Colombo, the bustling capital of Sri Lanka, is a city where colonial architecture meets modern urban vibes, set against the backdrop of the Indian Ocean. For those pondering things to do in Colombo, exploring the historic Fort area with its grand colonial buildings, and taking a leisurely stroll along the Galle Face Green, a popular promenade with street food stalls and stunning ocean views, are top activities.
The city’s Gangaramaya Temple, an eclectic mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture, serves as a center of worship and a museum, showcasing a vast collection of Buddhist artifacts. Nearby, the National Museum of Colombo delves into the country’s rich history, displaying everything from ancient regalia to colonial memorabilia.
Beyond its historical and cultural landmarks, Colombo is renowned for its vibrant street food scene, offering an array of local delicacies from kottu roti to hoppers. For those seeking the best places to visit in Sri Lanka, Colombo’s blend of old-world charm, culinary delights, and urban energy makes it a captivating destination.
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Attractions & Things to Do in Colombo, Sri Lanka
1. Gangaramaya Temple
Gangaramaya Temple is not just a place of worship but a compound with a museum, library, and education center, exuding a fusion of architectural styles that incorporate Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese elements. Its intricate brass work and stone carvings are a testament to Sri Lankan craftsmanship.
Travel Tip: Remember to dress conservatively, covering legs and shoulders, and to remove shoes before entering the temple complex.
2. Galle Face Green
Galle Face Green is a long, open space facing the sea in the heart of Colombo, popular with locals and tourists alike for strolling, flying kites, and enjoying street food, especially during the evenings and weekends.
Travel Tip: Try the isso wade (shrimp fritters), a local delicacy, from one of the many street food vendors here.
3. National Museum of Colombo
The National Museum, the largest in Sri Lanka, is housed in a colonial building and contains important Sri Lankan artifacts, including regalia of the country’s past monarchs and ancient manuscripts.
Travel Tip: Set aside a few hours to thoroughly explore the museum, and consider hiring a guide to gain deeper insights into Sri Lanka’s rich history.
4. Viharamahadevi Park
Previously known as Victoria Park, Viharamahadevi Park is the largest and oldest park in the heart of Colombo, adorned with beautiful flower beds, fountains, and a golden Buddha statue.
Travel Tip: Visit during the spring months when the park’s numerous trees are in full bloom, adding to the serene beauty of the environment.
5. Beira Lake
Beira Lake offers a tranquil escape in the city with its temple, the Seema Malaka, designed by the renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. The temple sits on the lake and is used for meditation and rest rather than worship.
Travel Tip: Take a boat ride at sunset for picturesque views of the city skyline reflecting on the water.
6. Pettah Market
Pettah Market is a bustling and colorful outdoor bazaar where you can find everything from fabrics to electronics. It’s a labyrinth of streets, each one specializing in different types of goods.
Travel Tip: Go early to avoid the crowds and heat, and be prepared to haggle to get the best prices.
7. Old Dutch Hospital
This historic building has been beautifully restored and now hosts a selection of shops, restaurants, and cafes. It’s a perfect blend of Colombo’s past and present.
Travel Tip: The courtyard is a great place to unwind after a day of sightseeing, with often live music or cultural performances in the evenings.
8. Independence Memorial Hall
The Independence Memorial Hall is a stone building set in a tranquil park and was built to commemorate the independence of Sri Lanka from British rule. It houses a museum dedicated to the independence movement.
Travel Tip: The hall and the surrounding park are a popular spot for joggers and those looking to relax, making it a pleasant location for an early morning or evening visit.
9. Colombo Lotus Tower
The Colombo Lotus Tower, standing at 350 meters, is the tallest self-supported structure in South Asia and symbolizes the growth and development of Sri Lanka. It provides panoramic views of the city and the coastline.
Travel Tip: Visit the tower at night when it’s illuminated with colorful lights, which makes for a spectacular sight and excellent photo opportunities.
10. Mount Lavinia Beach
Mount Lavinia Beach is a famed beach near Colombo known for its golden sands and the colonial charm of the nearby Mount Lavinia Hotel. It’s a favored spot for swimming, sunbathing, and enjoying fresh seafood.
Travel Tip: The beach is most enjoyable during weekdays when it’s less crowded, and always be mindful of the strong currents when swimming.
11. Wolvendaal Church
Wolvendaal Church is one of the oldest Protestant churches still in use in Sri Lanka and an embodiment of the Dutch colonial heritage. Its floor is paved with tombstones from Dutch cemeteries, and the walls are adorned with Dutch Governors’ ornate tombstones.
Travel Tip: Check the opening times before you visit, as they can vary, and consider joining a guided tour to learn about the rich history of the place.
12. Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara
A Buddhist temple located about 11 km from Colombo, Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara is believed to be a site visited by Buddha himself. It’s famous for its beautiful paintings and sculptures depicting various events in the life of Buddha.
Travel Tip: Try to visit on Poya Day, a Buddhist day of observance that corresponds with the full moon, to see the temple at its most lively and colorful.
13. The Floating Market
The Floating Market in Pettah is set on a man-made lake and offers a variety of local goods, from fruits and vegetables to clothes and electronics, all sold on boats and waterfront stalls.
Travel Tip: It’s a picturesque spot for an evening stroll, and don’t miss trying some local street food from the vendors here.
14. Dutch Period Museum
The Dutch Period Museum, housed in a restored colonial building that dates back to the late 17th century, showcases artifacts, furniture, and records from the Dutch colonial era in Sri Lanka.
Travel Tip: The museum is small but packed with information, so it’s a good idea to allow at least an hour or two to absorb the history.
15. Diyatha Uyana
This park is located along the banks of the Diyawanna Oya in Battaramulla, near the Parliament of Sri Lanka. Diyatha Uyana is known for its lush greenery, waterfront promenade, and the weekly fair where local artisans sell their crafts.
Travel Tip: The best time to visit is in the evening when the weather is cooler and the park is lively with local families and visitors.
16. Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque
Also known as the Red Mosque, Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque is an architectural landmark in Colombo with its striking red and white patterned brickwork and Moorish design.
Travel Tip: Non-Muslim visitors are generally welcome outside of prayer times, but it’s important to check in advance and dress modestly out of respect for religious practices.
FAQ About Things to Do in Colombo, Sri Lanka
What are the must-visit places in Colombo?
Colombo’s must-visit places include the Gangaramaya Temple, Galle Face Green, the National Museum, and the bustling streets of Pettah Market.
Can I explore Colombo’s history and culture?
Yes, you can explore Colombo’s rich history and culture by visiting landmarks like the Independence Memorial Hall, the Old Parliament Building, and by taking a walk through the historic Fort area.
Is there any place to enjoy nature in Colombo?
Indeed, Viharamahadevi Park offers a green escape with its beautiful gardens, walking paths, and a large Buddha statue. It is the largest park in the city and perfect for picnics and leisurely walks.
What are the best shopping spots in Colombo?
For shopping, you can visit Odel, Arcade Independence Square, and Colombo City Centre for high-end shopping or Pettah Market and Liberty Plaza for local goods and souvenirs.
Are there beaches in or near Colombo?
While Colombo has coastal areas like Galle Face Green, for swimming and sunbathing, it’s better to visit nearby beaches such as Mount Lavinia, which is a short drive from the city center.
Can I experience local cuisine in Colombo?
Absolutely! Colombo is known for its diverse culinary scene. You should try local dishes at street food stalls, beachfront eateries, and fine-dining restaurants specializing in Sri Lankan cuisine.
What are some good day trips from Colombo?
Popular day trips from Colombo include the city of Galle with its Dutch fort, the beach town of Bentota, and the elephant orphanage at Pinnawala.
Are there any wildlife tours available from Colombo?
Yes, you can arrange wildlife tours to nearby national parks like Udawalawe or Yala, where you can see elephants, leopards, and a variety of bird species in their natural habitat.