There’s been a resurgence in Colombo in the last few years: the Sri Lankan capital has benefitted from improved infrastructure, new hotels and contemporary entertainment and shopping complexes. The result has been that it is now firmly on the itineraries of South Asian travellers – as it well should be, as it is a beautiful, compact and overwhelmingly friendly city, and one that is an excellent soft launching point for the rest of the region. If you’ve only got one day to spend in this lovely city, here’s how we’d suggest you do it.
7am: Start the day with an early-morning stroll in Galle Face Green. This stretch of lawn, next to the iconic Galle Face Hotel, sits right between the ocean and the city’s business district. It’s a cooling start as the day steadily warms up.
8.30am: Breakfast: try the traditional Sri Lankan breakfast dish of hoppers, the bowl-shaped crispy pancake made with rice flour and coconut milk, often served with an egg cracked inside. They’re widely available, from five-star hotel kitchens to hawker stands.
10am: Before it gets too hot, try to get in a few of the major sights. Colombo is small and easy to get around so it’s possible to cram a lot into a day, if you have the stamina.
The Seema Malaka Temple, a Buddhist temple designed by famed Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, is an ideal start. It is compact yet unique, featuring a row of seated Buddha statues on the lakefront with three raised platforms in the lake, accessible via a walkway.
Independence Square is an open space in the upscale suburb of Cinnamon Gardens, containing the Independence Memorial Hall and the Independence Memorial Museum. While the space is used for national celebrations and gatherings, it’s a perennially popular spot for walkers and joggers. A newer arcade area contains numerous shops and restaurants.
Lunch: An ideal spot, whether you are a cricket fan or not, is the Cricket Club Cafe.
3pm: A tour of Geoffrey Bawa’s house is a delight, particularly for lovers of architecture and design. Bawa, pioneered the distinctive Tropical Modernism look and designed many of Sri Lanka’s iconic homes and hotels.
4.30pm: Shopping: one of Colombo’s best shopping destinations is Barefoot, which contains a colourful array of textiles, handicrafts, clothing, homewares and more. There’s also a pleasant courtyard cafe, and if it’s Sunday afternoon you can expect some languid live jazz.
6.30pm: It’s time for drinks and sunset. Perhaps the best spot is the lawn of the Galle Face Hotel, with its distinctive chequerboard platform. Order a gin and tonic and watch as the sun sinks into the Indian Ocean.
8.30: Dinner. Sri Lanka’s best restaurant is arguably Ministry of Crab, at the newly-renovated Dutch Hospital complex, a collection of shops, restaurants and bars housed in a traditional Dutch building. As the name indicates, the restaurant deals primarily in crab – and some of the freshest and biggest specimens you will have seen. Have it chilled with butter, in a pepper or smoky chilli sauce – and be prepared to get messy.
11pm: sleep. Colombo has an ever-expanding list of hotels, particularly those at the top end. Design lovers will love Tintagel and Casa Colombo, while a popular central mid-range option is Colombo Courtyard. For those on a budget, the Highbury Colombo homestay is an excellent option.