With a country as alluring as Sri Lanka, it's always going to be tough to pick a highlight. Now, we're not claiming the bustling metropolis of Colombo should feature too high on the list, but for a slice of multicultural Sri Lankan life, a bit of buzz, and some interesting colonial architecture, it's a worthy stopover for a full exploration of this fascinating country. Settled at the confluence of the Kelani Ganga River and the Indian Ocean,
this flourishing trading port was once known as 'the garden city of the East'. Colombo has come a long way over the last few centuries, but the cities wide, shady boulevards, and canal network still hark back to a colonial era. This is, of course, in contrast to the traffic congested, sprawling city streets that hug 30 miles of Sri Lanka's western coast, but behind these thronging streets lies a booming dining scene, galleries, museums, markets and boutiques. The city has endured many incarnations, through Sinhalese control, via Portuguese, Dutch and British rule, to independence in the 20th century. This, combined with the melting pot of Sri Lankan cultures – Sinhalese, Tamil, Burgher – and the expat community, make Colombo the vibrant, and somewhat surprisingly cosmopolitan city it is today.
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For the history buffs, the central business district of Fort is home to some well-preserved colonial architecture, including the National Museum, Old Dutch hospital, Old City Hall and Dutch Period Museum. Just East of this, the district of Pettah is brimming with bustling markets, where pyramids of colourful fruit and vegetables are on offer, making for a fragrant and photogenic stop.
For a little respite from the chaos of Colombo, head to one of the cities green spaces. The large lawns of Viharamahadevi Park offer a peaceful spot, with blossoming trees in spring time, or the ocean facing Galle Face Green, which was once home to Dutch cannons, but is today a favourite of joggers and kite flyers, and street food vendors at the weekends.