With a rich colonial heritage, the port city of Colombo has more to offer than just history. Pristine golden beaches, spectacular temples and colonial-era architecture have made this vibrant city, one of the most popular travel destinations. If you’re a foodie, you cannot miss the markets with an abundance of delectable dishes made using local herbs and spices.
Best Time to Visit: Colombo can be visited all year long, however the best time to experience the city is during the dry season which is from January to March. If you’re looking for fewer tourists in the city and better deals, you may choose to visit during the monsoon season, from June to September.
Visa and immigration: If you’re an Indian passport holder travelling to Colombo, you would be required to apply for an online visa. Sri Lanka will issue an Electronic Travel Authorization which allows Indians to visit the country for a period of 30 days. Indians of over 12 years of age are charged $20 as the visa application fee and you can only apply upto 2 months prior to your date of departure.
How to reach
By Air: Bandaranaike International Airport is the nearest Airport, about 35km (an hour’s drive) away from the city. IndiGo now provides flights to Colombo with direct connectivity between Chennai and Bengaluru and offers seamless convenient connections to many other cities in India. Taxis are quite cheap in Sri Lanka and can be the easiest and quickest way to reach Colombo from the airport.
By Train: Being a tourist hub and the most important city of the country, Colombo has a well-connected railway network connecting it to other important cities in the country like Matara, Badulla, Kankesanturai, and Talaimannar.
By Bus: Colombo has a vast network of buses running in and around the city. You can find both government-run buses managed by The Sri Lanka Transport Board and privately owned buses.
Getting around: Public transportation is quite famous among the locals. However, private car hires and tuk-tuks are the most economical ways to get around the city. There’s always Uber and Red Cabs to take you wherever you want to go.
Colombo is the best place for last-minute shopping with more than enough international brands, sleek departmental stores, local street art, and shopping malls for all your needs.
Floating Market: While known for shopping, the popular Floating Market at Old Quarter Pettah offers the classic, old world charm that still exists in Colombo. Some of the stores are on the river itself, and have rickety bridges to get to them which can be quite an adventurous experience in itself.
Grand Fort Colombo Station & Manning Market: On the opposite side of the floating market is the Grand Fort Colombo Station. In its glorious, wooden setup with colonial style architecture and wrought iron staircases, you can meander here just before the sun sets for some spectacular photos. For fresh Sri Lankan fruits and vegetable produce, head east from the Fort Train Station to Manning Market.
Barefoot: Designer Barbara Sansoni’s ‘Barefoot’ is a beautifully laid-out shop, popular for its bright Handloom textiles woven into stylish bedspreads, cushions and other such products. Not just that, Barefoot offers textile covered notebooks, lampshades and a vast selection of clothing. Take a break from the shopping and grab a bite at their stunning, open courtyard cafe!
Colombo enjoys a vibrant and exciting nightlife with numerous pubs, bars and cafes dotting the streets. And since gambling is legal in Sri Lanka, casinos are the real highlight of Colombo’s nightlife scene.
Casinos: Feeling lucky? Hit up Bally’s Casino to test your luck. With a huge gaming area and an abundance of clients, Bally’s has been a regular name in Colombo’s nightlife for quite some time now. You can stake as low as INR 100 and go up to lakhs. Delicious snacks, complimentary drinks and irresistible buffets - there are no second thoughts about this one! While you’re at it, you can check out Bellagio’s Casino too.
Bars & Lounges: If you’re looking to dance the night away, Colombo has got some great clubs for you to check out. Rhythm and Blues Club, Loft Lounge Bar, ZAZA Bar that is completely enclosed in glass, Pool Bar at Cinnamon Lakeside, and Floor by O are some of the famous hangout destinations.
Rise above it all at the stylish rooftop bars – 41 Sugar, Cloud Red, Sky Lounge and ON14 Rooftop Bar are some of the top ones for a great night! Just half an hour away from Colombo, Mt. Lavinia Beach features a steady flow of bars, beach hotels and standalone shacks. Shore by O at Mt. Lavinia beach will instantly transport you to Goa with its huge shack, EDM music and stunning sunset views.
Galle Face Hotel If money is not an object then you cannot miss staying at the Galle face hotel - oldest hotel in Asia that was built in 1864. There is nothing better than sitting at the balcony at sunset soaking up the true Sri Lankan ambience. Distance from Bandaranaike International Airport: 35.6 kms
Cinnamon Grand Located centrally, Cinnamon Grand Colombo is the city’s largest hotel that is always oozing with energy and festivities. It offers excellent service, various amazing restaurants, an outdoor swimming pool and splendid views. Distance from Bandaranaike International Airport: 35.6 kms
Juliana Hotel If you’re looking for budget hotels with decent rooms at a low price, Juliana Hotel is one of the most popular ones. With low-priced rooms that are well-maintained, free WiFi, helpful staff and all the basic, necessary amenities, this hotel is one of the top choices for a budget trip to Colombo. Distance from Bandaranaike International Airport: 30.6 kms
Havelock Bungalow This appealing guest house is like an inner-city oasis, hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the main city. With colonial architecture, wooden floors and ancient mango trees, this place is ideal for those looking for an original and authentic Sri Lankan place to stay. Distance from Bandaranaike International Airport: 36.7 kms
Highbury Another one of Havelock Town’s gems, the Highbury Colombo is a beautiful property coupled with a friendly staff that makes you feel right at home. A lovely fish pond, manicured tropical garden, authentic furniture, and delicious Sri Lankan cuisine - it has it all and comes highly recommended. The rooms are reasonably priced and the house is in proximity to all the major tourist spots. Distance from Bandaranaike International Airport: 36 kms
Kala Pola Art Market & Paradise Road Gallery: Love art – and especially street art? Head over to Kala Pola Art Market, the oldest art market in town, where you can catch a group of super talented local artists as they take over the streets of Nelum Pokuna. And, if you like what you see, paintings are usually on canvases and can be easily bought and carried back. Move on from street style to contemporary art at the Paradise Road Gallery, considered to be one of the most important art spaces in the country.
Beach Road: Head over to the Beach Road area with quaint cafes and old homes that lead you to the Indian Ocean. Walk or ride along the Marine Drive as you bid adieu to the sun whilst enjoying stunning sunset views.
Now, one thing you simply cannot miss out on is a tuk-tuk safari as it offers the ride of your life. They have a few options for Colombo, including morning safaris and sunset ones. The morning one begins at 9.30am and takes you on a trip through the chaotic bazaars, sights of the city, local eateries and even cruises along the ocean.
Join the locals on Colombo’s favourite Galle Face Promenade or the mesmerising snake charmers at city’s favourite park, Viharamahadevi Park. Galle Face Green is also a popular spot for delicious Sri Lankan treats, including Crispy Egg Hoppers and the signature Kottu, a griddle fry-up of chopped noodles, eggs and spices. If you fancy exploring the city on foot, Colombo expert, Harold Sandrasagara, organizes daily walking tours of the historic Fort and Pettah, packed with fun and a dash of fascinating insights that you might never discover on your own. Head to Diyatha Uyana Park, where graffiti artworks burst into 3D creating optical illusions in front of the beautiful view over Lake Batturumullam. Make a whole day of it by heading to the Good Market for healthy snacks and Sri Lankan handicrafts. For fitness freaks, Independence Square is a great spot to hit for a run, in addition to admiring the whitewashed colonial buildings of the Independence Arcade. For a complete guided and curated Colombo experience, you can also book the Colombo City Tour - the only open deck city sightseeing run by Sri Lanka Tourism and Ebert Silva Holidays.