Colombo: 10 things we love about you

Most tourists seem to skip Colombo altogether, flying in and heading straight for Negombo or further afield. Travellers, our guidebook and locals had all told us there was nothing worth hanging around for. Poo-pooing the naysayers, we spent several days in the city, and decided that we rather liked it.

Here’s a few things to check out if you do decide to spend a few days in this colourful city:

    1. Sambodhi Chaithya: built in 1956 to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of Buddha’s death, this dagoba is beautifully adorned with scenes from Buddha’s life. Its construction is quite unique – it somewhat resembles a spacecraft perched on a lofty platform – but the climb is totally worthwhile; when you reach the top, you’l be rewarded with impressive views across the city and you’re likely to be entirely alone as it’s hardly on anyone’s radar.
      Sambodhi Chaithya
    2. Pettah market: this is a great place to watch the hustle and bustle of daily city life. Its stalls sell everything from fruit and veg to cheap, Korean, electrical goods. So, if yoy’re looking for dried dish, embroidered items, street food or even sapphires, this is the place to be. Mind your feet and heads though, as the delivery men pushing heavily laden trolleys take no prisoners. If you are in the market for some bling, then be careful where you buy your gems and take advantage of the free authentication service offered by the National Gem and Jewellery Authority – ask the vendor to accompany you before you hand over your hard earned cash.Pettah Market
    3. Old Town Hall: this Dutch, gothic-style building is an utterly bizarre place complete with creaking staircases and a council meeting scene set up with mannequins. There are other odds and sods here too, all from a bygone era.
    4. Momos by Ruvi: after all that walking you’re bound to be hungry, so why not drop by this little side street eatery for some delicious momos (Nepalese dumplings that are similar to Chinese potstickers), served with a smile. We’d advise pulling up a pew and working your way through as many of the twelve items on their menu – steamed, fried, shallow-fried or wok-fried namesakes – as you can, washed them down with homemade iced tea. Make sure you get there before the lunchtime rush (2pm) as there are only eight tables.
    5. Good Market: with its “Good for People. Good for the Planet” slogan, all its vendors sell fully organic and/or fair trade products. It’s a great place to meander, eat delicious desserts and pick up small souvenirs. The shop is open daily, while the street market is held every Saturday at Colombo’s racecourse (10am to 8pm).
    6. London House of Coffee: struggling to find a decent cup of coffee in Sri Lanka? We get it; we spent month fantasizing about flat whites. In desperate need of faster than snail’s pace internet? Join the club! After walking around Colombo 7 for hours looking for both of these things, we found LHOC. It offers comfortable, air-conditioned seating areas, a good selection of cakes, and some decent coffee. We had the dark roast Ceylon French press and scones with jam and clotted cream. Mmm!LHOC
    7. Nelum Pokuna Art Street: this is the oldest ‘street art’ gallery in the city. Local artists’ latest creations are displayed along the pavement and available for purchase. Although at first glance it might appear that the pieces are geared towards tourists, if you look closely you’ll find some very affordable gems.Nelum Pokuna Art Street
    8. Fort Station: all visitors to Colombo will find themselves here at some point during their stay (kismet, karma, Dante’s 7th circle of hell… you decide). If, like us, you’re into photography, then this is a fantastic place to snap street scenes and portraits.   Get there early (5am) to witness vendors setting up their stalls, tuk-tuk drivers lazing outside waiting to pounce on their unsuspecting prey, and an antithetical calm before the storm of commuters descend on the city. Start photographing on the platform and then move upstairs to the bridges that connect the platforms.Fort Station
    9. Ministry of Crab: whether you’re on a once in a lifetime luxury holiday or backpacking on a budget, there’s always time to “treat yo’self” and no better place to indulge than here. We had the clay pot prawn curry, stir-fried garlic kankun, the chocolate and biscuit pudding and, of course, a couple of Lion beers. Deelish! If you’d like the crab, then call ahead and ask for one to be kept aside for you or else you’ll be crabless.
    10. Cinnamon Lakeside: continuing on our “treat yo’self” day, we popped into this luxury hotel for a dip in their lakeside pool. At LKR 1500 for access, a towel and a sun lounger, it’s not cheap, but you get complimentary Wi-Fi and views of rowers hard at work, pelicans bobbing along and painted storks flying across the lake.

If you’d like to know more about our time in Colombo, check out our travel log.