Arshad Yassim offers guided walking tours of Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital city. As a local, he’s also in a position to provide insider tips regarding places to visit that travellers might overlook.
After flying from London’s Heathrow Airport to Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport with SriLankan Airlines I freshened up at the Cinnamon Grand Colombo hotel before joining Arshad on one of his guided walking tours. He showed me temples and other places of worship before guiding me through the busy Pettah district. We then looked at some of the places of interest in the Colombo Fort, including the Dutch Hospital, a colonial era building that today houses boutiques and restaurants.
After he had led me through the city he knows so well, I asked Arshad for his local’s perspective on Colombo:
Why should people visit Colombo?
I think people should visit Colombo because it’s an often overlooked city: what makes Colombo beautiful is its authenticity. The history, in parallel with the modern face of Colombo, make it a great place to visit.
The people make Colombo so special. From different religions, they mingle and live close together. It’s a fascinating city and every traveller should pay a visit.
If you only have an afternoon, visit the Colombo Fort. You get historic buildings from colonial times and you’ll see a lot of local people. It’s a beautiful sight.
What is your favourite place in Colombo?
The Sivan Kovil temple on Jampettah Lane, a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva. It’s a magnificent granite structure. The spiritual energy about the place is what I like, along with the marvellous architecture.
Where would you take a guest for a bite to eat?
I would take them to Hulftsdorp (a restaurant on Abdul Hameed Street). It’s in the city and is heaven for street food lovers. You get delicacies from meat cooked in different varieties and good examples of food that’s sold in Colombo on the street.
Colombo is known for its upmarket cuisine but the local street food is also something food lovers should try. That’s why I recommend Hulftsdorp.
Where would you take people for a drink?
That would probably be the Flying Angel Bar, commonly known as the Seafarer’s Bar. (At the Mission for Seafarers.)
Is there a legend or quirky piece of history that you particularly like?
I would pick Geoffrey Bawa in relation to Colombo, because of his openness in beliefs about diversity and culture, and architecture. Today Colombo is known for its architecture and Geoffrey Bawa comes up in the names of architects.
What would you recommend people visit nearby?
Negumbo. If you are only going to visit Colombo, Negumbo gives you the chance to visit some marvellous beaches. You get to see a bit of the local life and it’s only about half-an-hour to 40 minutes’ drive away from Colombo.
Stuart joined Arshad on a guided walking tour arranged by Indian Odyssey, a UK-based tour operator specialising in bespoke holidays to Sri Lanka, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar and the Maldives. The Indian Odyssey team has personally tested accommodation and excursions, and can create inspiring, tailor-made privately guided tours and bespoke holidays. For more information and to book, visit www.indianodyssey.co.uk, call 01224 313984 or email email@example.com. Prices start at £1,895 per person for a seven-night trip to Sri Lanka, including return flights from the UK, accommodation in boutique hotels, a personal driver and a tailored itinerary for each guest.
The Sri Lanka Tourism website has ideas on things to do and see in Colombo and beyond.
Stuart Forster, the author of this post, has fresh material on Sri Lanka’s cultural attractions, wildlife, cuisine and boutique hotels, and can be commissioned to write features.
Illustrating photographs are by Why Eye Photography. Why Eye Photography is available for food, travel and portrait photography commissions.
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Disclosure: Stuart travelled to Sri Lanka with Indian Odyssey.