Colombo is shaking off its colonial and troubled past to show its colour as a vibrant city, bursting with good places to shop, eat, stay and explore.
This may be your introduction to Sri Lanka so adjust to its climate, culture and general “feel-good” factor for a day or two before exploring the rest of the island. Or you may prefer to add the finishing touches to your holiday by visiting its museums, restaurants and shops.
Odels shopping centre and House of Fashions are famed for their designer clothes and reasonably priced. If you have a night flight you should travel 40 minutes north of Colombo towards the Airport.
Alone in Sri Lanka Colombo is the only home of Western influence- the English language, sophisticated telecommunications, cosmopolitan attitudes and fashionable bars and restaurants.
Take a tour by Tuk-Tuk (negotiate your price) for photo shots of Independence Hall, Hindu Temple Kathivesan Kovil, the Grand Mosque, St Lucia’s Cathedral to Galle Face, Colombo’s oldest district. From here stroll the lawns and people watch, enjoying the Panorama, ending at Beira Lake with its eye-catching Pagoda and sensational sunsets.
For a flavour of the Old colonial days visit Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo 7. With comfortable shoes and cameras ready, enjoy the tree-lined streets and gracious old buildings, many of which have been restored and reborn as private schools, embassies and up-market restaurants. Here you may pass the leafy boutique hotel and super restaurant Havelock Bungalows, offering home made delights like Sri Lankan fishpie and icecream . If you are lucky you will also catch the Guards playing Polo in the Barracks across the road.
Pettah will delight and abuse the senses. A bustling bazaar, not for the timid. Should you have corners of your travel bags not filled this is the place for last minute momentoes, though don’t expect quality as well as quantity. For colour it can hardly be bettered and a camera is a must, though tact and good manners to local people will be appreciated. The bus and old-style railway stations are also located in this area.
If you are heading onto the Ancient Cities, you will pass through Kurenagala (45 minutes from Colombo), where you can stay at an estate bungalow, Horathapola, set within a working coconut plantation.
The national museum gives a rounded picture of the cultural heritage of Sri Lanka, including many rare books, royal insignia and a puppetry and children’s museum.
For the art lover or historian several art galleries show work of Sri Lankan artists and history, eg. Lionel Wendt, Serendip
Unless you are in Colombo for business it is a great place to visit for 1-2 days but the heart of Sri Lanka lies outside the capital.
For a detailed list of contacts, telephone numbers and opening times for: