As one of Asia’s hottest new luxury travel destinations, Sri Lanka’s capital is brimming with trendy bars, upscale restaurants, chic boutiques and charming colonial heritage.
Colombo’s food scene boasts of some impressive eateries, tucked away discreetly in different corners of the city. Sri Lankan celebrity chef Dharshan Munidhasa’s award-winning Japanese restaurant Nihonbashi serves the country’s best Japanese fare — and, as critics say, some of the finest tuna sashimi in the world, sourced directly from the Negombo port. At the other end of town, it’s hard to get a table at Munidhasa’s second restaurant, Ministry of Crab, where the chef aims to “bring the ubiquitous Sri Lankan crab back home, after being popularised everywhere else.” If you’re looking for authentic Sri Lankan favourites, a casual meal at Upali’s Colombo is a must-do — their curries, hoppers and string hoppers will make it worth the visit.
Take an evening walk along the green oceanfront stretch that is the Galle Face Green — there isn’t a more quintessentially “Colombo” thing to do. Every evening, people pour out of their homes and offices and come here to watch the sunset, fly a kite or play a game of cricket. If you’re a street-food buff, this is the place for you — every evening, the promenade is abuzz with local vendors selling everything from fried prawns, kothu roti and raw mango to vadai and fried fish, with downtown Colombo’s skyscrapers looming in the background.
Colombo abounds with tiny, quaint, family-run boutique accommodation options. Entrepreneur and hotelier Nayantara “Taru” Fonseka’s vision to create a gorgeous Sri Lankan accommodation, in her family property of four decades, is realised in Lake Lodge. Tucked away discreetly in a leafy lane, Lake Lodge is a boutique property with 13 rooms, designed in a minimalist, muted aesthetic. The rooms adopt a contemporary approach to design, while remaining true to the heritage of the building. If you’re in the mood to splurge, check into the Garden Suite, where you can enjoy a private terrace all to yourself.
Afternoon tea is taken seriously in Sri Lanka. The city’s most historic address, The Galle Face Hotel, hosts a breathtaking and highly ceremonious high-tea every evening on its sea-facing verandah. Spend a few hours here soaking up the surroundings, over endless cups of Ceylon tea and lots of decadent teatime snacks. At sunset, on the sea wall, the hotel’s resident bagpiper plays on as the national flag is lowered, folded and ceremoniously taken away — a daily ritual that dates back over a century.
Tapas and cocktails are best enjoyed on 41 Sugar’s gorgeous terrace, overlooking the rooftops of Colombo.
If you want to hang out with the city’s trendy set, head on over to 41 Sugar, a rooftop bar, which enjoys pride of place on the premises of the historic Gymkhana Club. Restaurateur and entrepreneur Gehan Fernando’s chic space boasts slick interiors, juxtaposed with the 150-year-old club. Tapas and cocktails are best enjoyed on 41 Sugar’s gorgeous terrace, overlooking the rooftops of Colombo. The city’s wine drinkers flock to the Sugar Bistro and Wine Bar, a short drive away, known for its impressive international wine list and champagnes.
Considered to be the hottest address in Colombo for fashion lovers, PR is the city’s premier multi-brand boutique. Located in the trendy Horton Place neighbourhood, founder Annika Fernando has curated an eclectic mix of designers, and the boutique stocks clothing, jewellery and accessories for men and women from names like Sonaali Dharmawardene, Arugam Bay, U by Upeksha, Abraham and Thakore, Rajesh Pratap Singh and Lois London. Fernando’s minimalist in-house label Maus is not to be missed. Hop across to the adjoining Saskia Fernando Gallery, owned by Fernando’s sister.
The Dutch Hospital was, as its name suggests, a hospital built in the 17th century. Today, it has been transformed into the city’s trendiest address to eat and shop, and in many ways symbolises Sri Lanka’s renaissance and emergence as a new-age luxury tourist destination. Every evening, people flock here to enjoy its many bars or eat at Ministry of Crab. If you’re a spa junkie, indulge yourself with a treatment at the massive Spa Ceylon outlet that is in the hospital. Check out the string of boutiques and souvenir stores housed within the complex.
Run by the first family of Sri Lankan design, Paradise Road is an iconic store, part of the three-decade old vision of founder Udayshanth Fernando. The design store, housed in a colonial villa, stocks everything from home décor, linen, gourmet food items and artisanal bric-a-brac to curios, objets d’art and clothes. Paradise Road has successfully established the modern Sri Lankan design aesthetic, with its clean lines, monotones, black and white palettes and pastels. Today, its signature black and white stripes and crockery sets, lined with the Sinhala and Tamil alphabet, have become synonymous with the city. Don’t forget to stop for a cup of tea at the blink-and-you-will-missit tea room, in a corner of the store. If you’re in the mood for an evening walk, the neighbourhood around Cinnamon Gardens and Viharamahadevi Park is extremely picturesque. The park lends itself perfectly to a stroll, and there is an area at one corner dedicated to street art. Stop at the nearby Upali’s for evening snacks, and make your way along the leafy avenues towards the Independence Square monument. Across the street, the Independence Arcade complex, a former mental asylum converted into a lifestyle precinct, houses tons of trendy boutiques, restaurants and a tea room by Dilmah.
The neighbourhood around Cinnamon Gardens and Viharamahadevi Park is extremely picturesque.
If you fancy a bit of an adventure, locals will recommend the charming but incredibly chaotic Pettah Market area. No glamour here as you elbow your way through massive crowds shopping for spices, fabrics, wholesale items, kitchen items, vegetables and fruit. This is a great place to buy non-touristy, local items to offer as souvenirs. In case you’re looking for traditional Sri Lankan batik fabrics, Pettah Market is your best bet.