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Ground Review Of Colombo City

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With a rich colonial heritage, the port city of Colombo has more to offer than just the history. Pristine golden beaches, spectacular temples and colonial-era architecture have made this vibrant city one of the most popular travel destinations. If you’re a foodie, you cannot miss the markets with an abundance of delectable dishes made using local herbs and spices.

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How to Reach Colombo

By Air: Bandaranaike International Airport is the nearest Airport, about 35 kms {an hour’s drive} away from the city. Taxis are quite cheap in Sri Lanka and can be the easiest and quickest way to reach Colombo from the airport.

By Train: Being a tourist hub and the most important city of the country, Colombo has a well-connected railway network connecting it to other important cities in the country like Matara, Badulla, Kankesanturai and Talaimannar.

By Bus: Colombo has a vast network of buses running in and around the city. You can find both govt.-run buses managed by The Sri Lanka Transport Board and privately-owned buses.

City/Local Transportation in Colombo

Public Transports are quite famous among the locals, however, private car hires and tuk-tuks are the most economical ways to get around the city. There’s always Uber and Red Cabs to take you wherever you want to go.

Where to Stay in Colombo

Galle Face Hotel

If money is not an object then you cannot miss staying at the Galle face hotel – oldest hotel in Asia that was built in 1864. There is nothing better than sitting at the balcony at sunset soaking up the ambience – truly Sri Lanka. Distance from Bandaranaike International Airport: 35.6 kms

Cinnamon Grand Colombo

Located centrally, Cinnamon Grand Colombo is the city’s largest hotel that is always oozing with energy and festivities. It offers excellent service, various amazing restaurants, an outdoor swimming pool and splendid views. Distance from Bandaranaike International Airport: 35.6 kms

Juliana Hotel

If you’re looking for budget hotels with decent rooms at a low price, Juliana Hotel is one of the most popular ones! Low-priced rooms that are well-maintained, free WiFi, helpful staff and all the necessary basic amenities, this hotel is one of the top choices for a budget trip to Colombo. Distance from Bandaranaike International Airport: 30.6 kms

Havelock Bungalow

This appealing guesthouse is like an inner-city oasis, hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the main city. With colonial architecture, wooden floors and ancient mango trees, this place is ideal for those looking for an original and authentic Sri Lankan place to stay. Distance from Bandaranaike International Airport: 36.7 kms

Highbury Colombo

Another one of Havelock Town’s gems, the Highbury Colombo is a beautiful property coupled with friendly staff that makes you feel right at home. A lovely fish pond, manicured tropical garden, authentic furniture and delicious Sri Lankan cuisine – it has it all and comes highly recommended. The rooms are reasonably priced and the house is in proximity to all the major tourist spots. Distance from Bandaranaike International Airport: 36 kms

Serviced Apartments

For those who don’t wish to splurge on hotels, serviced apartments in Colombo are quite affordable and great value for money.

What to See and What To Do In Colombo

Being the biggest city in Sri Lanka and its financial capital, Colombo is a mix of the old and new, its colonial architecture contrasting with the modern skyscrapers. Love art – and especially street art? Head over to Kala Pola Art Market, the oldest art market in town, where you can catch a group of super-talented local artists as they take over the streets of Nelum Pokuna. And, if you like what you see, paintings are usually on canvas and can be easily bought and carried back. Move on from street style to contemporary art at the Paradise Road Gallery, considered to be one of the most important art spaces in the country.

Channel your spiritual side at the Seema Malaka Temple that is right on the Beira Lake, hence the name Island Temple. Another one of Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist temple sites is the Gangaramaya Temple. Dambulla Cave Temple, Asokaramaya Temple, Jami-Ul-Alfar mosque, Wolvendaal Church and the golden roofed Temple of the Sacred Tooth are other spiritual sites to explore.

Your trip to Colombo is incomplete without visiting the famous Colombo Fort. It is the busiest and biggest port in Colombo, and it houses various luxury hotels, gorgeous sprawling parks, business offices and much more. Immediately south of the fort is Galle Face Green, one of the top tourist spots in the city. Galle Face Green is Colombo’s biggest open space that was initially built in 1869 by Governor Sir Henry George Ward to be used for sports including cricket, rugby and horse racing. Today, it’s a popular spot for families, friends and kite-flyers, and makes for a fun evening or a day out. Its seaside promenade, local food vendors and some of the best shopping malls invite thousands of tourists every year. Don’t miss out on the Old Dutch Colombo Hospital!

Head over to the Beach Road area with quaint cafes and old homes that lead you to the Indian ocean. Walk or ride along the Marine Drive as you bid adieu to the Sun whilst enjoying stunning sunset views. Alternatively, you can take a coastal train ride to Mount Lavinia, about 10 km from the main city centre. Known for its happening nightlife and parties on the beach, the local train will take about 30 minutes to get there, and the journey is fantastic. At Mt Lavinia, check out the beach shacks or head off to Loon Tao for a Pan-Asian meal with a distinct hit of Sri Lankan flavours. Arthur’s Pub is another option, or you can keep it local at Barracuda Seafood & Grill which is right on the beach, and you can sit with your feet in the soft sand. Splurging? Check out the glamorous and old-school Mt Lavinia Hotel, that has been around nearly 200 years.

Where to Shop in Colombo

Colombo is the best place for last-minute shopping with more than enough international brands, sleek departmental stores, local street art and shopping malls for all your needs. While known for shopping, the popular Floating Market at Old Quarter Pettah offers the classic, old world charm that still exists in Colombo. Some of the stores are on the river itself and have rickety bridges to get to them — quite an adventurous experience! On the opposite side of the floating market is the grand Fort Colombo Station. In its glorious, wooden setup, with colonial style architecture and wrought iron staircases, you can meander here just before the sun sets for some spectacular photos. For fresh, Sri Lankan fruits and vegetable produce, head east from the Fort Train Station to Manning Market.

Designer Barbara Sansoni’s ‘Barefoot’ is a beautifully laid-out shop, popular for its bright hand-loomed textiles woven into stylish bedspreads, cushions and other such products. Not just that, Barefoot offers textile covered notebooks, lampshades and a vast selection of clothing. Take a break from the shopping, and grab a bite at their stunning, open courtyard cafe!

Best places to eat in Colombo

Ministry of Crab

One of Colombo’s top restaurants, Ministry of Crab is a favourite among food connoisseurs from all over the world. This high-profile restaurant celebrates the crustaceans in various forms from Singaporean Chilli Crab to locally spiced Crab Curry. The brainchild of cricketers Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, and restaurateur Dharshan Munidase, Ministry Of Crab in Colombo’s Dutch Hospital, highlights the lovely seafood of the country, and the massive, juicy crabs one gets here. Oh, plus jumbo prawns. Butter garlic crab is also a hit for those who don’t quite like the dish too spicy.

Upali

When in Sri Lanka, do as the Sri Lankans do. Head off to Upali for authentic Sri Lankan food — from the Maalu Olu {fish curry} to the Kottu Roti {sliced flatbread with vegetables and meat}. Don’t leave here without eating the signature dish, which is Yapane Kakuluwo, better known as Jaffna crab curry. The crab is marinated and then cooked in Jaffna curry powder — a traditional spicy and aromatic dish that finds its roots in the north Sri Lanka town of Jaffna. Have it with rice or the local fluffy Idi Appa {string hoppers}.

The Curry Leaf

For a unique, traditional dining experience, head over to The Curry Leaf, also known as ‘A Village in The Heart Of The City’. Calm ambience with a delectable seafood buffet, this village-themed restaurant with its elaborate menu is a paradise for every seafood lover.

Harpo’s Colombo Fort Café

With an option of indoor and outdoor seating, Harpo’s Colombo Fort Cafe has a mix of European and Mediterranean cuisine with drinks and hookah on the side. Don’t forget to try the Fried Prawns here.

T-Lounge by Dilmah

Once you’re done with the main course, head over here for tea by Sri Lanka’s best tea producer Dilmah and some decadent desserts. This gem of a cafe boasts restored colonial exterior which has walls lined with books about Sri Lankan history and of course, tea.

Nightlife In Colombo

Colombo enjoys a vibrant and exciting nightlife with numerous pubs, bars and cafes dotting the streets. And since gambling is legal in Sri Lanka, casinos are the real highlight of Colombo’s nightlife scene. Feeling lucky? Hit up Bally’s Casino to test your luck. With a huge gaming area and an abundance of clients, Bally’s has been a regular name in Colombo’s nightlife for quite some time now. You can stake as low as INR 100 and go upto lakhs. Delicious snacks, complimentary drinks and irresistible buffets – there are no second thoughts about this one! While you’re at it, you can check out Bellagio’s Casino too. If you’re looking to dance the night away, Colombo has got some great clubs for you to check out. Rhythm and Blues Club, Loft Lounge Bar, ZAZA Bar that is completely enclosed in glass, Pool Bar at Cinnamon Lakeside and Floor by O are some of the famous hangout destinations.

Rise above it all at the stylish rooftop bars. 41 Sugar, Cloud Red, Sky Lounge and ON14 Rooftop Bar are some of the top rooftop bars for a great night! Just half an hour away from Colombo, Mt. Lavinia Beach features a steady flow of bars, beach hotels and stand-alone shacks. Shore by O at Mt. Lavinia beach will instantly transport you to Goa with its huge shack, EDM music and stunning sunset views.

6E & Cheeky

Now, one thing you simply cannot miss out on is a tuk-tuk safari. Well known for their tuk-tuks, the city of Colombo is best seen on one of these. Get in touch with Tuktuk Safari Sri Lanka for the ride of your life. They have a few options for Colombo, including morning safaris, and sunset ones. The morning one begins at 9.30am and takes you on a trip through the chaotic bazaars, sights of the city, local eateries and even cruises along the ocean. They sort you out with coconut water, water and even a few beers sometimes, so it’s really like you’re travelling with your BFF in Colombo. They are happy to take mini-detours to suit your bucket list but don’t stray too far. Oh, and the best part? You can take along your own music and drinks {yes, alcoholic beverages too}, and make the ride even more interesting! Join the locals on Colombo’s favourite Galle Face Promenade, or the mesmerising snake charmers at city’s favourite park, Viharamahadevi Park. Galle Face Green is also a popular spot for delicious Sri Lankan treats, including crispy egg hoppers and the signature kottu, a griddle fry-up of chopped noodles, eggs and spices. If you fancy exploring the city on foot, Colombo expert Harold Sandrasagara organizes daily walking tours of the historic Fort and Pettah, packed with fun and a dash of fascinating insights that you might never discover on your own.

Head to Diyatha Uyana park, where graffiti artworks burst into 3D creating optical illusions in front of the beautiful view over Lake Batturumullam. Make a whole day of it by heading to the Good Market for healthy snacks and Sri Lankan handicrafts. For fitness freaks, Independence Square is a great spot to hit for a run, in addition to admiring the whitewashed colonial buildings of the Independence Arcade. For a complete guided and curated Colombo experience, you can also book the Colombo City Tour – the only open deck city sightseeing run by Sri Lanka Tourism and Ebert Silva Holidays.

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