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Colombo, Sri Lanka travel guide

Colombo, the capital city of the beautiful pearl of the Indian Ocean – Sri Lanka, historically known as Ceylon, is a big vibrant cosmopolitan city with 5,6 million of inhabitants. While Sri Lanka is officially a Buddhist country, its population is ethnically very mixed and locals here practice a variety of religions. Around 70.2% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, 12.6% are Hindus, 9.7% are Muslims and 7.4% are Christians. Therefore you can find many different religious sights all around the country. And Colombo is no exception! There are plenty of beautiful mosques, magnificent temples and charming churches to see and visit.

In the past Sri Lanka was colonised by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British and Colombo served as a seaport town for the trade between Asia and Europe. The country gained their independence only in 1948, which definitely isn’t so long ago. For this reason you can still find here many colonial buildings, perfectly blended in with modern buildings and skyscrapers of “new” Colombo.

We have spent 1 and half days in Colombo and… where do I begin?!

OVERWHELMING…if I had to choose one word for this bustling city, it would be the word “overwhelming” …but not in a bad way! It was so busy, that we haven’t even had the time to comprehend everything that has been going on around us. Especially the old Pettah neighbourhood.

We have seen pretty much all the highlights in 1 full day, so we can recommend you to do the same, before you start exploring the rest of the country. Two full days would also be great to dig in deeper into the city’s charm. To be honest, it’s not the city that you fall in love with on a first sight, so give yourself enough time to explore it and see everything it has to offer!

After travelling all around Sri Lanka for 1 month, we can agree on one thing. Colombo is very different from the rest of the country. It’s super busy, crowded, messy, loud and bustling. And that’s basically the opposite of everything you will see anywhere else around this beautiful island. I was also very surprised to not see almost any tourists. It really felt like we were the only ones there.

Even though Colombo wasn’t our favourite place in Sri Lanka as we felt like it didn’t have as many things to do or as many iconic must-see sights to visit, we still do recommend you to spend 1-2 full days here if time permits!


Most of the people visiting Colombo decide to stay at high end hotels along the waterfront promenade called Galle Face Green. These hotels are located in the new-modern part of Colombo and have a beautiful view of the ocean. Some of the best ones are Shangri-La Colombo, The Kingsbury Colombo, Ceylon Intercontinental Hotel, The Galadari, ITC Ratnadipa, Taj Samudra, Galle Face Hotel, Ramada by Wyndham Colombo, Cinnamon Grand Colombo, Grand Hyatt Colombo, Granbell Hotel Colombo, Sheraton Colombo and Mövenpick Colombo.

While these hotels are incredible and you get what you pay for, as we said, they are located along the coast which is a little bit further from the centre of Colombo if you just want to walk everywhere. As we only had 1 day in Colombo, we decided to stay in the very central and local area in a low budget hotel called Opulence Colombo. It was okay but probably you could find a better hotel for the same price (25EUR/night) so we wouldn’t really recommend it. Looking back at our time in Colombo, if I had the option to splurge a little bit, I would take the hotel along the coast in Galle Face Green area and take a short tuktuk ride to the centre.



The city centre of Colombo is walkable and you can easily get around most of the places of interest on foot.


To cover longer distances, we recommend you to use Uber. It is very cheap and convenient. We also used Uber to get from the airport to the city centre when we arrived and paid a very reasonable price of around 12 EUR. PickMe is another good option. It’s a Sri Lankan equivalent of Uber.


You can use a taxi to get around Colombo, however Uber and PickMe are cheaper and you don’t need to worry about setting the price with the driver so I wouldn’t recommend using taxis in Colombo.


The other option is a tuktuk. You can also book it via Uber or PickMe. If you decide to just stop one on the street without using an app, make sure you agree on the price before you get in.


We have actually rented our own tuktuk at to drive around Sri Lanka. We picked it up after we finished exploring Colombo and headed straight out, so we didn’t really use it in Colombo, but you definitely can! You can also rent a scooter if you prefer.

For both a tuktuk and a scooter you will need a local Sri Lankan driving license called Sri Lankan Recognition Permit. Your international driver’s license unfortunately isn’t sufficient to drive around Sri Lanka.

We got our license sorted by our tuktuk rental company. We sent them all the documents needed and they got it ready for us for an extra fee. Otherwise you have have to go to Automobile Association of Ceylon located in Colombo and get the license there.

However from April 15th 2024 tourists are able to apply for the local Sri Lankan license directly at the airport after arrival.

NOTE: You can’t drive with a tuktuk on the highway (so make sure you set your google maps on “avoiding motorways”) and the maximum speed you can drive at is 40km/h. This means that when you are planning your drives, you have to add some extra time to the time it shows you on google maps. We have noticed that with a tuktuk it took us around 20min longer per each hour of the drive. So if google maps shows you 1h drive (car drive) it will be around 1h20min with a tuktuk. If it shows 2h, it will be around 2h40min and so on!


Maybe not so popular to just get around Colombo, but a very popular way to travel around Sri Lanka is to hire a private driver. If you would like to explore Sri Lanka with a professional private driver here is a contact on our local family friend Treshan (+94 77 354 2191). You can contact him via WhatsApp and plan your holidays together. He can take you and show you all around Sri Lanka so you will have the perfect hassle free holidays!

Another perk of travelling with a local is that they aren’t just drivers but also tour guides! They know all the best spots, hidden gems and off the beaten path places. So other than all the tourist sites, Treshan can take you pretty much everywhere and show you places you’ve never heard of!

For taxi service the price is around 0,45$/km but of course if you want to plan the entire holiday with him so he takes you all around the island, you can work out an itinerary all together and make a final price. 0,45$/km is just a rough estimated price for you to have an idea.


There are many local buses driving around the city (and all of Sri Lanka), however we have never tried them so we can’t tell you much about the experience apart from the fact that the bus drivers drive like crazy maniacs! But from what we heard, buses are very cheap so if you are on a tight budget you might want to give them a chance!


Not used to travel around the city centre of Colombo, but still wanted to mention in in case you would like to take a day trip to, for example, Negombo. Head to Colombo Fort Railway Station (the main central station) and hop on the scenic train ride. The trains are very cheap in Sri Lanka!


If you prefer to have your itinerary for Colombo organised and would like to wander around and explore the city with a local who will spoil you with all the interesting facts and give you all the informations about the city and its history, you can embark on a guided tour. Here are some you can choose from:

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Colombo is a huge city that is also becoming very modern (at least in the new parts of the city), which means that there are plenty of restaurant and bar options with different cuisines.

We only had one day in Colombo so we didn’t really had the time to try out all the best restaurants in the city, but we had lunch in Pastamania Sri Lanka, which is a restaurant inside the One Galle Face Mall and later that day we had our first traditional Sri Lankan Rice & Curry meal at Nana’s King Toyna, which is a local restaurant at Galle Face Green. It was a little bit difficult to find it on google maps as it’s just a food stall with tables and maybe it moves its spot a little bit from time to time, but it was a very nice introduction to the traditional Sri Lankan cuisine. It was also very cheap, we have paid less than 5 EUR for both of our dishes and one cola drink.

Some of the best restaurants and cafés in Colombo that unfortunately we haven’t had the time to try are:


Kopi Kade (specialty coffee and Sri Lankan tapas), Butter Boutique (best cakes, pastry and desserts), Black Cat Cafe (great for brunch), The Grind Coffee House (specialty coffee bar & eatery), Whight & CO (ceylon coffee roastery).


Upali’s (traditional Sri Lanka cuisine with a modern twist), Culture Colombo (upscale Sri Lankan restaurant), Kaema Sutra (contemporary Sri Lanka cuisine), Isso (Sri Lankan prawns), Monsoon Colombo (upscale Southeast Asian cuisine), Curry Pot (local restaurant).

A special place to have lunch or dinner is at the Old Dutch Hospital, which is the oldest building in Colombo and houses a handful amount of great restaurants and cafés. One of them is also one of the best restaurants in Colombo – Ministry of Crab, where they serve crabs that can weight up to 2kg!


Thanks to the British colonisation, Sri Lanka has developed a very strong high tea culture. You can have some of the best afternoon tea at Shangri-La Colombo, Hilton Colombo, Galle Face Hotel or The Pagoda Tea Rooms. Reservation is recommended. Alternatively you can head to t-Lounge by Dilmah (they have 3 different locations around Colombo) and try some traditional fine tea with a modern twist. We were told to try their signature t-Kitsch tea.


A good place to enjoy a sundowner is Mount Lavinia Hotel, where you will have a beautiful view of the sunset over the ocean while sipping on some delicious cocktails. They also offer high tea so if you want you can come earlier and enjoy the afternoon tea before the sundowner and cocktails!


If you are looking for a beautiful rooftop bar, then head to the highest rooftop bar & restaurant – Virticle by Jetwing. Alternatively you can visit the very stylish Headquarters by W15, classy Cloud Red by Cinnamon Red or sophisticated Ward 7 by Jetwing Colombo Seven.

Although eating at great restaurants surely is amazing, you shouldn’t miss out on eating street food! You will see street food carts and stalls all around Colombo (or all of Sri Lanka for that matter) but a particularly good place to go is Abdul Hameed Street. It’s a heaven for street food lovers! Try some delicious Rice & Curry, Kottu Roti, Lamprais, Samosas or Hoppers. Another great options for street food is Galle Face Green Promenade, Pettah Floating Market or Saturday Good Market (more on these later!).

If you would like to learn how to cook signature Sri Lankan dishes, you can take a cooking class! We heard good things about Aunty’s Sri Lankan Cooking Class!


There might not be a crazy amount of things to do or iconic must-see sights to see as a tourist in Colombo, but we definitely recommend you to spend at least a day in this capital. We have visited the main sights and highlights of the city, but then during our wanderings around, we have also found many other spots that we liked that were not mentioned in the guides as “things to do in Colombo”. We will talk about those places too! 🙂

Pettah Market

Pettah Market is the busiest and largest open-air market in all of Sri Lanka and it’s considered to be the heart of Colombo. The entire Pettah neighbourhood had been a hub of trade and commerce since the British colonisation. You can buy pretty much everything in this labyrinth of narrow alleyways! From electronics, souvenirs, handicrafts, household items, jewellery, textile, clothing and accessories to spices, street food and incenses. Every narrow street of the market offers different products so just get lost here and see for yourself, what you can find! Even if you don’t want to buy anything, it’s still a must place to visit when in Colombo. Plus it’s a food lover’s paradise. There are many street food vendors selling fresh fruit and veggies, juices, and traditional Sri Lankan delicacies like kottu roti, samosas or hoppers.

Some other markets that are worth to visit are:

Good Market – a small Saturday market where local people sell mostly food and locally produced organic goods.

Pettah Floating Market – is a series of pavilions constructed at the edge of Beira lake. There are around 90 trade stalls and shops along the water with vendors selling fruits, vegetables, snacks, flowers, souvenirs, local handicrafts, clothing, jewellery, accessories and electronics. There are also several restaurants and bars for you to enjoy a meal or a drink at this beautiful floating market by the water.

The Open-Air Art Market at the Green Path – local artists come here and showcase their works and sell their pieces. From classic portraits, still images to more contemporary designs and experimental styles. New art is put on display every weekend.

Abdul Hameed Street – probably the best street to try out local street food. Delicious Rice & Curry, Kottu Roti, Lamprais, Samosas and Hoppers. You can find everything here!

Khan Clock Tower

Khan Clock Tower was built by two Indian brothers as a symbol of gratitude and the memory of their father Framijee Bhikhajee Khan, the Parsi businessman, who hailed from Bombay. It was built in January 1923 on the 45th anniversary of his death. Nowadays Khan Clock Tower is a popular landmark, which also marks the entrance to Pettah Market.

Jami Ul Alfar Mosque

In the heart of Pettah Market you will find what is probably the most important and visited sight in Colombo, the Jami Ul Alfar Mosque. The Red Mosque, which is the mosque’s alternative name, has majestic and significant red and white minarets and domes, which make the mosque really stand out! It was built in 1909 and it is one of the oldest mosques in Colombo. The mosque was commissioned by the local Indian Muslim community based in Pettah, home to the city’s large Muslim community, to fulfill their required five-times-daily prayer and Jummah on Fridays.

Head to the GATE 3 (tourist entrance) from where you can enter and visit the mosque from inside. The mosque is closed for tourists from 12:00-14:00 for prayer time and also on Fridays.

Dutch Museum

The Dutch Museum is located inside a 17th century Dutch Urban house which was built and resided by the Dutch Governor of Sri Lanka, Thomas Van Rhee. The building was preserved by a special preservation committee with the assistance of Dutch government, and opened for the public as Dutch museum by the Department of National Museums in 1977. Nowadays it houses and showcases over 3000 historical artifacts related to the Dutch who ruled coastal areas of Sri Lanka.

Unfortunately when we visited Colombo it was temporarily closed, so we didn’t get the chance to visit, but will definitely return once we visit Sri Lanka again!

Old Town Hall Building

This large Neo-Gothic building located in Pettah was built by the British architect J. G. Smither in 1873 and it was used as the municipal headquarters until 1924. The Town Hall was the first civic building at the time to be opened in Colombo.

Some of the ground floor is still in use for government meetings and in the other part there is a museum with several artefacts. On the top floor you can find many paintings, old photographs, radios, typewriters and even a conference table with 15 men figurines with their names, seated around the table. One of them is supposed to be William Shakespeare.

There’s no entrance fee to visit the Old Town Hall.

Some other sights and landmarks nearby Pettah neighbourhood are:

  • Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil (oldest Hindu temple)
  • Old and New Kathiresan Kovils (Hindu temples)
  • Our Lady of Good Health Church
  • Makamus Saif Mosque
  • Ramlal Maharajah Dharma Chatram and Sri Sivaraja Vinayagar Swamy Kovil (Hindu temple)
  • Christian Reformed Church of Sri Lanka-Wolvendaal Church (one of the oldest protestant churches still in use)

The Fort

During the Portuguese colonisation in the early 16th century, the area of today’s Fort was used as one of their trading posts in the island. Later on the Portuguese developed their trading post into a fortified base and harbour, with twelve bastions and an esplanade to extend their control of the interior of the island. There were 237 guns mounted to protect the fort.

In 1656 the Portuguese-built fortification was conquered and demolished by the Dutch. They reconstructed it to take advantage of the natural strength of the location between a lake and the sea, to protect against both the sea and the interior of the island.

Following the British acquiring control of the Dutch-controlled areas on the coast of the island, the fort became the centre of the island’s administration, and in 1815 Colombo became the capital.

The walls of the fort were demolished between 1869 and 1871 to make room for new military barracks and planned urban development in the area. Dutch buildings were also demolished and replaced by British-style architecture. The new buildings were home to the British administration on the island, and it became the site of the Legislative and the State Council.

Although the walls were taken down, the area remained to be called the Fort.

There are still some locations which contain the remains of the fort and its walls. One of them is The Delft gate, which formed one of the three main entrances to the Dutch Fort of Colombo.

Thanks to all the different colonisations, the fort area is nowadays home to many different buildings and magnificent colonial and non-colonial monuments from many different eras of the cities past. Many of them are located on Chatham Street.

Here are some particularly beautiful buildings and monuments featuring either Dutch, British or Islamic architecture:

  • President’s House and Gordon Gardens (official residence of the President of Sri Lanka)
  • Old Parliament Building (home to The Presidential Secretariat)
  • Chatham Street Clock Tower (read more about it under)
  • The Cargills building
  • Dutch Hospital
  • De Mel Building (also home to The Pagoda Tea Rooms café)
  • Fort Jummah Masjid (mosque)

Another landmark in the Fort that is worth to visit is the Buddhist shrine Sambodhi Chaithya.

The Fort nowadays is a cosmopolitan area and the main economic, business and financial centre of Colombo and Sri Lanka. Other that that, it also serves as the city’s main transport hub, as the main bus and railways stations are located right here.

Chatham Street Clock Tower

Built in 1857, this 167 years old (as of 2024) Chatham Street Clock Tower is the most significant landmark in the Colombo Fort. It is the only lighthouse clock tower in the world.

Back in the days the light powered by kerosene oil could be seen from a distance of 18 km away in clear weather. The lighthouse was discontinued in 1954 after the construction of large buildings in the Fort, which obscured its purpose, and it was replaced by a new lighthouse at Galle Buck. Even though the old lighthouse is no longer operational, the tower remains and functions as a clock tower.

Port City

A quite “new” thing to do in Colombo is to visit the Port City. It is still under construction, so it has a restricted access and when we wanted to visit, we were told that we need to book the time slot online, but this will soon change once they finish the entire construction. Big things are planned for this fresh new city development. Marina promenade, artificial beach with water sports, great dining options and much more will soon be all opened to public!

Galle Face Green 

Galle Face Green is a 12 acres ocean-side urban park, which stretches for 500m along the coast and is the largest open space in Colombo. It is a popular destination for families with children, vendors, kite-flyers and everyone who wants to escape the bustling and chaotic city life and relax by the ocean. Come here in the afternoon, get some drinks and snacks from the food vendors and have a little picnic by the ocean while you watch the sunset.

The original Galle Face Green extended over a much larger area than is seen today and it was initially used for horse racing, golf, cricket, polo, football, tennis, and rugby. It was initially laid out by the Dutch as a means to enable their cannons a strategic line of fire against the Portuguese.

Every day at sunset there is a ceremony, where the guards take down the National flag. We heard, that they are supposed to do it to the sound of bagpipes, but it was not the case when we were there.

One Galle Face Mall

One Galle Face Mall is the largest shopping mall in Colombo with 7 floors, 50+ bars and restaurants, 7 rooftop restaurants and over 300 retailers!

Visiting a shopping mall might not be on your list, but for us it was a great place to cool down from the heat, have some lunch, get a haircut and browse around a couple of stores!

Beira Lake

Beira Lake is a man-made lake in the centre of Colombo. The lake was built by the Portuguese during the colonial era to provide protection to Colombo from enemies, mainly local kings. Nowadays the lake is surrounded by many large businesses in the city. One of the standing out features of the Beira Lake is the green colour of the water, primarily due to the high density of algae.

Rent a swan boat at Hansa Boat Service and pedal around the lake while you admire the beautiful view of the skyline, Colombo Lotus Tower, Gangaramaya Park and Seema Malaka Temple.

Gangaramaya Temple

Gangaramaya Temple located not far from the placid waters of Beira Lake is one of the most important and oldest temples in Colombo, constructed in the late 19th century. This Buddhist temple includes several imposing buildings and its design is a mix of modern architecture and cultural essence. Our personal favourite part of the temple was the beautifully decorated room with the big statue of Buddha.

To visit the temple you will need to cover your knees and shoulders, but don’t worry, they will provide you the sarong.

The entrance fee is 400 LKR (1,30EUR) and it also includes the entrance to Seema Malaka.

Seema Malaka

Seema Malaka is a part of the Gangaramaya Temple mainly used for meditation and rest, rather than for worship. This Buddhist Temple is situated right on top of Beira Lake. It is constructed on three platforms over water, which are connected to the mainland and with each other by pontoon bridges. The temple was originally constructed in the late 19th century, together with Gangaramaya Temple, but it slowly sank into the lake during 1970s and had to be rebuilt.

The entrance fee is 400LKR (1,30EUR) and it also includes the entrance to Gangaramaya Temple.

Gangaramaya Park

Gangaramaya Park built on top of Beira Lake is a leisure park, with plenty of greenery and flora. There is a children’s playground and plenty of seating options for you to relax and get some fresh air. Take a stroll around the walking paths and keep your head up as you might spot some rare birds!

Colombo Lotus Tower

Colombo Lotus Tower is a symbolic landmark of Sri Lanka. The 350m tall tower is the tallest self-supported structure in South Asia, the 11th tallest tower in Asia and the 19th tallest tower in the world! The design of this building is inspired by the Lotus flower, which symbolises purity within Sri Lankan culture, and the country’s flourishing development.

The tower houses a variety of tourist attractions like the 5G Innovations Centre, E-Sports Gaming Arena, Technology Trial Zones, Digital Art Museum, Observation Deck, Rooftop Promenade, Revolving Restaurant, Luxury Suites, exhibition halls, ballrooms, food court, ice cream lab and much more!

But apart from it being a popular tourist hotspot, it also functions as a radio and television broadcasting antenna.

The entrance fee to visit Colombo Lotus Tower is 20 USD.

Colombo National Museum

Located in the most exclusive neighbourhood of Colombo, called the Cinnamon Gardens, you will find the largest museum in Sri Lanka – Colombo National Museum. It displays an impressive collection of the cultural and natural heritage of the country from Sri Lankan ancient kingdoms, colonial times to more recent history. One of the most important exhibits is the regalia of the last king of Sri Lanka – Sri Vikrama Rajasinha and other Kandyan monarchs.

Other sights and landmarks in the Cinnamon Gardens neighbourhood that you might be interested in:

  • Prime Minister’s Office
  • Independence Memorial Hall (Independence Square)
  • Replica of Avukana Buddha Statue (the original statue is located close to Dambulla)
  • Colombo Town Hall
  • Viharamahadevi Park (the largest and most prominent public park in Colombo)
  • National Art Gallery (temporarly closed)
  • Sapumal Foundation (art gallery)
  • Geoffrey Bawa’s House (Number 11 Colombo Residence)
  • Lakpahana (high quality souvenir shop with jewellry, ceramics & clothing handmade by local artists)

Ayurvedic SPA treatment

Ayurveda is the traditional medical practice, which originated from India but is widely used in Sri Lanka! You can’t leave Sri Lanka without getting the Ayurvedic SPA treatment! If you don’t have enough time in Colombo, don’t worry because you can do it anywhere else around the island!

Ayurvedic spa treatments are unique and deeply relaxing spa procedures, that originate in Ayurvedic medicine. They are meant to ease the body, mind, and soul and to rejuvenates the physical and emotional well-being. Ayurveda SPA treatments have deeper, therapeutic intentions for health and healing. It is a method to purify the inner self ,with natural medicines, where organic oil blends are infused with Ayurvedic herbs and heated to promote relaxation and detoxification. The therapist focuses on clearing the energy channels in the body, moving and dislodging toxins, and balancing the chakras (energy centers).

Ayurvedic treatments are widely popular in Sri Lanka and should not be missed! There are various different treatments to choose from. The most popular is Abhyanga – the classical oil massage working the whole body.

Some of the best Ayurvedic SPAs in Colombo are SPA Ceylon and Kemara. They also have their own range of cosmetics. I have bought some products from SPA Ceylon at the Colombo airport and they are so good! I can highly recommend!

Mount Lavinia Beach

You are probably stopping in Colombo only for a day or two and will visit some of the best Sri Lankan beaches later on during your trip, but if you feel like relaxing on the beach even when in Colombo, then head to Mount Lavinia Beach. It is the best beach close to Colombo. Make sure you go for an afternoon tea or a sundowner with cocktails at Mount Lavinia Hotel!


Even though Sri Lanka is an all year round destination, generally the best period to visit Colombo is between December and March. I said Colombo and not Sri Lanka, because thanks to the two different monsoons that hit the island, the country has inverted dry and rainy season between the two coasts.

So the best time to visit the west, the south and central Sri Lanka (including Colombo) is from December till March, while the best time to visit the east and the north is from April to September.

The most touristy part of the island with more things to visit is the west, the south and the central part of the island. So generally we would suggest to visit Sri Lanka from December-March. We have spent 1 month in Sri Lanka from January 11th until February 9th and only had 1 day of rain during the entire stay!


Sri Lanka has their own currency – Sri Lankan Rupee.

1 EUR = 319 LKR

1 USD = 297 LKR

1 GBP = 374 LKR

We used Bank of Ceylon (BOC) for all of our withdrawals, as it didn’t charge us any commission. But that also depends on your bank. We usually use Revolut when we travel outside EU.

We recommend you to carry cash with you everywhere, as you won’t always be able to pay with card.


We recommend to book a travel insurance for every trip as you never know what could happen. It’s not easy to deal with any kind of problems when you are abroad, so it’s definitely worth it to be covered and travel with peace in mind. 

We use IATI travel insurance and you can book yours through our link and receive 5% discount. 

Book here if you are from EU:

Book here if you are from outside EU (rest of the world):


We hope this blog post was helpful to you and you are gonna have a great time while exploring Colombo. For more pictures and videos check out our IG story highlight (Colombo) and our reels/feed posts. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to comment bellow or contact us via email or even better via Instagram @borntotraveldiaries. Thank you for your time and stay tuned for our next diary page 🙂.

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