Big thanks to Saraid de Silva Cameron, whose recommendations informed this article.
The Sri Lankan breakfast is as varied and delicious as its English equivalent. You’ll want to hit up a nice vegetarian spot for breakfast, and Saraid recommends Greenlands Hotel in Shrubbery Gardens. It is one of Colombo’s oldest restaurants hidden away in an old colonial house and serves affordable, delicious South Indian cuisine.
The foundation of the breakfast is hoppers/idli, a rice flour and coconut milk pancake, used to mop everything else up with. Get them with kiri hodi (coconut milk gravy), pol sambol and endless cups of hot tea – and sweets afterwards! Fifty years ago this was the hottest spot in town – and may not have changed since. To think this is a problem is to miss the point – you can “eat a lot for a dollar”. Spend $2 and get a sweetie; mysore pak, laddu, halwa, yum. Use your hands, as Sri Lankans do.
A pretty 10 minute walk away from Greenlands is Barefoot’s flagship shop on Galle Road. Barefoot designs and weaves bright and beautiful cotton and silk fabrics and sells clothes and linen, soft toys and bags. Just further on, the government-run Sri Lanka Tea Board will have a lot of tea to choose from for gifts. There’s quite a few nice jewellers around, of course; this is the island of the gems. If you want to stay under budget you should spend a maximum of $80 while shopping.
Lunch at one of the high end cafes in Colombo. The Gallery Cafe has a particularly lovely setting and amazing food. Unless you get the $60 steak you should only spend about $30 .
A $2 tuk tuk will take you to Gangaramaya Temple. The temple’s collection of Lord Buddha’s relics is something to behold, not to mention the beautiful Bodhi tree (said to be a sapling of the Bodhi Tree where Buddha was enlightened). Explore diverse antiquities gifted to this temple, including a carving of Lord Buddha on a single grain of rice. $2.60 entry per person. Seema Malakaya, a Buddhist temple on floating platforms, and Colombo City Centre, a luxury mall, is also nearby.
A short walk away is the beautiful Viharamahadevi Park, which is particularly atmospheric at dusk when giant bats leave their caves and circle over the area. There is lots to explore and plenty of striking plants to examine.
A couple bucks in a tuk tuk and you’re very close to where you started. Fat Crab is a street corner away from Barefoot, and bang on the seafront. Here you can get the Sri Lankan national dish prepared traditionally in black pepper curry. You could easily spend about $80 per head with drinks, but mains average at about $24, so still very reasonable. Saraid’s top tip? “Save half a lime to rub over your hands afterwards. Gets any smell and oil residue off your hands immediately.”