Colombo is the largest city in Sri Lanka being the commercial and financial center of the island and a destination for tourists from all over the world. It lies on the west coast of the island connected to the Greater Colombo area which includes Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia and Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, the legislative capital of Sri Lanka. Colombo has a population of around 5.6 million people according to the Brookings Institution.
As Colombo has a large harbor, it was known to Indian, Greek, Roman, Persian, Chinese, and Arabs dealers over 2,000 years ago. Ibn Battuta, who went to the island during the 14th century, alluded to it as Kalanpu describing it as “the finest and largest city in the Serendib.” Moreover, Arabs were greatly interested in trade and they started to settle in Colombo around the 8th century AD generally because the harbor made a huge difference to their trade by the way of controlling much of the trade movements between the Sinhalese kingdoms and the outside world.
The first referral to the harbor may be that of Faxian who is a Chinese traveler of the 5th century CE who alluded to the harbor as Gaolanbu. The Sinhalese used to call the harbor Kolamba while the Portuguese believed it was taken from the Sinhalese word for mango trees (kola, “leaves”; amba, “mango”). A more likely clarification is that ko Lamba was an ancient Sinhalese word meaning “port” or “ferry.” By the time, the harbor was developed by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British who have generally left their print on the island as well. Colombo became the capital of Sri Lanka when Sri Lanka was ceded to the British in 1815 and fell under the three rulers in succession; Portuguese, Dutch and British. However, it acts as the capital after Sri Lanka got its independence on the 4th of February 1948 and it is officially considered the country's commercial center in 1978 when the administrative office was moved to Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte.
Colombo is a busy and vibrant city with a combination of modern life and ancient historical colonial constructions and ruins that offer you variable experiences. It has the quiet magic of the historical era mixed with the liveliness of the modern city that makes it an ideal spot to start the Sri Lankan journey. Although Colombo has been affected by the different colonial periods, it kept its indigenous values and original beliefs. There are many festivals and celebrations held in Colombo and the most famous one is the Vesak festival when they celebrate the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha.
The climate in Colombo has the tropical monsoon features according to the Köppen climate classification that comes right after the tropical rainforest climate. The climate in Colombo is considerably moderate throughout the year reaching the highest temperature in March and April around 31 °C. Similar to the nearby countries, Colombo witnesses the change in its climate in the monsoon period when it receives heavy rains. This occurs starting from April to June and from September to November. The best time to visit Colombo is the dry season which starts in December/ January till March. This is the coolest time where you can come and visit Colombo and it is away from the high humidity levels which offer you an ideal visit in the country.
Things you can see and do in Colombo are various and countless. The city is a combination of modernity and tradition that made it a busy international gateway and an important religious center. Here are some of our suggestions that you can do while you're in Colombo:
National Museum of Colombo
Upon entering the place, you will find a huge stone Buddha greets you with a smile as you enter Sri Lanka’s premier cultural institution. The National Museum of Colombo offers you an experience to see the art collection of the cultural heritage of the emerald nation. It was built by Sir William Henry Gregory of Ceylon, the former British Governor. It showcases full galleries from the 18th century, rich with carvings, swords of the knights, unique masks of demons, and other works for the colonial era's artists. It is a must-see while you're in Colombo and it is located in Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo.
Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple
Gangaramaya Temple is one of the most important and the oldest temples in Colombo. It was the famous scholar-monk Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Nayaka Thera who started it in the late 19th century. It is located in the heart of Colombo near Beira Lake, making it a must-visit spot for each and every visitor of Sri Lanka. It includes the Vihara (monastery), Cetiya (pagoda), Vihara Mandiraya (which is full of colorful Buddha statues), the Bodhi Tree, Seema Malaka (assembly hall for monks) the Relic Chamber, as well as a library and a museum. When you reach the far end of the courtyard, you will find rows of elevating steps that lead to Buddha statues built on the Thai style and placed to greet the skyline. The famous feature of this temple is its museum. It includes statues of Hindu gods, Dutch coins, old watches, and most importantly, Buddha statues from all over the world. The place is open to everyone regardless of your religion; all you have to do is to cover up your legs and shoulders and respect the spirituality of that sacred place.
Viharamahadevi Park is the biggest park in Colombo and it is located in the area near other historical places like the Town Hall, the National Museum, and the Colombo Public Library. It goes back to the time of the British colony in the country and its first name was Queen Victoria Park. It hosts a spectacular display of green space and recreational environment. All people visiting Colombo find this park attractive and they are keen to spend time in such a clean, bright and cheerful ambiance. Enjoy the sunrise or the sunset in the park with the view of the lake that gives you an unexplainable experience.
Other Colombo’s important buildings include the Secretariat, the Clock Tower, the Town Hall, St. Lucia’s Cathedral, the Independence Square, and Galle Face, the University of Colombo (1921), the Wolvendahl Church, built by the Dutch in 1749, and several Buddhist and Hindu temples and the residences of the head of state and of the prime minister.