12 Best Things to do in Colombo, Sri Lanka

by Danushka Tharindu
Statues of Buddha in Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, Colombo

Colombo, the former capital of Sri Lanka, is a vibrant, hectic, and colorful metropolis on the island’s western coast. The city’s diverse population is a reflection of its long history under Portuguese, Dutch, and British rule.

Colombo is the country’s economic and financial hub, so there’s never a shortage of things to do in the city. Incredible museums and amazing historical landmarks coexist with excellent dining and shopping options. Even while the city’s fast expansion has meant that it is no longer renowned as “the garden metropolis of the East,” there are still some green spaces to be found amid the city’s high-rises and shiny shopping centers.

While most visitors to Sri Lanka are on their way to the island country’s beautiful beaches, those interested in Colombo’s cuisine, shopping, culture, or nightlife will find a few hidden treasures.

12. Independence Memorial Hall

Independence Memorial Hall in Colombo, Sri Lanka

The Independence Memorial Hall is a national monument located in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Image source: saiko3p/Shutterstock.com

Independence Memorial Hall, constructed between 1949 and 1953, stands as a monument to the 1948 declaration of independence from Great Britain. The massive stone building is reminiscent of the royal celebration hall in Kandy, the last native kingdom in Sri Lanka, and is surrounded by beautifully planted grounds.

The Independence Memorial Museum, housed inside the national monument, is well worth seeing if you have the time. Also located in its forecourt is a magnificent statue of Don Stephen Senanayake, Sri Lanka’s first prime minister and the “Father of the Nation.”

11. Seema Malakaya Temple

Seema Malakaya Temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka

The Seema Malakaya Temple is a peaceful Buddhist temple located in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Image source: Sergii Figurnyi/Shutterstock.com

The charming and scenic Seema Malakaya Temple, located in the midst of Beira Lake, is one of the most photographed landmarks in the city, and for good reason. The majestic appearance of the exquisite bronze Buddha sculptures that surround the temple’s main hall is enhanced by the water’s reflection. Tall buildings are seen above the tree line across the lake.

The temple, which was rebuilt in 1976 after the old one collapsed into the lake, is now utilized less as a place of prayer and more as a retreat for those seeking peace and quiet. Seema Malakaya, which is part of the Gangaramaya Temple and is therefore located on solid ground, is especially beautiful when lit up against the night sky.

10. St Anthony’s Church

St. Anthony's Church in Colombo, Sri Lanka

St. Anthony’s Church is a historic church located in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Image source: Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock.com

This Roman Catholic church is also known as St. Anthony’s Shrine, and it is often visited by worshippers who come to pray or make donations at the shrine’s holy relic, which is said to be a bit of the saint’s tongue. Because of the widespread belief in St. Anthony’s efficacy as a “miracle worker,” believers from a wide variety of religions visit the site often.

The building’s Neoclassical facade is beautiful, dating back to the early 1800s, but the interior’s solemn ambience is what really sets it out as a must-see. Over 90 people lost their lives when St. Anthony’s Church was attacked in April 2019 as part of a larger planned strike throughout Sri Lanka.

It was quickly rebuilt and reopened and has since welcomed worshipers as a symbol of national unity, optimism, and tolerance.

9. Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque

Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque in Colombo, Sri Lanka

The Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque, also known as the Red Mosque, is a historic mosque located in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Image source: streetflash/Shutterstock.com

Jami Ul-Alfar, one of the city’s oldest mosques, was built in 1909 and has beautiful architecture that combines elements from a number of various styles. Visitors are drawn to the mosque in large part because of its uncommon color scheme, which stands out among other mosques despite the building’s stunning Indo-Islamic, Gothic, and Neoclassical design aspects.

The building’s red-and-white candy-cane stripes give it instant curb appeal. This stunning mosque is conveniently located near Colombo’s vibrant harbor. Once prayer times are over, the beautiful interior is open to the public.

8. Independence Square

Independence Memorial Hall in Colombo

The Independence Memorial Hall is a national monument located in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Image source: Jan Willem van Hofwegen/Shutterstock.com

Independence Square is a large public square in the heart of the city that hosts many of the city’s major cultural events and festivals. It is surrounded by beautiful colonial-era buildings and has lush boulevards running into it. Colombo was previously known as “the garden city of the East” because of its abundance of beautiful gardens and ponds.

The square has the fantastic Independence Memorial Hall down one side and the Arcade, a contemporary retail center with many trendy stores and restaurants, along the other.

7. Viharamahadevi Park

Viharamahadevi Park in Colombo

Viharamahadevi Park, also known as Victoria Park, is a public park located in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Image source: saiko3p/Shutterstock.com

If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Colombo’s streets for a bit and into a green space, the biggest and oldest park in the city, Viharamahadevi, is the place to go. Park was originally named after Queen Victoria when it was constructed by the British during colonial times, but the name was changed when Sri Lanka gained its freedom.

In addition to a beautiful Buddha statue, the park’s tree-lined streets and landscaped lawns now include fountains, a lake, a children’s playground, and a zoo.

6. Dutch Hospital

Old Colombo Dutch Hospital courtyard

The Old Colombo Dutch Hospital is a historic building in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Image source: lulu and isabelle/Shutterstock.com

The Dutch Hospital in Colombo Fort is said to be the oldest structure in the neighborhood, and it has some of the city’s best examples of colonial architecture. It was built in the late 1600s.

The Dutch East India Company’s officers and other personnel needed a place to get medical attention, so the Dutch built a hospital for them. The structure has served several purposes throughout the ages, including as a police station and more recently as a commercial center.

The Dutch Hospital is a fantastic restaurant that is loved by both residents and visitors alike. Relaxing in a courtyard outdoors, you can take in the building’s rich history and architecture.

5. Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara

Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara Temple in Colombo

The Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara is a Buddhist temple located in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Image source: hecke61/Shutterstock.com

The history of Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, one of the most prominent Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka and all of Asia, stretches back around 2500 years to the time of Lord Buddha’s visit to the island. Located in a beautiful location on the outskirts of Colombo, the temple’s fortunes have frequently paralleled those of Sri Lanka.

While the building’s aesthetics are charming, the site’s magnificent reclining Buddha and the depictions of his life are the real draws. It is highly recommended that you visit Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara if you ever find yourself in Sri Lanka.

4. Colombo National Museum

National Museum of Colombo, Sri Lanka

the National Museum of Colombo in Sri Lanka. Image source: saiko3p/Shutterstock.com

Visit the Colombo National Museum to learn more about Sri Lanka’s history and culture. The museum, which has been there since its opening in 1877, is housed in a stunningly white building with great Italian style design.

The museum has an impressive collection of relics and artwork, including the crowns and thrones of old Kandyan kings as well as sculptures, statues, and weaponry. The Colombo National Museum is a fantastic destination, packed with fascinating displays.

3. Galle Face Green

Galle Face Green beach in Colombo, Sri Lanka

the stunning Galle Face Green beach and waterfront park in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Image source: Creative Family/Shutterstock.com

One of the most popular spots to unwind in the city, Galle Face Green is located on the water’s edge between the business center and the small beach of the same name. The big green, formerly used by the British for cricket, polo, and horse racing, is now a wonderful place to have a picnic or take a leisurely walk.

The Galle Face Green is a nice area to watch people fly kites and have a snack while feeling the refreshing ocean wind that comes inland from the Indian Ocean, as there are many street vendors selling a wide variety of local foods and cuisines.

2. Mount Lavinia Beach

Hut on Mount Lavinia beach in Sri Lanka

A rustic hut with a straw roof on Mount Lavinia beach in Sri Lanka. Image source: Kevin Hellon/Shutterstock.com

Mount Lavinia Beach, known for its stunning golden beaches, is just a short bus ride from the city proper. Mount Lavinia’s beach is one of the few on the island to have a wide variety of high-quality facilities, in contrast to the beaches in the southern part of the island. An abundance of nightlife options, including clubs, restaurants, and hotels, line its soft beaches.

The beach spans for kilometers down the coast, and although some portions are quiet and isolated, others are busy and bustling with activity. Mount Lavinia Beach is not only a place to soak up the sun and swim in the warm waters; there are also a number of fantastic bars and nightclubs to check out after a day at the beach.

1. Gangaramaya Temple

Statues of Buddha in Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, Colombo

the statues of Buddha in the lotus position at the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Image source: Cezary Wojtkowski/Shutterstock.com

The Gangaramaya Temple is a stunning example of a synthesis of Indian, Thai, Chinese, and Sri Lankan styles of architecture. The temple is wonderful to tour because of its many halls and shrines, as well as its library, museum, and relic room; the Simamalaka Shrine is especially exquisite.

Beautiful statues, carvings, and the Bodhi tree can be seen all around the complex and make for stunning pictures. The city’s most colorful and lavish Vesak, or full moon, festivals take place at here, one of the city’s most revered temples.

While many tourists come to see Beira Lake or Seema Malakaya Temple, the highlight of many locals’ trips to Colombo is the Gangaramaya Temple, which wasn’t built until the late 19th century but is nevertheless a popular tourist destination.

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