24 Hours in Colombo – the Commercial Capital of Sri Lanka
Travelling on your own can be both intimidating and exhilarating, especially if you are surrounded by a completely unfamiliar environment and culture. However, one of the wonderful things about Sri Lanka is the genuine hospitality that the country and its people offers its visitors. Known for being home to some of the kindest and most generous folks on this side of the world, Sri Lanka is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to travel internationally on their own. There’s something for every kind of traveller, from chilled beach vacations to thrilling adventures in the mountains. And of course, you won’t want to miss a visit to Colombo.
Colombo is a thriving hub of activity that seamlessly blends island life with the perks of living in a city. Visitors generally tend to favour Sri Lanka’s cultural destinations and wildlife parks farther afield, but trust us: Colombo should definitely be on your itinerary. The capital is home to folks from all walks of life, with communities from all over the island gathered in one vibrant city waiting to be explored. Even if it’s just for a day, here are some of the amazing things you can see within 24 hours in the commercial capital of Sri Lanka.
Start your day by immersing yourself in the cultural bustle of the city and spending some time in the open markets of Pettah. Located just outside of Colombo Fort and framed by buildings dating back to Sri Lanka’s colonial era, the bazaar features everything from fruit-and-vegetable vendors to spice sellers, clothes merchants, electrical items, leather products, and an entire street dedicated to the sale of gold! The market is a great place to pick up some fun souvenirs, and you won’t find consumer goods any cheaper anywhere else on the island!
Some key landmarks to look out for while exploring Pettah include the candy-cane-striped Red Mosque (also called the Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque), the Khan Clock Tower, and the Wolvendaal Church. You can spend a couple of hours here looking at everything on offer and bartering with the sellers; just make sure that you wear comfy shoes, since you’ll be spending most of your time on foot as you wander through the stalls. Pettah is best visited in the morning before the intense heat of the afternoon hits, but keep in mind that the market is also at its busiest during those hours; tuk-tuks and cart-pushing vendors can pop out of nowhere and barrel down the hectic streets, so be mindful of where you step!
Sri Lanka is a tropical country, and the heat can get pretty harsh around midday. After a busy morning of exploring, head over to the Dutch Hospital for a cold beer and to grab some lunch from one of the many restaurants housed within a building that dates back to the Dutch colonial era. You can also opt for a spot of afternoon shopping at its high-end stores.
After a relaxing lunch, there are plenty of amazing cultural hubs that you can visit – and Colombo is small enough that several of these are within walking distance of each other. Head for the Gangaramaya Temple at Beira Lake, one of the most-visited temples in the city, before making the short walk up to the floating temple of the Seema Malakaya for some meditation and reflection. The National Museum is less than a 5-minute drive away, and is home to thousands of amazing exhibits that detail the island’s history.
Alternatively, if you’d rather opt for some much-deserved self-care, why not relax with a massage? You can check out the options at your hotel, or head to one of the top-quality spas in the city. There are several to choose from, including Thusare Talking Hands, which trains and employs the visually-impaired; or the ExSerendib Ayurveda Cure & Therapy spa, where you can explore some of the island’s famous Ayurvedic treatments.
Colombo presses up against the island’s western shores, so you can wander through its dense neighbourhoods knowing that, five minutes away, there’s a beach that’s waiting for you if you need a breather. If you are starting to feel like you want to move outside the hustle of the city, head to the half-kilometre stretch of the Galle Face Green.
Make your way to one of the street food stalls that line the green and grab some isso (prawn) vaday, or some spiced mango slices. Find a place to sit and watch an array of colourful kites being flown over the water by the locals. You’ll see kids splashing in the water, while local lovers walk hand in hand down the length of the green. It’s a great place to watch the sunset in the city, so maybe aim to hit it up around 5PM for the best views.
Finish off your day in Colombo with dinner and dancing at Park Street Mews: a chic avenue of restored warehouses that host a range of restaurants and bars, and where locals and tourists alike gather for the great food and excellent company. Or if you’d prefer a quieter night, there are loads of amazing restaurants around the city that you can choose from, serving everything from delicious local cuisine to incredible fusion fare.