15 amazing things to do in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sima Malaka Colombo

On my recent visit to Sri Lanka, I spent two nights in Colombo after arriving at the airport.

My aim was to see the main sights of the city while also recovering from jetlag before continuing my adventure around Sri Lanka.

Colombo is Sri Lanka’s vibrant capital, and it offers a captivating blend of history, culture, and modernity.

It’s a city where the air is filled with the aroma of spices and sea breeze, streets are lined with a mix of colonial buildings and skyscrapers, and the warmth of its people makes you feel right at home.

From the serene beauty of ancient temples and lush parks to the bustling markets and exquisite dining experiences, there are plenty of fun things to do in Colombo.

So whether you’re a history buff, a food enthusiast, or simply in search of new adventures, I know you’ll find something to your taste in the city.

If you prefer a video over an article then I’d recommend watching my Colombo vlog on YouTube:

Grab a cup of your favourite brew, and let’s discover the best things to do in Colombo.

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Author Bio: Jessie Moore

Jessie Moore is a luxury travel expert with years of experience travelling the world to find the best destinations, hotels and adventures.

How long to spend in Colombo

Before we get started, I would say that a couple of nights is about right for exploring Colombo.

There isn’t a huge amount to do, so I’d recommend seeing the main sights and then prioritising other breathtaking destinations within this incredible country.

If I’m being totally honest, Colombo was my least favourite place that I visited on my trip, but I do still think it’s worth visiting.

Especially as you’re likely to fly into Colombo airport, you may as well spend a couple of nights in the city to explore.

How to get around Colombo

We had a private driver for the entirety of our trip, so we explored the city by car. Our driver was utterly wonderful – if you’d like his details, please DM me on Instagram.

Gangarama Sima Malaka Colombo

If you don’t have a driver then I’d recommend exploring the city with a tuk tuk tour. Here are some of the best options to book:

Of course you’d be able to explore some areas on foot too, which may be a great option if you’ve got more time on your hands. 

15 best things to do in Colombo

1. The National Museum of Colombo

Address: Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo 00700

Opening times: Daily 09:00 – 19:00

Price: Adult 1500 LKR, Child 750 LKR

Colombo National Museum

As the largest museum in Sri Lanka, the National Museum of Colombo stands as a custodian of the nation’s rich history and cultural heritage.

Founded in 1877 by Sir William Henry Gregory, the British Governor of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the time, this museum houses a vast collection that spans several centuries.

From ancient royal regalia and fascinating artefacts to colonial memorabilia and intricate carvings, the museum offers a deep dive into the island’s vibrant past.

The building itself is an imposing structure that’s a fine example of colonial architecture.

Highlights include the regal throne and crown of the Kandyan monarchs, as well as an extensive collection of antique demon masks, sculptures, and Buddhist art.

Insider tip: You’ll need a good couple of hours if you want to explore the entire museum in detail.

However, we probably got around in about one hour as we did more of a whistle-stop tour due to being tight on time.

2. Gangaramaya Temple

Address: 61 Sri Jinarathana Rd, Colombo 00200

Opening times: Daily 06:00 – 22:00

Price: Free but donations welcome

Gangaramaya Temple is not just a place of worship, it also encompasses a mix of architectural styles, making it one of the most unique Buddhist temples in Colombo.

It reflects an eclectic blend of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture, and I think a visit is one of the best things to do in Colombo.

The temple complex includes a vihara (monastery), a bodhi tree, a pagoda, an assembly hall for monks, and a museum.

The museum within the temple is home to a wide array of gifts received from devotees and well-wishers over the years, including antique cars and an elephant skeleton.

It’s a serene retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city, and one of the most important temples in Colombo.

Insider tip: Remember to dress appropriately, ensuring your shoulders and knees are covered – for both men and women.

3. Lotus Tower

Address: AC6, Colombo 01000

Opening times: Daily 09:00 – 22:00

Price: 20 USD

Lotus Tower Colombo

Rising above the skyline of Colombo, the Lotus Tower is the tallest self-supported structure in South Asia and one of the best things to do in Colombo.

Officially known as the Colombo Lotus Tower, it’s designed to resemble a blooming lotus flower, a significant symbol in Buddhist culture.

The tower serves multiple functions, including telecommunications, observation, and entertainment, and features an observation deck that offers panoramic views of the city and beyond.

Visitors can enjoy a variety of attractions within the tower, such as restaurants, conference facilities, and a shopping mall.

The Lotus Tower at night is a sight to behold, illuminated in vibrant colours that can be seen across the city, making it a prominent landmark in Colombo’s skyline.

Insider tip: For the best experience, I’d recommend visiting at sunset to see the city flooded with gorgeous golden light.

4. Galle Face Green

Address: N/A

Opening times: 24 hours

Price: N/A

Galle Face Green

Galle Face Green is a vast urban park along the Indian Ocean coast, providing a refreshing escape in the heart of Colombo.

Stretching over half a kilometre, it was initially laid out in 1859 by the British for horse racing. Today, it’s a popular spot for leisure and recreation among both locals and tourists.

The green is perfect for picnics, kite flying, or simply enjoying a leisurely stroll along the water’s edge.

When the sun sets, the area comes alive with street food vendors selling an array of local snacks, making it an ideal place to savour traditional Sri Lankan flavours.

Insider tip: I’d recommend visiting during the day or at sunset. Some friends have said they felt a little uneasy visiting later in the evening, so a daytime visit will likely be more relaxing.

5. Beira Lake & Sima Malaka

Address: Sir James Pieris Mawatha, Colombo 00200

Opening times: N/A

Price: 300 LKR for Sima Malaka entry

Beira Lake

Situated in the heart of Colombo, Beira Lake offers a serene setting amidst the urban environment.

The lake has a rich history, originally used by the Portuguese for defence purposes in the 16th century.

Today, it serves as a tranquil oasis for city dwellers and visitors, featuring a small island in the centre that hosts the Gangarama Sima Malaka temple, accessible via a bridge.

Gangarama Sima Malaka

The lake is surrounded by lush greenery and is a popular spot for boating and relaxation.

The area around Beira Lake is also known for its upscale hotels and restaurants, making it a picturesque spot for evening walks.

Insider tip: The lake is close to other Colombo attractions, including the main Gangaramaya Temple, so I’d recommend combining your visits.

6. Viharamahadevi Park

Address: N/A

Opening times: Daily 06:00 – 18:00

Price: N/A

Viharamahadevi Park

Viharamahadevi Park, the largest and most prominent public park in Colombo, offers a lush green sanctuary amidst the urban sprawl.

Named in honour of Queen Viharamahadevi, the mother of King Dutugemunu, a legendary hero in Sri Lankan history, the park is renowned for its beautifully landscaped gardens, wide-open spaces, and flowering trees.

A standout feature is the golden Buddha statue that greets visitors at the park’s entrance.

The park also boasts a large water fountain, which becomes a focal point for gatherings and events.

Insider tip: Spring is an excellent time to visit the park, as this is when the frangipani trees are in full bloom.

7. Independence Square

Address: Colombo 00700

Opening times: N/A

Price: N/A

Independence Square is a symbolic site in Colombo that commemorates Sri Lanka’s liberation from British rule in 1948.

At the heart of the square stands the Independence Memorial Hall, an impressive stone building inspired by the architecture of ancient Sri Lankan kingdoms.

The hall and its surrounding area, with statues and reliefs depicting national heroes and moments from the country’s struggle for independence, serve as a poignant reminder of Sri Lanka’s resilient spirit.

View from Independence Square

The square is not just a historical monument but also a popular recreational spot where locals enjoy jogging, cycling, and relaxing in the peaceful, well-manicured gardens.

8. Pettah Market

Address: Keyzer St, Colombo 01100

Opening times: 

  • Saturday – Wednesday: 08:30 – 19:00
  • Thursday – Friday: 09:00 – 20:00

Price: N/A

Pettah Market

Pettah Market is the bustling heart of Colombo, where the vibrancy and diversity of Sri Lankan life are on full display.

This sprawling market district offers everything from fresh produce and spices to electronics, textiles, and jewellery.

The narrow streets and alleys are lined with shops and stalls, each with its own array of goods, creating a sensory overload of sights, sounds, and smells.

Bargaining is an essential skill here, as vendors expect some haggling over prices. Pettah Market is not just a place to shop; it’s an experience that offers insights into the local way of life.

Visitors can explore the colourful fruit and vegetable markets, the aromatic spice streets, or the bustling clothing lanes.

Pettah Floating Market

Nearby there is also Pettah Floating Market, where you’ll find a similar set up but on the water instead.

Insider tip: Pettah Market is somewhat chaotic – it’s fun but if you don’t enjoy jostling with the locals then you may want to skip it.

9. Sri Kaliawasanathar Swami Devasthanam Temple

Address: No.11/15, Captain Gardens, Kovil Street, Kapithawatte, Maradana, Colombo 10

Opening times:

  • Sunday & Monday: 05:45 – 10:00, 17:00 – 20:00
  • Tuesday: 05:45 – 10:30, 17:00 – 21:00
  • Wednesday: 05:45 – 10:00, 17:00 – 20:30
  • Thursday: 05:45 – 10:30, 17:00 – 20:30
  • Friday & Saturday: 05:45 – 11:30, 17:00 – 20:30

Price: Free admission but fees for aarti and photography; donations welcome.

The Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Temple, often simply referred to as the Kapikaawatha Temple, is one of Colombo’s oldest and most revered Hindu temples.

Dedicated to the gods Shiva and Ganesha, this temple is a beacon of religious devotion and architectural beauty.

I’d say it’s well worth visiting for its colourful façade and intricately carved statues that stand out amidst the city’s landscape.

The temple’s interior is adorned with vibrant murals and sculptures that narrate stories from Hindu mythology.

The annual festival, or Maha Shivaratri, sees the temple and its surroundings come alive with rituals, dance, and music, offering a glimpse into Hindu religious practices. 

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10. Art galleries and cultural shows

Colombo’s vibrant arts scene is a testament to the island’s rich cultural heritage.

If you’re an art enthusiast then carving out time to explore one of the city’s art galleries is one of the best things to do in Colombo. 

The city’s art galleries, such as the National Art Gallery and the Sapumal Foundation, showcase a diverse range of Sri Lankan art, from ancient crafts to contemporary pieces.

Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre
Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre

These spaces provide a platform for both established and emerging artists to display their work.

Cultural shows in Colombo, including traditional Kandyan dance performances and dramatic enactments of Sri Lankan folklore, offer a glimpse into the island’s artistic diversity.

Venues like the Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre frequently host these cultural spectacles, allowing audiences to immerse themselves in the rhythms, costumes, and expressions of Sri Lanka’s heritage.

11. Eat local cuisine

Sampling the local cuisine is an essential part of any visit to Colombo, where the flavours of Sri Lanka come to life.

The culinary landscape is a reflection of the island’s diverse cultural influences, featuring Sinhalese, Tamil, Moor, Dutch, and Portuguese heritage.

From bustling street food stalls to elegant restaurants, Colombo offers an array of dining options.

Signature dishes such as hoppers (bowl-shaped pancakes), kottu (chopped roti mixed with vegetables and meat), and the celebrated Sri Lankan curry, served with fragrant rice, are must-tries.

Seafood plays a prominent role in the local diet, with crab, prawns, and fish prepared in a variety of spices and coconut milk.

For those with a sweet tooth, traditional desserts like watalappan (a coconut custard pudding) and kiribath (milk rice) provide a delightful finish to any meal. 

Fresh Coconut

Don’t forget to also try some coconut water from one of the fresh coconuts for a unique experience!

Insider tip: Be careful where you try the street food, as you don’t want to end up sick before you’ve even got started! Our driver warned us against some places; if you’re not sure, don’t risk it.

12. Jami Ul-Alfar Masjid

Address: 228 2nd Cross Street, Colombo 01100

Opening times: Opening hours are not made clear, so it seems to be a bit of luck (I personally didn’t go inside). Definitely avoid Fridays, as this is a religious day and there are no tours.

Price: Free admission

Jami Ul-Alfar Masjid

The Jami Ul-Alfar Masjid, also known as the Red Mosque, is a striking architectural landmark in Colombo’s Pettah district.

Completed in 1909, the mosque is distinguished by its red and white patterned brickwork, which gives it a candy-striped appearance.

Its design incorporates elements from Indo-Islamic and Gothic revival architecture, making it a unique sight in the cityscape.

The mosque serves as a key place of worship for Colombo’s Muslim community, but its distinctive beauty attracts visitors of all backgrounds.

The interior of the mosque, with its arches, columns, and intricate calligraphy, further exemplifies the skill and creativity of its builders. 

13. Enjoy high tea

High tea in Colombo is a cherished tradition, offering a blend of colonial elegance and local flavours. As a Brit myself, I’m always delighted to indulge in a spot of high tea!

Two of the most iconic venues for this indulgent experience are the Mount Lavinia Hotel and the Shangri-La Colombo.

Afternoon Tea Shangri La Colombo

The Mount Lavinia Hotel, with its colonial charm and stunning ocean views, provides a historic setting for high tea.

Guests can enjoy a selection of teas, accompanied by both traditional English and Sri Lankan sweet and savoury treats, on the hotel’s expansive terrace overlooking the Indian Ocean.

Shangri-La Colombo, on the other hand, offers a more contemporary high tea experience in its luxurious lounge.

The menu includes a sophisticated array of sandwiches, pastries, and scones, paired with a wide variety of teas and infusions. 

Insider tip: I wouldn’t ercommend staying at the Mount Lavinia Hotel. Although it has an iconic reputation, it is now quite old and dated.

Instead, we stayed at the Shangri-La – read my review of staying at the Shangri-La Colombo or discover more of the best hotels in Colombo.

14. Old Parliament Building

Address: Old Parliament Building, Lotus Road, Colombo

Opening times: 24 hours

Price: N/A

Old Parliament Building Colombo

The Old Parliament Building, a testament to Sri Lanka’s colonial past, stands majestically along the Galle Face Green, facing the Indian Ocean.

Constructed in the 1930s during the British colonial era, this building served as the seat of the Ceylon Parliament until the new parliamentary complex was opened in Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte in 1983.

Designed in the Neo-Baroque style, the building’s architecture features elaborate stone carvings, high columns, and a grand façade that reflects the grandeur of its time.

Today, it houses the Presidential Secretariat, but its historical and architectural significance continues to attract visitors. 

Insider tip: Note that photography is banned at the Old Parliament Building, and they are very hot on accosting tourists who do take photos.

15. Kelaniya Viharaya

Address: Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya, Kelaniya 13000

Opening times: 24 hours

Price: Free admission

Kelaniya Viharaya

Kelaniya Viharaya, one of the most sacred Buddhist temple sites in Sri Lanka, holds a venerable place in the hearts of devotees.

According to the chronicles, it was consecrated by the Buddha himself, who visited the site on his third and final journey to the island.

The temple’s history is rich, with its origins dating back to before 500 BCE.

The highlight of Kelaniya Viharaya is its stunning image house, which contains elaborate frescoes depicting scenes from the Buddha’s life and significant events in the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. 

Insider tip: This temple isn’t technically in Colombo, as it’s about a 25 minute drive from the city centre. However, it comes so highly recommended that I simply had to include it in my guide to the best things to do in Colombo.

Let me know any of your favourite things to do in Colombo in the comments below! For more Sri Lanka travel inspiration, you may also like: 

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Jessie Moore
Jessie Moore

Jessie is a luxury travel expert with years of experience travelling the world to find the best destinations, hotels and adventures.

Find me on: Web | Instagram


Want up to 25% off hotels?

Subscribe to my newsletter and get immediate access to my guide on how to save money on flights and hotels. Our weekly emails are filled with adventure inspiration, insider travel tips and exclusive discounts.