When planning our trip to Sri Lanka, we discussed whether or not to skip Colombo. A lot of the information we found online about the city didn’t really appeal to us, and we weren’t sure if there were actually a lot of things to do in Colombo.
But we eventually decided to book 2 nights and give the city a chance. It is, after all, the capital of Sri Lanka.
Looking back now, we’re so happy we made that decision. Even though we didn’t come to Sri Lanka for the big cities, we felt that Colombo gave us a warm welcome and a great introduction to the country.
So in this blog post, we hope to return the favor and write about all the best things to do in Colombo. Hopefully, this will help you to plan your own visit to Sri Lanka’s vivid capital.
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Things to know before you visit Colombo
Before diving into all the great things to do in Colombo, we want to share some information that can help you prepare for your trip.
Colombo general travel tips
Safety: In general, we think that Colombo is pretty safe. However, at night the city is pretty desolated, so the dark empty streets did feel a bit intimidating. Just take your usual precautions when you walk around in a big city. Don’t flash your cash and be aware of your surroundings. We never experienced any bad encounters during our time in Colombo.
Scams: When we arrived at our hotel, the nice receptionist told us not to believe anything that people told us on the streets. We didn’t think more of it until a man stopped us on the street and told us that he was working in our hotel and he wanted to show us a ceremony. The man was just a common scammer trying to make us believe that we had a connection by saying he worked in our hotel (obviously a lie), so that he could take us on a tour or similar.
Communication: We generally found it super easy to communicate with people in Colombo. Almost everyone we met spoke English, so we never had a problem with asking for directions or similar. We also found that people are often up for a chat, so don’t always think that you are approached because somebody wants to scam you.
SIM card: Get your SIM card in Sri Lanka at Colombo airport. We used Digital, which was located in the arrival hall. We paid 1400 LKR for 20 GB/30 days – this amounts to $3,8 or €3,6. It’s safe to say that it’s super cheap to get a SIM card, and it’s a good choice since we found the internet in most hotels to be bad.
Getting around in Colombo
It’s super easy to get around in Colombo. All the main attractions are within walking distance from the city center, so you can just walk to the next attraction.
However, at some point the heat will get to you (unless you’re a superhero), and you will want a ride to your next destination. Luckily, there is an app named PickMe where you can easily book a tuk tuk or a taxi.
If you don’t have a Sri Lankan SIM card and internet, then just approach the tuk tuk driver and settle on a price from the beginning. We often paid 200-300 LKR per ride.
Where to stay in Colombo
We only stayed 2 nights in Colombo. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, we found that 2-3 nights are more than enough to experience the highlights and best things to do in Colombo.
During our 2 nights, we stayed in a hotel named C1 Colombo Fort, which we can only recommend. The hotel was located in the middle of historic Colombo Fort, yet it was both affordable, comfortable, and clean at the same time. Overall, a great place for us to start our Sri Lanka trip!
In case you’re looking for something luxurious or maybe something that’s more social? Then we’ve made a short list of some of the best hotels and hostels below. We always use booking.com when we book accommodation, so of course, we’ve made our research on this website as well.
Best places to stay in Colombo
- Colombo Downtown Monkey Backpackers Hostel: Want something cheap? Then this is probably your best option. This hostel is super cheap, it has breakfast included, and it’s conveniently located in Colombo Fort.
- Zest Metropole: You want something comfortable and modern? Check out this top-rated 4-star hotel that has big beautiful rooms, a rooftop terrace with views of the Lotus Tower, and is located in the heart of Colombo.
- Shangri-La Colombo: Want pure luxury? Well then this one is for you! Shangri-La is a popular 5-star hotel that has the most incredible views, it has a pool with ocean views, and it’s located right by Galle Face Green.
Attractions & things to do in Colombo
Now that we’ve talked travel planning, it’s time to dive into all the great things to do in Colombo! So in no particular order, here are all the attractions and places that we think are worth seeing in the city.
1. Explore Colombo Fort
It’s safe to say, that one of the best things to do in Colombo is to just take a stroll in Colombo Fort. It’s a great place to start your exploration because the fort district represents a mix between Sri Lanka’s colonial history and its modern and independent place in the world.
Colombo Fort is seen as the business district of Colombo, it has several high-rise buildings, and its where you’ll find the Trade Centre. However, it’s also full of history from colonial times.
The Fort district still has several colonial buildings, and you can really feel how it reminisces a different time period. The district was originally surrounded by a fortress, which was built by the Portuguese in 1517, later on expanded by the Dutch, until it was dismantled under British rule in the 19th century.
There are several colonial buildings you can spot by walking around the Fort area, but the Lighthouse Clock Tower is probably the most interesting one. A British governor’s wife came up with the idea for a clock tower to establish punctuality in Colombo. Ten years later, the light was added on the top and it became the city’s lighthouse until the 1950’s.
2. See the Red Mosque
One of the most intriguing buildings to see in Colombo is Jami Ul-Alfar Masjid, also known as the Red Mosque.
The mosque was built in 1909, which makes it one of the oldest mosque’s in Colombo. The red and white coloured patterns are striking, and it almost makes it look like the building is made of candy.
You can easily visit the mosque if you want to. Just make sure to dress respectably and according to the Islam Religion, which means women should also cover their hair.
The Red Mosque is located in the Pettah area that’s known for its busy markets. So make sure to also have a walk around the Pettah Bazar and look at all the Sri Lankan products while you’re in the area.
3. Have a cup of tea at T-lounge
One of our favorite places to have a drink and a bite in Colombo is the T-Lounge.
In this café, you can try so many different teas, which have all been made right here in Sri Lanka! If you didn’t know, Sri Lanka is internationally known for its tea production, so drinking a cuppa tea here is almost mandatory.
I had a simple green tea with Jasmin flowers for 800 LKR and it was very rich in taste. Apart from green tea, you can also find white tea, black tea, ice tea, and much more! With your tea comes an hour glass that times how long it has to steep, and a specific container that sits in top of your glass with the tea inside.
It’s honestly quite a fun and unique way to experience tea-drinking, and we think it’s one of the best things to do in Colombo if you want a taste of Sri Lanka’s tea culture.
T-Lounge is located in Colombo Fort, so it’s easy to reach. You can also eat pancakes, waffles, bagels, and other yummy things for breakfast and lunch here. So if you need a break from egg hoppers and kottu, then this is the place to go.
4. Visit the lighthouse and viewpoint
Another thing to do in Colombo is to visit the lighthouse. This one is quite different from the colonial Clock Tower Lighthouse, which we covered under Colombo Fort, as its sole purpose is to work as a lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1952 and is maintained and operated by Sri Lanka Ports Authority.
While there is not a lot to do here, it’s still a great little place to see. Why? Because from the platform, which the lighthouse stands upon, you can get a nice view of the city.
So make sure to go on a stroll to the lighthouse and have a look at Colombo from this angle.
5. Get to know the city on a food tour
Is it your first time in Sri Lanka? Then why not start your exploration by diving into the food culture of the country.
In Colombo, you’ll find quite a lot of food tours you can go on. We feel that the food culture is often a great introduction to the country as a whole. Or maybe we’re just passionate foodies?
Sri Lanka is known for dishes such as Rice & Curry, Kottu, Hoppers, and many more. Our favorite thing to eat in Sri Lanka was Rice & Curry, which is a dish that consists of a plate of rice and 5 small plates of different curries. Some of the best curries we had contained banana flowers and pumpkin – they’re very unique compared to what we’ve tried before.
Here are some food tours in Colombo you can consider:
6. Enjoy the sun at Galle Face Green
One of the most popular things to do in Colombo is to just hang out at Galle Face Green.
Galle Face Green is an important breathing space in the city, and you’ll often see locals hanging out here during the day and evening. Although, the place is most popular towards dusk when you can watch a beautiful sunset.
While there is not much “Green” left in the park, since the grass have long been gone, Galle Face Green is still such a great place in Colombo. Located right by the airy coast, you can turn around and face the whole city from here. We found it quite interesting to see how many new skyscrapers are in the process of being built, and we wonder how Colombo will look in 10-20 years from now.
So make sure to head towards this little green space for a great view of the city and the ocean.
7. Visit One Galle Face Mall
Right by Galle Face Green, you’ll find the One Galle Face Mall.
This is a good place to go if you wish to do a little bit of shopping. You can also find a supermarket at the bottom floor of the mall along with some food places.
We walked around the mall for a bit because I needed a new pair of pants and some specific things from the supermarket (mosquito balm, shampoo, etc.). While the mall seemed pretty desolated, we did manage to find a lot of cheap stores. Although, you can probably head to Pettah Bazar and find more affordable clothes – just a little tip.
Anyways, visiting the mall is a great place for those looking to escape the heat and do a bit of shopping. There should also be a nice view of Galle Face Green from the rooftop level, but we unfortunately never made it there.
Notice there is a lot of security at the mall and you’re not allowed to take pictures, maybe this is due to the fact that the popular 5-star hotel Shangri-La is located here.
8. See the Seema Malaka Lake Temple
If you follow the road by Beira Lake, you’ll find the Gangarama Seema Malaka temple. It’s a Buddhist temple that sits in the midst of Beira Lake in Colombo.
It’s honestly a pretty unique setting to see this little temple (it has 3 buildings in total) placed in the water with the modern skyscrapers in the back. The temple is actually quite new, and it was designed by Geoffrey Bawa in the 20th century. However, it’s actually a reconstruction since the original temple that was built in the 19th century had slowly sunk into the lake.
Visiting Seema Malaka is one the best things to do in Colombo if you want to see some Buddhist temples. However, your visit won’t take long since there is not that much to see inside of the small buildings. Seema Malaka is more like a place where you can ind peace in the city rather than a big sightseeing spot.
9. Explore the extraordinary Gangaramaya Temple
One of the best things to do in Colombo is without a doubt visiting the Gangaramaya temple. Or at least that’s our opinion!
Compared to the small Seema Malaka Lake Temple, this one is so much bigger and way more interesting. Inside of this temple grounds you’ll find a big beautiful Bo Tree that’s being worshipped by many visitors on every day, you’ll see several Buddha statues all over the place, and experience an intriguing museum that contains relics from another time.
You can easily spend a long time exploring these temple grounds. Keep your eyes open, and you may even spot a stuffed elephant or a stuffed crocodile. Absolutely unexpected to find in a temple!
We paid 400 LKR per person to enter the temple, which is a reasonable price considering how much there is to see inside. Remember to wear appropriate clothes that cover your knees and shoulders before you enter the temple.
10. Go up the iconic Lotus Tower
The Lotus Tower is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Colombo!
The beautiful tower that’s resembling the bud of a lotus flower opened to the public in 2022, so it’s still very new. With its 350 meters height, it’s actually the tallest structure in all of South Asia! You’ll both find an observation deck with a 360 degree view and a revolving restaurant (the restaurant wasn’t open during our visit in 2023).
We decided to head up the tower for sunset, and it was honestly one of the best experiences we had in Colombo. Not only did we get to watch an amazing sunset, we also got to see all of the places we’d already been to.
You can visit the Lotus Tower between 9 AM – 9 PM on week days and 9 AM – 10 PM on weekends. The 2023 entrance fee to visit the Lotus Tower as a foreigner is $20 for adults and $10 for kids below 10 years old. So the price is a bit steep, but we’re happy we did it.
Related blog post: Travel guide to the Lotus tower in Colombo
11. Relax at the Viharamahadevi Park
Need a break from the hustle and bustle of Colombo? Then head to Viharamahadevi Park.
While there isn’t many things to do in this park compared to other places in Colombo, it’s a great breathing space in the city. Here you can find different types of trees like lemon, fig, and eucalyptus, you can also see if you can spot any fruit bats hanging in the park’s trees, or you can take your child to the playground.
In the middle of the park, you also have a great view to the Town Hall of Colombo, which in our opinion resembles a bit to Capitol Hill in the US. If you walk towards the Town Hall, you’ll eventually see the golden Buddha that’s sitting opposite it. This is a great scene, so make sure to stop by here.
We had a small wander in the park before jumping into a tuk tuk for a ride back to the city center.
12. Visit a museum or go on a tour
Do you want to get to know Sri Lanka’s capital even better? Then one of the best things to do is to visit a museum or to go on a tour around Colombo.
We never visited any museums since we didn’t have enough time. Or maybe we’re just cultural barbarians? But we know that there are several museums you can visit. Of what we can find, it looks like the National Museum has the best ratings on Google, so we would recommend you to start there. It’s located closely to the Viharamahadevi Park.
If you’re not really into museums but still want to get to know Colombo better, then we think that the best way to do this is by going on a tour with a local.
Check out this top-rated tour: Colombo tuk tuk tour (both morning and afternoon available)
13. Go on a day trip from Colombo
If you want to discover more than Colombo but you’re limited on time in Sri Lanka, then you can easily book a day trip from the city.
We traveled around Sri Lanka for 3 weeks and we saw some incredible places such as UNESCO site Sigiriya Rock Fortress, we went on a safari in the deep south in Yala National Park, we walked around historical and beautiful Galle Fort, we went hiking in Ella, and we visited one of the world’s most important Buddhist sites in Kandy.
We’re still amazed by how many great things there are to do in all of Sri Lanka, and we can honestly only recommend you to go further than Colombo. So, here are a few ideas for possible day trips you can do from Colombo:
- Sigiriya & Dambulla: Visit Sigiriya Rock Fortress and the Damulla Cave Temples.
- Galle Fort & surrounding areas: Visit Galle Fort, Unawatuna Beach, a turtle hatchery, and a tsunami museum.
- Kandy: Customise your own tour to Kandy – for example see the Temple of the Tooth, the Botanical Gardens, viewpoints, and more.
We’re so happy we eventually decided to stay a couple of nights in Colombo. While we mainly went to Sri Lanka for the landscapes, wildlife and nature, Colombo gave us such a warm welcome that we wouldn’t exchange the days spent in the capital for anywhere else.
So are you ready for your trip to Sri Lanka’s exciting capital? We really hope that you found this blog post about things to do in Colombo helpful. If you have questions about visiting the city, then don’t hesitate to leave a comment in the box below.
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
Still deciding whether to visit Sri Lanka or not? Read this: 10 good reasons to visit Sri Lanka in 2023