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Tourist Places To Visit In Colombo
Colombo has been a city of importance throughout Sri Lanka’s long history. Therefore it is not surprising that to understand the different eras in Sri Lankan history, one only need visit Colombo. But Colombo is not only about the past. The city has been developing rapidly and the best feature of Colombo is how it has been able to integrate its past with its present. While there are many places to visit in Colombo for tourists, a few of them stand out, namely, the Gangaramaya Temple, Independence Memorial Hall, Jami-Ul-Alfar, Dehiwala Zoological Garden and the National Museum. Here is a detailed list of the most popular ones to explore while you are in the city.
A beautiful building resembling Italian architecture stands majestically in a part of Colombo with many such respectable spectacles. This 19th century building is home to some of the most important artefacts of Sri Lankan History. From ancient Sri Lankan scripts, they have on display old manuscripts, statues, carvings, medieval art, masks and an endless list of fascinating antiques. From the colonial era, the most prized possession is the jewelled crown and throne of the Kandyan Kings. They also exhibit guns and other weapons from this era. The museum is, however, not just cultural; there are specimens of a number of interesting flora and fauna as well.
Dutch Period Museum
The complex that houses the Dutch museum has, in the past, served many purposes. The 17th century building was originally the residence of the then governor and thanks to its history, was restored and opened up to the public as a museum dedicated to the Dutch era. The museum is well organised and paints a vivid picture of the said period. They take you through paintings, maps, coins, models of ships as well as artefacts like furniture that were in use in Sri Lanka during their arrival.
By the side of the Beira Lake, is one of the most visited temples in Colombo. The beautiful and complex temple compound includes all the usual elements like the main temple, an assembly hall and many intricate statues decked in expensive jewellery. But there is a lot more to the complex than that. Between the clusters of buildings is a Bo Tree, adorned with prayer flags, which can be directly traced back to the original Bodhi Tree. There is also a museum displaying Buddhist relics. Interestingly, with all the antiques, ivory statues, regal furniture and vintage cars, the whole complex may feel like an extended museum. Something worth appreciating here is the architecture, which is an interesting mix of Sri Lankan, Indian and Thai. The detailed engravings on the wall, depicting the life of The Buddha, also deserves special mention.
Independence Memorial Hall
To commemorate their independence, an elaborate building with massive columns and an architectural design that resembles the ancient audience hall of the Kandyan Kings was established. The Independence Memorial Hall, as it is called, is filled with symbols that justify the name. The ferocious lions are from the ancient Yapahuwa Kingdom, the wood carvings on the pillars are from the Gampola Kingdom and so on. There is also a museum within the building dedicated to independence heroes. Besides the stunning architecture, the hall is surrounded by vast quiet lawns that are a great relief from the bustle of the city.
Arcade Independence Square
Like many of Colombo’s old buildings, what is now an arcade was originally built to be an asylum for the mentally ill. It then served other offices until it became the fabulous shopping complex that it now is. The building was painstakingly restored, making sure the original structure remained unaltered. Within the building is a shopper’s paradise, with branded stores, eateries and a Cineplex. If you decide to visit the Independence Memorial Hall, then this should be on the list as well.
Old City Hall
For architecture enthusiasts this building is a treasure. The late 19th century building was built in a neo-classical style with an exquisite dome adorning it. The many columns only add to the vintage vibe of the place. Within the building many objects are still preserved, like a map of 18th century Colombo, type-writers, vintage trucks and so on. The tinted glass windows accentuate the other-worldly feeling that accompanies visitors to this municipal building.
Dehiwala Zoological Garden
Known as the Dehiwala Zoological Gardens, this 11 acre land is home to over 300 species of animals. The zoo is known for its conservational efforts and also for its animal shows. Though the latter is often considered cruel and for good reason. The zoo does have some wonderful features like a butterfly garden with about 30 different species of butterflies at every stage of their lives. Among mammals, the zoo is home to lions, tigers, jaguars, elephants, chimpanzees, giraffes and many more. Birds found in the zoo include eagles, hawks, ostriches, macaws, pelicans, etc. Other note-worthy inhabitants include a sea-lion, many varieties of snakes, turtles and crocodiles.
One of the best things about taking a walk in Pettah is the number of ancient treasures you will encounter. One such treasure is the Jami-Ul-Alfar also known as the Red Mosque thanks to its elaborate red and white candy stripped walls. It has a prominent dome that is a typical feature of most mosques, but the rest of the architecture is quite queer as it is a mix of Indo-Islam and gothic architecture.
Geoffrey Bawa House
If you are marvelling at Colombo’s impressive architecture, a number of prominent architects are responsible. One such modern day legend is Geoffrey Bawa; the architect whose works include the Sri Lankan Parliament Building. His own house, as one would expect, is blessed with the master’s touch. The bright sun-lit house, decorated with statues and paintings is maintained by the Lunuganga Trust. The house and surroundings are so well kept that it is almost as if it was still inhabited. The tour guides will also conduct a video session that explains the different aspects of the house.
Beira Lake in Colombo is a hub of picnics as well as pilgrimages, adventure as well as meditation. A unique natural setting where all kinds of people gather for all kinds of activities, Beira is very close to the famous Gangaramaya Temple. Hence most tourists end up circling here after a day trip. There is also a temple on the banks of this lake, revering a score of Hindu and Buddhist deities. Birdwatching, photography, and boating at sunsets are some of the most coveted activities to indulge in here.
Galle Face Green
A walk parallel to the Galle Road, Galle Face Green runs along the Indian Ocean and registers a large number of locals as well as tourists.The place is iconic and perfect for evening picnics, family games and shopping for trinkets from the shops set up flee-market-style. Weekends are the most crowded here with more-than-the-usual setup of vendors selling everything from toys to accessories to amazing street food. In fact, Galle Face Green is considered one of the best for food in Colombo!
Pettah Floating Market
The legendary market in the former swamps of Sri Lanka is now a famous tourist haunt too. You can visit it early in the morning not only to buy fresh produce but also to see the locals turn up to start their day with some vegetable and fruit shopping. Thushari Kariyawasam, an amazing architect of Colombo transformed the smelly waters of Bastian Mawatha into this beautiful market. You can also find a horde of other items, from jewellery to handicrafts to clothes and gadgets.
Built in honour of Viharamahadevi, the Queen of Sri Lanka, the park is beautiful with its waterfalls, zoo, picnic corners and trails for hiking. There are also a few rides for the adventurer visitors, while children love the zoo and open green spaces. You will find yourself enjoying a quaint evening with your family out here. Make sure to pack a blanket and basket of food, and you have made a day out of it!
A tropical island temple, unique in its setting and architecture, Seema Malakaya is perfect to get away from Colombo’s traffic and noise and touristy hustle. Honeymooning couples and those seeking some privacy enjoy here, being in the middle of water and lushness, in the echoes of a temple that is culturally a mix of Sri Lankan, Chinese, Indian and Thai. Do visit on a cool breezy day with your beloved.
Dutch Period Museum
Dutch Period Museum in Colombo’s Pettah market is all beautiful architecture and rich history. The museum is not very big, only two storeys high, a coveted building that once used to serve as the home of the erstwhile Dutch Governor — Thomas Van Rhee. By ’77 the place was made into a museum of Dutch history and culture, patronised by the Sri Lankan government and Netherlands.
Old Parliament Building
Sri Lanka’s Old Parliament Building is a significant government office in Colombo. As well as an art gallery of the past. With its Neo-baroque architecture, the building echoes the culture, politics and history of Sri Lanka in many ways. Almost a 100 years old, this building currently serves as the Presidential Secretariat’s residence. Visit for a tour of the garden with its bronze statues, the parliament itself and the inspiring structure of its interior as well as exterior.
Colombo Lotus Tower
A very unique concept, the Colombo Lotus Tower is as the name suggests, a tower with the design of a lotus at its top. Located over Slave Island, the tower rises to a height of 350 m and is a broadcast and transmission hub. You can visit it for its variety of high-rise restaurants, shopping arcades, observation decks etc. You get a view of the entire city from up here, as well as enjoy scrumptious meals at plush places.
Attidiya Bird Sanctuary
Nature lovers, bird lovers and peace seekers, Attidiya Bird Sanctuary is the go-to place for you. It is located about 15 km from the city centre and caters to those who want to indulge in bird watching. There are more than 50 species of local, exotic and migratory birds living in their natural habitat here. You can take long walks, photograph the gorgeous sceneries and avifauna or catch a quite corner under a tree and enjoy the cacophony of birds. January is a great time for migratory birds but all other months are also quite good.
One of Colombo’s most famous landmarks, Wolvendaal Church is a standing glory of Dutch culture and architecture. Back in the 1700s when the Danes colonised parts of Sri Lanka, they built this church and named it Wolvendaal — meaning the dale of wolves because the area around the church was rife with wild jungles and jackals that they thought were wolves. Visit this church for its unique structure that resembled a greek cross. It is open every day between 9 in the morning and 4 in the evening.
Old Dutch Hospital
The Old Dutch Hospital is just literally that — old. It was first constructed in the 1600s for medical treatment of the Dutch East India Company’s workforce. Over time, the place has seen many revolts and wars, served different purposes, and yet maintained its hold over the city. One of the oldest and most respected places, today the place is a shopping arcade where you get everything from clothes to accessories and souvenirs. There are cafes and food courts too. And the best part, even after all these years, the place is still referred to as Old Dutch Hospital.