Colombo is a microcosm of Sri Lanka. As the island nation’s capital, the city embraces different cultures, and reflects them in a colourful and vibrant patchwork of markets, infrastructure and events.
Colombo is a busy and animated city that successfully blends modern life with over two millenniums of history. The city still holds status as an important trade centre, retains colonial buildings from Portuguese, Dutch and British rule, seamlessly adopts Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic influences, and represents the pulse of contemporary Sri Lanka with a cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Colombo food scene is an expression of Sri Lanka’s rich heritage. As a long-standing important trade hub, located within close proximity to India, Sri Lanka has been influenced by an array of cultures. Since ancient times, traders from all over the world have brought their native cuisines to the island, resulting in a diversity of cooking styles and techniques.
Sri Lanka is particularly renowned for spices, as traded through the country for millenniums. As the capital of an island nation, flanked by the fruitful waters of the Indian Ocean, Colombo’s food culture is also legendary for its seafood. So much so that fish and rice infused with coconut is the staple diet of Sri Lanka.
Having shared a long and successful history of interaction with India, Sri Lanka's cuisine is notably influenced by Indian fare. South Indian fare is particularly popular in Colombo, and variations of North Indian food are widely available.
Colonised by the Dutch, Portuguese and British, Colombo also embraces European/Western influences. Fusion foods are popular, as over the years locals have taken foreign dishes and mixed them up with traditional cooking methods. Multi-cuisine restaurants and global fast food chains dot the city, and are popular among visitors.
Most of Colombo’s food scene revolves around Galle Road in Area 3. A shopping and restaurant strip, dotted with embassies and malls, Galle Road brims with opportunities to taste Colombo. Crescat Boulevard is a go-to for visitors seeking choice. Housing a food mall, Crescat Boulevard showcases everything from Chinese to Indian, and Western to Sri Lankan cuisines.
For an authentic experience, visitors are encouraged to order from the food stands that dot the streets. Selling local specialities like 'lunch packets' – a meal of rice and vegetables, and 'short eats' – snacks that are bread based or fried, food stalls offer a cheap and charming Colombo food experience.
Sri Lanka has enjoyed a long and romantic love affair with cricket. It’s said that a trip to Colombo can’t be deemed successful without visiting the Cricket Club located on Queens Road in Area 4. A favourite haunt for expats and wealthy Sri Lankans, the Cricket Club is a Colombo institution, famous for its restaurant, bar and beer garden, and live sports screenings.
As the commercial and cultural capital of Sri Lanka, and the country’s major gateway city, Colombo has a prominent retail scene, which specifically caters to visitors. Modern shopping malls and specialty stores dot the cityscape, while vendors and outdoor markets ply the streets.
Colombo’s shopping experience is centred on Galle Road in Area 3. The multi-storey Majestic City is Galle Road’s most prominent retail hotspot, a welcoming air-conditioned hub, lined with a variety of stores, selling everything from CDs and books, to clothes and linen.
Odel is Colombo’s most exclusive shopping destination, located on Lipton Circus in Area 7. Sri Lanka’s best-known branded garment factory outlet, Odel boasts international branded accessories, jewellery, shoes, bags, cosmetics, home ware, and more.
Colombo’s most authentic shopping experiences can be found in the city’s markets and handicraft bazaars. State run-handicraft emporium, Laksala is a national treasure, with branches all over the country. Colombo’s biggest and best Laksala can be found on York Street in Area 1, where oddities made from brass, silver, wood, buffalo horns, coconut shells, cane and bamboo are on sale. Located east of the Fort, the neighbourhood of Pettah is Sri Lanka's busiest commercial area, famous for its open air bazaars and markets, many of which specialise in textiles.