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A travel guide for visiting Colombo

Colombo, the roaring city and executive Capital of Sri Lanka. The construction of skyscrapers across the City tells you everything you need to know about the future of this City. Although we found there were not many famous must-see sights, the splendid religious buildings, picturesque parks and gardens and charming colonial buildings acted as a great introduction to Sri Lanka.

Our trip direction was changed when we learnt that you could not extend your 30 day double entry visa online due to the current Covid regulations. This meant that we had to stay in Colombo to visit the Department of Immigration and Emigration on a Monday – Friday. Of course, we arrived on a Saturday! If you’re thinking of extending your Visa you can read all about it in a blog coming soon!!

How to get to Colombo from Bandaranaike International Airport

We arrived in Bandaranaike International Airport early morning at 08:30ish and it was already very busy outside arrivals.

The first thing we recommend is downloading the local taxi apps Pick Me and UBER. You will receive way better prices to get to Colombo rather than taking an immediate taxi outside the arrivals terminal. Although taxis are only around 20USD outside the terminal we picked a tuk tuk and paid with a tip in total, 1500LKR which is around €6.50/£5.60 (2021) undeniably cheap.

The tuk tuk did take around 90 minutes, more than a taxi would take, but for a 37km journey for 1500LKR there were no complaints. If it’s your first time in South East Asia, then we recommend riding in a tuk tuk for the authentic experience. We would choose tuk tuk every time over a taxi. If you don’t know what a tuk tuk is, imagine an upgraded tricycle with an engine.

How long to stay in Colombo?

This is a difficult question to answer as it’s down to your preference. We stayed 2 nights and we found this enough purely because we prefer to visit smaller towns as opposed to humungous cities. It is great to experience but 2 nights was enough.

Things to do in Colombo

Call us lazy, but we walked outside the hotel to take some photographs of the nearby train tracks and were approached by a tuk tuk driver local to our hotel. He was very nice and didn’t feel as pushy as many we have experienced in the past. He offered us a city tour of the hotspots around Colombo City and also took us to the train station and helped us buy our train ticket South to Galle for the next day.

As everything else is super cheap 20USD seemed a little on the steep side in comparison to local prices. You have to remind yourself at times how much things actually are and make decisions based on that. We thought the excursion/tour was worth the price! We were out on the road for around 2 hours 30 minutes and learned some interesting facts about certain places.

These are the places we visited on our tour:

1) Galle Face Green

2) Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque (nicknamed the red and white mosque) – A must see!

3) Colombo Lotus Tower – 350m in height making it the 11th tallest tower in Asia and 19th tallest tower in the world (2021)

4) Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Temple – Our personal favourite temple in Colombo. It’s architecture is masterful!

5) Gangaramaya Temple

6) Seema Malakaya Temple

7) Independence Square – Built to commemorate the significant event of Sri Lanka gaining independence from the British Empire in 1948.

8) Viharamahadevi Park – A beautiful park to unwind, enjoy an ice cream and take some photos of the surrounding gardens.

9) Colombo Fort Railway Station (purely to get our train ticket to Galle)

10) Gem Museum (this is where the tour ends to try and persuade you to buy a gem stone. Just be polite, decline and leave if it’s not to your liking. It can feel slightly intimidating but just remain polite and move on.)

To read about each individual attraction and our verdict check out our blog Best things to do in Colombo – coming soon!

Places to stay in Colombo

It’s important to remember that Colombo is an enormous city and has a population total of over 5.6 million people. Colombo District is divided into 13 separate divisions, one being Colombo itself which we found a little confusing. Our recommendation is to stay in Colombo on the Western coast of Sri Lanka, a perfect hub to the main tourist spots and not far from Battaramulla if you need that extension Visa! We chose to stay at Marino Beach Hotel and absolutely loved our time spent there. It is different travelling as a couple compared to travelling solo and therefore booking accommodation and prices change accordingly. We will be putting together a list of the best accommodations in Colombo for couples, luxury and solo travellers soon!

Interesting Facts:

1) Colombo has one of the largest artificial harbours in the world and handles the majority of Sri Lanka’s foreign trade.

2) Colombo District accounts for approximately one quarter of the entire population of Sri Lanka.

Where to go next from Colombo

Colombo acts as a hub to travel to all of the main places in Sri Lanka. We chose to go South to Galle purely based on having to stay in Colombo for the extension Visa.

Travelling by Train

There is a main train station, FORT station where you can buy tickets for lots of different destinations. In November 2021 we paid 1200LKR which is €5.25 or £4.50 for 2 x tickets to Galle with reserved, air-conditioned carriage, first class reclinable seating. 1200LKR to travel approximately 140km on a 2 – 2.5 hour train journey is unreal and what a view we had on our journey along the coast.

One of us had the great idea of arriving 3 hours early to the train station instead of relaxing by the hotel pool. Can you guess which one of us it was? DO NOT arrive 3 hours early like we did because there is bugger all to do, the seating is not comfortable and we felt slightly on edge especially when carrying all of our luggage.

Travelling by Bus to Galle

You can also opt to travel by bus. You can choose a scenic bus (3 hours) or an express bus (2 hours) which travels on the roads inland. Fares start at 170LKR (€0.75/£0.65).

Travelling by Taxi or Private Car

If you don’t fancy trying out the public transport, although we recommend you do, you can travel by taxi or car to your next destination. If you’re travelling to Negombo, then yes we agree this is the best way to do so, but if travelling further then really think about whether the expense is worth it. Depending on when you travel it could cost 10,000LKR (€43.75/£37.50) to travel from Colombo to Galle.

On that note check out why you should visit Galle Fort the perfect mix where travellers meet the cultural influences of the Portuguese, Dutch, English and Sri Lankan locals intertwined inside the Fort walls alongside the coast. Follow here to find out what you can see inside the walls of Galle Fort!

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