Colombo has been the Sri Lankan elephant in the room for many years (OK, so not literally. We’ve seen many elephants in Sri Lanka but fortunately never in the room). Most tour operators have never really got under the skin of the Sri Lanka capital, so still wouldn’t recommend it. However (and you heard it here first) Colombo is getting hot. Seriously hot. And we aren’t talking just about the weather.
Colombo has been transformed in the years since the end of the civil war. We think that as Asia capital cities go, it is one of the cleanest (obviously nothing can compete with Singapore), traffic is still manageable (just about) and it has a new energy that few others can match.
We always look forward to a couple of nights in luxury hotels in Colombo – not only because it just a 40-minute ride from the airport – but because coming here puts smiles on our faces. This is now a cosmopolitan city buzzing with excitement. And Yonder knows the best hotels in Colombo.
There has been an explosion of superb boutique hotels in Colombo, the iconic colonial grand dame The Galle Face Hotel has recently reopened after years of refurbishment and the restaurant scene is alive with new openings. It is also bursting with art galleries, designer homeware boutiques and ethical craft shops selling the finest Sri Lankan handmade produce. And if you are a culture vulture, there is no shortage of museums, temples and national monuments to visit.
Colombo is a city that has been transformed. Just a few years ago it was challenging to find anything interesting to eat outside of the large hotels. Today, it’s a different world. There is a thriving scene for foodies, with cuisines of all types from expensive fine-dining French restaurants to superb roti shops purposely designed to look humble.
Our favourite new addition is Park Street Mews which has quickly picked up a reputation for being home to some excellent Italian, Japanese and Spanish tapas restaurant,s as well as a couple of bars with funky live music.
And if it’s good old rice and curry you’re after, a new generation of Sri lankan chefs has been reinventing local cuisine by rewriting the rulebook of flavours and spices and combining the new concoctions with interesting meats such as goat or venison or fish such as Norwegian salmon.
Jump in an air-conditioned Uber and head for the Dutch hospital where you can take your pick from any number of international cuisines. If you fancy crab, The Ministry of Crab, widely touted as one of the best restaurants in Colombo, has its flagship venue here but you’ll need to book.
Colombo has tremendous breadth. And these days, with so many Colombo luxury hotels to choose from, it is cosmopolitan. Enjoy an afternoon at Independence Memorial (there is a small but interesting museum which is often missed) followed by retail therapy in Independence Arcade (recently refurbished and now home to designer boutiques but had a previous incarnations as colonial bureaucratic offices). And if you want to skip the hammering on your credit card, your driver can take you to the old parliament or the national museum, both of which are magnificent old colonial buildings. The national museum is quaint with some very interesting collections but it isn’t air-conditioned so is best visited in the morning.
For an altogether different type of experience, take a metered tuk-tuk (oh the joy of not having to negotiate!) and head to Gangaramaya temple, probably the most important in Colombo. You’ll detect a blend of exotic architectural influences, including Sri Lankan, Indian, Chinese and Thai. After this, venture to the open air bazaars and markets in Pettah which is Colombo’s bustling local commercial district.
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