Welcome to Colombo

Although reclaiming its 19th-century moniker 'the garden city of the East' is unlikely, Colombo is rapidly emerging as a must-see stop in Sri Lanka. No longer just the sprawling city you have to endure on your way to the southern beaches, it has become a worthy destination in its own right.

The legacies of colonial Colombo's garden roots are still very much intact along its often shady boulevards. Fort is in the midst of widespread historic restoration of its landmark colonial architecture, while Pettah brims with markets and rampant commerce. Even traffic-clogged Galle Rd is getting spiffier with glossy new hotel complexes, while the seafront benefits from new roads that are spurring hotel construction.

Colombo’s cosmopolitan side supports ever-more stylish eateries, galleries and museums. Surprises abound in its old quarters where you can find great local food and discover a characterful shop or tiny, convivial cafe. The capital is an excellent start – or finish – to your Sri Lankan adventures.

National Museum : A large 9th-century stone Buddha greets you with an enigmatic smile as you enter Sri Lanka's premier cultural institution. In galleries dating back as far as 1877, you'll encounter all manner of art, carvings and statuary from Sri Lanka's ancient past, as well as swords, guns and other paraphernalia from the colonial period. There are fascinating 19th-century reproductions of English paintings of Sri Lanka, and an excellent collection of antique demon masks.

Old City Hall : Dating to 1865, this municipal building from the British era is mostly empty today, save for some old trucks and municipal equipment on display in the ground-floor galleries. But let the attendants lead you up the vintage mahogany stairs (tip them Rs 100) and you'll discover something of a waxworks in the old council chambers. There, covered in dust, are replicas of the town's first councillors in 1906.It's slightly comic and ghoulish, especially given the green glow from the stained glass.

Dutch Period Museum : This unique museum was originally the 17th-century residence of the Dutch governor and has since been used as a Catholic seminary, a military hospital, a police station and a post office. The mansion contains a lovely garden courtyard and has a nice faded feel since a 1977 restoration. Exhibits include Dutch colonial furniture and other artefacts.It's here in 1638 that King Rajasinghe II of the Kingdom of Kandy signed the treaty that opened up Ceylon to the Dutch.

Viharamahadevi Park : Colombo's biggest park was originally called Victoria Park but was renamed in the 1950s after the mother of King Dutugemunu. It's notable for its superb flowering trees, which bloom in March, April and early May. Elephants used for ceremonies sometimes spend the night in the park, chomping on palm branches. It has been given a major sprucing up and now boasts new benches (often occupied with caressing couples),walkways,landscaping and playgrounds.
Galle Face Green : Immediately south of Fort is Galle Face Green, a long stretch of lawn facing the sea. It was originally cleared by the Dutch to give the cannons of Fort a clear line of fire. Today its broad lawns are a popular rendezvous spot; on weekdays it's dotted with joggers, kite flyers and walkers, and on weekends (especially Sunday evenings) food vendors gather to feed the hordes......
Old Dutch Hospital : Centrepiece of the ever-more vibrant Fort, this colonial-era complex dates back to the early 1600s. Lavishly restored, it is home to shops, cafes and restaurants run by some of Colombo's best operators. Enjoy a pause for a cold drink amid the incredibly thick columns of its arcades. An annex has now opened in a 19th-century British building on the backside that faces Chatham St....

Wolvendaal Church : Europeans mistook the packs of roaming jackals for wolves, and the area became known as Wolf's Dale, or Wolvendaal in Dutch. The church is in the form of a Greek cross, with walls 1.5m thick, but the real treasure is its Dutch furniture. The Dutch governors had a special pew made with elegant carved ebony chairs, and the workmanship in the wooden pulpit, baptismal font and lectern is just as ..

St Anthony's Church : One of the city's most interesting shrines is St Anthony's Church. Outside it looks like a typical Portuguese Catholic church, but inside the atmosphere is distinctly subcontinental. There are queues of devotees offering puja (offerings or prayers) to a dozen ornate statues; a statue of St Anthony said to be endowed with miraculous qualities is the centre of devotions from people of many faiths...
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