Tuk Tuk, Colombo, Sri Lanka

24 Hours in Colombo, Sri Lanka: India Unbound’s City Guide

We’ve noticed from our recent travel in Sri Lanka, that Colombo is becoming a city in which we really like to be, to explore and to enjoy. With an increase in people touring in Sri Lanka, the capital has really stepped up – with new cafes, bars and restaurants, great hotels to stay at, good shops and interesting sites to see. It’s worth spending a night or two here and is fairly easy to navigate – either by private vehicle and driver, or one of many local tuk tuks!

Here are some of our favourite places and things to see and do in Colombo. If you have the time – this is what we recommend for 24 hours in the city, as part of a tour of Sri Lanka.

Galle Face Hotel, Colombo

Galle Face Hotel, Colombo

6 p.m. – You’ve either arrived after a long international flight or you have concluded your Sri Lanka itinerary, now it’s time to unwind a little. Start with a sundowner at the Galle Face Hotel. Sitting outside at the Traveller’s Bar, you can enjoy the beautiful sunset over the Indian Ocean, listening to the splash of the waves. (We are big fans of the local brew Lion Lager by the way!) But we are also big fans of the beautifully restored and recently renovated Galle Face Hotel. While you are enjoying the sunset, you can also marvel at this amazing historic hotel and get a glimpse of another time in Sri Lanka’s history.

What a meal: crab curry at Ministry of Crab!

What a meal: crab curry at Ministry of Crab!

8 p.m. – Next stop, dinner. There’s no better place to get a feel for the modern and changing Sri Lanka then by visiting the recently refurbished Old Dutch Hospital district. This groovy, modern district is home to some of Sri Lanka’s best local boutiques – all of which are worth spending a little time meandering in. It’s also here that you will find Ministry of Crab. This popular and fantastic restaurant was started by a couple of Sri Lankan cricketers and deserves the praise it’s getting. We loved the avocado salad starter and really tucked into our Sri Lankan crab curry. Definitely not to be missed!

Exploring the markets in Colombo

Exploring the markets in Colombo

9 a.m. – Start the day with a visit to Pettah Market, Colombo’s bustling, chaotic local market. Here you can buy everything from fruit to fabric to clothes to trinkets and everyday items. It’s busy, but worth spending a few hours wondering this vibrant part of town.

11 a.m. – No tour of Sri Lanka is complete without a visit to Barefoot. This local home wares, textiles and clothing store is one of our favourite places to shop for good quality, Sri Lankan goods. Pick up great gifts to bring home from brightly coloured children’s toys, to gorgeous cotton tablecloths, crafts, jewellery, tea and books. You can visit their Galle Rd store on your way to your next stop – lunch!

12 p.m. – Paradise Road Gallery Café is a little oasis in Colombo. Serving not only great western and Sri Lankan fare, Paradise Road is housed in a Geoffrey Bawa designed space. Bawa is Sri Lanka’s famous architecture and world-renowned, and examples of his designs can be seen all over the country. It’s a great place to stop and take in his style and pause for a minute, while enjoying a great meal.

Seems Malaka, Colombo

Seema Malaka, Colombo

2 p.m. – Time to take in some of Colombo’s key sights and culture. Beira Lake in the heart of Colombo offers a change of pace from city’s hustle and bustle. Here you can take a stroll around the lake and visit the serene Seema Malaka. Seema Malaka is part of the Gangaramaya temple complex (located right near the lake) and was designed by Geoffrey Bawa. Sitting upon the lake, this beautiful Buddhist site is a must see in the city. Afterwards, you can walk around the corner and see the rest of temple complex, a short stroll away.

Modern Appeal: Independence Square, Colombo

Modern Appeal: Independence Square, Colombo

4 p.m. – Tea Tasting: a great Sri Lanka itinerary must include sampling some of its best brews – the country is after all the world’s fourth biggest tea producer. Head to Independence Square – a recently renovated and trendy hub for eating and dining in Colombo. Here you can visit the Dilmah Tea Store and sample some of their finest teas – single estate and boutique brews. Our favourite is the Yata Watte tea!

Time for tea: Lincoln studying the menu at the Dilmah Tea Shop

Time for tea: Lincoln studying the menu at the Dilmah Tea Shop

6pm – Spectacular Views: What better way to conclude 24 hours in Colombo than by heading to the Sky Lounge at the Kingsbury Hotel. Colombo’s hippest venue offers great drinks, cigars and spectacular ocean views. Here you can relax and take it all in and consider all that you have seen and done in this amazing city.

And that’s our city guide to Colombo. We love this changing, modernizing and vibrant city and encourage you to explore it on your tour of Sri Lanka. Colombo can be added to any custom made itinerary of Sri Lanka.

India Unbound