Colombo, Sri Lanka: Where to see and what to see

How to see Colombo in 1 Day: Sightseeing and Prices

Cycling in Sri Lanka, 2020

Biking in Sri Lanka, 2020

Colombo is not the calm and evergreen Sri Lanka you might imagine. Here, life and business is booming and traffic jams are commonplace. Is a day enough to visit Colombo? That’s what we decided to find out on our March 2020 cycling trip to Sri Lanka.

Since Colombo is about 30km from the airport, it is convenient to spend either the first or the final days of the trip there. We decided to start our bicycle trip in this city, according to one version, named after Christopher Columbus. According to another version, there is a link to the word “port, harbor”. Of course, Colombo is still considered the largest port in South Asia.

Isn’t Colombo the capital?

What’s interesting, I always thought of Colombo as the capital of Sri Lanka. If you did too, now you know that it is not! Colombo is just the largest commercial and financial center of Sri Lanka, in other words, the business capital.

The administrative capital is the city with the very complicated name of Sri Jayawardenepura-Kotte, where the Parliament and the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka are located. In fact, this city is a suburb of Colombo. If you were able to pronounce the name Sri Jayawardeneppura Kotte on the first try – consider yourself a master of diction! :)

National Hospital since 1903

National Hospital since 1903

And now it’s time to tell you what to see in Colombo if you have only one day or two at the most.

So as not to “re-invent the wheel” we took the route suggested by Google Travel and made some adjustments, because we could visit more places by bicycle. Although Colombo is not the easiest city to get around by bicycle, it’s not the worst. So if possible, rent bikes, rent a tuk-tuk for the day, take public transportation, or just walk (you have to get out very early to make it all) – all these options are available in Colombo.

World War II Memorial

World War II Memorial.

We started exploring Colombo from south to north because our hotel was in the southern part of the city. You can, however, explore the city in either direction. Shall we go?

1. the Hindu temple of Kathiresan Kovil (

Although Hinduism is not a major religion in Sri Lanka, the Hindu temples in Sri Lanka are spectacular. Of course, after a month the fascination will pass, but if you started your Sri Lanka trip from Colombo, don’t hesitate to visit at least one Hindu temple, and the Kathiresan Kovil Temple is one of the most impressive .

Bicycle tour in Sri Lanka. Photo at Kathiresan Kovil temple

Cycling through Sri Lanka. Photo at Kathiresan Kovil Temple

Please note that taking pictures in the temple without permission is prohibited . Some Hindu temples, including this one, could not even be entered. We never understood the reason for that, but it looks worthy of attention too.

If you’re in Colombo in July or August, try to get to the celebration of the annual Hindu festival Vel . The Kathiresan Kovil Temple is the starting point of the festival.

Admission is free . Donations or buying flower necklaces are welcome.

2. Asokaramaya Buddhist Temple

If the temple building is eye-catching from the outside, but the inside is even better. This temple is famous for its amazing, detailed, very lively and vivid wall paintings and colorful statues. There are statues of the seated and reclining Buddha, as well as many other statues dedicated to the history of Buddhism.

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Inside the Buddhist temple of Ashokaramaya

Inside the Ashokaramaya Buddhist Temple

As we approached the temple, one of its residents saw us and gave us a spontaneous tour of the temple, talking about the history of Buddhism.

What makes the Ashokaramaya temple special is the tree-not just any tree, but an offshoot of the sacred tree of Anuradhaura (the ancient capital of Sri Lanka), which in turn is a descendant of the tree in India under which the Buddha received enlightenment. All in all, this tree is a kind of descendant of the holy tree .

Admission and mini-excursion are extra.

3. Gangaramaya Temple

Although we did not visit this temple first in a row, it is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. The temple is only 120 years old, although I thought it looked older.

Sitting Buddha at Gangramaya temple

Sitting Buddha at the Gangramaya Temple

Buddha, Buddha, Buddha.

As in any Buddhist temple, there are a lot of Buddha statues. They are even displayed on a tiered wall, following the example of a temple in India, which looks very beautiful and photogenic.

If you can't get enough of Buddhas, here's more

If the Buddhas aren’t enough for anyone, here’s more

The main thing that makes the Gangaramaya temple special to Buddhists around the world is that there is a real hair of the Buddha (!) Later we will visit another Buddhist shrine in the Sri Lankan city of Kanda, where there is a tooth of the Buddha.

We were attracted by the fact that the temple combines 4 different Asian architectural styles: Lankan, Indian, Thai and Chinese.

In addition to the temple itself there is a huge library with exhibits showing the history of Sri Lanka. It was interesting to learn that this temple has become a kind of cultural and educational center. It hosts various events and teaches professions, including technical professions. A kind of “technical school in the temple”.

At the entrance to the technical school. Although the inside is the same ;)

At the entrance to the technical school. Although it’s the same inside ;)

There is also a real live elephant, which each year in February in honor of the Buddhist holiday of Navam Poia is involved in processions colorful festival. We met him without the festival.

An elephant takes a meal and then gives the plate to a monk

Elephant accepts food and then gives the plate to the monk.

The temple is open from 6 to 18.

Admission to the temple is 300 rupees and the museum is only 100 rupees.

4. Independence Square and Independence Memorial Museum

This building is very important to Sri Lankans because it was built to commemorate the independence of Ceylon (the old name of Sri Lanka) from Britain in 1948. In the square in front of the hall is a statue of Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake, who is called the “father of the nation.

Memorial Hall and the Independence Museum.

Memorial Hall and Independence Museum

Now the hall is used for mass public and religious events. And the museum itself is located inside the hall – under its columns.

Many people come to the hall to relax from the Sri Lankan heat (+40 is not the limit) because the hall is located on high ground and blown with air.

5. Arcade Independence Square Mall

I never thought I would recommend visiting a mall, but this shopping mall in Colombo is not just a place to shop, but a full-fledged attraction. To be honest, at first I thought that I was in a palace or a museum, and only by the signs of famous brands I realized that it was a shopping center. By the way, I got here by chance, because the place is right behind the Independence Museum.

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Fountain at the Arcade Independence Square Mall

The fountain in the Arcade Independence Square mall

Built as the Western Provincial Council House in 1889, this building was the home of the University of Ceylon, but after a major renovation in 2012-2014, the place was reopened as a mall. Of course, many people don’t come here to shop, but just to take pictures with the fountains and white-washed British architecture.

Arcade Independence Square mall square

Arcade Independence Square mall

Opening hours: 10 to 23.

Admission is free, but you can buy gifts.

6. Viharamahadevi Park

From 1865 to the present day, this park is the largest public park in Colombo.

The main attractions of the park are the statue of Buddha, an amphitheater and a number of fountains.

A statue of Buddha in Viharamahadevi Park

Buddha Statue in Viharamahadevi Park

Bicycles can only be ridden on the bike path around the park, you can’t even roll inside and you can’t stop with bicycles near the Buddha statue. You can’t even take selfies or turn your back to the shrine near the statue. Otherwise it is a disrespect for religion.

7. National Museum of Colombo

We missed it, but the reviews are very good. So we decided to put it on the list of recommended places to visit, even if you’re in Colombo for only 1 day.

Since Sri Lanka was a British colony, the national museum was opened in 1877 by the Governor of British Ceylon, William Gregory.

The National Museum of Sri Lanka in Colombo houses more than four thousand manuscripts, the throne of the last Kandyan king, paintings, weapons collections, sculptures, bronzes, and much more.

If you’re a big fan of art, you should know that close to the museum is the National Art Gallery of Colombo .

Tickets to the museum cost Rs. 469 for adults and Rs. 234 for children.

8. Beira Lake

Beira Lake

Beira Lake

Beira Lake is the largest lake in Colombo. Nothing special, but just a nice place to walk around (free) . Be careful – you can get attacked by bird droppings – there are an uncountable amount of them here.

There is a Buddhist temple in one of the places on the lake. In general, we noticed that Buddhists build temples only in picturesque and harmonious places. So if there is a temple somewhere, expect that even the place itself is worth a visit.

Seema Malakaya Buddhist Temple on Beira Lake

Seema Malakaya Buddhist Temple on Beira Lake

9. Galle Face Green Promenade

The promenade is 1.6 km long and it’s the best place to walk around Colombo. By the way it was opened in the 19th century by a British governor.

Halle Faith Green Promenade

Galle Face Green promenade

Swimming and biking on the promenade is not allowed, but you can roll your bike and go knee-deep in the water. By the way, it’s one of the popular activities for high school students to come out as a whole class to the shore and jump in the waves together .

While some students are having fun in the ocean, others are flying a kite. There’s plenty of room in the sand, thankfully.

School kids learn to fly a kite

Students learn how to fly a kite

In general, the promenade in Colombo is arranged very unusually, even strangely: first there is a strip of sand, then a paved piece of promenade, after that there is a sharp cliff and immediately the ocean. So most people just watch the ocean.

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10. Colombo Lighthouse

Colombo Lighthouse

Colombo Lighthouse

If you consider that Colombo is the first port in South Asia, it is not surprising that there is a lighthouse. And the fact that it is guarded by the military around it. The lighthouse is almost right behind the promenade, but it felt like a military base.

The lighthouse is on a hill, so the view of the port and the ocean again.

11. the Buddhist stupa with the unusual design of Sambodhi Chaithya

If you go to the lighthouse, it is impossible not to notice this extraordinary Buddhist stupa made of cement and towering over the road on the bridge.

Driving through the Buddhist stupa of Sambodhi Chaituya, we didn't know we were going to a dead end yet

Passing the Buddhist stupa of Sambodhi Chaituya, we did not know yet that we were going to a dead end

Come here before sunset, climb the 123 steps and enjoy the best ocean view in Colombo !

12. Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque

In Colombo, you can see perfectly how the 4 world religions are intertwined in Sri Lanka. And now it’s time to “touch” the Islamic shrine – the most beautiful mosque of the country Jami Ul-Alfar.

Jami Ul Alfar Mosque

Jami Ul Alfar Mosque

Once you get into a Muslim neighborhood, you feel like you are in a different city – there are a lot of people around, people are dressed differently, there are a lot more men than women on the streets. Well, and for some reason everyone around the mosque sells fabric.

We did not get into the mosque itself, because we came after sunset – during the evening prayer. And if you come during the visit, you can go inside. Note that for tourists – a separate entrance, and it is written before the entrance to the mosque.

After such a busy day, we were satisfied with the view from the mosque. Built of white and red Cypriot, it reminded us castles made of Lego. It turned out that the mosque was built in several architectural styles at once – Indo-Islamic and Indian, neo-gothic and neoclassical. Even if you don’t know much about architecture, put the mosque on your list of must-see places to visit in Colombo – it’s impressive!

The mosque is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but you must come during your visit.

Read more about the cycling trip around Colombo and Negombo – see video in our vlog.

Is one day in Colombo enough?

If you come to Sri Lanka for 1-2 weeks, a day in Colombo is more than enough. If you have a month at your disposal and you like big cities, it is possible to hang out here for 2-3 days to slowly look at everything and get acquainted with the friendly locals. How much time did you spend in Colombo – write your answer in the comments.

If you have any questions, be sure to write them in the comments – we’ll answer as soon as possible.

Also, watch the video of how after 2 weeks of traveling in Sri Lanka, we got into quarantine and curfew here . Subscribe to our channel!

Read other articles on what to have time to visit in 1-3 days in major cities.

Colombo, Sri Lanka: Where to see and what to see

Sri Lanka’s bustling capital is disproportionate to the rest of the island. It is the only real metropolis in the country, and it is still dominated by agriculture. The economic, political and cultural center of the country resembles Singapore in appearance. There are almost no sights from a tourist point of view, basically everything is limited to a short sightseeing tour. In this city there is a special atmosphere, combining Asian anarchy, colonial charm and modern elegance. Tall skyscrapers stand beside ramshackle cafes and stores, and quiet Buddhist temples tower next to tall colonial churches and colorful Hindu temples.

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1. Useful Information About Colombo

Colombo, Sri Lanka where to see it - Photo 2

1. Useful information about the city of Colombo

– Population of Colombo – 752,993 thousand. – Language: Sinhalese, English – Local currency: Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR). 1€=202.71 LKR – Climate: Subequatorial (constant heat and high humidity). Average temperature 30-32°C, 2 rainy periods: April-May and October-November. – Time zone: +4.5h compared to Italy (+3.5h with daylight saving time in Italy) – Entry requirements: passport valid for at least six months, round trip air ticket, entry electronic visa (ETA) – Nearest airports: Solomon Bandaranaike international airport, 35km from the city.

2. Where is Colombo located?

The city of Colombo is located in the western part of the island of Sri Lanka. The stretch of coast where the city is located today was once practically swamped and covered by dense jungle. It was the British rulers who started the reclamation work around the middle of the 19th century. There is still Lake Beira in the center of Colombo, which is an echo of that marshland.

Colombo, Sri Lanka Where to Find It & What to See - Photo 3

2. Where is Colombo located?

So how does one get to Colombo, you ask? The thing is that from Milan or Rome there are no direct flights to Bandaranaike airport, so you have to make a stopover in a European or Asian city (for example Doha or Dubai), and from there you will arrive to Colombo in about 5 hours. If you fly from Vienna or Zurich, instead of 10 hours it will take more than 14 hours. Flight will cost from 293 euros.

To get to the city from the airport (35 km), you can use the shuttle service provided by the hotel. The trip by bus takes about 30 minutes, you can get to the airport by cab for about 15 Euros or by private car. The main airlines connecting the European capitals to Colombo are Swiss, Austrian, and Turkish.

3. When is the best time to travel?

Colombo is located in the southwestern part of the country and the humidity here is very high, it’s hot all year round and the thermometers do not drop below 30 ° C . Also in Colombo there are 2 rainy seasons from April to May and from October to November, so it is not recommended to come at this time. Because of the climate in this region it is better to travel in January or February, as at this time it is relatively cool and rains are rare.

Colombo, Sri Lanka where to see it - Photo 4

3. When is the best time to travel?

When traveling to Colombo, it is best to take light clothing made of natural fabrics, a raincoat or umbrella, comfortable shoes and a sweatshirt for the evening. If you want to go to the beach, buy snorkeling gear. When visiting temples, be sure to take off your shoes and behave respectfully.

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4. Sightseeing

Colombo has no special attractions, but some interesting places are still worth visiting. 1) Fort . The fort is an area in the center of old Colombo, which is located on the site of the now defunct Portuguese fortifications. The British decorated it with neoclassical buildings, a clock tower and a statue of Queen Victoria.

Colombo, Sri Lanka where to see it - Photo 5

4. Sightseeing

2) Jami ul-Afar Mosque . This is the most beautiful mosque in the city (accessible only to Muslims). The red and white building from 1909 stands out prominently on the main street among the stores of the Pettah Bazaar.

Colombo, Sri Lanka where to see it - Photo 6

4. Sightseeing

3) Independence Square . It is a large square with Independence Memorial Hall, a stone replica of the wooden auditorium in Kandy . On the opposite side is the Independence Arcade, a white colonial complex with luxury stores and restaurants.

Colombo, Sri Lanka where to see it - Photo 7

4. Sightseeing

4) The Lotus Tower. This is one of Colombo’s most amazing structures, towering above the skyline of the entire city. The Lotus Tower is the tallest tower in South Asia (350 meters) and its swollen top resembles a lotus flower bud. On top of the building is a revolving restaurant.

Colombo, Sri Lanka where to see it - Photo 8

4. Sightseeing

5) St. Lucia Cathedral is the most impressive Catholic church in Sri Lanka, with a facade modeled on St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome . The cathedral seats up to 6,000 people, and next to it are a Benedictine monastery and a convent.

Colombo, Sri Lanka where to see it - Photo 9

4. Sightseeing

6) Halle Faith Embankment . On the waterfront in the afternoon and on weekends almost the whole town gathers to socialize, fly kites and eat at the fish stalls.

Colombo, Sri Lanka where to see it - Photo 10

4. Sightseeing

7) Petah Market . It is a crowded bazaar district, where the stores are organized according to ancient Middle Eastern custom, so each street here corresponds to the typology of the product.

Colombo, Sri Lanka where to see it - Photo 11

4. Sightseeing

8) Temple of Sima Malak . This modern temple is built on three interconnected sites located on the surface of the lake. The central structure, made of intricate wooden slices, is surrounded by rows of Thai Buddhas and covered with a blue tile roof.

Colombo, Sri Lanka where to see it - Photo 12

4. Sightseeing

9) Gangaramaya Temple. The most important temple-museum where the festival Navam Perahera. It has a huge number of exhibits not only from Sri Lanka but also from China, India, and Thailand.

Colombo, Sri Lanka where to see it - Photo 13

4. Sightseeing

10) National Museum . Is an elegant neoclassical building with a large collection of artifacts dating from prehistoric to colonial times. It takes at least a couple of hours to visit.

5. Actual prices

Since Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka, prices here are not the cheapest. However, precisely because it is a metropolis, you can find different types of accommodation and services with a corresponding difference in price. July is not the best season, but also not the rainiest, you can find packages of flight + hotel at an average cost of 500 euros.

Colombo, Sri Lanka where to see it - Photo 14

5. Actual prices.

The best way to get around Colombo is by cab, it’s fast and cheap. The fare from the airport to the city center (35 km) costs 15 Euros. If you want to eat out, the best western restaurants are in the big hotels. The prices here are the same as in Italy. Those who are not afraid to taste the local spicy curry will enjoy paying very little for dinner in traditional restaurants.

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