We arrived at Colombo International Airport in the middle of the nigh, after a three hour plane trip from Bangkok. We had booked a cheap hotel in Colombo 6 (Col 6) – Wellawatta, which turned out to be really bad! It was just beside the train tracks, and we could hear EVERYTHING – the trains, people, dogs and whatever else making noise outside and inside the hotel!
Needless to say we did not get much sleep that first night. But since we only had one and half day to explore the Sri Lankan capital, we just had to get up early in the morning, put on our sandals, hail a tuk-tuk on the street, and head into downtown Colombo!
The first day we just wandered around the streets of Colombo, with no particular purpose. The second day we did some tuk-tuk sightseeing around the city, and took the express train down to Galle in the afternoon.
Here are our top 10 cool things to do in Colombo:
1. National Museum
The beautiful building that houses the National Museum, was built in 1876 and founded by the British governor of Sri Lanka at the time. It is the largest museum in Sri Lanka. Surrounding this amazing building is a lovely and peaceful courtyard.
Inside the museum are statues and exhibits telling the story of ancient Sri Lanka. The museum also displays items own by the former royal family of Sri Lanka, like the kings golden throne and crown.
2. Beautiful colonial buildings
All around downtown Colombo there are huge monumental buildings dating back to the Dutch and British era of Sri Lanka.
3. Independence Memorial Hall
Sri Lanka got its independence from Britain in 1948, and this huge stone building surrounded by a peaceful garden is a monument to that. In front of it is a statue of Sri Lankas first president, “The Father of the Nation”.
Today this hall is used for religious events and the annual national day celebration. For us the place was a nice escape from the noise and crowds of Colombos streets, as there was hardly anyone there.
4. Gangaramaya Temple
The Buddhist temple Gangaramaya consists of several buildings, and is a bustling temple complex filled with an enormous amount of things. Some of which are frankly pretty strange and a little scary. It includes for instance a library, a museum and a display hall of gifts received from devotees and well-wishers over the years. The temple has a LOT of buddhas, in stone, white plastic and gold. I don`t think I have ever seen so many buddhas in one place!
All the gifts from devotees are on display all around the temple, including a lot of things made of ivory!
In one corner there is even a sad-looking elephant, actually a stuffed real elephant! Not as nice as the real ones out in the wild! Very weird!
5. Beira Lake
Close to the Gangaramaya Temple, in the heart of Colombo, is a huge lake – Beira Lake. In the middle of the lake is a small island containing the Simamalaka Shrine, which was built from donations made of a Muslim sponsor. The lake connects with other lakes through narrow canals and ends up in the Indian sea.
In the colonial era the lake and its canals were used for transporting goods within the city, and it still has its Portugese name Beira.
A really nice and peaceful place to sit and have a sightseeing break, with a crazy green colored water! We were tempted to go with one of the duck paddle boats that were for rent, but we backed out. 🙂
6. Old Dutch Hospital
After all this sightseeing and wandering the busy and crowded streets of Colombo, it was nice to have lunch at the Old Dutch Hospital.
This is considered one of the oldest buildings in the Colombo Fort area, dating back to the Dutch colonial era (ca. 1681).
Today it houses nice restaurants and cafes, and cool shops. We had the lunch special – Chicken Biryani with Watalappan for dessert, delicious!
7. Wandering the streets of Pettah
It is a real adventure full of sound, smells and people watching just to walk around the streets of Colombo. We went to the old quarter Pettah, and plunged into the madness of shops, stalls and markets! Fun and exciting!
It can eventually become a bit overwhelming, so my advise is to plan for breaks in between to get your head straight from all the chaos.
8. Street ice cream
When the heat is about to knock you out, it is refreshing with a cold ice cream from one of the ice cream vans cycling all over Colombo. Yummi!!
9. Tuk-tuk ride
It is pretty tiring walking around Colombo in the heat, and the tuk-tuks are EVERYWHERE and real easy to find! They are the main transportation for both locals and tourists, and they are also a lot of fun.
Wherever you walk in Colombo, tuk-tuks will stop by you and the driver will ask you if you want a lift, not one time but like ALL the time! And if you don`t answer (yeah, it is possible to get a bit fed up with this), they will ask you again just louder.
We ended up taking tuk-tuk most places we went in Colombo. Riding a tuk-tuk is great fun, especially after dark!
10. Galle Face Green
Galle Face Green is a long stretch of green lawn next to the narrow beach and sea promenade in Colombo. Originally it was cleared by the Dutch to give the canons clear sight, but today it is a nice and peaceful place perfect for walking, running, playing football, kite flying and cricket.
The promenade is packed with couples and families taking a stroll in the afternoons, especially Sundays. It is a great place to watch the sunset.
Along the promenade there are also a lot of food vendors, selling great street food at a cheap price! Some of the places even have tables on the pavement. We had indian food at one of those places, really delicious!
We had a nice one and a half day in Colombo, but the city just never really won us over. If you want to see it, I think one or two days is enough time.
Where to stay in Colombo
The hotel we had booked on our first trip to Colombo turned out to be absolutely terrible! So determined not to make the same mistake twice, we asked other travelers we met around Sri Lanka for their hotel recommendations, and we did a lot of research before coming back to Colombo.
We stayed at this newly opened mid-range hotel in February 2017 and loved it! First of all the location is absolutely perfect, it’s right behind the old Dutch hospital with its restaurants and shops. It’s a great place from which to start exploring Colombo. The rooms are new, clean, and modern with very comfortable beds, flat screen tv, safe and air con. The staff was very helpful both when we arrived in the middle of the night and in helping us arrange transportation to our next destination.
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Cinnamon Red Colombo
The Cinnamon Red hotel offers excellent value for the money. This modern hotel is centrally located close to Galle Face Green. The hotels standout feature is its large rooftop pool and bar. Perfect for relaxing after a day sightseeing around Colombo. Rooms are large, comfortable and come with free wifi. Breakfast is good. Be aware that there is no room service.
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Paradise Road Tintagel Colombo
A unique ten suite boutique hotel housed in a beautiful heritage mansion from 1930. The Paradise Road Tintagel hotel sits on a quiet lane in an up-market area of town. The cities attractions and plenty of food choices are within walking distance or alternatively a short 5 min taxi ride away. The suites are beautifully decorated and come with all modern amenities. There is a pool, a small gym and a restaurant that serves an opulent breakfast. Among their former distinguished guest are the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.
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We used the Lonely Planet`s Sri Lanka travel guide on our trip, which we love. You can get that and other great books by clicking on the pictures below:
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Would you like to see the capital Colombo, or would you skip it and head right to the beach? Which of these 10 things would you like to see? We´d love to hear your answer to these questions in the comment area below! If you like this blog post and find it useful, please share and like it on social media! Thank you so much! 🙂