“Colombo, the bustling capital city of Sri Lanka, is gritty, crowded but super charming.”
It has all the colourful quirks you'd find in India but with a more calming atmosphere. We felt like we were receiving a spiritual cleansing just by walking down the streets!
Colombo is bursting with Buddhist temples, markets and smiling Sri Lankan faces. Every corner is steeped in history and culture. We found ourselves torn over what activity to tackle next, what to see, what story to unravel, who to speak to, where to eat. It never gets dull for a moment!
As tourists with passing interests in history, it more than satisfied our needs. Everything from the museums to the many temples helped unravel the story of this great nation. As gay travellers, we still felt relatively comfortable to be ourselves (more about this below!) and find sparks of queerness in the city tapestry. Whether it be in the fabulous display of masks and costumes we found in the museums or the underground gay scene where we found our fellow brothers and sisters of the gay community.
We’ve put together this guide to Colombo for you to check out all the tips and tricks of exploring the city as an LGBTQ traveller. We also recommend you check out our gay guide to Sri Lanka alongside this guide if you're exploring more of the country.
Personalised gay friendly itinerary to Sri Lanka
We've teamed up with the excellent gay travel company Pinky Swear to offer our readers an exclusive 5% discount off the total cost of any trip you book with them. Pinky Swear specialises in crafting tailored trips and gay friendly itineraries to Colombo and the rest of Sri Lanka. The company is run by gay locals who are super passionate about their country, so you'll be in good hands.
Is Colombo safe for gay travellers?
While homosexuality is still illegal in Sri Lanka, Sri Lankans are very welcoming people and super curious towards foreigners whether straight or gay. We never felt in any danger for being gay, nor ever experienced any homophobia. Put it this way, we never thought twice about booking a double bed anywhere in Sri Lanka. In fact, there is even a growing number of hotels targeting gay travellers in nearby Negombo.
We even found a handful of gay friendly bars and clubs in Colombo where we felt comfortable with PDAs. Lots of the urban spaces tend to be populated with a more open-minded and accepting crowd, particularly among Sri Lankans who, when chatting with us, told us stories about their own gay relatives or friends. In the worst-case scenario, they mistook us for twin brothers.
Though whilst this can be said from our perspective as foreigners visiting, the reality for gay locals is a lot different. Sri Lankan society remains extremely conservative. For gay locals, being out is not easy. It risks losing your job, ostracising your family, or worse, inciting violent attacks. As a result of the anti-gay law of Sri Lanka, policemen have been known to use it as a way to extract bribes from gay guys they catch cruising on the beach.
To find out more about what it's like growing up gay in Sri Lanka, read our interview with local boy Kaluu from Colombo and also
The gay area of Colombo
In the absence of a gay scene, there are no official gay bars or clubs in Colombo, and certainly no gay area or gay neighbourhood. However, there are many gay friendly places, along with an underground gay scene with occasional queer parties taking place. We strongly advise using gay dating apps and social media to tap into and connect with gay Sri Lankan locals in order to find out about the latest underground party taking place. Once you discover and tap into the Colombo gay scene, you'll find it to be just as vibrant and fun as anywhere else in the world.
When we visited Colombo, we found that the bars and restaurants linked to the large hotel chains were some of the most gay friendly, where we could be ourselves. Some of the large hotels like the Lazaani even hosts occasional gay parties and events.
Perhaps the closest thing we found to be a ‘gay area' was the Mount Lavinia Beach district. Although not home to any gay bars, it has a lot of LGBTQ people living here and also plays host to Colombo's Gay Pride week in June. There were a few times when we even spotted a few of the bars on the beach flying a rainbow flag.
Landing soon at Colombo airport?
The most convenient way to get to Colombo city centre from the airport is by booking a private airport transfer like this one. You'll get a professional driver who will be waiting at Colombo airport, handle your luggage for you and whisk you straight to your hotel with zero fuss and stress.
Gay hotels in Colombo
Sadly there are quite a large number of hotels in Sri Lanka that may “react” if you tell them you're gay – remember, being gay in Sri Lanka is still officially a crime and an arrestable offence. Therefore small hotel owners or guesthouses will try ways to avoid hosting LGBTQ travellers to avoid being on the wrong side of the law. At the larger international hotel chains in Colombo, this was never a problem.
In this list of the best gay hotels in Colombo we've focused on the ones that made us feel welcome, which we can personally attest to being gay friendly:
Why we love it
- Very gay friendly international hotel brand
- Gorgeous big swimming pool with bar
- Excellent fitness facilities and hot tub
- Two lovely restaurants on-site
Hilton, no matter where they are in the world, love the gays. At check-in we had no issues about whether or not we could have a double bed. This is one place you can be sure you'll feel welcomed as an LGBTQ traveller.
Simply put, Hilton is luxury on top of luxury. Whichever room you book you'll feel as if you're being treated like royalty. All the rooms are so spacious, with huge windows and ultra-comfy beds.
The Hilton Colombo is centred in the heart of the city in Colombo 1. It's close to an array of shops, restaurants, cafes and historical sites. Its impressive tall structure is quite unique, especially when it becomes all lit up at night. We recommend checking out the Hilton's open-air “Curry Leaf” restaurant. This is an experience in style that will allow you to feel the warm evening air wash over you as you eat wonderful food and drink delicious drinks.
There are also a string of fabulous amenities to keep you busy. Why not have a boogie and a sing-along in the karaoke bar? Embarrass or impress, what does it matter so long as you have a good time? Or grab a scrumptious cocktail in the bar? Sipping delightful drinks as you chatter away into the night, making memories that will last a lifetime. Go for a relaxing dip in the pool or unwind with a massage in the renowned spa. Allowing the stresses of your life to waft on by as you ride your way to cloud 9.
Of course, we couldn’t help ourselves and simply had to try out their gym. With state-of-the-art facilities, plenty of machines to indulge in some cardio or weight-lifting, you’ll be able to keep your body and mind in tip-top shape. Less likely to feel guilty as you indulge yourself on all that tasty Sri Lankan food (which, for the record, we legit rate it as one of the best cuisines in the world!).
STAY WITH A GAY LOCAL
Misterb&b is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBTQ community. Unlike on Airbnb, you know your host is gay, avoiding any nasty surprises when you check in. It is also a great way to meet gay locals and discover the underground gay scene. Click below to get 10 € (or $10) off your first booking.
Why we love it
- Amazing location opposite Galle Face Green
- Very glamorous and luxurious
- Swimming pool and lounge area
- Lovely spa for relaxing treatments
Proudly sitting across from the gorgeous Galle Face Green with its lovely beachfront, the Taj Samudra is a glamorous and luxurious destination for your holiday. It was a wonderful place for us to really take in the astounding beauty of the Indian Ocean. The azure waves rolling on white beach sands. Perfect for our romantic walks on the beach in the evening.
Containing 300 rooms and suites, the hotel is a sanctuary of fine dining, exceptional service and fabulous spa treatments.
We were made to feel so welcome as we wandered around the hotel. It is also based in the heart of Colombo’s central business hub, with a variety of restaurants, bars and clubs nearby that will leave you feeling spoiled for choice. (Some of our favourites we talk about below!)
We were impressed by the hotel’s commitment to exquisite service – offering all guests a spellbinding view from their room, regardless of its price. Each room is treated to either a city view or seaside view, and you can choose which you prefer when booking your accommodation. Naturally, we went for a more oceanic view.
The inhouse restaurant is bloody impressive! They have award-winning chefs who specialise in the some of the tastiest Indian and Sri Lankan dishes that explode with exotic spices, cooked to perfection! There is also a lounge area, affectionately named “Pebbles”, where you can indulge in a game of snooker or go for a dip in the swimming pool.
Feeling like you need some TLC? Indulge in a wide selection of spa services you can soak in. Our favourite was the Jiva spa, which lasted 2 hours and consisted of a deep massage that truly helped unwind the tensions in our muscles…after all, knots are meant to be in timber, not in our backs! We also got ourselves another cheeky indulgence: the soma treatment. This is a couples-only service, where you're treated to a romantic candlelit aromatherapy massage followed by a rose petal bath!
Mahasen by Foozoo
Why we love it
- Gay-owned guesthouse perfect for LGBTQ travellers
- Beautiful rooftop terrace with garden and views
- Some rooms with private jacuzzi
- Lovely staff with all the local knowledge
There are few places we have found in the world that are as wholesome as Mahasen. A gay owned guesthouse in a thriving area of Colombo, the whole experience is designed as a sanctuary for LGBTQ folk who visit the city.
Given that it's always questionable if a small hotel or guesthouse will welcome you as an LGTBQ traveller, it's comforting knowing that there are gay owned businesses like this where you'll feel completely at home!
In the evenings, you can head on up to the rooftop terrace and garden area. We adored going up there to enjoy a drink, observe the Colombo skyline and chat with fellow guests.
The staff are super sweet, accommodating and work hard to ensure your comfort. They also will know all the ins-and-outs of the city, which places to check out, and which are best left avoided. A fantastic boon to ensure your visit to Colombo is a happy one.
Not only is it pro-LGBTQ but it's also super central, close to many of the main tourist attractions. Mahasen offers a range of budget-friendly rooms from the basic to the outright luxurious. The basic rooms are obviously modest and are shared bathrooms. But for the price you're paying, you will not be complaining. The Celebrity King Room is any honeymooners' dream, with a massive bed, a design that is bursting with colour, and even your own private Jacuzzi!
Why we love it
- Excellent budget hotel option
- Clean, compact and cosy rooms
- Delicious on-site restaurant
- Good location for sightseeing
The Juliana Hotel is perfect for solo LGBTQ travellers or travellers backpacking on a budget. It's the ideal place to meet other like-minded travellers.
Despite being a budget hotel, the Juliana never felt cheap. The rooms are compact for sure, but they are also clean, cosy and had a marvellous view of the Indian ocean. We also loved the hotel's cute little touches like the Grand Piano in the lobby and the old-fashioned bar in the corner (perfect for a nightcap – our little secret!)
As you won’t be spending a lot of time in the hotel to begin with, you’ll hardly notice that you aren’t staying in the most premium of digs. It's also in a great location for sightseeing, as it's very central, close to public transport links for getting around the city.
The Juliana Hotel also hosts a fabulous restaurant. There are plenty of dishes to choose from, both local and global cuisines – worth checking out if you find you're too exhausted to look for other options in the city. The staff are also friendly and accommodating. They welcome LGBTQ travellers so you won’t be made to feel uncomfortable when checking in or requesting a double bed.
Gay bars in Colombo
Whilst Colombo completely lacks an official gay scene or outright gay bars, that's not to say a scene does not exist. You simply have to work a bit harder to tap into it. Occasional parties happen but are announced by word of mouth, so Grindr is your friend here.
Given the anti-gay law in place in Sri Lanka and society's strong conservative attitudes, we exercise caution with PDAs when going out. However, there are a handful of straight bars where we did feel comfortable with PDAs, which we summarise here:
This is one of the more expensive bars in the city – but we were feeling rather fancy one evening, so we thought, why not? Offering views of the Indian ocean, every detail is touched with opulence. Its marble walls, Romanesque pillars, and shining wooden bar create this lavish atmosphere that makes its guests feel super posh. And sometimes, you just need that!
Not to mention the divine selection of cocktails to experiment with. You’ll feel like a true lady of leisure. The bar is open from 8am to midnight, so if you're planning an adventure out on the town, it's a lovely place to start off. Otherwise, you can simply relax in the lounge, which stays open 24/7.
Located at 100 Hotel Rd, Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, Sri Lanka. The bar is open from 8am to midnight, with the lounging area staying open 24/7.
The Breeze Bar at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel is just as sweet as you'd expect from a hotel called Cinnamon. We loved the outdoor terrace with views of the Indian Ocean. Occasionally they have live performances with local singer-songwriters, which we recommend checking out. We also recommend getting a shisha, a satay platter and a few of their signature cocktails.
Breeze has a chilled out vibe, perfect for unwinding after a long day of travelling. It has a mix of mainly foreigners and some locals, most of who are heading out on a club night.
The Cinnamon Grand Hotel is located at 77 Galle Road and the Breeze Bar is open daily from 10am until midnight.
Situated by the poolside of the Kingsbury Hotel, the Honey Beach Club is a truly glamorous spot for you to enjoy a drink with friends. Hanging lanterns gently radiate light as you sip on your cocktails and laugh with friends or whisper with lovers. The charming thatched roofs add to the ambiance and the soothing music blends everything together for the ultimate chill experience.
Shisha is quite the fashion we noticed in Colombo! If you're with a group of friends, we recommend getting on between you along with a few of their tasty desserts!
The Honey Beach Club is located at Lobby Level on the Ground Floor of the Kingsbury Hotel which can be found at No. 48, Janadhipathi Mawatha. It is open from 7am-midnight every day.
Gay clubs in Colombo
We love a cheeky dance – no matter where we are in the world! And just because there are no ‘official’ gay hangout spots in Colombo doesn’t mean that there aren’t places for you to go. As we said above, there is always a secret underground gay party taking place. We highly recommend connecting with gay locals via Grindr to get the latest word as to what's happening.
We also recommend looking out for the LGBTQ group Chathra who organise movie nights, speed friending and dance parties. Below we've summarised the straight venues which are known locally as being gay friendly and where we felt comfortable with PDAs.
From the majestic decor to the fabulous drinks, Rhythm and Blues is one of the most popular nightlife spots in all of Colombo. It's also one of the few places that stay open until the wee hours of the morning, so you can be sure to find lots of party-obsessed people there. Walking in you’ll be bowled over by the mushroom-shaped structure that hangs above the bar. Made from thin fibre-optics that light up, it is the central focus of the club. The dark couches that loop around the walls are perfect for socialising in between trips to the dance-floor.
And whilst we are on the subject of dancing – the music is (as you would expect) generally R&B. They also have themed nights such as Afro Wednesdays, which help open you up to different music styles that are popular across the continent of Africa. Dancing to tribal music is absolutely amazing. Of course, we didn't understand a word but when a song comes on that sounds vaguely like the Circle of Life from the Lion King, you know the club will go mental. And it did!
Rhythm and Blues is located at R. A. De Mel Mawatha and is open from 8pm to 5am.
It’s dark and mysterious, yet the Chiller Room is welcoming to all. As you enter into the dimly-lit halls, with the heavy beats pounding off the walls and neon lights illuminating a dance-floor filled with an alternative crowd, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d somehow teleported into a warehouse club in Berlin. But nope, you're still in the heart of Colombo! (The only difference here is that the crowd aren’t as overtly sexual as they are in the German capital!)
The music is a fusion of R&B and house music, with a different DJ each night taking to the set and putting their own spin on it. Even if the genre is not really your thing, the mix of lighting and sound quality will help elevate the experience – and you’ll find yourself becoming somewhat of a techno convert.
NOTE: dress code is fancy wear so don’t rock up in t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops.
The Chiller Room is located at 32B Sir Mohammed Macan Markar Mawatha and is open from 8pm to 5am.
Gay saunas and spas/gay cruising in Colombo
There are no gay saunas in Colombo. There are however some popular gay cruising areas in Colombo, which our local friends told us about. These include the bushes of the Wellawatte Railway Station, Bambalapitya beach, behind Majestic City and around the Colombo Fort area after sunset.
A few safety tips to please bear in mind:
- tell a friend (if possible) what your plans are
- bring protection and lube
- be discreet
- be safe!
Remember that the laws against LGBTQ people in Sri Lanka aren’t favourable, and homophobes could be lurking around the area or using Grindr to catfish you so always trust your gut instincts.
Gay events in Colombo
Colombo doesn't have many gay events, but the ones they do have are so much fun that you'll feel like you've been to heaps in one go! Check them out below:
Colombo Pride is more than just a parade. It's a collection of events spread over the course of a month, usually in June or July, all in the name of Pride! It's been going strong in the nation’s capital since it began in 2005.
Planned events include a kite flying tournament, where all the colours of the rainbow soar high in the air, filling the sky with Pride. Standing beneath the shadow of the tournament truly takes your breath away and reminds you how beautiful the Pride flag truly is!
There is also a Music and Dance Queer Festival, where LGBTQ artists and icons descend onto the city and create an experience of laughter and love. Showcasing some of the best of Asian queer artistry, the event is catered for all those in the closet looking to see themselves represented on the stage. We definitely recommend going, if only to discover all these fascinating new arts.
And of course, no Pride would be complete without the traffic halting, rainbow overload march that is the Pride parade. To find out more, we recommend connecting with the Twitter account of Equal Ground.
Butterfly Christmas Party
‘Tis the season to be jolly indeed! The Butterfly Christmas Party takes place in the Goethe-Institut and welcomes all those who are different – including us LGBTQ folk! It is a fantastic way to meet people from across the city, listen to cheesy Christmas music, eat lots of sweets and let loose!
After completing a long year, why not go nuts and celebrate? With a raffle, gifts shared, snacks, music, dancing and tons of party games, the Butterfly Christmas Party is the ultimate way to get yourself into a festive mode.
The event organisers do exceptional work in creating a truly wintery atmosphere for you to enjoy and appreciate. You’ll have a hard time finding a Grinch or Scrooge at this party, that’s for sure. There's no official website but keep an eye on the Goethe-Institut's Facebook page for the most up-to-date info.
Gay travel agent in Colombo
If you're looking for a gay-friendly travel company to organise your trip to Colombo, or further afield in Sri Lanka, we've partnered with Pinky Swear, an excellent gay-owned travel agency who offer tailored tours and itineraries for LGBTQ travellers.
These guys are locals, passionate travellers and have a real insight into their country, as well as the gay scene in the big cities. They are offering our readers an exclusive 5% discount when you book your vacation with them. Get a personalised itinerary to see what they have to offer you!
I WANT A PERSONALISED ITINERARY TO SRI LANKA
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Where to eat in Colombo
Looking for a bite to eat? Always wanted to try some of the best food Sri Lanka has to offer? Then you will not be left disappointed (or hungry) by our selection of restaurants and cafes from around Colombo. Each one differs in terms of style, flavours and atmospheres but they're all fantastic!
Paradise Road The Gallery Cafe
Housed in the former offices of famous gay Sri Lankan architect, Geoffrey Bawa, the Paradise Road Gallery Cafe is a beloved spot for culinary enthusiasts around the city. They serve a mix of local and international cuisine, though the real draw is the impressive dessert menu, which includes over 30 choices! Chocoholics will be best pleased – as the menu has a strong focus on chocolate. The interior adopts a woodland kind of vibe, with dim lighting and furniture made of timber. Lanterns and candles offer a source of light, so it feels as if you're dining under the light of fairies. Perfect for those romantic whispers at night.
The Curry Leaf is an exclusive restaurant at the Hilton, serving up authentic Sri Lankan cuisine. To get a real taste of the true Colombo lifestyle, a trip to Curry Leaf is all you really need. The decorations of the restaurant are inspired by nature and mysticism, inviting you to a realm of fantasy dining. There is a great big fountain with swans, banyan trees, and tribal masks hanging from the walls. Live musicians and bands often play, encouraging guests to sing along and dance, energising the atmosphere. A few people, who had clearly never danced before, got up – watching them jig was great fun! The attention-to-detail from the staff is exceptional, with everyone on the team working hard to ensure an incredible experience all round.
Serving up food that is fit for royalty (which is a proven fact because Princess Anne once dined here!), Beach Wadiya is a fantastic way of introducing yourself to Sri Lankan food. The fascinating tale behind the restaurant is how the owner, Olwyn Weerasekera, had no experience in the food industry when he opened his business doors. It was his passion, willing to learn and love for food that has helped Beach Wadiya become the success it is today. As you may have guessed, the food is ‘beach-themed’ so expect lots of seafood. Shellfish in Beach Wadiya was absolutely sublime. It was the perfect mixture of salt and flavour. These guys really know their seafood!
Chutneys at Cinnamon Grand Hotel
Considered to be one of the best Indian restaurants in all of Colombo, Chutneys can be found inside the Cinnamon Grand Hotel. The interior’s use of golds and reds creates this cosmopolitan, sophisticated atmosphere. You are instantly embraced with the aroma of spices that make your mouth water and your stomach rumble with hunger. With excellent vegetarian options and a vegetarian buffet, it's the perfect location for all lovers of food. It covers four areas of India, including Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. We've been to India before (gay guide here) but there were still loads of different dishes to try. It was fantastic. Naturally, the desserts were just as outstanding and are a great way to polish off your pallet and soothe any spicy aftereffects.
You can’t walk into a place called Butter Boutique if you’re not expecting to walk out at least a stone heavier. Famous for its delicious cakes and coffee, Butter Boutique is perfect for a treat or late afternoon snack. We definitely recommend the vanilla cheesecake, which is one of the restaurant’s most popular desserts. The staff are super pleasant – who wouldn’t be in a good mood if they were constantly surrounded by all these sugary delights? Their friendliness and suggestive nature made the experience feel all the more special. It was like what we’d imagine a trip to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory would feel like.
Things to do in Colombo
You’ve sorted the flights, the accommodation, and now you just need to populate your to-do list with all kinds of fun and exciting activities from around the city. These were our favourite things to see and do in Colombo:
The National Museum is massive. From the photos, you might say intimidatingly big. Yet in person, you can’t help but feel at peace. Wandering through the galleries, we were blown away by the wide collection of art pieces, from paintings to carvings, many of which date as far back as the mid-nineteenth century. There are also displays of swords, guns and other war paraphernalia, that represent the colonial period in the nation’s history, ensuring that locals never forget their past. A fabulous way to experience the National Museum is via an interactive museum walk with an expert to introduce you to Sri Lanka's history and culture.
Buddhist temple Gangaramaya (Vihara)
‘A temple is a beacon, a lighthouse for the storm-tossed’. A beautiful mantra for a beautiful building, the Gangaramaya temple has always stood as a symbol of hope, prosperity and peace within the city. Considered to be one of the most significant temples in all of Colombo, Gangaramaya is a centre of worship and learning of Buddhist teachings. Its design is a mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian and Chinese architecture. Inside contains a library, residential hall, monk assembly hall and alms hall. When you walk in, you can feel the press of history all around you. There is a sombre aura about the place, but still very much a truly spiritual experience! If you join this full-day tour of Colombo you'll have ample time to explore the entire complex.
Offering a sweet view of the ‘floating' Seema Malakaya temple and government buildings that dominate the Colombo skyline, Beira Lake is the calm inside the storm of the bustling Sri Lankan city. Having been built by the Portuguese (who at the time ruled the state) as a means of protection against invaders, the lake has a fascinating history behind it. After numerous years of fighting over it, it eventually fell into the hands of the British who built a city around it. Today, it has come full circle, offering calm and peace in an otherwise boisterous world.
Some come to find great deals on food. Others come to pick up a knick-knack that will help them remember their trip to Colombo. We came for both! The Pettah Markets is the largest market in all of Sri Lanka. It spans across several blocks and you can easily spend a whole afternoon by exploring all the shops and stalls there are available. Foods that make up all the colours of the rainbow, scents that waft through the air, and the constant chattering of friendly locals can give visitors a sensory feast. Joining a small group tour on a tuk-tuk is a fun way to explore the area with a local guide to keep you from getting too overwhelmed!
Galle Face Green
There is a lot of speculation over how the Galle Face Green, a 5-hectare strip of green space between Galle Road and the Indian Ocean, came to be. Some say it was built in order for the ladies of the city to have a quiet space to mingle and get a breath of fresh air. Others say that it was designed by the Dutch in order to have a place to mount a row of cannons to face off against the ocean and protect against any invasions. Whether you are visiting to watch the sunset or grab a bite to eat, there is no denying how stunning the scenery truly is. The blue of the Indian ocean and the greens and browns of the beach and grass looks like a stunning oil painting. We came here on our final evening to soak in the atmosphere and watch the sunset over the waves.
The Red Mosque
The Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque in Colombo, commonly known as the Red Mosque, is one of the oldest mosques in the region. Its distinctive structure echoes that of the buildings you would see in Moscow, with its use of exuberant red candy-cane like swirls and unconventional structure, that consist of pomegranate shaped domes. In the early twentieth century, the mosque became known as a symbol of hope as it became the first thing sailors would see as they approached the Colombo coastline. It is a symbol of faith for locals across the city and you can visit it as part of this half-day Colombo city tour.
Discover the city's Dutch roots
Dutch rule in Sri Lanka started in 1640 and ended in 1796. Having been conquered then by the Portuguese (and further again by the British) Sri Lanka finally gained independence in 1948. Though it is fair to say, that there is still much of Dutch influence still to be found across the nation. One of the most notable of these being the Wolvendaal Church – though many locals refer to it as the Dutch Reformed Church. The building is rather old looking from the outside, after all, it dates back to the 1700s! And like many previous colonies, the locals have a complicated relationship with their past. But regardless, you can still appreciate the splendour of this church for the fine architecture. You can join a fun cycling tour to explore Colombo's Dutch roots from Colombo to Negombo to see it all.
Stand in the middle of Independence Square and you can practically hear the cheers and celebrations of the Sri Lankan people echoing from 1948, as they celebrated achieving independence. The main focus of the square is the Memorial Hall – an open-sided rectangle building with columns flanking it either side that support a bright red-tiled roof. There are also statues of lions that surround the memorial. If you happen to visit on the 4th of February then you'll get to witness the main Independence Day celebrational event here, which is nothing short of awe-inspiring!
Viharamahadevi is the largest park in Colombo, having been built during British colonialism. Originally it was called Victoria Park, but the name was changed to Viharamahadevi for the Sri Lankan queen following independence. It is a gorgeous urban space full of greenery and fountains, offering a tranquil and natural getaway in the heart of the city. There is a cycling path that runs throughout the park, so you can rent a bike and experience all of the beautiful scenery while making sure that you get to see everything on time. This takes you all around the park, through tree clearings and over a bridge, which stretches over a beautiful river.
Visit the t-Lounge by Dilmah
For a real ambient experience, step into the t-Lounge by Dilmah. We fell in love straight away as we entered the dimly lit room, with its sweet scent and lovely staff preparing concoction after concoction of teas. Collapsing into the plush seating and breathing in the aromatic tea fragrances helped us appreciate the t-Lounge’s charm. Sri Lanka (originally called Ceylon) is a huge producer of tea, and of course, Dilmah is one of the most famous brands. We were blown away by the overwhelming variety of teas to try here, from regular to bubble as well as tea-based smoothies, milkshakes and cocktails! A little something for everyone.
Before you go
We've put together some handy hints and tips to help you plan your own trip to Colombo. Read on to find out everything the gay traveller should know before they go.
How to get there: Unless you're arriving on a cruise, then you can reach Colombo by flying into the Bandaranaike International Airport which is also known as the Colombo airport. Depending on traffic it can take anything from half an hour to an hour to reach Colombo city centre from the airport, either by bus, train or taxi. We personally prefer to book a private airport transfer when we're arriving in a new city so that we don't have to work out public transport while juggling our luggage and can just relax with a professional, English-speaking driver to take us directly to our hotel.
Visa requirements: Sri Lanka uses an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system which means visitors from many countries can apply online for a tourist visa and not have to bother going to an embassy. Residents of some countries do need to apply for a visa in person at a diplomatic mission, so make sure you allow plenty of time before your travels to Colombo to check your personal visa requirements and get any documents your require.
Getting around: Traffic in Colombo can be chaotic and overwhelming. If you're looking to explore the city then the easiest and cheapest option is via the ubiquitous tuk-tuks, although there are also buses and taxis. Tuk-tuks are fun, but make sure you agree on a price beforehand or use one with a meter. Here is some more information on travelling within the city of Colombo in order to be able to charge your electronic devices.
Power Plugs: Sri Lanka uses power plug types D, M and G. Unless you are travelling from the United Kingdom, India or some countries in Africa, then you will most likely need to bring a travel adaptor with you to Colombo.
Travel insurance: Before heading to Colombo we definitely recommend all travellers make sure they're covered by the security of travel insurance. You just never know when you might face difficulties like missed flights, lost luggage, accident or illness. We always use WorldNomads Travel Insurance because they offer affordable and comprehensive cover, plus we know it's easy to make a claim online when we need to.
Safety and Security: Travel insurance is good for getting your money back after something happens but when you're travelling to Colombo you may encounter a problem where you need immediate assistance. We use Close Circle's “virtual bodyguard” app when we're travelling because they provide anything from advice to emergency evacuation at just the swipe of a button. You can read more about Close Circle in our post on how to stay safe while travelling.
Vaccinations: Travellers to Sri Lanka should be up to date with all routine vaccinations (such as measles, mumps, rubella), while the CDC also recommends getting vaccinated for Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Depending on whether you are planning to explore further afield, you may need further vaccinations, so make sure to check the CDC website and speak to your doctor before you book anything to travel to Colombo.
Currency: The currency used in Colombo and the rest of Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan rupee. The currency code is LKR and it's written as Rs. $1 US converts to about 181Rs, €1 is about 200Rs and £1 makes about 227Rs.
Tipping culture: There is a strong tipping culture in Sri Lanka, mostly owing to the fact that wages are low, and in touristy Colombo, it's even more expected than if you're in more rural areas. Generally, if you receive good service, you would tip 10% for a restaurant bill and tip hotel staff around 1000Rs per day (which is about $5 US). Here is a detailed guide on tipping in Sri Lanka for more information.
Internet access: Free WiFi is usually available in hotels and hostels in Colombo, as well as some internet cafes. If you want reliable access to the internet, or know you will need to use a lot of bandwidth for work perhaps, you may like to hire a portable WiFi device during your trip.
Online privacy: After communal violence in Sri Lanka in 2018 and 2019, the government dramatically increased censorship online, which included blocking sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Youtube. If you want to be able to reliably (and privately) access the internet while you're in Colombo, we recommend using a VPN service like ExpressVPN. Their service is very reliable and affordable, enabling you to stay connected with ease.
Accommodation: For more accommodation options in Colombo, make sure you check out Booking.com. We always use them to find the best prices, plus their excellent online customer service is available 24/7 and many listings offer free cancellation if needed.
Sightseeing and adventure: Our favourite place to find the best things to see and do in Colombo is GetYourGuide. With an easy to use online booking system and so many choices, you'll always find the most fun activities according to your own interests.
When to visit: Colombo's monsoon season falls between June and September, so unless you want to be sweaty and drenched you'll probably prefer to visit at a different time of year. Luckily the rest of the year is generally pleasant for visiting the city so you can easily plan your travels around holiday time or for a specific event.
Gay map of Colombo
This is our gay map of Colombo to show you where all the places we've mentioned in this article is located. Use it to find out all the best gay friendly hotels, bars and activities to plan your gay vacation to Colombo!
For more inspiration:
- If you'd like to see some wildlife in Sri Lanka you can go blue whale-watching in Mirissa
- Or get up close to beautiful elephants at Udawalawe elephant safari
- Weigh up the pros and cons of visiting Udawalawe or Yala on safari in Sri Lanka
- And make sure you try these delicious Sri Lankan food and drinks during your journey
- If you're travelling on from Sri Lanka check out our gay travel guide to India
- As well as our gay Thailand travel guide
- And if you prefer to travel by sea, these are the best gay cruises heading to Asia
- For more wildlife and excitement you might prefer these adventurous gay cruises to places like the Galapagos or Alaska
- And for the truly epic, these gay cruises to Antarctica are truly bucket list-worthy!