COLOMBO (Reuters Life!) - Got 48 hours to spend in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo? The city is the country’s biggest and a major port, with a rich colonial heritage, gardens, lively markets, modern buildings and even a beach.
The heavy military and police presence in the capital, a manifestation of the government’s battle against Tamil Tiger rebels fighting one of Asia’s longest modern insurgencies, does take some getting used to.
9.00 a.m. - Breakfast at the luxury Cinnamon Grand Hotel, right in the heart of Colombo’s business, shopping and entertainment district. Even if you’re not staying there, the hotel is a good place to hire a taxi to take you around the city’s many shopping venues.
10.00 a.m. - Head down the main Galle Road, and stop off at Barefoot (706 Galle Road) for its famous handwoven fabrics, toys, bags, handicrafts, antiques and clothing, including shalwars, the tunic and pantaloons outfits, in cotton and silk, and every color of the rainbow. The store is the brainchild of Barbara Sansoni, an artist, writer and designer who sources her work from rural handweavers in Sri Lanka.
11.00 a.m. - Head to House of Fashion (28 A De Mel Mawatha Road), popular with both foreigners and locals and offering an enormous selection of clothing at very affordable prices. It also stocks toys, baby items, bath towels and mats. It is always very busy, but checkouts are very fast.
12.00 a.m. - No trip to Colombo is complete without a visit to Odel Unlimited (5 Alexander Place), the most popular department store in Sri Lanka. Inside the beautifully designed interior are racks of designer clothing as well as jewelry, shoes, bags and cosmetics at good prices, and an excellent selection of locally made and designed t-shirts.
1.00 p.m. - Lunch at any of the several cafes and restaurants in the Odel building, which include a sushi bar and a tea lounge that also sells packages of Sri Lanka’s famed teas.
2.30 p.m. - Spend the afternoon soaking in the sights of Colombo. Head north to the Fort area, Sri Lanka’s business and commercial area with several buildings showcasing the country’s Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial history. The area is home to the Central Bank — which the Tamil Tigers bombed in 1996 — a clock tower, a former lighthouse and the president’s residence, all which give it the air of a bygone era.
Head down to Colombo’s National Museum, constructed in 1877. Collections cover several centuries and a variety of cultures from the Sinhala kingdoms through to the British occupation.
Culture and history buffs can also visit the nearby National Art Gallery and the History Museum.
But if you’re seeking a break outdoors, Viharamahadevi Park is a short walk away. Considered the capital’s largest and most elegant green space, the park is famous for its flowering trees, fountains and water channels. It also overlooks the pristine white domed Town Hall, which said to have been modeled on the White House in Washington D.C.
7.00 p.m. - Cocktails and dinner at the Colombo Cricket Club, a local institution in a country that is completely mad for the sport. Sip a pre-dinner drink at the bar, enjoying the black and white photographs of cricket legends and sporting memorabilia that adorn the walls.
When seated for dinner, take a couple of minutes to read the whole menu, where every item listed has some connection to a Sri Lankan cricket player or the national team. And if you’re a real fan, you can sometimes spot a cricketer dining at the club too.
9.00 a.m. - Breakfast heartily to prepare yourself for more shopping, but this time head to the less opulent parts of the city to experience the friendliness of the Sri Lankans. Be prepared to bargain hard.
Pettah, an area east of Fort, is a maze of streets and alleys crammed with everything from colorful textiles, gold and silver, footwear, antiques to spices, fruits, pungent dried fish and everything else Sri Lankans buy every day. Sea Street is famous for its goldsmiths and Hindu temples while New Moor Street is home to the Grand Mosque and reflects Sri Lanka’s historic ties to Arab and Muslim countries.
12.00 p.m. - Unwind from the haggling and the crowds — and work up an appetite — with a leisurely one km (mile) stroll down Galle Face Walk, which runs alongside the Indian Ocean. The path was originally cleared by the Dutch to give their cannons a clear line of fire, and today it is a popular meeting place for locals.
1.00 p.m. - Lunch at the luxurious Raja Bojun, in the Ceylinco Seylan Towers on Galle Road. The restaurant specializes in authentic Sri Lankan cuisine and their curries come recommended.
2.00 p.m. - Cricket enthusiasts can spend the afternoon at the Colombo Cricket Ground enjoying a game. Otherwise, you can visit Dehiwala Zoo, located about 11 km (miles) south of Fort. The aquarium displays over 500 varieties of aquatic life while the reptile house has cobras, tortoises and crocodiles. The evening elephant show is considered a must see.
7.00 p.m. - Enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail and watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean at the regal, colonial-style Galle Face Hotel, one of the oldest in the city and with a guest list that included former U.S. President Richard Nixon, former Indian President Indira Gandhi and Japan’s Emperor Hirohito as well as Australian cricketing legend Sir Donald Bradman.
8.00 p.m. - Dine at the hotel’s Verandah Restaurant, with its vast array of Sri Lankan and international specialties. Linger, and enjoy the view, which makes for a relaxing way to end your stay in Colombo.
Editing by Miral Fahmy