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5 BEST Colombo City Tours +Our Top Choice

5 BEST Colombo City Tours +Our Top Choice

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Colombo is the largest city in Sri Lanka, but it still has a charming and local feel! Its streets are filled with old colonial-styled buildings, colorful temples, and local food vendors that will make your mouth water just from walking by. With so many beautiful places in Sri Lanka, Colombo rightfully deserves a spot on the list. 

Before you set off to find the best beaches of Sri Lanka or see wild elephants in a national park, spend a few days exploring the many things to do in Colombo! We decided to take a city tour of Colombo, so we could learn about its history and find the best sights – and it did not disappoint! Our local guide did a fantastic job of taking us all over the city, filling us in on the important details of Colombo’s history and pointing out places we would have missed exploring on our own!

To maximize your time in the city, I highly recommend taking a city tour in Colombo. We’ve picked the best Colombo city tours so you can see historic sights, as well as hidden gems, and dive into its diverse culture. 

Our Top Choice

If you don’t have time to read this entire blog, we’ve picked out the best Colombo city tour for you! We took this private half-day tour and thought it was a great balance of history, important sights, and unique hidden gems of Colombo! Plus, our tour guide was so friendly and fun, and we felt like we gained an authentic understanding of the city. You can book this tour for $65 USD per person for 2 people here!

The Best Colombo City Tours 

1. Private Half-Day Colombo City Tour 

The front of the red and white patterend Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque built in 1908 Colombo, Sri Lanka
The Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque is a sight to behold!
Looking at the large statue of the Buddha up close with other paintings in the background at the Gangarama temple Sri Lanka, Colombo
An impressively large Buddha statue at Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple

Experiencing Colombo with a local is the best way to do it! We took this private half-day Colombo city tour and found it to be the perfect day in the city. We explored temples, gorgeous historic hotels, and markets, found great local food spots, and were able to get an idea of what this city has to offer! 

This tour picks you up from your Colombo-based hotel in the morning and spends the next 4-5 hours driving all around the city! You’ll visit a lot of places, including the Galle Face Hotel, a gorgeous hotel built in 1864, the first mosque in Colombo Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, and Dutch Hospital, a trendy shopping/restaurant area that was once a hospital!

My favorite stop along this city tour was the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, which was impressively large and beautiful, full of giant statues of Buddha. Our guide did a fantastic job of explaining the significance of all the places we stopped at. 

We particularly love it when city tours are private because we can ask as many questions as we’d like and it feels more like you’re hanging out with a local friend, rather than just part of a big tour group. Sometimes the guide will tailor the tour based on your preferences. We enjoyed seeing the temples and historic buildings rather than the main shopping areas, so our guide made sure to focus on that throughout the tour, which made it a much more personal experience!

This tour includes hotel pickup and transportation all over Colombo, all entrance fees, and your amazing local guide! Our guide even bought us some fresh coconut as a snack, which was great because Colombo gets hot. 

You can reserve this experience in advance for $65 USD per person for 2 people. You can have a group of up to 6, and the price per person drops for larger groups. You can also pay extra for pickup from other places like the airport, a cruise ship, or Negombo. Other pick-up times are available as well depending on which option you choose.

Check availability and book this private half-day tour here.

2. Tuk-Tuk Private City Tour in Colombo

A blue tuktuk parked with other motorcycles that our guide took us around Colombo, Sri Lanka in
Our sweet ride for the day!
A stone path with palm trees and bushes locatede in Viharamahadevi Park Colombo, Sri Lanka
Beautiful Viharamahadevi Park

Exploring Colombo in a tuk-tuk is an iconic Sri Lanka experience. These three-wheeled vehicles weave around traffic like no other and will become your go-to transportation while traveling in this part of the world. After you take this tuk-tuk city tour in Colombo, you’ll want to rent a tuk-tuk and explore Sri Lanka on your own, just like we did!

This tuk-tuk private city tour is one of the most fun ways to explore Colombo. It’s a small group activity, as tuk-tuks only hold a few people (there’s a maximum of 6 per group), but it makes for an intimate way to see the city. You will cruise around the city, stopping at the many historic sights and eateries, and learning a ton about Colombo along the way!

You will check out Colombo Fort, which is the most historic part of town and home to the main Port of Colombo, the Grand Oriental Hotel, and the Old Lighthouse.

You will also get to see the Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque which is surrounded by the Pettah Market. We realized that a small tuk-tuk is perfect for getting through this crowded market area. This tour makes stops at temples, churches, and large parks – there’s a lot to see on this 4-hour tuk-tuk tour!

This tour also stops for lunch at a local Sri Lankan restaurant, so if this is your first introduction to Sri Lankan food, you’re in for a treat! They use fresh ingredients and lots of spices. Everything I’ve tried has blown me away!

You can meet in front of the Kingsbury Colombo or request pickup from your hotel. The tour is offered as a morning tour at 9 am or an afternoon tour at 3:30 pm, so it’s easy to fit into your day.

I love this tuk-tuk tour of Colombo. Between the sights, food, and your local guide, you will get a good look at what makes Colombo so unique. Transportation, entrance fees, lunch, snacks, and your guide area are included for a price of $44 USD per person. 

You can book this city tour in Colombo in advance here!

3. Best of Colombo – Private Guided City Tour

Hundreds of small stone Buddha statues in different meditation poses on display at Gangarama temple Colombo, Sri Lanka
Hundreds of stone Buddhas on display at Gangarama Temple

See the best of Colombo on this quick 3-hour city tour! If you’re short on time but still want to see the highlights of Colombo with a local, this tour is your best bet. It’s a private tour, which we think is the ideal way to experience the city, as you can move at your own pace and make the most of your time in Colombo!

You’ll spend several hours driving from sight to sight, checking out local Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, and Christian temples, as all four religions have a large presence in the city. The tour guides do an excellent job of explaining the significance of religions within Sri Lankan culture, which we found to be quite insightful in understanding the city.

This tour will also take you to a stop at the Lotus Tower, which is one of the most unique towers I’ve ever seen as it looks like a lotus flower growing in the skyline! 

You will make a few more stops at notable historic buildings, like Independence Square, Old Town Hall, and Viharamahadevi Park. Depending on what departure time you choose, you’ll end the tour by stopping for lunch or dinner and get to try some local Sri Lankan cuisine!

This tour costs $48 USD per person for 2 people, and the price changes depending on group size. The price includes hotel pickup, transportation, and your local guide. It also includes entrance to one temple, but I recommend bringing extra money for other entrance fees and lunch or dinner. 

You can reserve this tour in advance through Viator to use their buy now, pay later option

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

4. The 10 Tastings of Colombo with Locals: Private Street Food Tour 

Our guide shows us how to eat the meat of the King Coconut using the shell as a spoon Colombo, Sri Lanka
Delicious!
Various fruits such as apples, pomegranate, and mango on display at a street vendor stand in Colombo, Sri Lanka
So much fresh fruit

One of my favorite ways to get to know a city is through food! Colombo has a great food culture, from its swanky restaurants to the local hole-in-the-wall establishments and a thriving street food scene. This private street food tour is an excellent way to dive into the culture, and it’s made even easier by being taken around by a local guide. 

I don’t know about you, but I get a little intimidated when trying local street food! You don’t know what it is, or how to eat it, and I am not sure if I’m getting a fair price for it. Having a local guide show you the ropes on this tour lets you experience Colombo’s diverse street food. Your guide will explain what it is, how it’s made, and show you the best things to eat!

This food tour lets you sample eight foods and two drinks, all while touring the city and seeing the best sights. Prepare your palate for king coconut, milk tea, and samosas right off the street! You will visit the Pettah market, which is bustling and full of fresh fruit vendors so you can sample some and even buy fruit for later. 

Your guide will take you to a local restaurant to try lamprais and kottu – both are staples in Sri Lankan cuisine and so delicious! A Colombo city tour isn’t complete without a stop at least one temple, so you will visit the Bo Tree, one of the most beautiful Buddhist temples in the city. 

This is a fun and unique way to see the sights of Colombo. It is a walking tour, so be sure to wear comfy shoes and clothes! Plus, with all the food you’ll be trying, I recommend skipping breakfast so you can have room for all the tasty treats.

This tour includes all of your food and drink tastings, as well as vegetarian options, and your local guide for $60 USD per person for 2 people. The price drops per person for larger groups with a maximum size of 8 people. You can book this street food tour of Colombo in advance here!

5. Full-Day Colombo City Tour (Private Car) 

A Sri Lankan concierge invites us into our tour vehicle at the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka
This concierge has worked at Galle Face Hotel for 50 years!
A Sri Lankan boy runs in front of the Sri Kaleshwaram Hindu Temple Colombo, Sri Lanka
Kaleshwaram Hindu Temple

Our last Colombo city tour is unique because it’s a full-day tour, so you can see even more of Colombo’s beautiful sights! On this 8-hour private tour, you’ll drive all around the city, stopping at different historic locations, museums, markets, temples, and beautiful outdoor areas. If you’re looking to see more than the average tourist gets to, this tour is the best choice!

This private tour will pick you up from your local Colombo hotel. You will see many of the same sights as the other tours cover, such as Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, Independence Square, the Lotus Tower, and the Pettah market. But, since this is a full-day tour, you’ll get the chance to see even more and travel at a slower pace to settle into the city. 

I love that this tour starts out with 2 hours at the Colombo National Museum. This allows you to get immersed in Colombo’s history and culture, so as you’re out exploring the city, you’ll have a little background knowledge for context. This tour is the only one that explores Wall ART Street, which is a street dedicated to artists and craftsmen to display their work. It was one of my favorite parts of the city, so I’m glad they included it here!

This tour hits more unique stops such as Ape Gama, a replica of a traditional Sri Lankan Village, and the Colombo Zoo! You will have an hour and a half at the zoo, and although admission is not included, we thought this was a fun and random stop on the tour! We also really like that you can customize this tour if you have an idea of spots you really want to visit (or a few you know you don’t want to see).

This small group tour can accommodate three people and is $80 USD for the group, which is actually a great price for an entire day of exploration! It includes transportation and your guide but doesn’t include entrance fees to any of the attractions or food, so be sure to bring extra money. 

Be sure to reserve your spot on this full-day Colombo City Tour in advance!

Why Book a Colombo City Tour? 

Looking out the front of our tour vehicle as our guide drives us through a crowded market selling different items Colombo, Sri Lanka
The view from our tour vehicle going through the market!

City tours are an excellent way to get to know the city! Within our first few days in a new city, we often choose to take a tour so we can get a feel for what it has to offer. Sure, you can explore a city on your own and get a pretty good feel for it, but we have found that a tour gives a deeper insight into the city and the country as a whole.

During a Colombo city tour, your local guide will drive you all around the city, stopping at various historical sights, markets, temples, and more. All of the tours on this list are private, which means you can really dive into questions and have a conversation with your guide to get to know Colombo’s history, culture, and people!

We thought that taking a city tour of Colombo was especially insightful because it has a diverse history, and there are little hidden gems all around that city that we would have missed without a tour.

City tours take you to the main attractions of Colombo in just a few hours, so if you’re on a time crunch it’s the ultimate day of sightseeing in one streamlined tour. Plus, it shows you all the best spots to return to, like local restaurants and markets, and taking it within your first days will help make the most of your time in Colombo!

Related Read: If you’re planning to spend more time in the country, make sure to see which attractions and tours made our bucket list for Sri Lanka.

What are the Must-See Attractions on Colombo City Tours?

Standing outside of Independence Square Colombo, Sri Lanka
Independence Square is a popular hangout for tourists and locals alike.

While each tour is a little different, there are a few highlights that every tour makes a point to hit! 

Fort Colombo – Fort Colombo is the central business district of the city, as well as the oldest historic part. The city’s main port is in this neighborhood, so it’s been a hub of activity for hundreds of years. The major attractions in Fort Colombo are the Dutch Hospital, the Grand Oriental Hotel, the lighthouse clock tower, and lots of beautiful old architecture!

Galle Face – Galle Face is a sprawling outdoor area right on the Indian Ocean. It is a central gathering place for locals and a great place to catch the sunset. The Galle Face Hotel is a grand-designed historic hotel that is right next to the green space. It is quite a beautiful part of the city to see, and a point of pride for Colombo locals. We even met a concierge who has worked there for 50 years!

Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque – This is the very first mosque in Colombo, which has quite a large Muslim population. Not only is this mosque huge, but its design is unique with bright red and white bricks in an intricate candy-stripe pattern. The roof is in the shape of a pomegranate, which is what early Muslim traders initially brought to Sri Lanka. 

Lotus Tower – This is the tallest tower in South Asia and stands out amongst the skyline! It is bright pink and green, built to resemble a lotus flower. I’ve never seen anything else quite like it. You’ll see it at every point in the city, and can even take a trip to the top for amazing views of Colombo!

Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple –  Buddhism is the most prominent religion in Sri Lanka, and so you’ll find temples all over the city. The Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple is the most significant and largest in Colombo, with giant Buddha statues, some even made of gold or jade! It was one of my favorite stops while touring!

Independence Square – Sri Lanka became an independent nation in 1948, and the Independence Square memorial is a beautiful look at the country’s development. It’s a large, open-air monument that tells the story of Buddha’s enlightenment. Its architecture is impressively beautiful!

Do you Need to Book a Colombo City Tour in Advance? 

Standing in front of the Pettah floatting market entrence Colombo, Sri Lanka
Pettah floating market entrance

If you’re visiting Sri Lanka during peak tourist season (December to April) I would definitely recommend booking a Colombo city tour in advance! These private tours are more limited than larger group tours, so if you’re trying to fit a tour into a specific schedule, it’s best to secure your spot early.

During the slower travel season, you can book these tours at least a day in advance, but more notice is helpful for the tour providers. 

Related Read: If you’re heading to Sigiriya next, check out all the best things to do in Sigiriya before you go!

Are City Tours in Colombo Suitable for Children?

City tours are heavily focused on sightseeing and history, so while this is appealing to adults, kids might find it a little boring. However, taking a shorter tour, such as this 3-hour tour, is a great way for the whole family to explore Colombo without it getting too long like on a full-day tour. 

If your kids are adventurous eaters, they will love this street food tour of Colombo! Instead of just sightseeing your way through the city, you get to snack along the way too, which kids always love! I think this is the most fun and unique tour on the list, which is a great option if you’re traveling with kiddos.

What Should you Bring on a Colombo City Tour?

Clothes appropriate for temples – All of these tours include a stop at least one temple, if not more. These temples require shoulders and knees to be covered for both men and women, so either plan on wearing clothes that fit this description or bring something to cover up with! Some temples have sarongs that you can rent to cover your knees, but I threw in a lightweight jacket and a skirt to put on over my clothes, just to be safe.

Umbrella – If you’re visiting during the rainy season as we did, you’ll likely get rained on at some point during your tour! Throw in an umbrella or ponchos to stay dry as some of these stops are outside. 

Sunglasses/sun protection – On the flip side, if you’re visiting during the dry season it will be sunny and hot! You will be outside for most of the day, so bring sunglasses, a hat, and sun protection so you don’t get burnt from Sri Lanka’s intense sun!

Extra cash for entrance fees or food – Depending on which tour you take, you might have some expenses on your own. I always like to bring extra cash on tours just in case, but some of these tours require you to pay for entrance fees to temples, museums, etc. as well as lunch. 

Getting Around Sri Lanka

tuk tuk parked at the beach in mirissa sri lanka
We rented a tuk-tuk for our entire trip around Sri Lanka.
Watching sunsets in Sri Lanka from our tuk tuk
Tuk-tuk is a great way to get around Sri Lanka.

To visit all of the best places in Sri Lanka, you’re going to need a mode of transport. You have a few choices when it comes to getting around Sri Lanka:

Rent a Tuk-tuk

Easily the most popular (and most fun) way to travel around Sri Lanka. We actually rented a tuk-tuk on our trip and absolutely loved it! Tuk-tuks are easy to drive, cheap to rent, and the freedom that comes with your own wheels is unmatched.

If you do decide to rent a tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka, be sure to go with a reputable company that provides quality tuk-tuks, such as Tuktuk Rental (who we rented from.) These guys not only offer an amazing service, but their tuk-tuks are actually rented from local families, providing income for the local community.

If you decide to rent from Tuktuk Rental, be sure to use the coupon code ‘DEST‘ for 5% off!

For more info, read our blog: The Truth about Renting a Tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka.

Hire a Driver

If you’re only planning on going to a couple of destinations, then a private driver is not a bad idea. In the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle, your driver can take you to your next destination. All you have to do is sit back and relax!

You can hire highly-rated drivers in advance to pick you up right from the airport when you arrive in Sri Lanka. This driver will take you to your hotel in Mirissa, Galle, Bentota, or Unawatuna. Whereas this driver will take you to Kandy.

Of course, every time you want to change destinations you will have to arrange for another driver (unless you book this driver who will drive you around for an entire week). Car transfer can easily be organized through your hotel.

Take Public Transport

This is a choice I only recommend for those on a very tight budget and with plenty of time. Public transport is everywhere in Sri Lanka in the form of public buses and trains. It is also very cheap, costing less than a couple of dollars per journey.

However, it isn’t the most comfortable way to travel. The buses don’t have air conditioning and neither do many train services. They can also be slow-moving, stopping every couple of minutes to pick up more passengers.

With that said, public transport is popular with budget backpackers, and it is mostly safe. This is one way to travel for those who want to get around as the locals do!

Thanks for reading!

bailey riding in a Tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka
Thanks for reading!

Taking a Colombo city tour is absolutely worth your time. We got to see so many sights and learn so much about the city’s history and culture. It made the rest of our time in Colombo even better! Hopefully, you were able to find the tour that fits exactly what you’re looking for on this list.

If you found this blog helpful, be sure to read more of our blogs about Sri Lanka. You can get started with one of the blogs below.

10 BEST Day Trips from Colombo, Sri Lanka

17 Best Things to do in Mirissa, Sri Lanka

The Truth about Udawalawe National Park – Safaris and More!

Pidurangala Rock, Sigiriya – What I wish I knew before I went