Being the commercial and financial hub pf the country, Colombo has a population of about 5.6 million, and is seeing rapid development over the last few years. As the largest city in Sri Lanka, things to do in Colombo are plenty, at any time of the year! Restaurants, malls, museums, beaches, parks, cinemas, temples and several other attractions are queued up for tourists to explore. The recent years have seen a boom of high skyscrapers, new roads, posh hotels, beautiful shopping malls and also a new harbor port.
Located along the western coast of Sri Lanka, the city is vibrant with color, energy and life! With influences of foreign rulers such as the Portuguese, Dutch and British, it is home to a multicultural population, with people from several ethnicities residing here.
- Galle Face Green
The most popular beach in Colombo is located close to the fort area and is beautified with a long stretch of green lawn. Ideal for couples and families looking for outdoor leisure time together and offers the best sunset view in Colombo.
- Wellawatte Beach
With extremely easy access, this beach is located just adjoining the Wellawatte railway station and is a great place for some relaxation with a gorgeous view.
- Crow Island Beach Park
Located in Colombo 15, this family-friendly beach park features restaurants, a cycling track, walking track, children’s playground, and coastal vegetation such as mangroves and marshes.
- Mount Lavinia Beach
If you are looking for a scenic stretch of sand, water and waves, this is the place to be in Colombo. Interesting hotels and restaurants are nearby if you’d like to have a meal someplace.
- Dehiwala Beach
A fine stretch of broad, golden sand fringed by a line of palm trees and swim safe waters towards the shore. Look up north of the beach for amazing views of the city’s skyline.
You could visit Laksala, a chain of state-owned souvenir shops where you can get Buddha statues, elephant, leopard and peacock figurines in addition to other handicrafts. Lakpahana, Luv SL Odel, and Lak Medura are some other popular boutiques to look out for when in search for souvenirs.
Enter a store specializing in handloom textiles and you’ll be surrounded with bright and vibrant hues on a high-quality, hand-woven material. Barefoot, Selyn, Kreation, House of Cotton, Cotton Weavers and Handloom Sri Lanka are the brands catering to handloom textile, clothing and accessories in Colombo.
Colombo has quite a few popular local clothing brands such as No Limit, Odel, House of Fashion, and Kandy that you can visit for trendy items. Apart from that, international brands such as Mango, Levis, Charles and Keith, Nike, US Polo, Giordano, Ralph Lauren and more are also available at independent stores and malls to cater to the high-end market.
Mlesna tea center, Sri Lanka Tea Board, Ceylon Tea Supermarket and Tea Sales Center are some names you can Google for tea purchasing. Some cafes such as Tea Avenue also have a wide variety of flavored tea leaves for sale. Tea can also be found in shopping malls such as Majestic City, Colombo City Center and One Galle Face.
Some popular brands for spices found in supermarkets as well as independent outlets are Ma’s Kitchen, Mc Currie, and Crown Spices. Wholesale markets in Pettah also sell spices for an economical rate.
Explore the Streets of Pettah
Walk around one of the oldest civilizations of Colombo, today’s most popular trading hub in all of Sri Lanka. Here’s what you will experience strolling along the busy streets of Pettah:
- Sounds of vehicles tooting and men shouting at those who come in their way
- Smells of all kinds
- People watching other people
- People plunging into stalls, shops and markets
- Religious buildings – mosques and churches
Here’s what you must stop at during your visit to Pettah – Colombo 11:
- Self employed markets along 5th cross street for all sorts of household items and food stuff.
- Manning market on Olcott Mawatha for fruits and veggies.
- Central Market on Markt Street – a modern version of the above two.
- Jami-ul-Alfar Mosque – a red and white brick building that is hard to miss and can be accessed from 2nd Cross Street and Bankshall Street. The mosque dates back to 1909 and is still used today for Muslim prayers.
- Wolvendaal Church – an important Dutch building from 1749, named so because the Dutch assumed that jackals roaming the area at the time were wolves! Elegant and beautiful furniture can be seen at this Wolf’s Dale Church on Wolvendaal Street.
- Dutch Period Museum – once the residence of a Dutch Governor in the 17th century, was then transformed into a military hospital, police station as well as a post office. In 1638, the King of Kandy signed papers at this location to open the country to the Dutch.
- Old City Hall – was used as a City Hall during the British era (built in 1865).
Try the Local Food
From street food to food fests, cafeterias, low end restaurants and fine dining at five-star hotels, Colombo’s food scene is very much up to the mark! Sri Lankan cuisine is popular because of the fusion of spices used to produce creamy curries, rich flavors and unique textures.
Drive along Galle Road and you will come across several roadside restaurants serving string hoppers for breakfast and dinner. These are noodle textured pancakes made with rice flour and served with dhal, a coconut-milk based gravy and a spicy coconut salad (sambol).
Also at these stalls, particularly the Pilawoos chain of restaurants, you’ll find the authentic flavor of the famous Kottu Rotti. Made with chopped Godhamba Roti, egg, veggies, spices and a choice of meat, there is a perfect balance of flavors, creamy texture, and a variety of seasoning.
You cannot leave Colombo without trying the egg hoppers at the Grand Oriental Hotel on York Street, Colombo 02. These bowl-shaped pancakes can be eaten plain or with an egg at the center, along with accompaniments such as coconut sambol, caramelized onions, dhal and a meat curry.
Seafood lovers must visit the seaside restaurants in Mount Lavinia for some deliciously cooked prawns, crab, butterfish, lobster, snapper, and squid. Visitors can enjoy their meat cooked just the way they like it, to be eaten directly on the shores of the Indian Ocean, on romantic tables while their toes dig into the soft brown sands.
Posh varieties of all Sri Lankan cuisine can be found at five-star hotels such as Galle Face Hotel, the Kingsbury, Galadari, and Hilton. Shopping malls also cater to high end Sri Lankan cuisine in their respective food courts. The Ministry of Crab at the Dutch Hospital complex located in the heart of Colombo is a must try for seafood lovers. Other famous Sri Lankan restaurants are Kaema Sutra, Palmyrah Restaurant, Green Cabin, Upali’s by Nawaloka, Culture Colombo, Raja Bojun, Nuga Gama, Curry Leaf and The Gallery Café. Colombo also has several street food festivals that take place often at places like Green Path and Dutch Hospital where one can experience a one stop shop for all kinds of street food.
Spas & Ayurveda Therapy
Several spas and wellness centers are up and coming in Colombo as of recently. Most of these specialize in Ayurvedic treatments, focusing on aromatherapy and relaxation to the mind and body. The most popular brand being Spa Ceylon – offers holidaymakers in Colombo a range of massages and beauty treatments using their own, locally manufactured, organic oils and creams.
Anarva by Siddhalepa, Prana Lounge, The Om Space, Kemara Spa, Baan Thai Spa, and Ceylon Holistic Center are a few other well-known spas and Ayurveda therapy centers in Colombo.
“Experience Colombo like never before” by opting for an exciting city tour on a tuk tuk or on an open deck double decker bus! With live commentary and a friendly tour guide in the latter option, capture exclusive glimpses of Sri Lanka’s old and new through this city tour covering many important landmarks such as museums, Dutch and British architecture, religious places of worship, and much more in about a couple of hours. The locations in detail are as follows:
- Colombo Lighthouse
- Galle Face Promenade
- Old Parliament Building
- Port City
- President’s House
- Remnant of British colonial architecture on York Street
- Fort railway station
- Jami-ul-Alfar Mosque
- Floating Market
- Slave Island
- Lotus Tower
- Beira Lake
- Gangaramaya Seema Malaka Temple
- War Memorial
- Public Library
- National Museum
- Nelum Pokuna Theatre
- Vihara Maha Devi Park
- Independence Square and Independence Memorial Hall
- Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH)
When planning your holiday itinerary in Sri Lanka, don’t forget to add a couple of days in Colombo to explore the hidden gems of city life in terms of culture, shopping, dining and nightlife!