The Sri Lankan capital boasts seductive beaches and tropical safaris, as well as superb food and an exciting nightlife in addition to its wealth of historic landmarks. In short, Colombo has just about everything anyone could need for the ideal holiday. It’s simply a matter of knowing where to start.
Where better to begin your immersion in Sri Lankan culture than its history? Colombo’s magnificent National Museum gets better year after year, with a jaw-dropping collection of artifacts spanning from ancient times to its more recent colonial history. Its collection of traditional demon masks is just one highlight and the museum’s well-manicured grounds are perfect for resting your tired feet in the shade afterwards.
Among the most impressive of Colombo’s extraordinary temples, you’ll find the vast Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, the multicultural Gangaramaya Temple, and the mind-boggling embellishments of the Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil Temple. There’s also the red-and-white patterned Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, which makes a good case for being the world’s most unique. While for colonial architecture there are few finer examples than the Dutch Period Museum (former residence of the Dutch governor), the Dutch Hospital and St. Anthony’s Church.
Sri Lankan cuisine is often overlooked abroad in favour of Indian, so why not treat your tastebuds to something new while you’re here. The Good Market at the Colombo Racecourse on Saturdays is a mouthwatering experience for foodies, as is scenic seafood hotspot Beach Wadiya and the authentically simple Yaal Restaurant.
People and Traditions
Colombo is a place where many cultures and religions have always converged. It’s in the people’s nature to be tolerant, but more than that, you can expect them to be very friendly and hospitable. They place tremendous value on their relationships, so don’t be surprised to make a friend for life.
One of the country’s major religious events is Vesak Poya, which takes place in May. This celebration of the Buddha’s life takes place across the whole island, but Colombo’s parties around Gangaramaya Temple and South Beira Lake are by far the most spectacular.
Colombo experiences intermittent monsoons from May to August and October to January. The temperature, however, varies little throughout the year, with daily lows averaging in the low twenties (ºC) and highs rarely exceeding the low thirties.
Viharamahadevi Park is a favourite outdoor spot among locals, with resplendent monuments and fountains, well-thought-out walking paths, and lush greenery providing plenty of shade for hot days. Independence Square – the grounds of the Independence Museum – is also beautiful. For something a little different, try Galle Face Green, located adjacent to Galle Face Beach, bringing you food vendors, street performers and a lively crowd of revelers creating a celebratory atmosphere.
Colombo also has many unique places to shop, like the classy Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct and Arcade Independence Square, a mall in a tastefully converted former lunatic asylum. And don’t forget to pop into Laksala – a state-run gift shop selling quality souvenirs from skilled artisans around the country.
There’s a very good chance you’ll recognise the Seema Malakaya Meditation Centre even if you haven’t heard of it. Four small pavilions jut out on wooden piers from a tiny island in South Beira Lake, forming a picturesque place for rest and meditation amid bronze Buddhas and bodhi trees. You can also visit the former house of its late architect, Geoffrey Bawa, and discover how he brought his love of traditional Sri Lankan styles to his iconic postmodern designs.
One of Sri Lanka’s main attractions is its natural treasures and ancient monuments. There are many great tour options taking you from Colombo out into the country’s breathtaking rural areas. Adam’s Peak is a breathtaking mountain with a shrine to the “Sacred Footprint” of the Buddha at its summit. Then there’s the Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve, the ancient rock fort at Sigiriya, and the bird-watcher’s paradise at the Muthurajawela Wetlands. There are plenty of safaris and water tours to choose from too, but if you’re not able to step out into nature, simply enjoy the Dehiwala Zoo instead.