Top 10 Must-Do Activities in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Heading to Sri Lanka? That’s an excellent decision! Should you embark on this journey, you’ll most likely start in Colombo, the dynamic and bustling capital of the country.

The city of Colombo is alive with a rich heritage and cultural tapestry. It’s a bustling metropolis, brimming with life, where you can find crowded streets, tuk-tuks, diverse shops, historic churches, delectable restaurants, luxurious hotels, and a fascinating blend of architecture. The cityscape is dotted with stunning colonial buildings that showcase the influences of Portuguese, Dutch, and English styles, alongside contemporary designs.

Curious about the best experiences in Colombo? I spent two days of my 10-day Sri Lankan trip exploring this vibrant city and can now offer you a firsthand guide to its must-visit spots. Ready to dive in?

Colombo City itself is a destination worth spending time in. Though some travelers may pass through quickly on their Sri Lankan journey, I recommend dedicating at least a day here, especially if it’s your first time in a country like this (India, for instance).

Simply wandering through the streets of Colombo is an adventure. You’ll immerse yourself in the energetic urban life of Sri Lanka. And if you’re planning to explore other parts of the country, you’ll appreciate the contrast between the metropolitan hustle and the serene, nature-rich other regions.

Colombo offers an array of activities, including a plethora of street food to try. Whether it’s strolling along Galle Face Green, visiting vibrant temples, shopping by the beach, savoring Ceylon tea, exploring local markets, or admiring the exquisite colonial architecture, you’ll find plenty to keep you engaged. Based on my own experiences, I’ve compiled a list to help tailor your visit to your interests. You can fit these activities into a single day or spread them out over two, especially if you’re recovering from a long flight.

If you have just one day in the city and want to catch all the famous sights, I suggest taking a full-day guided tour.

Now, let’s explore the top 10 activities to do in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

1. Exploring Colombo on Foot

The best way to soak in the essence of Colombo is by foot. I suggest a leisurely walk down the vibrant Malvaththa Road, where you’ll find a variety of shops selling everything from handbags to wooden dolls. For those who appreciate historical architecture, the Colombo Fort area, near the “Colombo Fort Railway Station”, is a treasure trove of colonial buildings. Another lovely place for a walk is Galle Face Green, but I’ll delve into that more in my list.

During my 10-day Sri Lankan journey with a chauffeur guide, I discovered the joys of guided city walks. Having a knowledgeable guide can enrich your experience with fascinating stories and insights into the city’s history.

2. Taking a City Tour

If you’re unsure about what to see in Colombo or need a break from walking, consider an open deck bus tour or a tuk-tuk ride. These are fantastic ways to see the city’s highlights.

On our open double-decker bus tour, we saw major sites like the World War II Memorial, the impressive Lotus Tower, the Old Parliament Building, Town Hall, Independence Memorial Hall, Old Colombo Dutch Hospital, and the Dawatgah Jumma Masjid Mosque, among others.

For food enthusiasts, a street food walking tour is a treat. It’s an opportunity to sample authentic Sri Lankan dishes like hoppers, kottu, and dhal at various local eateries.

3. Visiting Gangaramaya Temple

Nestled beside Beira Lake, Gangaramaya Temple is not only one of Colombo’s oldest but also among its most significant Buddhist temples. Its beauty is awe-inspiring, making it a popular city attraction.

The temple doubles as an educational hub for locals, featuring a museum with an extensive collection of historical artifacts. Don’t miss the large, vivid Buddha statue inside the temple, and keep an eye out for the world’s smallest Buddha statue.

Fun Fact: The Gangaramaya Museum houses a vintage Rolls Royce and the first Mercedes brought to Sri Lanka!

4. The Red Mosque (Jami ul-Alfar Mosque)

Calls to prayer from Sri Lanka's Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque provide comfort amid Covid lockdown

The Lal Masjid stands out with its unique red and white patterned facade. It’s one of Colombo’s oldest mosques and quite unlike any other. While non-Muslim visitors can’t enter, its exterior is a sight to behold.

Located near Pettah Market, the mosque has been a prominent landmark for sailors since its construction in 1908, serving as a guide into the port of Colombo.

Fun Fact: Since its inception, the mosque has been a nautical icon for those arriving at Colombo’s port, marking a significant point in the city’s maritime history.

5. Mount Lavinia Beach

Hotel Colombo l Mount Lavinia Hotel Colombo Official Site

Ready for a break from city exploration? Mount Lavinia Beach is your go-to spot. Just a short tuk-tuk or taxi ride from Colombo, it’s perfect for an afternoon dip. The beach is lined with restaurants and pubs, ideal for a meal or a drink by the sea. It’s also a family-friendly destination if you’re traveling with kids.

Tip: For a memorable evening, visit Mount Lavinia Hotel for sunset views and cocktails. They offer a day pass to use their pool for around 1,000 LKR (about US $5.50). Don’t miss their superb lunch buffet!

6. Galle Face Green

This expansive urban park stretches half a kilometer along the Indian Ocean and is known as Colombo’s largest open space. It’s a must-visit, especially for those with families. A sunset walk here, coupled with some local street food, is a delightful way to conclude your day.

7. Lotus Tower

Lotus Tower: A way forward for broadcasting – The Island

The Lotus Tower, standing tall in Colombo, is the highest man-made structure in Southern Asia. Its colorful, elongated form is visible from various parts of the city. The view from the tower is simply breathtaking.

For more on Sri Lanka, including a guide on climbing the famous Sigiriya rock, check out my post for all the essential details.

8. Sri Kailawasanathan Temple

Colombo’s oldest Hindu temple, Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil, is a visual feast with vibrant sculptures and paintings, embodying authentic Indian style. Popular among both locals and tourists, this temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is conveniently located near the Colombo Fort area and the train station.

9. Viharamahadevi Park

If you need a peaceful retreat after exploring the city, head to Viharamahadevi Park. This serene spot, ideal for children, features a Golden Buddha and lovely water fountains. Previously known as Victoria Park, it’s close to the National Museum and Town Hall and is a common sight on city bus tours.

10. Ayurvedic Treatment

How Ayurvedic Panchakarma can help with body detoxification | HealthShots

Wondering what Ayurveda is? This ancient Indian holistic healing practice aims to balance the mind, body, and soul, incorporating massage, yoga, diet, and meditation.

During my Sri Lanka trip, we enjoyed an Ayurvedic spa experience at Siddhalepa Ayurveda Spa, a highlight of my Colombo visit. The treatment starts with a consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor, who tailors the treatment to your specific needs, like back or neck pain. I had a rejuvenating 45-minute upper body and head massage.

Even if you’re skeptical about alternative medicine, the hospitality and authentic Sri Lankan spa experience are highly recommendable. Starting your Colombo visit with this relaxing treatment sets a wonderful tone for your journey.

Staying in Colombo, Sri Lanka

My Experience: During my two-night stay in Colombo, I had the pleasure of staying at Cinnamon Lakeside. This 5-star luxury hotel, situated on the shores of Lake Beira, was exceptional. It boasts over 9 themed restaurants, including Thai and Japanese cuisines, a tranquil on-site spa, and a stunning outdoor pool, perfect for unwinding after a day of exploring the city. For anyone wondering where to stay in Colombo, Cinnamon Lakeside is an excellent choice.

My room, overlooking the serene Cinnamon Lake, was impressively spacious, rivaling the size of my Bucharest apartment. The staff were notably attentive and accommodating, always ready to assist with my queries. The hotel’s location is conveniently close to Colombo’s prime attractions.

A highlight of my stay was the culinary experience. From a variety of curries, including traditional Sri Lankan dishes, to a buffet breakfast and dinner brimming with options like kottu, egg hoppers, sushi, fresh fruits, and delectable sweets, I indulged in new flavors daily. It was an ideal introduction to Sri Lankan cuisine.

Overall, Cinnamon Lakeside is a top recommendation for anyone looking to indulge in luxury while visiting Sri Lanka’s capital.

Luxury Accommodations (US $110 and above): If Cinnamon Lakeside is booked, don’t worry. I recommend two other fantastic luxury hotels in Colombo. Marino Beach Colombo, with its stunning rooftop pool, impeccable service, and beautiful rooms, is a great choice for beachside luxury. Shangri-La Hotel Colombo is another exquisite 5-star option, offering four restaurants, a pool bar, and even co-working space.

Mid-Range Options (US $40 to $110): Fair View Hotel Colombo is an excellent 3-star hotel featuring on-site restaurants, free Wi-Fi, stylish rooms, and exceptional service. The Renuka City Hotel, a 4-star establishment, offers great value with its selection of restaurants, cafes, bars, excellent room service, and friendly staff.

Budget Accommodations (Up to US $40): For those on a budget, City Hotel Colombo 02 is a fantastic option that doesn’t compromise on value. It offers free Wi-Fi, private bathrooms, a pleasant terrace, and a very welcoming staff. Groove House Hostel is another affordable choice, providing free bikes for city exploration, a 24-hour front desk, currency exchange services, and more.

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