Colombo 1

The city of Colombo is Sri Lanka’s largest urban complex and is also its commercial capital, while the administrative center is located in Sri Jayawardenapura, Kotte. Both are located in the Western Province along the coast, specifically within the district of Colombo itself. Within its city limits there are 555,000 people and many more in its suburbs. Colombo is far more populous than Kandy, and it gained its recognition during the colonial eras as an important trading post, Colombo has been known for centuries under its original name of Kolom Thota while its current name was given during the Portuguese time. It is derived from the Sinhalese terms “Kola+Amba”, after green mangoes, or mango trees. Currently the Sinhalese name of the city is “Kolamba”, while Colombo is an Anglicization of the older terms. It was finally taken over by the Portuguese. At the same time, it was during the Portuguese period that the western Kingdom of Kotte fell and Colombo fell out of local hands. Finally the Europeans were free to develop the harbor and turn it into their own center of commerce. The British modeled Colombo on their own urban settlements and at the time before independence, there were tram car tracks laid all over the roads of the city. Earlier the name itself referred only to the area around the Pettah Market and Khan Clock Tower, at least until 1948.

Colombo is divided into fifteen postal districts, with the capital of Colombo 1 being Fort and of 15 being Mutwal and Mattakkuliya, among the more remote and little-known parts of the urban complex. To most people today, Colombo 7 is the hub of elitist activity but is also an incredible artistic center with a great deal of culture, poetry and theater. All of these fields are incredibly developed in Sri Lanka’s west where both foreign and local ideologies clash.

Anyone from the city can tell you that there are plenty of things to do in Colombo. Among the best places to see them include the famous Lionel Wendt Auditorium and the Nelum Pokuna Theater, the former being an old attraction and the latter being the best-known modern theater complex in the country.  Also set in this area is Independence Square, a monument constructed in commemoration of Sri Lanka’s freedom from British grasp. It is built in a much older architectural style, with its stylistic lions guarding the main structure. Colombo 7 also includes the Race Course Promenade, parallel to a section of the massive Royal College-once Victoria Academy-complex, yet another remnant from the British period and one of many private institutions modeled upon the old British schooling system.

Race Course Promenade was once what its name suggests it to be, a center for equestrian sports during the colonial era. At times it plays host to the Good Market, an incredible display of color and splendor which includes organic delicacies and little shopping stalls with second-hand books, clothes and little trinkets. While at Race Course one might enjoy a rather pricey albeit delectable meal at RnR, with its high-profile atmosphere and bar just adjoining the restaurant. Or if one prefers the simpler things in life, they may opt for McDonald’s downstairs.

Some locations that retain their original design include the Colombo Museum and the older Public Library whereas the newer one has a more modern look to it. The current Public Library has an incredible atmosphere for reading, with its extensive gardens and air-conditioned halls, while it might be slightly dark inside.

Viharamahadevi Park is perhaps the best place in the city to catch a breath of fresh air. There are bike lanes here, and if one is adventurous enough, one may even bring a skateboard. The suburbs of Boralesgamuwa, Battaramulla & Nugegoda, set outside the city limits, contain good scenic walking paths. These overlook recently cleared-out wetlands and is populated by joggers and cyclists of all ages.

Part of the city’s charm is the actual inclusion of these colonial and post-colonial reminders and sometimes the modern attractions of Colombo sometimes merge together to create such places of interest such as the famous Arcade Independence Square. At one time it had been an old asylum but is now one of the best hangout spots in the city. Its colonial architecture is included in the tiled roofs and the sculptures of the lions that romp around the middle of the courtyard. However it is, for all thoughts and purposes, a modern building in its premise. A similar one is the famous Old Dutch Hospital, set on the coast around the vicinity of the Galle Face Green. Built around an open courtyard, the building complex was truly an old infirmary for the Dutch sailors during the 16th and 17th Centuries, thus making it one of the oldest surviving buildings in the area. One can enjoy a cup of Ceylon tea from the famous Heladiv, dig into Sri Lankan crabs at the Ministry of Crab or shop at the Dutch’s ODEL outlet. The Green itself has had an incredibly long history since its original conception as a sporting ground for a number of years. Presently it too is a hangout spot by the sea.

Other coastal destinations include the famous Mount Lavinia Beach while a tourist can certainly do much more than merely swim or walk on the sands. There is the Mount Lavinia Hotel, once a governor’s residence during the earliest days of colonialism. It still maintains its historic charm. On the road to the hotel there are a number of cafeterias such as Lavazza, famous for Arabic and Mediterranean flavors, and Charcoal Gallery Café. These locations are all built in the suburb of Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia. As for the other things to do in Colombo, there is the brainchild of Barbara Sansoni, the famed Barefoot Gallery. There is also Paradise Road, with its wide variety of shopping complexes but none as widely known as ODEL. House of Fashion is also a fashion destination for the devoted shopper. Restaurants in Colombo include Nuga Gama, famous for its rural aesthetic, or rather a romanticized version of a traditional Sri Lankan village. The place gets its name from the large banyan or "Nuga" tree right in the center. The Cinnamon Gardens area, the hotspot for Colombo's cultured and elite group is filled with hotels as well. Some of the urban hotels include Cinnamon Grand, The Kingsbury on the coast from Colpetty and incidentally in the same locale as the Dutch Hospital and Galle Face Hotel, also on the same strip of coastline. 

A highlight of things to do in Colombo;

What to see in Colombo and link to image of Kelani Rajamaha ViharayaWhat to see in Colombo a link to TLC listing of Pettah marketPlaces to see in Colombo and link to Gangarama temple in the heart of Colombo City CentreVisit the national museum when in Colombo and this image is a link to the listing on TLC trip plannerViharamadevi Park the Oasis in the City of ColomboDutch hospital in Colombo is a good place to handout inthe city and have good food in colombo and popular tourist attraction in ColomboImage of Galle face green in Colombo a good place to enjoy a good sun set in ColomboIndependence memorial of Sri Lanka and tourist attraction in ColomboJana Kala Kendraya is a good starting point to explore all the Sri Lankan culture and craftsNew Parliament in Sri Lanka located in the outskirts of Colombo and build on Diyawanna Lake

Best time to visit Colombo; can be visited throughout the year

Distance and travel times from Colombo to some key cities

Distance from Colombo to Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) is about 36 km and travel time is 30 minutes.

Distance from Colombo to Kandy is about 120 km and travel time is 2.5 to 3 hours.

Distance from Colombo to Galle is about 128 km and travel time is 1.5 to 2 hours.

Distance from Colombo to Sigiriya is about 173 km and travel time is 3.5 to 4 hours.

For any other location you can use the distance calculator on the side bar.

Written by Vasika Udurawane for

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