One of the best things about living in the UAE has to be just how close we are to a host of magnificent destinations. Few are more spectacular than Sri Lanka, the paradise island that we can reach in four fast hours.
The capital is often overlooked as a holiday destination – instead seen as somewhere to stay for a night to break up your journey, before venturing further into the country. But having spent a long weekend in the vibrant city this month, we’re here to make the claim that it’s a must-visit destination in its own right.
Time To Check In
After a very comfortable Gulf Air flight (gulfair.com), via Bahrain, we touched down in Colombo. It was bright and early but we’d managed to sleep throughout the journey, so we were feeling fresh as we pulled up at our home for the next few days, the Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo.
Our luxurious room offered stunning sea views, a huge king-sized bed that we couldn’t wait to dive into that night, and a cute little writer’s corner – a lovely touch.
After a quick freshen up, we made our way up to the Club Lounge level for a light (and delicious) breakfast.
With a much-needed coffee in hand, we decided to go for classic Sri Lankan hoppers, an egg and local bread dish – something we’d be seeing a lot more of
throughout the weekend.
A City Of Culture
It was then time to get out and explore the city of Colombo, the best way we can think of, from the back of a tuk tuk. We were greeted with coconuts and a flower garland by the super friendly Tuk Tuk Safari (tuktuksafarisrilanka.com) team, and then our whistle-stop tour began.
We stopped off at old colonial buildings, dashed through busy markets, checked out various sights, sipped on Sri Lankan tea and even befriended a city elephant. And that was all in a couple of hours!
The Sri Bala Selva Vinayaga Moorthy Devasthanam and Sri Kailasanathar Swamy Devasthanam buildings were highlights of the tour. They are two neighbouring and very colourful sights, which happily welcome visitors, giving us an insight into Sri Lankan culture.
The Embillian Factory Fresh Tea Café is another must-see. Stop off for a classic Sri Lankan tea, with a comprehensive introduction to all of the different flavours and serving styles from the knowledgeable staff. It’s a total treat.
Dine In Style
Dining at the Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo is a pure joy. On our first day we were lucky enough to enjoy not one but two stunning meals at the hotel – our waistband is still feeling the pressure.
For lunch, we dined at the hotel’s signature restaurant, Shang Palace. An incredible meal of Peking duck (flown in from China), peppered crab, chicken soup and dim sum was enjoyed over a few relaxing hours at the eatery designed with a Chinese street market feel.
That evening we enjoyed another hearty meal, this time at Capital Bar and Grill. We were welcomed into the chic blue and white eatery by vibrant live jazz music, and devoured our tomahawk steak main. Prepared to perfection, it’s undoubtedly one of the best steakhouses in the country.
Make sure you leave room for dessert when dining at this Shangri-La eatery. The chocolate, peanut butter-baked Alaska is one of the most indulgent dishes we’ve tucked into in a long time, but we loved every single, rich, chocolaty bite.
See The City On Foot
We wanted to see a little more of Colombo, particularly the area around our hotel, so we booked ourselves a walking tour with local historian and photographer, Mark Forbes.
The very knowledgeable Mark showed us a few hidden gems, some of the most stunning colonial architecture we’ve seen in a while, and even took us into a potentially haunted house. The tour came to an end at Grand Oriental Hotel. We felt like we were walking onto a 19th century film set, complete with Instagram-worthy views overlooking bustling Colombo.
Of course, we also made sure to get some shopping in while we were in the city. A visit to Paradise Road is a must for classic Sri Lankan arts and crafts. We also recommend stopping off at Barefoot on Galle Road. It’s here that you will find stunning Sri Lankan fabrics and art. We took home a giant vintage poster, which is now pride of price on our living room wall.
Our final day in the city began with a couple of hours poolside, catching some rays on the hotel’s pool deck, before making our way to iconic Colombo restaurant, Ministry of Crab (ministryofcrab.com).
Reserving a table here is a must when you’re in the city. Run by celebrity chef Dharshan Munidasa, who is also behind Kaema Sutra at Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo, you’ll find the restaurant in the Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct, a renovated building that dates back to the 1600s.
We won’t beat around the bush, it’s a seafood lover’s bliss, and we didn’t hold back when it came to ordering. We feasted on buttery clams, oysters and the giant prawn (aka the prawnzilla). The prawn was served in a chilli sauce so good, we tried to persuade our waiter to bottle some up for us to take home.
No meal at Ministry of Crab is complete without the eponymous dish. You simply order your crab by weight and sauce. We went for a modest jumbo crab (okay, it wasn’t really modest at all), but devoured every bite of the seafood delicacy in its homemade pepper sauce.
It was a day of Chef Dharshan’s food for us, because that night we also dined at his latest eatery, Kaema Sutra, at the Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo. The chef opened the quirky yet modern Sri Lankan restaurant alongside Bollywood star Jacqueline Fernandez. It serves up modern interpretations of classic Sri Lankan dishes.
The highlight for us had to be the squid ink hoppers with buffalo curd. The savoury bread dish was deliciously moreish, and our waiter actually brought a second portion out for us to enjoy.
We ate alfresco on the terrace, enjoying a warm Colombo evening. Make sure you go inside to the bar to admire the wall of colourful and iconic Sri Lankan masks – it certainly makes a design impact.
Before jetting out, we booked ourselves a treatment at the hotel’s spa. We opted for an authentic Ceylonese facial, which proved to be an invigorating and thorough treatment for our face. With a deep clean and powerful mask, it was exactly what our skin was calling out for after a busy month of dehydrating travel.
Aware that our trip was coming to an end, we then made sure to finish on a high note, with afternoon tea at Sapphyr Lounge. With classic British and Sri Lankan offerings, we ordered one of each, and loved tucking into cucumber sandwiches and scones, as well as classic Sri Lankan chicken puffs and coconut cake. A traditional end to a fascinating visit.
How We Got There
Talk about travelling in style! We flew to Colombo with Gulf Air, via Bahrain. Fly Business Class in under six hours. The luxe airline treated us like royalty from the moment we arrived at the Falcon Lounge in Dubai's Terminal 1.
Onboard we enjoyed a super comfy, spacious chair for the night flight, with hearty meals prepared to our taste by the plane's chef, and we even left with a toiletries bag, packed full of luxe products.
Business Class tickets from Dubai to Colombo (via Bahrain) start from Dhs3,400. Visit gulfair.com
INFO: Rooms from Dhs660 per night, shangri-la.com/colombo/shangrila