Viharamahadevi Park, known earlier as Victoria Park, is Colombo's only central park. It's been done-up for quite a while now and it looks great, especially in the evenings.
There are three false entrances to the park - false because now they've taken off almost all the fence around the area, so you can walk in from wherever. The down-side of all this urban planning is that the local artists' paintings we loved to pass by, leaning on the park's steel fence, are no more.
One walk-in is right opposite Park Street, the other from next to the Public Library, and the third by the large Buddha statue opposite Town Hall. Walking in through the Town Hall end, you'll find the long square pools of water in the center, the aquarium on the far left end, the lake, suspension bridge, candy floss and pony rides on the far right, and the World War memorial at the south end.
Viharamahadevi park has come a long, long way since the 90's. A lot of the old trees are towering and wild but the park is meticulously maintained, with beautiful paved pathways, some flanked by palm trees and lush, even grass.
There are some surprising little seating spaces you'll find in the park, sleek and pleasant, mostly made of wood and concrete. The park used to be a place where lovers went to surreptitiously hide behind overgrown bushes. There are no more overgrown bushes to hide behind, so it's not dodgy anymore, and couples still do spend time here (and why wouldn't they? It's a romantic space when lit up in the evenings), but no more do the guards police them around, in fact one guard asked me not to take photographs of couples and to give them their privacy.
The War Memorial
Now that the fences have all come down, there's a continuity between the street, the park, the library and the World War Memorial. So if you walk into the park next to the Public Library, you'll walk by this beautiful old space with Greek columns and clean paving. It's a glorious, quiet space that includes a towering cenotaph and memorial walls that pay tribute to Sri Lankan and European soldiers who died in both World Wars.
The Lake & Bridge
The lake and the suspension bridge above it have always been a popular attraction at the park. The suspension bridge is obviously wobbly so kids and sometimes adults get their kicks from walking on it and peering down at those below; there are clean concrete slabs around the lake to sit and enjoy the view.
The play-space for kids is extensive. The best part about this area are the little hills landscaped out of the park more recently - blue and purple paved pathways roll on top of the hills, and some parts of the hills are holed with tunnels through which kids crawl (I wish they had these when I was a kid!). Around these mini-hills are mat-slides, swings and the whole works.
Nearby is a big plastic play-house for younger kids, and also a huge blue circle on the ground that turns into a watery play-zone for children at 5PM when its sprinklers come on.
You'll also find ponies around this area, carrying kids on their backs or dragging small carriages of children, for about Rs. 100.
We don't know any other place in Colombo that sells candy floss anymore - so we're relieved they still do this at Viharamahadevi Park, right next to the kids' play-house. They've also got delicious mango achcharu and hot-hot corn here, cheap at Rs. 50, and of course the ice cream truck guy.
If you walk into the gigantic black rock on the East side of the park (from the Town Hall side) you'll find an aquarium. There are a host of little fishies here, some of them very interesting looking, and also a tiny little lobster and two petrified looking baby turtles. There is an ominous hand-painted sign inside that says PLEASE BEHAVE DECENTLY. Tickets for adults go for Rs. 20 and for children Rs. 10.
Right next to this rock-aquarium is a giant blue house with fish painted on the walls - this is just the bathroom.
Viharamahadevi Park is beautifully maintained. It's the only other clean, green public space besides Independence Square
to chill at in Colombo. The trees are still gorgeous, and the snacks are still cheap. It's easily any kid's favourite place to play at, and is ideal for a picnic or to just laze around with friends or family.
After 4PM when it's not so hot, take a book here for a quiet read in one of the cosy seating spaces.