As capital cities go Colombo isn’t one that’s brimming with must see sights. But recent restorations of colonial buildings along with city centre lakes, an eclectic mix of religious sites and some very nice hotels make it well worth a visit at the start or end of a Sri Lanka itinerary.
We decided to start our trip in Colombo and stayed at the fabulous old Galle Face Hotel with its imposing facade, sweeping wooden staircases, fan cooled verandas and checked floor tiles. On arrival we were upgraded to an enormous and very comfortable suite and walked to our room passed the lovely gardens and swimming pool that face the Indian Ocean.
Eating and drinking options in the hotel are many and varied. We had delicious grilled barramundi for dinner on the Seaspray Restaurant’s terrace which also overlooks the ocean and then for a complete contrast went for cocktails at the hotel ‘pub’, In on the Green.
Opposite the front of the hotel is the famous Galle Face Green where Colombo’s families and visitor gather to hang out, eat from the food stalls and watch the sun go down.
A fairly short walk or even shorter tuk tuk ride away is Fort where many colonial gems have been restored or work is underway. The Old Dutch Hospital is one of the best and now houses some very nice shops and restaurants. In contrast it’s opposite the ultra modern World Trade Centre with its gleaming bronze coloured towers.
Just along the street is the Clock Tower that was a lighthouse in a previous life. It’s at the top of Janadhipathi Mawatha, a road which has only recently been opened up as its home to the Presidents House. There’s still plenty of security in evidence.
Then you turn into Sir Baron Jayatilaka Mawatha where the restored Lloyd’s Buildings sits alongside other colonial restorations in progress. Further along is Cargills, an ornate red brick building that was once the main store of the local retailer. Sadly there’s nothing in it nowadays, but maybe one day there will be again. The photo below shows it against a backdrop of the World Trade Centre towers mentioned earlier.
A short walk from here and you’re in the very different and bustling area of Pettah. It’s well known for its markets and the streets are lined with busy shops and more market stalls that piled high with every type of merchandise imaginable.
Sights include the 17th century Dutch Period Museum that has a courtyard garden and colonial furniture. It’s a multi-ethnic area so there’s also a variety of religious buildings including a church, Hindu temples and a couple of mosques – the Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque is worth taking a look with its red and white striped brickwork.
Carrying on the religious theme our next stop was a short tuk tuk ride to the Buddhist Gangaramaya Temple, one of Colombo’s most important shrines. Like many of the Buddha temples I’ve been to it has a wide array of brightly coloured gifts and flashing lights and the museum is more like a shop full of bric a brac.
It also has a large Bodhi Tree, some lovely while stupas and the main image house is supported by statues of dwarfs while inside the large Buddha figures are pretty glitzy. Gangaramaya is also the focal point of Navam Perahera, a huge celebration that takes place every February full moon. It was being set up when we were there and if you fancy going, it looked like tour companies had reserved seating on the parade route, a good way to avoid the crowds.
Just around the corner is Seema Malaka, a meditation centre that is used for the inaugurations of monks from Gangaramaya. It was designed by famous Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa and its gorgeous buildings are topped with blue tiles and sit on three linked platforms in South Beira Lake.
There are also lots of small bronze Buddhas lined up on the wall around the main building which make a great contrast with the skyscrapers across the water. The lake itself is really nice spot in the city that’s perfect for a waterside stroll, or you can hire a swan shaped paddle boat.
That’s all we had time for as due to a flight schedule change we just had an evening and morning in Colombo. But although there were a couple of things we didn’t have time for, I think we got a pretty good flavour of a capital city that’s most definitely on the up.
Click on an image below to scroll through the gallery and check the Sri Lanka section of my blog for more posts from this trip in the near future.