The Glamour of Colombo- 17 Things to do in Colombo
Historical Background of Colombo
The commercial & the judicial capital of Sri Lanka, a multiracial city –Colombo was discovered by, Portuguese sailors back in 1505 who were the first Europeans who came to Sri Lanka in early 16th Century. The name Colombo is believed to be derived from the Sinhala word “Kolom Thota” meaning “The Port of the River Kelani”. Colombo is situated on the western coast of Sri Lanka, south of the famous “Kelani River” and it is one of major ports on the Indian Ocean since ancient Days. Colombo has one of the largest artificial harbors in the world that was originally built by British in early 18th Century. Colombo harbor has a long history that goes back to over 2000 years acting as a trading port and it was known to great ancient traders such as Persians, Greeks, Indians, Arabs, Romans and Chinese. Famous explorer “Ibn Batuta visited Sri Lanka in 14th Century and called Colombo “Kalanpu”. In 1505, Portuguese touched Colombo as the first Europeans and later they established a harbor to exports Cinnamon, Tuskers, Ivory, Pepper and other commodities to Portugal from the Colombo port. After the Portuguese, Dutch took over the Country in 1638 and Dutch captured Colombo in 1656 after an epic siege. After Dutch resorted the captured area and used as capital of Dutch maritime provinces under the governance of “Dutch East India Company” (VOC) until 1796.
In 1796, British took over the all coastal areas as per the treaty that was signed in England with Dutch. British used Colombo as a military outpost until they captured the last Kingdom of Sri Lanka “Kandy” in 1815 and then made Colombo as their capital under their Crown colony “Ceylon”.
Colombo Fort in 16th Century
Present day, the Colombo harbor is one of prominent harbors in the region with all modern facilities and handle large fleets of ships, carriages, and also acts as a famous “Port of Call”. Colombo This multiracial city Colombo has grown in popularity as a destination which an every single traveler must visit and it offers visitors a bunch of attractions in and around the city. According to the American research group “Brookings Institution’, the total population of the metropolitan area of Colombo is about 5.6 million people and nearly 1 million population in the municipality of Colombo.
Colombo represents the great blend of commercial publicity with shops, modern super markets, classy entertainment and ecstatic relaxing hotspots while bringing the cozy experiences. From towering skyscrapers in the old fort to modern luxury villas and geometrically shaped apartment buildings, the city has it all. The iconic colonial architecture highlights such as Queen’s house- the residence of the former governors that is now well known as ‘The built President House’, Old Dutch Hospital built by Dutch, Old Parliament Building, Republic Building and colonial memorial highlight ‘Independence Square’ add an unique beauty to Colombo.
Attractions & Activities of Interest in Colombo
1. Independence Square Memorial Hall
This beautiful colonial era building is located in Independence square, Colombo 07. The Construction of the building was started on 4th of February 1949, a year after the Independence Day and completed in the year 1953. Independence square building was built to commemorate the independence of Sri Lanka from the British on 4th of February 1948. Sir Tom Neville Wynne Jones was the main architect of this masterpiece and he was influenced by the original memorial hall in Kandy that is belong to 18th Century as well as he got some influences from Polonnaruwa, The Medieval period. Today this building is considered as one of most iconic historical building Colombo and the Independence square park is a popular place for public to do morning and evenings walks.
2. Colombo Dutch Museum
Dutch Museum is situated on the Prince Street, Pettah, Colombo 11 and this is an iconic colonial building belong to Dutch Period (17th century). This building was constructed during 1634 to 1701 and it was used as the formal house of the Dutch Governor “Thomas Van Rhees. Later the building was used as a center of teacher training & an institute for the instruction of clergymen betwing 1696 and 1796. And later it was operated as an Orphanage under the supervision of Deacons and founded by Dutch East Indian Company (VOC). In 1800s, during the British era this building was used as a barracks and in 1900s it was turned into a police training center. In 1932, the building was converted in to the Pettah Post office. Year 1973 it was rebuilt and established as a Dutch Museum by the committee of Ceylon Tourist Board, Department of Archelogy and the Netherlands Alumni Association of Lanka. Today you can see a vast collections of Dutch Legacies such as ceramics, furniture, weapons and coins that are displaying at the museum.
3. BMICH Building
An iconic landmark in Colombo surrounded by beautifully landscape gardens, The Bandaranayake Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) is the first purposed built convention center in Asia. This beautiful building was built between 1970 and 1973 and it was gifted by People’s Republic of China in memory of Solomon Ridgeway Dias Bandaranayake who was the prime minister during the period of 1956 to 1959. The constructions of the building was carried out by a joint workforce of Sri Lanka and China. Most of building materials were being imported from China. BMICH building covers the total ground area of 4500 square meters (Floor space) and the building consists of two large exhibition halls, lobby, dining area, lounge, a modern kitchen and VIP amenities with all modern facilities.
4. National Museum
An important and a historical building in heart of Colombo. The National Museum building was established on 1st of January 1877 by its founder Sir William Henry Gregory, the British Governor of Ceylon. The architect of the building was J.G Smither who was able to prepare the plans for new structure on Italian architectural style. The National Museum status was given during the famous archeologist of Sri Lanka Mr P.E.P Deraniyagala. Today this building is a great house to very important ancient artifacts, replicas of famous artifacts as well as the National Museum library that was in 1877 is holding valuable books and manuscripts. The museum has the jewels and throne of the last King of Kandy which were returned to Sri Lanka by the British Government as well as famous ancient Buddhist sculptures such as Tholuwila Buddha Statue which is belong to 6th-7th Century AD. National Museum of Colombo is a great place to get the knowledge about the ancient Sri Lanka as well as the culture of the country.
5. Galle Face Green
Galle Face Green is a long stretch of land by the Indian Ocean which is a public walkaway, a park and also a playground. The land area of 5 hectares (12 Acres) which stretches 500m along the coast. The promenade was initially established by the British Governor of Ceylon “Sir Henry George Ward in 1859 and it was used for horse racing, play cricket, Polo, Football, Tennis as well as functioned as a Golf Court during the Colonial period. Present day it is situated next to the old Parliament Building (Presently used as the President’s Secretariat office) and Galle Colombo main road. Iconic & famous Galle Face Hotel which was built during the British period is also located near to Galle Face. This is a popular destination for children, teenagers, lovers and family who love to spend their leisure time in the evening or free times while enjoying local snacks such as cooked crabs, prawns, slices of mango with pepper and salts. Also there is a kite festival is functioned at this location annually.
6. Beira Lake
Located in the heart of Colombo City, the picturesque Beira Lake is surrounded by Colombo’s Business district and occupies the land of 65 Hectares. During the colonial eras of Portuguese, Dutch and British, this lake was used to transport goods within the city. It still retains its Portuguese name and the lake is connected to many intricate canals which provided convenient way of transporting goods within the city as well as suburbs. Initially Beira Lake was constructed by Portuguese in 16th Century after they occupied in Colombo. The main purpose of constructing the lake was to provide protection Colombo from their enemies- mainly Sri Lankan kings. Today the lake gives a pleasant beauty to the City of Colombo. Especially when you stay at nearby hotels like Cinnamon Lakeside, Cinnamon Grand, Taj Samudra and Ramada Colombo, you will enjoy the stunning view of the lake from your hotel room.
7. Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple
Gangaramaya Buddhist temple is one of major temples in Colombo being a great mix of traditional cultural essence and modern architecture. This temple is a perfect example for the combinations of Sri Lankan, Indian, Thai and Chinese architecture. The temple was built in 19th Century by Don Bastian (De Silva Jayasuriya Goonewardena, Mudaliyar) who was a shipping merchant and the temple was donated to Venerable Matara Sri Dhammarama Thero. This temple was a home to few famous Buddhist monks & scholars such as Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, Welivitiye Dharmarathna Thera and Pandit Batuwanduve.
Today, Gangaramaya Temple is functioning as a Buddhist worshipping place and a learning center. Also involved in Buddhist welfare work such as elderly homes, a vocational school and an orphanage. Annual Perehara- the grandest festival of of Gangaramaya temple is an iconic event that is organized by the temple in ever year month of February, displaying the rich cultural and religious tradition of Sri Lanka. It is a fascinating event that hundreds of elephants nicely adorned with colorful costumes walk with the parade of hundreds of traditional drummers and dancers on the street along with Buddhist monks.
Other iconic feature of Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple is the museum. The museum was initiated by Ven Jinarathana Nayake Thera as a huge collection of artifacts, donative items, other religious, cultural and historical value items.
8. Old Parliament Building
The Old Parliament Building in Colombo is another major landmark in the city. This beautiful colonial styled building is located facing to the famous Galle Face Green with a beautiful view of the Indian Ocean. The Neo Baroque Styled building was built during the British period as the house of Legislative Council of Ceylon. The architect of this building was a British architect Austin Woodeson and the building was opened on 29th of January 1930 by the British governor Sir Herbert Stanley. Today this building is used as the presidential Secretariat office of Sri Lanka.
9. Sri Lanka Parliament Building
Sri Lanka Parliament Building is another attractive public landmark located in Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, just 10km away from the central of Colombo. This is a very special parliament in the world because it is built on an island surrounded by “Diyawanna Oya”. New Parliament Building was designed by the famous Dutch Architect who lived in Sri Lanka “Geoffrey Bawa” in 1982. The Island where the parliament has been built on was the location where the palace of king Vickramabahu III’s powerful minister Nissanka Alakeshwara had been built in 16th Century. The talented architect Geoffrey Bawa designed the building in a style of regional modernism. During the Colombo City tour in your tour, we will drive around the island and stop at the best spots to make beautiful photographs of the Parliament with the Diyawanna Oya (Lake).
10. Lotus Pond Theatre (Nelum Pokuna Theatre)
Nelum Pokuna or Lotus Pond Theatre is a fully equipped modern performing arts theatre that is located in the famous Colombo 07 area. This beautiful building was opened on 15th December 2011 and it has named after one of Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapakasha. Likely many other creations in Sri Lanka, the design of the theatre is intentionally reminiscent of a lotus flower. The architecture of the building is inspired by the famous 12th Century “Nelum Pokuna” (The Lotus Pond) in Polonnaruwa, the medieval capital of Sri Lanka and it was built by the great king, king Parakramabahu I (1156-1186 AD). The theatre covers the total floor area of 14,000 square meters (1,50,000 sq ft). This theatre consists an auditorium with 1,288 seats, a library and training facilities. The building has two theatres and an open air theatre.
11. Pettah Floating Market
Floating Markets of Pettah is located on Bastian Mawatha (Street) in famous Pettah, Colombo. There are about 100 trade stalls with a number of the stalls have been stablished on boats of Beira Lake. The market is along a canal, lined with sidewalks and wooden boardwalks. Vendors sell clothes, crafts, jewelry, electronic items such as mobiles phones as well as delicious Sri Lankan street food. There is a section for vegetable & fruits sellers as well. The opening time of the floating market is from 08am until 08 pm. If you visit at around 5pm in the evening, you can make a stunning photographs of the sunset of Colombo.
12. The Red Mosque
The Red Mosque –Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque is another iconic building located in the Second Cross street of Pettah, Colombo. This mosque is considered as one of oldest mosques in Colombo. The construction of the red mosque started in 1908 and completed the construction in 1909. Originally the mosque was built for the daily prayers of the local Indian Muslim community. The design of the mosque is a hybrid style of architecture that draws elements from Native Indo-islamic and Indian architecture combined with Neo-classical and Gothic styles. Originally the building was spacious enough for 1500 worshippers but after the renovations, the present day it provides space for 500 worshippers. This is a beautiful red building with red and white candy strips and building is a two storied building with a clock tower.
13. Royal Colombo Golf Club
The Royal Colombo Golf Club is a sanctuary that surrounded by residential area in the heart of Colombo. The Club was established in 1880 by British and is the oldest Golf club in Sri Lanka. Royal Colombo Golf club is the home to Sri Lanka Golf Union, the governing part of Golf in Sri Lanka and maintains with “The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews” in Scotland. This golf club is located in an exquisite and tranquil environment to relax, unwind and tee off. The scenic landscape and a glimpse of the rare species of flora and fauna on the course, make for a pastoral environment. This is a 18 holes golf club and the total length of the course is 6000 meters (6,560 yards).
14. Old Colombo Dutch Hospital -Shopping Precinet
One of a beautiful and an iconic landmark in Colombo, the Old Colombo Dutch Hospital- Shopping Precinet. This colonial building was built during the Dutch period in the year of 1681 by German Christopher Schweitzer for different purposes. It was mainly used as a hospital to look after the health of officers from the “Dutch East Indian Company” and is located next to the Colombo harbor allowed it to serve Dutch Seafarers. The Dutch hospital has two central courtyards and five wings that represent the advance Dutch architectural techniques. Like many Sri Lankan Dutch Buildings of the same Dutch era, the walls of this building are half a meter thick and the rafters are made of large teak beams.
Today, the building has been converted into a shopping complex including famous restaurants such as “Ministry of Crabs” where you can enjoy mouthwatering crab dishes and prawn dishes. Barefoot Gallery café with its colorful handloom fabric clothing and Spa Ceylon sells the boutique fragrant herbal bath items
15. Walk Through the Authentic “Pettah Market”
Pettah Market is located at the heart of Colombo, a very busy local market area also called “Manning Market”. Being one of busiest places in Sri Lanka, the area may looks like a little chaotic at first glance but if you have an idea of what you want to buy and which street that you can find the item, you will be surprised by the amazingly low prices of goods that vendors sell. From Vegetables & fruits to electronic items such as mobile phones, Televisions and clothes, toys, ceramics, household items are being sold on these streets. Pettah market is a popular market area among the locals as well as foreigners as they take back a wide range of cheap items
16. Walk around “Viharamahadevi Park”
This is the largest and the oldest park in Colombo and a great place to relax. Once widely known as “Victoria Park” situated within the oldest section of Colombo City lies close to historical monuments such as National Museum, Colonial Town Hall Building and Colombo Public Library. The park was established during the British period by Charles Henry De Soysa on a donated land to the Colombo City named as Victoria Park after queen Victoria of England. During the World War II, the park was occupied by British and the Australian 17th Brigade was based. After the World War II, the park was renovated and opened for public in 1951. At the same time, the name was changed as “Viharamahadevi Park” after the ancient Queen Viharamahadevi. The queen was the mother of one of most important figurehead of Sri Lanka the great King “Dutugamunu”.Today this is a famous landmark in Colombo which is open for public but well maintained by the Colombo Municipal Council. There are beautiful paved pathways, lush palm trees and perfectly groomed grass lands, delightful little hollows with pleasant wooden and concrete seats. This place is a paradise for lovers who love to hang out with their loved ones. There is a large play area including water fun zone, a giant outdoor play house and few hills tunneled through that children can crawl around and have fun. Sellers walk around and sell toys, ice creams and local snacks. There is no any entry fee to this park and this is an ideal place to have a beautiful walk in the evening. Viharamahadevi Park is definitely not to be missed on your stay in Colombo.
17. The Lotus Tower
The Lotus Tower, in Sinhala “Nelum Kuluna” is a new symbolic landmark to Colombo, was built on 16th of September 2019. The Tower is currently the tallest self-supported structure in South Asia which rises 356 meters (1,168 ft) located in Colombo. Also this tower is the second tallest structure in South Asia after the guy-wire –supported INS Kattabomman in India. In Rank, Lotus tower is the 11th tallest completed tower in Asia and 19th tallest tower in the world. The design of this building was inspired by the lotus flower. The lotus flower is a symbolic flower to Sri Lanka that symbolizes purity within Sri Lankan culture and is also denotes the country’s flourishing development. The base of the tower is inspired by the lotus throne including two inverted trapezoidal. Tower covers the total floor area of 30,600 square meters ( 3,29,000 square feet) . The Lotus tower has four entrances with two being used as VIP entrances. On the ground floor, there is a telecommunication museum and a restaurant is located. The Tower podium has six floors. The first floor consists a museum and two exhibition halls. The second floor will be utilized for several conference halls with seating space of 500 people. Food courts, super markets and restaurants will be located on the third floor. A thousands seats auditorium will be placed on the fourth floor which also will be used as a ballroom. The fifth floor includes Luxury hotel rooms, large ballrooms. The seventh floor will be functioned as an observation gallery.