The exotic smells of spices may remind you of the holidays, but it reminds me of Colombo, Sri Lanka! Colombo is an ancient city and a modern and vibrant metropolis at the same time. The weather is mostly perfect from December to May with the port’s prime location on the Indian Ocean. Colombo is full of bright colours, exotic smells and warm smiles!
Colombo is no small affair; the city is home to over 5.6 million people and is a cosmopolitan area continually evolving. The city was known for its spice trade to the ancient Greeks more than 2000 years ago and was even visited by the famous Arab explorer, Ibn Battuta who called it “Kalanpu”.
The seafront is im-port-ant to Colombo!
Here’s a Pro Tip: The currency used is the Sri Lankan rupee. About 250 Sri Lankan rupee is equal to one British Pound, though the rate regularly fluctuates.
Bandaranaike International Airport (Colombo International Airport to the likes of you and me), is Sri Lanka’s main airport, located just 20 miles north of the capital. From the airport, you can access the city by taxi or bus. When you exit arrivals, expect to find a huddle of eager taxi drivers offering you their services. If you’d prefer not to be approached, it’s best to have pre-booked a hotel car and simply make them aware of this when they approach. If you haven’t booked a car, make your way to the Airport Taxi Service desk in the arrivals lobby and book your ride upon arrival.
You can always find a warm and welcoming smile!
Here’s Another Pro Tip: The English language is well-spoken across the country, but particularly so in the capital. That being said, I always like to use a few basic Sinhalese phrases, including ‘Ayubowan’ (hello), ‘Bohoma Istuti’ (thank you) and ‘Karunakara’ (please).
Like the more visited Bangkok and Bali, Colombo offers incredible cultural treasures. Colombo has 13 districts, each packed with hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path sites. To help organise your time in the capital, I’ve listed some of my favourite places:
Is statue, Buddha?!
- The National Museum – Built in 1876 by the British governor of Sri Lanka, the National Museum is the largest museum in the country and beautifully depicts the region’s ancient history. The collection here is beautiful and underrated!
- Beira Lake – This green-coloured lake sits in the heart of Colombo and is home to a spectacular Muslim shrine. If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a paddleboat from the shore and enjoy a morning floating on the water.
- Gangaramaya Temple – This Buddhist temple complex is a traditional place of worship and home to more Buddhist statues than you could ever possibly imagine. Inside you’ll find a labyrinth of rooms including a library, museum, and a hall of gifts.
- Galle Face Green – This scenic waterfront area is a great people-watching spot. It’s here that local families gather for picnics and kite flying occurs in the warm breezes.
- R. Premadasa International Cricket Stadium – Cricket is a religion in Colombo! Enjoy the excitement of the crowd while watching some of the very best players in the world.
So quiet when empty, you’ll hear only crickets!
Colombo’s restaurant scene has always been a lively one with the tradition of spice trading. Below I’ve listed my three favourite places to eat in the capital, all of which will take you on a gastronomy journey to remember:
- Chutney’s – As one of the most sophisticated local restaurants in all of Sri Lanka, Chutney’s is a treat for your taste buds. The menu features a diverse range of dishes, inspired by all four states of southern India as well as Sri Lanka.
Curry favour with curry flavour!
- Curry Leaf: Curry Leaf, which sits inside the Hilton Hotel Colombo, is Sri Lanka’s most exclusive restaurant. Instead of an a-la-carte menu, guests tuck into a buffet spread made up of succulent seafood dishes, rich spicy curries, and more.
- Nihonbashi – This elegant Japanese restaurant serves simple cuisine cooked to perfection. Dishes at Nihonbashi are works of art, and the restaurant itself resembles a Japanese zen garden!
When the sun dips behind the Indian Ocean, it’s time to find yourself a place to enjoy the evening. From classy cocktail bars to tequila party bars, here are my favourite Colombo establishments:
- Zara Bar: Part of the Casa Colombo Hotel, Zara Bar is a funky hangout serving exotic drinks and exotic cocktails. I particularly liked this bar’s outdoor terrace and cosy seating area.
- Berlin Sky Lounge: For the best views of the city, head to the 7th floor of The Golblock and take a seat at the Berlin Sky Lounge. This bar oozes sophistication, and a classy night out is guaranteed.
- Margarita Blue: Sip cocktails to the sound of live music while overlooking the Indian Ocean at Margarita Blue. The bar is part of the Galadari Hotel and is a lively little hangout spot if you enjoy dancing!
Many of Colombo’s hotels are quite new and travellers now have the choice between upscale boutiques, affordable hotels, and luxury accommodation. Here are my favourites:
- Residence by Uga Escapes: Stay in a Colonial-style mansion just a five-minute walk from some of Colombo’s best restaurants! Lounge by the beautiful pool in the warm afternoons soaking up the healing sun.
- Shangri-La Hotel: The Shangri-La is a lovely luxury hotel boasting stylish and spacious rooms; some of which overlook the Indian Ocean. The hotel is just a stone’s throw from Galle Face Green which makes it an ideal base for exploring central Colombo on foot.
- Havelock Place Bungalow: Travelers on a budget should consider a night or two at the Havelock Place Bungalow. This boutique guesthouse isn’t just affordable, it’s also a tranquil oasis in the heart of the city.
Colombo is a colourful and exotic escape from the ordinary. I am sure you’ll love this beautiful city as much as I do!