8 must-dos in Colombo

Colombo

Flying to Colombo soon? Discover the must-sees in Sri Lanka’s capital!

The economic hub of Sri Lanka, Colombo is the country’s largest city in terms of population. Thanks to its privileged geographical position and natural harbour, the city has been a crossroads for maritime trade between Europe, the Middle East and Asia for two millennia.

Colombo is steeped in the diversity of cultures and civilizations that have passed through the city in the course of trade. Today, it is the economic heart of the country, with a wide range of activities (theaters, museums, restaurants, company headquarters…). A visit to Colombo is a memorable journey through the different eras of Sri Lankan history.

Ready to visit Colombo? Here are the 8 must-see things to do in Colombo!

1. The National Museum

What to do in Colombo for art and culture lovers? The National Museum is the ideal place to start your immersion in Sri Lankan culture, and is sure to take you on a journey through the country’s history!

Founded in 1876 by the British Governor of Sri Lanka (a former British colony), the National Museum in Colombo is the country’s largest museum. It houses an important collection of works that will enable you to retrace the country’s history, both before and during the colonial period. It contains real treasures of Sri Lankan culture of yesteryear, as well as historical jewels belonging to the former royal family. Finally, the museum boasts a fine collection of demon masks dating back to ancient times.

If you fancy a stroll around the museum, Viharamahadevi Park is the place to be. The city’s largest green space, it is the venue for numerous events and activities (concerts, festivals, public events…).

2. The Pettah district

Pettah

Photo credit: Instagram – cm.lorenz

A visit to Colombo necessarily involves a stop in the Pettah district. Located in Colombo’s District 11, Pettah is one of the city’s oldest and most popular neighborhoods.

Let yourself be carried away by the crowds strolling through these old streets, where food stalls rub shoulders with craft stores. You can also enjoy historic monuments such as the Wolvendaal Church or the Jami-Ul-Alfar mosque. And don’t hesitate to stroll the aisles of the district’s various markets to sample fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as local specialties. Among the must-see markets on a gastronomic tour are Manning Market, Central Market and The Federation of Self Employees Market.

Another attraction in Colombo and this district is the Dutch Period Museum. Throughout the 17th century, it housed the residence of the Dutch governor, before serving successively as a military hospital, police station and post office.

3. Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil temple

A visit to Colombo also means discovering the country’s religious diversity, expressed in its temples. The temple of Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil, with its unpronounceable name, is the city’s oldest. The building’s architecture, inspired by Indian culture, is impressive.

This temple is home to numerous sculptures representing various Hindu gods, including two of the main gods of this mythology: Easwaran (Shiva to his friends) and Ganesh. The temple’s authentic atmosphere is heightened by the presence of musicians, as well as the flow of prayers in and out of the temple throughout the day. A real must-see experience if you’re visiting Colombo! What’s more, admission is free!

4. Boarding a Tuk-Tuk

Tuk-Tuk

The Tuk-Tuk is the most practical means of locomotion for visiting Colombo. It is used by tourists and locals alike. As the city of Colombo is quite spread out, it can sometimes be tiring to get around on foot, especially on hot days. The Tuk-Tuk is the ideal way to get around, and what’s more, it’s a lot of fun!

Let yourself be tempted by these mini-cars that will weave their way through the city and take you on a real adventure. You’ll have no trouble finding a driver: Tuk-Tuk are literally plentiful in Colombo. In fact, Tuk-Tuk will stop you as soon as you enter the city and ask if you’d like a lift.

5. The Independence Memorial

Still wondering what to do in Colombo? This memorial symbolizes Sri Lanka’s independence from the British Empire, achieved on February 4, 1948. Its architecture is reminiscent of the Royal Audience Hall in Kandy. For the record, it was in this building, in 1815, that the convention marking the end of the Kingdom of Kandy was signed, bringing the country into the British Empire. Drawing inspiration from the architecture of the Royal Audience Hall for this memorial was a fitting way to link these two major events in Sri Lankan history.

The Independence Memorial is surrounded by a lush garden, in front of which you’ll find the statue of one of the country’s symbols: Don Stephen Senanayak, also known as « the father of the Sri Lankan nation ». Located away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the memorial is a tranquil place to recharge your batteries while learning about the country’s history.

6. Gangaramaya temple

Another attraction not to be missed when visiting Colombo is the Gangaramaya temple. Located in Colombo’s District 2 (don’t hesitate to take a tuk-tuk to get there), this temple is a tribute to the Buddhist religion and in particular to Buddha, whose many statues you can admire.

The site is divided into several buildings, including a library and a museum. The atmosphere is rather strange, but well worth a visit.

7. Colonial buildings in the Fort district

Many traces of British and Dutch rule can be seen throughout the city. In particular, the colonial buildings of the Fort district are among the most monumental vestiges of these periods. In the past, the Fort district was home to a veritable fort surrounded on both sides by the sea. Today, this district is home to numerous government institutions, including the President’s residence and several ministries.

Buildings from the colonial era have been restored, such as the former DutchHospital, which is well worth a visit.

Dating back to the early 17th century, it has been magnificently restored and is now home to some excellent restaurants and cafés, as well as a number of local craft stores that are a must-see when visiting Colombo.

8. Galle Face Green promenade

No visit to Colombo is complete without a stop here. It’s one of the symbols of the city. Located to the south of the Fort district, the Galle Face Green promenade is a long, green stretch along the sea. It’s a lovely setting for a family stroll by the ocean. Sports enthusiasts will also find plenty to enjoy here, from running and soccer to the national sport of cricket!

The promenade is also the ideal place to enjoy a magnificent sunset.

How to get to Colombo

If you’re visiting Colombo, Colombo airport is Sri Lanka’s only international airport. So it’s easy to get to if you’re traveling in the region.

If you’d like to visit Colombo from France, there are regular direct flights from Paris, but you’ll need to book in advance to get the best prices (around €800 for a round trip). It will take you around 11 hours to reach Sri Lanka from France, non-stop.

Note that Middle Eastern airlines offer the lowest fares, even if your flight includes one or more stopovers. For more information on fares, please visit the page of our partner Ulysse.

The airport is about 30 km from the city center. Shuttles and buses will take you there for a very small fee. Cabs are another option, but you’ll have to pay a little more. Alternatively, you can rent a car from one of the airport’s rental agencies.

Where to stay in Colombo

Planning to visit Colombo but don’t know where to stay? The city’s districts 2, 4, 5 and 7 offer good quality accommodation at reasonable rates. Hotels are plentiful in these districts, offering comfortable accommodation at acceptable prices.

If you’re looking for total immersion in local life, don’t hesitate to ask about staying with local people: it’s a common practice for many travelers to the city and Sri Lanka in general.

To help you in your search, don’t hesitate to consult this hotel comparator and our article « Where to stay in Colombo « .

Map of hotels and accommodation – Sri Lanka