Sri Lanka’s hip capital

Following on from the civil war which ended in 2009, Sri Lanka’s capital has come out fighting and is now a hip destination in its own right. Checkpoints have come down and trendy restaurants and stylish art galleries have gone up, dotted between palm trees, red-tiled colonial buildings and sprawling street markets. Beira Lake acts as the city’s pretty centerpiece, once used by colonists to defend the city, where pelicans and storks vie for space.

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What to see and do in Colombo

For over 2,000 years, Colombo’s port has been known to traders for its strategic position at the East-West sea trade routes, ruled successively by the Portuguese, Dutch and British. The district, now named the ‘Fort’, still remains the beating heart of the city. It is a compelling showcase of old and new with towering skyscrapers juxtaposed with 18th-century historic buildings on shady boulevards.

Neighbouring Pettah takes things up a notch with its narrow streets teeming with small shops, markets and sidewalk stalls, set out in a traditional bazaar layout with each street devoted to a different trade: knick-knacks, clothes, high-piled fruits and vegetables, and electronics. Check out the jewelery shops, many of which sell cut-price gems (particularly sapphires) for which the country is known.

Places of worship stand cheek by jowl on the crowded streets, symbolic of the country’s rich stew of races and religion: serene Buddhist viharas compete for space with extravagant Hindu temples, alongside colonial churches and Muslim mosques, including the striking red-and-white striped Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque.

However, the crowning glory is Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, on the north eastern edge of Colombo. One of the island’s most revered Buddhist temples, it is believed that Buddha visited the site on his third mythical visit to the island. Seema Malaka Temple in the middle of Beira Lake is another important site, which was re-designed by Sri Lanka’s most famous architect Geoffrey Bawa. It is now an assembly hall for monks at the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, one of the most renowned temples in the country.

With its superb flowering trees, Viharamahadevi Park is the perfect haven from the honking rickshaws and chaos of the streets. It is also the location for the huge annual, open-air art fair Kala Pola which takes place, every January. For the rest of the year, there is a daily small, informal art market, featuring emerging artists – a platform indicative of the city’s growing contemporary art scene which now hosts a biennale.

Cool off from the heat of the day with a stroll along the Galle Face Green, a broad stretch of lawn beside the ocean. Watch elderly couples enjoying the sea breeze and teenagers flying kites and sample the snacks sold from food-carts along the esplanade – it is also the best place to catch sunset, isso wade (prawn fritter) in hand.

On the other side of town sanctuary can be found at the beach resort of Mt. Lavinia, only a short taxi ride from downtown, which offers gorgeous golden sandy beaches, topping off Colombo’s ability to captivate from every turn.

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