Hannah Evans takes a whistle-stop tour of Sri Lanka’s largest city.
1 - PETTAH FLOATING MARKET
Colombo is a vibrant city with a long colonial history and exciting modern developments. Begin by visiting Pettah floating market, found on the banks of Beira Lake in Fort, the financial district. Opened in 2014, the 92 floating stalls sell a diverse range of clothes, shoes, fabric, gadgets and jewellery. Souvenirs here are cheap but be prepared to haggle. As you walk through the busy crowds, a mixture of tourists and local shoppers, you’ll see freshly made dishes being prepared at local food stalls. Make sure you grab some roti (flat bread) as you wander along the market’s pavilions. By now you will have noticed the prominent smell of Beira Lake, an ongoing issue in the area. Once you’ve finished, exit the markets to the east. W E Bastian Mawatha; open 8am-12pm.
2 - GALLE FACE GREEN
The easiest way to get around is by using the city’s plentiful tuk-tuks, most of which use meters. Fares start at Rs 66 (33p) and charge Rs 30 (16p) per kilometre plus waiting time. A ten-minute ride west along Lotus Road will take you past several buildings from the island’s Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial periods. Once you have reached the seafront, head south and you will arrive at the historic Galle Face Green – this journey should cost no more than Rs 150 (82p).
Stretching for half a kilometre along the coastline, this urban park once played host to horse races and professional sports in the 19th century. Today these events have been relocated, but the seafront is still popular with families, tourists, kite flyers and street-food vendors. Walking south, you will see many of Colombo’s five-star hotels. The recently renovated Galle Face, more than 150 years old, lies ahead of you, the Taj Samudra to your left and the Kingsbury behind you.
3 - GANGARAMAYA TEMPLE
After reaching the southern end of the green, take a tuk-tuk five minutes south-east through Kollupitiya, a bustling shopping district. Located on Sri Jinarathana Road, next to Gangaramaya Park, you will find the Gangaramaya temple, Colombo’s most significant Buddhist site. Built more than 120 years ago, the complex boasts an impressive collection of statues displayed on tiered terraces and in high-ceilinged chambers. A standout attraction is a museum housing the “world’s smallest Buddha statue”, best viewed through the section of magnified glass built into its glass case. Visitors must have their shoulders and knees covered to enter. Open 5.30am-10pm; entry Rs 100 (55p). gangaramaya.com
4 - INDEPENDENCE MEMORIAL HALL
Drive ten minutes south past Viharamahadevi Park, through Cinnamon Gardens. One of Colombo’s most exclusive neighbourhoods, this district was home to more than 100 hectares of cinnamon plantations during the colonial period. Independence Memorial Hall can be found in Independence Square, and is a refreshing escape from the city’s stifling heat and crowds. The monument was erected between 1949 and 1953 on the exact spot Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, formed the island’s first parliament in 1948. Marking the end of the British Empire’s rule, the monument is a celebration of Sri Lanka’s rich heritage and political independence.
Start at the site’s north end, where a statue of Don Stephen Senanayake, Sri Lanka’s first prime minister, stands. The assembly hall that lies behind him incorporates architectural styles spanning the 13th century to the Victorian period, featuring sculptures and carvings inspired by the country’s Yapahuwa, Gampola and Kandyan kingdoms.
Once you have admired the 60 engraved stone columns supporting the monument, visit the basement museum, which exhibits artefacts relating to Sri Lanka’s struggle for freedom, as well as dedications to soldiers who died during the island’s civil war (1983-2009). Museum open Tues-Sat 9am-5pm; entry Rs 10 (5p).
5 - BAREFOOT CAFE
End by visiting Galle Road’s Barefoot Café, a ten-minute ride west along Bauddhaloka Mawatha. Set in a delightful courtyard garden on an otherwise busy street, it’s a popular spot for lunch and is famous among tourists and locals for its relaxed ambience and Sunday jazz. An array of fresh sandwiches, soups and curries are served – the black pork curry and Spanish quiche are highly recommended. Don’t leave without visiting the adjoining Barefoot Gallery shop, which sells hand-woven crafts and clothes that are perfect for gifts. Open Mon-Sat 10am-7pm; Sun 11am-6pm; 704 Galle Road; barefootceylon.com/cafe