The Best Places To Visit And Things To Do In Colombo, Sri Lanka

Being the country’s capital, Colombo serves as a perfect cosmopolitan escape amid island life in Sri Lanka. Offering a wholesome blend of tropical weather and modern cityscape, it creates an unforgettable experience, combining traditional heritage and a contemporary lifestyle that the island nation has been steadily embracing.

Whether you desire to experience the Sri Lankan landscape or learn about its history spanning the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial times, Colombo unravels it all for you poetically. Additionally, there’s a lot to explore in this part of Sri Lanka’s western province that’ll make your holiday a memory to cherish.

For instance, if you wish to tap into your spiritual side, the city has countless sacred places, such as Gangaramaya Temple, Red Mosque and Wolvendaal Church, to visit. If a happening nightlife is on your itinerary, Colombo has various nightclubs, including Rhythm and Blues, Bally’s Casino and The Floor by O! to help you let loose and dance the night away.

For shopaholics, the place is brimming with shopping centres and complexes such as the Colombo City Centre, One Galle Face mall and Pettah Floating Market that leave them spoilt for choices.

How to plan a Colombo trip?

Planning a trip to any new destination requires adequate research in advance — be it in terms of flights, accommodation bookings and visa requirements or the places to visit. For your trip to Colombo, decide on the season you’d be visiting, finalise the dates and book your flight tickets.

Start planning your itinerary while considering the mode of transportation you’d be using, the cuisines you’d like to try and the activities and things you’d want to indulge in. While booking hotels, try choosing properties that make travelling to different tourist spots convenient in terms of time and distance.

Colombo weather and the best time to visit

December to February makes for the best time to visit since the weather is usually sunny and pleasant to even indulge in outdoor activities.

The months between April and October are for monsoons with June to September being the wettest months. Tourist footfall during this season is relatively low. The months of March and April are hot and dry, making outdoor excursions and exploring the city difficult and uncomfortable. However, you may be able to snag good deals on flights and hotel bookings.

How to reach Colombo

Taking a flight to the Bandaranaike International Airport (Colombo Airport) situated in Katunayake is one of the best ways to reach the city. The airport is connected to almost all major flights and is an hour’s drive from Colombo.

While the city is also connected with the Katunayake Railway Station and daily scheduled trains run to and fro between the two destinations, you can also reach the city by public buses and taxis available from the Bandaranaike International Airport.

Best places to visit in Colombo

Gangaramaya Temple

Buddha statues at the Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka (Image Credit: Jahzan Ahamed/Unsplash)

Gangaramaya Temple is one of the most prominent tourist spots to visit in Colombo. Built in the 19th century, this Buddhist temple combines Thai, Chinese and Indian architecture and design — the intricacy of which leaves everyone in awe of its beauty.

Situated near Beira Lake, it is as much a museum, educating people about Buddhism as much as it is a place of worship. The temple houses plenty of murals, statues, relics and other ancient items like jewellery, antique pieces and coins that tell the tale of the bygone era. The temple premises feature many halls and buildings such as the Vihara (main temple), Cetiya (a pagoda), Vihara Mandiraya, Bodhi Tree and relic chamber.

Location: Gangaramaya, 61, Sri Jinarathana Road, Colombo 00200

Timings: 6 am to 10 pm

Viharamahadevi Park

With a huge Buddha statue surrounded by fountains as its cynosure, the Viharamahadevi Park is yet another attraction in Colombo that should definitely be on your itinerary. Located close to the Colombo National Museum, it is a picnic spot that makes for that much-needed rejuvenating escape in the city.

Offering stunning views of the environs during sunrise and sunset, the park also features a mini zoo, various walking trails and waterfalls on its premises. It’s the perfect place for couples, friends and families alike to unwind and spend a day amid verdant greens and nature. The park was previously known as the Victoria Park. Later, it was renamed Viharamahadevi after the name of King Dutugemunu’s mother.

Location: Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo 07

Timings: 7 am to 6 pm

Beira Lake and Seema Malakaya (Malaka) Temple

An experience combining adventure, relaxation and pilgrimage at one spot, the Beira Lake is a fascinating place to explore in Colombo. Ideal for birdwatching, boating, taking photographs or simply ending the day by admiring the sunset, the Beira Lake is a famous destination among both tourists and locals alike. It also features a small island in the centre that has the popular Seema Malakaya Buddhist temple that makes for a peaceful getaway crafted in Indian, Chinese and Thai architectural styles.

Location: Sir James Pieris Mawatha, Colombo

Timings: 7 am to 6 pm

Colombo National Museum

Dating back to 1877, the Colombo National Museum should be on your itinerary if learning about the city’s past as well as its natural and cultural heritage interests you. It was founded by the former British Governor of Ceylon, Sir William Henry Gregory, and is the largest museum on the island built in Italian-style architecture with lush green lawns surrounding it.

The museum houses various exhibits, including watercolour paintings, artefacts, antique puppetry, demon masks, swords, jewellery, rocks with inscriptions, coins and lamps. Depicting the country’s history spanning centuries, it also features an ornate throne of the last Sri Lankan King of Kandy and a library that has a collection of centuries-old palm leaf manuscripts written on topics of astrology, architecture and folklore.

LocationSir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo 00700

Timings: 9 am to 5 pm, closed on public holidays.

Entry Fees: USD 15 (INR 1,250) for adults and USD 7.30 (INR 604) for children (approx.)

Unique Lotus-shaped design of the Sri Lanka Planetarium in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Image Credit: Sri Lanka Planetarium)

Sri Lanka Planetarium

Whether you’re an admirer of the universe and what lies beyond or simply want to be indoors to avoid the hot sun, spending a few hours inside the Sri Lanka Planetarium could be worth it. Constructed in a unique design, the planetarium consists of a large auditorium with 570 seats and a four-dimensional projector, taking you on a journey of the universe. It is located on the University of Colombo campus and was established in 1965. If you’re travelling with your family, a visit to this planetarium would make for a great choice, especially for your kids.

Location: Prof Stanley Wijesundera Mawatha, Colombo 00700

Timings: 8:30 am to 4 pm, closed on Sunday and Monday. Show timings – 10 am to 2 pm.

Pettah Floating Market

Previously a swamp with run-down warehouses, the Pettah Floating Market now makes for a beautiful shopping destination in Colombo. Established alongside a canal, it is a calm and serene marketplace (with no overcrowding) that’s lined with cemented and wooden pathways to stroll about. This market features around 90 stalls selling authentic and local produce and handicrafts, ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables to electronics, art and craft pieces, clothes and jewellery.

Location: W E Bastian Mawatha, Colombo 01000

Timings: 9 am to 8 pm

Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque

The red-and-white-striped exterior of Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque (Image Credit: Adam Marikar/Unsplash)

Standing out for its red-and-white-striped exterior, the Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque is bound to leave you in awe of its magnificence. Built by Habibu Labbe Saibu Labbe, this mosque accounts for being one of the most famous cultural gems of Sri Lanka. It combines the style and aesthetics of Indian, neoclassical, Indo-Islamic and gothic architecture that lends its prominent façade an attention-grabbing appeal.

Location: No.228, Second Cross Street, Colombo 11

Timings: 4 am to 10 pm

Galle Face Green

An open oceanfront park space between the Indian Ocean and Galle Road, Galle Face Green is yet another happening tourist destination that you must explore on your vacation to Colombo. This beach park is popular for recreational activities such as beach volleyball, kite flying, fishing, football and simply relaxing by the ocean waters. The area also has many stalls serving food, drinks and other goodies such as toys, trinkets and kites. It’s also a great spot to enjoy idyllic sunrise and sunset views.

Timings: Open 24 hours.

Best time to visit- 9 am to 6 pm.

Things to do in Colombo

Explore the beaches

Sunset view at the Galle Face Green in Colombo (Image Credit: Amoolya B Paul/Unsplash)

While the city is prominently known for its historical landmarks and sacred temples, Colombo also has many beaches just outside of the city that one can head to for a rejuvenating time. Some of the famous beaches and beach parks in and near the city include the Galle Face Green, Crow Island Beach Park, Bentota Beach and Negombo Beach. Most of the beaches can be easily reached via public transport or a private car.

Visit the Attidiya Bird Sanctuary

If you’re an admirer of lush greens and want to experience the beauty of flora and fauna, plan a visit to the Attidiya Bird Sanctuary. It is a bio-diversity park that’s home to insects, crocodiles, jackals, fishing cats, and 50 species of local and migratory birds, including butterflies and other wildlife. It can be explored on foot owing to walking trails and pathways sprawling across the sanctuary land. The place is ideal for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers and can be reached easily via car or public bus.

Spend time at a church

Much like temples and the Red Mosque, Colombo is also home to many churches and cathedrals, some even dating back to the 17th century. If such places appeal to you or you simply want to take in the beauty of their architecture and old-world charm, you can plan a visit to some of the most famous ones such as Wolvendaal Church, St. Lucia’s Cathedral, All Saints’ Church and St. Anthony’s Shrine.

Check out the museums

Illustrating the country’s rich heritage and evolving past over the years are the various museums in Colombo that’ll enthral any history enthusiast’s heart. While the Colombo National Museum is a must-visit for every traveller, there are many other spots that you can explore if you want in-depth knowledge about the island. Some of the other famous museums include National Railway Museum, Traditional Puppet Art Museum and Colombo Port Maritime Museum.

What to eat in Colombo

Sri Lankan Rice and Curry dish (Image Credit: Nilantha Sanjeewa/Unsplash)

One thing that absolutely stands out about Colombo and Sri Lanka in general is the country’s cuisine that’s truly soul-satiating. Whether you wish to try authentic, local Sinhalese street food or indulge in a fine-dining continental spread, this city will never leave you disappointed. Some of the most prominent dishes that you must try when in Colombo include:

Lamprais — originating from the Dutch Burgher Community is a rice dish that involves cooking rice with meat stock, mixed meat curry, brinjal, seeni sambol, meatballs and shrimp paste and then wrapping it in a banana leaf and baking it.

Rice and curry — a signature dish in the country that includes rice served with different vegetarian or non-vegetarian curries along with papadams, mallung and pol sambol on the side.

String hoppers — locally known as idiyappam, these rice-flour steamed noodles are served with kiri hodi (coconut milk gravy), pol sambol and meat or potato curry. It makes for a popular breakfast or dinner option.

Kiribath (milk rice) — a staple food cooked on occasions in the form of rice cake, it is often served with lunu miris chilli paste.

Kottu (kottu roti) — rotis, meat, curry, egg and vegetables chopped and cooked together, often eaten at dinner.

Watalappan — creamy and rich coconut custard made using kithul jaggery, coconut milk, cardamoms and cashews.

Isso vadai — deep-fried prawn and lentil crunchy fritters eaten as a snack.

What to shop in Colombo

The shopping experience in Colombo is quite diverse, owing to the distinctive shopping destinations that this city encompasses. From malls dealing in high-end brands and local labels to dedicated souvenir stores, street markets and a floating market, there’s so much to experience as a tourist. While you can shop international and local brands at malls, such as the Colombo City Centre, Marino Mall and One Galle Face, you can also shop for authentic handicrafts and souvenirs at Laksala, find all things organic at Good Market or revel in the beauty of Pettah Floating Market.

Laksala souvenir shopping boutique (Image Credit: Laksala)

Each shopping hub has a speciality of its own — while many boutique stores are also present throughout the city, dealing in different items and spanning categories like fashion, lifestyle and home and living. For instance, while Mlesna Tea Centre is a great store to check out for a variety of teas, Barefoot is perfect for buying some designer fashion and lifestyle items, and Lakpahana is one of the best places to buy art and craft.