Colombo may not sound like a family destination but if you are going to Sri Lanka – which you really should, as soon as possible – do give the capital a chance. We spent a few days and while we didn’t enjoy the sticky traffic, we did love the bustle of this lively city and the historical buildings.
Galle Face Green
My absolute favourite part of our days in Colombo were the evenings on Galle Face Green: people-watching at its best with a gorgeous sunset over the ocean.
Kids fly kites and blow bubbles on the green, and the numerous stalls on the seaside walk sell all sorts of local delicacies – that we unfortunately didn’t dare to taste with my youngest recovering from one of those projectile-vomit-in-the-5star-lobby type of travel bugs. Anyhow, the Green really is a magical spot!
The National Museum, located in a beautiful colonial building has some interesting items on display, like weapons, ancient stone carvings and royal outfits. The kids enjoyed the life-like exhibitions of the life in the olden days and agricultural practices, but many of the displays are poorly marked. The museum was being renovated and many of the halls were closed to the public, so there was not that much to see. There is no A/C and it was pretty warm inside. At the rear of the museum, there is an air-conditioned coffee shop with a government-run Laksala souvenir shop, a good place to stop for a cool-down and a coffee. Across the road is the large Viharamahadevi Park (with a playground) for those in need of letting off steam.
Gangaramaya Temple is a fascinating temple/museum with a huge collection of stuff from all over the world (vaguely) related to Buddhism. Most things have no labels on though, but it’s fun to admire nevertheless. The rows of Buddha statues are beautiful and it’s a good place to spot the symbolism of how Buddha’s hands are positioned – something we learned from the fantastic kids’ travel guide Leap&Hop. Seema Malaka Temple, a few hundred metres walk away on a platform over the Beira lake is included in the same ticket.
The Fort is where the most magnificent colonial buildings are. The roads are fairly quiet if you want to do an evening stroll around the area. You can’t get into most of the buildings, except for the lighthouse, so the area can also be easily seen from a tuk-tuk. Like in Galle, the Dutch Hospital has been renovated into a shopping and dining complex, with easy options for meals.
We didn’t take the kids to Pettah, but there is no reason why you shouldn’t. It does get very crowded, so it’s probably most enjoyable with kids old enough to walk on their own two feet. What’s on offer is not that different from what can be found in KL’s Chinatown and Little India but it is a fascinating place with some interesting historical buildings and a possibility to buy local clothing at attractive prices. The big wet market is also supposed to be interesting, but we didn’t make it there this time.
Restaurants in Colombo
Thanks to one of us being down with the Bug we didn’t adventure with street food or other more local fare while in Colombo. We did, however, have some lovely meals of the “expat kind” and can recommend the following places:
MILK & Honey Café is a cute little garden café in the back of a kids’ bookstore cum toy shop. Lots of healthy and vegetarian options.
Paradise Road Gallery Café is part of the Paradise Road group, that seems to be getting everything right: beautiful products for homes, restaurants, cafés, galleries and a hotel. Note that there are different Paradise Road outlets across the city so that you don’t struggle to get across the evening rush hour only to arrive at the “wrong” branch – like we did. The Gallery Café has lovely food and a bit more upmarket feel to it, whereas the Paradise Road Café is on top of the main shop, truly a paradise for anyone looking for some stylish souvenirs. Cakes are good in both outlets and they have a kids’ menu.
Barefoot Garden Café caters mostly to tourists visiting the shop, famous for its colourful textiles.
Where to stay: Galle Face Green Hotel
Colonial hotels in Asia beat the flashy modern hotels any day, and we couldn’t resist splurging for a few nights at the stylish Galle Face Green Hotel. While it doesn’t have kids’ club or chocolate fountains, we had a room big enough to do an aerobics class in (but view of the next building’s wall) and the pool, croquet (of course) and ever-friendly staff made for a lovely stay next door to the bustling Galle Green Face.
Tuk-tuks are readily available outside, and although you pay a premium, “we make sure you get to your destination quickly and safely” as our regular friendly driver put it when we commented on his fees. The hotel was helpful in getting a doctor to visit the little patient and the room service supplied a steady stream of rice and curd – an unbeatable “Delhi belly diet” familiar from our traveling days.
Colombo is a fascinating city and while the family-friendly destinations in Sri Lanka are elsewhere, there is no reason not to stop here for a night or two and get a feel of the city before all those tens of high-rises being built are ready. Red about our villa holiday on the coast of Sri Lanka and exploring the picturesque Galle Fort.