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20 BEST Things to do in Colombo, Sri Lanka

20 BEST Things to do in Colombo, Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka is arguably one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited. With stunning beaches, amazing hikes, and unique wildlife in national parks, there are many places to fall in love with here.

While this country is so well known for its outdoor beauty, I was surprised at how awesome Colombo was! Colombo is Sri Lanka’s largest city and the capital, and it’s where the bulk of the population lives. There is so much history and culture teeming in Colombo, and we found it to be a super safe and clean city. 

So before you take off on some grand tuk-tuk adventure through Sri Lanka, take a few days to explore Colombo! There are the most beautiful temples, architectural wonders, and some of the best local Sri Lankan attractions hidden within this city. To make your planning easier, I have put together the 20 best things to do in Colombo, so you can see just how interesting this city is too!

Don’t have time to read the full article? Our absolute favorite things to do in Colombo include:

  1. Visit the stunning Gale Face Hotel – one of the most beautiful buildings in the city!
  2. Climb Sigiriya Rock and visit the Dambulla Cave Temples on this full-day tour from Colombo
  3. Explore the Old Dutch Hospital, which is now a high-end dining and shopping area
  4. Take this day trip to Kandy to see the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and much more
  5. Admire the statues and artwork at Gangaramaya Temple

Top Colombo City Tours

A large standing stone Avukana Buddha statue on the side of the road Colombo, Sri Lanka
Avukana Buddha statue
A blue tuktuk parked with other motorcycles that our guide took us around Colombo, Sri Lanka in
Our sweet ride for the day!

There is quite a bit to do in Colombo, as you’ll read below, so taking a tour is a great way to visit a ton of these places in one day. There is also a lot of hidden history and culture within these streets, so we found it incredibly helpful to have a local guide explain it all. The Colombo city tours we took helped us make the most out of our time here!

This private Colombo city tour is our top pick, as you get to move at your own pace, ask lots of questions, and gain insight because it’s just your group and the tour guide! You really get to know Colombo as you spend 4 hours going to old historic buildings, such as the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, the Old Dutch Hospital, and even more places on this list! 

You can also take a tuk-tuk city tour in Colombo, for a classic Sri Lanka experience! This one is also a private tour, and your guide will take you to the highlights of Colombo. This tour also includes lunch, coffee, and a snack of fresh king coconut! You will see a lot in just 3-4 hours, and traveling by tuk-tuk makes it all the more fun. 

Between these two tours, you’ll be able to see nearly everything on this list and maybe get a few local recommendations to check out on your own! This is the ultimate sightseeing/history lesson, and a great activity for your first few days in Sri Lanka. 

20 Best Things to do in Colombo, Sri Lanka 

1. Visit Galle Face Hotel

A Sri Lankan concierge invites us into our tour vehicle at the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka
5-star service!
The inside of Galle Face Hotel Colombo Sri Lanka
The inside is lovely.

Colombo is a unique city because it’s had many influences throughout its history, so you’ll see a wide range of architecture everywhere you go. There are many stunning colonial-style buildings, but perhaps the most beautiful building is the Galle Face Hotel!

Built in 1864 by the British, this is the only hotel that sits right on the Indian Ocean in Colombo, offering some of the best views in the city. The hotel is stunning – it’s open air with old English-influenced architecture and art all around. It has been visited by many notable people, including Gandhi, and written about in famous novels, even one by Mark Twain. 

If you’re more of a luxurious traveler, you can book this hotel for about $130 USD per night. But if that is out of your price range, you can still visit the hotel and have a gourmet meal or enjoy happy hour! As the only hotel right on the water, you know it’s serving up high-quality food. 

The huge patio area, a dining space called Firebeach, goes right out to the beach and is perfect for catching the sunset over cocktails! You can also enjoy their fine dining restaurant, 1864 Limited Edition for some gastro-chic fare, or have a casual lunch on the Verandah and take in the ocean views. 

Regardless of when you visit, Galle Face Hotel is a staple in the city’s skyline, and high on my list of things to do in Colombo!

2. Explore the Galle Face

The waterfront walkway of Galle Face park Colombo Sri Lanka
At night this park is filled with vendors!
A statue of a lion in Galle Face park Colombo Sri Lanka
A Sinhalese lion statue

Right across the street from Galle Face Hotel, is the Galle Face Green. This huge ocean-side park stretches for 500 meters (1,600 feet) along the coastline. It was originally built in 1859 by the British elite for horse racing, golf, cricket, and other sports. 

Today, the Galle Face is a gathering place for Colombo’s locals. Nearly every evening, people will gather at the Galle Face to watch the sunset. You’ll find local vendors selling yummy Sri Lankan food like string hopper and kottu, as well as other locally made goods. It is also a hub on Sri Lanka’s major holidays – although if you ask the locals they don’t need a reason to gather at Galle Face!

It’s rare to find such a large green space in a major city, so I really enjoyed walking along the grass for a while. It follows the shore of the Indian Ocean and is a stunning contrast to the bustling city and the vast ocean water! If you can make it down to Galle Face for sunset, you won’t be disappointed by the views and the local culture. 

3. Day trip to Sigiriya 

The path leading to Sigiriya rock Sri Lanka
So big!
The beautiful view from the top of Sigiriya rock overlooking the mountains nearby Sri Lanka
Great views from the top

Sigiriya Rock is perhaps one of the most iconic spots in Sri Lanka. This giant rock, also known as Lion Rock, protrudes into the sky 180 meters (590 feet). What is even more impressive, is that it’s also an archeological site dating back 1,600 years! There was once a palace on top of Sigiriya, known as “Sky Palace” and a town that sits at the base. 

I’m not quite sure how they managed to build a palace on top of this massive rock – when you see it for yourself you’ll be just as awestruck as I was! You can climb to the top of Sigiriya. It’s a steep 20-30 minute ascent up some rickety metal stairs, but it’s worth it once you reach the top. Not only will you see the entire valley below, but you can also walk along the ancient ruins and imagine what it was like to live in the Sky Palace. 

The town of Sigiriya is about a 3-hour and 45-minute drive from Colombo, so the easiest way to reach it is by taking a tour. For me, the biggest draw of taking this full-day tour to Sigiriya from Colombo is not having to worry about transportation. But I also think this tour is great because it includes stops at other iconic locations, which allows you to experience more of Sri Lanka in one convenient day trip.

You’ll stop at Dambulla Cave Temples, a Buddhist temple that has been inhabited since the 3rd century BCE and is a dedicated UNESCO World Heritage Site. This temple is a series of 5 caves, 157 Buddha statues, and 300 steps, and every inch is covered in old paintings. Entrance to the cave temple is about $10 USD (not included in the tour price), and both men and women need to cover their knees and shoulders. If you’re wearing shorts, you can rent a sarong from the temple for about $1 USD. 

Some beautiful trees at Sigiriya Sri Lanka
These ruins are over 1,000 years old.

Finally, you’ll reach Sigiriya, the highlight of the day! You will have about three hours to explore the grounds, check out the museum, and climb to the top of the monolith. Entrance to Sigiriya Rock isn’t included in the tour and is $30 USD per person.

This tour includes roundtrip transportation from your Colombo hotel and your wonderful guide for $70 USD each for 2 people and a bit cheaper for larger groups. You can reserve this full-day tour to Sigiriya online here!

Related Read: Climbing Pidurangala Rock is more challenging than Sigiriya Rock, but it’s absolutely worth it!

4. See the Lotus Tower

Standing at the base of the Lotus Tower while two men take pictures Colombo, Sri Lanka
So tall!
Looking at the lottus tower with a tuktuk in front of it Colombo Sri Lanka
A tuk-tuk for comparison

Nearly everywhere you go in Colombo, you’ll see the Lotus Tower in the skyline. This vibrant pink and green tower looks like a lotus flower, and it stands like a beacon amongst all the other skyscrapers. It is actually the tallest tower in South Asia, stretching 351.5 meters (1,153 feet) high! The tower itself was originally built as a satellite tower, but they decided to construct it to look like a lotus flower to represent the country’s flourishing development.

While it’s neat to catch glimpses of the Lotus Tower wherever you go, it’s even more impressive to explore inside the tower! The structure has 13 stories consisting of VIP-only floors, a telecom museum, a folk museum, banquet halls, a rotating restaurant, and the world’s first open-air observation deck on a tower. The most accessible is the observation deck on the 7th floor, which you can visit for $20 USD. 

But if you have a little extra time, I recommend visiting the rotating restaurant on the 5th floor! Not only will you get to indulge in a fine-dining meal, but the restaurant will make a full rotation over the course of 90 minutes, giving incredible views of Colombo throughout your dining experience. This is yet another spot to catch an incredible sunset! 

The Lotus Tower is open for visitors every day of the week from 9 am to 10 pm on weekdays and 9 am to 11 pm on weekends. It’s definitely worth checking out, even if you don’t make it to the very top!

5. Go to the Dutch Hospital

A plaque with the history of the dutch hospital Colombo Sri Lanka
History of the Dutch Hospital
The courtyard of the dutch hospital Colombo Sri Lanka
Now it’s filled with fancy places to eat!

Many years ago, Colombo was inhabited by the Dutch, and today we can see a lot of long-standing architecture from that era, including the Old Dutch Hospital from 1681. It was used to tend to workers of the Dutch East India Company and other seafarers as it was very close to Colombo’s main port. Visiting an old hospital sounds a bit strange, I’m with you there, but it’s actually a really unique stop in Colombo! 

While it no longer serves as a hospital, people visit here to see the old history and architecture. The building was designed with two courtyard areas that surprisingly help the airflow and make it much cooler inside the building, so even on hot and humid Colombo days you can sit outside! 

The Old Dutch Hospital is now a high-end shopping and dining area. You can find great happy hour deals, boutique shops, and some of the best restaurants in Colombo. So while you’re out exploring the city, stop in here for a pint, or maybe return later at night to try some incredibly fresh seafood! In fact, one of the most famous restaurants in the city is in the Dutch Hospital, check out our next stop on this list!

6. Eat at the Ministry of Crab restaurant

The menu at the ministry of crab Colombo Sri Lanka
Look out for Crabzilla!
Inside the ministry of crab resturaunt Colombo Sri Lanka
Getting ready for the day

Sitting right on the Indian Ocean, there is no shortage of fresh seafood in Colombo. The Ministry of Crab takes good seafood to the next level. It is world-renowned and led by famous chefs Kumar Sangakkara, Dharshan Munidasa, and Mahela Jayawardene. What makes the Ministry of Crab so famous is both the quality of food and the sheer size of seafood you’ll find! 

This restaurant is definitely an opportunity to drop some serious cash on a meal – but trust me, it’s worth it! The Ministry of Crab serves up some of the biggest crabs in the world, the Lagoon Crab. The size and price of crab here start at 1/2 kg (1 pound) for $60 USD all the way up to the accurately named “Crabzilla” at 2 kg (4.5 pounds) for $320 USD per crab (insert mind-blown emoji)!

They also have famously large prawns. The “Prawnzilla” is about the size of a small crab. These are a bit more reasonably priced, as you can get a half dozen tiger prawns for $20 USD or go for Prawnzilla for about $35 USD. 

With either the crabs or prawns, you get to select them from a tank, and they are cooked up for you, so it’s as fresh as you can get. You also can choose its seasoning, so if you want a classic butter and garlic garnish or a spicy chili finish, it’s up to you! 

I recommend making reservations in advance if possible, especially if you’re dining on the weekends. While this is definitely a stretch of the budget, it is a culinary experience like none other! There are only a few Ministry of Crab restaurants in the world, so you have to try it while you can!

7. See Kandy 

The shrine of the Sacred Tooth up close Kandy Sri Lanka
The shrine of The Buddha’s Sacred Tooth
Looking up at the Big Buddha Kandy Sri Lanka
That’s a big Buddha!

Kandy is the second-largest city in Sri Lanka and one of the most beautiful cities you can visit! If you have a few days to spend in Kandy, I highly recommend taking the time to explore the city. We spent an entire week here! But, if you’re short on time, you can take a day trip from Colombo!

Kandy is known as “the Last Kingdom” and is home to the Sacred Tooth Relic. Now, both of these statements sound a little strange, but it’s essential to Kandy’s history and a huge point of pride for the country. Before the British invaded Sri Lanka in the early 1800s, the ruling family would keep Buddha’s sacred tooth in their possession. So when the British invaded in 1815 and the Last Kingdom of Sri Lanka ended in Kandy, the sacred tooth stayed here as well. 

While in Kandy, you can dive into its culture and visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. There is also a gorgeous lake in the middle of town and hikes to viewpoints overlooking the city and up to a giant mountain top Buddha. The town is full of delicious restaurants, a quaint market area, and a sprawling botanical garden. 

This full-day tour from Colombo is the perfect way to see the highlights of Kandy, such as the Royal Botanical Gardens, Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Lake Kandy and the viewpoint, and the Geragama Tea Factory. Kandy is about 3 hours from Colombo, so taking a tour provides transportation and local commentary so you can learn about the area – it will be a long and busy day, but worth it! This day tour to Kandy is $55 USD each for 2 people and does not include any entrance fees or lunch. 

Palm trees around Kandy Lake in Sri Lanka
Kandy Lake.

However, if you have more time, I highly recommend taking a few days to check out Kandy and the surrounding areas! This 4-day tour provides transportation from Colombo to Kandy, Sigiriya, and the mountain town of Nuwara Eliya, as well as other stops along the way like tea plantations, temples, and local shops. This lets you make the most of your time in Sri Lanka, and not have to worry about transportation!

This is a private tour and you will have a local guide the entire way, giving historical information, the best food recommendations, and a deeper look at the Kandy area. It does not include accommodation, meals, or admission tickets to the sights, but honestly having someone to plan your itinerary and provide transportation makes it all worth it (and will probably save you money in the long run)! This 4-day tour is $150 USD and can be reserved online here with free cancelation available up to 24 hours before!

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.

8. Explore Colombo Fort

Looking at Colombo Fort from the street Colombo Sri Lanka
Cool!

Colombo is a port city, so the oldest part of the city sits right along the port in Colombo Fort.  Colombo has had quite a history of different influences. It sits about halfway on the Silk Road route and is home to a plethora of spices, including cinnamon and Ceylon tea. Fun fact, Sri Lanka used to be named Ceylon! 

When ships would have to dock to wait out storms, others realized how valuable Sri Lanka was and decided to take it over. So at various points in history, many countries have laid their stake here, resulting in a wide variety of really old and beautiful architecture right in Fort Colombo! The Portuguese built up most of Fort Colombo during the 16th century, but we see influences from Britain and the Dutch as well. 

One of the most unique pieces of architecture that still stands is the Lighthouse Clock Tower. This is the only clock tower that doubles as a lighthouse in the entire world! While it is no longer operational (working from 1857 to 1952), it is a staple in Colombo’s unique history. The clock tower was designed by the same clockmakers who constructed Big Ben!

Colombo’s old city hall is another notable sight to check out. It was built in 1864, during British rule, and has a slightly gothic/colonial architecture style. Nowadays, it’s rather weathered and run down, but I think that adds to the charm. You can still see the original stained glass windows, and plants and moss have grown up on it, so it has that apocalyptic abandoned building vibe. It’s a stunning piece of Colombo’s history!

I simply enjoyed walking around Colombo Fort to see all of the beautiful buildings. There is history around every corner, and chances are any old, grand building you see has had some significant impact on Colombo.

9. Visit the Grand Oriental Hotel

Looking at the grand oriental hotel Colombo Sri Lanka
Such a pretty building

Perhaps even more iconic than the Galle Face Hotel, is the Grand Oriental Hotel. This hotel has reviews raving about its glory dating back to 1907, so it’s been popular for a long time. It sits right next to the main port of Colombo, so it was frequented by gem traders, generals, and other notable people who would come through Colombo’s port. 

You can actually stay at this historic hotel for as low as $30 USD per night, an absolute steal for the level of quality you’ll find! But if you don’t have time in your schedule to stay the night here, you can come hang out and enjoy the Grand Oriental.

The hotel is also known for its event space, where there is frequent live music, DJs, cricket match viewing parties, and more! I found it really fun to visit, have a drink, and enjoy this piece of history!

10. Walk around Pettah Floating Market

Standing in front of the Pettah floatting market entrence Colombo, Sri Lanka
There are tons of vendors here.

A day in the city isn’t complete without hitting at least one local market. The Pettah Floating Market sits right along the sprawling canal system that goes all through Colombo, that’s why it’s called a floating market! 

The market consists of 92 different stalls, some on boats even, that range from handmade goods, textiles, spices, and delicious Sri Lankan food. Pettah Floating Market was a development project with the Sri Lankan Navy and government, working to give a spot for street vendors to congregate. It was also an effort to rehabilitate the polluted canal system and transform Bastian Street, a very busy area, into a green space. 

It is a really beautiful area to leisurely walk around and explore, perhaps even pick up a souvenir or just a snack! I always love visiting markets, as it feels a bit more local than other things along the main tourist track. The Pettah Floating Market is open Monday through Saturday from 8 am to 10:30 pm.

11. Head south to Galle 

A white church in the old fort of Galle Sri Lanka
Galle Fort!

Galle sits on Sri Lanka’s southern coast and has been a port city since the 14th century. The old city of Galle, now known as Galle Fort, was inhabited by the Portuguese and Dutch, so there is a blend of colonial architecture from both countries. This area is a UNESCO Heritage Site and one of the few remaining European fortresses in Asia. It is now full of trendy restaurants and shops and overlooks the ocean, so it’s quite lovely to explore!

Galle is only about 2 hours south of Colombo, making it a great day trip if you don’t have time to explore the south of the country on your own! This full-day tour to Galle from Colombo makes it simple for you to check out this gorgeous city, plus you’ll have a local guide, transportation, and the itinerary planned, so you can simply enjoy the day. You will get to see Galle Fort, the secluded Jungle Beach, and a turtle hatchery, as well as all the other fun things that come up while exploring a new city. 

This private tour includes lunch and all admission fees, so you just have to pay the tour cost of $140 USD per person for 2 people with the price dropping for larger groups. You can reserve this day trip to Galle from Colombo online here!

Another “must-see” activity in the southern part of Sri Lanka is Yala National Park, which is about 2 hours from Galle. If you’re short on time and want to maximize your experience, this Galle and Yala National Park tour from Colombo is the best way to do it. Yala National Park is famously known for its wildlife and this tour includes a safari to see the world’s largest population of wild leopards, as well as elephants, peacocks, crocodiles, and the elusive sloth bear. On the way back, you will stop at Galle Fort to explore the old fortified city, and Hikkaduwa Turtle Beach to see more exotic wild animals!

This is a jam-packed day, but hits the best experiences in all of Sri Lanka! This tour is $90 USD each for 2 people and drops to $50 USD per person for larger groups. You will also need to pay for entrance to the national park, the safari, and lunch, so be sure to bring plenty of cash! You can book this epic day trip from Colombo here!

Related Read: Another National Park we love in Sri Lanka is Minneriya National Park!

12. Visit the Catholic Shrine of St. Anthony

A Sri Lankian woman kneels at a pew praying in The Catholic Shrine of Saint Anthony Colombo, Sri Lanka
It’s very peaceful here.
The cement floor at The Catholic Shrine of Saint Anthony with holes in it from the terrorist bombing of 2019 Colombo, Sri Lanka
Remnants of the attack in 2019

The Catholic Shrine of St. Anthony holds a ton of significance for Colombo. Not only is it one of the oldest religious sites in the country (its earliest record is in 1806, although it began sooner), but it also was the target of the Easter bombings in 2019. This was a terribly tragic event for Sri Lanka and visiting the site that was targeted and rebuilt gives you a unique insight into the local city culture. 

You can go in and see the damage left from the bombings, learn about the attack, and see how the local people of Colombo banded together to rebuild this historic church. While it’s a somber experience, I thought it was really important to understand the city and its culture today.

The Catholic Shrine of St. Anthony is just down the road from Fort Colombo and Pettah Market, so it’s an easy stop while you’re exploring Colombo. You can visit the church from 5 am to 8 pm (9 pm on Tuesdays), and it is open to visitors whether you’re Catholic or not.

13. See the Red Brick Mosque (Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque) and Market 

The front of the red and white patterend Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque built in 1908 Colombo, Sri Lanka
Wow!
Looking at the red and white patterend Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque from down the street while a tuktuk drives by Colombo, Sri Lanka
It really stands out.

You certainly can’t miss this notable sight! Located just down the road from Colombo’s main port, you’ll find the Jami Ui-Alfar Mosque. This colorful red and white brick mosque was originally built for Muslim traders who needed a spot for their 5 times-a-day prayers. Colombo has long been welcoming to all sorts of religions, so they commissioned this project in 1908 and completed it in just one year! 

The most impressive part is at the top, the dome is in the shape of a pomegranate! This is because many Muslim traders specialized in pomegranates at the time, so it was sort of an homage to them. Visitors can go into the mosque during certain hours usually earlier in the morning or later in the evening, so check with locals on the timing! Keep in mind that men and women will need to cover their arms and legs, and women must cover their hair with respect to the religion. 

Right outside the mosque, you’ll find a bustling market! You can find anything under the sun at this market, although I think it’s quite fitting to pick up some fresh pomegranates outside of the mosque. This area is fun to wander through and get a feel for the busy city life in Colombo.  

14. See Independence Memorial Hall

Standing outside of Independence Square Colombo, Sri Lanka
Independence Square

Sri Lanka finally gained its own independence in 1948, and so visiting the monument to commemorate that is an important part of Colombo! The Independence Memorial Hall is quite beautiful, with handcrafted designs that tell the story of Buddha’s enlightenment, as much of Sri Lanka’s culture and history is based around Buddhism. 

At the front of the memorial is a statue of the first prime minister of Sri Lanka, Don Stephen Senanayake. He signed documents that helped pave the way to independence and was the man in power when the British left in 1948.

The structure is built with Colombo’s hot, humid climate in mind, so it is built higher than ground level and catches a natural breeze at tree level. It is open air, with large impressive columns, and lots of shade. The engineering is ingenious, and it’s a great place to hang out for a while and enjoy Colombo’s beauty, as well as learn about its history!

15. Walk around Viharamahadevi Park

A stone path with palm trees and bushes locatede in Viharamahadevi Park Colombo, Sri Lanka
Beautiful Viharamahadevi Park
A meditating golden Buddha statue in Viharamahadevi Park across from Colombo Town Hall Colombo, Sri Lanka
We loved it here.

For a change from the hustle and bustle of city life, Viharamahadevi Park is a beautiful outdoor escape. It is directly across from the main government building in Colombo, which is also worth a glance! This part of Colombo is called “the Cinnamon Gardens” because at one point, it had the largest number of cinnamon trees in the world! There is only one left today, but the name holds true to its history.

What is really captivating about this park is the large gold Buddha statue sitting right at the front. It sets the tone for the park and gives a very serene feel right when you step foot on the grounds. The park was originally called Queen Victoria Park, and a statue of Queen Victoria once stood where the Buddha statue now sits. The park was renamed Queen Viharamahadevi Park in 1958 after an ancient goddess.

The park is full of trees and water features, and simply lovely to walk around for a while. One thing that I love about Colombo is how clean the city is, and the park is no exception! There are vendors right next to the park that sell king coconuts, so you can get a fresh coconut drink and snack – yum!

Viharamahadevi Park is a great way to chill out after a full day of exploring the city. If you have extra time to spare, we enjoyed bringing a blanket and sitting down to enjoy the park for a while! 

16. Visit Gangaramaya Temple

Two Sri Lankan people make an offering to a large Buddha at the shrine of Gangarama temple Colombo, Sri Lanka
Lots of impressive artwork here
A stone Buddha statue shrine under a bodhi tree with flower offerings in front of it at Gangarama temple Colombo, Sri Lanka
A shrine at Gangaramaya Temple

Temples and religious sites play a big role in Colombo’s history and culture. It’s fascinating to see a variety of religions in one city. However, visiting the Gangaramaya Temple was probably my favorite stop in Colombo!

This temple is impressively beautiful, but it is also interesting because there is a blend of Sri Lankan, Chinese, Indian, and Thai architecture, and even some Hindu gods represented at this Buddhist temple. It goes to show how much influence other countries have had on Colombo, and I think it’s beautiful that they can coincide together. 

When you first enter the Gangaramaya Temple, you will see giant, colorful statues of Buddha, depicting the story of enlightenment, and other guiding principles the religion is based upon. It was one of the most beautiful temples I’ve seen! A lady was kind enough to give us flowers to lay as an offering, which I felt was a unique way to engage with the culture. 

The temple extends from room to room, with a large shrine area built after the biggest Buddhist temple in India, Buddhim’s birthplace. Another fascinating part of this temple is that people will bring their most prized belongings and leave them as an offering and dedication. You will find rooms full of ornate heirlooms, jewelry, old guns, and so many treasures that people offer to Buddha.

There is a small fee to enter the temple, but if you take this full-day Colombo city tour like we did, entrance fees are included. We were also very thankful to have our local guide explain all the significance around the temple or else we wouldn’t have known half of it!

17. Visit Artificial Beach at Port City

Looking at the city from the artifical beach Colombo Sri Lanka
Our weather wasn’t the best.
Covered seating areas and resturants leading to artificial beach Colombo Sri Lanka
Lots of places to eat here

Colombo is going through some major renovations. Near Galle Face, they are building up an area called “Port City.” This was previously just the Indian Ocean, but they are bringing in mass amounts of rocks and dirt to build an additional 2 square kilometers (over half a square mile). That’s a lot of land to add! This area is being built to increase tourism, and the plan is to build hotels, restaurants, and even a casino! 

While much of the construction isn’t done yet, there is a cute beach area aptly named Artificial Beach. Artificial Beach is a swimming spot with floaties, lounge chairs, and rafts you can rent. It is technically the Indian Ocean, but they have built a jetty making a nice calm swimming cove. There is also a huge covered patio area and a handful of food stalls, making this a great area to hang out for an afternoon, and maybe even catch a gorgeous sunset over the Indian Ocean! 

Even though Artificial Beach is the only part that is open currently, more and more attractions will become open to the public. The project is scheduled to finish in 2030 and will totally change the face of Colombo. Checking out Artificial Beach is definitely one of the top things to do in Colombo, and seeing the massive construction project is pretty fascinating, too!

Related Read: For stunning beaches and much more, consider adding a stop in Mirissa to your Sri Lanka itinerary.

18. Try some local Sri Lankan food at Pilawoos

You can’t explore Colombo without trying some Sri Lankan food! Pilawoos is famous around the city for having the best Sri Lankan local food. This is your typical hole-in-the-wall, but delicious type of restaurant that is frequented by locals. It is usually quite busy, and that’s because it’s so good! 

Sri Lankan food is amazing, full of fresh vegetables and spicy ingredients. The main staple of Sri Lankan cuisine is kottu, which is chopped flatbread, meat, and veggies, all mixed together. String Hopper is another must-try, and it’s even better if you eat with your hands like the locals! You use rice noodles to scoop up dahl (lentil curry) and coconut sambal, which is a spicy chili, coconut mixture. 

If Colombo is your first stop in Sri Lanka, it’s best to dive into the local culture through food, and Pilawoos is the place to do it! Pilawoos is located just south of Colombo Fort, and is open every day of the week!

19. Check out Negombo 

The Dutch Canal in Negombo, Sri Lanka
The Dutch Canal in Negombo, Sri Lanka

Negombo is a city just 38 kilometers (24 miles) north of Colombo. It is a backpacker area, and its close proximity to the international airport makes it a great stopping point before you fly out! Negombo surrounds Negombo Lagoon and follows the coastline, so there are plenty of great beaches and water activities, in addition to cute cafes and shopping. 

If you’re looking for a bit of water adventure, you can take to Negombo Lagoon, the Dutch Canal, or Muthurajawela Marsh. All of these areas have loads of wildlife, like reptiles, amphibians, and various birds. There is also a huge fishing industry, so you’ll likely see fishermen with big hauls of fish and crabs. You can also head to the Negombo fish market to see the freshly caught fish, as well as other local produce. 

If you like fresh seafood, Negombo is the place to go! Pretty much all of the best restaurants are on Lewis Place, the main road in Negombo, and that conveniently follows along the ocean, giving stunning views as you dine! I highly recommend Lords Restaurant Complex, which is an Asian fusion restaurant with a lively atmosphere. Jude Restaurant is also my favorite for fresh fish, it’s so tasty!

As you walk along Main Street, you’ll find lots of shopping options as well! Whether you’re looking for locally made goods or trendy boutiques, you’ll find just about everything here. 

20. Enjoy a meal at Nuga Gama 

Food on display at the buffet at Nuga Gama in Colombo, Sri Lanka
So good!

Nuga Gama is truly a hidden gem in Colombo. Located in the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, the ambiance is nearly as impressive as the food here. Nuga Gama is built around a 200-year-old banyan tree, which serves as the central focal point of the restaurant. 

This restaurant is also unique because it was designed to feel like a traditional Sri Lankan village, so you really forget you’re in the heart of a bustling city. They use traditional cooking styles to make the most authentic Sri Lankan food and old-handed-down family recipes in this upscale establishment. The cooks, called ammes, will even take the time to show you how to make some of the dishes if you’re interested! What a cool, hands-on experience!

The traditional styled food was delicious, honestly some of the best food we had in the whole country! But what stood out the most was the ambiance, and how much detail went into creating this restaurant. It’s best to make a reservation, as this is certainly a popular fine-dining experience. You can visit Nuga Gama for dinner every day of the week from 7 pm to 10:30 pm, and for lunch on Saturday and Sunday from 12 pm to 2:30 pm. 

Related Read: We learned so much about Sri Lankan food by taking a cooking class in Ella!

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!

Daniel eating roti in Dambulla, Sri Lanka
Thanks for reading!

Hopefully, now you have some ideas of what to do during your trip to Colombo. We had an amazing time discovering the history and culture of Sri Lanka’s largest city and want you to enjoy your visit just as much as we did!

If you found this guide helpful, take a look at some more of our blogs about Sri Lanka. You can get started by reading one of the related blogs below:

15 Most Romantic Honeymoon Hotels in Sri Lanka

Lipton’s Seat, Sri Lanka – Know Before You Go!

The Truth about Udawalawe National Park – Safaris and More!