The 10 best tips for Colombo!

Colombo is the bustling commercial capital of Sri Lanka, where history, culture, and local life converge. The city had a less favorable reputation among travelers for years due to safety concerns and fewer attractions compared to other Asian cities. However, Colombo is regaining popularity among travelers, and for good reason. You'll encounter stunning colonial buildings, delightful cuisine, and beautiful parks and lakes. Colombo takes you on a journey through various faiths, from churches to Hindu temples and mosques to Buddhist temples—there's plenty to discover. Finally, the presence of fewer tourists in Colombo contributes to an authentic and genuine Sri Lankan atmosphere.

The history of Colombo

Colombo has a rich and fascinating history. In ancient times, the city served as a crucial trade hub for spices and other goods in the region. In the 16th century, Portugal colonized Ceylon, the former name of Sri Lanka, constructing various forts and fortifications in Colombo. The Dutch eventually ousted the Portuguese and took control, expanding trade activities. Many remnants from this period still exist in Colombo, such as the Dutch Hospital. The Dutch ruled from 1658 to 1796. After the Napoleonic Wars, Colombo came under British rule. The British invested in infrastructure, building a railway network and a port. Colombo evolved into a significant administrative center for British Ceylon. In 1948, Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, gained independence.

How to get to Colombo?

There are various ways to get to Colombo.

From abroad

From Europe, you can fly to Sri Lanka in about 10 hours. There are direct flights from London, Frankfurt, Paris, and Zurich. From the United States, there are no direct flights to Sri Lanka, and the journey can take around 20 hours.

You can easily compare flights using Skyscanner.

From other places in Sri Lanka

By bus

You can easily travel around Sri Lanka by bus. The advantage of the bus is that it is inexpensive. You often spend only a few dollars for a bus ride. The bus connections are very good, and you can look up which bus to take and where the buses stop using Google Maps. If you have any doubts, you can ask for advice at your accommodation. They often know which bus is the best to take. It may happen that you need to transfer once during the bus journey.

By taxi, PickMe or Uber

There are plenty of options in Sri Lanka to take a taxi to Colombo. This is, however, more expensive than the bus, but you reach your destination faster without transfers. The PickMe app is widely used in Sri Lanka and is essentially the local equivalent of Uber. Uber is also utilized in Sri Lanka. One advantage of these apps is that the price is clear beforehand. Based on our experience with PickMe and Uber, there might be a brief wait until you find a suitable driver. We've had instances where the driver remained stationary and didn't approach us, or they went in the wrong direction. Occasionally, the driver may call and request a higher fare. In such cases, it's essential to establish clear agreements and, if necessary, book another driver.

By tuktuk

Another option is to take a tuk-tuk from your destination to Colombo. This is a more affordable option than a taxi, but it is often less comfortable. It can be quite tight for two people with backpacks or suitcases in the tuk-tuk. We recommend choosing a tuk-tuk only for distances of approximately 1.5 hours or less, as it can quickly become uncomfortable for longer journeys.

By train

The train network in Sri Lanka is extensive, with many trains operating to and from various cities. Often, you can enjoy beautiful views during your train journey. You can check if there is a train from your destination to Colombo on this website.

We recommend going to the train station to purchase tickets as they are usually the cheapest there. If you want to ensure a seat, it's best to buy tickets well in advance through Bookaway.

What is the difference between Colombo and Negombo?

Many travelers hesitate between Colombo and Negombo. When you arrive, you are likely to land at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo. The city of Negombo is closer to this airport than the center of Colombo. This is why many travelers choose to start their journey in Negombo. Negombo is also somewhat quieter, making it a good place to acclimate to Sri Lanka. However, Negombo itself is not very spectacular, and if you're looking for history and culture, Colombo is a better option. After our flight, we stayed in Negombo and visited Colombo at the end of our trip.

How to get from place to place in Colombo?

The distances to various attractions in Colombo are sometimes too far to walk. You can easily cover longer distances at a low cost by taking the bus or a tuk-tuk. Additionally, you can arrange a ride through PickMe or Uber. If you have limited time in the city, we recommend taking a tuk-tuk to explore the highlights in a few hours. Many tuk-tuk drivers in Colombo offer city tours.

What to do in Colombo?

There is plenty to see and do in Colombo to keep you entertained for one or two days. We have compiled the best tips for you.

1. Admire the Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque

This mosque is an artistic highlight of Colombo. The mosque stands out due to the red and white stripes on both the interior and exterior of the building. It was built in 1908, and its architectural style is influenced by Indian, Moorish, and Arabic architecture. The red and white colors of the building are inspired by the hues of a pomegranate. The mosque is beautiful and definitely worth a visit!

What's special about this mosque is that visitors are allowed inside. The mosque is open to both male and female tourists. There is a sign outside the mosque displaying the opening hours for tourists. However, our experience is that these times can vary from day to day and hour to hour. It's best to ask someone from the mosque when you can enter and, if necessary, return later. When you enter the mosque, you are provided with covering clothing. You'll receive a guided tour of the mosque, and at the end, you can make a donation. We found it very special to walk around inside.

2. Explore the bazaar of Pettah

Don't miss the historic district of Pettah during your visit to Colombo. In this vibrant neighborhood, you'll find landmarks such as the Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, as well as markets and bazaars. The markets offer a variety of items, from colorful fabrics to spices and food stalls. Enjoy a delicious fruit juice or try a curry at a local restaurant. The market is a perfect place to immerse yourself in local life!

In the Pettah district, you'll also find the Khan Clock Tower. The tower's design is influenced by European clock towers and was built as a tribute to the Islamic merchants who played a significant role in the history of Pettah.

3. Admire the colorful Sri Kaileswaram Temple

We found this temple to be one of the most beautiful Hindu temples we've seen in Sri Lanka. The temple is a bit secluded, near the Colombo railway station. It features magnificent tall, colorful, and intricately detailed towers. The temple is open to visitors of various religions and backgrounds. You can visit the temple for a small fee.

4. View Colombo from great heights at the Lotus Tower

The Lotus Tower is a striking tall building in Colombo. As the name suggests, the building takes the shape of a lotus flower. The tower serves a crucial role in radio and television broadcasting. It is also open to the public. The Lotus Tower stands at approximately 350 meters (1,148 feet), providing a stunning view of the city. A ticket costs around 20 USD.

5. Visit the unique Gangaramaya Temple

The Gangaramaya Temple is one of the most important Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka and one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Colombo. Built in the 19th century, the temple is highly revered because it is said to house a strand of hair from Buddha. The temple is quite large and consists of various spaces, including Buddha statues, stupas, monks, and an inner courtyard.

Near the Gangaramaya Temple is the Gangarama Sima Malaka Temple. With the ticket from the Gangaramaya Temple, you can also visit this Buddhist temple. The temple is located on the water and is accessible via a bridge. From the temple, you have a beautiful view of the lake, providing a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

6. Relax at Galle Face Green

Galle Face Green is a recreational area along the coast of Colombo. Here, you'll find an expansive grassy field, a view of the sea, and various food and drink stalls. It's a popular gathering spot for locals and tourists alike. It's an excellent place to witness the sunset. As the evening progresses, more food court stalls set up, adding to the lively atmosphere. Galle Face Green is a delightful place to relax!

7. Visit the Sri Ponnambalawaneswarar Kovil

Colombo is a melting pot of various religions. Therefore, you'll see many different religious buildings in the city. The Sri Ponnambalawaneswarar Kovil Temple is a Hindu temple located in the bustling center of the city. It features beautiful architecture, and it's recommended to take a look inside for a small fee.

8. Retreat to Viharamahadevi Park

Viharamahadevi Park is a popular park in Colombo. Originally laid out by the British and named Victoria Park in honor of Queen Victoria, it is now named after Queen Viharamahadevi, a significant figure in Sri Lankan history. The park serves as a gathering place for locals and tourists, creating a lively atmosphere. It provides a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.

9. Discover colonial remnants in the Colombo Fort district.

In the Colombo Fort district, you will find many remnants from the time of Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonization. For example, the Colombo Fort Old Lighthouse & Clocktower clearly exhibits European architectural style. Originally, a fort built by the Portuguese for the defense of the city stood in the Colombo Fort district. Later, the fort was taken over by the Dutch East India Company (VOC).

In Colombo Fort, you'll also come across the Dutch Hospital. This hospital was constructed by the Dutch in the 17th century and has now transformed into a vibrant spot for dining and drinks in the evenings.

Colombo Fort remains a significant area today, serving as the business center of Sri Lanka. It houses expensive hotels, numerous bank and corporate headquarters, the World Trade Centre, and the presidential residence.

10. Take a day trip!

Colombo is a significant city in Sri Lanka. This ensures that the connections from Colombo to other cities are well-established. Therefore, you can explore other gems in Sri Lanka from Colombo. For instance, discover the town of Galle where many remnants of Dutch colonization can still be found, visit the famous Lion Rock, or spot wildlife on a safari.

Do you want to read more about Sri Lanka?

See all our articles with the best tips to discover all beautiful places in Sri Lanka.

Do you want to read more about Sri Lanka?

See all our articles with the best tips to discover all beautiful places in Sri Lanka.

About the authors

How nice that you are on our website and that you have read this article! We are Mirte and Matthew, two Dutch adventurers with a passion for traveling, discovering cultures, and gaining new experiences. We've translated our love for the world into this website. We hope our articles inspire you to go on adventures! You can learn more about us through the button below.
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