Colombo City Attractions
A blend of East & West, past & present
The commercial capital of Sri Lanka,
Colombo is the only gateway to the resplendent tropical island. Colombo, a
fascinating city, a blend of East & West as well as a cozy mixture of past &
present, is dotted with numerous interesting and important tourist attractions
including colonial era buildings.
Travelers who make time in their beach vacation for
a visit to the capital, can keep busy touring Buddhist centres, pretty parks,
and fascinating museums
Seema Malaka Island Temple
This temple, floating on the middle of Beira Lake, is one of Sri Lanka's more
unusal temples. After the original 19th century version slowly sunk into the
water, Sri Lanka's most famous architect Geoffrey Bawa was commissioned to
redesign it in 1979. Whereas most Buddhist temples in the country follow strict
traditional design this one deliberately set out to be different and unique.
In keeping with the idea of the unusual, much of the financing for the temple
was actually given by a local Muslim who had been upset by his local community
and decided to get them back by funding a new Buddhist temple instead of a
The buildings are connected to each other and the mainland by narrow walkways
lined with Buddha statues donated from Thailand. Inside the buildings are
statues of four Hindu gods. It doesn't have the glaring gold and sensory
overload of many other temples, but its more simplistic approach, together with
some beautiful sculptures and paintings, is in many ways actually more peaceful,
especially being in the middle of the lake.
How to get there: Walk through the Crescat City complex and exit the complex
through the back entrance that faces the Beira Lake. The Seema Malaka island
temple is at the far end of the lake and is a leisurely 5 minute walk.
Dutch Hospital Shopping Arcades
Built across from the World Trade Center, itís a beautiful courtyard and
cobblestone space. The hospital was built during the rule of the Dutch from 1656
to 1796. It catered to medical requirements of the staff of Dutch East India
Company during the colonial era. The former hospital was built close to the
harbour as it was convenient to transport patients from ships.
During the renovation process in 2011, special attention was paid not to
change the original structure though it was modernized with the
The shopping precinct which consists of 12 stalls includes food (Ministry of
Crab, Harpoís Italian, Hilton, Heladiv Tea), shopping (ODEL, Barefoot, Colombo
Jewellery) and a pub and spa
How to get there: Out of The Emperor, turn right and walk 400m.
Vesak - Festival of Lights
Vesak is the Fesitval of Lights commemorating the birth, enlightenment and
passing on of Buddha.
Starting at dawn, Buddhists dressed in white start to make their way to the
temple to observe sil , in which they spend the day meditating, reading
religious texts, and listening to sermons. At night the temples are crowded with
devotees bringing flowers and offerings. Nevertheless, Vesak is a joyous
occasion and is celebrated with verve and imagination.
Among the many striking decorations are intricate Vesak paper lanterns of
different shapes and sizes, and the thousands of little clay coconut oil lamps
that flicker throughout the island.
In Colombo the celebrations are unsurpassed. Enormous pandals (bamboo
frameworks) hung with pictures depicting events in the life of the Buddha are
erected in the streets, illuminated by a myriad of flashing coloured electric
light bulbs. Another special feature of Vesak are the danselas (alms booths).
These are temporary sheds, set up by the roadside with tables and chairs by
local people, at which food and refreshment are given free to sightseers and
pilgrims. In addition, puppet shows and open-air theatre performances telling
Buddhist tales are held throughout the city.
The lanterns and pandals are lit up for about a week after the full moon day in
the month of
and the most colourfully lit area in Colombo happens to be around the Beira lake
where you can take a walk and enjoy the local atmosphere of families enjoying
the displays and the lights.
The Gangaramaya Vihara is probably Colombo's most famous Buddhist temple, tucked
away next to Beira Lake. It's a wonderfully peaceful place, built in the 19th
century, and overwhelmed with the smell of burning incense. It's beautifully
decorated with stone carvings, brass work and colourful Buddhist paintings.
There's a resident elephant in the grounds.
There's also a fascinating museum, which has the feeling of walking into one of
those old antique curiosity shops, with all kinds of artefacts piled to the
ceiling and hidden away in corners, seemingly in no order whatsoever. The monks
are very friendly and used to tourists and will gladly show you around. If the
museum is locked just ask and it'll be opened up. Meditation classes are also
held here and it's a favourite spot of foreigners wanting to become Buddhists or
at least learn more about it.
In the grounds is a sacred Bodhi tree, grown from a sapling taken from the most
sacred Bodhi tree of all, the Sri Maha in Anuradhapura. This tree is now over a
century old itself.
the temple organises the annual Nawam Perahera on full moon day. It is a
religious procession involving thousands of dancers and drummers and monks from
around the country and about 50 decorated elephants. It certainly livens up
Beira Lake once a year and a stay at our Emperor apartment guarantees a birds
eye view of the pageant from
within the apartment. Alternatively just walk to
the road behind the Emperor and watch this very special and unique pageant pass
by the complex.
How to get there: Walk through the Crescat City complex and exit the complex
through the back entrance that faces the Beira Lake. The Gangaramaya temple
along the Sri Jinaratana Road at the far end of the lake opposite, and is a
leisurely 10 minute walk.
Galle Face Esplanade
Galle Face Green Esplanade,
immediately North of our Emperor residencies, is a long, narrow park. A channel of
the Beira Lake separates the park from Slave Island (Kaffir Veldt),
actually a peninsula where the Dutch held the African slaves (Kaffirs) brought
to Ceylon by the Portuguese in 1630.
The promenade was initially laid out in 1859 by the British Governor of Ceylon,
Sir Henry Ward, and was also used for horse racing and as a golf course,
although the original Galle Face Green extended over a much larger area than is
The Galle Face Green is the city's most elegant promenade. Lined with palm trees
& next to the coast. Much like a tropical version of Hollywood Boulevard, this
mile long stretch in the heart of the city is a beehive of seekers of leisure.
Numerous small food stalls providing refreshments and the green brightens up in the
evenings, hosting families & children playing sports & flying kites.
In the early mornings, the green offers a perfect
venue for walkers and joggers along the paved walkway along the edge of the sea
and regular walkers are a common site.
The green frequently hosts
numerous international & local concerts & performances, such as the World Drum Festival,
Red Bull X-fighters Jams and the Colombo Spice Festival.
Cannons used during Colonial war times still
decorates the Greens. The famous colonial styled Galle Face hotel, is next to the Greens.
How to get there: Out of The Emperor, turn right and walk 200m.
Galle Face Hotel
World famous, Galle Face hotel, the oldest hotel east of Suez, built in 1864
with its oriental charm & spaciousness attracted dignitaries from all over the
Among its guests, the hotel boasts of the rich and famous who
patronized it in a bygone era including Lawrence Olivier, Gregory Peck, Noel
Coward, Prince Philip, Richard Nixon, Jawaharlal Neru, Emperor
Hirohito, Don Bradman and Roger Moore. First man in space Yuri Gagarin also
stayed here as did 3 men who walked or flew to the moon - Charles Conrad,
Richard Gordon & Alan Bean. Ironically the world's most famous space fiction
writer Arthur C Clarke completed his final novel 3001, living at the hotel.
These days it is
still an experience to dine here, or experience a typical English high tea on
its Veranda facing the sea and enjoy the dramatic Indian Ocean sunset with a
cocktail... We recommend you do this at least once during your stay with us -
better experienced than described here.
How to get there: Out of The Emperor, turn right, walk 100m and the Galle
Face Hotel is across the road.
the nineteenth century Colombo port acquired the sobriquet the "Charing Cross of
the East" thanks to its location at the crossroads of Indian Ocean trade.
Colombo has one of the world's largest man-made harbours. Most of Sri Lanka's
foreign trade passes through the port equipped with modern facilities for
The Harbour Room restaurant bar on the 4th floor of the Grand Oriental Hotel
opposite the entrance to the old port affords marvellous views of the seaport.
In 1890 an unknown Russian writer checked into the hotel. Anton Chekhov rose to
fame following his tour of the Island. Your visit would provide you with ample
material to sit tight & write for years. We would recommend a visit here for
lunch or dinner for a relaxed meal watching the ships move in and out of the
harbour and the giant cranes at work.
How to get there: Either walk to the Fort along the Galle Road passing the
Galle Face green, towards the old lighthouse. Pass the World Trade Centre twin
towers and turn left towards the Cargills building and proceed to the GOH
towards the very end of York Street. (30 minutes walking) Or take a 5 minute