Colombo as a capital city of Sri Lanka does not offer a bundle of attractions. It is crowded, congested and brims over with people. However, the capital city is still a lovely place to arrive or leave Sri Lanka and I absolutely enjoyed my time there. Colombo travel guide need not many details though the experience can be very enriching. The people are genuinely friendly, tourism infrastructure is well established, and the food is absolutely fantastic. The city is filled with gardens, temples, colonial architecture, markets, and parks, and slow traveling is the best way to enjoy Colombo.
Table of Contents
How to reach Colombo
From the Airport: The main international airport in Sri Lanka is located in Negombo. It is just a 30 minutes bus ride from Colombo. One can reach the airport by train from Colombo Fort and it is the cheapest way to get there. A tuk-tuk ride to the airport costs about 17 USD and there are airport buses leaving from Colombo Central Bus Station or Mawatha Bus Station every 30 minutes. The train to the airport costs about 30 rupees ($0.20 USD), while tuk-tuks charge 2,500 rupees ($17 USD). The cheapest option i.e by airport bus is 110 rupees ($0.75 USD).
By Bus: A public bus is a good and cheapest way to travel around Colombo. There are two types of buses available to reach Colombo. These include the privately owned (and more luxurious) bus companies along with the government-run services. Sri Lanka has a good network of highways and below is the list of roadways going in and out of Colombo.
- A1 highway connects Colombo with Kandy
- A2 highway connects Colombo with Galle
- A3 highway connects Colombo with Negombo
- A4 highway connects Colombo with Ratnapura
By Train: Train is an important transportation option in Sri Lanka and there are several classes. These depend on the price, comfort level, route, and type of train. In general, the different train classes include 1st class sleeper, 1st class observation car, 1st class air-conditioned seat car, 2nd class seats, and 3rd class seats. It is advisable to book your train ticket in advance especially during the peak tourist season. Train tickets can be easily bought at the train stations or via travel agents.
Recommended Read: COLOMBO VIBES
Getting around Colombo
Colombo is extremely easy to get around and it is a walkable city. Tuk-tuks are easily available and they are found a dime to a dozen. A tuk-tuk charges about 150 to 250 Sri Lankan Rupees for a 10-15 minute ride and it is advisable to agree upon a price before hopping in. Nowadays, Uber is an increasingly popular mode of Colombo transportation and the rates are cheaper than tuk-tuks.
The best time to visit
The climate of Colombo is of tropical monsoon and throughout the year, it is fairly temperate. From May to August and October to January), Colombo has significant rainfall. January is the warmest month in Colombo with September being the coolest month. May received the maximum amount of rainfall.
You may also like: WHAT I LOVED ABOUT SRI LANKA
Where to stay in Colombo
Colombo is divided into 15 numbered districts, with most expensive hotels being located in Colombo 1, 3, 4 and 5. I stayed at the clean and comfortable City Rest Fort Hostel and found it to be excellent. The Sri Lankan capital city offers a lot of luxurious hotels, captivating homestays, and affordable hostels.
Places to see in Colombo in 24 hours
Most sites of Colombo can be seen in one day. However, one can easily cover them in two days if you are looking for a more relaxing time.
- Beira Lake: It is one of the classic tourist attractions in the city of Colombo. The vast lake is like an oasis in the middle of the city and travelers and locals love to take a respite alongside its shores.
- Seema Malaka: This floating temple located in the middle of Beira Lake was built in the late 18th century. The main platform is surrounded by Buddha statues and closeby there is a Bodhi tree grown from a branch of the famous Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura.
- Gangaramaya Temple: One of the oldest Buddhist temples in Colombo, the Gangaramaya Temple houses many chambers, statues, a vihara temple, a Bodhi tree and an assembly hall for monks. One needs to dress modestly to enter this temple. Make sure to cover your shoulders and leave your shoes at the door. Taking photos with your back facing any Buddha statues and painting is prohibited.
- Galle Face Green: It is a popular gathering spot for the local people to play cricket, fly kites, go on dates and grab some street food. Go there in the evenings for spicy crabs and fried shrimp cutlets.
- Red Mosque (Jami Ul-Alfar Masjid): This quirky red and white candy poled coloured mosque is one of the most unique looking mosques in Asia. It is located in the heart of Pettah Market. The mosque is surrounded by bustling open-air bazaars that are also very entertaining to walk around.
- Old Colombo Dutch Hospital: Considered to be the oldest building in the Colombo Fort area, the Dutch Hospital has been there since the late 17th century. It was established by the Dutch to tend to the health of the Dutch East India Trading Company officers and staff. Now, this has been given a heritage building status and is occupied by shops and restaurants.
- Pettah Market: Pettah is the biggest market place in Colombo. It is crowded, congested, and full of beautiful photo moments, exotic sights, fresh produce, cows, and cheap restaurants. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to elbow around.
- Geoffrey Bawa’s House (Number 11 Colombo Residence): Geoffrey Bawa is the most famous Sri Lankan architect, and his works are legendary proportions. His official residence is Number 11 and it is tucked in a cul-de-sac of a narrow lane. Visitors are allowed only at certain times of the day and by appointment. Check their website for more details. Photography inside is prohibited.
- Gallery Cafe: I simply love this place. Located just steps away from Bawa’s House, the Gallery Cafe is one of the most upscale dining options of Colombo. It has a quiet garden and is a great place for people-watching, especially Colombo’s swish set.
- Colombo Fort Area: Colombo Fort houses many architectural gems built during the Dutch colonial period. This is a great place to walk around by yourself. Start at Chatham Street. The striped De Mel Building with Pagoda Tea Rooms on the ground floor is one of the prettiest buildings in the street. Fort Jumma Mosque and Old Colombo Lighthouse are also located nearby. A very beautiful supermarket is located in York Street and the iconic Cargills building is also there. Another photo-worthy stop in the Fort is the Old Parliament Building and while you are there, don’t forget to catch a sundowner at the Old Dutch Hospital. To discover Colombo better, opt for one of the city walks with Harold.
- Old and New Kathiresan Kovils in Pettah: Kovils are Hindu temples located in Pettah. The old and the new Kathiresan kovils stand next to each other on Sea Street of Pettah. These are two technicoloured buildings and are extremely photogenic.
- Wolvendaal Church: One of the oldest Protestant churches in the country, it is another must-visit site of Pettah. Considered an important Dutch colonial-era building, the Wolvendaal Church sports a rather simple architecture and has an impressive cemetery with quaint headstones. It has been in continuous use since 1757.
- Viharamahadevi Park: It is the largest park in Colombo with a golden Buddha statue, several water fountains, and a kids’ playground. Located close by are the new Town Hall building and the beautiful Dewatagaha Mosque. Odel, one of the most popular shopping malls in Colombo, is also within walking distance.
- Open-Air Art Market at the Green Path: Green Path is a street that runs along the Viharamahadevi Park and every day of the week, young artists display their works by the side of the road. Visit to admire local art and perhaps even buy a painting to take home. Bargaining is acceptable.
Places to Eat in Colombo
- Dilmah T-lounge for Ceylon Tea: It has two locations in Colombo: one in beautiful Fort and the other at the Independence Square Arcade. T-kitsch, strong black tea with condensed milk and spices is highly recommended.
- Dutch Hospital for classy evenings, eclectic cuisine, and cocktails: This venue houses all kinds of establishments. From art galleries, souvenir shops, spa salons, to some very classy restaurants, Dutch Hospital in Colombo is a favourite nightspot for tourists and locals alike.
- Street snacks at Galle Face Green: A much popular place for locals and tourists alike, Galle Face Green stretches from Galle Face Hotel to the Fort. It is a popular haunt for street food vendors who sell wade (deep-fried lentil patties), shrimp wade, and crab wade.
- Kottu at Hotel de Pilawoos: A very popular late-night street snack of Sri Lanka, Kottu is made by mixing roti (flatbread) with meats, vegetables, and gravy on an open grill. It is considered to be a great hangover cure and Hotel de Pilawoos serves the best kottu in Colombo.
- Pepper Crab at Ministry of Crab: Located at the Old Dutch Hospital Complex, the Ministry of Crab offers a great dining scene. Sri Lankan crabs are real food connoisseurs delight and they can grow up to 2 kg in weight. Sri Lankan pepper crab is cooked using hand-crushed peppercorns, whole peppercorns, and pepper stock. This massive dish is served with garlic bread and it is a meal to die for. It is believed that the crushing of the peppercorns in traditional Sri Lankan stone grinder called miris gala imparts the unique fiery taste.
- Kollupitiya Market for cheap local food: I used to alternate my meals at a fancy restaurant and a small eatery at Kollupitiya Market. This market is located in Colombo-4 and the local restaurants inside provide some of the freshest dishes in Colombo. Don’t judge by the shabby exterior of the building because you will find some of the best fresh produce in Colombo in this market. The ground floor features fruits and vegetables, while the first floor is dedicated to meat and fish. The second floor has two shops specializing in imported goods, like nuts, candies, and cheese.
- Finally the best for the last. For the ultimate food experience in Colombo, try your hand at Aunty’s Sri Lankan Cooking Class.
NOTE: In view of the security situation in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of terror attacks on 21 April 2019, the updated travel advisory states that the security situation in Sri Lanka is gradually returning to normal with the lifting of curfew & restrictions on social media and the opening of schools. Foreign nationals travelling to Sri Lanka are advised to be careful and vigilant.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE