Experience a bit of the city in a day with YAMU's Colombo Trails, a part-tuk part-foot tour of the city's sights, smells and tastes. Our first in the series is the famously old, fabulously long Galle Road.
Opening at Fort's knot of crumbling colonial splendor, the Galle Road gallops apace through the veins of the city, winding through eateries both upscale and streetside before gently unfurling towards the glimmering southern coast. This is how to get the best of it in a day.
If Colombo had a spine, it would be the Galle Road. Beginning at Fort, it hugs the western coastline of Sri Lanka until the southern city it is named after. The new traffic flow system that was put in place a couple of years back, however, has made vehicular travel up and down this famous stretch of asphalt a little too complex for simple minds like mine. The best solution to this is to walk. While Colombo’s daytime heat may not be particularly forgiving, it is generally not very humid and there is often a pleasant sea breeze. Besides, if you find yourself tiring, a metered tuk-tuk is not hard to catch.
Our starting point is Fort. The north of Colombo is unappreciated by both locals and visitors and was rather inaccessible for many years due to the former high security zone. This is supposedly going to change now that accessibility has improved in leaps and bounds, but all bets are off for the moment.
Isso Wade from the Galle Face Green
While many people flock to this part of the city during sunset to fly a kite and eat an isso wade at the Galle Face Green, a morning visit to the Galle Buck Lighthouse on Chaithya Road is a good, if not slightly unconventional way to start the day.
The Galle Buck Lighthouse
After enjoying the view, you can sample a slice of Sri Lanka’s colonial history that even most locals do not know about at the jail cell of the last king of Sri Lanka nearby.
From Janadhipathi Mawatha, walk south past the roundabout towards the Galle Face Hotel, famous for its saltwater pool.
Galle Face Hotel
Along the way, you will pass by a statue of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the fourth Prime Minister and patriarch of a well-known political dynasty. A swim followed by a light lunch at The Verandah is not a bad way to spend the afternoon, so if you feel tempted, by all means give in and make the most of a good opportunity to try the local Lion Lager.
Other options for lunch require either a fair amount of patience as you cover more ground heading south along the Galle Road or money well-spent on a short tuk-tuk ride. Green Cabin is an institution for Sri Lankan rice and curry and Palmyrah at Hotel Renuka is worth trying to get a sense of cuisine from Sri Lanka’s north. You can also try the phenomenal biriyani at Amaravathi but if you follow cricket, scrap all that and make a pilgrimage to the Cricket Club Café. For those on a budget, New Banana Leaf is a worthy alternative.
Amaravathi Mutton Biriyani
The post-lunch itinerary can go a few ways depending on what your venue of choice for lunch was. The aesthetically inclined can check out the Barefoot Gallery from New Banana Leaf and Green Cabin. From the Cricket Club Café, a visit to the Paradise Road Gallery is straightforward as it is practically next door. A place to shop for affordable souvenirs that is close to both Barefoot and Paradise Road is Lanka Hands on Bauddhaloka Mawatha.
If you picked Palmyrah or Amaravathi, or are not particularly fond of art, there are plenty of shopping options literally around the corner. Anusha Handicrafts is an affordable place for traditional Sri Lankan wooden carvings and further down the same road is Liberty Plaza, one of the early Sri Lankan malls that retains a 1980s charm and houses some excellent shops for all sorts of souvenirs. Many of the shops are owner-run, which tends to mean that they are open to bargaining. If you manage to cover Liberty Plaza or are yet to find what you are looking for, get back onto the Galle Road and head south towards Majestic City for more of the Sri Lankan mall experience. A holiday read can be picked up from Vijitha Yapa, located in Unity Plaza directly opposite Majestic City, or you can get a cheap pair of sunglasses from the stall across the road.
The quest for a bargain usually drums up an appetite. Fortunately, there are a few good options nearby and it is worth travelling to grab Indian chaat at Haig Road or iced coffee at only Rs. 30 at the rustic Island Coffee Shop rather than settling for whatever Majestic City offers. If you want to save your appetite for dinner and are done with walking, then flag down a tuk-tuk and end the day at The Beach Wadiya in Wellawatte, where you can sip some arrack and watch the sun go down at one of Colombo’s longest-surviving seafood restaurants.