Travel Tips and Places to See in Colombo
llomColombo is Sri Lanka’s commercial capital with plenty of interesting sightseeing and places to shop. It’s also home to restaurants of all kind including authentic Sri Lankan cuisine and fusion cuisine from all over the world.
Things to Do – Popular Sightseeing Spots
Gangaramaya and Seemamalakaya Temple by Beira Lake
Gangaramaya Temple consists of Buddha statues of all kind and things vintage-ish. It’s the most famous and iconic temple in Colombo. A temple complex, it has, over the years, become one of the popular things to do in Colombo among tourists. Go there early morning or evening around 6.00 pm and avoid Poya Days as it can be crowded during Poya.
Seemamalakaaya Temple is the floating shrine on Beira Lake. It’s only a five minute walk from the Gangaramaya Temple. There are duck paddle boats to rent by the lake. You wouldn’t want to hire a boat here unless you really want the experience as the water here is (awfully) green and not that pleasant. However, it’s a nice place to just sit and have an ice-cream to beat the Colombo heat.
Note: Tea Breeze is a cute café nearby to sit down and cool down with an iced tea.
Old Dutch Hospital
The Dutch Hospital complex dates back to circa 1680. It’s one of the oldest building complex in Colombo and now, home to a number of mid-range and expensive cafes, restaurants, souvenir and clothing shops, hostels and hotels. This is the most touristic area of Colombo as everything here is a little fancy. You will also find Twin Towers (World Trade Center), BOC building and famous hotels such as Galadari, Hilton and Kingsbury nearby.
The place is home to many high-end pricey restaurants such as Ministry of Crab and TGI Fridays.
Our favorite place to dine in: Colombo Fort Café (Try their burger)
Favorite Café: t-lounge by Dilmah in Chatham Street. You will be able to find all the varieties of tea here by Dilmah. From black tea to iced tea, tea mocktails, tea ice-cream and tea-shakes, everything is here. Try their crepes if you think of having lunch here.
Other reasonably priced dine-in options: Burger King, Heladive Tea Club, 24/7 Ice-cream from City Rest Fort.
Souvenir Shops: Luv SL by ODEL
For those who see beauty in chaos. Pettah is the most happening and the largest market in Colombo. From vegetables, fruits and sweets to funky toy lobsters, shoes and clothes, everything is here. The market is chaotic but beautiful in its own way. The streets are filled with hawkers, porters, mobile shops and aunties and uncles who do bulk shopping. Everything here is twice or even ten times cheaper compared to the normal midrange shops and supermarkets. Despite the chaos, it’s quite an amazing experience to roam around Pettah streets and get a taste of local life.
Viharamahadevi Park (Victoria Park)
The largest outdoor park in Colombo. It’s a nice space with plenty of shade so if you’ve got a bit of time, it’s perfect to sit down with a book. There’s no entrance fee to the park. Bordering the Viharamahadevi Park, Green Path is home to a long pavement of paintings done by local artists. During some weekends, the park hosts shopping festivals and food festivals. Download the YAMU App on your phone and go to their events section or visit yamu.lk or events.lk to see if there’re any events happening in Viharamahaadevi Park when you’re around.
Street Food at Galle Face Green
Galle Face Green is a quite popular park among many Sri Lankans. It gets insanely packed during weekend evenings. It’s always nice to go here during evening hours, have some isso vadai and watch the sun sets by. It’s an open park with no entrance fee and home to hawkers selling funky toys, kites, ice-cream and street food stalls.
Our favorite: Isso vadai and Bombai Mutai.
Geoffrey Bawa House
Geoffrey Bawa is a renowned architecture. His colombo residence “number 11” is open to the public. You have to make an appointment prior to your trip and the entrance fee is Rs.1000 per person. The house is open Monday-Saturday at 10.00 am, 12.00 pm, 2.00 pm and 3.30 pm.On Sunday’s, visits are scheduled at 10.00 am.
Colombo Museum is the largest museum in Sri Lanka and quite an interesting place. You will come across relics, gigantic paintings which date back to 5th century and royal accessories such as jewellery worn by royal women and knives embellished in gems and gold.
Other Cultural and Lifestyle Highlights
Wellawatta is home to a large population of Tamils, both who are hailing from Jaffna and South India. The market here consists of fresh vegetables, fruits and roadside shops selling clothes. You will find clothing stores with South Indian Saree designs, shalwars, lehengas and everything with sequin and heavy metal embellishments.
If you’re a fan of markets, this is also a great place to go to. It’s a place where everyone come to shop for fresh veggies and fruits.
Hindu Temples in Bambalapitiya
There are three Hindu Temples on Galle Road in Bambalapitya. Two temples are situated after the intersection of Lorenze road and one of them just near the Hangover Hostels Colombo. Other Kovil is after Vajira Road named Vajira Pillayar Kovil. There’s no entrance fee at all these places but as you need to take your shoes off, they might try to tip you off for keeping your shoes on the official rack.
Ceylon Tea Board
The shop at Ceylon Tea Board is a great place if you’re a tea lover and need to take some of the world’s finest tea back home. You can find many varieties of tea here.
Majestic City is Colombo’s most popular shopping mall. The basement is the food court where you can find a wide range of cuisines for reasonable prices. The mall consists of souvenir shops, clothing stores and stationery shops.
Note: Try fresh fruit juice at Roots at Majestic City Food Court.
Savoy Cinema and Majestic City Cinema for Movie Buffs
If you’ve got a bit of time here in Colombo and want to go for a movie, Savoy Cinema and Majestic City Cinema complex are our suggestions.
Prices start from Rs.500.
Diyatha Uyana Park in Battaramulla
Diyatha Uyana, situated in Colombo’s prettiest suburb Battaramulla is a popular park. During weekends, it’s home to food stalls, veggie stalls, souvenir shops and many more. It’s mainly famous for its flower market including pot plants of all varieties. It’s right next to the beautiful Diyawanna Lake. Now, this is the perfect place to go on a boat trip, specially during sunset.
Our favorite: Sunset hours and ginger tea
Baddegana Wetland Park
Now, this is a bit away from the city and if, by any chance, you get here, you wouldn’t believe it’s Colombo. There’s nothing much to do here but it’s also bordering the beautiful Diyawanna Lake and the place with shady trees is just magical.
How to get to the park: If you’re coming from Galle Road, Take 100, 101 buses towards Dehiwala side. Get down at Williams Junction. Catch 163 bus. Get down at Ethul Kotte junction and you would need to walk about 500m towards Baddegana and you will come across the entrance to the wetlands. Always, keep track on Google Maps.
Sri Vishnu Kovil, Kalubowila
The temple in Kalubowila is a larger complex than all the Hindu temples you find on Galle Road. The temple is filled with fascinating South Indian architecture and colourful crafts. If you are a fan of temples and local life, this place is a must-visit. A large number of Hindus visit the temple every day.
Places to Eat
For Authentic Sri Lankan food
Cafe on the Fifth
Cafe on the Fifth on Fifth Lane has authentic Sri Lankan food including rice & curry, kottu, string hoppers and hoppers for reasonable prices. However, keep in mind that the best Sri Lankan food you’ll ever find in Sri Lanka will always be from outside Colombo. You can also try Green Cabin for good Sri Lankan food. Green Cabin’s been there for long years and is one of the pioneers of Sri Lankan food in Colombo.
Upali’s by Nawaloka, Colombo is slightly pricier but if you need to have true authentic Sri Lankan food, this is the place to go to.
Nana’s at Galle Face
Nana’s at Galle Face Green is an open-air restaurant that serves delicious street food. Try their kottu rotti. Kottu is made with flatbread, chicken, beef, seafood and vegetables and then they bang and chop the ingredients together.
Isso Vadai at Galle Face Green
There are a number of small mobile carts at Galle Face Green which sells isso vadai. It’s a must have if you’re in Colombo.
Saravita is shredded coconut dyed in bright luminous hues and wrapped up in betel leaf. You will come across two or three street vendors with trays of these snacks.
Bombai Mutai is the Lankan version of candy floss but more sugary! Yes, there are things more sugary than candy floss! It melts in your mouth and keeps you coming for more. Again, you will find these at Galle Face Green.
Samosa – small roadside restaurants and Fort Railway Station
Samosas are filled with ingredients such as veggies, chicken, fish and beef. It’s crunchy and crispy. Have piping hot samosa with a cup of tea.
For American/Indian/Fusion Cuisine
VOC by DBU – The VOC cafe at Reid Avenue is a nice place to dine in for lamprais, string hoppers, pork dishes and steak. Try their homemade ginger beer.
Sri Vani Vilas – If you’re looking for authentic Indian cuisine, Sri Vani Vilas on Armor Street is the place to go to.
Barefoot Cafe: Barefoot cafe is a chillaxing place for lunch, specially during the weekends though it tends to get a little packed during the weekend afternoons.
Street 360: The food here is expensive but Street 360 offers delicious street food from all over the world.
BlackBird in Liberty Arcade – Blackbird is Colombo’s newest brunch spot and they are amazingly good. Blackbird does some great Sri Lankan breakfast including pol roti (coconut roti/flat bread), kiribath (milk rice) and roast paan (bread – Lankan version). They also have full English/Arabic brekkie, waffles, sandwiches, burgers and coffee. You get refillable free tea alongside with your Sri Lankan or English brekkie and the place has no service charge. Good spot in the town to start your day!
Whight & Co – White & Co offers beautiful views with great coffee. Wake up early and drag your lazy bum to brekkie here maybe?
Cafe Kumbuk: Cafe Kumbuk is a super chillaxing place with delicious food. Try if you’re a vegan!
Hansa Coffee – Hansa Coffee is a small coffee shop on Fife Road. The ambience is cute. The Wi-Fi is great to sit and do some work.
Tips While Traveling in Colombo/Sri Lanka
- Tuk tuks are fairly cheaper and an easy way to travel in Colombo and all around Sri Lanka. However, metered tuk tuks only function in Colombo and suburbs. When in Colombo, get onto a tuk tuk with a meter or confirm your final price before the trip.
- Uber functions in Colombo. However, Pick Me is an alternative to Uber and the most popular option in Colombo. Download the PickMe.LK App on your smart phone.
- Although not the most comfortable option, buses are the cheapest way to get around Colombo. Colombo is a city with smoke and huge traffic so you would want to consider these factors. Morning 7am -9am, Afternoon 1.30-2.30pm and in evenings around 4-6pm, the traffic builds up and it is brainsickeningly awful.
- It’s hot and humid in Colombo. Apply sunscreen before you go out, if you don’t want a badly tanned skin.
- To find restaurants and cafes in Colombo, download the Zomato app on your phone. Note: Zomato only works in Colombo.
- Carry plenty of water as it gets unbearably hot during the day. Stay hydrated!
- Wear breezy attire and if you’re entering a temple, make sure you’re covered up.