Colombo is Sri Lanka’s ocean city. Stretching 14 kilometres along the island’s western shore, the commercial capital is rapidly emerging as a must-see destination in its own right. Once just a sprawling city you had to endure at the beginning or end of your Sri Lankan adventures, this exciting city now encompasses stylish eateries, galleries, museums and upmarket shopping. Whilst the modern city of hectic traffic and soaring towers blocks progresses, there are still charming patches of the old Garden City of the East, with abundant foliage and gentle sea breezes.
Here we take a look at some of the attractions that make this exciting oceanfront city a popular hotspot for travellers, and why you can’t afford to leave Colombo out of your travel plans…
Where to stay
Established in 1864, The Galle Face Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in Asia, and is an iconic landmark on the Galle Face Green. Over the years it has hosted many notable characters, enhancing the much-loved institution’s rich traditions and compelling stories. It exudes colonial grandeur, and with a romantic air of faded elegance, there is no other hotel in Colombo that has quite as much charm and character.
Tintagel is a unique, private hotel in the heart of Colombo’s most desirable postcode, District 7. This historical house was once home to two erstwhile prime ministers, but since converting into a luxury hotel by Shanth Fernando (also the owner of Colombo’s most enduringly popular restaurant, The Gallery Café and the highly influential lifestyle store, Paradise Road) the chic intimate atmosphere has attracted Colombo’s elite society, corporate travellers and holiday-makers alike.
For contemporary elegance and excellence, there is no place better than Lake Lodge. A luxurious hideaway boutique hotel, with classic Sri Lankan charm combined with crafted modernity, this hotel is a testament to the tranquillity upon which is was built. So much so, you could easily forget that Colombo’s thriving restaurants and business district are just moments away, meaning that you can combine the best of both worlds with a stay at this hotel.
Food and eating out
Sri Lanka is known for its flavoursome cuisine, and some of the country’s best restaurants can be found in Colombo. The Gallery Café, developed by local style arbiter, Shanth Fernando, of Paradise Road fame, is the place to see and be seen, and justly deserves its worldwide reputation as a place to wine and dine. The menu offers a variety of grills and seafood of both local and international cuisine, and the décor pays homage to the late great Geoffrey Bawa. Lunch at Barefoot’s Garden Café, a leafy oasis in the heart of town, is an ideal place to rest during a packed day in the city. The casual blackboard menu offers a sumptuous array of daily specials (the legendary Black Pork Curry is delicious!) and on Sundays there is a live jazz band.
Ministry of Crab, as the name implies, is a celebration of Sri Lanka’s finest quality crab and seafood. Founded by renowned chef, Dharshan Munidase, the menu lists a multitude preparation techniques, a range of crab sizes and guidelines to servings. The popularity of this restaurant has soared through the roof, and advance reservations are a must. Nihonbashi was also founded by Dharshan Munidase, who is of mixed Japanese and Sri Lankan heritage. The restaurant brings Japanese cuisine to the heart of Colombo, combining the flavour and culture of authentic Japan with the very best Sri Lankan ingredients, including locally sourced tuna, for the delectable tuna sashimi.
Shopping in Colombo can easily take up a day, and all of your spare suitcase space! It’s easy to get lost in the markets and rampant commerce of Pettah, but if you know where to go, you can save hours of valuable time. Paradise Road is a boutique retail venture which sells contemporary, locally manufactured products. The stylish range embodies the timeless style of Bawa, and the store has rapidly become the strongest design brand in Sri Lanka. Barefoot also focusses on locally sourced products, where each individual item has been made especially for the store by local craftsmen and artisans. With vivid colours, beautiful textiles and abstract geometry, the Barefoot range is inspired by land and seascapes, earth, plant life and wildlife. The Dutch Hospital precinct is one of the most idyllic shopping centres in the country, and one of the oldest buildings in Fort. Centred around two courtyards, which sometimes hosts live music, there are cafes, restaurants, shops and bars. It makes for the perfect place to mosey in and out of the shade searching for souvenirs whilst stopping beneath the shaded colonnades for a cooling refreshment.
Arts and culture
A port city, with a rich colonial heritage and a potpourri of races, religions and cultures, there is no shortage of cultural sights in Colombo. The National Museum, Sri Lanka’s premier cultural institution, houses a magnificent collection of Polonnaruwa bronzes, demon dance masks and puppets. There is also a Children’s Museum and a library containing over 4,000 palm leaf manuscripts, Sri Lanka’s oldest written records. In Pettah, the Dutch Museum located in the 17th century governor’s house, has a fascinating display of Dutch legacy artefacts, including furniture, ceramics and weaponry. To the south is one of the most important temples in Colombo, the tiny, delightful Buddhist temple, Gangaramaya, near Beira Lake. There is also a thriving art scene, and the Sapumal Foundation Gallery sells Sri Lankan paintings dating back to the 1920s.
James Jayasundera is Founder and Managing Director of Ampersand Travel.
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Source: A Luxury Travel Blog