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Colombo, Sri Lanka's largest city and capital, is a jumbled mix of modern business blocks, colonial buildings, temples, and tumble down flats and houses. The city's urban pursuits of shopping, fine dining, and buzzing nightlife contrast with the rest of rural, slow-paced Sri Lanka. Travelers who make time in their beach vacation for a visit to the capital can keep busy touring Buddhist centers, pretty parks, and fascinating museums.

Beaches

A short taxi ride from the city and close to Bandarnaike International Airport, Mount Lavinia is a popular spot for tourists to spend their first or last night in Sri Lanka. The golden-sand beach is not too crowded, despite its proximity to the city. At sunset the Mount Lavinia Hotel, perched above the beach, is the prime spot for an aperitif. Kite and windsurfing are popular at Negombo, a busy resort and the next nearest beach to Colombo.

Things to Do

The National Museum displays Sri Lankan treasures and artifacts, from Buddhist statues to more than 4,000 ancient palm-leaf manuscripts. No stay in Colombo would be complete without a walk along Galle Face Green. This promenade along the Indian Ocean is a magnet for kite flyers, picnickers, food vendors, and teenagers at sunset. Just north of the Colombo is the Muthurajawela Marsh, best explored on a flat-bottom boat gliding through the salty wetlands full of mangroves, butterflies, and birds.

Eating and Drinking

Rice and curry is the usual main course for most Sri Lankans. The city is well known for its seafood, either curried with coconut milk or barbecued. Local cuisine has strong Indian and Chinese influences, and excellent Thai, Japanese, and Western eateries abound. Desserts always have fresh fruit, such as pineapple, papaya, and bananas, and palm treacle ladled over thick rice and coconut pudding is the sugary treat of choice.

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Shopping

High street labels manufactured in the country can be picked up for a bargain in Colombo's shopping malls. For a more local vibe, Pettah is an open-air market and labyrinth of lanes, each specializing in particular crafts. Shops selling colorful sari and shalwar kameez, long unisex dresses or tunics, line Main Street; Sea Street has gold and silver jewelry; One Street sells Ayurvedic medicine bags full of roots and plants to cure all ills.