Colombo: A Quick Travel Guide to an Urban Jungle in Sri Lanka
January 1, 1970
by Ruwi Herath
Greetings and welcome to Sri Lanka. The commercial capital of the paradise island is Colombo. If you are in the city for a short stay or a long vacation, in and around Colombo is a must. A holiday in Sri Lanka is incomplete without a tour amongst the skyscrapers, the sights of colonial architecture, the blend of a cultural diversity and many more. I’ll be taking you through the best places in Colombo – top things to do, recommended eateries, sights and landmarks, whilst sharing tips and tricks to get through this concrete jungle.
Travel in Colombo
Before anything, sorting your travel arrangements is important! Tuk-tuks and public transport are the best way to travel around the city. Whilst they are not the most convenient, they offer a real Sri Lankan experience.
Tuk-tuks are just a hailing hand away and you can always stop a tuk-tuk on the road. It’s highly advisable to get a tuk-tuk with a meter so that the driver won’t hike up the rate at the drop location. When in Colombo, for safer travels and tracking, PickMe is a great travel companion. Install the app for free and you can go around the city without a hassle for economical rates. (This is similar to Grab (Malaysia) and Uber (USA)).
Buses are the common means of getting around and the cheapest. However, caution in advance, if you want to be at a place at 10.00 am, leave at least an hour or so early because time is one thing Sri Lankans don’t do on time. Not only that, the buses are often crowded so getting hold of a bus in the first place is a challenge. But, when you start the journey you’ll enjoy the experience from the old folks in political chats, loud Sri Lankan music, food and toy vendors, and also the ridiculously decorated interiors from Buddha statues, multi- colour LED lights to TVs.
A great way to travel across the country, unless for the experience, trains aren’t really useful to get around in the city. However, for the real train ride, visit one of the famous railway platforms in Colombo for a scenic delight – cross rivers, enjoy the sunsets, the beach and the urban sprawl. So, for your next holiday in Sri Lanka, don’t forget to jump on the train to see a quick glance through the city.
Best Places to Stay in Colombo
When in Colombo, there are plenty of places for accommodation, with boutique hotels, and B&B hostels springing up like mushrooms. If you are a solo traveler, a backpacker or travelling with friends and family, here are the top 3 places to stay:
- Moss B&B: Secluded in the heart of Colombo, you’ll never find it if you never look for it. Decorated with minimalistic interiors, the cacti spread, and cement floors will grab your attention first. The rooms are spacious, air-conditioned with hot water showers, and Wi-Fi connectivity. Request in advance for breakfast and they’ll prepare a superb meal to start your day.
- Drift B&B: A similar concept to Mosh Colombo, again it’s a difficult place to spot until you really discover it. The psychedelic paintings, cacti pots of all colours and sizes and the old service lift are something you’ll never miss at first sight. Just in case you are travelling with a bunch of friends, there are hostel rooms and bunk beds to share.
- Black Cat: An old mansion turned a café and a B&B hostel; it is run by a couple. The ambience is to die for – old Singer sewing machines as tables,
vintage books, a well-thought out menu – not too much with numerous options, but healthy.
Best Places to See in Colombo
Visit to Pettah Market
One of the largest flea markets in Sri Lanka, Pettah market is loud, crowded, donned with numerous street merchants selling all sort of knick-knacks, curious and novelties. A place to bargain, you are always in for a treat if you want to do shopping for the whole family. You name it, you have it from scarves, sunglasses, sarees, hats, electrical items, gold, stationery, watches, toys, footwear, to many more. Highly recommended to visit the place early (around 9.30 am when shops open) to avoid the traffic, heat, crowds, hawkers and carts. Get around the place by foot as the streets are narrow and wear comfy cotton cloths to beat the heat.
As you may know or not know, Sri Lanka was once ruled by the Dutch, Portuguese, and the British. Hence, witness a blend of all the colonial architecture amidst the hustle and bustle. Some of the famous buildings to catch a glance are Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct, Galle Face Hotel, Red Mosque, National Museum, Old Parliament, Nelum Pokuna, Old General Post Office, Cargills & Millers Building and Colombo Lighthouse.
This is one of the best places in Colombo to enjoy an evening stroll. A lush green lawn stretched along the Indian Ocean is a beautiful place to catch stunning sunsets. Renowned for the mouthwatering isso-vade (fried prawn dumpling kind of snack), it’s usually served with chopped onions or dab of lime juice sprinkled. Towards the late afternoons, and the winds are good – you can join the rest for kite surfing otherwise play a good game of cricket or football. If you are a little superstitious, get one of those colourful saree draped women to read your palm to see what’s in store for you.
Vihara Maha Devi Park
A park featuring a massive Buddha statue, water fountains, beautifully manicured lawns, walking tracks, cycling lanes and an open-air stadium. Being one of the oldest and largest parks in the heart of Colombo, it was formerly known as Victoria Park, named after Queen Victoria. The open-air stadium attracts the young crowds for theatrical dramas, concerts whilst the park itself is an attraction during the weekends for street food festivals. When in Colombo, don’t miss a chance to catch a concert at the open-air theatre for some good old traditional folklore.
An iconic landmark in the city, the Independence Memorial Hall was built as a commemoration of Independence from the British rule in 1948. The famous venue among couples for photoshoots, it has become a favourite spot among joggers in the early mornings and late evenings. A part historical monument and a part public park, right next door is the Independence Arcade, a luxury shopping store showcasing both local and international designer brands, infamous Burger King, Dilmah Tea Lounge, Wax Museum spa salon and a 3D cinema.
Colombo in a Nutshell
The best places in Colombo will make you fall in love with this urban jungle instantaneously. A holiday in Sri Lanka guarantees to mesmerize you with the sights and sounds, iconic landmarks, architecture, food and the people. A blend of both traditional and a western touch, our islanders will definitely melt your heart so don’t’ forget to take your camera. Colombo is a place where you meet people from all walks of life – always with a smile and everyone has a story to share.