What are some of your favorite memories of Colombo?
As cheesy as it sounds, I really enjoyed exploring the Galle Face Hotel. Founded in 1864, the hotel is apparently the oldest hotel east of the Suez Canal. You can easily spend a few hours roaming the halls with your camera and reading about the famous people that once stayed there. It's very much like a museum.
Spending the evening bar-hopping and eating at the Old Dutch Hospital was also great fun. Coming from Mumbai, I miss drinking outdoors and it was refreshing to see finally be able to enjoy a pint in an open courtyard in a big Asian city.
How would you spend 36 hours in Colombo?
I'd spend the first day exploring the coastal part of the city, which includes Fort and the stretch of Galle Road that runs north-south. You can start south on Galle Road and visit Barefoot, Green Cabin, and the Sri Lankan Tea Board shop. I bought some Mlesna tea while I was there and it's very, very good. At sunset walk along Galle Face Green and pick up a few appetizers from the food stalls before heading up to the Old Dutch Hospital for dinner and drinks. There are loads of places to consume once at the heritage building. The Brewery by O is a chill pub with live music and outdoor seating. Dinner options include Ministry of Crab or Curry Leaf at the Hilton.
I would recommend spending much of the next day enjoying the grounds of the Galle Face Hotel. Take a swim, have a drink, and immerse yourself in the history. Finally, you can pick up tea and local Sri Lankan quick bites for home from Crescat Boulevard, the mall next to the Cinnamon Grand Hotel. The restaurant Sugar at the entrance seemed pretty popular when I was there.
What kind of practical information should first-time visitors know about Colombo?
The airport is about an hour outside Colombo so plan accordingly. A taxi to and from the city should cost you around Rs. 2,500.
There are two types of rickshaws in Colombo - those that run by the meter and those that don't. If it's your first time in Colombo, hail metered rickshaws so that you know you're not getting ripped off.
What are some precautions that people should take while exploring Colombo?
From my experience, Colombo seems like a pretty safe city. But like any other city to which you are new, always be aware of your surroundings.
Any other indispensable pieces of advice to share?
Colombo is a sleepy-ish city but there are signs that it will soon kick into high gear with increased development and tourism. The Hyatt and Shangri-La hotel brands are already betting big on the city (and country) by building huge properties that will further gentrify the capital and house millions of visitors each year.
Oh, and last but not least - Lion Stout, at 8.8% ABV, is a potent but very good brew. Definitely have a pint!
I treated myself to two nights here after traveling on a fairly tight budget the previous ten days. While its rooms are nothing to write home about, the hotel's location is. Situated right by the sea, the Galle Face Hotel is THE perfect place for a sunset drink or swim.
Come here if you're serious about seafood and have an appetite to match. The crabs here are monstrous, sweet, and down right juicy. The black pepper crab with garlic rice is the dish to pick if you like some spice. A meal here is a bit on the pricey side but worth every rupee.
This nightclub tries to be exclusive and classy but pretty much fails at both. Drinks cost on average Rs. 700 (mind you that's for 25 ml.) and the vibe isn't all that friendly - the staff never seem to miss an opportunity to talk about how rich their customers are. One plus is that people actually dance.
Those of you who have been to India will immediately compare this shop to Fab India. Here you can buy ready-made clothes and a bunch of handicrafts to take back home as souvenirs. My favorite part of the shop is the outdoor cafe and art gallery in the back. There were free jazz concerts on Sunday afternoons when I visited.
Stroll along the sea at nightfall while munching on street food snacks, including strawberry popcorn, seafood vadais, fresh tapioca chips (I overdosed on these), and grilled chicken.
I came here for the all-you-can-eat vegetarian lunch buffet. It's a good deal if you want a curry and rice fix but if you've had enough of Sri Lankan staples, then give this place a skip. The adjoining pastry shop reminds me of Candies in Mumbai.
The Bavarian serves up some really tasty but heavy German comfort food. I had the goulash, which came with some buttery noodles on the side. Wash it down with a brewski and you have yourself a solid meal.