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Welcome to Colombo a capital city with history !

 

 

 

Pronounce “Colombo” and you resurrect a thousand images of the splendours of yesteryears in many minds. The capital city still remains a great place to visit to see the mix between old colonial architecture and modern high-rise structures and witness modernity the Sri Lankan way. Colonial architecture is definitely Colombo’s forte, ever since restoration works were carried out after the end of the civil war. As far as tourism is concerned, the capital city probably ranks only after the cultural triangle. The effervescence and bustle of the capital can be tiring for some but interesting for those wishing to plunge into the crowd and feel the pulse of Sri Lanka.

Colombo was called “Colabo-Kalanpu” which in Sinhalese means “mango leaf”. In the 16th century, a Portuguese priest transformed this to Colombo in memory of Christopher Columbus. Colombo’s colonial history started with the arrival of the Portuguese from Goa in India but the initial port of call for Captain Lourenço de Almeida was Galle in 1505. It was only during the years to follow that the Portuguese, in search of natural harbours, went up further north and arrived in Colombo. Here they erected fortresses next to the bays where they moored their ships.

The Dutch presence in Colombo was to begin not until 1656, a full two decades after they arrived in Sri Lanka. By 1656 they controlled the whole of the island except Kandy. Colombo’s colonial masters changed hands from the Dutch to the British when the latter obtained the whole of the Dutch-controlled Sri Lankan territory under the Treaty of Amiens signed with France in 1802.

The Portuguese dwelled mainly on the coasts while the Sinhalese King ruled over the interior from Kandy. Over the period, the growing rivalry between and Colombo pushed the King of Kandy, Rajasinghe II, to seek an alliance with the Dutch. A pact was sealed and the Dutch, who needed a trading post between India and Battavia (present-day Indonesia), were all too happy to end the Portuguese presence in 1635.

The year after their arrival, the British put an end to the Sinhalese kingdom of Kandy. This happened in 1803 after the episode that is today referred to as the first Kandyan Wars. As the British set up coffee, tea and rubber plantations around the island, Colombo was promoted as the capital city, mainly for practical purposes. During this period, many ancient parts of the town were demolished to give way to modern urbanisation programs. The southern part of Colombo was extended and the coastal areas were to play host to sprawling colonial mansions. Even now one can witness the contrast between the parts of the city the British deemed as fit for them and the rest of the city. Colombo in the beginning of the 20th century was a trendy city that could rival with its other Asian counterparts developed by the British: Bombay, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Rangoon.

Today, after the end of the Civil War, the high-rises that sprout in the centre of Colombo remind somehow of the erstwhile rivalry.

All important travel information about Colombo

 

 

Colombo airport

 

The Bandarnaike International Airport (also known as Kutanayake Airport) is situated 30 km north of Colombo and 10 km to the south of Negombo. Contrary to many international airports, duty-free shopping is still possible after you land. You will be amused to see the number of shops selling household items like fridges, washing machines and what not. These shops cater to Sri Lankans residing overseas who can equip their local homes or buy large gifts to their families in Sri Lanka on their arrival on the island.

 

As you step outside the airport, there are quite many useful boutiques for you: currency exchange bureaus, mobile phone card outlets, a Sri Lanka Tourist Board bureau, etc. Don't be in a rush. Some people out there only wish to make a fast buck. Be careful in your dealings here. Never pay at any counter for any service that you don't get instantly. It is advisable to chart out what you would specifically want to do at the airport before you land here. Your tiredness and unpreparedness can cost you. Adopting a courteous but firm tone will send the right signals to most touts.

 

 

Reaching the airport

Reaching the airport from Colombo can be a very long journey especially during the peak hours of the day. So, if you have to check-in two hours prior to your departure time, be sure to allot at least an hour for your journey to the airport. There are many ways to reach the airport:

 

Bus : This is a very cheap option for people travelling alone or people who do not mind a crowded one-hour trip. If you are travelling with children, this is definitely not the ideal option. To get to Colombo from the airport, you have to reach the North end of the terminal and get across the road. Don't expect others to respect the queuing order when the bus arrives and there is usually a scramble for seats. Try to get the seats at the back of the bus in order to be able to keep your luggage close to you. If you find the bus crowded, wait for the next one that usually comes 20 minutes later. Terminus in Colombo is at Pettah.

 

 

Train : You can get to and from the airport by train but owing to their low frequency and the absence of a train station nearby, this is not a good option.

 

 

Taxi : This is probably the best mode of transport. For under $20, taxis will take you to Colombo in less than half an hour.

 

 

 

Moving around in Colombo

 

Walking around in Colombo can be quite a tiring experience due to the fumes of exhaust pipes, the heat, the bad state of pavements in some areas and the inherent risks involved in crossing busy arteries, especially if you have young children with you. The best way to move around Colombo is probably a tuk-tuk because it remains the easiest and most practical means of transport. If you plan to hire a chauffeur-driven car around Sri Lanka, you can opt to book for one for the rest of your itinerary and prefer moving around in a tuk-tuk.

 

 

Buses do ply in and around Colombo but they might be a harrowing experience. It is probably an option we would recommend only to backpackers.

 

If you wish to hire a taxi, try one of the regular cab companies that you can call directly. If you avail for the same service through your hotel, you should expect to be charged a significantly higher rate.

 

 

 

 

Tourism bureau

 

The Sri Lanka Toursim Promotion Bureau situated on Galle Road can provide you with a lot of information. Be sure to pick up their colourful brochures and publications like Travel Lanka.

 

Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority
80, Galle Rd, Sri Lanka
+94 11 2 426900 ‎or Hotline (Within Sri Lanka) 1912
www.sltda.gov.lk

 

 

 

 

Colombo districts

Colombo has 15 districts, some with distinctive characteristics.

 

 

Colombo district 1 - Fort Area

This is the main commercial area and hence can be quite congested during office hours. The Fort railway station, the main railway station in Colombo from which trains depart to major destinations, is located here. The district also holds some ministries and high rises like the World Trade Centre.

 

 

Colombo district 2 - Slave Island

Another commercial area filled with company head offices, banks and hospitals. The Town Hall and the Beira Lake are located in this area.

 

 

Colombo district 3 – Kollupitiya

This district has offices, outlets and residential areas. The University of Colombo, restaurants, hotels and malls such as the Liberty Plaza are situated in this area.

 

 

Colombo district 4 – Bambalapitiya

A residential area with popular shopping complexes like Majestic City and Unity Plaza.

 

 

Colombo district 5 - Havelock Town and Kirulapone

Mainly a residential area where some important hospitals like Apollo and Asiri are located. Some shops and offices are also to be found here.

 

 

Colombo district 6 - Wellawatte

The streets here are lined with shops. The local market is famous for fruits and vegetables. Residential apartments everywhere.

 

 

Colombo district 7 - Cinnamon Garden

A very renowned area. The Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Centre and the Sri Lankan Rupavahini Corporation (national broadcasting service) are located.

 

 

Colombo district 8 – Borella

Both residential and commercial.

 

 

Colombo district 9 - Dematagoda

A middle-class suburb that offers cheaper housing.

 

 

Colombo district 10 - Maradana and Panchihawatte

Nothing of great interest here.

 

 

Colombo district 11 - Pettah

Quite a crowded area famous for its open-air bazaars, markets, textile shops, etc. Also famous for the Jami-ul-Alfar Mosque and its multi-ethnic population.

 

 

Colombo district 12 – Kochchikade

Next to Pettah and home for two famous landmarks, the Ponnambalavaaneeswara temple and the St. Antony's church that face each other.

 

 

Colombo district 13 - Kotahena and Bloemendahl

A rather crowded area that gets quite congested before festivals as people flock here to buy jewellery and sarees.

 

 

Colombo district 14 – Grandpass

A suburb of Colombo that was baptised “Grande Passo” by the Portuguese.

 

 

Colombo district 15 – Mattakkuliya

Another suburb of Colombo of no particular interest to travellers.

 

 

Top 20 must see places in Colombo

 

 

Colombo National Museum

 

Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha

https://lakpura.com/national-museum

Free entry

 

Historically, the National Museum was the first museum to be established in Sri Lanka under British Governor Sir William Henry Gregory. The museum is housed in an Italian style majestic two-storied building designed by architect James G. Smither that is a historic monument on its own in Colombo. The museum opened its doors in 1877 and remains the largest museum in the country.

 

 

What to see ? 

  • Treasures of Sri Lanka including the crown and throne of the last king of Kandy.
  • Hindu bronzes depicting Hindu gods and goddesses.
  • Buddhist bronzes of seated Buddha and many bodhisattvas. Among them is a unique piece depicting a seated Buddha that was found at Toluwila in Anuradhapura and dating back to the 3rd century AD.
  • Stone sculptures and ancient coins.
  • A large art and craft collection of ceramics, ivory carvings, antique furniture, masks and musical instruments.
  • A library with a collection of about 500,000 books, including some very rare 4000 "ola leaf" manuscripts (written on palm leaves) in Sinhalese, Pali, Sanskrit and Cambodian, some of them dating back to the 13th century.
  • Ancient military paraphernalia such as swords, sceptres and daggers.
  • The Puppetry and Children's Museum inside the building.

 

Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority

80, Galle Rd, Sri Lanka

+94 11 2 426900 ‎or Hotline (Within Sri Lanka) 1912

www.sltda.gov.lk

 

 

National Museum of Natural History

 

The National Museum of Natural History is situated on the same premises as Colombo National Museum, facing the Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha. Established in 1986, it features endemic plants and animals of Sri Lanka some of them rare or endangered. Different specimens of mammals, birds, reptiles, fishes, amphibians, insects and various kinds of plants and rocks are to be seen here. The man-eating “Leopard of Punani”, shot in Punani in 1924 after having reportedly killed 13 people, is to be seen here. The Skull of Megacerus giganteus (an extinct species of deer) with huge horns is displayed at the Geological section of the museum.

 

 

National Art Gallery

 

106, Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha (Nelum Pokuna Mawatha)

Free admission

 

The National Art Gallery is located next to the National Museum. It is divided into three exhibition halls. The main wing has a permanent collection of portraits and landscapes by international artists. The other two galleries house temporary exhibitions by Sri Lankan artists supported by both foreign and national trusts. The National Art Gallery also hosts the famous Colombo Art Biennale.

 

 

Independence Memorial Hall & Independence Memorial Museum


Independence Square (Torrington Place)

 

The Independence Memorial Hall (also referred to as Independence Commemoration Hall) is a national monument built to mark the independence of Sri Lanka from British rule with the establishment of Dominion of Ceylon on February 4, 1948. It is located within the Cinnamon Gardens and houses the Independence Memorial Museum.

 

The design of the building is based on the Royal audience hall of the Kingdom of Kandy where on March 5, 1815 the Kandyan Convention was signed between the British and the Kandyan Chieftains that established British rule on the island and ended the Kingdom of Kandy.

 

One can see statue of the "The Father of the Nation", Rt. Hon. Stephen Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of independent Sri Lanka. The Independence Memorial Museum also houses a small museum that depicts the independence movement and the Civil war.

 

 

Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre

 

Nelum Pokuna Mawatha (Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha)

 

The Nelum Pokuna Theatre is located in the heart of Colombo. This modern architectural masterpiece is a cultural and artistic centre for large-scale theatrical productions. It was designed by the Beijing Institute of Architectural Designs, based on the “Nelum Pokuna” (lotus pond) in Polonnaruwa. The project was launched in 2006 at a cost of 3 billion rupees with the help of the Chinese government. The building was inaugurated on December 15, 2011. It consists of a theatre equipped with ultra modern facilities such as an auditorium with 1,288 seats, a library and training facilities. The building features two permanent theatres, an auditorium and an open-air theatre with the possibility of converting the front steps into an additional open-air theatre. The 690 sq. m. moving stage in the auditorium includes the ability to raise and lower the orchestra pit to and from stage level. In November 2013, the Theatre hosted its first symphony orchestra concert given by the Commonwealth Festival Orchestra with 87 musicians from the UK, India and the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka, conducted by James Ross. This theatre is designed to play an important role in the artistic development of the country and welcome international artists.

 

 

Town Hall

 

Dr. CWW Kannangara Mawatha

 

Situated opposite the Viharamahadevi Park (Victoria Park), the Town Hall remains an imposing landmark of Colombo. It was on May 24, 1924 that the Mayor of Colombo, T. Reid, laid the foundation stone to build this magnificent building to house the Municipal Council of the country's main city. From the three architectural designs that were submitted, the one by S. J. Edwards of Ralph Booty & Co. in Singapore with a striking resemblance to the United States Capitol in Washington was selected. The building was inaugurated in 1928 and houses the administrative staff of the municipal council of the capital. Today the gardens of the Colombo Town Hall host many events regularly.

 

 

Victoria Park (Viharamahadevi Park)

 

Dharmapala Mawatha

 

If you visit the National Museum, you cannot miss a stroll in this beautifully landscaped park, the largest in Colombo. The park was built during the British rule of Sri Lanka, and was originally named "Victoria Park" after Queen Victoria. Although the Sri Lankan government renamed it after Independence in 1948 after Queen Viharamahadevi, the mother of King Dutugemunu (205-161 B.C.), the original name is still used by locals. The place, full of trees and fountains, is a very popular promenade. It holds a mini-zoo and a play area for children. The Viharadahadevi Park Open Air Stadium is a venue for concerts and public events.

 

 

If you visit the National Museum, you cannot miss a stroll in this beautifully landscaped park, the largest in Colombo.  The park was built during the British rule of Sri Lanka, and was originally named "Victoria Park" after Queen Victoria. Although the Sri Lankan government renamed it after Independence in 1948 after Queen Viharamahadevi, the mother of King Dutugemunu (205-161 B.C.), the original name is still used by locals. The place, full of trees and fountains, is a very popular promenade. It holds a mini-zoo and a play area for children. The Viharadahadevi Park Open Air Stadium is a venue for concerts and public events.

 

 

Cargills

 

York Street

 

The “House of Cargills” came to being in 1844 when William Miller and David Sime Cargill created a general warehouse for wholesales. During the British period, colonial administrators and highland tea planters flocked to this place on their visit to the capital city to buy a sizeable stock of supplies to last many months.

 

You cannot miss this beautiful Victorian building if you are in the fort area of the city. The building, in red and white at an intersection of York Street, has retained its old charm although it no longer serves its initial purpose. A century later, the company became a limited liability company and in 1983 became the first outlet of the Cargills' chain of supermarkets (there are over 150 outlets today). The shop caters to every need and there is a bit of everything, even for tourists, to take home.

 

 

 

Clocktower

 

Janadhipathi Mawatha

 

Built in 1856, this tower originally had several functions. It served as a lighthouse, a clock and a bell tower. The glow of its oil lamps was visible up to 30 km away. Designated as "zero point" of all distances measured between Colombo and other cities, the clock tower remains an important landmark in Colombo. It is difficult to walk around to observe all the four quadrants due to military checkpoints that prevent access to Janadhipathi Mawatha.

 

 

 

Colombo Maritime Museum

 

Chaithya Road

Open every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

 

The Maritime Museum of Colombo belongs to the Port Authority. Located in the former Dutch prison built in 1676, it is the only building remaining from the 17th century in the port area of Colombo. It has been renovated and refurbished to accommodate various objects of historical importance for the country's maritime history. It features important statues and models of ships as well.

 

 

 

Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct

 

Bank of Ceylon Mawatha

 

This former hospital building dating back to the Dutch presence in Sri Lanka in the 17th century was completely renovated in 2012. The place, next to the World Trade Centre and the Central Bank, is a popular venue both for tourists and the young and trendy population of Colombo. The site features a dozen restaurants, cafés, shops and boutiques located around two beautiful courtyards. Frequently, musicians and artists give performances here, much to the pleasure of onlookers and customers.

 

 

 

Grand Oriental Hotel

 

York Street 

 

The Grand Oriental Hotel (GHO) is an iconic building located near the harbour entrance at the end of York Street. The building was initially constructed in 1837 to house British soldiers and it was only in 1875 that it was transformed to a hotel. The place encountered a great success among passengers calling at Colombo Port and among locals particularly attracted by its beautiful ballroom. The hotel has finely furnished rooms with splendid views over the harbour. Today the place has retained all of its original charm and elegance. Its panoramic restaurant on the top floor offers great views over the waterfront.

 

 

President's House & Gordon Gardens

 

Janadhipathi Mawatha

 

When the British wrested control of the island from the Dutch in 1804, they transformed the private house of the Dutch Governor into the official residence of the British Governor of Ceylon. At some point in time, the house became to be referred to as the King's House or the Queen's House.  In 1972, when Sri Lanka became a republic, the house was renamed as President's House. Despite the name and the presence of armed men, the President's residence is not located here anymore but on Galle Road, near Galle Face Hotel and the recently opened Hyatt hotel.

 

The vast surrounding park set in about 4 acres of land is named Gordon Gardens in memory of Governor Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon who created the garden in honour of the Queen Victoria's jubilee in 1887. The park boast of an amazing variety of trees and a marble statue of Queen Victoria that was removed from the gardens in 2006. It remained opened to the public until 1980 when it became part of President's House.

 

 

 

World Trade Centre

 

The World Trade Centre (WTC Colombo or WTCC) is currently the tallest building in Sri Lanka. It is composed of the twin towers with 40 floors each. The towers measuring 152 metres high serve as headquarters to several major national and international companies. The WTCC, inaugurated in 1997, is the most important business centre in Colombo.

 

 

Dutch Museum

 

Pettha Bazaar Prince Street

Open every day from 9 a.m. To 5 p.m. except on Sundays and Mondays.

Adult admission Rs.500

+94 11 244 84 66

dutchmuseum@sltnet.lk

 

 

This two storied large building reflecting the features of a 17th century Dutch urban house was built by Thomas Van Rhee, the Dutch Governor of Sri Lanka from 1692-1697 to serve as his official residence. During the British period the building served as an army hospital, a police-training centre, the Pettah post office and then a telecommunication centre. Thanks to the conservation-minded Dutch government, it opened its doors in 1981 as a Dutch museum. Today it hosts a varied collection of furniture, crockery, coins, arms and other historical items from the Dutch period. The Tombstone hall here houses tombstones of Dutch officials.

 

Do not forget to admire the teak floorboards and original furniture during your visit and take time to sit for a while in the neat courtyard with a beautiful garden.

 

 

Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque

 

Petta Bazaar

Colombo 11

 

Built in 1909 by the Muslim community in the Petta market area, Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque is a beautiful mosque made of red and white bricks. For a long time, its distinctive colour combination and exquisitely shaped minarets remained a landmark for sailors approaching the port.  It is situated between Bankshall Street and Second Cross Street in the middle of a very colourful and crowded area with a lot of shops around. On Fridays, the mosque draws lots of Muslims for prayers. Please note that only Muslims can enter the premises.

 

 

 

Old Town Hall & Museum

 

Pettha Bazaar

Open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day except Saturdays and holidays.

Entry free

 

 

Old Town Hall is a building with a beautiful architecture that has lost some of its lustre over time. Built in 1873, it served as city hall until 1928 and then as a fire station and museum. The museum has a strange collection of old items with hardly any connection between each other.  However, a stroll around these antique pieces somehow reveals to be a step into Colombo's memorable, yet eccentric, colonial past.

 

 

 

Pettah Bazaar

 

Pettah takes its name from "pita kotuwa" which in Sinhalese means the “outside of the fort”. The Pettah neighborhood sprung up during the Dutch occupation when the locals needed a shopping district just outside the precincts of the fort. The bazaars in Pettah occupy a sizeable area of the neighbourhood from Front Street on the west to 5th Cross Street on the east and the harbour waterfront in the north to Prince Street in the south.

 

Any idea of driving in the area should best be abandoned. Visitors should be prepared for the steady pace of the locals, carts laden with goods and a steady flow of small lorries honking their way around to deliver supplies to shops. The traveller can however expect to be rewarded with some decent prices on leather goods and electronic items or even down-to-earth prices when it comes to clothing, especially on Main Street.

 

Please note that bargaining is the norm and it is always a way to make acquaintances if done with a smile. Some streets are specialised in particular products: 1st Cross Street is mostly for electronic goods, cell phones and accessories. 2nd and 3rd Cross Street Cross Street have shops selling clothing (especially saris) and textiles, 4th Cross Street is mainly for food items while 5th Cross Street is lined with shops selling spices, condiments and seasonal fruits. Walk down Prince Street for toys and other paraphernalia. Just outside Pettah, Sea Street on the northern side offers a string of jewellery shops.

 

 

 

Seema Malaka Temple

 

Sir James Pierus Mawatha

Entrance free

 

As recalled by a plaque at its entrance, Seema Malakaya Temple was built in 1985 by the famous Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. This temple is located on Beira Laka, a few meters from the shore on an artificial island that can be reached by a wooden pier. The ensemble, consisting of a main building, a dagoba, a Bodhi tree and an array of Buddha bronze statues (a gift from the Thai government) forms a wonderful setting for worshippers and curious travellers alike.

 

The view of the lake is quite a sight and no wonder it is one of the most photographed sights in Colombo. During the day, the temple offers a real getaway from bustling Colombo. In the evenings, the illuminations accentuate the Southeast Asian tinge of the temple.

 

 

 

Galle Face Green

 

Galle Face Green is a strip of lawn almost a kilometre long that runs along the sea between the pier and Galle Road. Initially it was created by the Dutch to keep a line of fire open for their canons. During the British reign, it was turned it into a racetrack and then to a golf course. Today, Galle Face Green is a very popular hangout for joggers and families. It is also a popular haunt among inland tourists who flock here for a taste of the beach and the stalls selling varied food. Galle Face Green is also a regular rendez-vous for kite fans (especially during the annual Kite Festival). Three major hotels surround the lawn, the Galle Face Hotel, the Taj Samudra Hotel and the soon to be opened Shangri-La Hotel.

 

 

 

Temple Trees Palace

 

Galle Road, Colombo 3

Not open for visits

 

The history of Temple Trees began in the early 19th century. The property was owned by several British administrators and traders before being sold to a certain John Philip Green in 1856. It was Green who named it “Temple Trees” with reference to the many small temple trees that grew on the premises. The house was then bought by the British government and became the residence of the Colonial Secretary. In 1948, independent Sri Lanka made Temple Trees the residence of the Prime Minister. The place is now heavily guarded and is not open for visits.

 

 

 

Cinemas

 

There are four major cinemas in Colombo. The films screened are mostly Hollywood blockbusters. Movies for children are another regular feature. Ticket prices are around Rs.500.

 

 

Liberty Cinema

35 Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha

Colombo 00300

Sri Lanka

+94 112 325 266

https://www.scopecinemas.com/

 

 

Majestic Cinema

(situated within the Majestic City Shopping Mall)

Majestic City Center

10 Station Rd,

Colombo 00400

Sri Lanka

+94 112 508 673

http://www.majesticcity.lk/

 

 

Savoy 3D

(showing latest Hollywood 3D movies)

12 Savoy Building

Colombo 5

+94 11 744 44 66

www.eapmovies.com

savoymanager@eapmovies.com

 

 

Excel Cinema

338, T.B Jayah Mawatha, Colombo 10

+94 11 745 28 55

www.eapmovies.com

excelcinema@eapmovies.com

 

 

 

The must see places to visit around Colombo

 

 

Rail journey to Kelani Valley

 

Rail journeys in Sri Lanka are a perfect introduction to wild beauty and unhindered nature. Apart from the landscapes, trains in Sri Lanka offer another view into Sri Lankan society. If you have decided not to use the train for moving around the island but still would like to have a taste of a rail journey, a short trip to Homagama from Colombo Fort Railway Station (lasting an hour) can serve as a perfect introduction.

 

Catch any of the trains (Train N° 9254 leaves around 8:30 AM, Train N° 9257 departs at 1:05 PM, others such as the 9262, the 9262A, the 9263 and the 9264 leave at short intervals between 4 PM and 5:15 PM), pass through crowded suburbs, the Royal Colombo Golf Course, orchards and lush countryside. Homagama station is after Homagama Hospital. One you alight here, you can get back to Colombo by tuk-tuk for a small fee.

Mount Lavinia is a colourful beach that attracts all of Colombo

 

 

 

Mount Lavinia Beach

 

This is a destination only if you are short of time and you cannot go too far away from the capital city. To avoid any currents, it is advisable to swim here only when you see locals do the same. In the absence of lifeguards, stay close to other swimmers.

In case you managed to take time off a busy schedule in the capital city but did not have time to carry your swimwear, you need not worry. There are always people selling swimsuits and inflatable toys for children.

 

Parents may be put off by the weekend crowds, but not children who are sure to be attracted to the bustle. Plus, the outing can give them a glimpse of Sri Lankan-style beach life complete with shacks and volleyball enthusiasts. Quite a few seaside restaurants offer quality food out here. Hence you need not worry about carrying a picnic. Be sure to carry your camera as sunsets are quite a sight here.

 

Thalangama wetlands and Ingiriya forest reserve are easily visited from Colombo

 

 

Thalangama wetlands

 

Hardly 30 minutes from Colombo, the Thalangama wetlands are easily reachable by motorable roads. The terrain here is comprised of ponds, paddy fields and canals that offer a suitable dwelling to birds and reptiles alike. The lakes here are magical at dusk especially when you find winged creatures wading through lilies on the water surface. The visitor is enthralled here by the rare mix of colours and sounds all year around, making a visit a treat to the eye and a symphony to the ear. For more information, click here.

 

 

Bodhinagala or Ingiriya Forest Reserve

 

Situated some 50 kilometres east of Colombo, the Bodhinagala sanctuary excels in its bird population. The terrain made of slopes, streams and tracks is excellent for hiking and biking. If you are in Colombo and wish to travel to the hilly regions through Ratnapura, you would want to consider stopping here to admire the rare and endemic birds here.

 

 

 

 

Top activities for children: The Traditional Puppet Art Museum and The German Toy Museum

 

Traditional Puppet Art Museum

 

Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha (Karagampitiya Rd)

Pinwatta

Dehiwala

+94 11 271 42 41

 

 

Puppet shows are an integral part of Sri Lankan tradition. It is said that Sri Lankan puppetry has been influenced over the centuries by Rajasthani and South Indian puppet traditions. However, Sri Lankan puppetry has its own distinctive features owing to the particularities of the island be it religion, culture or customs. Sri Lankan puppeteers hail mostly from schools situated in the Southern Province especially Ambalangoda and "Mirissa" and also in the Central Province.

 

The Colombo Traditional Puppet Art Museum is located in the southern part of the city in Dehiwala. You tuk-tuk driver might have difficulties locating it. FYI, on Googlemaps, the museum is situated right at the intersection of Allen Avenue and Arthurs PI. The museum can be a good outing if you are travelling with kids below 12. They are sure to be impressed by the long corridor lined with puppets and exhibits relating to a particular folklore in each room. The souvenir section of the museum sells moderately priced masks worth carrying back home.

 

 

 

 

German Toy Museum

 

Havelock Road

+94 771 106 224

 

The German Toy Museum at 421 Havelock Road is quite a treat to the eye. The place is full of toys (what else can one expect?) collected over the years by Gayangi von Heimendahl.  For adults, the place is sure to be a walk down memory lane especially at the sight of old toys in pristine condition. Kids are bound to be mesmerised at the theme-based display rooms filled with a variety of toys (model cars, trains, doll houses, toy soldiers, shop scenes, etc.). If you find the door closed, do not hesitate to ring the bell. The friendly personnel are sure to open the place and take you to the first floor of the building that houses the collection. It is better to call them ahead of your visit.

 

 

 

Dehiwala zoo

 

Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha

Dehiwala

http://nationalzoo.gov.lk/zoo/

 +94 11 271 2752

zoosl@slt.lk

 

 

Dehiwala zoo, founded in 1936, is one of the oldest zoological gardens in Asia. Zoos tend to attract controversy about animal rights and Dehiwala is no exception, despite the many improvement works done in 2011. So, you can go there if your children need some amusement away from the bustle. They will get to see an elephant performance by six Asian elephants as well as other animals like leopards, jaguars, lions, sloth bears and monkeys. Buffaloes, deer, giraffes, zebras and quite a variety of birds are also to be seen. You can also take an elephant ride here if you do not intend to go to the Cultural Triangle.

 

 

 

Unmissable activites in Colombo

 

 

Colombo City Tour

 

Colombo City Tour is a service launched partly by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority offering open double-decker tours of the city during the day and after dusk. Tickets can be bought at the Galle Face Hotel on Galle Road. Depending on the timing and the theme, the buses take you to the main tourist sights such as Wolvendaal Church, Old Dutch Fort, Gangarama Seema Malakaya, Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall, National Museum, Independence Square, Laksala souvenir shop, etc. Foreign travellers pay $30 ($15 for children below 12) while Sri Lankan nationals pay Rs.1500 (Rs.750 for children below 12).

 

 

 

Colombo City Tour

84, S. De. S Jayasinghe Mawatha

Kohuwala.

Hotlines +94 77 759 9963 / +94 77 777 2595

www.colombocitytours.com

infocct@sltnet.lk

 

 

 

Buy handicrafts at Laksala on York Street

www.laksala.gov.lk

 

Laksala is the only State owned gift and souvenir boutique in Sri Lanka. Since it was set up in 1982, Laksala has extended the variety of products on sale and the number of stores all across the island. All the 13 branches offer a wide variety of Sri Lankan products ranging from tea and spices to colourful batik and other art and craft works. Laksala also offers a selection of gems and jewels that you can carry back home.

 

 

 

Buy traditional jewellery

 

Sri Lanka is a major exporter of precious and semi-precious and precious stones in the world. It is home to gemstones like sapphires, rubies, cat’s eyes, alexandrites, tourmalines, zircons, garnets, amethysts and topaz. Gem mining is a seasonal activity in Sri Lanka and employs about 100,000 people. The town of Ratnapura is home to an age-old gem and jewellery industry dating back several centuries. Sri Lanka is known to produce more than 50 varieties of gem stones (second only to Brazil) and is believed to account for about 25% of global sapphire sales. The Ceylon Blue Sapphire that was worn by Princess Diana and later gifted by Prince William to Miss Kate Middleton on their engagement is said to come from a Sri Lankan mine.

 

In Colombo, the National Gem and Jewellery Authority has outlets that can check the authenticity of gems that you can purchase from jewellery shops. If you are looking for a traditional design, there are ready-made jewels on the offer. If you prefer to have a gem-studded ornament made to your taste, jewellers can make it for you in a matter of days.

 

 

 

Try your luck at the casinos

 

The Sri Lanka gambling industry has been operating in one form or another since at least the 1980s when many 5-star hotels started their in-house casinos featuring free drinks and food in addition to the blackjack and baccarat tables. Colombo is where most of the casinos on the island are located. The most popular of them are: 

 

 

 

 

Ballys Colombo

34 D.R. Wijewardana Mawatha

Colombo 10

+94 11 233 2211

www.ballyscolombo.com

info@ballyscolombo.com

Open 24 hours

 

 

Bellagio

430 R.A. De Mel Mawatha

Colombo 3

+94 11 257 5271

www.bellagiocolombo.com

info@bellagiocolombo.com

Open 24 hours

 

 

MGM GRAND

772 Galle Road

Colombo 4

+94 11 250 2268

https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Casino/MGM-Colombo-220962074625364/info@mgmcolombo.com

info@mgmcolombo.com

Open 24 hours

 

 

Stardust Casino

Carlwil Place 9

15th Lane

Colombo 3

+94 11 257 3493

https://www.worldcasinodirectory.com/casino/star-dust-club-1631

info@stardustcasino.lk

Open 24 hours

 

 

Casino Marina

30 Marina Drive

Colombo 3

+94 114 922 733

info@marinacolombo.com

 

 

The Ritz Club

5, Galle Face Terrace

Colombo 03

+94 112 341 496

 

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