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Colombo is the largest city and the financial and commercial capital of Sri Lanka.
Colombo remains both the commercial and financial capital of Sri Lanka even after the administrative capital has been moved to Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte, a suburb east of the city.
Colombo is a huge, sprawling city, which can be visited any time of year due to its tropical climate. The heat is often excruciating, and traffic and pollution intense. These combined and without careful planning Colombo can easily become a nightmarish experience for an average traveler. To avoid this, do not carry heavy luggage, do not plan to walk any significant distances and take measures to deal with the heat and/or rain, such as bringing ice water, sunglasses, plastic slippers, sunblock, umbrella etc.
There are currency exchanges in the arrivals hall with an ATM. Another ATM available outside the airport in the drop-off / pick-up area; leave the building and turn left.
There is air service to and from Colombo provided by the national airline, Sri Lankan Airlines. Flights are available from origins throughout Europe, United States, Southeast Asia, Australia, China, Japan, the Middle East, India, and Pakistan. Other airlines include Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Etihad and Emirates with transits typically in middle-eastern countries. British Airways have direct flights from Gatwick Airport to Colombo.
Katunayake airport to Colombo
The international airport is closer to Negombo than to Colombo, so if you're arriving late, it might be a better option to head to Negombo for the night instead. Star class hotels and budget guest houses are available. Ceylon tourist board (administered by the Government) has a chain of hotels.
Airport Taxi There are some taxi counters, some belonging to 4 / 5 star hotels, providing air conditioned taxis on a fixed price basis depending on the destination. It is highly recommended to agree on the fare beforehand to avoid being overcharged.
There is also a mini van taxi service counter in the arrivals hall providing transport services. The rates are not cheaper than air conditioned taxis but a mini van will seat more than four passengers. The services are primarily for the locals so if you do not hold a Sri Lankan passport, they may refuse to offer you one.
The Sri Lanka Transport Board is the nationalized bus service. Buses are the principal mode of transport in the country. Even if you cannot speak or understand Sinhalese, you should be able to cope up with basic English with locals and its entirely feasible than train travel.
Though there were some Indian cruise liners operated to Colombo since recent past, currently there are no boat services to Sri Lanka.
However a Navy ship turned into a cruise liner operates in and around Colombo seas from the harbour area.
Getting around by Tri-shaw is most convenient. Nowadays more three-wheelers are fitted with meters and it is always better to catch one with meter. These will have a Metered Taxi sign on the roof.
The Sri Lankan Tourist Development Authority also operates its own fleet of 'tuk-tuks' around Colombo which are tourist friendly and metered to ensure that travellers are aware of the price being paid. Tourist board tuk tuks are distinguishable by their unique liveries.
There are 'TATA Nano' cars in service nowadays and the charges start from LKR40/km with air-conditioning and it is also a safe and convenient way to travel. Taxis are much safer than a three-wheeler.
There is a good, cheap public bus service but you need to know the route number of the bus that you would have to take to your destination. There does not appear to be a website providing any timetable information, but Wikipedia has several posts about bus routes.
Long Distance Buses
There are two bus depots in Pettah on either side of the road, near Fort train station. Sri Lankan Transport Board public (non air conditioned) buses operate from one and mini, air conditioned ones from the other. These buses go to all of the main cities but do not provide any luggage space.
What to see
The National Museum of Colombo, Cinnamon Gardens. Also known as the Sri Lanka National Museum, it is the largest museum in Colombo. Among its exhibits, it contains regalia of the 17th century Kandyan Kings. LKR500 entrance fee and LKR250 for photography pass.
The Natural History Museum- Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Cinnamon Gardens. This museum features Sri Lanka's floral and fauna in dioramas.
The Dutch Period Museum- 95 Prince Street, Pettah. Closed Fridays and all public holidays. Historical museum documenting Dutch colonial rule in Sri Lanka. Houses Dutch-inspired artifacts.
The Sapumal Foundation- 32/4 Barnes Place. The Sapumal Foundation was once home to the late Harry Pieris. Visitors are able to see his studio and art materials that have been left undisturbed over the years. This gallery also contains 200 paintings that follow the development of Sri Lankan art. Special art classes are also available at the gallery.
The Lionel Wendt Memorial Art Centre- 18 Guilford Crescent. The Art Center provides a multi-functional creative experience with exhibitions, art shows and stage events. Visitors to the art center are also able to purchase various antiques as well as paintings and crafts by contemporary Sri Lankan artists.
Visit Galle Face Green Promenade at sundown for a spectacular view. The promenade stretches 13 acres between Galle Road and the Indian Ocean; it tends to attract children, teenagers, vendors, and families. Usually on Saturday and Sunday evenings, the land is filled with day-trippers, food vendors, and people picnicking. The Galle Face Green Promenade was reopened to the public in May of 2001.
Colombo Zoological Gardens- Colombo's zoo has a wide variety of animals, birds, and reptiles from all over the world.
Casa Serena Art Gallery, 122 Havelock Rd, Colombo 5. The Gallery is a purpose built space, designed to exhibit a diverse array of art, photography, sculpture, video installations and craft. It focuses on contemporary and traditional arts and features the work of local and international artists.
Turtle Conservation Villa (Our Turtle Conservation Project), No. 73/23 St Rita Road Mount Lavinia Colombo Sri Lanka (Drive south from Colombo city centre along Galle Road and turn right into St. Rita's Road.
Cirque Lanka (cultural show), Viharamahadevi Open Air Theatre (South-East corner of Viharahamadevi Park). More than 15 performers on stage, live music, drummers, traditional masks, acrobats, aerial acrobatics and fire effects. Cirque Lanka is the unique project which combines traditional Sri Lankan drums and dances with European New Circus. All this in the most beautiful open air theater in Sri Lanka – in Viharamahadevi Open Air Theater.