Not everyone can afford a fancy dinner at Chesa Swiss or a pollen-beset behemoth bouquet from Shirohana – and not everybody wants to. Why buy into a money-making stampede of a holiday that really bears no relevance to the subcontinent? But then again, it can be nice to celebrate the ‘special’ day; as commercial and trite as it may be, it’s still an excuse to fuss over your partner and do something nice.
And there’s plenty of ways to do it without bankrolling Hallmark. Colombo’s a beautiful city, with lots of hidden gems yet to be explored. We’ve made a few suggestions for fun, free(ish) things to do this Valentines – a few ways ways to enjoy the city and interact with its natural beauty while surprising your partner.
Here they are.
One of Colombo’s free-est and most beautiful spots still remains largely unknown to several of our city dwellers. While wave upon wave of families wash up on the lawns of the Galle Face Green to fly kites and watch the sun sink down behind the Indian ocean, few venture further along the strip to enter navy territory. Adjacent to the port and within the purlieus of the Sri Lanka Navy lies the Galle Buck Lighthouse, one of the city’s best places to watch a sunset.
The lighthouse provides stunning views of the Indian Ocean. From its raised base you can see all the way down the Galle Face Green up to the Galle Face Hotel and right across to the very tip of the horizon. Constructed in the 50’s, this isn’t one of our older pieces of architecture, but the views it offers around 5 or 6 PM are rather breathtaking. This is a lovely spot to hold hands as you watch the sun go down – and afterwards you can wander over to Galle Face for an ice cream or the Lighthouse Galley just below for a glass of wine.
There’s little in this city as stunning as Colombo, caught at the right moment, in her naked and natural splendor. While the city has its pretty restaurants, cafes and houses, nothing really comes close to matching the quiet beauty of clear Poya sky or a burning red sun setting over the Galle Face Green.
If you cross over the rail tracks lining Marine Drive, ignoring the many restaurants and cafes scattered by, you’ll reach a broad expanse of perilous looking rocks. Exercising utmost care, find a nice flat one to perch on, and prepare for a great show. If the day is right and if you’re lucky, you’ll be treated to a full screen, high definition view of one of Colombo’s most beautiful features. You can sit on the rocks, watch the ocean, and listen the rattling trains pass by – this an almost isolated, private and beautiful place to be all loved up – if you’re facing the sea, that is.
Mount Lavinia Beach is Sri Lanka’s main sea-bathing spot. Here, depending on season, the waves can be swimmable and it’s host to some amazing sunsets. Note, however, that this is not a bay like Unawatuna. The waters is swimmable only at certain times of the year and can be very rough, with undertow. If no one else is swimming, don’t swim.
When Mount Beach is happening, however, it is great – like right now. You can always start from a perch high above, at the Mount Lavinia Hotel, but what’s more recommended is driving or tuk-ing down College Road to enter the public beach. Once here, you can enjoy a sunset, watch the waves and the stroll over to one of Mount’s many beachside eateries for a glass of wine or a bite to eat.
This is, by a rather wide margin, the best and most beautiful art gallery in the city. The former residence and collection of the artist Harry Pieris ought to be one of Colombo’s major attractions, yet few Colombars have heard of it and even fewer have actually ventured inside.
With its density of paintings, books, and old cane and teak furniture there’s none of the starkness you find in conventional modern art galleries. No long hushed corridors, or overabundance of white, just beautiful paintings in a inviting space.
The art, the home the furniture, the gently decomposing collection of books, the expansive garden it’s all so intensely pleasant that you’ll want to stay forever. Sitting with a partner on a reclining chair in this second little world off Barnes Place, staring at George Keyt’s curving feminine lines and Belling’s amazing angular landscapes can be an intensely romantic experience.
Even in a world where we can watch excellent high definition Youtube videos on the stars and planets at will there’s something quite magical about the planetarium experience. More than anything it’s utterly relaxing- almost hypnotically so.
The cane chairs which recline to give you a view of the ceiling leave you feeling like you’re about to get a massage, there’s no ac but a sort of ancient de-humdifying system keeps the place very pleasantly cool, there’s that melodic Sinhala voice and galaxies upon galaxies of stars. It’s trance inducing and like all of Colombo’s best free attractions the place really does transport you. If not quite to out of space certainly to somewhere far from Colombo. Just imagine yourself leaning against a tree, looking up at a cloudless night sky in the starry emptiness between Pollonaruwa and Trincomalee. Lovely.
Unfolding over a long strip of land, peachey-white sand paths are fringed by lush greenery, twisting along the wetlands to offer the picturesque solution to exercising, courting and relaxing in the city. Whether going for an evening walk or umbrella shaded tryst, this definitely beats hopping manholes and dodging buses on the Highlevel Road – or lingering down residential lanes for alone time with a lover. A stroll here in the evening can be quite pretty.
The Galle Face Hotel doesn’t really provide a free date experience, but we’ve included it anyway. For just Rs. 1000 you can have a luxurious evening swim in the broad saltwater pool as you watch the sun sinking down behind Indian Ocean. The GFH is probably one of the city’s loveliest spots to spend a romantic evening – a dip in the pool, sundown cocktails on the chequerboard and a mezze platter at the Verandah. It’s not free, but it’s not expensive either.