Asia Sri Lanka

Colombo – a modern city full of surprises

I’m not sure what I expected to find in Colombo, but the reality certainly didn’t match it. While we had flown into Colombo two weeks prior, we hadn’t actually gone into the city centre. So after two weeks in the country we had our first experience in the capital. I was struck by how vibrant and modern Colombo is.

We stayed at the Kingsbury Hotel and after a mix up with our accommodation (them thinking we were arriving the day before, us showing them the itinerary from Amaya Lakes that clearly showed we should have been expected that day) we were upgraded to a suite – what a fabulous way to end our holiday.

The suite had views over the ocean from every angle – even from the spa bath. It was stunning. But we weren’t there to spend all our time in the hotel.

Our first full day in Colombo coincided with Good Friday, which just so happens to be a public holiday in Sri Lanka, so it was a perfect day for a driving tour of the city – no traffic.

Our guide picked us up around 10 to give us a quick two-hour tour of the main highlights. We stopped at the Independence Memorial Hall. Have I mentioned how hot Colombo is? Everywhere in Sri Lanka is hot, but being in the city centre brings a special kind of heat and discomfort. However standing under the memorial was very cool, and provided us beautiful views over the parkland.

We drove past Galle Face Green, the Cricket oval – we were here during the World Cup, which meant we had the same instant conversations everywhere we went. It went something like this “Where are you from – England?” “No, we’re from Australia.” “Australia? Oh, you are world champions…”

I’m not sure why everyone assumed we were from the UK and we didn’t have the heart to tell them that if we were home, we probably wouldn’t have watched the cup anyway, despite the final being played at the MCG, about 20 minutes from our home. But it was just nice to have an instant camaraderie.

Our guide also took us through the Pettah markets – where made a mental note to come back on foot – and past the children’s park.

Colombo is much larger than I thought it would be and is quite beautiful. I don’t often think that about capital cities. Usually we stop there out of some odd obligation to see the capital of every country we visit, and I had wanted to spend as little time as possible there, but I was very pleasantly surprised and glad that we had two full days to explore.

The modern city of Colombo in Sri Lanka.

After our city tour we headed to Galle Face Green. Evidently the thing to do is to take your umbrella and your significant other and sit on one of the park benches overlooking the water shaded by the umbrella. We didn’t have an umbrella, but with the sun beating down on us, there were many times I wished we did. There were the usual range of stalls selling everything from drinks to kites and other toys. Surprisingly though no one was selling umbrellas. A bit of a gap in the market there, I think.

Day two in Colombo and we decided to brave the markets. We thought we might walk down – it really didn’t look that far from the hotel and we had our trusty map in hand. But then it was so hot and a tuk tuk would only cost $2.00 so we figured it really wasn’t worth the walk. We hopped in and got lost in the traffic. A short ride later and we were in the heart of the markets – the section that our guide yesterday described to us as the ‘Chinese markets’.

We wandered through the food section and the cheap goods. I love wandering around markets when overseas – watching people going about their days, seeing how they interact and the kinds of goods that are popular in different parts of the world.

Once again I was surprised by the quality of the fruits and vegetables, we resisted the temptation to buy and headed for somewhere to take a respite from the heat.

In the afternoon we made our way to the National Museum, also home to the Museum of Natural History – which is easy to miss. It is worth visiting the museum if only for the architecture – it’s a stunning old colonial building. The day we were there quite a few of the museum sections were closed for renovations, but we wandered through the sections on Pollonuruwa, Sigiriya, Anuradhapura, the stone section and the textile section.

We wandered through the grounds and stumbled upon a sign for the Museum of Natural History – it’s easy to miss and the entranceway looks less than inviting but as we saw another family go in we figured we would too. I’m glad we did. There is a fantastic model of Sigiriya at its peak. The system they used to spread water through Sigiriya was really quite remarkable.

We had arrived at this part of the museum quite late; it must have been closing time, but each time we thought we were finished, the guides sent us on to the next section ensuring we saw every part of the museum. They didn’t rush us and encouraged us to view every display.

Children's playground, Colombo
Water fun at the Children’s playground in Colombo.

We left the museum wandered out past the children’s park. It’s fantastic; the gardens are huge and include a kids play area, tunnels, an aquarium, horse and cart rides and a water park. We sat under the trees watching life go by and people going about their day, we posed for photos with the locals and took some photos of our own of the people around us. I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who ask to have their photos taken with us while we are travelling!

On our way back to the hotel we stumbled across a Bavarian restaurant and beer hall so popped in out of the heat. This trip we had spent most of our mealtimes in hotel buffets. I’m generally not a fan of the buffet, though I have to admit these had all been very good. That said, it was nice to have something outside the hotel and something off an alla carte menu instead. It may not be the local cuisine, but it’s an interesting feeling sitting in a Bavarian beer hall in the middle of Sri Lanka.

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Fast facts

We stayed at the beautiful Kingsbury Hotel – it was pure luxury.

We were here for two nights.

Was it long enough? We had a good amount of time here.

Highlights: Getting lost in the huge crowds of people in the market, the children’s playground, chatting to the very friendly locals everywhere we went.

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