1. See the world pass by on Galle Road
"Colombo", the man who served me breakfast on my first day there explained, "begins and ends at Galle Road". It was a convenient adage – just outside the open door of the charming Barefoot Cafe, Galle Road’s cacophony of schoolchildren, businesspeople and auto-rickshaws give life to the city.
Address: Galle Road, Colombo
Upon achieving independence from Britain in 1948, the new government erected Independence Memorial Hall, an airy, open monument that’s simultaneously grand and understated. The hall’s a popular destination not only for tourists but for local students, who will almost certainly want to pose for a picture with you.
Opening Hours: 24 hours Tickets: Free Address: Colombo 00700, Sri Lanka
3. National Museum of Colombo
Modern Sri Lanka might only be a few decades old, but civilisation has existed here for millennia. Of particular interest is the National Museum of Colombo, which presents a cross section of Sri Lanka’s entire history, artwork and relics from the Anuradhapura Kingdom, which dates back to the fourth century B.C.
Opening Hours: 9am-6pm Tickets: 35 Rs for an adult, 20 Rs for a child Address: National Museum of Colombo, Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo 00700, Sri Lanka
Sri Lankans have gone through many transitions throughout their history, with Buddhism being one of the only constants throughout. And no place in Sri Lanka can get you in touch with Buddhism better than the iconic Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, home to a sacred Bodhi tree and dozens of Buddha images of all sizes.
Opening Hours: 5.30am-10pm. Hours may change depending on religious events and festivals. Tickets: Free Address: 61 Sri Jinaratana Road, Colombo, Sri Lanka
5. Beira Lake
It’s impossible to miss Beira Lake – it’s massive – as you exit Gangaramaya Temple as it is to resist taking a break along its shores. Although modern mid-rises and storefronts circle the lake, it manages to remain idyllic, which makes it a great respite from your busy day of sightseeing.
Address: 02 Colombo, Colombo 01200, Sri Lanka
Just a bit south of Beira Lake is Viharamahadevi Park, the only large-scale park in Colombo. This park near Independence Memorial Hall is large enough for a Buddha statue, mini zoo and play area for the kids. But you wouldn’t know it from all of the peaceful areas to reflect in the shade of the area’s massive trees.
Opening Hours: 7am-6pm Tickets: Free Address: Colombo, Sri Lanka
7. Pettah Market
Just before you fall asleep under the shade of your favorite Bodhi tree in the park, flag down a tuk-tuk to get to Pettah Market. Located adjacent to Colombo’s Fort Railway Station, where you’ll probably find yourself a few times during your stay to buy a saree or order an avocado milkshake.
Opening Hours: 8am-12pm Tickets: Free Address: Keyzer St, Colombo, Sri Lanka
8. Galle Face Green Promenade
Head west from Pettah Market on Galle Road to reach Galle Face Green Promenade, a seaside esplanade that pairs a breezy green space with a lively selection of food and merchandise stalls. It’s a stone’s throw from Colombo Harbor, and perfect to gaze out at the Indian Ocean.
Address: Galle Main Rd, Colombo, Sri Lanka
9. Go for a dip at Negombo
The crashing of waves along Galle Face is soothing, but it’s not the place for a swim. For that, head 30 minutes north of central Colombo to Negombo. While Negombo isn’t as paradisiacal as the beaches on Sri Lanka’s southern and eastern coasts, its turquoise waters and swaying palm trees are calming.
Address: Negombo, Sri Lanka
10. Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Give back with a trip to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, a charitable wildlife reserve that rehabilitates orphaned elephants for re-introduction into the wild. Pinnawala is over an hour from Colombo, and its lush scenery makes you feel like you’re in the middle of the wilderness.
Opening Hours: 8.30am-6pm Tickets: $20USD (3000 Rs) per person Address: B199, Rambukkana 71100, Sri Lanka
11. Visit the Dehiwala Zoo & Gardens
The Dehiwala Zoo & Gardens have an impressive collection of zebras, elephants, lions, tigers and panthers for you to meet – you can even get up close and personal with an elephant ride at 2.30pm-4pm on weekends. The premise was opened in 1936, and it’s been a major hotspot for travellers and locals alike since. The zoo is just a 10 minute taxi ride away from the town centre.
Opening Hours: 10am-6pm Tickets: 2000 Rs per adult, 1000 Rs per child Address: 120 Quarry Rd, Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, Sri Lanka
12. Have a moment at Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara Temple
This is an ornate temple 7 miles out of the city of Colombo. The original temple was destroyed by the Portuguese in the fourteenth century, but the intricate paintings you see there today were built during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as replicas. Take a walk to absolve yourself of your sins, this site is highly religious as it’s said that Buddha himself visited on his third visit to Sri Lanka.
Opening Hours: 9am-4.30pm Tickets: Free Address: Kelaniya, Colombo, Sri Lanka
13. Go for a few rounds at Royal Colombo Golf Club
On March 13, 1880, 9 gentlemen met to discuss the first meeting of the Colombo Golf Club. Whilst the site has been moved from Galle Face Green to the current setting, this is the oldest golf club in Sri Lanka. Reminisce by filling up your caddy with a few Lion lagers and go for a few rounds on the 18 hole, 40 acre course.
Opening Hours: 6am-11pm Tickets: Walk ins to the club are $65USD Address: Model Farm Rd, Colombo, Sri Lanka
14. Peep into the home of Geoffrey Bawa
Number 11 was the home of the Sri Lankan architect, Geoffrey Bawa, from 1960 to 1970. You might know him better from his work on the Bishop Estate in Colombo, but there’s no substitute for getting a real look around the house on one of the tours (available by appointment only). Bawa’s style was ‘tropical modernism’ – so expect a heady mix of greenery and tiles when you take a look.
Opening Hours: 10am-3.30pm Tickets: 1000 Rs per person – book first Address: No. 11, 33rd Lane, Bagatelle Road, Colombo 3 00300, Sri Lanka
15. Spend the night in Sri Lanka’s Planetarium
This is Sri Lanka’s first and only planetarium – and you might notice it looks a little peculiar. That’s due to the designer, Kusalinghe, wanting it to look like a Lotus from above. If you don’t manage to get a birdseye view, check out the educational tours on astronomy, stars or the eco-system during the day. This would be a good one for the kids.
Opening Hours: 8am-4pm (these are the office opening hours, tours will take place during the evening) Tickets: 200 Rs per person Address: Prof Stanley Wijesundera Mawatha, Colombo 00700, Sri Lanka
How to get to Colombo:
There are no direct flights to Colombo, but you can fly from most major U.K airports through connecting cities such as Abu Dhabi or Dubai. Check out the options here.
Where to stay on a city break in Colombo
If you’re looking for a hostel:
The Hangover Hostel in Colombo is ideal for meeting other travellers and getting to know Colombo’s nightlife. It’s in a central location, right next to St Peters college (yes, the bars are within walking distance).
If you’re looking for a hotel:
Make yourself at home in one of the modern, air-conditioned apartments in Av15.
If you’re looking for luxury:
The Kingsbury Apartments are perfect for finding the 5-star treatment in Sri Lanka, with the option of a Presidential Suite or a Duplex Apartment – each furnished with free Wifi and Bulgari toiletries.