Colombo is the judicial capital and the largest city of the island kingdom of Sri Lanka. Dotted with both, old colonial buildings and shiny skyscrapers, Colombo displays a vibrant blend of tradition and progression. This beautiful city is the heart and soul of the entire country. It is a home to the majority of Sri Lanka’s corporate offices, restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues.
Owing to its large harbour and strategic position along the sea trade routes, Colombo was originally discovered by traders around 2,000 years ago. The city has seen many rulers from Arabs to Portuguese to Dutch and British. It’s heritage buildings preserve Colombo’s rich history.
Colombo is a multi-ethnic city with its churches, mosques and temples congregating on the same streets. Its white sand beaches, spectacular sunsets, coastline railway tracks and fascinating heritage makes Colombo one of the best travel destinations in Asia. Colombo has a tropical monsoon climate. The best time to visit is between December to March, and July to September.
The city has a lot of tourist attractions. From the magnificent historical museums and iconic buildings, to the world-class casinos, from the cinnamon plantation hiking trails to bustling markets and throbbing nightlife – Colombo has it all. Here is a list of top 5 things you must do in Colombo.
Taking a tour of Colombo will help you understand the city in a better light. There are two ways to do that. If the weather is favourable, board an open roof heritage bus that will take to most of the iconic buildings and landmarks in the city. Since Colombo’s weather was pretty hot and humid when I was in the city, we booked a private tour in a taxi. The driver was quite knowledgeable and explained the history and significance of all the important landmarks.
1. Colombo City Tour
The places we covered include, Independence square, Independence Memorial Hall, Old Parliament Building, International Conference Hall, World Trade Centre, Old Town Hall, Khan Clock Tower, Colombo Municipal Council, Colombo Racecourse Sports Complex, Old Dutch Hospital and the iconic Lotus Tower, which is the tallest standing structure in South Asia.
You can end the day by feasting your eyes on a spectacular sunset at the Mount Lavinia Beach.
2. Gangaramaya Temple
Gangaramaya is a 19th century Buddhist temple that preserves the cultural essence of the city. It is one of the oldest temples in Colombo. The temple’s architecture is an unusual blend of Sri Lankan, Indian, Chinese and Thai styles.
The main temple houses a huge Buddha statue and its colourful ceilings depict various stories from his life.
The museum of the temple has a large collection of wood and ivory carvings, ola leaf writings, curios, fascinating Buddha statues, Chinese statues, a cannon, stamps, watches, cameras, gold, sapphires, statues made of jade and sandalwood, coins, photographs, shells, swords, and even vintage cars, like Rolls Royce. A must visit for history buffs!
The relic chamber of the temple houses one of the most sacred relics, that is believed to be a lock of the Buddha’s hair donated from a temple in Bengal. There is also a massive sacred bodhi tree at the centre of the complex.
3. Seema Malakaya Temple
Seema Malakaya is a small tranquil temple located on the Beira Lake. The location of the temple makes it a perfect place for meditational practises. It is a part of the Gangaramaya temple and is connected to the mainland through pontoon bridges.
The ancient Kandyan style architecture of the temple stands in juxtapostion with the modern skyscrapers, blending tradition and culture with the modern aspects of the city. The outer boundary of the temple is adorned by numerous meditating buddha status.
The main temple hall houses buddha statues and the Treasury of Truth, which is a collection of ancient Buddhist texts. They are stored in a locked glass box and is accessible to only Buddhist Monks. But you can just have a look at them from the glass box. This temple is not just picturesque, but also oozes a distinctive spiritual vibe.
4. National Museum of Colombo
What’s a better way to know a country’s history, culture and traditions, than paying a visit to its museum? The National Museum of Colombo is something you simply cannot afford to miss, especially if you are a history buff like me. This two-storey building displays a zillion antiques, more than 1000 artefacts, paintings, statues, and royal objects, like throne and crown. It also houses Jurassic-period fossils, prehistoric cave paintings and over 5000 specimens of different mammals. A place well worth your time!
5. Bally’s Casino
There’re numerous ways to explore the nightlife of Colombo. From clubs to bars to Casinos – the city has it all. One of the best options that I found and really enjoyed visiting, was the opulent Bally’s Casino. With it’s blinding lights, more than 100 betting tables, complimentary food and drinks, entertaining performances, and elite crowd – Bally’s offers you a great insight into the nightlife and pop culture of Sri Lanka. An experience of a lifetime – definitely a worth visit!
To check more details on this experience, please check my post, ‘Rolling the Dice at Bally’s Casino’.
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing holiday, a spiritual or a cultural dive or some party vibes, the capital of Sri Lanka will never fail to entertain you.