Colombo

24 hours in Colombo

Five years ago, visitors would have been pretty well advised to skip Colombo and head straight off for hills or beaches.

A lot’s changed, though, and, while by no means on a par with a Hong Kong or Singapore, the city has a growing appeal for the curious traveler.

Some thoughts, here, on how you might pass 24 hours in the island’s capital.

Places to see...

Why visit Colombo...

Location matters
First up, think a bit on where best to base yourself.

Colombo doesn’t have an obvious town-centre; there’s no real cluster of restaurants, bars or noteworthy shops so working out where to park yourself can be tricky.

If you think of Colombo 7 (see Google Maps) as a de facto centre and don’t veer too many miles from it then you’ll be in decent shape.

Maniumpathy is about as Colombo 7 as they come – a very good hopping-off point.

 

Architectural inspiration

You’ll not get far in Sri Lanka without hearing mention of Geoffrey Bawa – the island’s most lauded architect – so why not jump right in and visit No. 11, his former residence.

Tours can be arranged, when pre-booked (set times only), and will show off a style you’ll likely see much-borrowed across the island.

 

Morning in the Museum

As the day heats up the cool chambers of the National Museum offer a suitable retreat. Since re-opening after considerable renovation, the collection offers a clear picture of a very rich cultural history.

The building itself is as impressive as the artefacts it houses but getting in will cost just a nominal amount.  You can, on occasion, find a guide to add a little colour – don’t count on it, though.

 

Barefoot escape

Lunchtime approaches and for casual midday dining, Barefoot on the Galle Road is the ideal spot.

Combining shop, gallery and restaurant/café, it offers a perfect hour or two of browsing, buying, eating and drinking.

Grab a shady table before the crowds pitch up.

 

Horizontal half-hour (or longer)

Urban sightseeing between 3 and 5 isn’t a great strategy in Colombo – the mercury’s up and you’re best advised to get horizontal, recharging for more exertion in the late afternoon and evening.

 

Chaotic marketing

In the late afternoon head up towards Fort and into the markets of Pettah. The tight streets seem to offer everything from handkerchiefs to hanging baskets; the businesses most often serving as wholesale suppliers for Colobo’s swankier retailers.

In the early evening there’s a great teeming atmosphere as the last deals of the day are closed out.

An anomaly in the middle of all the bustle, if heading down Princes Street you’ll notice a grand old building – the Dutch Museum. A former Dutch mansion the not-so-known building is an oasis in this part of town and showcases authentic Dutch architecture as well as a smart collection of period furniture and antiques. You’ll see the style, columns and courtyards, re-created time and again across Sri Lanka.

 

Sundowners and dinner

Post-Pettah you may be in need of a drink and the Galle Face Hotel offers an ideal spot. Make your way south, adjacent to Galle Face Green and reach the grand old hotel in time for a sundowner on the Checkers Board, overlooking the ocean.

If there in time (around 5.30pm) you’ll see the Sri Lankan flag lowered to the sound of bagpipes being played; a resurrected tradition that not everyone appreciates!

Continue south after your aperitif and finish up at The Gallery Café. Colmbars might not praise the originality of the choice but the restaurant, formerly an office of Geoffrey Bawa (there you go) still boasts the best dining atmosphere in town.

Colombo

Five years ago, visitors would have been pretty well advised to skip Colombo and head straight off for hills or beaches. A lot’s changed, though, and the city now has a growing appeal for the curious traveler.

Galle

Galle Fort with its centuries old melting pot of cultures, Dutch-colonial buildings, ancient mosques and churches, cobblestone streets and crumbling mansions makes for some great exploring.

Kandy

Kandy is the hill country capital and gateway to the tea region of Sri Lanka. Once an ancient kingdom, nowadays it is an often traffic-jammed tangle of markets, temples, spice gardens and a picturesque lake.

Dining in Colombo

The Colombo dining scene is not as yet bursting with variety so some thought needs to go in to picking a suitable spot for dinner.

Dining in Galle

For a small city Galle (and the surrounds) does rather well when it comes to dining options and we do have our long standing and reliable favourites.

DOLPHIN WATCHING

In Kalpitiya, between November and April something remarkable happens – hundreds of dolphins come to live and feed in the Indian Ocean. It’s nature at its purest and we can take you there.

ELEPHANT SPOTTING

Gal Oya Lodge offers the the only opportunity in Sri Lanka to spot elephants from the water. With a little luck you could spot them swimming between islands or bathing at the lake’s edge- a thrilling wildlife experience.

LEOPARD SIGHTING

Yala National Park is a natural reserve of 96,000 hectares renowned for the highest density of leopards in the world. We suggest incorporating a stay at Leopard Trails for the best safari experience.

WHALE WATCHING FROM AIR

Observing the majestic nature of the largest mammal in the world, the Blue Whale, from an aerial point of view leaves passengers with an incomparable experience and understanding of the true magnitude of the beauty and grace of the species.

TEA ESTATE TOUR WITH OWNER

Ashburnham Estate is set in its own gorgeous 100-acre tea estate, around an hour north-east of Kandy. The estate boasts stunning waterfalls and beautiful views up to and across the Knuckles Mountains, not to mention around 60 acres of lush tea fields, plucked each day.

COOK LIKE A LOCAL

This is an immersive encounter for which the basis is local food: Muslim inspired biryani along with a bevy of spicy condiments, an assortment of hoppers and accompanying curries, or a simple but wholesome plate of rice and curry featuring seafood.

GALLE FORT PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR

Photograph your way through the colourful streets of iconic 17th century Galle Fort, a melting pot of cultures, people and cuisines. The host is a 5th generation resident and photographer of this historic city, who has explored every corner of it since he was a child.

HOMESTAY IN THE MOUNTAINS

The local host of this homestay experience organizes custom hiking tours in the Knuckles Mountain Range. This in an ideal experience if wanting to go beyond the standard guidebook offers- go with the flow, live in basic conditions and learn about remote communities.

MEET THE INDIGENOUS VEDDAS

The Veddas are the forest-dwelling, indigenous people of central Sri Lanka. Neighbours of Gal Oya Lodge are one of the last remaining communities of the Vedda people and here, the village chief can be invited to take you on a walk through the jungles of his ancestors.

CINNAMON PLANTATION TOUR

This experience takes place at a beautiful working cinnamon estate of 25 acres in the south of the island. The cinnamon grown here produces fine cinnamon quills, ground cinnamon and leaf oil. Private tours of the plantation are available, followed by lunch.

HOT AIR BALLOONING

There’s magic in the air in the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Floating effortlessly over the jungle to a breathtaking sunrise in a hot air balloon ride is an exhilarating and perfect way to see this picturesque countryside from a different perspective.

CHASING WATERFALLS

This full or half day waterfall chasing experience offers a trek through lush wilderness into the heart of the central provinces of Sri Lanka with an experienced local guide to discover Aberdeen Falls – a spectacular 98-metre horsetail waterfall.

SCENIC HELICOPTER RIDES

Enjoy the greenery-clad, scenic views of the central hills of Sri Lanka then take in the unique bird’s eye view of the awe-inspiring site of Sigiriya rock fortress, studded with beautiful green gardens, ponds, fountains, promenades and pavilions.

HIKING

While white sandy beaches may be the first images that leaps to mind when you imagine Sri Lanka, the island is blessed with a mountainous interior making it a very special hiking destination. There are trails for all sorts of experience, from easy walks to more intense treks.

KITESURFING

If you’re looking to push the limits come to Sri Lanka for the kitesurfing season and ride the waves of the Indian Ocean. Between May and October, the Kalpitiya coast offers some of the best kitesurfing in the whole of Asia. Travel to the school for day lessons, or stay longer.

SAILING

Sri Lanka’s position just above the equator guarantees sunshine to all corners of the country at various periods, making it a year-round sailing destination. Our sailing partners’ fleet of yachts provide an exclusive vantage point to stunning landscapes and pristine beaches.

BEACH HOPPING

Beaches in the sun-kissed stretch between Tangalle to Galle are some of the finest on the island. While some of these also have big waves and a strong current for the majority of the year, there are plenty of swimming-friendly bays in idyllic settings.

ELEPHANT ENCOUNTERS

Supported by the Born Free Foundation, this complex is a halfway house for orphaned elephants. Although you can’t get up close and personal with the elephants, seeing them at feeding time (from a viewing platform) is still heartwarming and a lot of fun, specially for the kids.

MASK PAINTING

This is an immersive art-based experience around the livelihood of a local artisan. His work is an act of cultural preservation as much as it is an art form, for it involves the ancient medium of ‘Kolam’ masks native to the coastal town of Ambalangoda.

TUK TUK ADVENTURES

This Tuk Tuk tour is a fun-filled, fully inclusive, 3-4 hour “off the beaten track“ adventure, that gives a taste of authentic Sri Lanka. The tour aims to showcase the historic bustling city of Colombo, capture the smiles of the locals all while cruising in a retro fitted tuk tuk.

SUP YOGA

SUP Yoga mixes classical yoga practice with stand up paddle boarding in a beautiful lagoon. Whether you are a regular on the mat or never done yoga before, the floating yoga studio will be an incredible experience.

Yoga

Tri is Sri Lanka’s first truly contemporary sustainable luxury hotel. The yoga shala is an elegant, elevated retreat space that captures spectacular 360° views to stimulate body, mind and soul for creative expression.