Places to see in Colombo

Colombo Fort is brimming with endless historical landmarks in every corner, including the Cargills Main Store, the Old Dutch Hospital and the Old Parliament which are ref of the colonial era.


  • The Colombo Fort is one of the major business hubs in the country
  • There are many landmarks surrounding the Colombo Fort that hold a lot of significance
  • The Old Dutch Hospital has been renovated and has been converted into a  shopping area as well


Fort is referred to as the Central Business District of Colombo. The World Trade Center, Colombo Stock Exchange, the Colombo Harbor and many other important offices and buildings are located in this area. While at first it was a trading post of the Portuguese, later on they built and expanded it into a fortified base. The Dutch, who took over control of the fort, demolished it, reconstructed it and strengthened it further by taking advantage of Fort’s natural location between the sea and lake. The British then captured the country and demolished the fort completely. With the expansion of the harbor, this area became the center of the commercial capital. After independence too, this area was the center of government administration, before certain ministries and departments were shifted to Sri JayawardenapuraKotte.
The clock tower: Located in close proximity to the President’s House and the Central Bank. Located in the intersection of JanadipathiMawatha and Chatham Street, this lighthouse served as a lighthouse and a clock tower as well.This area became a high security zone after the central bank bombing in 1996. It was only in the recent past that the public was allowed to see this lighthouse up close. It was designed by Lady Ward; the wife of Governor Sir Henry George Ward. Even though it was the tallest building in Colombo during the time of construction, with the construction of taller buildings in the vicinity, the lighthouse lost its purpose. This lighthouse was the decommissioned in 1952 and then the modern Galle Buck Lighthouse took over its responsibility. Dent clockmakers; the clockmakers behind the ‘Big Ben’ in London built the first clock mechanism. This clock unit was replaced in the year 2013 with the clock which exists currently.
President’s House: located in the heart of Fort, this is the official residence and workplace of the President of Sri Lanka. Before it became the President’s House, it was the residence of British governors and governor-generals. So far it has been the official residence to 29 governors and 6 presidents. It was previously known as the ‘King’s House’ or the ‘Queen’s House’. Johan Van Angelbeek; the last Dutch Governor constructed this residence after demolishing the St. Francis’s Church built by the Portuguese. Later on it was sold to the British Colonial administration and then became the Official Residence of the Governor of Sri Lanka. After our country gained independence, it was the residence of the Governor General before it became the President’s House after Sri Lanka became a republic. Since then it has undergone refurbishments. The Gordon Gardens was laid out by Governor Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon in honor of Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee. After it was made a part of the President’s House, it became off-limits to the general public. The President’s House is guarded by the President’s Security Division at all times.
Old Parliament: situated in Colombo Fort, this building now houses the Presidential Secretariat of Sri Lanka. Built during the British period upon an idea of Sir Henry McCallum, this Neo-Baroque-style building was set to house the legislative council of Ceylon. It was opened in the year 1930 as the legislative council. In 1977, it was renamed as the Parliament of Sri Lanka. Until 1948, the British Coat of Arms adorned the top of the building. It was then replaced by the arms of the Dominion of Ceylon followed by the arms of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka in 1972. It has functioned as the Presidential Secretariat and the Office of the Executive President and also this was a place where appointments of state were administered and where official announcements were made. In the front garden of this building, statues of eminent statesmen are found. Statues of Rt. Hon D.S.Senanayake (the first prime minister of Ceylon), Hon. Dudley Senanayake (prime minister of Ceylon), General Sir John Kotalawela (prime minister of Sri Lanka) and Sir PonnambalamRamanathan KCMG, KC (Attorney General and first native elected member of a Legislative Council in the British Empire) are found.
SambodhiChaityaDagaba: located within the Colombo harbor, the SambodhiChaithya is erected atop two intersecting concrete arches. These arches are 33 meters tall while the stupa is 47 meters tall. While most stupas in our country are dome-shaped, this stupa is bell-shaped. It was built to serve as a monument for oncoming ships. In order to reach the top of the stupa, visitors have to climb more than 250 stairs. The inside of this stupa has been wonderfully decorated andin the upper walls are paintings from the life of the Lord Buddha. Once you reach the top you are met with stunning views of the sea and surrounding area. After reaching the chaitya you will come across a preaching hall and from there a staircase leads the way to the main temple.
Old Galle Buck Lighthouse: the Galle Buck Lighthouse is undoubtedly one of the best places to watch a sunset. It provides amazing views of the Indian Ocean and the surrounding landscapes. However, this lighthouse is a relatively unvisited spot. This lighthouse was constructed in the year 1952 and is 29 meters high. This lighthouse is situated on the Chaitya road opposite the Sri Lankan Naval Headquarters. This lighthouse stands on a concrete base that is 12 meters high and has four statues of lions at the base. The side of the lighthouse facing the sea is painted black and white in a checkered pattern.
Central point: located behind the Dutch Hospital, in Chatham Street, this restored old building houses the Economic History Museum run by the Central Bank. This charming building was constructed in the year 1914 and was the tallest structure at the time. A Greco-Roman architectural style of architecture can be seen in this building. The bomb attack to the Central Bankduring the Civil War damaged the Central Point as well. The building was then abandoned and was used as a makeshift barracks by soldiers. However, in 2011, the Central Bank acquired and restored the building before opening it as the Economic History Museum of Sri Lanka. At this museum one is able to find exhibits of different currency dating back to the 3rd century BC. A display with a cow and fish along with a printed dialog is found to convey the difficulties that arose as a result of barter system. Exhibits of coin systems used by Commonwealth countries, the rare Kayman’s Gate copper coin minted by the Dutch, ancient bank note printers and stunning paintings can be found at this museum.
There is a café outside this museum and those who wish to purchase coins can do so at the sales counter at the museum. Entrance to this museum is free of charge.
Old Dutch Hospital: the Old Dutch Hospital with its colonial architectural styles; with large central courtyards, red clay roof tiles and boxy pillars was built by the Dutch in the 17th century. At first this building was built as a hospital for soldiers of the Dutch East India Company. Since there were n beds in Ceylon at the time, patients were kept in reed mats and straw mats were given to the more well-to-do personalities. The longest serving doctor at this hospital is said to be Alleman, who took steps to develop this hospital. The most famous surgeon to have served in this hospital is Paul Hermann. He has been referred to as the father of Botany in Sri Lanka. With the arrival of British, this hospital lost its glory and was no longer used. Since then this structure has been used as the Colombo Fort Police Station, the Colombo Apothecaries before undergoing transformation in 2011 after which it was turned into a dining and shopping arcade. Almost all the restaurants and stores within this shopping precinct are high end. The Ministry of Crab, Barefoot, Heladiv Tea Club, and Colombo Fort Café are some popular dining places.
Lloyd’s Buildings: the Lloyd’s Building was constructed in 1908; during the time of the British rule of Sri Lanka and was initially named as ‘Freudenberg Building’. This building was designed by the popular architect E. Skinner and construction was done by Clifford Lake and Company. In this historic building located in Sir Baron JayathilakeMawatha, features of the Renaissance architectural style can be seen along with structures of the Baroque architectural style. Freudenberg and Co. were the main occupants of this building at first and later on some floors were leased to Colombo Apothecaries Co. Ltd, Morrison and Bell, Clark Young and Co.,Shanghai Life Insurance, Standard Oil Company New York, C W Mackie and Co and the Consul for the Unite States of America. Later own ownership was passed to United Ceylon Insurance Co Ltd before the Central Bank of Sri Lanka purchased it. This building has five storeys and a basement of over 30,000 square feet of office space which is ideal for the Central Bank to expand their activities. The Central bank then took measures to refurbish this building that has been neglected and also to conserve its architectural value.
St. Peter’s Church: located on Church Street in Fort, this church is one of the oldest functioning churches in Sri Lanka. In the place of this church, there used to be a Dominican Monastery during the time of the Portuguese. However, during the Dutch era, this place was turned into the official residence of the Dutch Governor. This two storeyed building was used for council meetings and as a reception hall where the Dutch used to entertain ambassadors of the Kandyan Kingdom. Even when the British took over the rule of the country, it was used as the residence of Lieutenant General Hay MacDowall. It was only in 1804, that the then Governor; Governor Frederick North took steps to renovate and convert this residence to an Anglican church. This building was also used for government purposes and hence, it was used as a courthouse as well. In 1832, this church underwent renovation. The architecture was also changed and the Dutch architectural style was no more. This church became popular as the ‘Seafarers Church’ because officials working in the British Royal Naval Force and other ships would come to this church to worship. The Queen of Britain visited this church during her visit to Sri Lanka. During the time of the Civil War, access to this area was restricted because they feared attacks on the harbor which is located in close proximity. There are many plaques, monuments and tombs of distinguished members such as William Tolfrey (who was the first to translate the Bible to Pali and Sinhalese), Henry Mathews (Puisne Justice of Supreme Court), Thomas James Twistleton (the first Archdeacon of Colombo),George Steuart (Founder of The George Steuart Group of Companies), Louise Rodney (Wife of John Rodney, Colonial Secretary of Ceylon), Sir Charles Peter Layard (the first Mayor of Colombo) and the soldiers who died from the Worcestershire Regiment 2nd Battalion, while serving in Ceylon. A 200 year old British flag is preserved here.
Cargills Main Store: in the year 1844, businessmen David Cargill and William Miller set up a small shop in Colombo Fort and came to be known as ‘The House of Cargills’. This red brick structure housed the very first department store in Sri Lanka. In 1896, Cargills was formed into a limited company when David Sime Cargill took over upon the retirement of William Milne. Later on in the year 1946, Cargills was incorporated as a Public Limited Company. This company was then acquired by Ceylon Theatres in the year 1981. Under this management, Cargills expanded their trading legacy and thus established the very first chain of supermarkets in Sri Lanka. The first outlet was declared open at Staple Street. At present, a lot of products are being produced under their own label such as ‘Cargills Magic Ice Cream’, ‘Cargills Kist’ and so on.