As Sri Lanka’s largest city and commercial capital, Colombo offers a fascinating blend of culture, history, and urban energy. Situated on the west coast, this cosmopolitan city is a great starting point for exploring the country.
As a local, I’ve seen Colombo transform over the years into a diverse hub with art galleries, museums, temples, beaches, and exciting dining and nightlife. Here are some of my favorite things to see and do in Colombo and tips to help you make the most of your visit.
1. Explore the City Center
Start your Colombo experience in the historic Fort district, the heart of the city. Wander past colonial-era buildings like the old Parliament and the President’s House, now open to visitors as the Presidential Secretariat.
Don’t miss the bustling Pettah Market to see the dizzying array of fresh produce, spices, fabrics, and local wares. Nearby Sea Street is packed with traders selling fruits, vegetables, and Sri Lankan street food.
For retail therapy, visit upscale Cinnamon Gardens. Independence Square has beautiful historic buildings, and Viharamahadevi Park is a green oasis in the city.
2. Discover Colombo’s Religious Sites
As a multi-faith city, Colombo has many significant religious sites. The stunning Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque in Pettah features striking red-and-white candy-stripedconcrete minarets.
The elaborately painted and decorated Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam temple is the oldest Hindu Kovil in Colombo.
Gangaramaya Temple mixes Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture and has a museum showcasing gifts presented to the temple.
Colombo Cathedral and St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade are beautiful examples of Baroque-style churches with impressive colonnaded exteriors.
3. Relax at Galle Face Green
For sweeping ocean views, head to Galle Face Green, a popular seaside urban park and promenade. Join local families flying kites, play a pickup game of cricket, or watch the colorful sunset. The iconic Galle Face Hotel overlooks the park.
Sample hoppers and other local snacks from street food carts along the promenade. Or try the tasty seafood at Ministry of Crab, located at Old dutch hospital.
4. Explore Colombo’s Museums
The excellent National Museum has a huge collection of antiquities ranging from prehistoric artifacts to colonial-era weaponry.
The Dutch Period Museum provides insight into Sri Lanka’s Dutch colonial history, and Independence Memorial Hall documents the country’s independence movement.
For an overview of indigenous art, see the Lionel Wendt Art Gallery & Theatre. The beautiful old Mount Lavinia Hotel houses a private collector’s trove of colonial landscape paintings and curios.
5. Discover Colombo After Dark
Experience Colombo’s lively nightlife at venues like the iconic Cricket Club Cafe, known for its classic Long Island Iced Teas. Order a thambili (fresh king coconut) while listening to live music at the colonial-style Colombo Club.
Dance the night away at EDM hot spots like Trace Expert City and Kaema Sutra, or relax with a drink at a rooftop bar like Cloud Cafe. Stop by Foodies Pub for late-night Sri Lankan street food favorites like kottu roti.
6. Relax at the Beaches
Take a tuk tuk south of the city center to Mount Lavinia beach, a laidback suburb known for its palmlined stretch of golden sand. Here you can swim, sunbathe or enjoy seafood at hotels like Mount Lavinia Hotel.
7. Shop for Souvenirs
Bring home unique mementos from Colombo’s shops and markets. For exquisite jewelry, visit Paradise Road and Odel. The creations at Swanky Barefoot are 100% handmade in Sri Lanka.
The elegant Laksala showcases traditional handicrafts like masks, batik fabrics, wood carvings, and more. For cheap, colorful saris and local goods, bargain at Pettah Market.
7. What and Where to Eat
Colombo dining options abound, from street food to high end. Sample Sri Lankan cuisine like hoppers (bowl-shaped pancakes), kottu roti (chopped roti stir fried with vegetables) and curry dishes.
For the definitive rice and curry experience, try Amangalla’s Sri Lankan lunchtime buffet. Ministry of Crab is famed for giant lagoon crabs. Sample inventive Asian fusion at Nihonbashi Honten.
Don’t miss Indian-influenced fare at restaurants like Royal Watertank and Upali’s by Nawaloka. Stylish steakhouse the Grill Room serves premium imported meats.
8. Getting to Colombo
Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport is located about 20 miles north of the city. Pre-arrange an airport taxi with a company like Kangaroo Cabs for the 30-45 minute drive into town.
Colombo has two main train stations, with regular services to destinations around the island. The central bus station offers coaches to locations like Kandy, Galle, and Nuwara Eliya.
9. Getting Around
Colombo traffic can be challenging, so rely on tuk tuks, taxis like PickMe, and ride shares like Uber for getting around. The metro rail project aims to ease congestion when completed.
Or take the local bus for a true Sri Lankan experience. The free CMC bus from Fort station does a loop around major city sites.
10. Where to Stay
Choose from international brands like the Hilton and Sheraton, located right on the beachfront. The Cinnamon Grand offers five-star luxury near Viharamahadevi Park. Heritage boutique hotels like Paradise Road Tintagel Colombo provide a unique retro vibe. The arty Colombo City Hotel has sleek, modern rooms in a restored colonial building.
Plan your visit during one of Colombo’s lively festivals, like the Vesak lantern festival or the Navam Perahera with vibrant cultural parades. However you spend your time here, Colombo will give you a taste of Sri Lanka’s incredible diversity.
want to know other must-visit places in Sri Lanka? click here.