A seaside city that serves as the capital of Sri Lanka, and the cultural and economic centre of the country, Colombo is the first point of contact that many travelers have with this island nation.
While most will head out of the city quickly to assume their position on a lounger at a remote beach, or to one of the mountainside temples in the interior, those that take the time to explore Colombo will find the richly cultured streets here quite intoxicating.
Featuring streetscapes from the days of old, alongside the rapidly rising skyscrapers that have picked up pace in construction since the cessation of civil hostilities several years ago, and you may find yourself here a few days longer than you planned!
Those seeking to understand the historical context of Sri Lanka before heading into the countryside should drop by the National Museum of Colombo first, as it contains a wide variety of artifacts vital to the nation’s past. Sri Lanka used to have a monarchy, so the national museum has taken in and preserved many relics related to the many years of Kandyan rule, including the crown that the former kings used to wear, and the throne upon which they sat.
Other items of note include an elephant skeleton, and the head of an old Buddha statue that was recovered from the Maldives, an island chain further south in the Indian Ocean.
Art enthusiasts will want to include a visit to the Sapumal Foundation on their itinerary, as it is the home of a gallery that features the collection of an eager patron of the arts. Harry Pieris, the late owner of this place, also painted some of the works, which number well over 200 pieces on its walls.
This gallery, which also helped birth the modern art community in Colombo, doesn’t tolerate slouches well, as it is only open from 10 am to 1 pm each day from Monday to Saturday, so don’t waste time on the day that you plan to see this gallery.
Those looking to get a start on seeing significant Buddhist religious sites in Sri Lanka should start with Kelaniya Temple, located only seven kilometres from the city centre. It is believed that the Lord Buddha venerated this place on his third and final visit to Sri Lanka, eight years after he had attained enlightenment.
Though it does not exist today, the original stupa on-site was also said to have contained a throne embedded with precious stones, upon which the Buddha preached to the local population during his visit. These days, the major highlight of this temple is its Reclining Buddha, as well as its descriptive paintings that grant a window into the lives of people thousands of years ago.
After perusing the cultural highlights of this bustling metropolis, swing by the Colombo Zoological Gardens, one of the oldest zoos in South Asia. Home to over 3000 animals and 350 species, it might not be a place for people who take a dim view of keeping animals in captivity, but those that enjoy getting a good look at various species that are normally hard to find will love this attraction. One of the more popular activities is the elephant show in the late afternoon, and even though some people may find it appalling, it is quite an intriguing sight to see nonetheless.
For those that love urban exploring, strolling along the streets of Colombo’s business district will eventually lead you to Beira Lake, a pleasant watery gem in the midst of the urban chaos that often defines this place.
While the algae and pollution in the water can give off an unpleasant smell in the dry season, it is usually a pleasant place to be most of the year, as office workers will come here during their lunch breaks and on weekends as well. Watch the duck boats float by, expertly piloted by the local Sri Lankans, as you plot your next sightseeing exploit in this busy city.
When the sun starts to get low in the sky, make for the Galle Face Green Promenade. A popular gathering place on Colombo’s frontage on the Indian Ocean, many families gather here for picnics, or to simply watch the sun bid Colombo farewell for yet another day.
Kite flyers, football enthusiasts, and food lovers alike congregate here with regularity, making it an excellent place for the traveler who wants to observe local Sri Lankans enjoy their free time in an authentic environment.