Temple carries a gorgeous combination of Chinese, Thai, Indian and Sri Lankan architecture styles. Aiming to promote peace and unity across all cultures, the Seema Malaka Temple is a very peaceful place to visit in Colombo.
Apart from the religious aspect, the Beira Lake is a paradise for birdwatchers and photographers, particularly when the sky lights up in the evening for sunset. Those who visit Colombo and the Beira Lake can also take part in adventurous activities such as rowing.
Old Parliament Building
Reflecting the Neo-baroque style of architecture, the Old Parliament Building in Colombo was once an important government office. Built in 1930, the building and its bronze statues have a long history that builds up its popularity, including the fact that in 1977 it was declared Parliament of Sri Lanka. After a few years, the Parliament shifted to a new office and this building served as the residence of the Presidential Secretariat.
Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara
Housing some incredible sculptures, this Buddhist Temple stands tall till date, despite having been demolished by Indian and Portuguese hostile forces. Originally built in 543BC, the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara is the most sacred spot in Colombo, and the true upholder of culture and tradition amongst other tourist attractions in Colombo.
Other popular attractions
A few other popular tourist attractions to see when you visit Colombo are the World Trade Center, St. Anthony’s Church, Attiya Bird Sanctuary, Viharamahadevi Park, Dehiwala Zoo, Old City Hall, Puppet Museum, Planetarium, Maritime Museum, and the Royal Colombo Golf Club.
Not to Miss when you visit Colombo
- An authentic private cooking class in the warmly hosted home of a local Sri Lankan family.
- A round of golf at the Royal Colombo Golf Club.
- Explore Colombo in a fun way by navigating through the city in a tuk tuk – a three-wheeled chariot.
- Enjoy a tea tasting experience and learn how to detect aroma and identify brew colour of the final cup.
- Discover Colombo’s night-life with a cycling tour of the city in the evening.
- Sip on cocktails at Galle Face Hotel while enjoying the stunning sunset view.
Shopping in Colombo
Shopping habits amongst Sri Lankans have seen a turn towards more impulsive buys from local and international brands. Most buyers will swing towards deals and promotions from reputed brands. This means that shoppers are more focused on quality rather than price, and businesses are indeed catering towards building their brand, and offering quality products. Here are some local and international brands that are popular in Colombo and throughout Sri Lanka:
- Charles and Keith
- Fashion Market
- Spa Ceylon
- Island Lush
- Stripes and Checks
- Michael Kors
Where to shop in Colombo?
- Pettah Floating Market is a great place for a roadside vendors kind of atmosphere where you can find everything from fruits, groceries, clothing, jewellery, electronics and handcrafted items.
- Paradise Road is a shopper’s haven, selling locally produced handicrafts, antiques, homeware, clothing, crockery, giftware and more.
- Barefoot Café is a fabulous place for a leisure day – a combination of art galleries, restaurant, café and shopping. This is the best place to purchase hand-loomed items in Colombo.
- Laksala is a state-run souvenir shop where you can find a variety of local Sri Lankan items sold at reasonable rates.
- The mall scene in Colombo is quite hot and happening after the recent infrastructural developments. Colombo City Center, One Galle Face Mall, Marino Mall, Crescat Boulevard, Liberty Plaza and Majestic City are the best places to go if looking for high quality local and international brands.
Food & Beverage Experience
If you are craving cuisines rich in flavor and delicately spiced, Sri Lanka has plenty of options for you. Colombo’s most delicious street food that is a must try is kottu rotti – finely chopped flatbread cooked on a hot skillet with a mix of eggs, veggies, and a meat of your choice. In addition to that, there is the authentic rice and curry meal, hoppers and string hoppers, coconut rotti, coconut sambol (salad), lamprais, and some special curries such as polos (jackfruit) and ambulthiyal (fish). While roadside restaurants are a convenient spot to indulge in these local options, if you are in search for a peaceful fine dining atmosphere, Palmyrah Restaurant, Raja Bojun, The Curry Leaf, Nuga Gama, and Upali’s are a few options.
Also popular in the food scene of Colombo are the short eats – pastries or flatbread rottis stuffed with a vegetarian or meat filling, and are useful for eating on the go, usually in the mornings and evenings. Look around for Fab, Sponge, Family Baker, Sumanadisi, and other such bakeries if you want to grab one of these snacks at any time of the day.
Seafood such as fish, lobster, crabs and prawns are easily available in Sri Lanka, with quality meals being served at five-star hotels in Colombo. The Ministry of Crab is a recognized chain of restaurants popular for its seafood cuisine.
Being in a tropical country, you must try fresh fruits and local juices such as papaya, watermelon, starfruit, local mandarins and pineapple. Seasonal fruits such as mango, avocado, rambutan, mangosteen and duriyan are also a must try while you are in Colombo.
Colombo is a great location for promoting MICE tourism as it can offer the perfect balance between professional and leisure-based travel locations. MICE is an acronym for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions, and is one of the fastest growing sectors in the tourism industry. The infrastructural development in Colombo is ideal for accommodating MICE tourists. Because most meetings and events take place midweek and in months that don’t have many holidays, MICE tourists can perfectly complement their business visit with leisure when in Colombo. Several local and international luxury hotels have been developed in and around tourist attraction sites so professionals can spend their designated days working, and other days relaxing around the city.
Places to Stay in Colombo
Colombo now boasts a 4000 five-star room inventory, and with the completion of the Port City project, there will be a further contribution to this figure, in addition to state-of-the-art convention and entertainment facilities. From international luxury chains to cozy boutique hotels in Colombo, and luxury fully furnished apartments, we have it all. Below is a list of just a few of these:
- Shangri La
- The Kingsbury
- Cinnamon Grand
- Cinnamon Lakeside
- Cinnamon Red
- Jetwing Colombo Seven
- Marino Beach
- Ozo Colombo
- Fairway Colombo
- Taj Samudra
- Paradise Road Tintagel
- Rococo Residence
- The Steuart by Citrus
- Rockwell Colombo
- Uga Residence
- Taru Villas
- The Grand Residencies
- Global Towers
- Supun Arcade
- Havelock City
- City Square
If you are planning a visit to Colombo for business purposes, it is a good idea to bring your family along to enjoy an entertaining family vacation while you attend to business matters side by side. Whether it is shopping, family entertainment, food, culture or adventure that you are interested in experiencing during your visit to Colombo, there is definitely something in store for you and your family to enjoy!