Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green

When you’re visiting Sri Lanka, most people will tell you to get out of Colombo quick smart and head to the south. Rather than heed their warning, we spent 3 days in the capital city – one of which was spent jetlagged in bed – the other two exploring the calm and chaos that surrounded us. If you’re anything like we are and want to experience the culture of Colombo, we’ve put together this handy guide to the 5 best places to visit in Colombo.

TRAVEL INSURANCE

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WHAT TO PACK FOR SRI LANKA

Prepare for your trip to Sri Lanka with our must-have travel essentials.

Waterproof backpack & phone case: Earth Pak 35L or 55L Heavy Duty Backpack, IPX8 Waterproof Phone Case Included (click for price)
Snorkel, mask & fins: Cressi Adjustable Mask, Fin & Snorkel Set with Carry Bag (click for price)
Quick-dry microfiber travel towel: Wise Owl Outfitters Camping Travel Towel (click for price)
Insulated water bottle: Hydro Flask Vacuum Insulated Water Bottle (click for price)
Hiking Sandals: Teva Women’s Hurricane Hiking Sandals (click for price), Teva Men’s Hurricane Hiking Sandals (click for price)

If you’re interested in photography and/or videography this is the gear we can’t live without:

Professional camera: Sony a7iii (click for price)
Action camera: GoPro HERO9 Black (click for price)
Drone: DJI Mavic 2 Pro (click for price)

5 BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN COLOMBO

1. Gangaramaya Temple
2. Kelaniya Temple
3. Pettah Market
4. Red Mosque
5. Galle Face Green

1. GANGARAMAYA TEMPLE

Entrance Fee: 400 LKR per person
Flowers: 100 LKR for 10 pieces
Dress Code: Respectful dresses or pants below the knees, modest tops that cover your shoulders. Zowie’s dress showed a little too much clavicle so she covered up with a sarong. Remove shoes.
Conduct: This is an active place of worship with many people there to pray, so be respectful and keep talking to a minimum.

Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green
Gangaramaya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo

Sri Lanka is a deeply spiritual country, made up of a 70% Buddhist population, so it’s no surprise that the capital of Colombo has tens if not hundreds of Buddhist temples and structures. The most visited of these is Gangaramaya Temple, right in the centre of town, making it one of the top places to visit in Colombo.

Upon arriving at the temple we purchased a bunch of flowers just outside the entrance to be used as offerings to Buddha. We entered through the gates and were immediately asked to take our shoes off and leave them in the containers provided, then we paid our entrance fee of 400 LKR per person.

Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green
Gangaramaya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo
Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green
Gangaramaya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo

From there we were welcome to explore and wander around Gangaramaya Temple freely. The first thing we noticed when comparing our lived experience to that of photos we’d seen is that the temple is getting a major facelift, so there was scaffolding and construction everywhere. Despite this, Gangaramaya Temple is still a serene and beautiful structure with intricate statues and carvings everywhere you look.

Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green
Gangaramaya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo
Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green
Gangaramaya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo
Gangaramaya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo
Gangaramaya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo

You’ll notice there are several points of worship where Buddhists go to pray – in front of statues, by the candles and incense, as well as in front of an ancient tree. We took our own flowers and made offerings or wishes and were even offered more flowers as a gift from another worshipper. FYI – you’re expected to remove the stems from the flowers and place them in the rubbish bins provided around the temple.

Gangaramaya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo
Gangaramaya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo

If you want to dive deeper into Buddhist culture, there are several rooms/museums full of incredible artefacts and perhaps the largest elephant tusks we’ve ever seen. You’ll also notice monks around Gangaramaya Temple, clad in orange, and whilst we saw others approaching them, we decided to keep our distance. Better to be respectful from afar than risk offending them.

Gangaramaya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo
Gangaramaya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo
Gangaramaya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo
Gangaramaya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo

Gangaramaya Temple is already such a beautiful place and we can’t imagine how much more still when the upgrades are complete. Just another good reason to add this to your places to visit in Colombo.  

2. KELANIYA TEMPLE

Entrance Fee: None
Dress Code: Respectful dresses or pants below the knees, modest tops that cover your shoulders. We noticed most people were wearing white, however, it is not mandatory. Remove shoes.
Conduct: This is an active place of worship with many people there to pray, so be respectful and keep talking to a minimum.

Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green
Kelaniya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo

Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya Temple (go on, say that 5 times quickly), or simply Kelaniya Temple, is one of the most incredible places to visit in Colombo, just 25 minutes out of the city centre. Since it was a little more effort to get to, we noticed we were the only tourists, however, there were hundreds of local Sri Lankans worshipping as we visited on Sunday which is Holy Day.

Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green
Kelaniya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo
Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green
Kelaniya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo

Just like Gangaramaya Temple, you’ll need to remove your shoes, however Kelaniya Temple seems less catered to tourists so rather than a dedicated container you’ll just need to find a spot along the entranceway to put them. There will be hundreds of pairs so don’t forget where you left them!

Unlike Gangaramaya Temple, which was mostly indoors, Kelaniya Temple is a large open-air space with multiple buildings and enormous statues spread out over the grounds. You’ll be walking barefoot on rough sand so we do recommend getting there as early as you can before the sun really heats up the ground. The locals must be used to it, as we were the only people hopping around from shadow to shadow.

Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green
Kelaniya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo
Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green
Kelaniya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo

We spent a lot longer at Kelaniya Temple, wandering through the different buildings and places of prayer, admiring the intricacy of the sculptures and the peacefulness of the entire experience. There was even a fountain where supposedly Buddha had bathed, which attracted many worshippers to reach out and touch the water.

Kelaniya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo
Kelaniya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo

Like Gangaramaya Temple, there was a huge ancient tree – twice the size of the Gangaramaya Temple tree – where people lined up to give offerings of water as well as flowers and even food. This time we didn’t buy any flowers as we couldn’t see anyone selling them, however, another kind gentleman gave two flowers to Zowie to give as offerings to Buddha. If there’s one thing that really stood out at both temples, it was the generosity and kindness of the worshippers.

Kelaniya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo
Kelaniya Temple – Best places to visit in Colombo

3. PETTAH MARKET

If you’re looking for the complete opposite of the serenity you’ll find at the temples, then you can’t miss out on Pettah Market. The famous Pettah Market is one of the best places to visit in Colombo to give you a true taste of Colombo chaos, so if you don’t like crowds, loud noises and the chance of getting hit by a car whilst you do your shopping, maybe skip this one. If you’re okay with the sensory overload, let’s jump right in.

Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green
Pettah Market – Best places to visit in Colombo
Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green
Pettah Market – Best places to visit in Colombo

Pettah Market is in the heart of Colombo, on the north side of Beira Lake. If you take a tuktuk there, which you probably will, they’ll likely drop you off on the corner of Main St and 2nd Cross Street. Pettah Market runs down 2nd Cross Street and is an outdoor market with a narrow passageway down the middle for both pedestrians and vehicles alike, so watch your toes!

Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green

They sell just about everything you could imagine at Pettah Market, from leather goods and fresh fruit to chandeliers and watches. Obviously, the Rolexes aren’t real but if you’re looking for a bargain buy then Pettah Market is the place to go.

We wandered down the street in the blistering heat for a half-hour, politely declining enthusiastic vendors. You’ll be bumping shoulders with plenty of people, making Pettah Market the perfect spot to get pickpocketed, so make sure to keep your belongings close to your body and your wits about you.

Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green

4. RED MOSQUE / JAMI UL ALFAR MOSQUE

Entrance Fee: None – we didn’t go inside
Dress Code: The Red Mosque is stricter than Buddhist temples, requiring women to cover their hair, arms and legs. As Zowie wasn’t appropriately dressed, we didn’t enter the mosque.

Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green
Red Mosque – Best places to visit in Colombo

Once you’ve finished with the Pettah Market, then we recommend visiting the Jami Ul Alfar Mosque, otherwise known as the Red Mosque. Whilst it is an active place of worship, its location smack bang in the middle of the Pettah Market chaos means you don’t have to whisper around the mosque, but you should be respectful of the people around you.

There are two access points to the Red Mosque, the main entrance on Main Street (go figure) and a side entrance on the northern end of 2nd Cross Street. You really won’t miss it though, it’s a huge red and white building, hence the name.

Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green
Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green

PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

We went to the Main Street side first to snap photos of the grand front entrance. The streets are narrow so if you want to get the entire mosque in frame, you’ll want to bring a wide-angle lens. After snapping some photos and videos we went around to the 2nd Cross Street side for a different view of the Red Mosque. To get an even wider shot, a local gentleman suggested we step farther back onto Bankshall Street to capture the Red Mosque in all its glory.

5. GALLE FACE GREEN

Entrance Fee: None, but bring cash as there are a lot of vendors to buy from. You’ll be able to get local snacks, drinks, ice cream and toys!

Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green
Galle Face Green – Best places to visit in Colombo

Last but by no means least on our list of places to visit in Colombo is the famous Galle Face Green. Located on the west coast of Colombo, Galle Face Green is the spot to go for sunset. Somewhere between a public park and a market, Galle Face Green is packed full of people in the early evenings, mostly locals there to spend time with their families while they watch the sun go down.

You’ll see dozens of children flying kites and playing soccer on the grass, and families with their feet dangling over the retaining wall edge as they watch the sun dip below the horizon. We wandered through the crowds as we waited for sunset, looking through all the stalls and marvelling at the sky full of kites.

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After half an hour of waiting, the sun finally made it below the horizon. We recommend staying for at least another 15 minutes after sunset to give the sky time to really put on a show. We stayed until the colours faded, and then we made our way across the street to One Galle Face Mall for dinner, the perfect end to a perfect day.

Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green
Places to visit in Colombo, beautiful places in Colombo, Colombo places to visit, Colombo tourist places, gangaramaya temple, Kelaniya temple, red mosque, pettah market, galle face green

PIN IT FOR LATER: 5 PLACES TO VISIT IN COLOMBO

5 Places to Visit in Colombo Sri Lanka Travel Guide