Colombo is Sri Lanka’s largest city as well as its capital. While beaches tend to be the real draw for a holiday in Sri Lanka, if you take a break from sunning and relaxing on the beach and head into the capital, you’ll be able to see a lot more of the Sri Lankan culture. There’s a mix of modern buildings and ancient temples, high-fashion shopping malls and pretty parks, and much more. Come explore Colombo no matter how short your time in Sri Lanka is. Once you get past the sprawling city layout and crowded city centres, you’ll find that the city grows on you, and the longer you stay, the more you’ll love Colombo.
Top Things to Do
Visit the National Museum
As you walk into The National Museum, you’ll be welcomed by a giant stone Buddha at the entrance. Once inside the museum that was created back in 1877, you’ll come face to face with all sorts of art from Sri Lanka’s ancient history. In addition to statues, there are over 4,000 ancient palm-leaf manuscripts, a collection of swords, guns and paraphernalia from their colonial period, and even a royal throne, belonging to King Wimaladharma in 1693. Get lost in their history and come out of the National Museum with a stronger understanding of the country’s roots.
Glide through Murthurajawela Marsh
Just north of the Colombo is the Muthurajawela Marsh, which translates to “Supreme Field of Pearls”. This wetland is best explored on a flat-bottom boat, where you will glide through lagoons full of mangroves, butterflies and birds. The natural diversity of the wetlands is incredible; they are home to purple herons, cormorants, kingfishers, crocodiles, monkeys and even otters! Despite its importance to the ecological environment, the marsh is currently being threatened by approaching industrial development. If you make it to Murthurajawela Marsh, be sure to stop by their Visitor Centre where you can learn more about the marsh’s flora and fauna that you can see during your boat trip.
Enjoy the Galle Face Green & Green Path Art Gallery
No stay in Colombo would be complete without a walk along Galle Face Green. This promenade stretches half a kilometre along the Indian Ocean and is located in the heart of Colombo’s financial and business district. The green space is a magnet for kite flyers, picnickers, food vendors and teenagers at sunset. On weekend evenings, the land is crowded by day trippers, picnickers and food vendors, as well as the Green Path Art Gallery.
Located right next to the National Art Gallery, this mobile art gallery is home to an enjoyable impromptu open-air art show every weekend. This is when local students and other part-time painters come together in the area and hang their canvases from the railings along the side of the road. All artworks on display are for sale, often for very affordable prices.
During the European era Fort was indeed a fort, surrounded by the sea on two sides and a moat on the landward sides. Today it’s an interesting combination of starkly modern buildings, such as the World Trade Centre, and classically designed red-brick buildings from the Colonial-era, such as Cargills and Millers. There is a heavy security presence in Fort and as such it can be difficult to drive through the area, and in some areas, even pedestrian access is restricted. Try visiting the clock tower at the junction of Chatham St and Janadhipathi Mawatha (once Queen St), which was originally a lighthouse.
- Women in particular need to take care and pay special attention at night. Even couples should be very cautious about walking along lonely stretches of beach, like those near Mt Lavinia, after dark.
- Watch out for pickpockets when travelling on public transport. Never get on a bus or train with your shoulder bag unzipped – in fact, don’t even walk down the road with it in that state.
- If you are carrying valuables such as a passport, traveller’s cheques or reasonably large amounts of cash, keep them out of sight and out of reach in a money belt or a pouch under your clothes.
While the monuments in Colombo are limited, the atmosphere and personality of the city are not limited in the slightest. Come to Sri Lanka’s capital for an entangled mix of modernity and rustic charm—all evidence of the overflowing mix of nationalities and religions that have come together to create a bustling and buzzing modern city. If you buy travel insurance from Cover-More, you won’t have to worry about lost luggage or damaged goods and you can focus on getting lost in the chaos and falling in love with Colombo, instead.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Patty Ho.