Colombo is not a planned city. Shops and offices are in in residential areas and the city has evolved organically and, at times, randomly. That is changing with a new zoned plan for Colombo, but the living heart of Colombo is, for the most part, improvised. So which parts of Colombo are currently the most interesting?
Thimbirigasaya Road was once infuriatingly narrow and then under ruinous construction for a long time. Now it has opened up, which has created a new hotspot as it enters the city. Â
A lot of new and interesting shops, restaurants and offices have opened around here. We mention these places because they’re interesting, but also because they’re in a (relatively) high concentration. This shows the effect of widening Thimbirigasyaya and the natural development that’s led to. If you turn down Jawatte you get to Colombo 7 (and Independence Arcade ) and if you continue down Thimbirigasyaya you get to Colombo 5 and 4.
This places Thimbirigasaya advantageously between the suburbs of Nawala / Nugegoda and Colombo proper. For a long time this advantage was obscured because it was quite possibly the worst road in Colombo, but they smashed out some houses and gardens and the road is passable now. Now people going from the population centers in the suburbs are going through Thimbi every day. And they’re stopping there as well.
The road, once a feeding ground for Colombo’s working bullocks, is becoming a hub, especially around the Thimbirigasyaya junction.
Down the dead-end Sulaiman Terrace, this place does amazing cakes, sweets and savories and is quite popular.
Skrumptious specializes in brownies and sweets and is one of the most consistent and better marketed of the new crop of bakers in town.
Started by Internet entrepreneur Dulith Herath (of Kapruka), this little coffee shop is a meeting spot for all the business types in the area.
Thimbirigasyaya, named after Thimbiri trees that no longer seem to be there, was once an extremely narrow road, but now it’s been widened and there’s a lot going on.
This (basically) one man pizza shop serves up tasty pizzas with generous toppings.
This is also a pizza shop, run by a real Italian. They make good stuff.
This amazing family run place serves up excellent sausages (including pork, as sausages should be), pickles, jams and fresh bread.
Long-established, this restaurant serves a steady stream of locals and busloads of Chinese tourists.
This long-established family business does a great rice and curry lunch.
This new Vietnamese place is down a little by-lane and shows a lot of promise.
2. Horton Place
Horton Place is another road connecting Rajagiriya and Battaramulla to Colombo, in this case Colombo 7 and 3. This has always been a nice area, but now it’s seeing more and more activity. Horton Place is emerging as a central space for the arts in Colombo, but it’s also near the nexus of coffee.
This new-generation extension of the Paradise Road brand, Saskia’s Gallery houses new and interesting art as well as a fashion and jewelry shop next door.
This chocolatier, bakery and restaurant does good local chocolates and more in a well-furnished location.
This wonderful vegetarian place (sandwiches and the like) is healthy and tasty.
Around the corner, Upali’s serves all the Sri Lankan favorites in a nice atmosphere.
Horton Place is also near what we call the coffee nexus. In a few square kilometers you’ll find Coffee Bean and Barista’s (on Horton Place); Cioconat, Caffe Pascucci and Tea Avenue (on Wijerama); and the Barnesbury and Paddington (on Barnes Place). And that’s not even everything. There’s a lot of coffee around here, and traditionally artists plus coffee has been connected to good things.
3. Marine Drive
Marine Drive actually spans multiple districts, running from Colombo 3 to, now, Dehiwala. Like Thimbirigasyaya, it only really developed after the road was widened, again, smashing through existing properties to become wide enough. We’ll start on the Dehiwala side, which is the most interesting.
This place serves great Chinese food on the beach (what could really be better) and they’ve invested in a good space. They also do a mean hot buttered cuttlefish.
Just next door, this place also does good beachside Chinese. They have some nice mangrove action going on as well.
This new hotel has a beautiful view from the rooftop bar and it’s the first of the budget luxury hotels that have been popping up in the city.
This cheap ice cream joint is very popular. The ice cream is bright, a bit artificial and – if not fancy – definitely fun.
This extension of the Don Stanley’s catering business has a beautiful view and does good crab as well as Mongolian BBQ.
This is only fraction of what’s happening on Marine Drive. New places are emerging there almost weekly. It also has less traffic than other roads (except during prayer times around the mosque) and it is rumoured that they’re planning to extend it down through Mount Lavinia.Â
For years Marine Drive was neglected and a hidden gem, but it’s getting more and more polished every day.
While Slave Island is undoubtedly developing, most of that area is already parceled out to big developers. The area around Gangaramaya Temple, however, is a bit more free-wheeling. The big Altair apartment complex is going to change a lot, but right now it’s already pretty happening, especially around the Park Street Mews.
That area – with the news and happening Cafe Francais and the Harpo joints Park Street Mews Restaurant and Curve – is probably the nicest private leisure stretch in the city. It’s also connected to a lot of interesting stuff in the neighborhood.
This relatively clean side of the Beira has the beautiful Seema Malaka Temple, swan boat rides and they seem to be building a sort of shopping area at the corner of Perahera Mawatha.
The namesake restaurant of the cobblestone Park Street Mews street is a good source for affordable, modern dining and relatively cheap beer. The bar Curve is also next door.
Cafe Francais – across from the Mews Restaurant – is a happening French bistro. Bit pricey, but excellent.
This part of Slave Island will change a lot as new apartment buildings come in, but it already has a good base of tourists and local attractions.
5. Liberty Roundabout
If Colombo had a royal crest, it could read Liberty, Majesty, Unity – the names of its major malls. We’ll leave out Crescat because that’s not a word. Liberty Plaza has long been neglected but it’s undergoing a major renovation. The new Movenpick Hotel is also rapidly coming up next door, and Cinnamon Red is already packed up the street. The Liberty Roundabout is emerging as a center of Colombo life.Â
This hotel is affordable, central and currently has the highest rooftop bar in the city.
Mall food courts are not traditionally good places to eat, but this separate annex to the Liberty Mall has some nice eating – Oro 1889, for example.
Waffle Corporation CLOSED – SADS
This young restaurant
does did, as the name suggests, nice waffles near the ANC school.
This franchise is expensive but reliably delish.
This small place on Deanstone that does great and affordable Chinese food in an exceedingly humble setting.
We know that we’ve pushed the definition of Liberty Roundabout a bit, but what we’ve mentioned is all within walking distance. We haven’t mentioned the Liberty Cinema and Colpetty Market which could both see significant changes and more post spots like Movenpick emerge around them.
The entire area on the north side of Dharmapala Mawatha is also quite interesting. Colombo 3 is considered posh and expensive, but the land between here and the Beira is actually filled with low-income houses on a few perches. It’s a central and yet ignored area.
Mattakuliya: This is about as north as Colombo gets, but they’re redoing the Crow’s Island Park (which actually has a nice stretch of beach) and Northshore College is already operating here. If the road into here is widened, it’s actually not far from the city and is close to Peliyagoda and the highway interchange. It’s also a nice area, but perhaps more valuable in the long-term.
Tripoli Square/Maradana Junction: Currently this is office space for tech companies like CodeGen. It’s also home to the Elphinstone Theatre, which is being redone. Over time this central point between Borella and Colombo Fort could become quite happening.
What Isn’t Mentioned
What we haven’t mentioned here are the places which will obviously develop, ie, the places where the government is pumping in money. That includes Dutch Hospital, the Racecourse and Independence Arcade. These places all have retail space to rent and are invigorating the neighborhoods around them, but there are not what we’d call organic development.
So that’s our opinion as to what some hot neighborhoods in Colombo are and might be. It’s just an opinion, so please don’t take it as investment advice. These are some places that have evolved some nice restaurants and shops and things to do, but that could all change. What remains is that the city itself is vibrant and alive in a way its never been and it’s stitching itself into fun and coherent neighborhoods before our eyes. It’s definitely a fun time to be in Colombo.