Upon landing in Colombo ready to embark upon one month travels in Sri Lanka, we decided to spend two days in the capital. Fellow travellers reported that there wasn’t much to do in the city and that we should move on quickly, but we were glad that we took the time at the beginning of our trip to explore the capital city and get a feel for Sri Lanka in general.
Things to do in Colombo:
Eat at Galle Face Green – Try delicious and Sri Lankan food at the street stalls by the ocean at Galle Face. Kotthu, a firm Sri Lankan favourite is a must – it’s a roti, chopped up into tiny pieces and then fried with vegetables, spices and any meat / fish of your choice. The noisy way it is prepared is fun and interesting to watch. As children fly kites on the green and couples stroll up and down the sea front, your dining experience at Galle Face is a great introduction to Sri Lankan life.
Explore Pettah – Pettah is one of Colombo’s oldest and most multi-cultural neighbourhood, with small streets, quirky market stalls and shops selling everything and anything. It can be an exhausting area to walk around as you dodge tuk tuks, motorbikes and lorries unloading goods into the shops, but a great insight into the working day.
Pettah Mosques – You can’t possibly miss the impressive Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque with it’s enormous red and white striped walls and minarets. It’s a real jaw-dropper.
Old Dutch Hospital – Dating back to 1680, this is the oldest building in Fort, Colombo. It has recently been converted into a shopping precinct and heritage building. Good place to get your air-con fix.
Visit the beach – If you’re looking to get some peace and quiet, head to Dehiwala and Mount Lavinia for some beach time. Grab some lunch at one of the seaside cafes and take a stroll along the sands watching the fisherman going about their daily business. Unfortunately, some areas are severely affected by litter and pollution – we wouldn’t recommend swimming in the sea here. You can see the signs at Galle Face Green that say ‘Dangerous – Poisonous Species in the Water’ – so we wouldn’t risk it just a bit further down!
Colombo National Museum & Viharamahadevi Park – If you’re interested in learning more about Sri Lanka’s history, the colonial period and beyond, the Colombo National Museum located in the Colombo’s biggest park, Viharamahadevi Park, is a good place to start.
Detox – It’s hard to get drunk in Colombo, in fact in all of Sri Lanka, alcohol is not easy to come across and you’ll find yourself drinking in expensive hotels or creeping down dodgy side streets to ‘Wine and Liquor Stores’ if you fancy a drink. So, take a break from the party scene of South East Asia and give your liver a rest whilst in Sri Lanka!
Check out this video by our friend Mark from Migrationology for more things to do in Colombo – and what to eat!
What to eat in Colombo:
- Kotthu Roti – Sri Lanka’s most popular street food dish, chopped up roti, fried with vegetables and spices. Very filling!
- Devilled – Meaning ‘cook with hot seasoning’, this dish is Sri Lanka’s spiciest! Made with fish, chicken, or vegetarian.
- Hoppers – Originally eaten for breakfast, hoppers are the Sri Lankan pancake, made with coconut water. Add a fried egg in the middle to make it an egg hopper!
- String hoppers – Pancakes made from steamed rice noodles, served with coconut sambol and other curried sauces.
- Woodapple – Try not to let the smell put you off and give this exotic fruit a try! It looks like a mouldy coconut and smells a bit like fermented sick, but you never know, you just might like it!
- Orange coconuts – Nature’s best! A delicious and hydrating drink in the hot Sri Lankan sun, the orange King Coconut is the popular choice in Sri Lanka.
Where to stay:
Dehiwala – If you’re looking to stay away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the nearby suburb of Dehiwala is a good option. Located right next to the coast, the sea breeze will cool you in Colombo’s scorching heat and there are decent local restaurants all over the place along the enormous Galle Road.
Where to go next?
- Kandy – Just two and a half hours on a wonderful train journey, you’ll find yourself in Kandy, the capital of Sri Lanka’s beautiful hill country. Head to Colombo-Fort to get yourself a train ticket for around 300 rupee for 2nd class (perfectly decent) or 500 rupee for 1st class observation. The Man in Seat 61 is a great website for train travel in Sri Lanka.
- The Beachy South – Head to the paradisiacal beaches of your desktop screen saver. You can buy tickets at Fort-Colombo train station.
- Negombo – Head north along the coconut palm fringed Panumugama to explore the north-western Sri Lankan coast.