How to spend two days in Colombo, Sri Lanka - 9 of the best things to do


Beira Lake, in Colombo, Sri Lanka

View across Beira Lake, in Colombo, Sri Lanka


Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka and is often overlooked by tourists in favour of Sri Lanka's beautiful beaches in the South or the luscious tea plantations in the centre, but it you have a day or two spare, Colombo is worth visiting.


My husband and I had a two week holiday in Sri Lanka and Colombo was the first stop on our itinerary. We spent two days exploring Sri Lanka's capital city, here's 9 great things to see and do during that time.


Contents

1. Visit the Gangaramaya Buddhist temple
2. Stroll along the ocean-front Galle Face Green
3. Wander around Colombo's Fort Area
4. Visit the Dutch Hospital
5. See the Seema Malakaya temple on Colombo's Beira Lake
6. Relax in Viharamaha Devi Park
7. Learn about Sri Lanka's history at Colombo's two Museums
8. Chill out at a rooftop pool
9. Enjoy cocktails at a rooftop bar
How many days do you need in Colombo?
How to get to Colombo
Is Colombo safe?



How to spend two days in Colombo, Sri Lanka - 9 of the best things to see and do


1. Visit the Gangaramaya Buddhist temple

The Gangaramaya Buddhist temple complex is a maze of buildings, each holding a vast range of Sri Lankan artefacts and religious relics. It is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Colombo, started by a monk in the late 19th century. The temple has passed hands over the years and today it is much more than a traditional temple – it is a place of worship, a place to learn and a cultural centre for visitors and locals. There are some strange things in the Gangaramaya temple (including, sadly, a large stuffed elephant) and in places it feels part-museum, part temple.


There is a small entrance fee for visiting the Gangaramaya temple and you must take off your shoes and leave them at the entrance and have your shoulders and legs covered – there are robes at the entrance which you can borrow if needed.


Colourful Buddhist statues inside the Gangamara temple, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Colourful Buddhist statues inside the Gangamara temple, Colombo


2. Stroll along the ocean-front Galle Face Green

Galle Face Green is an ocean-facing beach and green park space in Colombo. When I researched Colombo beforehand, this area was described as a ‘Popular waterfront destination with a long walkway, food stalls, sandy beach & scenic views’. If I’m honest, I was a bit disappointed. Don't get me wrong, it is a nice spot to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, but it was not as scenic as I had anticipated. Perhaps I’ve been spoilt with some of the coastal parks I’ve visited before!


If you are walking towards the Fort area from the South of Colombo city, then the path here along Galle Face Green is the best route to take with it's sea views.

Galle Face Green promenade and beach park in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Galle Face Green promenade and beach park in Colombo


3. Wander around Colombo's Fort Area

The Fort area in Colombo is a great place to spend a couple of hours wandering around the streets and taking in the sights. The architecture in this area is predominantly made up of British and Dutch colonial-style buildings, mixed in with modern hotels. The two main attractions in the Fort area are The Colombo lighthouse – a 1950’s lighthouse with a naval gun battery & a small plaza offering views of the ocean, and The Clock Tower. The clock tower was originally built as a lighthouse but was decommissioned in 1952 due to newer buildings obscuring the view



4. Visit the Dutch Hospital

Colombo's Dutch hospital is a shopping precinct in the Fort area of the city. Similar to the Dutch Hospital in Galle Fort, it is a former 17th century hospital which now houses upmarket shops and restaurants around two central courtyards. If you’re on a budget, like us, grab some local street food and sit outside the front of the centre with the locals, taking in all the hustle and bustle.

Colombo's Clock tower and the entrance to The Fort Area in Colombo

Colombo's Clock tower and the entrance to The Fort Area in Colombo


5. See the Seema Malakaya temple on Colombo's Beira Lake

Beira Lake is situated near the Gangaramaya temple in Colombo. You can walk around the edge of Beira lake, although the roads surrounding it are busy and you will get stopped by many tuk-tuk drivers offering you a lift to somewhere!


Floating on platforms on Beira lake is the Seema Malakaya Buddhist temple. Visitors can enter for a small fee, but you must remove your shoes and have your shoulders and legs covered. The Seema Malakaya temple is known for having numerous golden status surrounding the temple. Also on Beira lake is Gangaramaya Park – a small, quiet park, accessed by a small footbridge – perfect if you need some time out.


The Golden Buddha’s at Seema Malakaya Temple on Colombo's Beira Lake

The Golden Buddha’s at Seema Malakaya Temple on Colombo's Beira Lake


6. Relax in Viharamaha Devi Park

Viharamaha Devi is the oldest and largest park in Colombo. The park was named after Queen Viharamahadevi, the mother of Sri Lanka's much adored King Dutugamunu. King Dutugamunu was hailed a hero during his rule of Sri Lanka from 101-177 for freeing the Sri Lankan Sinhalese from the rule of Indian Tamil Hamils. There is a statute of the Queen Viharamahadevi at one end of the park, close to the statue of the Viharamaha Devi Park Buddha, which sits in front of the impressive colonial town hall building.


Elsewhere in the park there are walking and jogging trails, a play area and plenty of places for a picnic or to sit and read a book.


The Viharamaha Devi Park Buddha in Colombo's Viharamahadevi park

The Viharamaha Devi Park Buddha in Colombo's Viharamahadevi park


7. Learn about Sri Lanka's history at Colombo's two Museums

There are two museums in Colombo - the largest of the two is the National Museum of Colombo, often known as the Sri Lanka Museum. This museum is not only the largest in Colombo, but also the largest museum in Sri Lanka. Here you will find galleries going back to 1877 showcasing ancient art, carvings and statues, as well as guns, swords and artefacts from colonial times.


The second museum in Colombo is the National Museum of Natural History. Here you can learn about the natural history and heritage of the country.


8. Chill out at a rooftop pool

Many of the hotels in Colombo have rooftop pools with views across the city skyline and some of them are not as expensive as you might think. We stayed at the Cinnamon Red, which was a great value, modern hotel on the edge of the main city centre. Lazing by the pool was the perfect way for us to spend a couple of hours in the afternoon getting over our jetlag and cooling off from the mid day heat!


The rooftop pool at Cinnamon Red hotel, Colombo, Sri Lanka

The view from the rooftop pool at the Cinnamon Red hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka


9. Enjoy cocktails at a rooftop bar

Like similar great cities around the world, such as Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, many of the hotels and bars in Colombo have roof terraces where you can enjoy a cocktail in the evening, overlooking the city. It's a great way to end the day and feels a bit of a treat!


 Enjoying cocktails at the rooftop bar at Cinnamon Red hotel, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Enjoying cocktails at the rooftop bar at Cinnamon Red hotel, Colombo



How many days do you need in Colombo?

If you are flying into Colombo on your visit to Sri Lanka, I would recommend having at least one day to explore Colombo. It gives you a great feel for the country and not only that, it is the perfect location for your onward travel to other parts of Sri Lanka. We spent 2 nights in Colombo, which we felt was plenty of time to see the main attractions that Colombo has to offer.



How to get to Colombo

By plane: When flying into Sri Lanka, you are most likely to arrive at Colombo airport (or Bandaranaike International Airport as it is locally known). Once you land at Colombo airport, the best way to get into the city centre is by taxi. You can pre-book a taxi for added convenience, or you can arrange a taxi with one of the taxi companies in the arrivals hall, like we did. The journey takes approx 40 minutes, depending on traffic.


By public transport: If you are arriving in Colombo from elsewhere in Sri Lanka, then you can travel by bus or train to the city. This is a great option if you are on a budget, but make sure that you book about a week in advance as tickets get sold fast!



Is Colombo safe?

We felt very safe in Colombo, as we did in the whole of Sri Lanka. However, as always when you travel, you do have to be aware of certain scams and unfortunately we found ourselves getting scammed in our weary jet-lagged state.


When we left our hotel on the first evening, we were approached by a passer by who said hello and was friendly, he then advised us that there was a festival on and we MUST visit that evening. He then flagged down a tuk tuk driver to take us there. The driver was really nice and he did take us to the temple and told us some interesting facts about it but after the temple, we asked him to take us to a restaurant and we ended up on a private tour of the city on the way there! Despite declining several times, he took us to a gem store and he was quite grumpy when we didn’t want to look around or buy anything.


We soon found out that this is common in Sri Lanka – drivers will take you, or suggest a visit, to a store or attraction owned by someone they know, in the hope that you will purchase something and spend your money with their friend or family member. Overall, we didn't feel unsafe, but it was rather a more expensive tuk tuk ride than we had planned and we did feel a bit silly.



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