Our curated itinerary for spending the best 48 hours in Colombo

My maiden trip to Sri Lanka has convinced me I’m meant for the island life. And Colombo, I’m pleased to discover, has just that right combination of bustle and calm. The city is full of architectural gems, streets time has forgotten, restaurants serving the best of local and international cuisine, and designer boutiques that will test your financial restraint.

The country’s economy, which relies massively on tourism, has been hit following the tragic Easter attacks in Colombo in April this year. Now, a new campaign called Celebrate Colombo by Colombo Fashion Week and So Sri Lanka by Sri Lanka tourism board, hopes to attract travellers and make it clear that the country stands for love and peace. So, get away for a weekend, or make a pit-stop in Colombo before exploring the rest of the beautiful island.

From getting a Sri Lankan tourist visa to discovering local gems, here’s all you need to know before you visit:


The island country counts Indians as the biggest tourist demographic. As of August 2019, Sri Lanka has waived visa charges for Indians. All you need to do is fill out this form and make sure you take screenshots of the confirmation email on your phone.


The sea-facing rooms at the Taj Samudra are spacious, luxurious, and after experiencing the impeccable service offered by India’s best-known homegrown hospitality chain, it tops my list of stay reccos. The hotel is centrally located and is about fifteen minutes tops from the trendiest restaurants, shopping destinations and tourist attractions. You can also pick from Hilton, Shangri-La and one of Asia’s oldest hotels, Galle Face Hotel.


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Here’s your 48 hour itinerary for Colombo, Sri Lanka:

DAY 1:

Sightseeing Morning:

Exploring Colombo by yourself is fairly easy—most locals understand English, so language is not a problem. But if you prefer someone else sorting the logistics for you, go for Ceylon Soul, an eco-friendly experiential company run by a local entrepreneur who goes by SK.

Kick off your trip with a visit to the picturesque Independence Memorial Hall (in Cinnamon Gardens). Built from 1949-1953, the historic Memorial commemorates freedom from British rule. The architecture is inspired by Magul Maduwa, the royal court of the King of Kandy, the last kingdom on the island, while the 60 pillars in the Hall feature Embekke wood carvings from the 14th century Gampola kingdom. There’s a museum in the structure’s basement and a massive lush park adjoins the Hall.

Photograph: Getty Images

Next, head to Pettah, the colourful local bazaar and take in the sights and sounds of the city like a local. Stop by the old town hall, whose façade interestingly features the Star of David. Turns out, there was a thriving and rather prosperous Jewish community who married Tamilian locals, in the 16th Century.

Down the street is Jami Ul-Alfar, Colombo’s famed red mosque. Unlike most mosques you’d have seen, this 19th Century structure features stunning red and white stripes, meant to resemble a cut-open pomegranate. The mosque was commissioned by local Indian Muslims who required a place to offer their daily prayers and is built in the Indo-Saracenic style.


Run by French owners and helmed by a French chef, the cuisine at Café Français (in Park Street Mews) is as authentic as it gets. Be it hachis parmentier (minced beef and pork), steamed barramundi or ratatouille, the food will have you coming back for sure. Pair with your meal with a variety of fine wines.


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Stop by for some post-meal coffee and dessert at the ultra-cute Butter Boutique, located just down the street from Café Français. The Nutella roll, vanilla cheesecake and dark chocolate and salted caramel pastry are just absolutely divine.


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Spa Afternoon:

What’s a holiday without some pampering? Spend a lazy afternoon at the country’s most-known spa, Spa Ceylon, where the focus is on Ayurveda done the luxurious way. Sip on bubbly while getting a soothing hand and shoulder massage, or go for an elaborate massage sesh. The spa exclusively uses high quality, in-house products, which you can pick up on your way out.


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Evening Snack:

Before heading out for the evening, fuel up at Nippon Kafe, known for its iconic mutton rolls and delicious coffee. Vegetarians and vegans, the cafe’s jackfruit rolls are absolutely delicious. You can also pick from a variety of pastries, and sip on fresh fruit juices and teas.


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Evening at the Beach:

A short drive from the city centre lies the picturesque Mount Lavinia beach, popular among locals and tourists alike. Take a leisurely stroll along the beach and catch the sun set, or unwind with a book.


Experience the best of Italian cuisine at Il Ponte at the Hilton (in Mawatha). Indulge in some delightful prosciutto pizza, beef lasagne, seafood stew and pork sausage risotto. Vegetarians, pick from delicious mushroom risotto, spinach ravioli or margherita pizza.


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DAY 2:


A hidden gem, Black Cat Colombo (in the plush Colombo 7 neighbourhood) is hands-down the best place in the city to breakfast at. Spacious, sunny interiors, relaxed vibe and of course, delish food. Feast on sumptuous muesli and fresh fruit jars, Eggs Hemingway, avocado toast (what’s up, millennials), and Nutella banana pancakes, all made using fresh produce. Coffee-fiends, the cafe prides itself on its espresso (and rightly so). The cafe owners also run a cute 5-room bed-and-breakfast upstairs, and a taco and a burger place next door.

Black Cat Colombo is queer- and pet- friendly.


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 Sightseeing Morning:

Make your way to Sambodhi Chaithya stupa, a serene Buddhist temple located by the harbour. The 11-storey bell-shaped structure is the only temple in Sri Lanka where you can go inside the stupa, where Buddhist monks meditate. Built in 1956, the stupa depicts Buddha’s life and journey, along with modern Sri Lankan history in paintings. Entry to the temple is free and open to all.


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Next stop: The Galle Face Beach (opposite Galle Face Hotel), right in the heart of Colombo. From kids flying kites to vendors selling fresh seafood snacks, the promenade is popular among locals to take in a great view of the Indian Ocean.

Photograph: Getty Images


South East Asian street food and home-style cooking gets an upgrade at Monsoon. Located at the end of a colourful street in Park Street Mews, the restaurant used to be an old tea storage warehouse, and now features elegant decor. High on flavour (and spice), pick from a range of dishes such as Laksa curry noodle bowl, nasi lemak rice, pork rice and Sriracha chicken wings. Vegetarians can go for lontong sayur padang (West Sumatran vegetable stew) and dau hu sot ca (crispy tofu), while vegans can pick from phad Thai noodles and Goi Cuon Rolls (Vietnamese summer rolls).


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Shop the Afternoon Away:

Make sure you have ample space in your suitcase because Colombo’s boutiques are going to have you max out your credit cards. For some of the freshest swimsuits and resortwear from this year’s Colombo Fashion Week’s Swim and Luxury Resort Wear Week, head to The Design Collective Store on Stratford Avenue. Browse through the best of Sri Lankan and South Asian designers on display and you’re bound to end up with a new favourite clothing and jewellery label.


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Your next stop should be PR (at Horton Place), a multi-brand concept store helmed by designer Annika Fernando, which houses a stunning mix of contemporary creations, jewellery, accessories and natural bath products. Fernando’s own line, Maus, features delightful printed swimsuits with local Sri Lankan motifs and monotone resortwear in flow-y silhouettes.


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Unwind with a Sundowner:

All that shopping can be exhausting. Treat yourself to a sundowner at the fantastic Botanik Rooftop Bistro & Bar (opposite the Dutch Hospital precinct). Sip on a refreshing watermelon tequila cocktail or the signature jasmine and cinnamon cocktail, and nibble on delicious bar bites such as prawn toast, sliders and beetroot hummus as you watch the sun set against Colombo’s beautiful skyline. The tastefully done interiors—just the right blend of contemporary and rustic chic—and easygoing playlist come together to create the perfect ambiance to unwind.


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Pick between Jacqueline Fernandez’s restaurant Kaema Sutra (at Shangri-La Hotel, Galle Face) and the acclaimed Ministry of Crab (at Dutch Hospital) helmed by Chef Darshan Munidasa, both known for its seafood. At Kaema Sutra, gorge on signature crab curry and black pepper pork spare rib curry, while at Ministry of Crab, the fiery Pepper Crab and the succulent Baked Crab are the stars of the restaurant.


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