Colombo - A view from our expert author

Being simply an ancient maritime settlement that has burgeoned into a modern metropolis, this is a city free from pretension.

Not many world travellers would admit to Colombo being their favourite city, but it is mine, especially so as the authorities work hard to restore buildings and make the city greener and tidier. Facing the Indian Ocean and stretching 14km along Sri Lanka’s western shore, it has within its boundaries an astonishing variety of people, historical monuments, simple temples, gleaming hotels, trendy restaurants, glittering casinos, fascinating department stores, tree-lined boulevards, mysterious lanes, old and new markets, shopping malls, and even skyscrapers. It never disappoints, although on a hot, hectic day it is certainly tiring.

It is not a city of romance like Paris, or of ruthless commerce like Hong Kong, nor is it dedicated to progress like Singapore, or to fun like Bangkok. Colombo has no such pretensions, being simply an ancient maritime settlement that has burgeoned into a modern metropolis. The traffic is heavy in the day, thins out late evening, and then the streets seem eerily deserted at night. There are no central squares but the city has its areas of character: Fort and Pettah; Galle Face Green and the neon-lit gaming clubs of the Galle Road; and clusters of theme restaurants revitalising colonial houses.

In the 1920s it was known as the Garden City of the East and visitors stayed for weeks. Now it’s a city of traffic chaos and most visitors only pass through on their way to and from their beach resorts. It used to be bombs going off that threw the city into occasional confusion; now it’s the unexpected temporary closure of roads because a politician is on the move and wants priority for his motorcade. A rash of one-way streets has broken out too, often resulting in a long and frustrating detour wherever you are heading.

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