When I visited Sri Lanka this year, I made sure to spend a night in Colombo – an option I learnt many travellers do not consider taking. True, there isn’t enough to satiate an adventurous traveller’s appetite but the city is packed with architectural history and is a great first look at how splendidly the country has risen after almost 30 years of war and destruction. It also gives you insight into the working man and woman’s way of life in the country.
Honestly, I was quite proud to see that the streets were packed with more women than men running off to work. Uncle Upali did admit that the men in Sri Lanka are quite lazy. Lol.
Coming from India, and from a city that has a terrible reputation for its numerous potholes, I was pleased to see how well-laid out and maintained the roads in Colombo are. I learnt that, unlike here in India, the maintenance of public places and infrastructure is outsourced by the Sri Lankan government to private companies.
The drive from Colombo airport to the main city takes about an hour, without traffic. We took an early morning flight from Bangalore (1 and a half hour journey) and so when we landed at 5 in the morning, the road from the airport to our accommodation was clear as crystal.
We booked a room in an apartment on Airbnb simply because it was very affordable and offered a view of the sea. I could literally hear the waves roaring all day long and little else in life sounds as soothing. Since we were spending only one night in Colombo, we didn’t choose a place that included breakfast or any other meals so we could eat out as much as possible.
Here’s the link to the accommodation we booked.
If you’re not hiring a car and driver, which is what we did, catch a tuk tuk to take you around the city – just so you can see other important buildings, cover more ground faster and get a feel of the city. Unless it’s not too hot to walk, then all you need is a map.
Remember to negotiate with the tuk-tuk drivers before you get in. We found that the minimum was LKR 50 to 100. If you had a different experience, do let me know in the comments.
You can also look for tuk-tuks with meters and ask them if they’ll charge you according to it, though these are harder to find. Once we asked a traffic cop to help catch a tuk-tuk and that was quite helpful since he made sure to catch a metered one.
If you’d like to book a car and driver just in Colombo or for your entire trip in Sri Lanka, you can get in touch with Uncle Upali here.
The Buddhist temple is one of the most important landmarks in the city. It houses hundreds of artifacts, giant statues of Buddha and prayer rooms. Then there are vintage cars, a stuffed elephant and a stuffed elephant head. I remember reading somewhere that the stuffed elephant was once alive. I’m not sure if this is true and to be honest, I’d like to believe it’s not.
Remember to wear attire that covers your shoulders and knees or you will be asked to wear a sarong provided by the temple.
Entry fee: LKR 300
A small Buddhist shrine is located in the middle of the lake. This should be your next stop after the temple as it’s really close by and you need the same ticket to enter. There isn’t much to see but the lake is a beautiful sight and worth spending a few minutes at. You can also ride the swan shaped boats in the lake, if that’s your kind of thing.
A monumental landmark outside which is the statue of the first prime minister of Sri Lanka. The visit will take you less than 15 minutes tops and from here you can head over to your next destination.
I didn’t spend any time at the park because it was too hot and walking through a park didn’t really appeal to me. If the weather is favourable during your visit, you could consider taking a stroll in the park, which by the way is gigantic.
Galle Face Green
The promenade along the sea is a nice long stretch to take a walk along, especially when the sun goes down. By late evening, it’s lined with street food vendors and other hawkers – reminded me of Chennai beaches.
Also, make sure to check out prominent landmark buildings like the town hall and parliament building.
Sri Lanka is known for cotton textiles and crockery, and Colombo is a great place to get some shopping done. If you’re going to be alone (read: no one’s going to nag you to shop fast) you can leisurely spend a good two-three hours spending your hard earned money.
If you want the equivalent of hitting the mall in Colombo, you’ll want to visit Odel. This shopping complex is a tourist favourite so it’s fitting that locals might consider shopping here overpriced. I think it’s still worth a look at, at least to window shop. There are a couple of outlets in the city and with a food court inside, you can resort to the mall for some souvenir shopping and respite from the Sri Lankan sun.
This is the relatively cheaper shopping spot, and I quite loved it. You’ll find branded apparel at discounted rates but at great quality. Okay, I’m done sounding like an advert.
A department store that’s really popular among the locals but I found the collection of clothes quite mediocre. However, I did pick up a very nice sarong here for just LKR 600. The men and women in Sri Lanka wear a wraparound sarong similar to south Indian lungi or mundu. You can ask the sales people to show you how to tie one.
Dankotwa and Noritake
You can find fine quality crockery in Sri Lanka and both Dankotwa and Noritake are well-known stores to shop from. Dankotwa is run by the government, so be sure to check their timings and open days beforehand.
A quaint boutique that sells home décor items and apparel. It’s on the expensive side and reminds me of Fabindia here. They also have a café at the back.
The food in Sri Lanka is almost the same as the south Indian. Sri Lankans love their rice, seafood, hoppers (what we call aapams), string hoppers (and what we call idiyappams), dhal curries and parathas (think Kerala not Amritsar).
They prefer red rice, the food is spicy – if you have low tolerance, then really spicy – and they eat curries even for breakfast. There are plenty of operations for vegetarians too. May I say, that the fruits and vegetables in Sri Lanka are so fresh and delicious. I absolutely loved the food in Sri Lanka.
For the most part during my stay in Sri Lanka, I visited local joints based on either Uncle Upali’s recommendation or convenience or both. My advice to you is to do the same as much as you can. Food is often served in a buffet and includes at least one meat and fish preparation. Wherever you go, don’t think twice to dig into the awesomeness that is Sri Lankan food. Try the King coconut water here. The coconuts are not green but orange-ish and the water is super sweet! Perfect for the heat.
When in Colombo and if you don’t mind indulging a little, you can consider these restaurants:
Ministry of Crab
Owned by two Sri Lankan cricketers, the Ministry of Crab is famous for their fresh crabs and other seafood. While you’ll be wearing a bib and eating with your hands, the bill will remind you that this is a fine-dining restaurant that needs a reservation at least a week in advance. The sight of tourists and business people will confirm this too. Arguably, the food is worth it and finger-licking, literally.
The outdoor café at the back of the store was a nice retreat after a long day of sightseeing in Colombo. I recommend the Banoffee pie and lemongrass juice.
Elephant House Hot Dogs
My ex-colleague is a Sri Lankan and she recommended visiting the food court in Odel, where you can find the local brand of hot dogs called Elephant House. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to try this. But I’m passing on the recommendation anyway.