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Colombo is a city resplendent with history and culture. Situated at the mouth of the Kelani River, Colombo possesses a natural harbor that attracted traders from across the globe over 2,000 years ago. Due to its natural assets, the region came under the rule of the Portuguese, Dutch, and British for centuries until Colombo gained independence in 1948. Its diverse history gives the contemporary city a unique, multi-ethnic character in which Buddhist viharas stand alongside Hindu temples, Muslim mosques, and Christian churches. Modern Colombo has an abundance of things to do, from relaxing by the Indian Ocean on the Galle Face Green and exploring colonial-era architecture to venturing into Sri Lanka's interior for a day of discovery among historic cities and national parks.
The official legislative capital of Sri Lanka is the Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte area of Colombo, though the entire city is referred to as the capital. Explore the city's diverse neighborhoods, from the central area of Fort to the business district surrounding Beira Lake.
Galle Face Green - Galle Face Green is a long urban park sprawled along 1,640 feet (500 m) of the Indian Ocean shore. Originally used for horse racing, golf, rugby, and cricket, the promenade is now a popular recreation and relaxation hub. The park is home to the Galle Face Hotel, a historic hotel from 1864 that features a museum, art gallery, and the Chequerboard Square-a scenic spot for watching the sunset.
Pettah - The bustling commercial district of Colombo, Pettah offers insight into the rich cultural diversity of the city. Visit the thriving open-air bazaars of Pettah Market to find vendors of every kind, and see the Khan Clock Tower standing at its entrance. Pettah is also home to Wolvendaal Church, one of the oldest Protestant Dutch churches in Sri Lanka, and the Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, a striking and historic mosque still frequented today.
Cinnamon Gardens - The multi-ethnic neighborhood of Cinnamon Gardens is named for the former cinnamon plantation that covered the area. Today, Cinnamon Gardens is the home of the national monument of Independence Memorial Hall, the historic Town Hall of Colombo, and the National Museum of Colombo, the largest museum in Sri Lanka.
Colombo's mix of influences gives it a historic and cultural character like no other. See its diversity on display by visiting a range of religious sites, including the Buddhist Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara and Gangaramaya Temples, the historic Muslim Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, and Saint Paul's Church Milagiriya, one of the oldest churches in Sri Lanka. Enjoy the beauty of Colombo by relaxing on the oceanside Galle Face Green, or spend time in the beautiful Viharamahadevi Park. The city is also home to several museums such as the National Museum of Colombo, which presents the cultural history of the country, the Dutch Period Museum that recounts the city's period of Dutch occupation, and the National Museum of Natural History, which showcases the natural heritage and diversity found throughout Sri Lanka.
As the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo is a convenient jumping point for the other natural and manmade treasures that lie in the country's interior. Take a day to experience the thrill of rafting on the Kelani River, the longest river in the country, whose whitewater rapids call thrill-seekers to its shores. For a more relaxed time in the natural heritage of Sri Lanka, visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, where you can encounter and learn about the majestic and gentle Asian elephants. Join a safari in the Yala National Park-Sri Lanka's second largest national park after Lunugamvehera National Park-for the chance to see leopards, crocodiles, and an abundance of native bird species in their natural environment. Closer to Colombo is the Udawalawe National Park, where safaris can bring you up-close to water buffaloes, jackals, and sloth bears. Be sure to explore Sri Lanka's cultural heritage as well with visits to spots like the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Sigiriya, an ancient rock fortress, and the Golden Temple of Dambulla, an incredibly well-preserved cave temple complex filled with statues and paintings related to Gautama Buddha. Also visit Kandy, a UNESCO-listed religious city that was the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings before the British colonial era, to learn about the long history of the country. Colombo itself celebrates local culture with festivals such as Vesak, a Buddhist holiday that celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha falling on the same day. During the week-long festival, the city is brilliant with elaborate lanterns and lights called thoran. Muslim and Hindu holidays are also celebrated throughout the year, including the Sinhalese New Year in April, during which Sri Lankan culture is on full display.