Although most people visiting Srilanka happen to land in the capital city of Colombo, I realized not many people stop here to explore the city fully since some find Colombo to be crowded and noisy. The city, though small in comparison to Indian cities has enough interesting places to see for at least a couple of days. So when I went to Sri Lanka, I decided to spend at least three days in Colombo. The city has a historical heritage to many different British and Dutch colonial sites.
Some travellers just rush through the city and head straight to the beaches. And that’s ok if you’re a beach person. But if you linger around Colombo, you’ll find some historical places and British colonies amongst the Sri Lankan stupas. Here are my tips on how you can explore the city in three days.
The Sri Lanka tourism department has been trying hard to increase tourism which saw a dip since April last year.
#Travel Tip: Srilanka has now made visa-on-arrival completely free for most of the countries until April 2020.
I was extremely lucky to get a superb hotel room in Colombo with a stunning view. You could see the entire skyline of the city including the lotus tower, the Beira Lake and the Grand Hyatt along with the vast sea in the distance.
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Places To Visit In Colombo
The most convenient way to get around in Colombo is a tuk-tuk. But it is also awfully annoying. Since the tuk-tuk drivers keep trying to get you into jewellery or a tea shop from whom they get fuel coupons for bringing in new customers. It is very convenient for them since they get paid even if you don’t buy anything from these shops! So watch out for that. They are super persistent!
The Gangaramaya Temple is a Buddhist temple in Colombo which is run by monks. As I mentioned in my previous blog on culture in Srilanka, Buddhism is huge in Srilanka. And unsurprisingly there has to be a religious place in the capital city which is most significant. Gangaramaya temple happens to be that.
The temple consists of a library, a museum, and amazing gilded and bejewelled gifts that the devotees have presented. The temple is the centre of attraction in the month of February on the Navam Perahera, which is the full moon day, every year. Some of the most extraordinary Vesak celebrations in Colombo happen here. The temple is open from 5:30 am to 10:00 pm and you can donate Rs. 100 in the museum if you wish to. I was able to get a glimpse of the worship rituals and the temple procession in the evening.
#TravelTip: The temple also has a beautiful museum with quite a few antiques. If you’re really interested in knowing the history of relics, you should ask around for a guide.
Also read: Glimpses of SriLanka
Seema Malakaya temple
Beira Lake is only about a few hundred meters away from the temple. And it houses another small temple called Seema Malakaya. I actually mistook it for Gangaramaya. Although the temple itself is quite nice, it seemed that it is not kept very well-managed. The lake water seems to have become quite dirty.
The interiors of the temple are nice. There 2-3 separate structures around the temple and those are usually locked, so you will be able to enter only the main temple. If you’re visiting Gangaramaya temple and have time at hand then you can consider visiting this as well.
If you’re into museums, then this is a pretty good place. As far as museums go, I think this one has a beautiful location, great building and huge size. You can plan to spend even a good half-day around here. The galleries of the museum have arts, statuary and carvings back from 1877 that consist of several guns, swords and the ancient past of Sri Lanka. It also has the English paintings back from the 19th century along with unique demon masks.
The museum is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and the tickets for children and adult costs Rs. 300 and Rs. 600 respectively.
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The Viharamadevi Park was initially called as the Victoria Park but was renamed so in the 1950s. It is the largest park in Colombo that consist of blossoming trees that bloom in the months of March, April, and early days of May. You’ll find several ceremonies occurring here and elephants used in these are allowed to spend the nights in the park. It has playgrounds, beautiful landscapes and walkways so you have your peaceful time amongst the greenery. You’ll also find the oddly designed snake charmer here in the park.
I’m very fond of large parks and this one being right in the heart of the city and very well designed and super-huge is one of my favourite places in Colombo.
While you’re at the park, you might as well check out the While house of Colombo. As the name gives, it is inspired by the White House in the USA. It is a government building, so you can enter the main hall but not much further. I’m surprised they even let you enter the building at all! Nevertheless, a great piece of architecture to look at.
Independence Square is a huge memorial building built when Sri Lanka attained its freedom from the British in the year 1948. The memorial hall is now the centre of buzzy audience since the shopping mall, Arcade Independence Square is just south to the Square. There is no entry fee to visit the Memorial Hall. You should consider visiting the Shopping arcade nearby which is also a pretty nice property.
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The Old Dutch Hospital
I had heard a lot about this one. The place is called the Old Dutch Hospital because, well, it was an old Dutch Hospital building now converted into a commercial place. Since it was so much talked about, I was very eager to visit it. However, it was sort of a let-down. The building is nice but nothing very exciting. It was mostly empty with only one shop and a couple of eatery places. The Shop is also written about a lot (I don’t recall the name) but it is mostly a souvenir shop targeted at western travellers.
However, it is most famous for a place called “Ministry of Crab”. If you like eating crabs, then it is worth a visit just for this place.
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Jami Ul Alfar Mosque
We didn’t visit this one as we zoomed past it in the Pettah market. But this has been a recommendation from many people. The building undoubtedly is beautiful, even to view from outside. And I would have liked to visit it from inside if we had more time at hand.
I personally love exploring in crowded, bustling markets. No matter if I buy anything or not, roaming aimlessly itself is so much fun. Pettah is just that kind of market. You’ll find all the things you can expect from a market like this including local spices, hundreds of varieties of Ceylon tea and many local handicrafts.
#TravelTip: It is better to visit here in the morning or evening, considering that the climate of Colombo is already super humid.
Sambodhi Chaitya Temple
It is a temple in the Fort Colombo district with a unique design. It has a large stupa built on huge arches. It gives you a nice view of the seashore and the port after walking quite a lot of stairs. It is on the way to the Fort area so it is easier to plan your visit. The inner view of the temple is also interesting with beautiful paintings and sculptures.
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Mt Lavinia Beach
This one isn’t strictly in Colombo but a short ride away from Colombo but this is worth mentioning because in my opinion, this is the only nice beach closest to Colombo. You can take a morning train to reach here. You’d also have to face a much lesser crowd in the morning.
So those were my top 10 picks for some places to see in Colombo. There are a lot of fun things to do in Colombo as well. I’ll probably write a separate blog on that.
I’ve written quite a bit about SriLanka and there is still a lot more that I plan to write. If you are interested in reading more about my experiences in SriLanka, please enter your email below to get all my latest posts.