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Colombo

Sri Lanka's former capital (the modern capital is Sri Jayawardenpura Kotte nearby) sits in a prime position, stretching 14 kilometres along the island's western shore, and has a buzzy atmosphere.

Colombo’s sheltered harbour attracted Indian Ocean traders long before the Portuguese arrived in 1505 and despite being home to over 600,000 people, hectic traffic and soaring residential and office towers, there are still patches of the charming "Garden City of the East" with its abundant foliage and gentle sea breezes to be found throughout the modern, busy city. Numerous lakes, tree-lined boulevards, temples, churches and colonial buildings are scattered around - many of the which can be found in two of the oldest districts, Fort and The Pettah (the old market district), next to the harbour where all the colonial powers - Portuguese, Dutch and British - have left their mark.

The National Museum collections include Polonnaruwa bronzes, demon dance masks, puppets, a Children's Museum and a library containing over 4,000 palm leaf manuscripts, or ola, Sri Lanka's oldest written records. In Pettah, the Dutch Period Museum in the 17th-century governor's house is full of domestic details and fine period furniture and in the south near Beira Lake lies the tiny, delightful Buddhist temple, Gangaramaya.

The city has a thriving art scene and the Sapumal Foundation Gallery at Barnes Place sells Sri Lankan paintings dating back to 1920 (open mornings only and closed on Mondays & Tuesdays). The beautiful home of Sri Lanka’s most acclaimed architect, Geoffrey Bawa, sits on Bagatelle Lane and is well-worth a visit if you are an admirer of his iconic ‘tropical modernist’ work.

Contemporary Colombo is full of great shops - for upmarket shopping and excellent restaurants try Kollupitiya and Bambalipitiya, near the elegant residential area of Cinnamon Gardens - or York Street in Fort. We also recommend exploring the Dutch Hospital area, where the Ministry of Crab restaurant and stylish rooftop bars are located, as well as buzzy Park Street, which offers other fine dining spots.

While many visitors transfer straight from the airport to the quieter coastal city of Negombo upon their arrival, we believe staying a night in the city is underrated as it works well as an introduction to Sri Lanka. Settle in at the iconic Galle Face Hotel or the lovely Maniumpathy boutique hotel before continuing on to the tranquil locations that you will no doubt be covering on your luxury tour of this wonderful country.

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Lisa St. Aubin de Teran

So many highlights to choose from! The hotels were amazing but Maya Villa was a highlight… I loved just hanging out in the hammock reading my book and watching the peacocks chase the cows!
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