The Ultimate City Guide to Colombo

- Published by Anu

 

 

Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka is an eclectic city and a gateway for travellers from across the globe.

 

For most travellers arriving into the island country, Colombo is either just a stopover or a junction point to travel to places across Sri Lanka. But let me tell you, there is more to this city than meets the eye. You could say its a perfect blend by being not too city-like and not too rural or old fashioned either. 

It is best of both worlds and has quite a quirky charm. Only if you could delve in deeper, you can discover its unexplored gems. 

 

 

Whether you are planning to spend some good time in Colombo or have just a day or two before you fly in and out, there is some great stuff you can do either way. 

 

During my 1 & 1/2 year stint in Colombo, I visited a lot of interesting places, cafe's, restaurants, pubs, galleries and shopping centres. This comprehensive city guide is where I have collated information of some of the best places which are definitely worth a visit.

It has everything you need to know all in one place and will save tons of your time from scouting different sites on the internet. I have also highlighted some insider tips, stuff which is exclusively known to the locals and me ... and now you :) 

 

 

 

 SIGHTSEEING

Go around in a tuk-tuk, cycle along the parks or simply stroll around the city sidewalks. An even more convenient option is to hire a cab for places which are further-off distance wise.

An interesting and more fun way to tour the city is by hopping onto an open deck city sightseeing bus. This service is provided by the Sri Lanka Tourism authority.

 

The best part about sightseeing in Colombo is that all these places have no entry fees or parking fees. 

 

colombo city
Colombo Cityscape

1.  Galle - Face Green 

 

As it is fondly called, it is the western coast of Sri Lanka. This iconic sea-face is a long stretch of lawn facing the sea, running for half a kilometre along the coast. It has a breathtaking view of Colombo's cityscape. The World Trade Centre Colombo, Bank Of Ceylon Tower and Presidential Parliament Office adorn the other side of the promenade (check the picture above).

 

Mornings and evenings are the best times to visit Galle-Face. Early morning walks or jogs can be thoroughly enjoyed in the company of clashing waves. Evenings are equally fantastic to catch a beautiful sunset when the promenade is lit up by tiny stalls selling different variety of food. 

 

sunset at galle face
Sunset from Galle - Face Green

 

Tip : Grab a seat on one of the benches or stretch out on the grass to soak in the beauty and savour some street food.

If you are up for something quirky, try your hand at Kite flying. A lot of locals come here in the evening with their children to fly kites. Its a great way to interact with them. The locals are super friendly and would even gladly give you a hand at kite flying.

2.  Lighthouse and  Sambodhi Chaithya Temple at Galle face 

 

Towards the northen end of Galle Face is the another iconic landmark, the Lighthouse. It offers the best panaromic view of the Galle-Face and Marine drive in the entire city. The lighthouse is built on a raised platform where every morning people come to exercise and practice yoga.

 

A little walk ahead from the lighthouse is the Sambodhi Chaithya Temple. The towering stupa is built on two supporting arches overlooking the coastline. It marks the entrance to the Colombo harbor. Quite a few steps lead to the top viewing platform from where you can get an excellent view of the Harbor.

 

Tip : Do remember to dress appropriately and to take-off your shoes before visiting the temple.

 

colombo lighthouse
A beautiful afterglow at the Lighthouse and Sambodhi Chaithya Temple

3. Viharmahadevi Park 

 

If your idea of spending the day involves lazing around with a book, then this is the perfect place. You can find a perfect reading spot below the trees or at the seating areas. It is also ideal for families with kids as it has a children's play area with slides, see-saws, fun rides, food stalls, horse rides and a cycling track. It being one of the oldest and largest parks, is a great place for outdoor picnics on a holiday.

 

The walking trail goes around the perimeter of the park and on the other side is a Buddha statue and some water fountains. It looks very pretty in the night when the entire place is lit up with hundreds of lights. 

 

Tip : Hidden from view, is the open air amphi-theatre in the center of the park. A lot of shows, competitions, outdoor parties and events are hosted here. Make sure to check the show timings and tickets availability online or just drop by as per your convenience. 

 

 

4. Town Hall and Cenotaph War Memorial

 

On one side of the Viharmahadevi Park is the Town Hall and on the other side is the Cenotaph War Memorial. The town hall is a stark white building which serves as the headquarters of the Colombo Municipal Council. Whereas the Cenotaph War memorial is of historical significance dedicated to the soldiers who lost their lives in the war.

 

Cenotaph War Memorial
Cenotaph War Memorial

5. Independence Square 

 

The Independence square hall is built in commemoration of the independence of Sri Lanka from the British rule. This place is right next to the Independence arcade and 3 big parks where you can head to, after visiting this place. A very popular spot with the locals for sports, exercising and skating activities. 

 

Tip : One of these three parks, has a public gym and an outdoor gymming area with instruments as well. The entry is free, so feel free to drop by here in case your hotel doesn't have a gym or perhaps exercising in the fresh air is your thing.

 

 

independence square park
Sweating it out at the outdoor Gym or maybe yoga in the park?

6. Beira Lake 

 

A photographers delight, this place is at the very heart of the city. Sprawling with pelicans, ducks, kingfishers and other birds this is a perfect spot for romantic couples. You can also choose to take a boat ride on the lake in one of those cute little swan shaped paddle boats. 

It would roughly cost you 100 to 200 LKR (Lankan Rupee) for a 30 minute boat ride.

 

There is also a Seema Malaka Temple on the lake which is an artistically built Buddhist temple. It is completely made out of wood and has rows of small Buddha statues within it, even few statues of Hindu Gods. If you happen to visit Colombo in mid may, during the Vesak festival do not miss visiting this place. It turns into a spectacular wonderland.

 

 

 

Vesak in colombo
Beira Lake lit up for Vesak Celebrations
beira lake colombo
Pelican swimming along in the afterglow :)
Beira lake vesak
Fun & Festivities in full swing at Beira Lake.
vesak colombo
DEVIL !!!

Tip : There is a small island garden (fondly called Lover's Island) in the middle of the lake connected by a suspension bridge to the mainland. If you are quite the romantic who would love some private time, you must go to this not so secret but lovely spot. Rest assured you wont be disturbed. 

Non couples can go there too except please respect other peoples privacy, will ya! :)

 

7.  Gangaramaya Temple 

 

A visit to Colombo is incomplete without visiting Gangaramaya Temple. It is the most significant temple and is the epicentre of all extravagant celebrations and festivities in the city. The temple has a huge Buddha statue, an impressive vintage car collection on display, serene inner sanctum and a museum.

 

Tip : To skip the crowds make sure to visit in the afternoon hours or on a non-festive day.

 

gangaramaya temple colombo
Gangaramaya Temple

8. Thalangamma Lake 

 

Thalangama Lake is my favourite place in Colombo. Around 20 kms from Colombo city, in the suburbs, is Malabe where this picturesque lake is located. Completely off the track, it is a perfect offbeat getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

This lake is a wetland, home to endemic and migratory birds. Rare species of birds, butterflies, mammals and aquatic flora fauna are found in abundance. You might encounter water cocks, eagles, bee-eaters, waders, endemic purple faced leaf monkeys, mongoose and water monitors, if you are lucky enough.

 

Tip : Although it is accessible all throughout the year, the best season to visit is during the winters, from November to April when the migratory birds arrive. You can reach here only by a private car or a cab.

 

thalangama lake colombo
Spotting a water-cock at the Thalangama Lake

9. Diyatha Uyana 

 

Diyatha Uyana is more than a park. Set alongside a beautiful lake, jogging tracks and walking pathways are quite scenic. There is a dedicated skating area, a wetland area, an open air zoo and a gorgeous hotel called 'Waters Edge' overlooking the lake.

 

There is also a huge market area at the park entrance. It hosts a flower market, multiple food courts and a small space dedicated to organic fruits and vegetable stalls. 

 

Tip : There is neither an entrance fee nor any parking fees at the park. A recent addition to the park is an aquarium.

 

10. Mount Lavinia Beach 

 

Saving the best for the last, Mount Lavinia is the coolest suburbs of Colombo and quite a liberal party hot spot for locals and tourists alike. 

The shore is adorned with hip clubs, pubs, lounges and shacks. An ideal getaway for beach parties as well as family outings. One could spend a lovely day swimming or relaxing by the beach. You can catch a glimpse of the famous railway line adjoining the coast, a very picturesque view. If you are relaxing on the shore, the beach would be in front of you, while the railway line would be right behind you. Quite an unusual yet pretty setting.

 

 

mount lavinia beach sunset
A stunning sunset spot at the Mount Lavinia Beach

Sri Sambodhi Viharaya temple, National museum of Colombo and Colombo Dutch Museum are few other interesting places nearby, which one can visit in the city.

 

 

 ACTIVITIES

Indulge in various activities the city has to offer. If you have more days in hand, here's what you can do.

 

1. Go Cycling 

Rent a cycle, explore the parks and lake at your own pace. You can rent a cycle at the park behind Race Course Mall.

All you need to pay is 150 LKR (Lankan Ruppes) for an hour of rental.

 

2.  Go Bowling 

Colombo boasts of a stunning 12 laned Cosmic Bowling Alley at Excel World Entertainment Park. An absolute fun filled day is guaranteed for all age groups. It has a complete gaming zone and indoor games like Pool & Snooker, table tennis as well as a movie theater.

 

The timings for bowling alley are :

Week Days - 2.00 p.m. 10.00 p.m.

Weekends - 11.00 a.m. 10.00 p.m.

(Do check directly on their website for any changes in timings)

 

3. Visit the street art galleries 

The street on the other side of Viharmahadevi Park is full with intriguing paintings and wooden art displayed across the street for sale. Admire the art while taking a stroll or purchase beautiful paintings if you love them.

 

 

SHOPPING

 

Colombo has a plethora of great shopping options, all you need to know is the right kinda places to find the right kinda stuff. Ladies n fellas (#shoutout) this is your one-stop shopping guide for Colombo.

 

1.  Odel 

Odel shopping mall is quite the famous shopping destination in Colombo city. A great collection of T-shirts and an excellent place to shop for souveniers of all kinds. The variety of options available in terms of clothes, beachwear, shoes, gift items, tea and household items is impressive. Although I personally found clothes and perfumes to be overpriced, the goodies and gift items are reasonably priced. The only place which caters so well to the male fraternity in terms of shopping as well as the kids. So a win-win for everyone.

 

2.  House of Fashion 

House of Fashion is a huge multistoried shopping mall. Its USP is its unbeatable price range. If you are looking for some inexpensive stuff then House of Fashion has it all. Apparel, accessories, household goods, games, swimwear, sportswear and much more, the list is never-ending, really!
Its a good place to stock up essential or forgotten items you would require for the remainder of your trip in Sri Lanka or if you are heading out of Colombo. Even the souvenirs and gifts are quite cheap if have a lot of gifting to do for a lot of people back home.

 

Tip : A word of caution though, is to check the clothes thoroughly before buying as the quality might be compromised due to the affordable price range.

 

3. Kelly Felder 

One of the coolest or rather uber-cool stores in Colombo. Being a women-only store it epitomizes sassy, chic, sophisticated and glamorous couture. The pricing is at par with the quality of fabric and absolutely worth every penny you spend here.

 

4.  Mondy 

Mondy is trendy! The eye-catchy, vividly colourful store interiors, the detailing and the styling is just fabulous. Accessories, bags and shoe collections here are to die for. You can find quite a unique variety of trendy formals and elegant dresses and tops.

 

5. Gflock 

One of my favourite places to shop in colombo is Gflock. A perfect store to shop for stunning formals, dresses and great casuals. Absolutely affordable and defnitely worth a visit. They launch a new collection every Friday. Isnt that amazing!

 

6.  Dutch Hospital

Hospital? on a holiday? Why the hell would I ever suggest something like that! But you'll be pleasantly surprised. A hospital that served the harbour officers during the old times, is now turned into a shopping and dining precinct.

 

There are some lovely stores within this premier shopping arcade. Cool and spunky but definitely pricey, for its prime location.

Avirate - for its dresses
LuvSL - for its amazing T-shirts, acessories and soveniers
Spa Ceylon - for its ayurvedic spa products
Barefoot - for its handicrafts and incense sticks

 

7. SALT 

SALT is a boutique designer 'Handcrafted Batiks' store and another one of my favouritest. Traditional batik prints are re-invented using modern fabric, artistic prints and stylish designs. You can shop for lovely kimonos, flowy maxi dresses, jumpsuits and unique statement pieces. It oozes with cutting edge contemporary fashion. Sure to make you feel like a Fashionista.

 

8. Shay Int 

A cute boutique store in Colombo 3, has quite the classy collection which is simple and pretty.

Tip : Do note its rather difficult finding L and XL sized outfits as majority of the sizes cater to the Small - to - Medium sized gals!

 

9. Cool Planet 

Cool Planet is the coolest shooping store, literally. Totally great stuff at totally great prices. They have a great collection for both men and women and also some fabulous sports items.

 

10. Cotton Collection 

A superb store with a fabulous variety of clothes, accessories, handbags and gift items. You can find an entire section of clothes from the leading Indian fashion house of 'Global Desi' a brand by Anita Dongre. Cotton kurtis, linen formals, floral printed outfits, leather accessories are available in a variety of styles.

 

11.  Independence arcade 

Independence Arcade is Colombo's iconic landmark. Stunning architecture, majestic gardens, artistic fountains, cafes, celebrity owned restaurants and high fashion brands adorn this luxurious arcade.
One of the best places to visit in Colombo which offers a fulfilling and wholesome experience.

 

independence arcade colombo
The stunning Independence Arcade

12. Beverly street 

Its a 24 X 7 shopping store. Open throughout the day as well as night and on all days, drop by for a late night shopping spree. Shop till you drop ... literally.


Besides these boutique stores, you can check out more options at Crescat Boulevard, Race Course Mall, Laksala Handicrafts and Hameedia as well.

 

RESTAURANTS

 

Post all the fabulous shopping and place hopping I bet you would be up for some yummy food. The restaurants here have a variety of cuisines and options to choose from. Although you must definitely try the authentic Sri Lankan cuisine.


Lip-smacking curries with a side serving of pol sambol, hoppers, lamprais, egg roti, kottu are few of the famous dishes and not to forget some chilled ice milo - the favourite national drink of Sri Lanka apart from Lion Beer off-course!  :).
You can try them at the road side stalls or at any restaurants.

 

sri lankan food
Sumptous Kottu
Jack tree colombo
Steamy Momos

 

Tip : For the tangy street food lovers, you must try the Acharu. It consists of pickled fruits in a spicy mix. It tastes yummy, believe me.

 

Some of the best speciality restaurants in Colombo which serve varied cuisines are listed below.

 

 

 

1. Mango Tree

I am a sucker for Indian Food, and Mango Tree serves 'The Best Indian Food' in entire Sri Lanka. Its speciality is North Indian cuisine and the deserts are to die for.

Tip : The rasmalai and rabdi are simply heavenly, not to be missed.

3. Kinnaree

For all the thai cuisine lovers, this is the place to be. Delicious thai curries, ice teas and scrumptious garlic bread.

 

Tip : They serve 'Business Lunch' on weekdays at a quite a great price of approx 600 LKR (Lankan Rupees).

Its a great value deal if you want to try something basic and classic.

 

5. Ministry of Crab and Semondu

Exceptionally good sea food, specially the crabs just as the name suggests.
Kinaree, Misistry of Crab and Semondu are restaurants inside the Dutch Hospital precinct.

7. Taste of Asia

This flavour packed restaurant is located inside the food court of the Colombo World Trade Centre. Sri Lankan, Chinese and Indian cuisines are served here. The food is deliciouly great but the soups, sandwiches, pastas, lasagnias are awsome. A great option for lunch.

9. Taj Samudra

The famous Taj, the iconic hotel is right on the Galle Face promenade. Have a royal dining experience at their multi-cuisine restaurant. Food is amazing. Try their midnight buffet offerings.

 

2. Jack Tree

Another sister restaurant under the mango tree brand is Jack Tree. Delicious dumplings - a must try, soups, thai and chinese food is their speciality.

 

4. Hotel Suryas

One of the finest vegetarian restaurant located in the Pettah Market area of Colombo. It is very famous for its Thalis, Meals and Set Menus. As good as it gets, it the closest to what home made food tastes like. Every dish on their menu tastes great and is freshly prepared. Dosas, buttermilk, ice-creams, faloodas are some of my favourite items from the menu.

Tip : Suryas has the best coffee in town. Simply addictive, you'll love it.

 

6. Chinese Dragon

Yummy, sizzling Chinese food. Spicy fish or chicken rice combos. Hot, spicy and finger-licking.

 

8. Cinammon Hotels and Resorts

One of the premeir hotels in Sri Lanka, Cinnamon has 3 hotels in Colombo city and a variety of dining options in each one of them. From multi-cuisine, to midnight buffets, to rooftop dining, to lakeside candlelight dinners and bars they have it all. Its a heaven for foodies.

10. Bavaria

Bavaria is the coolest restaurant in Colombo. Its more of a hangout place, with great food, great ambience, superkool drinks and awsome music. They also have open air alley-way seating where you can sit and have a lovely meal as you take in the city vibe and blend in the city life around you.


 

CAKeS, BAKeS & CAFéS

 

colombo food
All sorts of colourful candy

 

Food Check! Lets move on to DESSERTS...yay!

Colombo is brimming with confectioneries, bakeries and cafes. Freshly baked cakes, pastries, chocolates (nom nom) the list goes on and you will be spoilt for choices. This is definitely some drool-worthy stuff.

 

1. A&M cupcakes

A&M cupcakes is a cupcake heaven. They have the most adorable and delicious cupcakes. Lots of creative designs and lots of unique flavours. They even make minion cupcakes...damn they nail it!

 

2. Pereira and Sons

Periera and Sons is the oldest and the largest bakery in not only Colombo but in Sri Lanka. They have a huge number of outlets all over the country. Your most reliable stop for food (yes they serve food too during lunch hours), snacks, puffs, pastries, cakes etc if you are travelling anywhere in Sri Lanka.

Tip : Their butterscotch cake is one of the best you'll ever have.

 

 

3. Green Cabin

Green Cabin has an outlet called 'Pagoda'. Grab their freshly baked veg puffs and pies along with some cool lemonade or orange juice.
Tip : Lemon cake, ribbon cake and their exceptional coffee cake is heavenly.

 

 

4 .Sponge

Sponge is a place where you can chill on their lovely couches, on a wonderful evening,  having some cake and coffee or sandwiches. Their best dish is the chicken pie.

 

 

5. Gerard Mendis chocolatier patisserie

A chic patisserie located in Colombo 7. Their choices of chocolate are baffling. With all possible flavours of chocolate. It really comes down to how much can you really have.

Beautiful ambiance and a cafe with a side menu makes it a lovely place to indulge in your sweet tooth cravings.

 

Coco verandah, the Gallery Cafe and the bakery at Hotel Kingsbury are few other great options to explore.

 

NIGHTLIFE

Its time for some party ... Cz we like to party don't we! Think rooftop bars, pool parties, ladies nights and even karaoke.

 

1. Floor by O

Floor by O is 'THE' place to party in Colombo. A great club, great music and a great crowd.


2. Taphouse RnR

A BEER heaven and a sports bar. Has live outdoor music on weekends.


3. Sky Lounge

A perfect amalgamation of luxury and location. Party the night away at this highest open air club in Colombo, as you take in the views of the city skyline and the moonlit ocean below.


4. ON14

This rooftop bar is the coolest. Party by the rooftop pool and dance the night away. Do I need to say more!


5. 41 Sugar

Stunning ambiance, great cocktails and drinks make this a happening spot for clubbing in Colombo. Its an open air pub with a partly-indoor seating area. Live music performances take place at the indoor lounge on weekends.

 

Well, so that's all folks. Go ahead and explore the city. Do remember to keep an open mind. Let the city take its time to surprise you and lull you into its slow paced charm.
I am sure you will love it!

 

What's your favourite place, cafe or restaurant in Colombo? Do you want to add on to the list?

Let me know in the comments below :)

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