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Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

Read our Colombo travel guide to help you have an idea with your next journey to this wonderful capital in the country of Sri Lanka.

Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

  • List of the Best Budget to Mid-Range Hotels in Sri Lanka
  • 7 Ways to Fully Experience and Enjoy Central Sri Lanka
  • My stay at Cinnamon’s Hotels in Sri Lanka – Cinnamon Lakeside Colombo & Cinnamon Citadel Kandy

Table of Contents

Colombo Travel Guide: Places to Visit in Colombo, Sri Lanka

1. gangaramaya (vihara) buddhist temple.

Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

Suggested Tour:  Colombo: Half-Day City Tour

2. Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara

Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

3. Colombo National Museum

Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

Suggested Tour: Full-day Sightseeing Tour of Colombo, Sri Lanka

4. Viharamahadevi Park

Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

5. Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque

Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

6. Galle Face Green

Galle Face Green is a must in Colombo, here you can meet in the evening, you can see families, fly kites, many food stalls with delicious dishes of all kinds, and feel the breeze from the sea. If you are looking for contact with locals, you can have a drink in the small restaurants and socialize!

7. Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil

From the outside, the temple is more than impressive. A beautiful temple with many figures and great colors, you can take your time to study the figures carefully. It is easy to reach and offers a nice insight into the temple culture of Sri Lanka.

Colombo Travel Guide: Sample Weekend Itinerary to Colombo, Sri Lanka

Day 1 – weekend guide to colombo, sri lanka.

Colombo National Museum Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil

Day 2 – Weekend Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka

Gangaramaya (Vihara) Buddhist Temple Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque Galle Face Green

Day 3 – Weekend Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka

Viharamahadevi Park

Colombo Travel Guide: Where to Stay in Colombo, Sri Lanka

*All prices are subject to change.

Where to Stay in Colombo, Sri Lanka if you’re a Backpacker

Anula Inn  

Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

Anula Inn offers accommodation with a shared lounge and as well as free private parking for guests who drive. Arcade Independence Square is 2.8 km from the hostel, while Alliance Française is 3.7 km from the property. The nearest airport is Ratmalana Airport, 14 km from Anula Inn.

Price: Starts at $3 per night for 4-Bed Male Dormitory Room, includes taxes and charges, and it offers a free cancellation.

Haven Fort Hostel 

Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

Haven Fort Hostel features rooms with city views and free WiFi. At the hostel, all rooms are fitted with a desk. The hostel provides complimentary tea/coffee to guests. A buffet or Asian breakfast is available daily at the property.

Price: Starts at $4 per night for Bunk Bed in Mixed Dormitory Room, includes taxes and charges, and it’s non-refundable.

Udara’s Colombo Residences 

Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

Udara’s Colombo Residences offers accommodation with a garden and free WiFi as well as free private parking for guests who drive. The nearest airport is Ratmalana, 17 km from Udara’s Colombo Residences, and the property offers a paid airport shuttle service.

Price: Starts at $11 per night for Double Room with Private Bathroom, includes taxes and charges, and it offers a free cancellation.

Where to Stay in Colombo, Sri Lanka if you’re on a Budget

Hostel At Galle Face

Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

Hostel at Galle Face is a beachfront hostel that features free WiFi throughout the property. Grocery delivery is available. Common areas include a shared kitchen and a terrace at the property. Bandaranaike Airport is 28 km away.

Price: Starts at $8 per night for Bed in 4-Bed Female Dormitory Room, includes taxes and charges,  add $3 for breakfast, and it offers a free cancellation.

Colombo Hotel by Colombo Village

Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

This 4-star hotel has air-conditioned rooms. The rooms include a microwave, a coffee machine, a bath or shower, free toiletries, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, and a DVD Player. All rooms are equipped with a seating area. Full English/Irish breakfast can be enjoyed in the breakfast area.

Price: Starts at $14 per night for Economy Double Room, includes taxes and charges, and it offers a free cancellation.

Steps Backpackers Hostel

Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

Steps Backpackers Hostel offers accommodation with a shared lounge and free WiFi throughout the property as well as free private parking for guests who drive. The units at the hostel come with a seating area. At Steps Backpackers Hostel all rooms are equipped with a shared bathroom with a shower. The accommodation also offers a continental or Asian breakfast.

Where to Stay in Colombo, Sri Lanka if you want Luxury

Shangri-La Hotel Colombo

Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

Shangri-La Hotel Colombo offers the various collection of guestrooms with stunning views of the Indian Ocean, Beira Lake, or cityscape. There is a Pool Bar overlooking the Indian Ocean and it is perfect for light refreshments. The hotel also offers direct access to the most extensive international shopping mall in Sri Lanka, Shangri-La’s own One Galle Face Mall. Daily buffet breakfast and dinner are served at either Capital Bar & Grill or Kaema Sutra.

Price: Starts at $150 per night for Deluxe Lake View King, add $30 for taxes and charges, $20 for breakfast, but it offers a free cancellation.

Jetwing Colombo Seven

Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

Jetwing Colombo Seven boasts a year-round rooftop pool. The hotel has a sun terrace and spa center, and guests can enjoy a meal at the restaurant or a drink at the bar. Each room at this hotel is air-conditioned and comes with a flat-screen TV with satellite channels. All rooms have a seating area where you can relax. Tea/coffee making facilities can be found in the room. Guests will also find a 24-hour front desk at the property.

Price: Starts at $203 per night for Deluxe Double Room, add $22 for taxes and charges, $15 for breakfast, but it offers a free cancellation.

Plantation Villa

Ayurveda Retreat in Sri Lanka My Experience at The Plantation Villa

You can read Kach’s Experience with Plantation Villa , here! It’s our recommended hotel!

Price: Starts at $154 per night for a Single Room, add $60 for taxes and charges .

Colombo Travel Guide: List of restaurants that you can try while in Colombo, Sri Lanka

1. King of the Mambo

Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

Operating hours: 5:00 PM – 02:00 AM (Mon-Fri) / 12:00 PM – 02:00 AM (Sat-Sun) Address:  Galle Face Hotel, Colombo Sri Lanka

2. Noodles Restaurant

Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

Operating hours: 6:30 PM – 11:30 PM (Sun-Sat) Address: Galle Road A2 Cinnamon Grand Colombo, Colombo Sri Lanka

3. Nuga Gama

Address: 77 Galle Road, Colombo Sri Lanka

Address:  117 Sir Chittampalam A Gardiner Mawatha Cinnamon Grand Colombo, Colombo 00100 Sri Lanka

5. Chutneys At Cinnamon Grand Colombo

Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

Operating hours: 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM (Sun-Sat) Address: 77 Galle Road, Colombo 00300 Sri Lanka

And that’s our Colombo travel guide for you! We hope we’re able to give you enough insights about this city. Have you been here? Or are you planning to go here? Share with us your experience!

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Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary]

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2 thoughts on “ Travel Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka [with Sample Itinerary] ”

Thank you for the valuable post! I really enjoyed the way you’re writing, it’s very helpful for who is planning to travel or enjoy the vacation Sri Lanka.

Hey! Just wanna say that this is a great blog, I get some really useful tips in here. Thank you for taking the time to put it together! I have planned this year to visit a friend there and he’s going to show me around, so I have the perks of a native tour guide.

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Two Monkeys Travel Group – Community Travel Blog is a travel blog and website. We quickly grew into a valuable source of inspiring travel stories, advice, itineraries and travel guides, with the aim of demonstrating how to live a sustainable life of travel, whilst living your own definition of success. If you'd like to contribute and write a guest post, contact us at [email protected]

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  • Sri Lanka’s west coast

Sri Lanka’s west coast is the island’s front door and – via the international airport at Katunayake just outside Colombo – the point of arrival for all visitors to the country (at least pending the opening of the new international terminal at Hambantota). This is Sri Lanka at its most developed and populous: the busiest, brashest and most Westernized region in the country, home to the capital city and the principal coastal resorts, which have now all but fused into an unbroken ribbon of concrete which meanders along the seaboard for over a hundred kilometres.

Accommodation in Colomobo

Eating in colombo, colombo nightlife and entertainment, shopping in colombo, kalpitiya peninsula, south of colombo.

Situated about two-thirds of the way down the west coast, Sri Lanka’s sprawling capital, Colombo, is usually low on visitors’ list of priorities, although beneath the unprepossessing surface lies an intriguing and characterful city which offers a fascinating microcosm of contemporary Sri Lanka. North of Colombo is the busy resort of Negombo, whose proximity to the airport makes it a popular first or last stop on many itineraries, while further up the coast is the idyllic Kalpitiya peninsula, with deserted beaches and superb dolphin-watching, and – a short drive inland – the vast Wilpattu National Park, now slowly regaining its former glory after decades of upheaval during the civil war.

South of the capital lie the island’s main beach resorts. The principal areas – Kalutara, Beruwala and Bentota – are home to endless oversized hotels catering to vacationing Europeans on two-week packages. Pockets of serenity remain, even so, along with some characterful hotels and guesthouses, while further south lies Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka’s original hippy hangout, now rather past its best, though it does retain a certain down-at-heel charm and (by sleepy Sri Lankan standards at any rate) a refreshingly upbeat atmosphere thanks to the backpackers who still flock here for cheap sun, sand and surf.

If you're planning a trip to Sri Lanka, don't miss our Sri Lanka itineraries and information on how to get there . 

Sri Lanka’s dynamic capital, COLOMBO, seems totally out of proportion with the rest of the country, stretching for 50km along the island’s western seaboard in a long and formless urban straggle that is now home to around three million people. The city’s sprawling layout and congested streets make it difficult to get to grips with, while a lack of obvious charms means that it’s unlikely to win many immediate friends, especially if your first taste of the capital is via the hour-long drive from the airport through the northern breeze-block suburbs and hooting files of weaving traffic.

There’s plenty to enjoy beneath the unpromising exterior, especially if you’re interested in getting behind the tourist clichés and finding out what makes contemporary Sri Lanka tick – it’s definitely a place that grows on you the longer you stay, and is worth a day out of even the shortest itinerary. The city musters few specific sights, but offers plenty of atmosphere and quirky character: a heady admixture of Asian anarchy, colonial charm and modern chic. Shiny office blocks rub shoulders with tumbledown local cafés and shops, while serene Buddhist shrines and colonial churches stand next to the garishly multicoloured towers of Hindu temples – all evidence of the rich stew of races and religions that have gone into the making of this surprisingly cosmopolitan city. And for sheer adrenaline, a walk through the crowded bazaars of the Pettah or a high-speed rickshaw ride amid the kamikaze traffic of the Galle Road have no rival anywhere else in the country.

Brief history of Colombo

In the context of Sri Lanka’s almost 2500 years of recorded history, Colombo is a relative upstart. Situated on the delta of the island’s fourth-longest river, the Kelani Ganga, the Colombo area had been long settled by Muslim traders who established a flourishing trading settlement here from the eighth century onwards, but only rose to nationwide prominence at the start of the colonial period. The Sinhalese called the port Kolamba, which the poetically inclined Portuguese believed was derived from the Sinhalese word for mango trees (kola meaning “leaves”, and amba meaning “mango”); it’s more likely, though, that kolamba was an old Sinhala word meaning “port” or “ferry”.

The colonial period

The first significant settlement in the area was 13km northeast of the modern city centre at Kelaniya, site of a famous Buddhist shrine which had developed by the thirteenth century into a major town; the nearby settlement of Kotte, 11km southeast of the modern city, served as the capital of the island’s main Sinhalese lowland kingdom from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries. Despite the proximity of both Kelaniya and Kotte, however, Colombo remained a relatively insignificant fishing and trading port until the arrival of the Portuguese in 1518. The Portuguese constructed the fort that subsequently formed the nucleus of modern Colombo and, in 1597, attacked and destroyed both Kotte and Kelaniya. Portuguese control of Colombo only lasted until 1656, however, when they were ousted by the Dutch after a seven-month siege. The Dutch remained in control for almost 150 years, rebuilding the fort, reclaiming land from the swampy delta using the system of canals that survive to this day, and creating spacious new tree-lined suburbs.

In 1796, Colombo fell to the British, following Dutch capitulation to the French in the Napoleonic Wars. The city was made capital of Ceylon, while new road and rail links with Kandy further enhanced the city’s burgeoning prosperity. With the construction of a new harbour at the end of the nineteenth century, Colombo overtook Galle as the island’s main port, becoming one of the great entrepôts of Asia and acquiring the sobriquet the “Charing Cross of the East” thanks to its location at the crossroads of Indian Ocean trade.

Independence and civil war

Colombo retained its importance following independence, and has continued to expand at an exponential rate ever since, though not without sometimes disastrous side effects. Growing islandwide Sinhalese–Tamil tensions erupted with tragic results in mid-1983, during the month subsequently christened Black July, when Sinhalese mobs, with the apparent connivance and encouragement of the police and army, went on the rampage throughout the city, murdering perhaps as many as two thousand innocent Tamils and reducing significant portions of the Pettah to ruins – a watershed in Sinhalese–Tamil relations which led, almost inevitably, to fully fledged civil war. During the civil war itself, the city was repeatedly targeted by LTTE suicide bombers, most notably in 1996, when the massive truck-bombing of the Central Bank killed almost a hundred people and succeeded, along with other attacks, in reducing Colombo’s historic Fort district to a heavily militarized ghost town which is only now slowly recovering from its wartime trauma.

Despite its traumatic recent past, the city’s irrepressible commercial and cultural life continues apace, now mainly concentrated in the southern suburbs of Kollupitiya and Bambalapitiya, and in the rebuilt and revitalized Pettah. And for all its problems, Colombo remains a fascinating melting pot of the island’s Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher and expatriate communities, who combine to give the place a uniquely forward-thinking and outward-looking character quite unlike anywhere else in the island – one which gives a glimpse of what a multi-ethnic, twenty-first-century Sri Lanka might become, communal tensions permitting.

Colombo: getting oriented

Colombo is a confusing city. There’s no single focal point, and it’s more helpful to think of it as a collection of disparate neighbourhoods than as a single, coherent urban space. At the heart of the old colonial city, the moribund and bomb-afflicted Fort district, Colombo’s former administrative and financial centre, offers a stark reminder of the conflicts which have beset modern Sri Lanka, while to the east and south lie the bustling mercantile district of the Pettah and the engaging temples and old-fashioned street life of Slave Island. From here, it’s a short walk or tuktuk ride to Galle Face Green – perfect, after a hard day’s exploring, for an evening stroll along the seafront promenade and a sundowner at the historic Galle Face Hotel.

South of the Green, the sulphurous Galle Road runs through the suburbs of Kollupitiya and Bambalapitiya, the heart of the modern city, and home to many of Colombo’s best shopping and eating venues. Inland, the leafy streets of Cinnamon Gardens conceal further places to stay, eat and drink, as well as the tropical oasis of the Viharamahadevi Park and the city’s excellent National Museum. Further south are the more downmarket suburbs of Wellawatta and Dehiwala, home to the national zoo, and the attractive beachside suburb of Mount Lavinia, 10km from the city centre.

Colombo has an over-supply of top-end hotels aimed at business travellers, plus a growing number of chic boutique hotels. Unfortunately, there’s a paucity of good budget options. It pays to book in advance, especially if you’re planning on staying at one of the smaller guesthouses, when you may need to reserve a week or more ahead. Never turn up at a small family-run guesthouse unannounced; you’re unlikely to find a vacancy and the owners won’t appreciate having unexpected visitors on their doorsteps, especially if you arrive at some ungodly hour of the night or morning.

Budget Accommodation in Colombo

Although there are limited options for Bugdet hotels in Colombo, they do exist if you can be patient and look for them. Most families offer guest houses however there are also a range of hostels and cheap-hotels to choose from.

Island Hostels - Colombo

Island Hostels is a chain of hostels in various cities across Sri Lanka. Their hostel in Colombo is especially nice, and somewhat luxurious for a hostel. The accommodation includes a beautiful garden terrace and swimming pool. The dormitory rooms are pod-like with modern interior, reception is open 24 hours and it is located close to sites that are of high interest in the city such as the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple.

Marino Beach Hotel - Colombo

Marino Beach Hotel is one of those hotels that travellers can only dream of in a foreign country. The hotel boasts one of the best continental breakfasts that leaves guests feeling full and happy in the mornings. As given away by the name, the Marino sits on the beach and has an infinity pool with ocean views and a beautiful garden to explore. The rooms here range from average to luxurious making it ideal for every budget, you can choose from a regular hotel room for a fair price or a king suite with coastal views for a higher cost.

Luxury Colombo Accommodation

In Colombo, you will have no issues finding luxury accommodation. However, to make things easy here are the best rated in the city.

Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo

As with all cities, Shangri-La is often top of the list for luxury hotels. The Shangri-La in Colombo offers top of the range service and rooms with ocean and city views. The interior of the bar is typical stylish Sri Lankan decor as with their spa facilities. There is a terrace pool, an outdoor dining area and a variety of restaurants.

55TG Boutique Suites, Colombo

These boutique suites offer luxury alongside shabby chic interior. The kitchen, lounge and garden terrace are shared areas to socialise with other guests and rooms are spacious, with every detail of the decor thought-through. Beautiful gardens are free to roam and the onsite restaurant is well catered to all needs with options for vegan, halal and dairy-free.

Eco-friendly Colombo Accommodation

If you are wanting to be close to nature there are many eco-lodges that focus on just this outside of the city.

Rainforest Eco-Lodge, Sinharaja-Deniyaya

This eco-lodge sits just outside of Colombo near the Sinharaja tropical rainforest. The lodges sit on a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a Biosphere Reserve making it a hot spot for biodiversity. The lodge runs on sustainable energy and water and has waste management schemes that significantly reduce their carbon footprint. If you are wanting to relax and be one with nature, this is the eco-lodge for you.

Colombo is far and away the best place to eat in Sri Lanka – the city boasts pretty much the full range of Asian and European cuisines, including an excellent selection of Sri Lankan, Chinese and Indian (both north and south) restaurants. If your stomach’s acclimatized, there are innumerable lively little local cafés – clustered all over Slave Island, down Galle Rd and around the Pettah – which really come alive after dark. Lunch packets are sold by pavement stalls and cafés all over the city – a decent-sized helping of simple rice and curry costs around Rs.150–200.

Colombo’s nightlife is gradually recovering some modest momentum following the conclusion of the war and increasingly relaxed security situation. There’s a fair spread of places to drink, although nightclubs are more or less nonexistent.

Gambling is legal in Sri Lanka making it a popular activity in regards to Colombo nightlife. The larger casinos are the best, where they offer trust and respect. Open 24 hours, they often use their tactics of free food and drinks to encourage tourists and locals alike to stay longer and play games. The best ones in Colombo are Bally's and Bellagio.

As you will notice with the nightlife in Colombo, the crowd is often enthusiastic travellers looking for a fun time. Many of the bars in Colombo are perfect for just this, and often they are kind to your wallet. From sophisticated rooftop bars such as ON14 to quirky bars that feature recycled interior such as Loft Lounge. As with most cities, Colombo also has an Irish bar hidden in Nawam Mawatha named Molly's Pub. The pub offers a warm and friendly atmosphere and often plays live music.

Finding a decent club in Colombo is more of a task as bars are the most popular option. However, do not be disheartened as there are clubs to choose from (although limited) should you wish for full-fledged clubbing. Clique and Disques are the top recommended, although expensive. Males are requested to pay an entrance fee and drinks are pricey but the music is considered good, with a range of hip-hop tunes and current hits.

Not Feeling Colombo Nightlife?

If you don't fancy a night full of drinking in Colombo, there are other charming alternatives. You can take a guided night tour of the city and see Colombo from a new perspective. Cities often feel like two totally different places during the day and during the night, Colombo is no exception to this. The guide combines a boat ride on the Diyawana River and covers lots of interesting sites. Another alternative is to watch the sunset at Mount Lavinia.

Colombo has a good range of shops, and a day trawling through the city’s handicrafts emporia and chic boutiques can be an enjoyable way to end a visit and offload surplus rupees. You’ll find the best of Sri Lanka’s modest traditional handicraft production on sale at various places around the city, as well as at characterful modern shops, such as Barefoot, which offer chic contemporary takes on traditional designs – everything from stationery and stuffed toys to fabrics and kitchenware – and all at bargain-basement prices. The only fly in the soup is the fact that in virtually all establishments (except Barefoot) you’ll be tailed obsessively during your browsing by the shops’ under-employed sales assistants – though whether this is so that they can be of immediate service when required or because they suspect all foreigners of being closet shoplifters remains unclear. Colombo also boasts an excellent selection of bookshops, a plethora of jewellers and, of course, plenty of tea shops. When buying handicrafts, remember that the export of antiques (classified as any object more than fifty years old) is prohibited without a licence (see Average monthly temperatures and rainfall).

East of Fort, the helter-skelter bazaar district of the Pettah is Colombo’s most absorbing area, and feels quite unlike anywhere else in Sri Lanka. The crush and energy of the gridlocked streets, with merchandise piled high in tiny shops and on the pavements, holds an undeniable, chaotic fascination, although exploring can be a slow and rather exhausting process, made additionally perilous by the barrow boys and porters who charge through the crowds pulling or carrying huge loads and threatening the heads and limbs of unwary tourists.

Shops in the Pettah are still arranged in the traditional bazaar layout, with each street devoted to a different trade: Front Street, for example, is full of bags, suitcases and shoes; 1st Cross Street is devoted to hardware and electrical goods; 3rd Cross Street and Keyzer Street are stuffed with colourful fabrics, and so on. The wares on display are fairly mundane – unless you’re a big fan of Taiwanese household appliances or fake Barbie dolls – although traces of older and more colourful trades survive in places.

Unlike the rest of Colombo, the district retains a strongly Tamil (the name Pettah derives from the Tamil word pettai, meaning village) and Muslim flavour, as evidenced by its many pure veg and Muslim restaurants, quaint mosques, Hindu temples and colonial churches (many Sri Lankan Tamils are Christian rather than Hindu). Even the people look different here, with Tamil women in gorgeous saris, Muslim children dressed entirely in white and older men in brocaded skullcaps – a refreshing change from the boring skirts and shirts which pass muster in the rest of the city.

North of Chilaw (and about 8km before reaching the town of Puttalam), a side road branches off west, threading its way across the beautiful, windswept Kalpitiya peninsula, fringed with unspoilt beaches and bounded on opposite sides by sea and lagoon. The peninsula’s considerable tourist potential (especially given its relative proximity to the international airport) remains largely unexploited as yet, and government plans to establish a $4 billion tourist zone near Kalpitiya town, complete with luxury resort, golf course and airstrip, have thankfully so far come to naught. For the time being, tourism remains low-key, centred on the marvellous cluster of eco-resorts at beautiful Alankuda Beach.

Kitesurfing at Alankuda

Alankuda is also a prime spot for kitesurfing, thanks to the strong winds which blow down either side of the peninsula: beginners head for the calmer waters of the lagoon; more advanced kiters head out onto the ocean waves. There are two kitesurfing schools, one at Bar Reef Resort (May–Oct), and the independent Kitekuda ( t 072 223 2952, w srilankakiteschool.com ), offering equipment and tuition from beginners to advanced levels, plus a kite camp with inexpensive bungalow accommodation. The best time for kiting is from May to September, when the winds gust most strongly; kiting at other times of year is also possible apart from April and November, when the winds die away to nothing.

In addition to kitesurfing, a range of other watersports including snorkelling, kayaking and deep-sea fishing can also be arranged. There’s particularly good diving in the nearby Bar Reef, home to some of Sri Lanka’s most pristine and biodiverse coral gardens, home to over 150 types of coral and almost 300 species of tropical fish.

The coast south of Colombo is home to Sri Lanka’s biggest concentration of resort hotels, catering particularly to a German and, increasingly, Russian clientele. This is the best-established package-holiday area on the island, and some parts, notably the main stretches of beach at Kalutara, Beruwala and Bentota, have largely sold out to the tourist dollar – if you’re looking for unspoilt beaches and a taste of local life, these aren’t the places to find them. Away from the big resort areas, pockets of interest can still be found, particularly at the lively town of Aluthgama, backing the Bentota lagoon, and Ambalangoda, the main centre for the production of the island’s eye-catching masks. Further south lies the old resort of Hikkaduwa, still one of the liveliest places along the coast, with good surfing, snorkelling and diving.

Heading south out of Colombo, the heaving Galle Road passes through a seemingly endless succession of ragtag suburbs before finally shaking itself clear of the capital, though even then a more or less continuous ribbon of development straggles all the way down the coast – according to Michael Ondaatje in his celebrated portrait of Sri Lanka, Running in the Family, it was said that a chicken could walk along the roofs of the houses between Galle and Colombo without once touching the ground. The endless seaside buildings mean that although the road and rail line run close to the coast for most of the way, you don’t see that much of the sea, beaches or actual resorts from either.

Just over 40km from Colombo, bustling KALUTARA is the first town you reach travelling south to retain a recognizably separate identity from the capital. It’s one of the west coast’s largest settlements, but the long stretch of beach north of town remains reasonably unspoilt, dotted with a string of upmarket hotels. Sitting next to the broad estuary of the Kalu Ganga, or “Black River”, from which it takes its name, Kalutara was formerly an important spice-trading centre, controlled at various times by the Portuguese, Dutch and British. Nowadays, it’s more famous as the source of the island’s finest mangosteens.

Low-country dancing

The masks you’ll see at Ambalangoda (and elsewhere around the island) were originally produced to be worn by performers in low-country (southern) dances, either in devil dances or kolam. Many Sri Lankans still believe that diseases and illness can be caused by demons, and the purpose of the devil dance – more strictly known as an exorcism ceremony (bali) or healing dance (sunni yakuma) – is to summon up the demons who are causing a person sickness, make offerings to them and then politely request that they leave their victim in peace. There are various groups of demons – five yakka demons, twelve pali demons and eighteen sanni demons; each is believed to be responsible for certain diseases, and each is represented by its own mask, which is worn by a dancer during the exorcism ceremony (all 35 individual masks are sometimes combined into a single enormous medicine mask). Devil dances are still occasionally performed in rural villages, although you’d have to be very lucky to see one.

The origins of the kolam dance-drama are popularly claimed to date back to the mythical Queen Menikpala, who while pregnant developed a craving to witness a theatrical performance. Vishvakarma, the god of craftsmen and artists, is said to have given the king the first kolam masks and the plot of the entire entertainment. The traditional kolam performance features a sequence of dances held together by a rather tenuous plot based around the visit of the pregnant Queen Menikpala and her husband, King Maha Sammatha, to a village. The performance traditionally comprises a medley of satirical and royal dances, featuring characters such as the king’s drunken drummer, a lecherous village clerk, assorted village simpletons, a couple of propitious demons, a lion and, of course, the royal couple themselves. Unfortunately, complete kolam performances are no longer staged, so it’s impossible to experience this unique Sri Lankan medley of folk tale, demonic superstition and history (laced with a touch of Buddhism) – though you can at least still enjoy the masks.

BERUWALA is Sri Lanka’s resort destination par excellence, perfect if you’re looking for an undemanding tropical holiday with hot sun, bland food and characterless accommodation. Big resort hotels stand shoulder to shoulder along the main section of the broad and still attractive beach – Beruwala’s so-called “Golden Mile” – often separated by stout fences and security guards from contact with the ordinary life of Sri Lanka outside.

That, at least, is the normal state of affairs, although at present Beruwala is undergoing a temporary hiatus thanks to major redevelopment all along the seafront. A couple of landmark hotels (the Riverina and Tropical Villas) are currently closed for renovations, while several new hotels, including the massive Chaaya Bey, are under construction further up the beach on the site of resorts destroyed in the tsunami. Much of the strip is thus currently an enormous building site, while the relative lack of visitors means that the whole place feels strangely deserted compared to its normal bustling self. Expect the whole resort to be back up and running again by sometime in 2014.

Beach and resorts aside, the area (including neighbouring Bentota) has also developed into Sri Lanka’s major centre for Ayurvedic treatments; most of the larger hotels offer massages and herbal or steam baths, and there are also a number of specialist resorts (see Ayurveda: the science of life).

North of the resorts, scruffy Beruwala town is where Sri Lanka’s first recorded Muslim settlement was established, during the eighth century. On a headland overlooking the harbour at the northern end of town, the Kachimalai Mosque is believed to mark the site of this first Arab landing, and to be the oldest on the island. Containing the shrine of a tenth-century Muslim saint, it’s an important pilgrimage site at the end of Ramadan.

Bentota and around

South of Aluthgama, BENTOTA offers a further clutch of package resorts, plus an outstanding selection of more upmarket places. The beach divides into two areas. At the north end, facing Aluthgama, lies Paradise Island (as it’s popularly known), a narrow spit of land beautifully sandwiched between the choppy breakers of the Indian Ocean and the calm waters of the Bentota lagoon, though sadly none of the few hotels here really lives up to the setting. Backing Paradise Island, the tranquil Bentota Ganga provides the setting for Sri Lanka’s biggest range of watersports, along with interesting boat trips up the river. The southern end of Bentota beach (south of Bentota train station) comprises a wide stretch of sand backed by dense thickets of corkscrew palms – one of the most attractive beaches on the island, although somewhat spoilt by the unsightly amounts of litter that get dumped here. This is also where you’ll find one of Sri Lanka’s finest clusters of top-end hotels and villas, set at discreet intervals from one another down the coast. Many of the hotels in the area are the work of local architect Geoffrey Bawa– it’s well worth splashing out to stay in one of his classic creations, whose artful combination of nature and artifice offers an experience both luxurious and aesthetic. Despite the number of visitors, Bentota beach remains surprisingly quiet, particularly south of the station. Unlike Hikkaduwa or Unawatuna, there’s virtually no beachlife here, and the oceanfront lacks even the modest smattering of impromptu cafés, handicraft shops and hawkers you’ll find at Beruwala – it’s this somnolent atmosphere which either appeals or repels, depending on which way your boat’s pointing.

Diving and watersports in Bentota

The calm waters of the Bentota lagoon provide a year-round venue for all sorts of watersports including waterskiing, jetskiing, speed-boating, sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, lagoon boat trips, deep-sea fishing and banana-boating. There’s also good diving along the coast here and decent snorkelling around Lighthouse Island off the northern end of Beruwala beach – trips can be arranged with local boatmen who tout for custom along this stretch of beach (around Rs.1500 for the boat plus Rs.750 for snorkelling equipment). The following are the main operators, although there are plenty of other smaller outfits dotted around the area.

Back in the 1970s, HIKKADUWA was Sri Lanka’s original hippy hangout, a budget alternative to the fancier resort hotels at Beruwala and Bentota. Subsequent decades were not kind to the town: rampant over-development led to the systematic erosion of the beach and the creation of a memorable line of concrete eyesores masquerading as hotels, while the famous Coral Gardens were reduced to a circus of boats chasing traumatized fish through a labyrinth of dead coral.

Over the past few years, however, Hikkaduwa has begun to rise, cautiously, from its own ashes, as the tourist hordes have largely ignored the town, flocking to newer and less spoilt destinations further south, allowing Hikkaduwa to recapture some of its former sleepy, slightly hippified charm. The much abused beach and Coral Gardens are now being gradually rehabilitated, while following the tsunami many of the town’s bomb-shelter resort hotels were demolished or renovated, and the whole place is now looking better than it has for years, while even the formerly hectic and noxious traffic along the Galle Road has lessened somewhat following the opening of the Southern Expressway.

It’s still far from unspoilt, but compared to the somnolent resorts further north Hikkaduwa remains refreshingly lively, with plenty of restaurants, bars and shops to tempt you off the beach, and a crowd of predominantly young and independent travellers keeping things busy. Things are particularly lively during the annual Hikkaduwa Beach Fest, a three-day beach party in July/August with visiting international DJs and crowds of hedonistic locals and foreigners partying on the beach. Other attractions include excellent local surf, plus good diving and snorkelling. Beach and sea aside, there are also several interesting Buddhist temples around Hikkaduwa, all easily reachable by tuktuk or bicycle – though be very careful cycling along the treacherous Galle Road.

Watersports at Hikkaduwa

Hikkaduwa has the largest selection of diving schools in Sri Lanka – the three operators listed below are the best-established, although other outfits come and go. As usual, the dive season runs from November to April. There’s a good range of dives close by, including reef dives down to 25m at the labyrinthine Hikkaduwa Gala complex, a well-known spot with swim-through caves, and the rocky-bottomed area of Kiralagala (22–36m deep). There are also some sixteen wrecks in the vicinity, including a much-dived old steam-driven oil tanker from the 1860s known as the Conch; the Earl of Shaftesbury sailing ship, wrecked in 1848; and the Rangoon, which sank near Galle in 1863.

Henry Steel Olcott: American Buddhist

On the south side of the Pettah, in front of Fort Railway Station, stands a statue of Henry Steel Olcott (1842–1907), perhaps the most influential foreigner in the modern history of Sri Lanka. Olcott was an American Buddhist and co-founder (with Madame Blavatsky, the celebrated Russian clairvoyant and spiritualist) of the Theosophical Society, a quasi-religious movement which set about promoting Asian philosophy in the West and reviving oriental spiritual traditions in the East, to protect them from the attacks of European missionary Christianity. The society’s utopian (if rather vague) objectives comprised a mixture of the scientific, the social, the spiritual and the downright bizarre: the mystical Madame Blavatsky, fount of the society’s more arcane tenets, believed that she had the ability to levitate, render herself invisible and communicate with the souls of the dead, as well as asserting that the Theosophical Society was run according to orders received from a group of “masters” – disembodied tutelary spirits who were believed to reside in Tibet.

In 1880, Blavatsky and Olcott arrived in Ceylon, formally embracing Buddhism and establishing the Buddhist Theosophical Society, which became one of the principal driving forces behind the remarkable worldwide spread of Buddhism during the twentieth century. Olcott spent many of his later years touring the island, organizing Buddhist schools and petitioning the British colonial authorities to respect Sri Lanka’s religious traditions, though his most visible legacy is the multicoloured Buddhist flag which he helped design, and which now decorates temples across the island.

Green Path art gallery

Right next to the National Art Gallery, Nelum Pokuna Mawatha (still generally referred to by its colonial name of Green Path) is home to an enjoyable impromptu open-air art show every weekend, when local students and other part-time painters descend on the area, hanging their canvases from the railings along the side of the road. All artworks on display are for sale, often at very affordable prices.

Ayurveda: the science of life

Ayurveda – from the Sanskrit, meaning “the science of life” – is an ancient system of healthcare which is widely practised in India and Sri Lanka. Its roots reach back deep into Indian history – descriptions of a basic kind of Ayurvedic medical theory are found as far back as the second millennium BC, in the sacred proto-Hindu texts known as the Vedas.

Unlike allopathic Western medicines, which aim to determine what’s making you ill, then destroy it, Ayurveda is a holistic system which regards illness as the result of a derangement in a person’s basic make-up. The Ayurvedic system holds that all bodies are composed of varied combinations of five basic elements – ether, air, fire, water and earth – and that each body is governed by three doshas, or life forces: pitta (fire and water); kapha (water and earth); and vata (air and ether). Illness is seen as an imbalance in the proportions of three influences, and specific diseases are considered symptoms of more fundamental problems. Ayurvedic treatments aim to rectify such imbalances, and Ayurveda doctors will typically examine the whole of a patient’s lifestyle, habits, diets and emotional proclivities in order to find the roots of a disease – treatment often consists of establishing a more balanced lifestyle as much as administering specific therapies.

With the developed world’s increasing suspicion of Western medicine and pharmaceuticals, Ayurveda is gaining a growing following among non-Sri Lankans – it’s particularly popular with Germans, thousands of whom visit the island every year specifically to take Ayurvedic cures. Genuine courses of Ayurveda treatment need to last at least a week or two to have any effect, and treatment plans are usually customized by a local Ayurveda doctor to suit the needs of individual patients. Programmes usually consist of a range of herbal treatments and various types of baths and massages prescribed in combination with cleansing and revitalization techniques including yoga, meditation, special diets (usually vegetarian) and abstention from alcohol. Some of the more serious Ayurveda resorts and clinics offer the panchakarma, or “five-fold treatment”, comprising the five basic therapies of traditional Ayurveda: therapeutic vomiting; purging; enema; blood-letting; and the nasal administration of medicines – a rather stomach-turning catalogue which offers the serious devotee the physical equivalent of a thorough spring-cleaning. A few places offer other yet more weird and wonderful traditional therapies such as treatments with leeches and fire (“moxibustion”).

Although a sizeable number of people visit Sri Lankan Ayurvedic centres for the serious treatment of chronic diseases, the majority of treatments offered here are essentially cosmetic, so-called “soft” Ayurveda – herbal and steam baths, and various forms of massage are the overwhelming staples, promoted by virtually every larger resort hotel along the west coast. These are glorified beauty and de-stress treatments rather than genuine medicinal therapies, and whether there’s anything truly Ayurvedic about many of them is a moot point, but they’re enjoyable enough, if you take them for what they are and don’t confuse them with genuine Ayurveda.

Geoffrey Bawa

We have a marvellous tradition of building in this country that has got lost. It got lost because people followed outside influences over their own good instincts. They never built right “through” the landscape…You must “run” with the site; after all, you don’t want to push nature out with the building.

One of the twentieth century’s foremost Asian architects, Geoffrey Bawa (1919–2003) was born to a wealthy family of Colombo Burghers boasting English, Dutch, German, Sinhalese and Scottish ancestors – a heady cocktail of cultures which mirrors the eclectic mix of European and local influences so apparent in his work.

Bawa spent a large proportion of his first forty years abroad, mainly in Europe. Having studied English at Cambridge and law in London, Bawa finally dragged himself back to Sri Lanka and followed his father and grandfather into the legal profession, though without much enthusiasm – his only positive experience of the law seems to have been driving around Colombo in his Rolls-Royce whilst wearing his lawyer’s robes and wig. After scarcely a year he threw in his legal career and went to Italy, where he planned to buy a villa and settle down.

Fortunately for Sri Lanka, the Italian villa didn’t work out, and Bawa returned, staying with his brother Bevis at the latter’s estate at Brief Garden. Inspired by his brother’s example, Bawa decided to do something similar himself, purchasing the nearby house and gardens which he christened Lunuganga, and beginning to enthusiastically remodel the estate’s buildings and grounds. The architectural bug having finally bitten, Bawa returned to England to train as a professional architect, finally qualifiying at the advanced age of 38, after which he returned to Colombo and flung himself into his new career.

Bawa’s early leanings were modernist, encouraged by his training in London and by his close working relationship with the Danish architect Ulrik Plesner, a keen student of functional Scandinavian design. The style of his early buildings is often described as “Tropical Modernism”, but local conditions gradually changed Bawa’s architectural philosophy. The pure white surfaces favoured by European modernists weathered badly in the tropics, while their flat rooflines were unsuitable in monsoonal climates – and in any case, shortages of imported materials like steel and glass encouraged Bawa to look for traditional local materials and indigenous solutions to age-old architectural conundrums.

The result was a style in which the strong and simple forms of modernism were softened and enriched by local influences, materials and landscapes. Bawa revived the huge overhanging tiled roofs traditionally used by colonial architects in the tropics, whose broad eaves and spacious verandas offered protection against both sun and rain, while buildings were designed to blend harmoniously with their surrounding landscape (Bawa often and famously designed buildings to fit around existing trees, for example, rather than just cutting them down). In addition, the use of open, interconnecting spaces avoided the need for air-conditioning as well as blurring the distinction between interior and exterior spaces, allowing architecture and landscape to merge seamlessly into one.

The arrival of package tourism in the 1960s brought with it the need for modern hotels, a genre with which Bawa became inextricably associated – see Basics for a list of his principal hotels. His first major effort, the Bentota Beach Hotel, established a style which many hotels across the island would subsequently follow. The main wooden pavilion, topped by a hipped roof, used natural local materials throughout and paid distant homage to traditional Kandyan architecture in its overall shape and conception; at its centre lay a beautifully rustic courtyard and pond set within a cluster of frangipani trees, giving the sense of nature not only being around the building, but also within.

Around a dozen other hotels followed – most notably the Kandalama in Dambulla and the Lighthouse in Galle – as well as major public commissions including the mammoth new Sri Lankan Parliament building in Kotte. Bawa’s architectural practice became the largest on the island during the 1970s, and most of Sri Lanka’s finest young architects started their careers working for him. Many took his influence with them when they left, and buildings (hotels especially) all over the island continue to show the trappings of the Bawa style, executed with varying degrees of competence and imagination.

As well as kolam and devil dances, the south is also home to a range of populist folk dances – though nowadays you’re more likely to see them performed in one of Kandy’s nightly cultural shows (see Kandyan dancing and drumming) than anywhere in the south itself. Popular dances include the stick dance (leekeli), harvest dance (kulu), pot dance (kalageldi) and the ever-popular raban dance, during which small raban drums (they actually look more like thick wooden plates than musical instruments) are spun on the fingers or on sticks balanced on the hands or head – an experienced performer can keep as many as eight rabans twirling simultaneously from various parts of his or her body.

Turtle hatcheries

A familiar sight along the Galle Road between Bentota and Hikkaduwa, particularly in Kosgoda, are the numerous battered signs for an ever-growing multitude of turtle hatcheries set up in recent years in response to the rapidly declining numbers of turtles visiting Sri Lanka’s beaches. Staffed by volunteers, and funded by tourist donations, the hatcheries buy the turtles’ eggs (at above market value) from local fishermen and rebury them in safe locations; once hatched, the babies are kept in concrete tubs for a few days before being released into the sea. Despite the hatcheries’ (mostly) laudable aims however, questions have long been raised over their effectiveness – it is almost impossible to replicate the turtles’ natural incubation and hatching conditions, and as a consequence the overwhelming majority succumb to disease or predators – and there is little evidence that they have helped to reverse the turtles’ declining fortunes.

Want to learn even more useful information for your upcoming trip to Sri Lanka? Read our travel tips for travelling to Sri Lanka .

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The 24 Hour Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka

The 24 Hour Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka

Come here to be surprised by a city that often gets overlooked. Merge through the traffic, look past the chaos, and be pleasantly surprised by Colombo.

What to Know Before Visiting Colombo, Sri Lanka.

  • Getting around is easy, with plenty of tuk tuks. (Cash only and always negotiate price before getting in).
  • Cash is best for most restaurants though bigger hotels accept card.
  • It is a more conservative city, so I would suggest being a bit more covered up then say when you’re at the beach.

The 24 Hour Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka

Where to Stay in Colombo, Sri Lanka

  • Moss B&B : We booked this small hotel that ended up being perfect. It was uber cheap in comparison to the other hotels, and the rooms were clean and they had a good breakfast.
  • The Kingsbury : This is a luxury option for those looking to experience one of the most historic hotels in Sri Lanka. It’s location is also footsteps from the action.
  • More hotels in Colombo here.

Where to Eat in Colombo, Sri Lanka

  • The Gallery Cafe: A beautiful space setting in an inner courtyard where the food is as good as it looks. I came here twice and it was incredible.
  • Upali’s by Nawaloka : A good choice for Sri Lankan food.
  • Nihonbashi: Who would of thought there would be good sushi in Colombo, this gem of a restaurant lands itself on San Pellegrino’s Asias Best 50 list and it’s delicious. Order the grilled rice!
  • Flamingo House: A lively restaurant and bar, for a good evening out.

The 24 Hour Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka

What to Do in Colombo, Sri Lanka

  • Visit the beautiful Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara temple.
  • Take a city tour by tuk tuk to go explore the fort.
  • See the incredible Red Masjid mosque.
  • Explore the National Museum of Sri Lanka.
  • Eat your way through Pettah Market.

The 24 Hour Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka

Purchase Travel Insurance

Save this post for later on pinterest: , ps — are you booking a trip soon use my booking checklist.

These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you . If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here .

1. Book Your Flights

Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.

2. Book Your Accommodations

Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.

3. Book Your Tours & Experiences

Use Viator or Get Your Guide to find the best tours and experiences. They are my favorite tour search engines. I always check both as their inventory varies depending on the destination.

4. Book Your Car

Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.

5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access

Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.

6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.

My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are:

  • World Nomads (best for all-around)
  • Safety Wing (best for frequent travelers)

Xx, Jessica

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Colombo Travel Guide: Everything you need to know

Colombo: Sri Lanka’s Vibrant Gateway

  • What it Is: Sri Lanka’s bustling capital, offering a mix of colonial heritage, modern energy, and coastal charm.
  • Why Visit: Experience diverse attractions, street food, cultural immersion, and a starting point for Sri Lankan adventures.

Getting There

  • Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) : Main airport for Sri Lanka, located north of the city.
  • Train: Scenic routes connect Colombo to other Sri Lankan destinations.
  • Bus: Extensive network from Colombo to cities and towns across the island.

Must-Do Experiences

  • Pettah Market: Explore this vibrant bazaar for everything from spices to souvenirs (haggling skills a bonus!).
  • Galle Face Green : Stroll this seaside promenade at sunset and sample local street food.
  • Gangaramaya Temple: Admire the intricate architecture and blend of Buddhist traditions.
  • National Museum: Delve into Sri Lanka’s history and diverse cultural heritage.
  • Independence Square: Visit this icon of Sri Lankan independence surrounded by colonial architecture.
  • Red Mosque : Marvel at the striking architecture of this iconic landmark.

Practical Tips

  • Tuk-Tuks: Great for short journeys, negotiate the price beforehand. Use the PickMe app for a hassle-free experience.
  • Tropical Weather: Pack light clothes, sunscreen, and be prepared for occasional rain showers.
  • Local Food: Indulge in Sri Lankan curries and street snacks, but stick to bottled water to be safe.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: Dress modestly when visiting temples.

Best Things to Do at Unawatuna Beach :Travel guide

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Colombo, sri lanka travel guide.

Colombo, the capital city of the beautiful pearl of the Indian Ocean – Sri Lanka, historically known as Ceylon , is a big vibrant cosmopolitan city with 5,6 million of inhabitants . While Sri Lanka is officially a Buddhist country, its population is ethnically very mixed and locals here practice a variety of religions. Around 70.2% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, 12.6% are Hindus, 9.7% are Muslims and 7.4% are Christians. Therefore you can find many different religious sights all around the country. And Colombo is no exception! There are plenty of beautiful mosques, magnificent temples and charming churches to see and visit.

In the past Sri Lanka was colonised by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British and Colombo served as a seaport town for the trade between Asia and Europe. The country gained their independence only in 1948 , which definitely isn’t so long ago. For this reason you can still find here many colonial buildings, perfectly blended in with modern buildings and skyscrapers of “new” Colombo.

We have spent 1 and half days in Colombo and… where do I begin?!

OVERWHELMING…if I had to choose one word for this bustling city, it would be the word “overwhelming” …but not in a bad way! It was so busy, that we haven’t even had the time to comprehend everything that has been going on around us. Especially the old Pettah neighbourhood.

We have seen pretty much all the highlights in 1 full day , so we can recommend you to do the same, before you start exploring the rest of the country. Two full days would also be great to dig in deeper into the city’s charm. To be honest, it’s not the city that you fall in love with on a first sight, so give yourself enough time to explore it and see everything it has to offer!

After travelling all around Sri Lanka for 1 month, we can agree on one thing. Colombo is very different from the rest of the country. It’s super busy, crowded, messy, loud and bustling. And that’s basically the opposite of everything you will see anywhere else around this beautiful island. I was also very surprised to not see almost any tourists. It really felt like we were the only ones there.

Even though Colombo wasn’t our favourite place in Sri Lanka as we felt like it didn’t have as many things to do or as many iconic must-see sights to visit, we still do recommend you to spend 1-2 full days here if time permits!

ACCOMODATION

Most of the people visiting Colombo decide to stay at high end hotels along the waterfront promenade called Galle Face Green. These hotels are located in the new-modern part of Colombo and have a beautiful view of the ocean. Some of the best ones are Shangri-La Colombo, The Kingsbury Colombo, Ceylon Intercontinental Hotel, The Galadari, ITC Ratnadipa, Taj Samudra, Galle Face Hotel, Ramada by Wyndham Colombo, Cinnamon Grand Colombo, Grand Hyatt Colombo, Granbell Hotel Colombo, Sheraton Colombo and Mövenpick Colombo .

While these hotels are incredible and you get what you pay for, as we said, they are located along the coast which is a little bit further from the centre of Colombo if you just want to walk everywhere. As we only had 1 day in Colombo, we decided to stay in the very central and local area in a low budget hotel called Opulence Colombo . It was okay but probably you could find a better hotel for the same price (25EUR/night) so we wouldn’t really recommend it. Looking back at our time in Colombo, if I had the option to splurge a little bit, I would take the hotel along the coast in Galle Face Green area and take a short tuktuk ride to the centre.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

TRANSPORTATION

The city centre of Colombo is walkable and you can easily get around most of the places of interest on foot.

UBER & PICKME

To cover longer distances, we recommend you to use Uber. It is very cheap and convenient. We also used Uber to get from the airport to the city centre when we arrived and paid a very reasonable price of around 12 EUR. PickMe is another good option. It’s a Sri Lankan equivalent of Uber.

You can use a taxi to get around Colombo, however Uber and PickMe are cheaper and you don’t need to worry about setting the price with the driver so I wouldn’t recommend using taxis in Colombo.

The other option is a tuktuk. You can also book it via Uber or PickMe. If you decide to just stop one on the street without using an app, make sure you agree on the price before you get in.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

TUKTUK OR SCOOTER RENTAL

We have actually rented our own tuktuk at https://tuktukrental.com to drive around Sri Lanka. We picked it up after we finished exploring Colombo and headed straight out, so we didn’t really use it in Colombo, but you definitely can! You can also rent a scooter if you prefer.

For both a tuktuk and a scooter you will need a local Sri Lankan driving license called Sri Lankan Recognition Permit. Your international driver’s license unfortunately isn’t sufficient to drive around Sri Lanka.

We got our license sorted by our tuktuk rental company. We sent them all the documents needed and they got it ready for us for an extra fee. Otherwise you have have to go to Automobile Association of Ceylon  located in Colombo and get the license there.

However from April 15th 2024 tourists are able to apply for the local Sri Lankan license directly at the airport after arrival.

NOTE: You can’t drive with a tuktuk on the highway (so make sure you set your google maps on “avoiding motorways”) and the maximum speed you can drive at is 40km/h. This means that when you are planning your drives, you have to add some extra time to the time it shows you on google maps. We have noticed that with a tuktuk it took us around 20min longer per each hour of the drive. So if google maps shows you 1h drive (car drive) it will be around 1h20min with a tuktuk. If it shows 2h, it will be around 2h40min and so on!

colombo sri lanka travel guide

PRIVATE DRIVER

Maybe not so popular to just get around Colombo, but a very popular way to travel around Sri Lanka is to hire a private driver. If you would like to explore Sri Lanka with a professional private driver here is a contact on our local family friend Treshan (+94 77 354 2191) . You can contact him via WhatsApp and plan your holidays together. He can take you and show you all around Sri Lanka so you will have the perfect hassle free holidays!

Another perk of travelling with a local is that they aren’t just drivers but also tour guides! They know all the best spots, hidden gems and off the beaten path places. So other than all the tourist sites, Treshan can take you pretty much everywhere and show you places you’ve never heard of!

For taxi service the price is around 0,45$/km but of course if you want to plan the entire holiday with him so he takes you all around the island, you can work out an itinerary all together and make a final price. 0,45$/km is just a rough estimated price for you to have an idea.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

There are many local buses driving around the city (and all of Sri Lanka), however we have never tried them so we can’t tell you much about the experience apart from the fact that the bus drivers drive like crazy maniacs! But from what we heard, buses are very cheap so if you are on a tight budget you might want to give them a chance!

colombo sri lanka travel guide

Not used to travel around the city centre of Colombo, but still wanted to mention in in case you would like to take a day trip to, for example, Negombo. Head to Colombo Fort Railway Station (the main central station) and hop on the scenic train ride. The trains are very cheap in Sri Lanka!

GUIDED TOURS

If you prefer to have your itinerary for Colombo organised and would like to wander around and explore the city with a local who will spoil you with all the interesting facts and give you all the informations about the city and its history, you can embark on a guided tour. Here are some you can choose from:

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FOOD & DRINKS

Colombo is a huge city that is also becoming very modern (at least in the new parts of the city), which means that there are plenty of restaurant and bar options with different cuisines.

We only had one day in Colombo so we didn’t really had the time to try out all the best restaurants in the city, but we had lunch in Pastamania Sri Lanka , which is a restaurant inside the One Galle Face Mall and later that day we had our first traditional Sri Lankan Rice & Curry meal at Nana’s King Toyna, which is a local restaurant at Galle Face Green. It was a little bit difficult to find it on google maps as it’s just a food stall with tables and maybe it moves its spot a little bit from time to time, but it was a very nice introduction to the traditional Sri Lankan cuisine. It was also very cheap, we have paid less than 5 EUR for both of our dishes and one cola drink.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

Some of the best restaurants and cafés in Colombo that unfortunately we haven’t had the time to try are:

BEST FOR BREAKFAST/BRUNCH & COFFEE

Kopi Kade (specialty coffee and Sri Lankan tapas), Butter Boutique (best cakes, pastry and desserts), Black Cat Cafe (great for brunch), The Grind Coffee House (specialty coffee bar & eatery), Whight & CO (ceylon coffee roastery).

BEST FOR LUNCH & DINNER

Upali’s (traditional Sri Lanka cuisine with a modern twist), Culture Colombo (upscale Sri Lankan restaurant), Kaema Sutra (contemporary Sri Lanka cuisine), Isso (Sri Lankan prawns), Monsoon Colombo (upscale Southeast Asian cuisine), Curry Pot (local restaurant).

A special place to have lunch or dinner is at the Old Dutch Hospital , which is the oldest building in Colombo and houses a handful amount of great restaurants and cafés. One of them is also one of the best restaurants in Colombo – Ministry of Crab , where they serve crabs that can weight up to 2kg!

BEST FOR THE AFTERNOON TEA

Thanks to the British colonisation, Sri Lanka has developed a very strong high tea culture. You can have some of the best afternoon tea at Shangri-La Colombo , Hilton Colombo , Galle Face Hotel or The Pagoda Tea Rooms . Reservation is recommended. Alternatively you can head to t-Lounge by Dilmah (they have 3 different locations around Colombo) and try some traditional fine tea with a modern twist. We were told to try their signature t-Kitsch tea.

BEST FOR SUNDOWNER

A good place to enjoy a sundowner is Mount Lavinia Hotel , where you will have a beautiful view of the sunset over the ocean while sipping on some delicious cocktails. They also offer high tea so if you want you can come earlier and enjoy the afternoon tea before the sundowner and cocktails!

BEST FOR NIGHT OUT DRINKS

If you are looking for a beautiful rooftop bar, then head to the highest rooftop bar & restaurant – Virticle by Jetwing . Alternatively you can visit the very stylish Headquarters by W15 , classy Cloud Red by Cinnamon Red or sophisticated Ward 7 by Jetwing Colombo Seven .

Although eating at great restaurants surely is amazing, you shouldn’t miss out on eating street food! You will see street food carts and stalls all around Colombo (or all of Sri Lanka for that matter) but a particularly good place to go is Abdul Hameed Street . It’s a heaven for street food lovers! Try some delicious Rice & Curry, Kottu Roti, Lamprais, Samosas or Hoppers . Another great options for street food is Galle Face Green Promenade, Pettah Floating Market or Saturday Good Market (more on these later!).

colombo sri lanka travel guide

If you would like to learn how to cook signature Sri Lankan dishes, you can take a cooking class! We heard good things about Aunty’s Sri Lankan Cooking Class !

THINGS TO DO & SEE

There might not be a crazy amount of things to do or iconic must-see sights to see as a tourist in Colombo, but we definitely recommend you to spend at least a day in this capital. We have visited the main sights and highlights of the city, but then during our wanderings around, we have also found many other spots that we liked that were not mentioned in the guides as “things to do in Colombo”. We will talk about those places too! 🙂

Pettah Market

Pettah Market is the busiest and largest open-air market in all of Sri Lanka and it’s considered to be the heart of Colombo. The entire Pettah neighbourhood had been a hub of trade and commerce since the British colonisation. You can buy pretty much everything in this labyrinth of narrow alleyways! From electronics, souvenirs, handicrafts, household items, jewellery, textile, clothing and accessories to spices, street food and incenses. Every narrow street of the market offers different products so just get lost here and see for yourself, what you can find! Even if you don’t want to buy anything, it’s still a must place to visit when in Colombo. Plus it’s a food lover’s paradise. There are many street food vendors selling fresh fruit and veggies, juices, and traditional Sri Lankan delicacies like kottu roti, samosas or hoppers.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

Some other markets that are worth to visit are:

Good Market – a small Saturday market where local people sell mostly food and locally produced organic goods.

Pettah Floating Market – is a series of pavilions constructed at the edge of Beira lake. There are around 90 trade stalls and shops along the water with vendors selling fruits, vegetables, snacks, flowers, souvenirs, local handicrafts, clothing, jewellery, accessories and electronics. There are also several restaurants and bars for you to enjoy a meal or a drink at this beautiful floating market by the water.

The Open-Air Art Market at the Green Path – local artists come here and showcase their works and sell their pieces. From classic portraits, still images to more contemporary designs and experimental styles. New art is put on display every weekend.

Abdul Hameed Street – probably the best street to try out local street food. Delicious Rice & Curry, Kottu Roti, Lamprais, Samosas and Hoppers. You can find everything here!

Khan Clock Tower

Khan Clock Tower was built by two Indian brothers as a symbol of gratitude and the memory of their father Framijee Bhikhajee Khan, the Parsi businessman, who hailed from Bombay. It was built in January 1923 on the 45th anniversary of his death. Nowadays Khan Clock Tower is a popular landmark, which also marks the entrance to Pettah Market.

Jami Ul Alfar Mosque

In the heart of Pettah Market you will find what is probably the most important and visited sight in Colombo, the Jami Ul Alfar Mosque. The Red Mosque , which is the mosque’s alternative name, has majestic and significant red and white minarets and domes, which make the mosque really stand out! It was built in 1909 and it is one of the oldest mosques in Colombo. The mosque was commissioned by the local Indian Muslim community based in Pettah, home to the city’s large Muslim community, to fulfill their required five-times-daily prayer and Jummah on Fridays.

Head to the GATE 3 (tourist entrance) from where you can enter and visit the mosque from inside. The mosque is closed for tourists from 12:00-14:00 for prayer time and also on Fridays.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

Dutch Museum

The Dutch Museum is located inside a 17th century Dutch Urban house which was built and resided by the Dutch Governor of Sri Lanka, Thomas Van Rhee. The building was preserved by a special preservation committee with the assistance of Dutch government, and opened for the public as Dutch museum by the Department of National Museums in 1977. Nowadays it houses and showcases over 3000 historical artifacts related to the Dutch who ruled coastal areas of Sri Lanka.

Unfortunately when we visited Colombo it was temporarily closed, so we didn’t get the chance to visit, but will definitely return once we visit Sri Lanka again!

Old Town Hall Building

This large Neo-Gothic building located in Pettah was built by the British architect J. G. Smither in 1873 and it was used as the municipal headquarters until 1924. The Town Hall was the first civic building at the time to be opened in Colombo.

Some of the ground floor is still in use for government meetings and in the other part there is a museum with several artefacts. On the top floor you can find many paintings, old photographs, radios, typewriters and even a conference table with 15 men figurines with their names, seated around the table. One of them is supposed to be William Shakespeare.

There’s no entrance fee to visit the Old Town Hall.

Some other sights and landmarks nearby Pettah neighbourhood are:

  • Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil (oldest Hindu temple)
  • Old and New Kathiresan Kovils (Hindu temples)
  • Our Lady of Good Health Church
  • Makamus Saif Mosque
  • Ramlal Maharajah Dharma Chatram and Sri Sivaraja Vinayagar Swamy Kovil  (Hindu temple)
  • Christian Reformed Church of Sri Lanka-Wolvendaal Church (one of the oldest protestant churches still in use)

colombo sri lanka travel guide

During the Portuguese colonisation in the early 16th century, the area of today’s Fort was used as one of their trading posts in the island. Later on the Portuguese developed their trading post into a fortified base and harbour, with twelve bastions and an esplanade to extend their control of the interior of the island. There were 237 guns mounted to protect the fort.

In 1656 the Portuguese-built fortification was conquered and demolished by the Dutch . They reconstructed it to take advantage of the natural strength of the location between a lake and the sea, to protect against both the sea and the interior of the island.

Following the British acquiring control of the Dutch-controlled areas on the coast of the island, the fort became the centre of the island’s administration, and in 1815 Colombo became the capital.

The walls of the fort were demolished between 1869 and 1871 to make room for new military barracks and planned urban development in the area. Dutch buildings were also demolished and replaced by British-style architecture. The new buildings were home to the British administration on the island, and it became the site of the Legislative and the State Council.

Although the walls were taken down, the area remained to be called the Fort.

There are still some locations which contain the remains of the fort and its walls. One of them is The Delft gate , which formed one of the three main entrances to the Dutch Fort of Colombo.

Thanks to all the different colonisations, the fort area is nowadays home to many different buildings and magnificent colonial and non-colonial monuments from many different eras of the cities past. Many of them are located on Chatham Street .

Here are some particularly beautiful buildings and monuments featuring either Dutch, British or Islamic architecture :

  • President’s House and Gordon Gardens (official residence of the President of Sri Lanka)
  • Old Parliament Building (home to The Presidential Secretariat)
  • Chatham Street Clock Tower (read more about it under)
  • The Cargills building
  • Dutch Hospital
  • De Mel Building (also home to The Pagoda Tea Rooms café)
  • Fort Jummah Masjid (mosque)

Another landmark in the Fort that is worth to visit is the Buddhist shrine Sambodhi Chaithya .

The Fort nowadays is a cosmopolitan area and the main economic, business and financial centre of Colombo and Sri Lanka. Other that that, it also serves as the city’s main transport hub, as the main bus and railways stations are located right here.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

Chatham Street Clock Tower

Built in 1857, this 167 years old (as of 2024) Chatham Street Clock Tower is the most significant landmark in the Colombo Fort. It is the only lighthouse clock tower in the world .

Back in the days the light powered by kerosene oil could be seen from a distance of 18 km away in clear weather. The lighthouse was discontinued in 1954 after the construction of large buildings in the Fort, which obscured its purpose, and it was replaced by a new lighthouse at Galle Buck. Even though the old lighthouse is no longer operational, the tower remains and functions as a clock tower.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

A quite “new” thing to do in Colombo is to visit the Port City. It is still under construction, so it has a restricted access and when we wanted to visit, we were told that we need to book the time slot online, but this will soon change once they finish the entire construction. Big things are planned for this fresh new city development. Marina promenade, artificial beach with water sports, great dining options and much more will soon be all opened to public!

Galle Face Green  

Galle Face Green is a 12 acres ocean-side urban park, which stretches for 500m along the coast and is the largest open space in Colombo. It is a popular destination for families with children, vendors, kite-flyers and everyone who wants to escape the bustling and chaotic city life and relax by the ocean. Come here in the afternoon, get some drinks and snacks from the food vendors and have a little picnic by the ocean while you watch the sunset.

The original Galle Face Green extended over a much larger area than is seen today and it was initially used for horse racing, golf, cricket, polo, football, tennis, and rugby. It was initially laid out by the Dutch as a means to enable their cannons a strategic line of fire against the Portuguese.

Every day at sunset there is a ceremony, where the guards take down the National flag . We heard, that they are supposed to do it to the sound of bagpipes, but it was not the case when we were there.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

One Galle Face Mall

One Galle Face Mall is the largest shopping mall in Colombo with 7 floors, 50+ bars and restaurants, 7 rooftop restaurants and over 300 retailers!

Visiting a shopping mall might not be on your list, but for us it was a great place to cool down from the heat, have some lunch, get a haircut and browse around a couple of stores!

Beira Lake is a man-made lake in the centre of Colombo. The lake was built by the Portuguese during the colonial era to provide protection to Colombo from enemies, mainly local kings. Nowadays the lake is surrounded by many large businesses in the city. One of the standing out features of the Beira Lake is the green colour of the water, primarily due to the high density of algae.

Rent a swan boat at Hansa Boat Service and pedal around the lake while you admire the beautiful view of the skyline, Colombo Lotus Tower, Gangaramaya Park and Seema Malaka Temple.

Gangaramaya Temple

Gangaramaya Temple located not far from the placid waters of Beira Lake is one of the most important and oldest temples in Colombo, constructed in the late 19th century. This Buddhist temple includes several imposing buildings and its design is a mix of modern architecture and cultural essence. Our personal favourite part of the temple was the beautifully decorated room with the big statue of Buddha.

To visit the temple you will need to cover your knees and shoulders, but don’t worry, they will provide you the sarong.

The entrance fee is 400 LKR (1,30EUR) and it also includes the entrance to Seema Malaka.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

Seema Malaka

Seema Malaka is a part of the Gangaramaya Temple mainly used for meditation and rest, rather than for worship. This Buddhist Temple is situated right on top of Beira Lake. It is constructed on three platforms over water, which are connected to the mainland and with each other by pontoon bridges. The temple was originally constructed in the late 19th century, together with Gangaramaya Temple, but it slowly sank into the lake during 1970s and had to be rebuilt.

The entrance fee is 400LKR (1,30EUR) and it also includes the entrance to Gangaramaya Temple.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

Gangaramaya Park

Gangaramaya Park built on top of Beira Lake is a leisure park, with plenty of greenery and flora. There is a children’s playground and plenty of seating options for you to relax and get some fresh air. Take a stroll around the walking paths and keep your head up as you might spot some rare birds!

Colombo Lotus Tower

Colombo Lotus Tower is a symbolic landmark of Sri Lanka. The 350m tall tower is the tallest self-supported structure in South Asia , the 11th tallest tower in Asia and the 19th tallest tower in the world! The design of this building is inspired by the Lotus flower, which symbolises purity within Sri Lankan culture, and the country’s flourishing development.

The tower houses a variety of tourist attractions like the 5G Innovations Centre, E-Sports Gaming Arena, Technology Trial Zones, Digital Art Museum, Observation Deck, Rooftop Promenade, Revolving Restaurant, Luxury Suites, exhibition halls, ballrooms, food court, ice cream lab and much more!

But apart from it being a popular tourist hotspot, it also functions as a radio and television broadcasting antenna.

The entrance fee to visit Colombo Lotus Tower is 20 USD.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

Colombo National Museum

Located in the most exclusive neighbourhood of Colombo, called the Cinnamon Gardens, you will find the largest museum in Sri Lanka – Colombo National Museum. It displays an impressive collection of the cultural and natural heritage of the country from Sri Lankan ancient kingdoms, colonial times to more recent history. One of the most important exhibits is the regalia of the last king of Sri Lanka – Sri Vikrama Rajasinha and other Kandyan monarchs.

Other sights and landmarks in the Cinnamon Gardens neighbourhood that you might be interested in:

  • Prime Minister’s Office
  • Independence Memorial Hall (Independence Square)
  • Replica of Avukana Buddha Statue ( the original statue is located close to Dambulla)
  • Colombo Town Hall
  • Viharamahadevi Park (the largest and most prominent public park in Colombo)
  • National Art Gallery (temporarly closed)
  • Sapumal Foundation (art gallery)
  • Geoffrey Bawa’s House (Number 11 Colombo Residence)
  • Lakpahana (high quality souvenir shop with jewellry, ceramics & clothing handmade by local artists)

Ayurvedic SPA treatment

Ayurveda is the traditional medical practice, which originated from India but is widely used in Sri Lanka! You can’t leave Sri Lanka without getting the Ayurvedic SPA treatment! If you don’t have enough time in Colombo, don’t worry because you can do it anywhere else around the island!

Ayurvedic spa treatments are unique and deeply relaxing spa procedures, that originate in Ayurvedic medicine. They are meant to ease the body, mind, and soul and to rejuvenates the physical and emotional well-being. Ayurveda SPA treatments have deeper, therapeutic intentions for health and healing. It is a method to purify the inner self ,with natural medicines, where organic oil blends are infused with Ayurvedic herbs and heated to promote relaxation and detoxification. The therapist focuses on clearing the energy channels in the body, moving and dislodging toxins, and balancing the chakras (energy centers).

Ayurvedic treatments are widely popular in Sri Lanka and should not be missed! There are various different treatments to choose from. The most popular is Abhyanga – the classical oil massage working the whole body.

Some of the best Ayurvedic SPAs in Colombo are SPA Ceylon and Kemara . They also have their own range of cosmetics. I have bought some products from SPA Ceylon at the Colombo airport and they are so good! I can highly recommend!

Mount Lavinia Beach

You are probably stopping in Colombo only for a day or two and will visit some of the best Sri Lankan beaches later on during your trip, but if you feel like relaxing on the beach even when in Colombo, then head to Mount Lavinia Beach. It is the best beach close to Colombo. Make sure you go for an afternoon tea or a sundowner with cocktails at Mount Lavinia Hotel!

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Even though Sri Lanka is an all year round destination, generally the best period to visit Colombo is between December and March . I said Colombo and not Sri Lanka, because thanks to the two different monsoons that hit the island, the country has inverted dry and rainy season between the two coasts.

So the best time to visit the west, the south and central Sri Lanka (including Colombo) is from December till March, while the best time to visit the east and the north is from April to September.

The most touristy part of the island with more things to visit is the west, the south and the central part of the island . So generally we would suggest to visit Sri Lanka from December-March. We have spent 1 month in Sri Lanka from January 11th until February 9th and only had 1 day of rain during the entire stay!

Sri Lanka has their own currency – Sri Lankan Rupee.

1 EUR = 319 LKR

1 USD = 297 LKR

1 GBP = 374 LKR

We used Bank of Ceylon (BOC) for all of our withdrawals, as it didn’t charge us any commission. But that also depends on your bank. We usually use Revolut when we travel outside EU.

We recommend you to carry cash with you everywhere, as you won’t always be able to pay with card.

TRAVEL INSURANCE

We recommend to book a travel insurance for every trip as you never know what could happen. It’s not easy to deal with any kind of problems when you are abroad, so it’s definitely worth it to be covered and travel with peace in mind. 

We use IATI travel insurance  and you can book yours through our link and receive 5% discount. 

Book here if you are from EU:   https://www.iatitravelinsurance.com/en-eu/?r=96181493877707

Book here if you are from outside EU (rest of the world):   https://www.iatitravelinsurance.com/en/?r=96181493877707

CONTINUE READING OTHER TRAVEL GUIDES FROM SRI LANKA

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We hope this blog post was helpful to you and you are gonna have a great time while exploring Colombo. For more pictures and videos check out our IG story highlight (Colombo) and our reels/feed posts. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to comment bellow or contact us via email or even better via Instagram @borntotraveldiaries . Thank you for your time and stay tuned for our next diary page 🙂.

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colombo sri lanka travel guide

Exploring Colombo, Sri Lanka: Complete Itinerary And Travel Guide

Photo of Pamela Mukherjee

I was quite thrilled about my first vacation to Sri Lanka, especially my two days in Colombo. As I looked up things to do in the capital city, this joy gave way to a few small worries. I started to wonder if two days in Colombo were enough to discover all the places and try new local foods and other activities within the time frame. Here is what I discovered and my detailed guide for two days in Colombo—what to see, do, and eat with a detailed itinerary.

Photo of Exploring Colombo, Sri Lanka: Complete Itinerary And Travel Guide by Pamela Mukherjee

First Impression

Colombo, also known as the port city, has become a must-visit location as a result of its rich colonial legacy and an artistic blending of diverse races, religions, and civilizations. Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, has a lot to charm a visitor with its blend of modern and ancient architecture, traffic, and craziness. There are numerous activities one can engage in in Colombo, from shopping on a crowded street to spending a relaxing evening at a posh colonial-style hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean.

Photo of Exploring Colombo, Sri Lanka: Complete Itinerary And Travel Guide by Pamela Mukherjee

The nation’s capital, which offers a variety of tourist experiences, has established itself as one of the top destinations for both luxurious vacations and backpacking trips. Whether you are a history buff or a shopaholic, Colombo will never let you down. Colombo has it all, whether you want to learn about Indian culture or just unwind through a cooking session with skilled chefs against an amazing sea-facing backdrop.

About Colombo

It is believed that the old Sinhala phrase Kolon Thota, which means "port on the river Kelani," is where the word "Colombo," first used by the Portuguese in 1505, got its start.

According to a different idea, the name Kola-amba-Thota, which means "harbour with leafy/green mango trees" in Sinhala, is where it came from.

Photo of Exploring Colombo, Sri Lanka: Complete Itinerary And Travel Guide by Pamela Mukherjee

What To See in Colombo (Best places for 2 days)

- Lotus Tower

- Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque (Red Mosque)

- Radio Ceylon

- Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara

- National Museum

- Galle Face Green Promenade

Photo of Exploring Colombo, Sri Lanka: Complete Itinerary And Travel Guide by Pamela Mukherjee

Here’s an ode to the beautiful capital of Sri Lanka as we discover a little something about the history, culture, people, and connection between India and Sri Lanka (very important). Here I am going to focus on the places mentioned in the Ramayan, where Buddha and Samrat Ashoka’s son visited, and how they spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Also, I am sharing best places to stay, eat , shop in Colombo and many other important tips one needs to know before visiting the place.

For more travel stories and information follow me on YouTube

Ready to travel for free? Earn credits and redeem them on Tripoto's weekend getaways, hotel stays and vacation packages after the pandemic is over!

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  • Itineraries

Cosmopolitan Colombo is more than just the gateway to Sri Lanka.

Here, you can learn about Sri Lanka’s multi-ethnic history, with churches, mosques and temples all in a line, street food with influences from around the world, and shopping in a mix of ancient markets and huge malls in Pettah.

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An expert guide to sri lanka's hidden gems.

From ancient ruins to a vibrant and welcoming contemporary culture; from lazy afternoons on glorious beaches, to hikes through the rolling hills of tea country and wild elephant spotting in untouched national parks; Sri Lanka is a destination that truly has it all. Despite having its hard-won stability rocked by occasional political disputes, Sri Lanka's tourism infrastructure is developing in leaps and bounds. Hospitality is warm and abundant, transport is convenient, and accommodation – particularly in the independent boutique sector – is world-class... read more

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The 16 Best Things to Do in Colombo, Sri Lanka

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Shakeel Sha / Getty Images

Although travelers are often in a hurry to get farther afield, there are plenty of fun things to do in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s busy capital. Dutch and British colonial architecture, urban parks, ancient temples, and great food are among the many reasons to give Colombo a chance.

Colombo’s urban sprawl goes on in every direction; however, the city is carved into distinct neighborhoods—each with a name and number. International visitors end up spending most of their time in the action-packed neighborhoods of Fort (Colombo 1), Pettah (Colombo 11), and Cinnamon Gardens (Colombo 7).

Indoor attractions in Colombo may close for the many Buddhist holidays (usually on the full moon of each month) and other public holidays. Fortunately, many of the best things to do in Colombo are free and outdoors. Be patient: Parks, temples, and the beach become extra crowded on weekends and holidays.

Get Overwhelmed in Pettah

photoaliona / Getty Images

Strolling around aimlessly on a sunny day is the best way to get to know Colombo, and the best place to begin is Pettah.

Just east across the moat from the Fort neighborhood, Pettah is the busiest part of Colombo. Wandering around Pettah is an essential experience—although, expect to have senses completely overwhelmed. The busy streets and sidewalks stay jammed with pedestrians and tuk-tuks.

Pettah is home to a scattering of markets (including a floating market), the Old City Hall, a Dutch church dating to 1749, the Dutch Period Museum, and the Red Mosque.

Visit a Photogenic Mosque

StreetFlash / Getty Images

While shuffling around Pettah, make time to stop by the Red Masjid (Red Mosque)—an iconic mosque constructed in 1909. You’ll know you’ve found it by the red-and-white, candy-cane pattern implemented in the design. Allegedly, sailors arriving by sea could recognize the landmark before any other, and know they were coming into Colombo.

The Red Masjid is squeezed onto busy 2nd Cross Street near the sea end.

Visit the National Museum

Imagebook / Theekshana Kumara / Getty Images

Opened in 1877, the National Museum in Colombo houses royal regalia, crowns, and many artifacts pertaining to the history of ancient Sri Lanka. The white building itself is a beautiful example of colonial, Italian-style architecture.

The National Museum of Natural History is adjacent to the National Museum; you’ll spend more time inside the latter, but the Museum of Natural History is too convenient to skip.

Both museums are just across the street from Viharamahadevi Park; they are open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A combo ticket for entrance to both is around $6.30.

Enjoy the Collection at Gangaramaya Temple

Boy_Anupong / Getty Images

Located on Beira Lake, Gangaramaya Temple houses scores of Buddha statues and rare relics. Although not well curated or organized, the temple also serves as a museum with a surprising array of items, including gold coins and unusual antiques. A small art gallery on site is a bonus.

The temple is very much still in use as a place of worship and learning. Dress appropriately and follow good temple etiquette when visiting.

Reflect by Beira Lake

Nearby Beira Lake is the perfect setting to contemplate all you saw inside Gangaramaya Temple. Seema Malaka, a peaceful place of meditation, is situated directly on the water. Local master architect Geoffrey Bawa redesigned the temple in 1976 after the first one sank.

The bodhi tree at Seema Malaka was grown from a branch of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura, considered to be the oldest, human-planted tree (known planting date is 288 BC). It was started with a branch from the bodhi tree in Bihar, India, under which Gautama Buddha is said to have gained enlightenment.

Enjoy Sri Lankan Street Food

Peter Stuckings / Getty Images

String hoppers, samosas, kottu roti, and curry are arguably the four most popular street-food snacks you’ll find in Colombo; but that’s just the tip of a delicious iceberg. All markets will have more than enough local specialties to try ! You’ll find the most variety in one place around Pettah (especially near the train station) and along Galle Road. For seafood, wander the strip parallel to Mount Lavinia Beach and Galle Face Green.

Tour a Famous Architect’s House

Geoffrey Bawa was a celebrated Sri Lankan architect whose work influenced well-known architects throughout the world. Elements of his designs are especially prominent in Asia, where balancing modern and traditional values is considered important.

Geoffrey Bawa’s impressive house in the southern part of Colombo can be enjoyed on a 45-minute guided tour Monday through Friday at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 3:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.; Sundays at 11 a.m.

Enjoy the Landscaping in Viharamahadevi Park

Diego Fiore / Getty Images

You’ll probably want a break after the busyness of Pettah, and Viharamahadevi Park is the answer. The urban park has a jogging/cycling trail, amphitheater, golden Buddha statue, and pleasant landscaping. Don't be alarmed by the giant fruit bats sleeping in the trees overhead: They are harmless!

Viharamahadevi Park is in Cinnamon Gardens, a 15-minute walk southeast from Beira Lake. The park is anchored by the Colombo Public Library on the southwest side and Colombo Town Hall on the northeast side.

Find Some Peace at Independence Memorial Hall

Imagebook/Theekshana Kumara / Getty Images

Independence Memorial Hall is an expansive, open-air structure that was finished in 1953 to commemorate Sri Lanka’s independence from British rule. You can stroll around the area or rent a bicycle and ride the length of Independence Walk. Aside from a few touts who approach tourists, the area is a peaceful, tree-lined respite in Colombo.

Independence Memorial Hall can be found just southeast of the National Museum and Viharamahadevi Park.

Go to Mount Lavinia Beach

Kevin Clogstoun / Getty Images

Sri Lanka’s best beaches are located in the southern part of the island . But if time is short or you want to enjoy some seafood within sight of the water, Mount Lavinia Beach is a good option. It's only 30 minutes south of the city, and the Mount Lavinia Hotel allows non-guests to use the pool area for a small fee.

Any of the southbound buses plying the main A2 highway will drop you at Mount Lavinia Beach, or you can take the train to Mount Lavinia Station.

Admire and Shop for Local Art

If you’d like something creative from Sri Lanka to take home, you can find it at the Nelum Pokuna art “street,” a sidewalk art market near the well-designed Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa performing arts theater. Local artists show off and peddle their work; some is original while many paintings are replicas.

See the art on display at the southern edge of Viharamahadevi Park, just opposite the National Museum of Natural History.

Watch a Sunset at Galle Face Green

Guido Cozzi / Atlantide Phototravel / Getty Images

If the weather is nice—as it often is outside of monsoon season —Galle Face Green is an ideal place for fresh air, sunsets, and street food. The seafront promenade stays busy with couples and local families who are often happy to chat. A long, spacious lawn is perfect for letting kids run or just lounging to watch locals fly kites.

Get to Galle Face Green on the coast directly south of the Fort neighborhood.

Shop in an Old Dutch Hospital

The Old Colombo Dutch Hospital is thought to have been around since 1681, making it one of the oldest buildings in town. The restored heritage building was converted into a shopping-and-eating district in 2011. Prices and products target tourists; however, the setting and history merit a walk through.

Find the hospital in the center of the Fort neighborhood.

Visit an Indoor Aquarium

Water World Lanka, located a 40-minute drive east of the Fort, is an indoor aquarium with more than 500 varieties of fish. Underwater tunnels, educational shows, and an outdoor bird park entertain guests seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Although snorkeling or diving to see marine life without the glass would be even better, Water World Lanka is a great option for experiencing some of Sri Lanka’s rich biodiversity.

If the birds are the most exciting part for you, consider adding a trip to the Beddegana Wetland Park to enjoy many of Sri Lanka’s 500-plus bird species. Elevated boardwalks twisting through mangroves allow visitors to get up close for photos.

Marvel at an Ancient Temple

Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara (often shortened to Kelaniya Temple) is an ancient temple that dates back before 500 BC, and was destroyed but rebuilt in the early 1900s. The original stupa there allegedly contains a jewel-encrusted throne used by Buddha, who is also said to have visited the temple. Many walls and ceilings are intricately carved or painted with scenes from the life of Buddha.

Kelaniya Temple is located a 30-minute drive west of the Fort neighborhood.

Explore the Fort Neighborhood

The Fort neighborhood is home to Colombo’s financial district (including the Colombo Stock Exchange) and is the epicenter of Sri Lanka’s colonial past. Historic buildings from British and Dutch rule are squeezed into it, while the president’s house and various government buildings can be seen situated between the manicured gardens.

Fort is on the coast just south of Colombo Harbour.

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A Local's Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka

Photo taken in Colombo Sri Lanka

Annika Fernando is a major force in Sri Lanka’s creative scene: In addition to her own interior design practice, she’s the owner and curator of the concept store PR ; director of her family’s Paradise Road group of boutiques, restaurants, and hotels; and the designer of the fashion label Maus.

This interview is part of The World Made Local , a global collaboration between the seven international editions of Condé Nast Traveler in which 100 people in 100 countries tell us why their home turf should be your next destination.

How would you describe Colombo?

Sri Lanka is a unique country. It really is paradise, and Colombo is a small, exciting city—it has become more beautiful through the years and is incredibly green. We have great food, warm hospitality, unique shopping, and that Sri Lankan smile: Our people are naturally warm and incredibly hospitable. Anyone who has been here knows the island gets into your veins. Beaches, culture, wildlife, tea country, architecture, design, food… There’s always more to see, and it’s infectious.

If a friend was visiting Colombo and had just 24 hours there, what would you tell them to do?

Sri Lankan breakfast can't be missed: from kiri bath to pol roti, and everything with a side of pol sambol. If you can’t get it at home, go to Sugar Bistro for the best Sri Lankan breakfast. If you want something casual and to catch the city people, go to Café Kumbuk , Seed Café , or Black Cat . The Gallery Café is a Colombo institution with a little bit of architectural history and an opportunity to experience Sri Lankan art. I love Barefoot Garden Café on Sundays for long lunches, jazz, and the alfresco vibe. For drinks, Tintagel’s The Red Bar is intimate and special and has live music. I also really like the newbie Table by Taru , which has a lovely rooftop and bar area.

Annika Fernando

Annika Fernando

What should people go see beyond the usual tourist sites?

I always tell friends to visit the National Museum, especially if they haven’t had an opportunity to go to the Cultural Triangle. It gives you a good introduction to our architectural and engineering history. Watch the sunset from the Chequerboard at the Galle Face Hotel and go kite-flying at Galle Face Green—or better still, charter a yacht from the Port City Marina and see Colombo from the sea.

What should we buy and where should we shop?

First, the predictable Sri Lankan spices and Ceylon cinnamon are no-brainers. Ceylon tea is another big one, and while you may gravitate to big labels, also check out some of the smaller organic labels and their infusions, too. If you are here on a weekend, check out the Good Market , where you’ll find most of our organic labels, home bakers, and small produce options.

Sri Lanka has a strong architectural and design sensibility, and you know you have to shop at Paradise Road and Barefoot for gifts! For local fashion, there’s PR and our representation of local design, along with The Design Collective and Urban Island . Collectively, these stores encompass the entire local fashion-design scene.

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Dan Travels

2-Day Colombo Itinerary (Sri Lanka) And Travel Guide On A Budget

  • Post author: dantravels
  • Post published: September 22, 2019
  • Post category: Itinerary
  • Post comments: 0 Comments

2-Day Colombo Itinerary (Sri Lanka) and Budget Travel Guide

colombo sri lanka travel guide

By DAN FORTEZA

This post may contain affiliate links which means if you purchase something through that link, I will make a small commission at no additional cost to you. Think of it as buying a cup of coffee for me on someone else. Thanks & enjoy!

Deciding what to do and what to see in Colombo, Sri Lanka depends on how much time you have (and your budget as well.) If you only have 2 days in Colombo (like me…) but surely don’t want to miss those must-see places in this beautiful city, this is for you. In this blog, I’ve put together the perfect 2-day Colombo itinerary, specifically for budget travelers, which includes Colombo’s top attractions.

Read also: my Kandy itinerary in Sri Lanka with budget travel guide .

Hi there! First of all, I am Daniel – a solo backpacker from the Philippines. If you don’t know my story yet, feel free to read this article where I talked about how I quit my job in order to travel. This article was also featured on TripZilla Philippines .

DO YOU NEED A VISA?

Depending on your nationality, you might or might not need a visa. Check out my Sri Lankan visa guide to check if you’re eligible for an e-visa or visa on arrival or no visa at all.

WHERE IS COLOMBO?

Colombo is a city located on the western coast of the island country of Sri Lanka. It is the commercial capital and largest city of Sri Lanka. It is a 3 ½-hour flight away from either Bangkok or Delhi, about 4 hours away from Singapore and, 4 ½ hours away from Dubai.

Language: Sinhala, Tamil Currency: Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) Airport: Bandaranaike International (CMB)  Preferred mode of transportation: Tuktuk or Uber Tuktuk, Bus Time Zone: GMT +4 ½ 

HOW I GOT THERE:

I suggest you check Kayak (click HERE ) as they usually offer cheap fare rates compared to other booking sites.

HOW TO GET AROUND?

  • Tuktuk – Also known as a tri-shaw, Tuktuk is a three-wheeled vehicle which I think is the best way to get around Colombo.  But as I mentioned in my budget travel tips blog – “ walk as much as you can! “.

Many three-wheelers have meters and some can be booked through Uber App. Some drivers, however, will try to not use the meter or won’t have one. Avoid meter-free three-wheelers or agree to a firm price before setting out. I even got victimized by just agreeing with meter-free Tuktuk (haha!) and I paid 3 to 4 times its normal price.

  • Uber Tuktuk – Ensure you have an Uber mobile app to book your ride.
  • Private Tuktuk – There are so many Tuktuk drivers in the city who will ask you for a private tuk-tuk tour. I think it’s okay, I got mine for only 200 LKR (1.10 USD) and the driver took me to 3-4 different famous places in Colombo. Beware though, it is quite normal for these drivers to take you to a jewelry shop haha. From my understanding is that they get a voucher or commission for every tourist they bring to the jewelry shop. Don’t worry, they won’t force you to buy it.
  • City Buses – The best way to find out which bus to take is just to ask people at the nearest stop. Although it’s not advisable for short-term travelers you’ll be surprised how cheap they are (way cheaper than Tuktuk).

HOW I GOT TO THE CITY:

I arrived at Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB) at around 9:30 AM from a 3 ½-hour flight from Bangkok. The first thing I looked for at the airport was the ATM to withdraw some Rupees. Then you can also purchase a sim card with mobile internet data to help you navigate the city. I did not buy one though.

First, a little heads up, when stepping out of the arrival hall at the airport, you will probably be “attacked” by drivers looking for new customers. They can be quite pushy, so keep calm.

Next, I looked for the bus going to downtown Colombo. I found a minibus parked on the road just a short walk from the airport’s arrival exit.

  • Bus fare from the airport to downtown Colombo: 300 LKR (1.65 USD)
  • Travel time: 1-2 hours (depending on traffic)

Minibus from Airport to Colombo City

WHERE DID I STAY?

The hostel I booked is located in the city center. From the bus terminal, I just walk about 20 minutes to reach my hostel. It is close to the Lakehouse building.

  • Hostel room type: Bunk Bed in Mixed Dormitory Room
  • Hostel rate: 6 USD per night

Colombo Downtown Monkey Backpacker's Hostel | Dantravels.org

You can book a room at any hotel in Colombo through Agoda or Booking.com . I usually book my room accommodations through booking.com. Room accommodation ranges from cheap hostels to luxury hotels. Book hostels through booking.com as they have free cancellation or pay-at-the-hotel option.

If Colombo hotel isn’t to your liking, try AirBnb. Airbnbs are immersed in neighborhoods, condos, and townhomes. There is a feeling you get when you stay in an Airbnb that makes you feel like you belong in that city or town. Since it is someone’s home, there is a certain amount of pride you feel while staying there. I have used Airbnb on some of my other trips and I loved it!

If you’re new to AirBnB, then you can get up to 42 USD free travel credit by signing up via this link .

MY 2-DAY COLOMBO ITINERARY

1st Stop: Murugan Hindu Temple

Formally known as the Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil, the Murugan Hindu Temple is easily accessible by tuk-tuk or just by walking since it is just behind the Fort Railway Station. This is the oldest and largest Hindu temple in Colombo and is dedicated to the Gods Shiva and Ganesh. A visit is a must and is included in most Colombo tours. Its monumental towers, with hundreds of colorful ornaments, will delight your eyes and memories.

Murugan Hindu Temple in Colombo

  • Duration (getting there + visiting): 1 hour

2nd Stop: Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple

This temple is huge and takes about 45 minutes – 1 hour to look around and is easily accessible by tuk-tuk. There are Buddha statues all around the temple and the various rooms. The temples themselves have sitting, standing, reclining buddhas, colorful, gold, bronze, stone, wood, white buddhas, small and large buddhas. At times it felt as though you were walking through some surreal bric-a-brac market with the cases full of old glasses and jewelry. My favorite of all was the Tiny Buddha encased by a miniature glass dome whose face can be seen very clearly through the magnifying disc. I was told it was the world’s smallest Buddha statue.

Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple in Colombo

  • Duration (getting there + visiting): 1-2 hours
  • Cost: 300 LKR (1.65 USD) per tourist

3rd Stop: Seema Malakaya Temple

Also known as Lakeside Buddhist temple, Seema Malakaya is situated at the center of Baira lake. This is one of the most photographed landmarks in Colombo. The area is very photogenic and so you can spend some time looking to make some nice pictures.

NOTE : The 300-LKR-ticket for Gangaramaya also covers the ticket fee for Seema Malaka Temple if you visit them on the same day.

Lakeside Buddhist Temple in Colombo

  • Cost: See note above.

4th Stop: Independence Square

The Independence Square is where independence from the British colonization of about 200 years was celebrated in 1948. Now this place stands as a recreation area for the public to go and spend the day to take pics, a slow walk and relax. There’s also the famous Independence Memorial Hall, so make sure you check it out.

Independence Square in my Colombo itinerary

5th Stop: Lotus Tower

Lotus Tower is the latest iconic landmark of Sri Lanka. So make sure you take some close-up photos or even selfies with this tower.

It includes a rotating restaurant, wedding reception halls, hotel, VVIP rooms, TV/Radio broadcasting stations and much more. If you are a visitor, don’t forget to add this iconic location to your wish list.

Lotus Tower in Colombo

6th Stop: Galle Face GREEN

Galle Face Green is a famous landmark and tourist attraction in the city of Colombo. It is situated on the shore of the ocean. Galle Face is an urban park on the ocean side and the area is about 5 hectares. Locals call it Colombo’s front lawn and it comes to life late afternoon. Kids are flying kites, lovers are sitting on benches overlooking the ocean and stall after stall is selling all sorts of seafood and fried snacks. 

Galle Face

7th Stop: Colombo Municipal Council Hall

The Colombo Municipal Council is the local council for Colombo and the office of the Mayor of Colombo, which is located in front of the Viharamahadevi Park. The main building stands out outstandingly and illustrates in an artistic manner the most striking and beautiful design. It’s a major landmark clearly visible from the street in the center of Colombo and a nice place to roam around. Most tourists also call it “the White House” due to its resemblance to the US building of the same name.

Colombo Municipal Council Hall in my Colombo Itinerary

8th Stop: ViharamaDevi Park  & Buddha Statue

Formerly known as “Victoria Park”, this was renamed into “Viharamadevi Park” in the 1950s. This is said to be the biggest park in the city of Colombo situated right opposite to the Municipal Council Hall. It has well-landscaped gardens with a variety of trees, flowers, lotus ponds, fountains, golden image of Buddha, large Statue of Queen Viharamahadevi, and Queen Victoria. It’s a perfect place for leisure activities for both adults and children.

Viharama Devi Park Buddha Statue.

  • Duration (getting there + visiting): 1-2 hours 

What do you think of this 2-day COLOMBO itinerary?

I hope that you find this 2-DAY COLOMBO ITINERARY and GUIDE useful!

If you have more days to spend in Colombo or in Sri Lanka, you might consider these cool package tours:

  • Private Half-Day Colombo City Tour
  • Galle Full-Day Tour
  • Shore Excursion Colombo City Tour Highlights
  • Day Tour to Wilpattu National Park From Negombo
  • 3 Days Tour to Kandy Nuwara Eliya & Sigiriya from Colombo
  • Sigiriya Rock Fortress and Cave Temples Private Day Trip

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comment section below.

BOOKING ESSENTIALS

  • Booking.com . I usually book my hostel accommodation at booking.com. Thus, I recommend you guys trying it as well for your Colombo Itinerary.  Room accommodation ranges from cheap hostels to luxury hotels. Book hostels through booking.com as they have free cancellation or pay-at-the-hotel option.
  • Airbnb. Try Airbnb in finding comfy and cozy rooms for your Colombo itinerary! I have used Airbnb on some of my other trips and I loved it!
Have you tried Airbnb? Sign up with my link and you will get up to 42 USD (2,200 Php) off your first stay. Click this link to get that discount.
  • KAYAK. All of my flight bookings are all from KAYAK. Kayak is one of the world’s leading travel search engines and searches hundreds of travel sites.
  • Viator. Viator is the world’s leading resource for researching, finding and booking the best travel experiences worldwide. Perfect for your Colombo itinerary!
Click here to find the best Viator deals in Colombo!

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The cosmopolitan metropolis city of Colombo, Sri Lanka is a tropical sanctuary with a rich colonial heritage. This city is home to the most coveted attractions, dining hotspots and retail hubs in the country. Some of the best city experiences await those seeking to explore beautiful Colombo.

Although Sri Lanka’s beaches may be the best for a blissed-out break, the cosmopolitan metropolis, Colombo, stands in stark contrast, a nonstop whirl of shopping malls, and busy streets. The city’s pace is nothing short of electric and accommodates a population of over 750,000.

It was regarded as the national capital till the 1980s, when plans were made to make the city the hub for commercial activities moving all the government corporations to the new capital, Sri Jayewardenepura, Kotte. Colombo is well known for the Galle Face Green, Colombo Harbour, Colombo National Museum and the “Viharamahadevi Park”. The Galle Face Green is the city’s largest open space with a magnificent view attracting many local and foreign tourists. Colombo is amicably compromised of modern facilities and infrastructure such as luxury shopping malls, apartments, highways, and five-star hotels. Enjoy the bewitching Colombo sunset at a rooftop bar, which is sure to give you a sense of calm amongst the chaos.

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Colombo travel guide

Sri Lanka's capital of Colombo is a fascinating reflection of the contrasts that define the country.

From the paranoia of the High Security Zone to the friendly locals going about their daily business, and the colonnaded verandas of the past to the glitzy five-star hotels, Colombo is an exciting introduction to old and new Sri Lanka.

Colombo, a colonial capital

In 1517 the recently arrived Portuguese built a fort here, which was to subsequently form the nucleus of the modern city. The Dutch expanded the fortifications and gave the fledgling city new suburbs and an extensive system of canals, though it was not until the arrival of the British that Colombo really began to take off, by now an important staging post on the Indian Ocean’s maritime routes.

In 1815, Colombo was declared the capital of Ceylon. Today's modern city, which a population of around 3 million calls home, has grown exponentially since Independence and now spreads its tentacular suburbs along the coast for the best part of 60km (37 miles).

colombo sri lanka travel guide

Take time to know Colombo

Much of this ever-expanding metropolis is now a disorienting morass of mildewed concrete and gridlocked traffic; but though initial impressions may be unwelcoming, Colombo’s handful of low-key sights, its fascinating contrasts of colonial and modern, and its sheer hustle and bustle reward all those who take the time to absorb something of its unique character.

The cosmopolitan mix

Colombo’s relatively modern origins and colonial character – not to mention its sheer size – have given it a distinctly different atmosphere from the rest of Sri Lanka. There’s relatively little visible evidence of Buddhism or traditional Sinhalese values here. Instead, the city’s population comprises a cosmopolitan spread of cultures, with important Tamil and Muslim communities, as well as Burghers and a considerable number of expats. Mosques, churches and Hindu temples remain as visible as Buddhas and stupas, while conversations in the city’s smarter suburbs are as likely to be in English as in Sinhala or Tamil.

And compared to the more conservative towns elsewhere in Sri Lanka, Colombo remains resolutely forward-thinking. This is a vibrant crucible of contemporary Sri Lankan life, its eyes fixed firmly on the outside world.

Buddha statues in Seema Malaka temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka

What to do in Colombo

Shop in the pettah.

Colombo’s most absorbing area is the Pettah, a tumultuous bazaar district that is still the scene of much of the city’s vibrant commercial life, its grid of narrow streets stuffed full of every conceivable type of merchandise. Many of the district’s streets are given over to specific items, with one street devoted to selling leather goods, another to household wares, and so on. Concealed among the shops and teeming streetlife are also some of the oldest and most interesting buildings in Colombo: on Second Cross Street is the Pettah’s most striking building, the Jami-ul-Alfar Mosque, built in 1909 and striped in red and white like a stupendous raspberry layer-cake, with candy minarets and arches shaped like bitemarks.

Stroll on Galle Face Green

An elongated expanse of scrubby grass called Galle Face Green provides the city with important breathing space and attracts locals in their hundreds towards dusk – crowds of cheerful idlers come to meet friends, fly kites or sample the snacks sold from mobile food-carts along the oceanfront esplanade. A handful of newish hotels lies close to the green; none, however, can match the colonial aura of the venerable Galle Face Hotel. Even if you’re not staying here, this is still the best place in Colombo to watch the sun go down, maybe while sipping a mango cocktail next to the outsize chessboard on the seafront lawn.

See cultural treasures at the National Museum

Albert Crescent

The southern end of Viharamahadevi Park is home to the National Museum, an elegant white colonial structure of 1877 containing the regalia of the last king of Kandy and other treasures. The collection provides an excellent overview of Sri Lankan arts and crafts, beginning with a limestone Buddha from Anuradhapura , which sits meditating in the foyer as if undisturbed by the passage of 16 centuries; Sri Lanka’s finest collection of masks – quite unlike the stereotypical junk which is flogged at most of the island’s shops; and the highlight of the museum, the glittering crown, throne and footstool of the last Kandyan kings. 

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Get aquainted with Sri Lanka's animals at Dehiwala Zoo

In Colombo’s southern suburb of Dehiwala, the extensive Dehiwala Zoo is home to a wide range of Sri Lankan and international wildlife and birdlife. Compared to the dismal zoos found in other parts of Asia, the inmates here enjoy tolerably humane conditions (apart from some of the unfortunate big cats, which remain shut up in horribly small cages pending further promised improvements). The zoo’s representative selection of Sri Lankan wildlife makes it a good place to visit before heading off to the national parks. Look out for all three types of local monkey, sambhur and spotted deer, sloth bears and leopards, as well as a wide selection of birdlife.

Visit Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara

On the northeastern edge of Colombo, the suburb of Kelaniya is home to one of the island’s most revered Buddhist temples, said to occupy the place where the Buddha paid the last of his three mythical visits to the island – a stupa marks the exact spot. The original temple was destroyed by the Indians, then rebuilt, and then demolished by the Portuguese. The current structure is an attractive colonial-era building dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, decorated with an eye-catching sequence of modern murals by Soliya Mendis, depicting the Buddha’s legendary visits to the island as described in the Mahavamsa . 

Where to go from Colombo...

• Visit Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage and get up close to pachyderms

• Head to the beach - check out our Sri Lanka editor's pick of the top five in the country

• Explore Sri Lanka's west coast

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Sri Lanka’s Capital Colombo, a port city, with a rich colonial heritage, on the Western coast is a potpourri of races, religions and cultures. Colombo displays the best and worst the country has to offer. The city is a contrast itself, with mansions, lush gardens, fine dining options, shopping malls packed with expensive designer brands standing next to urban slums; diesel fumed congested roads and street markets.

Despite its small size just 37.31 km² Colombo offers a varying selection of experience ranging from taking a tuktuk ride, a visit to Pettah market and eating Kottu to playing a round of golf and having high tea at one of the colonial style hotels overlooking the Indian Ocean.

With many boutiques filled with international brands and local art and fabrics Colombo is the best place to do the last minute shopping and then it’s best to retire to Galle face, Colombo;s playground for some Kottu or Wade.

1.Play a Round of Golf at The Royal Colombo Golf Club  The immaculately manicured greens of the Royal Colombo Golf Club have attracted golfers for 129 years, a slice of golfing history. Visitors welcome. Click Here for more information

2.Enjoy a City Tour Hop on board the exciting open deck double decker of the Colombo City Tour to witness the charm of Colombo Click Here for more information

3.Eat Some Seafood on Mt Lavinia Beach Mt Lavinia is one of Colombo’s more laidback suburbs filled with great seafood restaurants on the golden beach and is named after Lovinia, the gypsy dancing girl who had a secret romance with one of Sri Lanka’s governors.

4.Do Some Last Minute Shopping One of Sri Lanka’s best kept secrets is the shopping opportunities in Colombo –sleek department stores and cool shopping malls are filled with designer clothing, shoes and handbags, plus handicrafts, home furnishings and more.

5.Indulge in a Massage at One Of Colombo’s Spas Featuring serene surroundings and expert masseurs trained in everything from Swedish to Shiatsu.

6.Take in Some Art The Colombo National Museum has some terrific examples of ancient paintings, sculptures and sketches dating back to the 4 th century BC, while if it’s something contemporary you want, the city has a thriving arts scene, with many creative painters exhibiting in local galleries.

7.Visit a Temple The Gangarama Vihara is one of the most venerable temples in the country, decorated with wonderful brass work, stone carvings, and other Buddhist art. Also a place of learning, it houses a museum, complete with residential hall.

8.Visit Dehiwala Zoological Garden Beautifully landscaped 30 acres in which a rich collection of mammals, birds, reptiles and fishes live in harmony with Nature.

9.Get Wet and Wild at Leisure World Sri Lanka’s first amusement and water park features log flumes, roller coasters, and many other thrilling rides for kids and adults. Click Here for more information

10.Sample the Nightlife Colombo has a buzzing scene, with chill-out bars, casinos if you want to try your hand at roulette or baccarat, or cool clubs where you can party until dawn.

11.Eat Some Kothu Rotti The quintessential Sri Lankan snack consists of sliced-up bits of rotti, expertly blended with your choice of chicken, beef, egg, onions, tomatoes and green chillies. Unmissable.

12.Go For a Ride in a Trishaw These motorised three-wheeled chariots are the backbone of Sri Lankan transport – just remember to hang on for dear life!

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COLOMBO TOURISM | TOURIST PLACES TO VISIT & TRAVEL GUIDE TO COLOMBO

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  • Colombo Overview
  • Top 14 Places to Visit in Colombo
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About Colombo

Country: india | state: sri lanka, #5 of 10 places to visit in sri lanka | places to visit in india, ideal trip duration: 1-2 days, base station: colombo, nearest city to colombo: colombo, best time to visit colombo: october to march, peak season: november to february, colombo weather: summer: max - 34°c and min - 25°c winter: max - 27°c and min - 20°c.

At a distance of 39 km from Negambo, 116 km from Kandy, 126 km from Galle, 150 km from Mirissa, 161 km from Dambulla, 167 km from Nuwara Eliya, 202 km from Anuradhapura, 205 km from Ella, 230 km from Polonnaruwa and 395 km from Jaffna, Colombo is the commercial capital and the largest city of Sri Lanka by population. Located in the western province of the Island, it is one of the must-include places in Sri Lanka Tour Packages . With rich colonial heritage and very scenic and popular attractions, Colombo is arguably the most popular tourist destination in Sri Lanka. Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, the legislative capital of the country, is within the urban area of the city, hence Colombo is often called the capital of Sri Lanka as well. It is also the administrative capital of the Western Province and the capital of Colombo district. The name 'Colombo', is believed to be derived from the classical Sinhala name Kolon Thota, meaning 'port on the river Kelani'. Another belief is that the name is derived from the Sinhala name Kola-amba-thota which means 'Harbour with leafy/green mango trees'. Sri Lanka has a long history and so does Colombo. As far back as the 5th century AD, Colombo served as a seaport for trade between Asia and the West. During the 8th century, Arab traders settled near the port. The Portuguese arrived in 1505 CE and later by the mid-17th century the Dutch had taken over Colombo and used as the capital city of the island. Colombo came under British rule in 1796 CE and continued to be the capital city of the island until Sri Lanka got independence in 1948. A new parliament was built in Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, an outer suburb of Colombo, in 1982. From the warm hospitality to the ever-welcoming people, from the temples to the charming weather, from urban parks to beaches, Colombo is a busy and vibrant place with a mixture of modern life and colonial charm. The Galle Face Green, the Beira Lake, World Trade Center, National Museum, Vihara Mahadevi Park, Gangaramaya Temple, and the Kelaniya Raj Maha Vihara are some popular places to visit in Colombo. Apart from that, Colombo is a great place for you to shop for local handlooms, indulge in local cuisine and some leisure activities. Being a multicultural society, Colombo celebrates a wide variety of festivals, ceremonies, and events, while most of them are inspired by religious events. Vesak Poya is one of the most prominent Buddhist festivals celebrated in Colombo as well as across the island. Commemorating the three important milestones in Buddha's life- his birth, enlightenment, and nirvana, it usually takes place in May. The festivities begin on a full moon day and continue up to a week, filling every home, street and shop with the magical light of colorful lanterns called Vesak kudu. Vel Festival, Eid-ul-Fitr, Christmas, Sinhalese New Year and Diwali are the other festivals celebrated with much enthusiasm in Colombo. The Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) and Ratmalana Airport are the two airports serve the city. About 34 km, Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) is the main airport in Colombo and has well flight connectivity with India and other parts of Southeast Asia, Europe, Australia, the Middle East, and the United States. While, the Ratmalana Airport, about 19 km from Colombo, serves domestic destinations. Fort Railway Station in Colombo serves as the terminus of many intercity trains in Sri Lanka and connects it to other important places of interest including Matara, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Anuradhapura, Ella, Galle, Badulla, Kankesanturai, Trincomalee, Jaffna, and Talaimannar. Though crowded, trains are the cheapest way to travel in Sri Lanka. A huge network of buses operates in and around Colombo. The Central Bus Stand is an important stand from where all the buses depart and at which all of them arrive. Though it can be a year-round destination, the best time to visit Colombo is in the dry season, lasting from October to March while the peak season is from January to March. During these months, the temperature is minimal and the weather is pleasant making it ideal for exploration. April is the hottest month here. If one is looking for better deals on travel and stay, then the rainy season lasts between June and September, is the suitable time to visit Colombo as this is the off-season for tourism, will ensure better deals and bargains.

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Nearest Airport: Colombo - Bandaranaike Airport (34 Kms)

Direct flights to colombo, nearest train station: colombo fort railway station (0 kms), direct trains to colombo, nearest bus station: colombo central bus stand (1 kms), direct buses to colombo, distance chart, distance chart & driving directions to colombo, top 10 places to visit in colombo, national museum of colombo.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

#1 of 14 Places to Visit in Colombo

At a distance of 5 km from Colombo Fort Railway Station, the National Museum of Colombo, also known as the Sri Lanka National Museum is one of the two museums in Colombo city. It is the largest museum in Sri Lanka and among the must-visit places as part of Sri Lanka Tour Packages. The Colombo Museum, as it was called at the beginning, was established in 1877 CE by Sir William Henry Gregory, the then Governor of British Ceylon from 1872-1877. The Royal Asiatic Society (CB) was instrumental in bringing to the notice of Gregory in 1872 the need for a public museum with much difficulty the approval of the legislative council was obtained within a year. Designed by James G. Smither, the construction was completed in 1876 and the museum was opened to the public in the following year. Now, it was maintained by the Department of National Museum of the central government. Built-in the Italian architectural style, the two stroyed museum has three main sections, including natural science, .....

Independence Square & Memorial Hall

Independence Square & Memorial Hall

#2 of 14 Places to Visit in Colombo

At a distance of 6 km from Colombo Fort Railway Station, Independence Square is a historical landmark located right in the heart of Cinnamon Gardens in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It is one of the popular places of heritage in Colombo and among the prime places to visit during your Sri Lanka Trip. Earlier known as Torrington Square, Independence Square is a site of historic consequence, natural beauty, and architectural significance. It takes its name from the Independence Memorial Hall built there to commemorate the independence of Sri Lanka from British rule in 1948. The exact location is where Prince Henry, the Duke of Gloucester, opened Sri Lanka's first parliament on a special podium, bringing an end to almost five centuries of colonial rule and marking the beginning of Sri Lanka's self-rule. This Hall is based on the architecture of the Audience Hall (Magul Maduwa) located in Kandy. The column and pillars are decorated with traditional Sri Lankan designs and statues of lions .....

Gangaramaya Temple

Gangaramaya Temple

#3 of 14 Places to Visit in Colombo

At a distance of 1.5 km from the National Museum and 5 km from Colombo Fort Railway Station, Gangaramaya is an ancient Buddhist temple located in Colombo. Situated near Beria Lake, it is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Colombo and among the most important places to visit as part of Sri Lanka Packages. Gangaramaya Temple was started by the famous scholar-monk Hikkaduwa Sri Sumangala Nayaka Thera in the late 19th century CE. After the Venerable Sri Sumangala, Sri Jinaratana Nayake Thera took on the administration of the temple and convert the little temple to an institute of international reckoning. It is much more than a temple in the conventional term, but a place of worship, a seat of learning and a cultural center. The Gangaramaya Temple is a unique blend of architectural styles from Sri Lanka, Thailand, Chinese and India. It is exceptionally beautiful with the Beira Lake on one side and statues & carvings paving the way inside. It features a Vihara, the main temple, .....

Galle Face Green

Galle Face Green

#4 of 14 Places to Visit in Colombo

At a distance of 4 km from Colombo Fort Railway Station, Galle Face Green is an urban park located on the seafront in the port city of Colombo. It is one of the popular places to hang out in Colombo and among the prime places to visit as part of your Sri Lanka Tour. The Galle Face Green in Sri Lanka is a half kilometer promenade in the heart of Colombo. On one end of this stretch of land lies the Ceylon Intercontinental Hotel while on the other side, lies the magnificent Galle Face Hotel. This area is now considered the largest open space in Colombo that is accessible to crowds inclusive of tourists and regular local visitors. The beach is frequented by the locals residing in Colombo, especially on weekends as it makes for the best spot for children to play around and for families to spend some quality time next to the sea under the open sky. The originally planned Galle Face extended over a much larger area than exists today. The promenade was initially laid out by the Dutch .....

Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara

Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara

#5 of 14 Places to Visit in Colombo

At a distance of 10 km from Colombo Fort Railway Station, Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara is a Buddhist temple in Kelaniya near Colombo. Also known as Kelaniya Temple, it is one of the popular places of pilgrimage in Colombo and among the best places to visit as part of Sri Lanka Tour . . The temple is located on the bank of river Kelaniya and is an ancient archeological monument that was built in the 5th century BCE. The temple has a special significance and is considered to be one of the most sacred sites in Colombo. Legend has it that on the eighth year following enlightenment, Lord Buddha visited Kelaniya with 500 monks on the invitation of King Maniakkhikha to preach the dhamma. A stupa was built on the place where the Buddha preached his sermon. The original temple was destroyed by a lot of invaders but the temple had been reconstructed each time. The medieval temple was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1510 yet reconstructed .....

St. Lucia Cathedral

St. Lucia Cathedral

#6 of 14 Places to Visit in Colombo

At a distance of 3 km from Colombo Fort Railway Station, St. Lucia's Cathedral is a Roman Catholic Church located Kotahena locality of Colombo. The cathedral is considered the oldest and largest parish cathedral in Sri Lanka and among the top places to visit in Colombo. St. Lucia's Cathedral is dedicated to saint martyr St. Lucia who is considered to be the protector against all kinds of eye trouble. This is the seat of the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Colombo. The cathedral was first built as a small chapel of wood in 1760 when Ceylon was under Dutch occupation. This small structure was later replaced by a more massive shrine made of brick and mortar in the year 1782. St. Lucia's Cathedral became the first church of Sri Lanka after it was detached from the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Goa. A plan was made in 1872, to build a new cathedral which took roughly 30 years and was fully completed in the year 1902. St Lucia's Cathedral is a massive structure .....

Jami-ul-Alfar Mosque / Red Mosque

Jami-ul-Alfar Mosque / Red Mosque

#7 of 14 Places to Visit in Colombo

At a distance of 1 km from Colombo Fort Railway Station, Jami-ul-Alfar Mosque is a historic mosque located in the Pettah district of Colombo, Sri Lanka. The mosque is one of the oldest mosques in Colombo and among the prime places to visit in Colombo as part of Sri Lanka Packages . Jami-ul-Alfar Mosque, also known as Rathu Palliya in Sinhala, Samman Kottu Palli in Tamil and Red Mosque in English, is quite a sight in itself and also a big tourist attraction. It was built by the local Indian Muslim community, based in Pettah, in the year 1908 to fulfill their required five-times-daily prayer and Jummah on Fridays. The construction was completed in 1909 and originally it had the capacity for 1,500 worshippers although at the time only around 500 were attending prayers. However, the numbers grew swiftly and in 1975 the Haji Omar Trust took control of the surrounding properties and began the work of expanding the mosque. A new four .....

Old Parliament Building

colombo sri lanka travel guide

#8 of 14 Places to Visit in Colombo

At a distance of 3 km from Colombo Fort Railway Station, the Old Parliament Building is a heritage building that houses the Presidential Secretariat of Sri Lanka during the British era. Situated in the Colombo Fort area facing the sea, it is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the city, and among the must-visit places in Colombo as part of Sri Lanka Tour. The building was designated as the Parliament of Sri Lanka in 1977. Initially, the building was home to the Legislative Council of Ceylon and was witness to the country's transition from a colonial state to self-rule in 1947. Completed in 1930, this building was home to the country's legislature for 53 years until the new parliamentary complex was opened at Sri Jayawardenepura in 1983 CE during the country's prolonged Civil War. Since then, the Old Parliament Building has functioned as the home to the Presidential Secretariat. Built-in the Neo-Baroque style of architecture, the Old Parliament Building is a complete .....

Viharamahadevi Park

Viharamahadevi Park

#9 of 14 Places to Visit in Colombo

At a distance of 4 km from Colombo Fort Railway Station, Viharamahadevi Park is a public park located near the National Museum in the port city of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Situated in front of the colonial-era Town Hall building, it is the oldest and the biggest park in Colombo and among the must include places in Sri Lanka Tour Packages. Formerly called Victoria Park, the park was built on land donated to the Colombo city by Charles Henry de Soysa during the British rule of Sri Lanka. The park has a long history of being used for different purposes like during World War II it hosted the British Army and the 17th Brigade of the Australian Army. It was also used as a cricket ground by the first-class teams from 1927 to 1995 and even hosted a match between the touring English team in the 1930s. After Sri Lanka's Independence, the park was given its current name, Viharamahadevi Park after the mother of King Dutugemunu. Maintained by the Colombo Municipal Council, this public park .....

National Zoological Garden Of Srilanka

National Zoological Garden Of Srilanka

#10 of 14 Places to Visit in Colombo

At a distance of 13 km from Colombo Fort Railway Station, National Zoological Gardens of Sri Lanka is a zoo park situated in Dehiwala, a suburb of Colombo. It is one of the oldest zoological gardens in Asia and among the must-visit Colombo Tourist Places. Also called Colombo Zoo or Dehiwala Zoo, the National Zoological Gardens of Sri Lanka was initially started by Mr. John Hagenbeck in the late 1920s as a private collection in 11 acres. The zoo was closed at the beginning of World War II. Later, the park was officially taken over by the Government of Sri Lanka on 1st July 1936 and was established as an independent public department in 1946. Stretches over an area of almost 30 acres, the park is home to over 2,500 to 3,000 animals including 79 species of mammals, 31 species of reptiles and 89 species of birds. One can see lions, tigers, panthers, chimpanzees, horses, zebras, crocodiles, and many other animals. The aquarium in the zoo is the only one of its kind in Asia and displays .....

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Best of Sri Lanka With Colombo Half Day City Tour Package

Sri lanka 7 days tour package: colombo, kandy & more, sri lanka trip package with private tea plucking and tea factory tour, colombo tour package with wildlife safari & ella train ride, sri lanka 3 nights tour package with 3 city tours, charms of sri lanka tour package with dolphin and whale watching cruise tour, colombo travel essentials.

Ideal duration: 3 days

Best Time: December to March Read More

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"The Heart of Sri Lanka"

Colombo tourism.

Discovered initially by traders two millennia ago, Colombo is Sri Lanka's largest economic corridor and tourist destination. As the island nation's capital city, Colombo is a cosmopolitan gateway to the wonders of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial heritage, splendid tropical landscapes and delectable cuisines. The city is well connected to other places in Sri Lanka by rail and road.

It is in Colombo that you can find it all; from the Lotus Tower, South Asia's tallest freestanding structure, world-class casinos like Bellagio and Ballys, and cinnamon plantation hiking trails. The city identifies with the classic form of urban tourism and offers a great experience of sightseeing, shopping and nightlife. Taking an open deck bus tour is the best way to sightsee around the city on a day of pleasant weather.  Against the ocean at Galle Face Green Promenade, Galle Fort and Lighthouse showcase astonishing Victorian relics in a snazzy neighbourhood with cafes. Pettah Market, acclaimed as a shopaholic's abode by tourists and locals, features vibrant oriental themes and colourful shops. Also, be sure to visit Mount Lavinia Beach and enjoy a beautiful day with the sunset at the end too. The Snow World Theme Park and Viharamahadevi Park are great places if you are travelling with kids. For the adventure enthusiast in you, indulge in some scuba diving in Chief Dragon and The Sierra. Colombo seamlessly blends adventure, luxury, culture, and history from regalia of 17th-century Kandyan Kings, colossal Buddha figures and Thambili-coconut drinks to amusement parks, malls and bustling bazaars.

Must Know Before You Travel to Colombo

  • Where to Stay: -Galle Face Green area is known for its upscale hotels with stunning views of the Indian Ocean. It's a popular choice for those seeking luxury accommodations. -The Fort area is the central business district and offers a mix of upscale hotels and business-friendly accommodations. -Bambalapitiya and Wellawatte areas are close to shopping districts, restaurants, and the beach, making it a convenient choice for a lively stay
  • Getting Around Colombo is easy with plenty of tuk-tuks available which costs around LKR 100 for the first km, then around LKR 80 or 90 for every subsequent km
  • Casinos: Gambling is legal in Sri Lanka. However, choose to visit an upscale larger casino for a better experience

Places To Visit In Colombo

Gangaramaya Temple

Gangaramaya Temple

Galle Face Green

Galle Face Green

Viharamahadevi Park

Viharamahadevi Park

Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara

Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara

Pettah Floating Market

Pettah Floating Market

Colombo Dehiwala Zoo

Colombo Dehiwala Zoo

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Food in Colombo For Mouth-Watering Delicacies

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More on Colombo Travel

Currency in colombo, exchanging money in colombo.

  • Most of the banks are authorised currency changers and usually give the best rate.
  • Many finance companies are authorised as well, along with a few other limited liability companies.
  • You can check the full list at 'ecd. lk'

Daily Budget for Colombo

Do's and don'ts in colombo.

  • It is advisable to dress appropriately when touring the city, especially in formal institutions and religious sites. 
  • Public displays of affection are also looked down upon.
  • When taking photographs, be sure to ask about what is allowed to be photographed and what is not.
  • It is considered extremely rude to face your back towards a statue by the Buddhists, so even if you click a picture, make sure you're facing the statue.
  • Incomes in Sri Lanka are fairly low, so you should try and tip wherever you can.

History of Colombo

Nightlife in colombo.

From trancing bars, cafes, and themed pubs to night bazaars, glam casinos and discos, the nightlife in Colombo turns your weekdays into weekends with a plethora of luxurious as well as pocket-friendly spots to enjoy at. Roulette rolling, splendid themed buffets, grilled street food, chic beach parties, traditional clothes and apparel up for a bargain, trendy live bands, gaming arcades and enthusiastic crowds - you name it, and this city has it.

Here are the top five nightlife destinations in Colombo: -

  • Bally’s Casino 
  • Galle Face Green Night Market
  • Bellagio Casino
  • ON14 Rooftop Bar

Shopping in Colombo

Colombo is known worldwide for its stunning Sri Lankan handlooms, batiks, Ceylon tea, gems, bazaars and Ayurvedic therapies. Learn about the best ways to enjoy shopping in Colombo: -  

  • Buy traditional handicrafts, linen, trinkets and sarongs at Paradise Road, Barefoot Garden Cafe, the oceanfront Galle Face Green Night Market and Kala Pola Art Market.
  • Colombo City Centre and Lakarcade Mall are malls offering chic urban and ethnic clothing, arcade games and spas. 
  • Dutch Gallery features colonial antiques, while Majestic City is the place to go for sapphires, homeware and books. 
  • Enjoy a unique shopping spree at the Pettah Floating Market, boasting hundreds of over-water kiosks, delicious street food and farmers’ markets. 
  • As prices are quoted many folds higher for tourists, humble bargaining goes a long way.
  • Check authenticity before buying gems and valuables.
  • Always carry cash while shopping in Colombo.

Read more about Shopping in Colombo .

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Airports in Colombo For Transport Within Sri Lanka

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Shopping in Colombo For Clothes, Gems and Handicrafts!

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23 things you need to know before going to Sri Lanka

Emma Boyle

Oct 14, 2023 • 11 min read

colombo sri lanka travel guide

Get to grips with Sri Lanka's complex culture with these top tips on health, safety and etiquette © Cavan Images / Getty Images

Floating in tropical waters off the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka is defined by its gentle Buddhist culture, friendly people and laid-back way of life despite its troubled recent history.

A little knowledge goes a long way when it comes to having an easy trip to this Indian Ocean island. For such a small nation, Sri Lanka is hugely diverse. Surf-pounded coastlines rise to forested national parks , temple-studded plains and jungle-covered highlands - with the added perk that nowhere is that far from a  beach .

Most visitors start on the coast and duck inland to tea gardens, ancient cities and national parks, but navigating Sri Lanka 's frenetic public transport system and cultural sensitivities can be confusing for new arrivals. To help you out, here are some of the things you need to know before traveling to Sri Lanka.

1. Apply for a visa in advance

As a first step, check the latest visa requirements for Sri Lanka. Most nationalities need an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) in advance of travel, but fortunately, they're not hard to get.

2. Check your travel vaccinations

Sri Lanka is a tropical destination, so check with your doctor to make sure you're up to date with your travel vaccinations. Recommended vaccinations for Sri Lanka include diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis A, hepatitis B and polio. Long stayers might also consider getting vaccinated against typhoid and rabies (although rare, rabies can be fatal, and it's carried by dogs, cats and monkeys in Sri Lanka).

3. Plan your trip according to the monsoons

Between May and September , the south coast and west coast of Sri Lanka are lashed by the southwest monsoon, which brings plenty of rainfall and choppy seas, while northern and eastern parts of the island are fine and dry. When the northeast monsoon hits Sri Lanka between November and March, the south and west are at their best, and it's the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka that see the showers.

In fact, monsoon rainfall in Sri Lanka is quite sporadic – expect short, sharp downpours interspersed with long, hot sunny spells. Traveling to different parts of Sri Lanka during their rainy "off-seasons" has its rewards – visitor numbers fall and hotel rates drop quite significantly.

Sri Lankan Buddhists gather at a temple building in front of burning insence

4. There's no alcohol for sale on full moon days and religious events

Sri Lanka has a huge number of bank holidays, and almost half of these are poya days, marking the arrival of the full moon, an auspicious event in Sri Lankan Buddhism. All poya days are dry days – alcohol is not sold in shops, restaurants or bars (though you can still access your hotel room’s minibar). The ban on alcohol also extends to other religious events such as the Buddhist festival of Vesak in May.

5. Carry cash: the currency is the Sri Lankan rupee

Stock up on rupees on arrival in Sri Lanka, not before, and don't change more than you need. Sri Lankan rupees are hard to exchange outside of Sri Lanka. ATMs are widespread all over the country – stick to Bank of Ceylon ATMs where possible as they don't charge a fee. Card machines are common in larger hotels, restaurants and tourist-oriented shops.

Try to build up a stash of lower denomination notes wherever possible (for example, withdraw LKR5900 rather than LKR6000). You'll need small bills to pay for tuk-tuks and buy things from local shops and markets and for tipping. Carrying some cash in dollars, euros or pounds sterling is also useful – all are widely accepted in tourist areas.

6. Be realistic about how much ground you can cover

It takes a surprising amount of time to travel around Sri Lanka thanks to winding routes and the limited number of roads crossing the interior of the island. Traffic also has to navigate a variety of hazards including badly surfaced roads and roaming wildlife (buffaloes, cows, feral dogs and even elephants). To do the island justice, don’t rush. You’ll need at least a month for a circuit of the island with detours to national parks, ancient cities and tea plantations inland.

Thanks to Sri Lanka’s improving expressway network, road travel from Colombo to southern towns such as Galle ,  Matara and  Tangalla is fairly rapid. With its twisting, congested roads, the  Hill Country is the most time-consuming region to navigate (consider taking trains to explore instead).

Two young children run out of the sea towards their parents on a sandy beach backed by palm trees

7. Pack the right gear for Sri Lanka’s hills and religious sites

Sri Lanka’s mountains reach elevations of over 2,000m (6,560ft) and temperatures are lower in the highlands than on the coast. Pack a light jumper for cooler nights and early morning starts (particularly between December and March). Also bring a sarong – you can use it as a beach blanket or towel, as a shawl or skirt to cover your shoulders or knees when visiting temples, and as a warm layer when traveling on air-conditioned buses or for pre-dawn safari jeep drives.

8. Plan ahead for the hill country trains

Sri Lanka Railways runs the nation's trains, including services on the spectacular Main Line, which slices east from Colombo  through the island’s highest mountains, cloud forests and tea estates. It’s a stunning journey and hugely popular with tourists and locals alike, particularly the section between Kandy and Ella .

Book tickets in air-conditioned first class or fan-cooled second class well ahead to guarantee a seat, either in person at stations or online via booking sights such as 12GoAsia . Tickets are released 10 days prior and sell out quickly.

9. Swimwear is for the beach only

For the most part, Sri Lankans are socially conservative and deeply religious. Swimwear is fine for the beach, but not when wandering about town. Going nude or topless is not permitted on any Sri Lankan beaches.

10. Avoid public affection and disruptive behavior

Public displays of affection are frowned on, as is loud or brash behavior, and losing your temper in public (keep this in mind when haggling – this should never be an angry process).

Two bare-foot monks enter the ruins of a temple building

11. Dress respectfully when visiting temples

When making trips to religious sites, wear clothing that covers the legs and upper arms and shoulders. Remove your shoes and headwear before entering any Buddhist or Hindu temple or mosque, even if the site is a historic ruin. Socks are allowed (and you'll need them on scorching hot sunny days).

Tourists are less common in  Jaffna and the north where a distinct Sri Lankan Tamil Hindu culture predominates. Respect local etiquette when visiting Hindu temples – ask for permission before entering as non-Hindus are barred from entering some shrines. Some temples also require men to remove shirts and enter bare-chested (for example, Jaffna’s vast Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil ).

12. Show respect to Buddha images

Sri Lankan Buddhists take depictions of the Buddha very seriously and these should always be treated with respect. People have been deported from Sri Lanka for displaying "disrespectful" Buddha images, so avoid wearing clothing with Buddha images and if you have tattoos of Buddhist iconography, keep these covered. The same rules apply to statues – posing for selfies with a Buddha statue is a definite no-no, as is turning your back toward a Buddha image.

13. Be considerate when taking photographs

When photographing people, always ask for permission first. Note that if you photograph the famous stilt fishers at Koggala, you may be asked for payment (genuine stilt fishers are a rare breed nowadays). Flash photography isn’t allowed in temples (nor in the vicinity of military sites) and taking photos may be banned entirely at some Hindu sites. If you are photographing temples, be careful not to stand with your back toward a Buddha statue while you are snapping.

14. Use your right hand to eat

Traditionally, Sri Lankans eat with their right hand, using the tips of their fingers to mix rice and curry into little balls, and their thumb to gently push the food into their mouths. You may be encouraged to try this if you are invited into a local home for a meal, but always wash your hands first for hygiene reasons. Avoid eating (or shaking hands) with your left hand as it is used for less sanitary tasks such as personal ablutions.

15. Tipping is customary

Tipping is a way of life in Sri Lanka and many restaurant workers rely on the extra income this practice brings. Most larger hotels and restaurants add a 10% tip as standard; use this as a guide for how much to tip in places that don’t. 

Tourists photographing elephants from vehicles in grassland

16. Give wildlife space

In 2017, a British journalist died after being snatched by a crocodile at a lagoon near  Arugam Bay . Such attacks are rare, but they happen so be vigilant in rivers and lagoons. Dangerous sharks are not a problem in Sri Lanka, but poisonous snakes are found in waterlogged areas on land such as paddy fields. 

Keep a keen lookout for elephants on roads leading to national parks or when walking or driving in the hills. If you see one, keep your distance and be ready to back away. Never feed a wild elephant – this habituates elephants to associate humans with food and act aggressively.

17. Take standard safety precautions

Sri Lanka is one of the safest countries in Asia when it comes to petty crime. Violence against tourists is very rare, and theft and robberies are uncommon, though they do happen occasionally. As a precaution, wear a money belt and use your hotel safe.

Female travelers should avoid traveling alone at night, particularly on public transport, and take care walking alone on empty beaches. Given Sri Lanka’s conservative culture, long sleeves and dresses are culturally appropriate and will reduce the chance of being harassed.

18. Do not drink the tap water

Sri Lanka's tap water could theoretically be used for brushing your teeth but we don't recommend it, and it's certainly not safe for drinking. Bottled water is plentiful and better hotels provide clean drinking water for guests. If you do buy bottled water, check that the seal is intact and look for the Sri Lanka standards certification mark. Always dispose of empty bottles responsibly – filling your own drinking water bottle from a large bottle is better than buying lots of small plastic bottles.

A beachside fort with a tall watch tower

19. Beware of scams and pickpockets

Scammers are active in  Galle Fort , Kandy and Colombo’s Galle Face Green , looking for tourists to cheat or charm out of money. Never buy gems hawked on the street – they will almost certainly be convincing fakes made from colored glass – and be dubious of any shop trying to sell you gems to "sell at a profit back home." Seek out information from official tourist offices and directly from operators rather than trusting agents, particularly if they seek you out first.   

Keep your money and valuables out of sight when on busy trains and buses, and when exploring crowded areas streets such as Colombo’s Pettah market district . Tuk-tuks have a habit of overcharging tourists – ask drivers to use the meter (and take another tuk-tuk if they refuse), or order a ride via Uber or local app,  PickMe .

20. Protect yourself against mosquitoes

Mosquito bites are one of the biggest health concerns in Sri Lanka. Although malaria has been eliminated, mosquitoes can carry debilitating dengue fever, a painful illness that can have serious side effects. No vaccinations are available for dengue and treatment can only reduce symptoms. Protect yourself by covering up at dawn and dusk, sleeping under a mosquito net and wearing strong repellent containing high levels of DEET ( diethyltoluamide ).

21. Be road-safe in Sri Lanka

Traffic is one of the biggest dangers facing visitors to Sri Lanka. Accidents involving motorcycles and lorries are common, and bus collisions – often involving pedestrians – are also a problem. Common causes of accidents include dangerous overtaking, overloading and pulling in suddenly to pick up passengers on the roadside.

Private bus company drivers tend to drive more recklessly than their government-run, SLTB counterparts. Don’t expect vehicles to stop at pedestrian crossings and keep your wits about you when walking beside any roads (sidewalks are rare in Sri Lanka).

A surfer stands on the edge of a sandy beach looking out to sea

22. Never underestimate the ocean

Sri Lanka's beaches may be idyllic, but there are few lifeguards and strong currents are a danger (particularly during the monsoon seasons). Many beaches shelve steeply and drowning is the second most common cause of death among tourists after road accidents. Seek local advice before swimming in unfamiliar water.

23. Natural disasters are a risk

Sri Lanka was one of the countries worst affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which swept away more than 35,000 people and devastated many coastal areas. Following the disaster, early warning systems have been put in place in major towns and resorts, but not in rural, isolated areas, so be alert to signs of earthquakes and tsunamis.

The most common natural disaster in Sri Lanka is localized flooding during the southwest and northeast monsoons, which can cause landslides in highland areas. Sri Lanka is also vulnerable to tropical cyclones and periods of drought. For up-to-date weather warnings and situation reports, bookmark the country’s Disaster Management Center website .

This article was first published Mar 7, 2022 and updated Oct 14, 2023.

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How to Plan a First-Time Trip to India and Sri Lanka 2024

India and Sri Lanka, two neighboring countries, can together create a most captivating South Asian tour.

India is renowned firstly for its historical landmarks, including the iconic Taj Mahal, and colorful culture. Sri Lanka also has notable architecture, but also features stunning beaches, lush tea plantations, and wildlife spotting experiences from whale watching to leopard and elephant safaris.

Ready to start planning your unforgettable adventure? This guide offers insider tips on the ideal trip duration, itinerary suggestions, best travel times, and more.

  • How Long to Spend
  • A Sample Itinerary
  • Best Times to Visit
  • How to Travel between

How Many Days Are Needed for India and Sri Lanka?

For a fulfilling visit to both India and Sri Lanka, plan for 2–3 weeks. With a limited 2 weeks, you could spend 1 week in each country to discover the iconic highlights.

If you have 3 weeks, you could spend 2 weeks in India and 1 week in Sri Lanka for more cultural immersion in India. Alternatively, if you prefer more natural adventures, you could spend more time in Sri Lanka.

Where to Go in India

First-time visitors to India often start from North India , home to the must-see Golden Triangle cities of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. A week-long Golden Triangle tour would go from the capital city of Delhi to the splendid Taj Mahal in Agra and the royal palaces and forts in Jaipur.

Beyond that, going for 2 days of glamping in Ranthambore offers the wild charm of India's tiger safaris. You could also indulge in the historical landmarks of popular Rajasthan cities (Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, and Udaipur) for 2 days each. If you seek atmospheric religious experiences, extend your trip by 2 days to go to Varanasi. Check out the classic itinerary of North India .

If you've been to North India , consider spending 5–7 days in Kerala in South India for the idyllic scenery of rural backwaters and/or about 1 week in Tamil Nadu to experience typical South Indian history and culture.

Where to Go in Sri Lanka

For historical relics , Kandy (2 days) is the top destination for Sri Lanka's holiest Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Then, consider spending 1 day in each of the following destinations: Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa for ancient ruins, Sigiriya for its UNESCO-listed Lion Rock, and Galle for a coastal colonial city view.

On this tropical island, your Sri Lanka trip is not complete without a beach vacation (at least 2 days). Mirissa is great for whale watching, while Bentota is packed with water activities and great hotel choices.

If you love tea , don't miss Nuwara Eliya (1–2 days) for its tea plantations and the scenic train rides. The nearby Horton Plains National Park is a great hiking paradise with bird watching. Wildlife enthusiasts could also have fun in Yala National Park (2 days) for leopard safaris and/or Udawalawe National Park (2 days) for elephant safaris. See t he most classic Sri Lanka tour for first-timers.

Discover real reviews of Highlights Travel Family 's best-rated service across trusted platforms.

A 17-Day Classic India and Sri Lanka Itinerary

If you have limited time in India and Sri Lanka, this classic itinerary is ideal for you to see the best of both countries.

For a winding-down tour pace, you're highly recommended to travel from historical India to tropical Sri Lanka.

9 Days in India

  • Delhi (2 nights) – Agra (2 nights) – Ranthambore (2 nights) – Jaipur (2 nights)

Experience the old and new of India in its capital, encounter the great wonders of the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, spot wild big cats via private jeep rides in Ranthambore, and enjoy the colorful cityscape of Jaipur.

To create special moments for you and your loved one(s), you could take pictures with the Taj Mahal dressed in traditional Indian attire and have dinner at Amber Fort just like the royal family. To gain an insight into local life, you could take a rickshaw ride through the most vibrant market in Delhi and walk around a peaceful village in Agra. Learn more ...

8 Days in Sri Lanka

  • Negombo (1 night) – Kandy (2 nights) – Nuwara Eliya (1 night) – Udawalawe (2 nights) – Bentota (2 nights)

After historical immersion in India, you would focus on natural scenery in Sri Lanka.

You would take a canal ride to see the coastal life of Negombo after landing in Colombo, the only mainstream air gateway of Sri Lanka. Then, check out Kandy's must-sees: the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Continue your trip to Nuwara Eliya, a hill station of tea plantations. As Sri Lanka's most scenic train ride, taking a "toy train" to Ella is a popular way to immerse yourself in the lush green scenery and say hi to tea pickers.

If you're an animal lover, you would love Udawalawe. You could look for wild elephants at sunrise and sunset via jeep rides in its national park and see how baby elephants are feeding in the Elephant Transit Home.

Before relaxing on the sunny beaches of Bentota, make a stop at historical Galle. In this coastal city, you would be amazed by its colonial buildings, including the Dutch Fort. If you're lucky, you could capture pictures of the unique stilt fishing that takes place on this coast.

Options for Personalizing Your Trip

Specializing in personalizing private tours, we would customize your itinerary to suit your interests and schedule.

If you're celebrating milestones and would like to have an immersive exploration , combining our 2-Week Luxury India Tour and our 14-Day Sri Lanka Romantic Tour would be the best treat.

Beyond the above-mentioned highlights in India, you could discover the spiritual hub Varanasi, relax in laid-back Udaipur, and surprise your partner with some luxurious heritage stays.

In Sri Lanka, you could venture into the "Cultural Triangle" to see ancient ruins in Polonnaruwa and the iconic Sigiriya Rock Fortress, known as Lion Rock, and hike in the Horton Plains National Park. Instead of a beach vacation in Bentota only, you could go on a sailing safari to enjoy whale watching in Mirissa.

If you are limited to 2 weeks, you could just focus on the Golden Triangle in India and leave out Negombo in Sri Lanka. You could explore more details of this option by checking out our 7-Day Golden Triangle India Tour and 7-Day Best of Sri Lanka Tour .

Costs for a Trip to India and Sri Lanka

For hassle-free travel in India and Sri Lanka, you would need to prepare for a daily cost of US$190–240 per person. The cost would change with the proportion of days in each country. This is because a private India tour typically costs US$200 to 250 per person per day, while a private tour in Sri Lanka costs only US$180 to 220.

Best Times to Visit India and Sri Lanka

Late December to February is the best time to discover the most popular destinations in India and Sri Lanka with cool-to-warm and sunny weather.

Besides that, you could enjoy October, November, and March as the best times to visit North India (such as Delhi, Agra, and Varanasi) and southwestern Sri Lanka (Negombo, Kandy, Mirissa, and Galle).

From April to September, heat and monsoon rains dominate most of India and southwestern Sri Lanka. However, you could enjoy the best weather in India's far north — the foothills of the Himalayas and in Tamil Nadu (Amritsar, Shimla, Ladakh, and Chennai), as well as in northeastern Sri Lanka (Jaffna and Trincomalee).

How to Travel between and around India and Sri Lanka

Flying is the most convenient and time-saving way to travel between India and Sri Lanka (and large distances across India), with direct flights typically taking from 2 to 4 hours. Colombo acts as the primary air gateway for Sri Lanka, with flights departing from Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi, Chennai, and Bangalore in India. The further south you depart from India, the shorter time and less money you spend on the flight.

In both countries, private road transfers are highly recommended for city tours and heading to remote areas without the hassles of navigation. With challenging road conditions, you'd better prepare for longer drives than in your home country over the same distances.

If you'd like to experience a train ride on your trip, you could experience better and faster trains in India, while Sri Lanka offers the most scenic train rides between Galle and Colombo (with sea views) or between Nuwara Eliya and Ella (hill scenery with tea plantations). For a luxurious experience, you could try the 7-day Maharajas' Express trip from Delhi to Mumbai .

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A local's guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka

Photo taken in Colombo Sri Lanka

Annika Fernando is a major force in Sri Lanka’s creative scene: In addition to her own interior design practice, she’s the owner and curator of the concept store PR ; director of her family’s Paradise Road group of boutiques, restaurants, and hotels; and the designer of the fashion label Maus.

This interview is part of The World Made Local , a global collaboration between the seven international editions of Condé Nast Traveller in which 100 people in 100 countries tell us why their home turf should be your next destination.

How would you describe Colombo?

Sri Lanka is a unique country. It really is paradise, and Colombo is a small, exciting city – it has become more beautiful through the years and is incredibly green. We have great food, warm hospitality, unique shopping, and that Sri Lankan smile: Our people are naturally warm and incredibly hospitable. Anyone who has been here knows the island gets into your veins. Beaches, culture, wildlife, tea country, architecture, design, food… There’s always more to see, and it’s infectious.

If a friend was visiting Colombo and had just 24 hours there, what would you tell them to do?

Sri Lankan breakfast can't be missed: from kiri bath to pol roti, and everything with a side of pol sambol. If you can’t get it at home, go to Sugar Bistro for the best Sri Lankan breakfast. If you want something casual and to catch the city people, go to Café Kumbuk , Seed Café , or Black Cat . The Gallery Café is a Colombo institution with a little bit of architectural history and an opportunity to experience Sri Lankan art. I love Barefoot Garden Café on Sundays for long lunches, jazz, and the alfresco vibe. For drinks, Tintagel’s The Red Bar is intimate and special and has live music. I also really like the newbie Table by Taru , which has a lovely rooftop and bar area.

Annika Fernando

Annika Fernando

What should people go see beyond the usual tourist sites?

I always tell friends to visit the National Museum, especially if they haven’t had an opportunity to go to the Cultural Triangle. It gives you a good introduction to our architectural and engineering history. Watch the sunset from the Chequerboard at the Galle Face Hotel and go kite-flying at Galle Face Green – or better still, charter a yacht from the Port City Marina and see Colombo from the sea.

What should we buy and where should we shop?

First, the predictable Sri Lankan spices and Ceylon cinnamon are no-brainers. Ceylon tea is another big one, and while you may gravitate to big labels, also check out some of the smaller organic labels and their infusions, too. If you are here on a weekend, check out the Good Market , where you’ll find most of our organic labels, home bakers, and small produce options.

Sri Lanka has a strong architectural and design sensibility, and you know you have to shop at Paradise Road and Barefoot for gifts! For local fashion, there’s PR and our representation of local design, along with The Design Collective and Urban Island . Collectively, these stores encompass the entire local fashion-design scene. 

colombo sri lanka travel guide

City Bus Tour of Colombo, Sri Lanka

I t was our first day in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and my family and I spent about half of it in bed recovering from immense jet lag. Around noon, we finally dragged ourselves out of our beds at Mount Lavinia Hotel. Although we were all quite tired, we had to get up and get ready for our first day in Sri Lanka and our bus tour of Colombo.

Mount Lavinia Hotel

Our first order of business was to transition over to our official hotel room. We were temporarily stationed in a different room the night we got there, but that morning, our official room was ready. It had a queen bed and a balcony with a wonderful view of the coast. Mount Lavinia hotel is about 215 years old, but it has great views and a beautiful beach.

When we hurried off to lunch by the hotel pool, we were able to see a train running along the oceanside. The outdoor seating gave us an incredible view off the cliffside to the beach and the buildings of Colombo.

Buffet & Menu Options

At lunch, we ate from the buffet that mainly consisted of curry and rice, which are staple foods in Sri Lanka. This was only our first day in Sri Lanka, but we quickly learned that buffet-style restaurants are quite popular throughout the country. Fortunately, there was also a menu with more traditional Western foods. As we grew more comfortable and informed about the food throughout the trip, I ate a lot more from the buffet. I found some foods that I really enjoyed, although I couldn’t necessarily name them.

I also noticed early on that there’s a good amount of vegetarian and vegan options available at most buffets and hotels in Sri Lanka.

My main concern with food was my peanut allergy. With such an unclear idea of what was in the food, and a hard time communicating with some of the locals, I was a bit worried that I’d end up eating peanuts. The language spoken in Sri Lanka is Sinhala or Sinhalese, not Hindu as in India. Although not far from India, their customs and language are different or adapted in different ways. I had expected my allergy to be a problem on occasion, but it honestly wasn’t a problem at all in Sri Lanka. Rather than peanuts, cashews are much more commonly used in Sri Lanka, and they have a preference for canola oil.

Colombo Bus Tour

After a quick lunch, it was time to head out on a bus tour of Sri Lanka’s capital city, Colombo.  The streets were very busy and crowded in the city. I don’t think you could go more than a few moments without hearing a car horn or whistle. Like some other parts of Asia, there are lots of tuk-tuks to taxi people around.

In Sri Lanka, they drive on the left side of the road, but when it comes down to it, most drivers don’t seem to care too much for space between vehicles or driving into opposing traffic lanes.  I would definitely not recommend renting a car and driving around the country by yourself. The roads can get pretty chaotic, but the local drivers know what they’re doing.

On the tour bus, my family and I sat on the top deck. The sun was bright, and the temperature was nearly 90 degrees. It was definitely some of the most humidity I’ve ever experienced, but my hair still survived. On the top deck of the bus, the wind kept us from totally overheating, and we had a great overhead view of the active streets.

We saw more and more people as we approached some of the key buildings within the city, the old Parliament building, the foreign affairs facility, and many others. Eventually, my family and I couldn’t take the heat anymore and moved to the lower deck of the bus. Luckily, they provided water, juice, and a snack. On Main Street, there were more people than ever, and we got to drive past the Red Mosque. As we continued our tour around the city, the sun began to set. The sun turned a vibrant shade of red and sunk beneath the ocean on the horizon.

Dinner at Mount Lavinia Hotel

When we arrived back at the Mount Lavinia Hotel, we made use of the remaining rays of sunlight and went down to the gorgeous beach. The beach at Mount Lavinia Hotel is large and spacious. We walked across the sands, and I dipped my feet in the Indian Ocean for the first time in my life.

That night, we ate dinner by the pool. A wonderful little cover band was performing at the poolside, and we enjoyed dinner and desserts, mainly off the menu. At this point in the trip we honestly still didn’t know what we were doing in terms of local food. After getting a plateful of sweets from the buffet, we tiredly returned to our hotel room. The time change was still killing us, so it wasn’t hard for us to fall dead asleep once we got in bed.

Of course, we couldn’t get in bed just yet, well, not all of us. As aforementioned, our hotel room had a lovely queen size bed. That was nice for my mother and me. Unfortunately for my brother, we had to wait for the hotel staff to deliver a rollaway bed. For whatever reason, it took an incredible amount of time to be delivered. It was quite painful to keep ourselves awake at that point, so next time I’d call for a rollaway sooner. Much sooner.

Other than a few hiccups, general tiredness, and confusion, our first day in Sri Lanka went fantastically. I really enjoyed the warm weather and getting to tour Colombo. That night I went to bed with lots of excitement for the upcoming week in Sri Lanka. In the following days, we had incredible experiences and learned a lot, all of which will be detailed on my blog soon!

If you’re interested in other fun things to do in Sri Lanka, you can check out this  bucket list .

10 Places To Visit In Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

7 Things To Do In Sigiriya Sri Lanka

Get Travel Insurance

Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that can go wrong on any trip. Be prepared for the worst with travel insurance. We use Travelex or Safety Wing (often cheaper).

Book Flights

I use Skyscanner to find flights. I use it so much, I wrote an entire guide to finding cheap flights with Skyscanner ! My second favorite site to find flights is Momondo , another great site for finding cheap flights.

Book a Place to Stay

I recommend using Expedia.com or Hotels.com for most hotel bookings. I prefer to book directly with Marriott when I stay there because of their excellent military discount.

If you prefer staying in a vacation rental instead, I recommend VRBO .

Rent Clothes

Rent clothes for your trip with Travel Style Expert for only $50 a month!

Choose Activities and Tours

To find great activities in any area I use Get Your Guide and Viator . If we are visiting a city with lots of popular attractions I always check CityPass and GoCard to see if they have discount cards available.

When I want to book a full-on multi-day tour I use TourRadar . They’ve got fantastic weekly deals.

Rent a Car or Take a Lyft

More often than not Lyft is cheaper than Uber. Use my Lyft link for an $18 credit ! For a car rental in any country, I recommend Discover Cars .

It was our first day in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and my family and I spent about half of it in bed recovering from immense jet lag. Around noon, we finally dragged ourselves out of our beds at Mount Lavinia Hotel. Although we were all quite tired, we had to get up and get ready for our first day in Sri Lanka and our bus tour of Colombo. Mount Lavinia Hotel Our first order of business was to transition over to our official hotel room. We were temporarily stationed in a different room the night we got there, but that morning, […]

How Singapore chilli crab led to the birth of Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Crab, now opening at Dempsey

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Chef Dharshan Munidasa tells us why it has taken this long for him to open a ministerial crustacean embassy here in Singapore representing the abundant seafood of his country. Psst, now that he’s here, he’s also looking to open his Maldives steakhouse concept, Carne Diem Grill.

Chef Dharshan Munidasa's Ministry of Crab has outposts all over the world including, now, in Singapore. (Photos: Ministry of Crab)

This audio is generated by an AI tool.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

Sri Lanka’s world-famous Ministry of Crab is opening in Singapore on Jul 3 to a welcome carpet rolled out by seafood-loving foodies.

After a couple of sporadic pop-ups held here over the years, the crab-focused restaurant by global superstar chef and restaurateur Dharshan Munidasa, which already has outposts in Shanghai, Chengdu, Bangkok and the Maldives, has found a space at Dempsey Hill to make its own.

“Singapore made Sri Lankan crab famous for us. So, it was always our intention to come here,” Munidasa, 53, told CNA Lifestyle. “Coming here was always going to be a lot of fun. Scary, too. Singapore has the biggest consumption of mud crabs in the world, I think, per capita.

“But, we are not the same as the restaurants that you see in Singapore. We are not a Chinese restaurant; we are not a Sri Lankan restaurant, either. We are a Sri Lankan crab restaurant in Sri Lanka,” he said.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

Munidasa, the son of a Sri Lankan father and Japanese mother, showcases the produce of Sri Lanka using techniques that stem from Japanese culinary ideas and practices.  “Having a Japanese upbringing and Japanese blood in me, I think I look at it in a very different way, and the dishes we cook have certain philosophies, methods and techniques stemming from that. We are unique,” he said.

“And, also, the restaurant had its own amazing journey from being in Sri Lanka to becoming a world renowned Asia's 50 Best restaurant, and I think I'm proud to be the only crab restaurant that got on that list.” (His other restaurant, Nihonbashi in Sri Lanka, has also featured on the list, by the way. And, he has a steakhouse called Carne Diem Grill in the Maldives.)

Consistently pictured brandishing a crustacean in each hand, anything Munidasa doesn’t know about crabs is not worth knowing. On top of that, he even had the patience to show us the best way to break the crab legs apart. A minister of crabs, indeed.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

CRABS FLOWN IN EVERY OTHER DAY

Ministry of Crab, consecutively listed on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list from 2015 to 2022, takes its governance seriously. Because it is committed to serving the freshest seafood, the restaurant has a no-freezer policy. Working with its network of crab fishermen all around Sri Lanka, live, wild-caught crabs are flown in directly three times a week.

“That’s different from what other restaurants do,” Munidasa said, and, he added with full disclosure, “it will be a little bit more pricey because of that.”

But, with a dish like the Pure Crab, which must be ordered at least six hours in advance, the difference is immediately apparent in the firm, bouncy flesh and intense sweetness. Simply steamed and chilled, the crab doesn’t even need the accompanying condiments of melted butter, calamansi ponzu and a chilli vinegar inspired by chicken rice chilli. “Order male crabs for more claw meat, and female crabs for tender sweet meat,” the menu advises.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

Mud crabs served here range from the 500g “Half Kilo Crab” to the “Crabzilla”, which weighs in at over 2kg (prices start at S$75 for 500g); while giant freshwater prawns range from the 150g “Small Prawn” (S$25) to the over-500g “Prawnzilla” (S$50) – Sri Lanka is one of the few countries you will find prawns of this size.

Choose how you’d like your crab: Baked, steamed or cooked in Sri Lankan-style curry featuring moringa and pandan leaf. Flavour variations include Original Recipe Spicy Crab with Sri Lankan chillies; and Black Pepper Dashi Crab with Sri Lankan black pepper that has been hand-crushed on a traditional grinding stone.

But crab wok-fried with garlic chilli is the signature flavour, involving a rich medley of Italian olive oil, Japanese soy sauce and spice. Get the signature Kade Bread or garlic bread, resembling a slightly denser version of old-school, charcoal-grilled kopitiam bread, to mop up the last drops of tasty oil on your plate.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

DEMPSEY OR BUST

Occupying a space at Dempsey Hill that used to be a pilates studio, the vibe of Ministry of Crab’s flagship Colombo restaurant has been replicated here. Although he’s doubtless had opportunities, Munidasa did not want to open in Singapore until he’d found a building with a similar colonial feel – or “ministerial”, so to speak.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

“In Singapore, I think, location was something that was very difficult,” he told CNA Lifestyle. “We didn't want to be in a mall; we didn't want to be in a hotel. We always thought we should try to find a space in Dempsey. And, not many spaces open up here.”

colombo sri lanka travel guide

Why Dempsey? “The location has the same vibe” as the restaurant in Colombo’s historic Dutch Hospital complex, as well as the ceiling height that “we need for flowers”, he said, gesturing to the enormous vases filled with towering heliconias on each table. “These were flown in from Sri Lanka. We tried to find some here in Singapore but they were shorter. I mean, if Singapore has been buying our crabs and flying them over for the last almost 40 years, why can’t we bring the flowers?”

If he sounds a little salty, well, it’s the whole reason Ministry of Crab was born in the first place.

The story of how he opened the high-end crustacean restaurant, together with Sri Lankan cricket legends Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, in 2011 is a case study in how cultural exchange can shape food identity.

SRI LANKAN CRABS, SINGAPORE’S APPETITE  

colombo sri lanka travel guide

“My association with Singapore is long because I was born in Japan and we travelled to Sri Lanka, then after a while we switched, living in Sri Lanka and travelling to Japan,” Munidasa recalled. “Most of the time, as kids, (my siblings and I) were flying through Singapore. I remember I was about 12 and I had my first Chatterbox chicken rice. I used to fly through Singapore just to eat. Chicken rice, Hokkien mee, stingray and stuff like that. I always came here for the food.

“And then, I saw Sri Lankan crabs here, and how no one in Sri Lanka appreciated them because they were too expensive. That's how Ministry of Crab came about. We are the first restaurant to start using export-quality crab, or Singapore-bound crab, in Sri Lanka. I wanted to plate the best crabs of Sri Lanka (because) they should taste better when consumed in Sri Lanka.”

colombo sri lanka travel guide

The official story, recounted on the Ministry of Crab’s website, is that the idea came to him while filming an episode of the television show Culinary Journeys with Dharshan about how the Sri Lankan mud crab was sourced in Sri Lanka and exported to Singapore to be made into the famous Singapore Chilli Crab.

And so, the restaurant was conceived as “a culinary homecoming for this majestic crustacean, which had long been more renowned overseas than in Sri Lanka.”

One gets the sense that in addition to being a nod to the Singaporean taste for Sri Lankan crab, opening his restaurant in Singapore may also be a bit of sweet retaliation for Munidasa.

colombo sri lanka travel guide

Is he deliberately thumbing his nose at us by opening Ministry of Crab in an enclave that already houses both Jumbo and Long Beach, two of Singapore’s foremost chilli crab institutions? We’ll never know.

What we do know is that there are now more ways than ever to discover and enjoy the culinary experiences the beautiful Sri Lankan mud crab has to offer.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by CNA (@channelnewsasia)

And, we may soon see another restaurant by Munidasa, who plans to fly to Singapore every month.

“We've got a few more restaurants up our sleeves,” he divulged to us. And not just more Ministry of Crab outlets, either. “Now that we’ve opened one restaurant here, I want to bring my steak restaurant here, too.”

At Carne Diem Grill in the Maldives, said the computer engineering graduate, he’s developed a dry ager that can achieve the same flavours as traditionally dry-aged beef in a fraction of the time it usually takes. That’s exciting news, because we daresay we love our steak almost as much as we love our crab.

Ministry of Crab opens Jul 3 at 6 Dempsey Road.

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    This guide offers insider tips on the ideal trip duration, itinerary suggestions, best travel times, and more. ... Flying is the most convenient and time-saving way to travel between India and Sri Lanka (and large distances across India), with direct flights typically taking from 2 to 4 hours. Colombo acts as the primary air gateway for Sri ...

  25. read EPUB Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka Travel Guide: 101 Coolest ...

    Listen to this episode from My Blog » Zemenfes Girum Eleazar on Spotify. download EPub Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka Travel Guide: 101 Coolest Things to Do in Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka Travel, Sri Lanka Holidays, Colombo, Kandy, Galle) by 101 Coolest Things on Ipad Full Pages read ePub Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka Travel Guide: 101 Coolest Things to Do in Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka Travel, Sri Lanka Holidays, Colombo ...

  26. A local's guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka

    Sri Lanka is a unique country. It really is paradise, and Colombo is a small, exciting city - it has become more beautiful through the years and is incredibly green. We have great food, warm hospitality, unique shopping, and that Sri Lankan smile: Our people are naturally warm and incredibly hospitable. Anyone who has been here knows the ...

  27. City Bus Tour of Colombo, Sri Lanka

    Colombo Bus Tour. After a quick lunch, it was time to head out on a bus tour of Sri Lanka's capital city, Colombo. The streets were very busy and crowded in the city.

  28. Sri Lanka

    Sri Lanka, historically known as Ceylon and officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is an island country in South Asia.It lies in the Indian Ocean, southwest of the Bay of Bengal, separated from the Indian peninsula by the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait.It shares a maritime border with the Maldives in the southwest and India in the northwest.

  29. Sri Lanka's Ministry of Crab opens in Singapore at Dempsey

    Sri Lanka's world-famous Ministry of Crab is opening in Singapore on Jul 3 to a welcome carpet rolled out by seafood-loving foodies. After a couple of sporadic pop-ups held here over the years, the crab-focused restaurant by global superstar chef and restaurateur Dharshan Munidasa, which already has outposts in Shanghai, Chengdu, Bangkok and the Maldives, has found a space at Dempsey Hill to ...