Most people visiting Sri Lanka will arrive at Bandaranaike Airport and jump on the first bus to Kandy, without even seeing what the capital is all about. But Colombo is certainly worth a day of your itinerary (and 1 day really is enough).
It's hot, it's busy and it's loud, and if it's your first time here, it's a massive culture shock. But underneath all its faults, Colombo certainly has its own charm.
Pettah market is directly opposite the Colombo Fort Railway Station and caters to tourists as well as locals, from there (keep heading away from the train station) you can get to the Red Masjid. The most interesting building in Colombo. Photo below, need I say more.
Head towards Galle Face for your first glimpse of the Indian Ocean. It's a really nice place to take a break from the hustle and bustle, and escape the city centre heat and is a great place for a spot of people watching too. There were lots of stalls along the sea front selling ice cream, snacks etc., and there were lots of families.
The Seema Malaka temple is beautiful, located on its own island in the middle of a lake, we only got to see the outside because I was wearing shorts, but I really wish we could have seen the inside too.
At the time of writing, Colombo was one massive building site, there is so much development work happening, especially along the sea front, most of which will be fancy hotels. I would love to come back in 5 years and see the difference.
I'm sure there is already much more than this to see in Colombo, but we were majorly jet lagged and just wandered the streets most of the day and had a really early night.
Where To Eat:
Lunch – the Old Dutch Hospital has been converted into some modern restaurants which have good lunchtime deals, or if you fancy a walk, the Barefoot Cafe is really popular with tourists, but it's only open till 7pm.
Dinner – you will probably need to take a tuk-tuk depending where you are staying, but the all you can eat buffet at Raja Bojun is amazing. Its traditional Sri Lankan food and perfect if you want to try a little bit of everything. Couldn't recommend this place enough.
Where To Stay:
Our hotel was pretty grim, so won't be recommending a hotel in Colombo :)
Getting there from the Airport is so easy. Come out of the main building and cross over the zebra crossing. The No. 187 bus will be waiting for you. There's almost always one there and it tends to wait until the next one arrives before it leaves.
It costs Rs125/pp and you may need to buy a seat for your bag depending on its size. (Although we never had too.) Get straight on the bus and take a seat. The conductor will come around collecting money once the bus has left. Get off at the last stop which is Colombo main bus station. The conductor will tell you when. Also, the bus has A/C unlike most Sri Lankan buses.
There will be plenty of tuk-tuk drivers waiting to take you from the bus station to your hotel. Knowing roughly where it is and how far from the station it is will let you negotiate a fair price. See my "how to haggle" post for more tips.
Any questions about the bus let me know.