Last updated on May 21, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in Sri Lanka

19 Unique things to do in Colombo [day & night]

There are many things to do in Colombo, however, let me be honest with you, this is not a city that you will probably fall in love with.

Colombo is a proper city, spread widely along the coast, south of the airport, where it is so easy to get lost and think that nothing is happening.

There is not really a city centre, the main beach is lovely for a sunset walk but it’s not the best place for a swim (I have an alternative below) and attractions are not always within walking distance from each other.

I would never suggest bypassing the capital all together, though.

My recommendation here is to plan your trip to the city in advance, with the things to do in Colombo in your hand, otherwise you will get completely lost and possibly bored.

Here below I have a list of unique and iconic places to visit and experiences to have, for 1 or 2 days in the capital, usually at the start or end of your trip in Sri Lanka.

You can read also

Things to do in Colombo in the day

There are plenty of things to keep you busy easily for a couple of days.

There is not a particular order or priority in this list. I have, however, marked my favourite things to do in Colombo with a (*).

You can do most of the attractions listed here on your own. 

However, if you are on a rush, I suggest one of these organised tours:

I also recommend this Airport Pickup Service that will save you time and money (if you are in two or more of you)

Gangaramaya Temple (*)

Location: 2km south of the city centre (check Google Map here)

There are many temples in Colombo.

I have visited a few of them, however, the Gangaramaya Temple is the one that has impressed me the most.

Completed in the 19th century, the temple includes old and new architecture details that make it unique in the Colombo context

It’s a lovely quiet spot in the otherwise busy city. 

You should not miss the many Buddha statues displayed in the backyard area, all in different sitting positions, with long earlobes and unique facial expressions

Allocate 1.5-2 hours for the visit.

The location is perfect if you plan to visit also the next two attractions, the Beira Lake and the Seema Malakaya.

The multiple Buddha statues in the central yard, one of the most beautiful corners of this religious site
The multiple Buddha statues in the central yard, one of the most beautiful corners of this religious site

Beira Lake and the Gangaramaya Park

Location: 2km south of the city centre (check Google Map here)

The Beira Lake has probably the most inviting walk in the city, all around the lake, about 2km long.

It’s a great and popular spot at sunset, with the nice sea breeze to fresh up the day.

Start or finish you walk in the tiny Gangaramaya Park, a small island connected by a suspension bridge.

I would not suggest visiting the lake alone, however, together with the nearby Gangaramaya Temple and the Seema Malakaya, it makes it a nice half-day tour that you can do on your own.

Seema Malakaya

Location: 2km south of the city centre (check Google Map here)

Technically part of the Gangaramaya Temple just a few hundred meters away, Seema Malaka is a peaceful man-made island mainly used for meditation and rest.

There is a small ticket to enter, around $2, and you will get to walk around on your own, between a few beautiful Buddha statues.

The Seema Malakaya temple with the city skyline in the background
The Seema Malakaya temple with the city skyline in the background

Galle Face Green (*)

Location: 2km south of the city centre (check Google Map here)

This is the place to go for sunset at the beach, very popular with tourists and locals alike. 

It’s a nice and clean stretch of beach, although not very inviting for a swim in true honesty. The water is a bit too murky for that.

If you are into street food, then this is the place to spend your dinner time.

You will find plenty of options, all beloved by the locals too, a good sign of authenticity.

The weekend tends top be very busy with people from Colombo and the place becomes almost a food festival

Barefoot gallery cafe (*)

Location: 5km south of the city centre (check Google Map here)

I have been to a few cafes in the city, however, I find Barefoot standing out from all the city options.

The main street door does not look very inviting, I must say. In fact, the taxi or the tuk tuk is going to take you to the backyard wood gate, which is so much nicer.

Inside, Barefoot is organised over 3 floors with rooms dedicated to the local designers exposing the own products and pieces of art, made of paper, wood or textile.

If you are looking for a local dress, go straight to the underground level where you will find plenty of lovely locally designed and produced Saree.

Go on the back of the building to enter the enchanted backyard, where you can taste local teas and coffees around a central well.

On my last visit, there was also a local photographer exposing his work in the backyard rooms.

Overall, a very interesting place to spend a couple of hours. Highly suggested.

Geoffrey Bawa’s Home (*)

Location: 5km south of the city centre (check Google Map here)

A must visit for anyone interested in design and architecture.

The place is actually close to the Barefoot Galley, which makes it a fascinating morning immersed in the Sri Lankan art 

Geoffrey Bawa has also a very unusual story behind his work.

Born in 1919, he degreed in UK to be a lawyer. 

However, later in his life, he became more and more interested in design and styles and he decided to go back to the university, this time studying architecture as a subject, where he degreed at the age of 38.

At the same time, he works also as an apprentice in an architecture firm in Colombo.

In the following 40 years, his work and passion will take him to become one of the most influential Asian architect, always looking for a style that would include a Sri Lankan design with a modern touch.

This house is one of his masterpieces, something you do not want to miss out.

The Independence Memorial right at the end of the Independence Square
The Independence Memorial right at the end of the Independence Square

Independence Square

Location: 5km south-east of the city centre (check Google Map here)

An enormous square with the Independence Memorial, a monument commemorating Sri Lanka’s independence from Britain.

It’s a nice quiet place I suggest visiting late in the day for a few photos. 

It’s an important landmark in the city and sort of must-visit too.

If you join any of the organised city tour, be sure the Independence Square will be one of the stops.

For a DIY trip, I suggest taking a tuk-tuk or taxi because the place is around 5km from the city centre

SSC Cricket Ground

Location: 5km south-east of the city centre (check Google Map here)

This is a must-do experience in Sri Lanka: attending a cricket game does not matter if you are fan or not of the sport.

The SSC Cricket Ground is one of the best stadiums in Sri Lanka and you will enjoy it so much.

I personally suggest attending a T-20 match (Twenty-twenty) that usually last 2 hours.

A test match runs on 5 days which may be too much of course (you can still attend a single day of course).

For games and tickets, check out the venue website.

Even if you don’t or can’t make it to the SSC Ground, I still suggest attending a cricket game, even a non-professional one, for a real local experience.

This is the sport that stops the nation. Everyone is so passionate and crazy about it. 

I personally also played in a local game with a few boys and I had such a fan time, and the locals even more, especially considering how bad I was at the game LOL.

Pettah Market

Location: central area (check Google Map here)

It’s the most famous street market in Colombo, for both locals and tourists.

It’s crowded, of course, and visiting it in the early morning will help you to fully appreciate the place and the busy life around.

The later you go, the more people you will find.

You can buy literally everything, from food to clothes, local products and honestly all you need even if you live in Colombo.

A great spot for a few photos

Dutch Museum

Location: central area (check Google Map here)

The imposing Dutch Museum comes in a striking contrast to the Pettah shops surrounding the building.

It provides an amazing insight into the life during the Dutch occupation.

Over the years, the Dutch Museum has served as a Catholic seminary, a police station, a military hospital, and a post office and today, of course, a museum.

Structure-wise, the building is virtually unchanged since it was built over three centuries ago, with a central square courtyard, tall ceilings and an imposing entrance.

You can easily see all in one hour, a great spot to visit in the morning following the Pettah Market and before heading to the Fort Train Station

Crowd at the Fort Railway Station in Colombo
Crowd at the Fort Railway Station in Colombo

Fort Train Station (*)

Location: central area (check Google Map here)

Fort is the main train station of Colombo and I may add a beautiful one too.

Be aware that you need to pay for a ticket to enter, even if you do not take any train. However, we are talking here of just a few cents.

What to expect inside?

A very very busy place that you may have seen in a few movies, with people hanging from the doors, crowds waiting and pushing into the train, a real chaotic environment that you will love, especially if you are into photography.

A real unique experience, especially for western people

Train to Lavinia

Location: from the central area (check Google Map here)

If you think that visiting the station is not enough to experience the local life, then I suggest taking the train to Mount Lavinia Beach (next thing to do in Colombo).

Taking trains in Sri Lanka is one of the most fascinating and local experiences you can do in the country.

The most beautiful trip I had in my life was the “Tea Train” from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, between tea plantations and stunning views. Three hours for a cheap $2 ticket.

Still, even this 1 hour train to Mount Lavinia is something spectacular (see more photos below), that will take you into the commuting of the local people.

It runs along the coast, with a beautiful view of the beach.

The beach north of the Lavinia Hotel is actually quite nice, especially considering it's only 13 km from the city centre
The beach north of the Mount Lavinia Hotel is actually quite nice, especially considering it’s only 13 km from the city centre

Mount Lavinia Beach

Location: 12km south of the city centre (check Google Map here)

Assuming you got the train to Lavinia, you will find the beach on the other side of the train truck, accessible through a bridge.

This is the beach I personally suggest going if you are looking for some sunbathing.

Google Map is a bit misleading about the location.

Take the historical Mount Lavinia Hotel as a reference point. Stay south of it for the best beach.

For lunch or drinks, stop by The Shack, a nice bar straight on the sand.

You can go also to the northern beach, however, it’s not that clean and there are way too many free dogs around.

Tuk Tuk from Lavinia to the city centre

Location: to the central area or the hotel

If you made it to Mount Lavinia by train, I suggest taking a tuk tuk for your trip back to the city.

It’s a 13km trip, or about 30 minutes, and you will get to experience the most characteristic Sri Lankan mean of transportation.

Even if you haven’t made it to Lavinia, I highly suggest using the tuk tuk during your stay in Colombo or your trip in Sri Lanka, always a great fun.

My tuk tuk driver, a real legend and great fun
My tuk tuk driver, a real legend and great fun

Things to do in Colombo at night

Dutch Hospital

Location: central area (check Google Map here)

Heritage and modern architecture are mixed in this lovely building, following a long due refurbishment.

It works now as a shopping mall with bars, pubs and restaurant open till late, providing a great choice at any price.

From time to time, they also have live music

It is one of the favourite places for locals to hang out.

Honey Beach Club

Location: central area (check Google Map here), just behind the Dutch Hospital

Another favourite spot for local. It can get quite busy and booking is sort of essential

Food is a bit of hit and miss. I personally suggest going for the local options and staying away from the pizza and the western food.

Mövenpick Hotel Rooftop – Vistas Bar (*)

Location: ~3km south of the city centre (check Google Map here)

My favourite spot, for a few reasons.

The rooftop is amazing, with a spectacular view of the beach and the sunset.

There is a lovely infinity pool that you can use during the day.

The food is to die for, both western and Sri Lankan fusion.

They do have occasional DJ sessions that make the night even more interesting.

Of course, staying at the Mövenpick Hotel has its own benefits, like direct access to your room.

This has been my hotel in the last two trips and I am looking forward to it on my next trip to Sri Lanka, either at the start or at the end of my holiday.

Check price at Mövenpick

Amazing view from the infinity pool of the Movenpick Hotel Rooftop
Amazing view from the infinity pool of the Mövenpick Hotel Rooftop

Jetwing Seven Rooftop – Ward 7 Restobar

Location: ~4km south-east of the city centre (check Google Map here)

Another great spot for sunset drinks and dinner.

Again, the infinity pool is a perfect spot to wind down at the end of a busy day, similarly to the previous location.

The view is more to the city buildings than the beach and the sea.

Lovely night breeze for those tropical nights.

The Jetwing Seven is also a great hotel to stay, with locally designed rooms and a fabulous breakfast (you can my full review here)

Check price at Jetwing

Colombo city view from the Movenpick Hotel rooftop [by night]
Colombo city view from the Movenpick Hotel rooftop [by night]
Fort Railway Station in Colombo - Train arrival
Fort Railway Station in Colombo – Train arrival
I am still amazed of how people commute in Colombo
I am still amazed at how people commute in Colombo
The ticket office at the Fort Train Station
The ticket office at the Fort Train Station
The trip from Fort Colombo to Mount Lavinia
The trip from Fort Colombo to Mount Lavinia
Buddha at the Gangaramaya Temple
The Gangaramaya Temple
Praying at the Buddha at the Gangaramaya Temple
Praying at the Gangaramaya Temple
Contrasting colours at the Praying at the Buddha at the Gangaramaya Temple
Contrasting colours at the Gangaramaya Temple
A typical street full of tuk tuk in Colombo
A typical street full of tuk tuk in Colombo
Drone view of the northers side of the Mount Lavinia Beach
Drone view of the southern side of the Mount Lavinia Beach
Another view of the Mount Lavinia Beach - North side
Another view of the Mount Lavinia Beach – South side
Watching the horizon with an interesting Sri Lankan/Jamaican character I met during my walk
Watching the horizon with an interesting Sri Lankan/Jamaican character I met during my walk
The busier south side of the Mount Lavinia Beach
The busier north side of the Mount Lavinia Beach
Southern side of the Mount Lavinia Beach
Northern side of the Mount Lavinia Beach
Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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