I took a flight from Chennai and landed at the Colombo airport. Well, Colombo was as hot as Chennai. It is the largest city in Sri Lanka that has lot of places to go. Here are few things to do to if you have few days there.
1. Go on a Colombo City Tour
City tours are a great way to discover a city. If you have days to spare in Colombo, you could use a day to explore Colombo through the Colombo City Tour. They have buses with observation decks that takes take tourists during day and night tours on nicely designed packaged tour.
2. Take the city bus
Colombo has a nice bus network that you can use to travel to any corner of Colombo. Most buses originate and terminate in the bus station at Pettah. The Pettah bus station is a city bus station in the morning, and at night buses to elsewhere in Sri Lanka originate from here.
I got a bus to Jaffna here. There is another bus station that is run by the government from where buses to outside Colombo start and terminate.
3. Ride in a rickshaw
This is an expensive option for foreigners, but if you’d like to tour the city of Colombo using a rickshaw, the drivers more than welcome you and your money. They have local and tourist pricing.
4. Hangout at Beira Lake
Beira lake is in the heart of Colombo. There is an island in the middle of the lake with gazebo, it is connected by a bridge. There are benches in the park, often occupied by young people who make out here. Other than this, it is a peaceful sight, a lake with trees.
There is the Simamalaka temple in the lake. A walkway takes you to the temple. The temple has statues of the Buddha, Lord Ganesh, and Goddess Kali. Surrounding the lake are lot of commercial establishments.
Like the lakes inside cities, even this famous lake is getting polluted. I heard that over the years the lake got smaller. But, good news. There is a restoration project for the lake. This lake connects the Indian Ocean at Galle Face.
At one point in its history it connected the harbour to transport tea. The lake is connected to the Indian Ocean at Galle Face. If duck paddle boating is your thing, there are some on the lake which once was home to the Colombo Rowing Club.
5. Visit the Gangaramaya temple
A ten-minute walk from the Beira Lake is the venerable Gangaramaya temple. The Gangaramaya temple complex consists of several buildings that houses a museum, the sanctum, a library, and a Buddhist learning centre.
There are a lot of ancient artefacts, stone carvings, and statues of the Buddha. Read more here.
6. Learn the Sri Lankan history at the National Museum of Colombo
From the Gangaramaya temple, walk for 15 to 20 minutes and you will reach the National Museum of Colombo. It is in a beautiful building that was founded by the then Governor of Sri Lanka, Sir William Henry.
It was built in 1876 and houses some of the oldest artefacts of Sri Lanka dating back for 4 BC to 6 BC. There are royal swords used by the royals of Sri Lanka, and relics from Buddhist Sri Lanka. The highlight is the golden throne and crown as well.
There are old items from India, China, Maldives, Southeast Asia as well. The courtyard has a café run by Barista, and a gift shop. There is also a Natural History Museum where most dead animals are redone using taxidermy.
9 AM to 5 PM, closed on Fridays and on Sri Lankan national holidays.
LKR 600 for SAARC citizens (good for Natural History and the National Museum)
7. Visit Viharamahadevi Park, Colombo’s green space
Previously known as Victoria Park, set up by the British, Viharamahadevi Park is famous for being one of the few green spaces in Colombo. The entrance to here is free, and there are lots of street food that is inexpensive, spicy, and nice. There is also a small park for children.
The pathways are nice, well maintained, and there are lot of trees. There is also a public library in the premises. Next to the library is the War World I memorial built to pay tribute for Sri Lankan and European soldiers who died in the war.
8. Learn about Sri Lanka’s Independence struggle at the Independence Memorial Hall
The Independence Memorial Hall is opposite to the Independence Square. It exhibits statues and busts of all the people who fought for Sri Lankan independence from European and British rule.
Open until 6 PM, and is free for all.
9. See the remnants of the Dutch legacy in Sri Lanka
From the Cinnamon Gardens head to the Pettah area. Colombo has a Dutch influence and there is a Dutch Museum to showcase it. It was once the residence of the Dutch Governor.
When I got there the museum was closed, but the tuk tuk driver knocked on the door. The security guard opened the museum for me.
95 Prince Street, Pettah. Colombo
9 AM to 5 PM, closed during the holidays.
10. Buy Everything and Anything at the Pettah Market
The Pettah market is the best market to be at in Colombo, and certainly the most chaotic because there is a bus station near it. There is a door that people use to get between the bus station and the market. There are fruits, vegetables, and stuff you can eat. It is also a nice place to take some pictures.
11. Visit the Oldest Protestant Church in Colombo
Christian Reformed Church in the Pettah area is the oldest Protestant church in Colombo. The Dutch colonists built the church in 1757. It is in the Wolfendhal lane means ‘den of wolves’. This old structure has impressive old furniture that you will love to see.
12. Visit the historic Red Mosque
The Red Mosque is a huge red and white building in the Pettah area. It was a small mosque, now being expanded to take more than 5000 footfalls. It is also called Jamiul Alfar Masjid.
13. Shop at the Dutch hospital
If you want to eat food that is contemporary, I recommend you come to the Old Dutch Hospital in the Colombo Fort area, which is a business district. It is a nice place for a beer also.
It was a hospital during the Dutch times, but an upscale shopping area now. The World Trade towers is opposite the Dutch Hospital.
14. People watch at the Galle Face Green
Galle Face Green is Colombo’s most popular landmark. It is a promenade where families throng to during the evenings. The beach is lined with shops. Shrimp vade is a must eat. There is ice cream and street food Sri Lanka style.
There is a giant Sri Lankan flag that flies proudly. People fly kites in the evening that goes as high as the Sri Lankan flag. The Indian Embassy is at the end of the Galle Face.
15. Visit the historical Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara
This temple is on the banks of the Kelani River. It is about ten kilometres from the city centre and it is one of the sacred temples in Sri Lanka because the Buddha was here.
As you approach the temple there is the unmistakable white stupa and there is the Bodhi tree. Evening is the nicest time of the day to visit this place.
16. Leave the chaos of the city and go to the beach
On the way to Galle and far away from the Pettah is the Mount Lavinia Beach. It is a nice place to hangout. You could also hangout at the suburb of Dehiwala-Mount lavinia. You could read about it here.
17. Watch kids play cricket
Sri Lanka is a cricket crazy nation. During a national holiday kids in Colombo play on the streets. Indian kids like to play cricket anywhere they want, but Sri Lankan kids want to play cricket at the beach. If you would like to catch the big league, visit the Premadasa stadium.
18. Join cooking classes
Lot of locals in Colombo teach Sri Lankan food in their home. If you like to learn Sri Lankan food then there are lot of cooking schools looking forward to your admission.
19. Enjoy the nightlife
Colombo has a great night life. The best way to explore is to walk, or else take a night city tour. Make friends and hang out with them over a beer.
20. Check out street art
Colombo has lot of art museums. Besides the museums, there are lot of street art as well. I saw couple of artists selling their art near the National Museum. Perhaps it exhibits all year long.
21. Shop till you…, you know what
Tea, spices, handmade goods are some of the items to shop in Colombo. Head out to Barefoot, or Laksala. Laksala is my favourite. They have a huge showroom full of Sri Lankan style clothing, furniture, masks and much more.
22. Eat all you can
One major reason I travel is to try the local food. Sri Lankan food needs another post to talk about. Crab curry, flavored rice, coconut sambol. All this for LKR 600.
23. Pick a cause and volunteer
There are lot of volunteering opportunities in Colombo. I have seen volunteers take part in cleaning drives. Some of them come to work as doctors. There are turtle conservation places people volunteer at.
I was researching about volunteering opportunities in Sri Lanka, and the above mentioned volunteering opportunities showed up. While I was checking out the Yamu website which is a Sri Lanka guide.
I got introduced to Rishani who is the founder of ‘The Soup Bowl‘. She along with her friends run the very young organization. Every Friday they provide lunch to the poor. They have people volunteer with them.
I could not participate in one of their Friday food sessions, blame it on my travel schedule. They accept financial contribution to run ‘The Soup Bowl’. I tried to contribute financially.
However, I found that it is easy to send money to Europe from India than send money within Asia. There are ways you can help ‘The Soup Bowl’.
- Spread the word, and tell people what an amazing job they have been doing.
- Encourage them to open a online account so that they can accept donations from outside Sri Lanka.
- You can help them by volunteering with them, help them serve food to people who come to their Friday food session.