Colombo, a colourful city hugging the Indian Ocean is the heartbeat of Sri Lanka.An ancient trade route ruled in turn by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British, it is a vibrant city where beautiful colonial buildings mix with sprawling shopping malls, office towers and the mid-20th Century bungalows and leafy gardens of the central residential districts. Referred to locally by their Post Codes, it is these characterful central areas that most first-time visitors discover (Colombo 1,2,3 & 7 especially).
Colombo Fort is the central business district from where you can easily access all the areas of interest in the city–the battlements have long since gone or been incorporated in to newer buildings but there you will find the neo-classical old Parliament building, and the Victorian President’s house.
PettahPettah , Colombo’s biggest market and trade centre is the best place to get initiated into the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s where Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslims come together to sells their wares and fresh produce. It’s total chaos and a lot of fun! Around its crowded streets, there are beautiful places of worship, symbolic of Sri Lanka’s multi- religious heritage: graceful Buddhist temples stand close to lavish Hindu temples along with mosques with their minarets and antique Christian churches.
Galle Face Green
When you need to cool off, a stroll along Galle Face Green is restorative: a ribbon of lawn that unfurls along the ocean on one side, and the business district on the other, where locals come to relax and fly kites. At dusk, the promenade comes alive with evening joggers, canoodling couples, families and friends meeting to take in the sea air and the myriad snacks of street food vendors.
Shopping, Dining and Art
Just north of Galle Face Green, the Old Dutch Hospital is now one of the buzziest places in town: a one-stop shop for clothes, gifts, chic dining, spa healings and laid-back cocktail lounges. There are several dining options, both home-grown favourites and well-known international names. Sri Lankans have a very sweet tooth, as well as a penchant for savoury “pastries” (a legacy of the Portuguese colonizers!). Pepperd among the old mansions, bungalows and retail spaces of Colombo, you will find cake shops and pastry shops aplenty for a quick lunch on-the-go.
If you are a die-hard shopper, there are many sought after local brands specialising in everything from fashion to lifestyle and homewares. You can support local artists by visiting the kala pola (art market) at Green Path, Colombo 7. If you miss it, there are many other wonderful galleries dotted around the city exhibiting many of Sri Lanka’s top artists. Sri Lanka has embraced the small boutique hotel concept with open arms and you will find a quiet and exceptional oasis at Taru Villas – Lake Lodge, which overlooks Beira lake, Colombo 3.
Colombo is often recommended as a first and/or last stop on a Sri Lankan travel itinerary to “book-end” your holiday and infuse a taste of urban Asia to your experience.