Let’s face it: the biggest city in Sri Lanka isn’t at the top of anyone’s list. While the country is certainly a draw for tourists and surfers, Colombo emits vibes all too familiar for some cities in Southeast Asia; tuk tuk drivers approach you constantly, the architecture and design aren’t exactly screaming “beautiful”, and in the summer there’s the familiar smell of sweat and engine exhaust. Nevertheless, like any major city, there are a few attractions I would recommend on your way in or out.
1. Old Dutch Hospital
Just across from the World Trade Center in the NW corner of the capital is a converted hospital building. Honestly, the layout reminds me of white buildings in Arequipa, Peru: a pleasant spot to have breakfast or lunch. The restaurants may be overpriced, but it’s a good escape from vehicles and gem sellers.
2. Galle Green
Colombo certainly isn’t known for being a green city, either in reducing pollution, recycling, or keeping good parks. There are a few small patches of grass scattered amongst the grey buildings, and that’s where you can find the Galle Green, one of the longest and uninterrupted paths I found suitable for running. There are a food street food stalls here and there, next to children flying kites. What I found most interesting was the number of young couples sitting on benches, hiding their faces with umbrellas as they kissed; apparently conservative and overly attentive parents are common across the globe.
3. Bally’s Casino
Yeah, I lost 30,000 rupees here. Fun fun. Advertised as the biggest casino in Sri Lanka, Bally’s is actually a decent night out for a Friday or Saturday; there is usually music, a free buffet, and some kind of cultural performance like bellydancing. Just stay away from the blackjack tables.
4. Tuk Tuks
Uber is available in Colombo, but any tourist would be remiss if they didn’t hail a tuk tuk to travel a few kilometers at least once. Fares shouldn’t run more than 300-400 rupees (under 3 USD) to half the city,
5. Floating Market
Although you’ll see brand names here and no credit cards are accepted, the floating market is a nice diversion near the train station. They also have a decent lunch buffet for 150 rupees.
6. Barefoot Cafe
This came highly recommended on TripAdvisor, and rightfully so. Not only is the cafe full of high quality healthy food, but the shops surrounding it sell handcrafted wares, including home furnishings and fancy teas.
7. A&M cupcakes
Right across the street from Barefoot is the sole cupcake shop in Colombo. In my professional opinion as the world’s cupcake expert – a title I gave myself after finding cupcakes in Greece – I would rate these on the higher end of the pastry spectrum. A solid 6-7 out of 10.
8. Sri Kaileswaram
A Hindu Temple not far from the train station and floating market. Good for a picture or two.