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24 Hours in Colombo (2015)

If you're visiting Colombo for the first time, or even if you're just suddenly in the mood for some exploring - here's a bunch…

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If you're visiting Colombo for the first time, or even if you're just suddenly in the mood for some exploring - here's a bunch of things you can try out in Sri Lanka's big city, in 24 hours.


 

 

Sights

If you can wake up early, it's a good time to explore the city before it's A) crowded and B) hot.

Sri Ponnambalam Vanesar Kovil (Kotahena)

This Shiva temple in Kotahena is austere, simple and beautiful. Unlike most temples, which are a riot of color and statues, this is made of big, monumental slabs of granite with simple statues tucked into alcoves.


Pettah (Colombo 1)

Pettah gets crazy fast, but in the mornings this commercial neighborhood is not so crowded and you can still get some cool photos and watch the city come alive.


Wolvendaal Church (Colombo 13)

Walking distance from Pettah, this 1757 church has 5-foot thick walls and the tombstones of early colonists on the floor. It's an impressive space.

Breakfast

Sri Lankan breakfasts are a treat, but people usually have it at home.

Palmyrah, Renuka Hotel (Colombo 3)

The Renuka Hotel restaurant does classic Jaffna style food and they are open for breakfast.


Sugar (Colombo 3, Crescat Mall)

Sugar does good western style breakfast and usually some Sri Lankan options also. It's a happening, centrally located place with pro service.


Whight & Co

This beautiful coffee shop on Marine drive makes excellent local coffee and nice sweets and meals. You also get a great view of the ocean from upstairs.

Shops

In terms of shopping there isn't too much you need to wake up early for, indeed, a lot of shops don't open till after 10.

Rs. 299

This shop actually only opens at 10:30, but we recommend going early because things seem to sell out. All the clothes here are actually just Rs. 299.


 

 

Note that if you are going out around noon, try to be settle in by 1 PM (on weekdays). That's when kids get out of school and Colombo traffic becomes a soup until about 2:30 PM.

Sights


Gangaramaya Temple

This temple is a bit of a hoarders paradise, full of donated statues, watches, antique cars, printing presses, even computers. It's walking distance from the floating Seema Malaka.


Sambodhi Chaithya

This elevated stupa near the port has a beautiful view and is walking distance from the Galle Buck Lighthouse and Kingsbury Hotel.


Dutch Period Museum

This museum is not especially well maintained, but it's still an oasis in the middle of bustling Pettah. An interesting trip back into time.

Lunch


Upali's

Upali's is actually good for any meal, but if you want a good Sri Lankan lunch in a family restaurant style setting, this is it. They do the whole range of Sri Lankan food well and are also a good bet for breakfast or dinner.


Barefoot Cafe

This buzzing cafe serves excellent food al fresco and is connected to an interesting art gallery and shop.


Kaema Sutra

Kaema Sutra is a project of Sri Lanka's best chef Dharshan Munidasa to modernize Sri Lankan cuisine. It's not cheap for dishes you can get on the street, but they do turn quality and creativity up a notch.


Achcharu Kade Cafe

Achcharu Kade is a small shop that does excellent rice and curry, achcharu (pickled fruit) and other creative takes on Sri Lankan classics.


Saraswathie Lodge

Saraswathie Lodge is a no fuss vegetarian diner. You order your starch (dosai, idli) and get basically unlimited curries and sambar. Quite cheap.


Bath Amma's

Bath Amma's is literally someone's tiny house near Majestic City where you can have rice and curry. You literally eat at their dining table. The food is quite good.

Shops

Shops are open during the day, but try not to be on the road during schooltime, as mentioned above.


Paradise Road

Paradise Road does excellent design, centered on a black and white geometric theme. It does home furnishings and interesting objects.


Barefoot (Galle Road)

Barefoot is another classic shopping stop, centered around color-based design. They also do interior stuff, plus their signature fabrics, a great bookstore, stuffed toys, the works.


ODEL

ODEL is Colombo's main department store. Bit pricey sometimes, but there's a whole range of stuff here, from clothes to gifts to food and tea.


PR

A younger incarnation of Paradise Road, PR has unique fashion, jewelry and cool locally and internationally designed items.


Good Market Shop

For local and organic foodstuffs, the Good Market Shop can't be beat. They also have big open markets at Racecourse (across the street) on Saturday and in Battaramulla on Thursdays.


 

 

Sights

If you're in Colombo for just 24 hours, you need to catch the sunset, preferably over the ocean. Beyond that, there's plenty to do around the city at night.


Galle Face Green

People of all walks of life hang out here. You can fly kites, eat fried prawn or octopus and generally walk around and have a nice time. Killer sunset.


Grand Oriental Hotel

Actually a hotel restaurant, the Harbour Room has an amazing view of the Port. You can watch ships loading and unloading. It's beautiful day or night.


Night Good Market

Running till about 9 (11 if it's busy), the Good Market in Battaramulla is a great chance to see Sri Lankan creativity in food, crafts and more. On Thursdays only.


Arcade Independence Square

Independence Square is where a lot of people walk around in the evenings. The adjacent Independence Arcade has a lot of nice shops and restaurants and is generally beautiful at night.

Dinner


Ministry Of Crab

Possibly Sri Lanka's best restaurant, Dharshan Munidasa's Ministry Of Crab, specializes in big, fresh crab but also does good prawn and even chicken curry. Bit expensive, and messy, but a unique experience.


HVN at Casa Colombo

This popular boutique hotel has a really good restaurant - creative, fun to hang out in and affordable. A hidden gem.


Min Han

Min Han is a cheap, really tasty, really bare-bones Chinese restaurant. The ambience is beyond basic but the food is great and the waiter Wijayapala will helpfully order for you.


Yarl Eat House

Also good for breakfast, this literal hole in the wall in Wellawatte does excellent, spicy Jaffna cuisine served on banana leaf. Totally working class ambience, but the food is authentic and good. Bring a handkerchief.


Gallery Cafe

The old office of brilliant Asian architect Geoffrey Bawa, this packed spot does good if expensive food in an amazing ambience. Their desserts are excellent.


Clique Supper Club

This creative restaurant near Town Hall does great steak and creative Japanese and fusion dishes. Amazing service and, although not cheap, we think it's good value. The adjoining Clique Lounge is also a happening drinks and dancing scene, though it doesn't interfere with dinner.


The Station

For beachside dinner/drinks The Station or next door Barracuda are great. Station does a hearty Sri Lankan take on Chinese food and is a lovely place to have some drinks and a chat.


Pilawoos

If you're out really late, Pilawoos is where locals go for late-night kottu (chopped up flatbread and veggies and meat). There are numerous Pilawoos along the Galle Road (we've tasted and graphed them here) but the one in Colpetty (linked above) is probably the most central.

Drinks

We won't get into nightclubs (try Clique or Amuseum or Kama if you're into that). These are places to chill and get a drink, hopefully with a view. Note that most of the posher places require men to wear long pants and shoes to enter.


Cloud Red

The highest bar in Colombo, this place is amazing around sunset. Throughout the night, it's a good place to chill with a view.


ON14

Another rooftop bar, this spot on Marine Drive does good cocktails and is a nice place to watch everyone else stuck in traffic pass by below.


Castle Hotel

Not for the faint of heart, this working class bar has a beautiful crumbling location and cheap drinks. Ask for Solomon if you go, and note that this place will be bull-dozed in about a year.


41 Sugar

If you want to see pretty people and potentially party all night, 41 Sugar is a good bet. They have a nice sunset, good drinks and an interesting crowd. It's also in a building with bars/nightclubs on every floor.


7 Degrees North

This bar attached to the Cinnamon Lakeside is literally lake-side and usually has a happening crowd.


Clique Lounge Bar

This place maintains a good female/male ratio and morphs into a more nightclub type scene as the night goes on.

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