For anyone visiting the magical island nation of Sri Lanka, your trip will most likely start or end in the country’s capital city, Colombo. While it might not have the alluring draw of some Asia’s other capital cities, a day or two to explore some of the city’s best religious and ecological sites is a must. Below are some of the most unique things to do in Colombo, including some tips from locals about top places to eat, drink, stay and eat cake!!
Colombo is a great destination for anyone looking to learn more about the culture and history of Sri Lanka, and really is a great starting point for any trip here. Here are some must visit places in Colombo to check out either on arrival or before departing for your next adventure.
Unique Things To Do In Colombo: Attractions
Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara
One of the largest and best known temples in Colombo, the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara is believed to be over 1500 years old. The temple itself was built on a site where Lord Buddha was said to have sat and preached to his followers 8 years after he attained enlightenment. Within the temple, a number of paintings show the life of Buddha, the history of Sri Lanka in relation to Buddhism, and a number of connected tales.
The temple has been re-built several times, with the most recent repairs being undertaken in the 20th century. This has led to a mixture of materials and time periods being present within the temple, which sets it apart from many others in the surrounding area.
One of the most unique looking buildings in Colombo, the Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque is a must-visit attractions in Colombo, especially for any aspiring photographers as the architecture of this mosque really stands out against the rest of the nearby buildings.
National Museum of Colombo
For anyone interested in the history of Sri Lanka, the National Museum of Colombo is one of the top things to do in Colombo. With information spanning back over 2000 years and artefacts that relate to the original Kandayan monarchs, the museum is truly a treasure trove for amateur historians and aspiring archeologists alike.
The museum was founded in the late 1800s and has no theme aside from the history of Sri Lanka. This means that everything from prehistoric bones to religious exhibits can be found within the buildings. The exhibits rarely change, but are updated from time to time. Special focused exhibits run for up to 6 months a time, affording you plenty of time to explore and re-visit planned areas of the museum.
St. Lucia’s Cathedral
Seemingly a bit out of place in a country so dedicated to Buddhism, the St. Lucia’s Cathedral is a classic Roman Catholic cathedral that was constructed over the course of 100 years during the Dutch occupation of Sri Lanka. With a large amount of surrounding land being owned by the church, the Cathedral is actually a quiet and secluded location to visit.
The inside of the church is known for the many statues, sculptures, and paintings that detail the lives of saints in the Roman Catholic church. Some of these statues are taken out during local parades and play important parts in local celebrations. The cathedral also features ornate stained glass which bathe the church in dancing colors during the sunny parts of the day.
Visitors are able to climb into the choir loft and view the 4300 pound bell that was presented to the cathedral when it was first christened. The official throne of the Archbishop of Colombo is also visible from the loft, making this a popular pilgrimage site for those of the Roman Catholic faith.
Colombo Port Maritime Museum
Colombo is situated near the sea, which means that the ocean has long played a part in the history of the country. The Colombo Port Maritime Museum pays homage to the life giving characteristics of the sea while also showcases the maritime history of Colombo itself. It is housed within one of the only Dutch period buildings still standing within city limits, making it an architectural marvel as well.
The museum is most famous for the collection of art works and sculptures that portray the city and the ports as they were at various different times in history. There are even schematics for various maritime devices and sketches of ships that were once some of the finest to sail the Indian Ocean.
The museum also pays homage to King Vijeya, the first king of Sri Lanka, and other important historical characters who were traditionally associated with the sea. Many believe that visited by the king himself, making it a sacred place for those who venerate the original royal family.
Unique Things To Do In Colombo: Food
Bakes By Bella
If you’re a fan of delicious cakes and over-the-top milkshakes, Bakes by Bella is the place to go in Sri Lanka. I was recommended this place by a local blogger from Colombo, who said it’s a firm favourite with locals. Everything in here is picture perfect, an Instagrammers dream, and with drinks such as a Red Velvet Cake Shake or a Fudge Brownie Shake, Bakes by Bella is the kind of cafe that will definitely have you coming back for more. The Strawberries and Cream Pancakes are also a must try…YUM!
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I’ve now stayed at the Movenpick Hotel in Colombo twice, and still believe it to be the best hotel in the city. While their rooftop infinity pool may have helped keep them in my favour, the ice-cream on the ground floor is also a deciding factor! The ice-cream and dessert cafe is a must visit on any trip to Colombo – even better if you’re booked into the hotel!
The Sandwich Factory
The Sandwich Factory in Colombo is another eatery recommend to me by local bloggers in Sri Lanka. It’s a super fun American-style diner with a range of delicious hot and cold sandwiches, perfect for anyone craving a taste of home while in Sri Lanka. The interior looks like the inside of an American diner, including an old juke box, what looks like a cut-off VW surfer van and old records stuck to the walls. One of the most fun things to do in Colombo for any foodies!
Unique Things To Do In Colombo: Activities
Watch the sunset
While Colombo can feel extremely hot, humid and misty at times, one thing this city does really well is a fantastic sunset! You can head down to Galle Face Green, one of easiest places in the city to access the ocean and watch the sun going down. All the big hotels have some great rooftop bars, so if you can get up to the rooftop of the Movenpick Hotel or Jewing Colombo Seven, you’re in for a pleasant surprise and a jaw dropping sunset! One of the most relaxing things to do in Colombo!
Ride the train to Mount Lavinia
If you don’t plan t travel around Sri Lanka by train but would like a small taste of what it’s like to see the country fly by through windowless trains where you’re free to hang out the open doors, hop on the train at Colombo Railway Station and ride the train just 10km south to picturesque Mount Lavinia, home to the historic Mount Lavinia Hotel and some the best city beaches and beach restaurants in Colombo. The train also goes south all the way to Galle, a beautifully picturesque train ride.
Take a Tuk Tuk ride
No visit to Colombo would be complete without taking a tuk tuk ride. The drivers are mad, manoeuvring their way through the packed streets, beeping their horns, playing music and often decked out with some funky stickers or Bob Marley memorabilia attaches to the tuk tuk!
Go shopping at Barefoot
If you want to take home some momentos from Sri Lanka but have no interest in buying mass produced trinkets or souvenirs (that were no doubt made in China!) then you need to check out Barefoot. This is a super cute handcrafts shops with lots of local, hand made products and also has a pretty Garden Cafe our back to chill out at after a busy morning shopping.