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Things to Do in Colombo

A valuable port on the East-West trading route for more than 2,000 years, Colombo has existed as a city with a history of changing fortunes. Sri Lanka's rule by three successive foreign empires, followed by decades of devastating civil war, left indelible marks on its landscapes and people. But today, peace reigns supreme, and the country's vibrant, multicultural capital is coming into its own as a destination for travelers. Sleek high-rises and luxury hotels line Colombo's leafy boulevards, alongside ancient temples, mosques, and colonial landmarks. History tours cover key sights such as the Colombo National Museum, Independence Square, and the Gangaramaya (Vihara) Buddhist Temple. Join the locals for an evening stroll along Galle Face Green; or consider a guided tasting tour of the city's culinary scene, from traditional Sinhalese and Tamil dishes to innovative world-fusion cuisine. While it's an easy place to relax, Colombo is also the perfect hub for venturing to the island's many UNESCO World Heritage sites. A guided tour will help you cover a lot of ground in a short time: Kandy's Sri Dalada Maligawa ("Temple of the Sacred Tooth"); the massive rock-fortress of Sigiriya, decorated with colorful frescoes for a fifth-century king; the cave temple of Dambulla; and the lost city of Polonnaruwa—just to name a few highlights. Nature-lovers can explore the wild with a boat trip around Negombo Lagoon and the Muthurajawela Wetlands. Or, book a private safari in Yala National Park, home to leopards, elephants, crocodiles, sloth bears, and other wildlife.
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Gangaramaya Temple
214 Tours and Activities

This stunning temple located in the heart of Colombo is one of the city’s most iconic religious structures. Travelers who venture to this top attraction will find colorful history, distinct architecture and deep religious roots. Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple borrows elements from Thai, Indian, Chinese and Sri Lankan architecture. Visitors who wander the grounds—either solo or with a guide—will find elements that are distinctive of each unique tradition throughout. The structure is situated near Beira Lake and is home to a temple, pagoda, assembly hall for monks, museum, library, residential hall and several other key structures. But travelers say it’s the rows of praying Buddhas and quiet reflecting pools and elaborate interiors that make Gangaramaya worth a visit.

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Galle Face Green
144 Tours and Activities

This ocean-side urban park with coastal views once served as a straight shot for firing cannons against the Portuguese. But today, it is a Mecca for travelers in search of fresh air, local sports and Sri Lankan history. That’s because this popular attraction is home to a now defunct horse track, golf course, rugby and cricket fields.

Travelers can venture to the old horse track, which is now the Crystal Ballroom of the Taj Samudra Hotel and see where the local elite once placed their bets. And while the colonial golf course, which was built in 1879, has since moved to Borella, it’s still possible to see remnants of the once popular club. While the former athletics facilities have either been shut down or moved, this vast open space still attracts plenty of folks thanks to ideal kite flying conditions, perfect picnic areas, imposing hotels and picturesque views.

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Colombo National Museum
177 Tours and Activities

Some of the galleries in this stunning white museum date as far back as the late 1800s, and as a result travelers who pass through what is undoubtedly the nation’s top cultural attraction may feel like they are actually traveling back in time.

Visitors will find iconic art, ancient history and deeply rooted traditions just beyond the stone Buddha that sits at the entry of Colombo National Museum. Whether it’s well-preserved swords, ornate masks or hand-carved furniture, Sri Lanka’s largest museum exhibits some of the most striking pieces of both its past and present.

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Independence Square
86 Tours and Activities

Colombo’s Independence Square is a top attraction for travelers looking for a taste of local life. That’s because this picturesque square is a gathering place for residents and visitors alike. With plenty of green, open space, historical buildings and quiet cafes, Independence Square is the ideal spot to spend a relaxing evening in Colombo.

Visitors can wander the newly added Arcade, which showcases some of the city’s best local handicrafts and designer goods, or take an up-close look at the monument dedicated to the very first prime minister. Visitors to Independence Square will find locals taking a stroll, jogging on pristine paths or riding bikes over well-paved roads most any time of day.

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