A capital in constant transformation

Colombo is both the largest city of Sri Lanka and its commercial capital. The city is also the island’s financial hub and holds numerous tourist destinations. Colombo city belongs to the western Province, one of nine such provinces and is flanked by the Gampaha District (where both Negombo and the International Airport are located) to the north and the Kalutara District to the south. The Indian Ocean runs the full length of its western border. Sri Jayewardenepura, the true capital of Sri Lanka is actually a suburb of the Colombo district. When referring to Colombo, one usually means the city of Colombo which is broken into 15 smaller areas and not the district in its entirety.

The nucleus of the city is considered to be Colombo 01, also commonly known as Colombo Fort. Most of the city’s key tourist attractions are huddled into Colombo 01 (Fort), Colombo 02 (Slave Island & Union Place), Colombo 03 (Colpetty/Kollupitiya), Colombo 07 (Cinnamon Gardens), Colombo 11 (Pettah) and Colombo 12 (Hultsdorf).

Early History of Colombo

Colombo came into prominence due to its natural harbour and was known to sailors for thousands of years. Initially the area was part of the pre-colonial kingdom of Kotte. Then with the arrival of the Portuguese (around 1505), who were more interested in commerce than territorial power, the city began its transformation to what it is today. The Portuguese were here till 1658 when the kingdom of Kandy sought the help of the Dutch to rid the island of their rule. Despite the Portuguese leaving the island over 350 years ago, their cultural and architectural influence continues to be seen till today. Things didn’t go as planned as the Dutch took control of most of the island and its lucrative spice trade. The Dutch were followed by the British with Colombo falling into British rule in 1796. The entire fell under British rule in 1815. Unlike the previous colonial powers, the British began doing much more than engage in trade by building houses and other infrastructure which gave semblance to what Colombo is today.

The end of Colonialism and a post-war Colombo

Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948 and nowhere was its effects as stark as in Colombo. The city saw a merger of colonial values, culture, religion and cuisine with those of the local. Unfortunately, the inadequate constitutional arrangements of the time also meant the creation of dissent and disharmony in what is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious country. These ultimately flared into violence and a bitter civil war that lasted 30 years. Its effects not only left most of the north and east riddled with bullet holes and misery but occasionally also brought Colombo to its knees in the face of a continuous war. For most of its post-colonial era, Colombo moved slowly. Today, however, in post-war Sri Lanka, Colombo is rising in a state of frenzy with multiple skyscrapers, a whole new island city being built with Chinese loans and large swathes of old Colombo such as its markets being relocated to the outer peripheries of the city.

Geography, climate and demographics of Colombo

Colombo is riddled with numerous canals and the Kelani river along with the Kelani river delta to the north. A large lake sits at the very heart of the city. The land in the commercial area is of flat terrain. The climate falls just short of a tropical rainforest climate with average temperatures reaching about 32°C in the month of April. Minimum temperatures fall to about 22°C in the months of December and January.

Colombo city has a population of around 750,000 as per the 2011 census. However, millions enter and exit the city on a daily basis as the attend work, school and other activities. So expect terrible traffic snarls in roads leading into the city during morning rush hour and on roads leading out of the city during evening rush hour. School traffic also causes spikes in traffic several times a day.

Sinhalese make up the majority race in Colombo with Tamils and Muslims coming second and third. Colombo is also multi-religious with a majority Buddhist population followed by Muslims, Hindus and Christians.

Key attractions in Colombo

Following is a comprehensive list of various points of interest in the district of Colombo

Tourist Attractions

  • Galle Face Green – Seafront promenade with street food
  • Independence Memorial Hall & Museum
  • Viharamahadevi Park
  • National Museum of Colombo
  • Ape Gama – A recreation of a Sri Lankan Village
  • Colombo Dutch Museum
  • Nelum Pokuna Theatre complex
  • Khan Clock Tower
  • Pettah Floating Market
  • Sri Lanka Air Force Museum
  • Pita  Kotte Gal Ambalama
  • Lionel Wendt Art Centre
  • Sri Lanka Planetarium
  • Colombo Port Maritime Museum
  • Mount Lavinia Beach
  • Dehiwela Beach
  • Number 11 – Geoffrey Bawa Townhouse
  • Old City Hall
  • Traditional Puppet Art Museum
  • University of Colombo
  • Central Point / Chatham Street
  • Colombo Lotus Tower
  • Saskia Fernando Gallery
  • New Parliament of Sri Lanka
  • Old Parliament of Sri Lanka
  • Saifee Villa
  • Colombo Racecourse
  • National  Art Gallery
  • Colombo Club (Taj Samudra)

Religious places

  • Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple & Seema-malakaya Meditation Centre on Beira Lake
  • Kelaniya, Raja Maha Viharaya Buddhist temple
  • Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque (Red Mosque)
  • Lucia’s Cathedral
  • Isipathanaramaya Temple
  • Sambodhi Chaithya
  • Anthony’s Church, Kochchikade
  • Wolvendaal Church
  • Andrew’s Church
  • New Kathiresan Kovil
  • Old Kathiresan Kovil
  • Sri Muthumariamman Kovil
  • Sri Ponnambalam Vanesar Kovil
  • Sri Muthu Vinayagar Swamy Kovil
  • Dawata-gaha Mosque
  • Grand Mosque
  • Cinnamon Gardens Baptist Church

Nature and Wildlife

  • Seethawaka Botanical Gardens
  • Weras Ganga Park
  • Attidiya Bird sanctuary
  • Beddagana Wetland Park
  • Urban Wetland Park (Nugegoda)
  • Diyatha Uyana
  • Crow island beach park
  • Muthurajawela Marsh
  • Talangama Tank


  • Independence Arcade
  • Diyatha Uyana (Sri Lankan cuisine, horticulture, traditional crafts)
  • Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct
  • Reid  Avenue
  • Majestic City
  • The Good Market
  • Unity Plaza (for tech geeks)
  • Liberty Plaza
  • Crescat Boulevard
  • Pettah Market
  • ODEL department stores
  • House of Fashions (bargain shopping)
  • World Market (adjoining fort railway station)
  • Retail Ready-made Clothes (No limit, Glitz, Cool Planet, Hameedias)
  • Cotton Collection
  • Dilly and Carlo
  • Barefoot (Lifestyle store & Café)
  • Paradise Road (Lifestyle Store and Café)
  • Laksala  – Sri Lanka Handicrafts
  • Lakpahana  – Sri Lanka Handicrafts
  • Selyn handloom (Fairtrade)
  • Raux Brothers
  • Gerard Mendis Chocolatier


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