Colombo intricately combines contemporary luxury with the charm of an age-old city, with its populated market spaces and a rich collection of ruins that still sings praises of a culture that remains deeply embedded in the city’s spirit. Add to that the dash of Portuguese elixir, and you’re in colonial paradise. This city fascinates me for many reasons, being so similar to India in it’s behaviour, food and infrastructure- yet so different in the temperament of its people, its religious affinity and aspects of its history.
There’s a calmness brimming on the surface, but to a tourist who digs deeper, the city reveals a chaos where the true essence of it’s culture lies.
As neighbours, we don’t give Sri Lanka the tourism it deserves, often considering it the lesser attractive option compared to the likes of a certain wild neighbour who lures a huge chunk of our tourists away. While the reasons for planning holidays to Sri Lanka over Thailand are plenty, this video from my trip to Colombo and Bentota will make you want to hop on a plane right away:
If you find yourself planning a trip to this tropical paradise, here’s a chiller’s guide to the best of Colombo, minus the sightseeing spots!
1. Gangaramaya Temple:
I admit- this one is a must-do on anyone’s list so I’m probably not giving you a ground breaking recommendation to begin with. But to miss this would be absolute blasphemy- it’s an important Buddhist temple for the locals, and an interesting insight into their religion. A section of the temple is down the road, resting in the middle of Beira Lake, and though it’s prettier on the outside and simpler on the inside, it’s still worth a walk around this endearing little hut-shaped temple.
2, Lunch at Nihonbashi:
Rated 49 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2017, this is an understated little restaurant that offers a scrumptious and filling meal inside a modest dining area. They serve Japanese cuisine that is every bit authentic as it is delicious. Try the Green Apple Jelly at the end of your meal- it’s a pleasant, fresh surprise to the taste buds!
3. Watch the sunset with high tea at Galle Face Hotel:
I’ve been raving about this sunset everywhere on social media, for I believe it’s Sri Lanka’s most spectacular sunset and the best kept secret in Colombo. Order the high tea with scones, sandwiches and desserts and watch the sky change colours before it finally rests for the night. I received this random recommendations from someone I often bump into at Starbucks, and it became one of my favourite evenings from the trip.
4. Mt. Lavinia Beach:
While this comes recommended on Lonely Planet and many other online sources, I found the beach a tad filthy. The sunset was beautiful here of course, but not worth the long and tiresome drive from Galle Face Centre, where I was staying. Bu Bua is a recommended shack at this beach, but one as disappointing as the beach itself
5. Walk down Galle Road Green and stuff yourself with sea food:
It might look unhygienic at first, but if you trust your stomach- go for it! Weekends are usually a riot, with families spending the evenings playing catch, just watching the sun from the benches or hogging the food.
6. Indulge in all kinds of tea at the Dilmah Tea Lounge:
This place is heaven for tea fanatics! They have all imaginable flavours (including Rose with French Vanilla, Italian Almond and Mandarin Orange), and some interesting concoctions in a menu that offers tea based smoothies and iced teas. Dilmah is known for its exclusive teas, started and owned by a man who is quite the tea connoisseur himself. Dilmah is not your everyday run-of-the-mill cafe. The food is delicious and the iced teas- heaven! Recommended here: Vanilla Strawberry Iced Tea, Mango Strawberry Smoothie, Spicy Chicken Waffles.
7. Gather tidbits at Barefoot:
Consider it Sri Lanka’s version of Fab India, with stationery, household, clothing, arts and crafts, local jewellery, teas and plenty soaps, creams and body washes. They have a few stores scattered around town so you can hop into one that’s convenient.
8. Rave it up at a rooftop bar:
Sundowners overlooking the ocean are always welcome. I chose the Sky Bar on the 10th floor of the Kingsbury Hotel, which is usually empty unless on weekends. It’s only fun, though, when you’re in a group or you’re swinging by on a Saturday night.
9. Dine at the Paradise Road Gallery Cafe:
Although famous for it’s cocktails and desserts, this cafe serves par excellence everything! Nor was a dish disappointing, nor a drink. Nestled inside an old Portuguese villa, the entrance to the cafe being with a serene entryway that hosts a pond, a gallery and a gift shop. Once inside, little seating arrangements are put up everywhere under a huge trees that runs through the verandah. It’s just the kind of little treasure that lightens up a dull afternoon (or evening). Be prepared to shell out some bucks though, it isn’t for the backpacker’s budget. There’s no air conditioning either, so it does get pretty hot.