A Useful Guide To Your Colombo Sightseeing Tour
Taking a Colombo sightseeing tour is the best way to explore this fascinating multi-ethnic, multi-cultural city of Sri Lanka. Colombo is the commercial capital of Sri Lanka and the most crowded city in the island. It is not just a city of importance, but it is also a beautiful and astonishing city in its own right. The sheer varieties you will find in Colombo take you by surprise. No other city in the South-Asian region can match the vibrancy of Colombo. The architecture of many of the buildings you see in Colombo essentially the British. Same times the city shows the characters of large developed cities in the world.
In fact, the architecture you will see in several buildings in Colombo has had their influence from Dutch, and British. During your tour in Sri Lanka, you need to make sure you catch the glimpses of these buildings and the rich architecture they have. A trip to Colombo is not complete if you do not visit some of its popular attractions such as Galle face green, museum, Gangarama etc. When it comes to eating and drinking hotspots, there are many choices, especially for tourists.
History of Colombo
The documented history of Colombo is dating back to 6th century BC and its history begins with the arrival of Buddha to Kelaniya temple in the outskirt. Since then it was an important city for the economy, culture, and history of Sri Lanka. Today it holds a reputation being the most important trading city in the country.
Colombo is a port city and a major gateway to Sri Lanka. The port was perhaps the single most important factor for the popularity of Colombo in the past. The port made the city an important trading city and tempted the merchants from Greece, Persia, Rome, China, India and Arabian countries to anchor within its border. These merchants have collected valuable spices, ivory and gemstones from Sri Lanka while selling silk and other valuable. For other sailors, Colombo was a fort of call refuelling and collection of other important material for their voyages.
By ascertaining the importance of Colombo as a trading spot and access point to the interior of the country, every ruler in the past took the maximum effort to secure the city from foreign domination. The effort of securing the control over Colombo was most evident during the colonial occupation (Portuguese, Dutch and British) in Sri Lanka. There had been occasions in which colonial rulers fought each other in order to get control of Colombo. Therefore, there had been a fortification in Colombo near the port, from the beginning of colonial rule. Today, virtually every part of the mighty fortification is dismantled. But, several canons that were installed to keep the foreign forces away from the land are still looking at the outer sea as to protect the land from enemies.
Places to visit in Colombo
Independent square, one of the must be included sites in the Colombo sightseeing tour. With beautifully landscaped garden it is located in the most beautiful corners of the city. Independent square is built after typical Sri Lankan architecture and has a large number of columns adorned with beautiful and intricate carvings. Usually, Independent square is part of every Colombo sightseeing tour and located in Colombo 7.
Portuguese built the first fortification in Colombo and the land, which was allocated to the fortification is called fort even today. The fort is situated between Galle face, Pettah and Kompanna Vidiya. From the western side, it is flanked by the ocean. Today fort is occupied by important institutions such as banks, hotels, offices, government institutions, and shopping areas. Colombo is divided into 15 postal zones of which Pettah is considered as the most historical part. Pettah shows the rich historical past of Colombo with its majestically rising colonial buildings while high rise buildings show the modernizations of Colombo in the recent time.
Pettah is picturesquely located bordering the ocean and attracts foreign and local tourists. Most of the reputed hotels are located here, therefore a large number of tourists hang around the fort. Other than enjoying comfortable accommodation facilities fort is a place to visit a large number of important attractions. There are many Man-made attractions, natural attractions, restaurants and shopping areas in the fort.
Beira Lake is the leading natural attraction in the fort while old Parliament is described as the major colonial-styled construction. Twin towers, the highest building of Colombo located near the southern border of Fort near the Hilton hotel. Recently, Colombo is given a considerable improvement on its infrastructure and a facelift aiming it to make it the “garden city of Asia”, under which fort was given special care, while it is the place visited by most holidaymakers in Sri Lanka during their Colombo sightseeing tour.
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Pettah and surrounding area
A Colombo sightseeing tour is incomplete if you won’t visit the bazaar area of the city known as Pettah. Pettah is the centre of Colombo and most visited part of the city. It attracts hundreds of thousands of buyer and sellers every day. Here, one can buy every imaginable item in Sri Lanka. The streets in Pettah are separated according to the products being sold. For instance, on one road it is Ayurveda products, next road for electronic equipment, and another street is reserved for clothing. Don’t miss this interesting shopping corner of Colombo, if you want to see a typical Sri Lankan market. You definitely find here a very delightful time due to the authentic common Sri Lankan shopping atmosphere.
Sea Street – Antiques and jewellery
Sea Street is stretching along the western border of Colombo, between the city and the Colombo port. Most of the jewellery workshops and shops are found here. There are large numbers of exquisite fine designed jewellery to buy in thousands of shops that lined up at the end of Sea Street. Sea Street believed to be the best place to buy jewellery in Colombo and the prices are very reasonable due to the concurrence.
The vegetable market is located just opposite the jewellery shops and stretched roughly about 300 meters towards the inland. Colombo market is one of the places that travellers should get off the vehicle during the Colombo sightseeing tour because having a walk in the market is the best way to explore the market.
The street features fruits and vegetables at the full length. It provides good options for buyers of vegetables and fruits, due to a large number of sellers with varying prices and qualities. The southern border of the street is created by the Galle-Colombo main road, where it features fruits, toys, electronic items, sweetmeats, leather items. The market operates on weekdays and Saturday.
Gangarama, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Colombo is included in most Colombo sightseeing tours. It showcases a large number of paintings and Budha statues in different styles and different sizes. Museum of Gangarama temple showcases some of the very valuable and rare artefacts. The image house of Gamgarama should be included in every Colombo sightseeing tour as it is one of the few places in Colombo to see a large number of Buddha statues concentrated into one place. Photogenic Simamalaka, which is predominantly a wooden structure is located about 100 meters away from the main temple and no one fails to catch it with the camera during the Colombo sightseeing tour.
Main Street is mainly reserved for clothing but shops that sell electronic items are mingling in the lineup. The main street is about 2 km in its full length; it begins in Malwatta (flower garden) and ends up at Sea street. Main Street is very wide but the traffic moves very slowly due to the human congestion. Hundreds of large shops and small stalls alike serve the buyers. This is a place to bargain, the prices are very affordable here and if you are good at the bargain you can buy products cheaper.
Malwatta road is one entrance to Pettah and it begins just in front of the main Railway station. It is the main entrance for people who travel by bus or train. End of Malwatta demarcated by the beginning of Sea Street and Main Street. Large numbers of leather, mobile, audio and video and electronic shops are lined up along Malwatta road. They are selling new as well as used items for buyers. The southern end of Malwatta features bags, cases, and synthetic flowers and moving westward bring you to York Street.
Slightly off the beaten track is Church Street. Church Street is one of the busiest roads featuring dry rations and grocery items in bulk. Church Street is about 3 km in its maximum length and ends up at Armor Street. The popular Dutch church, Wolfendahl church is located about halfway on the road. There is nothing much to see here other than big Lorries and wholesale shops.
Administratively Colombo is divided into 15 postal regions (Colombo1 to Colombo 15) and the Chekhov mansion is located in Colombo 1. It is located very close to the Colombo harbour next to the bazaar area of the city. The Chekhov mansion is situated between the Sir. Baron Jayatilaka Mawatha and the Mosque road. Today the building is known as Grand Oriental hotel, one of the luxurious hotels that cater to international tourists. It was the living residence of Anton Chekhov as he came to Colombo for a short vacation in 1890. His stay in this mansion had become a memorable incident, while he had written the world-famous novel Guseph as he was staying there. In order to honour this world-renowned artist, the building also named as Chekhov mansion.
Old town hall
This colonial building is located in the heart of the Colombo near the Kaiman gate. It was used as the main quarters of the Colombo municipal council. It was decided to construct this building on 16th January 1866, by the member of the Council and the first gathering of the council took place in 1873, under the patronage of Governor Sir William Gregory.
Old post office
This gigantic building was constructed in 1895 and located just in front of the Queen’s house on the president road. It was constructed by the department of state constructions at the cost of RS 324,000. This colonial mansion was designed by a well known British architect H.F.Thomalin. It was functioned as the main branch of the postal department of Si Lanka until the construction of a new main post office building recently.
The museum is located in the busiest part of the city and surrounded by shops, offices, hotels and other important institutions. The museum is located in one of the oldest buildings in Colombo that dating back to the latter half of the 17th Century. Initially, it was used as the living residence of the Dutch Governor, Thoma vanri, later it was functioned as a hospital, storage house, training place of police officers and a telecommunication centre. Today it is functioning as a museum and houses a large number of valuable artefacts.
Once the Portuguese took control of the city, they built the Colombo fort and it was surrounded by a wall. There was only two access point through the wall between the fort and the outside. The main gate was located near the Gaspaha junction and the old town hall. There had been an iron construction in the form of an arch with a bell near the gate. Also, there had been a water ditch with a large number of crocodiles next to the bell. The Portuguese had executed people here and fed the crocodiles with perished people. The bell was put to use every day in the morning and evening as the fort was opening to the city. The bell was also used to convey the message of special occasions such as curfew to the general public.
Colombo Street Art Market
Colombo’s art market has a vibrant and colourful atmosphere and held several times in the month. But, even it was started as a weekend art exhibition nowadays there are paintings to be sold almost every day and developed into a daily art exhibition. Designers, sculptures, artists, sell their exquisite artistic works at very affordable prices here. The collection of arts here mainly consists of young and novice artists but there are arts from popular Sri Lankan artists as well. The main themes of most of the exhibits are locally popular subjects such as Si9giriya frescoes, sceneries in the village, beaches, monks etc.
The event is taking place at one of the most beautiful corners of the bustling city, Colombo7. A large number of exhibits is exhibited along the green borders of the Viharamahadevi Park. And buyers have the option to go along the railing of Viharamahadevi and select the art one by one. The art enthusiasts have the opportunity to enjoy different styled artistic works under the cool and calm atmosphere of Viharamahadevi Park. The buyers have plenty of time to choose the best artwork among the thousands of pieces.
Viharamahadevi Park the greenest patch of land in the city located adjoining Street art gallery. The best time of the day to start here is in the morning, just after breakfast. By noon most of the artworks disappear and the buyers have only selected items to see. People who are interested in art have easy access to the National Art Gallery from here which is situated just opposite the Street art exhibition.
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Following are some of the other places with importance for people who undertake Colombo sightseeing tour.
- Old Parliament building – the Old parliament with largely rounded columns is built during the British rule in Sri Lanka. Today it is majestically standing in the busiest part of the city facing the Galleface. This is a building with some greek architectural designs and majestically stands in front of the Galleface, near the roundabout. Today it is functioning as the presidential secretariat and visitors are not allowed to enter the building.
- Twin tower-Twin tower is the tallest building in Pettah and located near the old parliament. Today it consists of a large number of shops, offices and residential area.
- Lighthouse/clock tower – one of the oldest construction in Colombo, dating back to the British colonial era. Earlier it functioned as a lighthouse and helped the ships to be on the safe route. Later it was given the responsibility of a clock tower. Lighthouse is located near the president’s house and next to the old post office.
- York Street – a Large number of airline offices, banks, shops and money-changers can be found along the York street.
- GOH– One of the oldest building and one of the oldest hotels in Colombo. It is located near the Colombo harbour towards the northern end of the York street.
- President House – Occupied by the British governor during the British rule in Ceylon, this spacious mansion maintained by the government of Sri Lanka. Today it is the official residence of Sri Lankan president.
- Floating Restaurant – This floating restaurant located in the heart of Colombo, Sri Lanka. The restaurant was inaugurated in 2011 and floating on the waters of Beira Lake. The restaurant is managed by the well-known five-star hotel in Colombo (Cinnamon lakeside). The dining room is named the ‘Pontoon North 8’. It can accommodate 100 guests within the spacious room. Entering the restaurant, at the right side is the stairs going up inside the restaurant giving you this yellowish luminosity. The restaurant is built on a large barge and it consists of two floors. For reservations: 2491925,+94 112 491 000 Cinnamon Lakeside Colombo 115, Sir Chittampalam A.Gardiner Mawatha Colombo 2 Sri Lanka.
Several popular eateries to visit during the Colombo sightseeing tour
- The mango tree is certainly one of the most popular restaurants in Colombo. The mango tree group has several restaurants spread across the city and you may find it difficult to cover all of them if your trip to the city is a short one. The best part of these restaurants is that each of them is unique and serves quality and affordable drinks and foods. The interiors of these places are excellent too.
- The Akasa kade is another hotspot you need to head to if you like to have a tasty meal and refreshing drink while having the best view over the city, Colombo harbour and Indian ocean. This unique restaurant is a place to experience the old memories, tradition and style. It was started in 1963 and was the centre of a dining experience. It is located on one of the tallest buildings in the city, never failed to leave one mesmerized with a breathtaking view of Colombo’s coastline, harbour and the Beira Lake. It serves delicious Asian and western dishes and it is well known for local cuisines as well. Don’t forget to try local hoppers if you drop into Akasa kade. Another noteworthy highlight of your visit to Akasa kade will be the ballroom dancing and it adds captivating ambience for a perfect evening.
- While the history of Colombo is much to talk about; the city is popular as one of the liveliest, greenest and cleanest cities in the region. Almost all clubs and bars in Colombo get filled with locals and tourists during all evenings. If you are preparing an itinerary for Colombo sightseeing tour you can consider starting your trip by visiting Breeze bar as it is well known for its cosy atmosphere.
- Floating market of Colombo is the newest addition to the city for an interesting shopping experience. The floating market is located near the central bus station of Colombo.
- The next on your Colombo sightseeing tour can be the LOON TAO. You can have some of the stunning views of the pristine beaches of Mt.Lavinia while you are seated near the Indian Ocean.
- If night entertainment is what will crave for to wind up your day, then KAMA COLOMBO can be your place. This modern nightclub will treat you with lovely music and a delicious meal.
Language should not be a barrier to explore the city while you are on the Colombo sightseeing tour. Most of the city dwellers in Sri Lanka, including Colombo, understand English. Most of the locals in the beach areas will also understand German and French, Russian as they have mastered it upon interacting with foreign tourists over the years. Whilst you are in Colombo you can book guided Colombo sightseeing tours at the travel desk of your hotel or through a travel agent like “Seerendipity tours”. Though usually they are offered in English as a medium, you can get tour guided tours in most other languages such as French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese as well.