Colombo Sri Lanka’s unsung capital, offers spectacular value and is among the most compact and easily-explored capital cities in Asia.
Photo Credit: Dhanush de Costa
Colombo offers a wide range of accommodation options from the five-star city hotels expected in an Asian capital to a clutch of interesting boutique hotels. There are mid-range city hotels, too, although the great value of the top-end hotels makes it hard for them to compete. There is a shortage of quality guesthouse accommodation in the centre of town. On the outskirts of the centre a couple of villas make a welcome change from standard hotels. The best city hotel is arguably Cinnamon Grand, reinvigorated by the John Keells Group. Their selection of restaurants is unrivalled. Trans Asia and the Hilton trail only marginally behind. Ceylon Continental, a friendly if more limited five-star on the seafront, offers outstanding value. The Galle Face Hotel, which now has a boutique-wing called The Regency, is the favourite for those wanting some colonial charm and a seaside location. Consider Colombo City Hotel as a simple, modern budget choice. If you are after a beach, though, Mount Lavinia Hotel is the only option. The boutique selection includes the stylish Tintagel, opened in 2008, Park Street Hotel run by the acclaimed Taru Villas Group and the eclectic CASA Colombo. For those looking for a villa ambience on the edge of town, choose form Havelock Place Bungalow, Villa Talangama and Java Moon. Mount Lavinia also offers two appealing houses: Mount Lavinia House and Mount Lodge.
Food is a highlight of Colombo, much more so than you might imagine. You won’t go hungry here with its wide selection of small restaurants serving local hawker-style favourites like meat patties, fish buns, egg rolls, string hoppers, lamprais, kothu roti and biryani. All the local restaurants are extremely cheap. There is also a wide variety of fast food outlets, including McDonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC. Colombo is the best place in the island for Indian cuisine and the following are recommended: Agra, Mango Tree and Navaratna. For those looking for fusion or European-style food, there are some very special treats. For the quality of its food, especially its meats, Chesa Suisse, a Swiss restaurant, is outstanding. The most popular dining-out experience is at the Paradise Road Gallery Cafe, the restaurant with the most seductive ambience in the island. The owner of the Gallery Cafe, Shan Fernando, has also now opened Tintagel, a private hotel and restaurant that offers a more refined menu. For a more informal open-air dining experience, the Barefoot Cafe, managed by colourful celebrity chef Kollu, is popular and often has live jazz. The best seafood restaurant in the town is Lagoon at the Cinnamon Grand. The best Thai restaurant is the Royal Thai at Trans Asia. There is a huge selection of Chinese restaurants but we recommend two: No. 168 off the Galle Road, which is an authentic no-frills restaurant popular with the local Chinese community, and the Emperors Wok at the Hilton. If you are searching for authentic Sri Lankan food then choose from the Palmyrah Restaurant at Renuka Hotel, the Peninsula in Rajaigiriya suburbs, Hilton’s Curry Leaf and the iconic Green Cabin Restaurant on Galle Road. Colombo by night can be fun with a scattering of pubs and nighclubs that come alive especially on Friday and Saturday nights and features live bands or DJ music. H20, D’s, and Zetter are more popular with the younger lot. Bistro Latino, Rhythm & Blues, The Library at Trans Asia and Sugar located on top of H2O appeal to a more mature crowd. Characterful pubs include the Breeze Bar and Cheers Pub at Cinnamon Grand, Cricket Club Café, and Inn on the Green nearby Galle Face in Colombo 1.