Sri Lanka, the little ‘spice island’, is fortunate to have a 1600 km coastline stretched across with pristine white beaches. Many of these beaches are still in their natural state – clean and uncontaminated even by the recent tourism upsurge in Sri Lanka. One of the not-so-explored-places is Negombo. Known for its long sandy beaches and centuries-old fishing industry, Negombo has a key advantage of proximity to the international airport (less than 15 km). Although it isn’t a very large city, there are plenty of places to visit and things to in Negombo for all types of travellers.
Negombo – an introduction
Its strategic location on the shores of a lagoon, by the same name, always made it a very important spice trading port and; even by both the Dutch and the Portuguese; who ruled over the trading in Sri Lanka for centuries. Also as the history states, the shallow waters of the lagoon provided safe shelter to the seafaring vessels and thus it became one of the key ports and was used for external trade by the earlier Sri Lankan kingdoms.
Today, Negombo is a busy city bustling with tourism and fisheries, but, it still retains its small-town calm and the old world charm, it’s sometimes also admiringly known as the ‘Little Rome’ of Sri Lanka, due to its Dutch and Portuguese influence. The major population mainly follows the centuries-old fishing industry and are Roman Catholics, but these Tamil speaking are mostly Sinhala by ethnicity. Today tourism is also a major source of income for locals.
Pro Tip: It’s ideal to make this as the base stay, to start and end your Sri Lankan escapade; as we did too. The close proximity to the airport and the capital city Colombo makes it a perfect start to the insight of the country and its ever-smiling people!!!
The Resort City
One such quaint, old, large and a thriving colonial fishermen’s city on the western coast of Sri Lanka is Negombo. Negombo is rich in natural beauty and has always been known as a major port for its trading and, for its cinnamon cultivation. It is today better known as the ‘resort city’, with many of the country’s popular resorts being there. Its close proximity to the lone International Airport in Sri Lanka; [Bandaranaike Airport is merely 6 kms]; and to the capital city Colombo, is also a major emphasis to this destination. The short drive from the airport offers some amazing views of the coastline with palms to just arrived visitors.
How to travel around in Negombo City
The city is not too crowded or disturbing with loud horns; and one can find tuk-tuks, the most common mode of travelling in the city; all around easily. The Rail and Bus station are right in the heart of the city, connecting well to other parts of the country. These are also cheaper and more economical modes of travelling but, Uber and local taxis are also easily available.
Pro Tip: it’s a good idea to walk around the city and explore the lanes and the beautiful places in Negombo and the local way of life!!!
Places to visit in Negombo
The city of Negombo is linked to the lagoon by a narrow channel, which leads into the Indian Ocean. The Negombo lagoon is a bounty full of natural resources and the vast marshlands also support the forestry and local agriculture like sprawling paddy fields, coconut plantations. A flourishing biodiversity area which spans to around 35 square kilometres, but is of just a few meters in depth. The water body is full of a variety of fish, lobsters and crabs and an excellent location for fishing.
Pro Tip: Take a fishing tour at the lagoon on a fishing boat, spend up to a few hours, can surely be an afternoon well spent, and the dinner could be the fresh catch of the day!!! We advise to also wear comfortable clothing, with a hat and sunglasses on the trip.
The Beach Road
The Beach Road is a happening destination in Negombo. The Dutch influence is hard to miss in the little town; one of them have to places to see in Negombo is the beach road shops, a good place to hang out; with various cuisine restaurants, souvenir, jewellery, and clothes shops lined on either side of the narrow lane, leading to the beach. A number of good accommodations are also found on this road and we would highly recommend that you utilise these facilities.
After sunset, the road is full in energy with the pubs and restaurants coming to life. Many have live bands performing. This is the liveliest part of town.
The Beach Vista
One of the top Negombo tourist attractions is the natural beauty of the beach; it is truly breathtaking besides, it is also quiet and peaceful and, not as busy and crowded. A stroll at sunset on the white sand Negombo beach is highly recommended.
Pro Tip: The locals usually are found crowding the beaches on weekends, but that too gives a feel of the local life, with kids playing with their colourful handmade kite surfing….so enjoy!!!
Negombo Fish Market
One of Negombo points of interest is the chance to meet the local fishermen, at the country’s second-largest fish market, located centrally near the Negombo fort. It may end up as a ‘smelly’ experience to remember [not meant for the faint hearted] and have a firsthand observe and witness to the really early morning action of the market; when the auctions begin. This big market has all types of fish sold fresh, salted or dried; the customers can also get them sliced and diced as per choice.
This is definitely a must among places to visit in Negombo, it is also the place where most of the Fishing Trips and Boating Tours to the Lagoon and Ocean beyond are organised here. The market is also a favourite photographic opportunity amongst the tourists, with the happy [though smelly] fishermen folks, who are always smiling and ready to pose.
Pro Tip: Have the benefit of the fresh catch cooked right nearby at the shacks and enjoy the true slice of Sri Lanka.
The Negombo Dutch Fort
This 17th century small, yet of great importance, is the fort built by the Portuguese and, is located on the waterfront. Once, part of the colonial history, now all that remains is its ruins. A Clock Tower, the Rampart and the Bastion showcase the Dutch and the British architecture influences; today it houses the State Prison and is one amongst the many places to see in Negombo.
The breathtaking dragon entrance; believed to get rid of any evil spirits as we enter; and the large Buddha statue, at the temple entrance are reasons that make the temple popular. The temple is surrounded by trees and has a pond full of turtles. The colourful paintings, murals and sculptures portraying Buddha’s path towards enlightenment can be seen throughout the temple premises.
Pro Tip: For the love of history, we can find at this temple, a lot of information of the ancient era Sri Lankan kings that followed Buddhism.
St Mary’s Church
Negombo’s population is multi religious but, the majority is Roman Catholics. The St Mary’s Church, located in the heart of the city was completed in the 1920’s, is majestic and has a skilfully decorated ceiling with beautiful and colourful religious paintings. The church is also known for its magnificent church organ and stained glass windows and the early morning light rays through these are a mesmerising experience. This is claimed as the largest cathedral in Sri Lanka and plays an important position in society.
Pro Tip: Featured amongst the top Negombo tourist places, but still photography is strictly prohibited; it is advised to attend and witness an early morning prayer at the church.
Interesting Things to do in Negombo
Boat ride in the Dutch Canal
To completely take pleasure in the beauty of the region and visit one of the most beautiful places in Negombo is by taking a boat ride down the canal, from the delta area of the river through the rain forest, mangroves and local farms. A wide variety of species of water birds, animals, flora and fauna are extensively found in the large mangrove swamps.
Pro Tip: A Catamaran can be hired to head towards the ocean and enjoy a fresh seafood barbeque while sailing over the sea.
To experience a fun and thrilling atypical Dutch style sail through the 17th century Hamilton canal, a boat can be hired and follow the same route which centuries ago was used for trading and still exists and flourishes. These canals were built when the Europeans began to colonize Sri Lanka and used them to move goods. The canal leads south towards Colombo and is over 200 kms long and is lined with fishermen’s huts.
Beaches in Negombo
The beach in Negombo is a must place to visit in Negombo. An early morning walk on the beach is one of the many things to do in Negombo and watching the boats go off for the days fishing is a sight to bask on. After a lazy afternoon siesta at the beach, wait for the dusk and the spectacular sunsets against the ocean, is absolutely astounding and a must see. Negombo sightseeing would include the Negombo Beach and Browns Beach. If not carrying a picnic hamper, enjoy at the numerous shack restaurants at the beach offering hearty snacks and drinks.
Pro Tip: Amongst the numerous things to do in Negombo, hire water sports equipment and enjoy diving at Kudapaduwa, a 40-year-old shipwreck spot about 75 m in length and experience stunning corals, groupers and variety of colourful fish.
Places to Eat in Negombo
The city has plenty of food options, but ironically finding authentic Sri Lankan food may be difficult. Thriving currently on tourism and also due to the great cultural influences of the Dutch, Portuguese and Colonial rule, have left the city with a varied food palette. From European, Arabic to Italian to Continental, we find it all. But the fresh sea food rules the show due to its variety, superior quality and easy availability.
The popular eateries recommended in Negombo:
Lords Restaurant: Recently voted as the top restaurant in Negombo, this cricket-themed restaurant is quite vibrant and has a live band playing late into the evening. The lovely ambience adds on to the delectable dishes. It caters with its vast menu containing local, eastern, western as well as fusion fare and a very good range of vegan options.
Petit Restaurant: To savour the real spicy authentic Sri Lankan cuisine, with its diverse selection of seafood is this small family-run restaurant, cooking meals the authentic way.
Coco’s: Along with an array of local and western cuisines served in a cosy comfortable setting, we recommend to order the delectable berry and coconut flavoured ice creams on a hot afternoon.
Mr Burger: For cheap, fresh and basically tasty Sinhalese meal of Hoppers, Stuffed Parathas, Dhal and Kottu rotis, this is a must-visit place, and you do not get burgers!!!!
Dolce Vita: Is a beach-front casual cafe and restaurant, serving Italian and western dishes like pizzas and salads; their homemade gelatos and real espresso along with a variety of coffee choices are much admired.
Sea View: Located centrally on the beach road it offers excellent economical seafood and continental food and is served fresh by a very friendly staff. As it was located close to our hotel we personally enjoyed many of their large portioned meals along with the beautiful casual ambience and the personal touch of the owners to each customer.
Pro Tip: Do not miss out to enjoy at one of the many local bakeries in the city. We had the freshest and the yummiest cakes during our stay, simple plain and marble cakes are sold by weight. Also, savour upon the seafood patties and buns, these humble bakeries are found where the locals are in Negombo and not in the tourist areas.
Best Places to stay in Negombo
For accommodation Negombo can cater to all, and with some very fine options; from single travellers to family holidays; from luxury hotels to family-run guest houses providing basic needs and breakfast. Below are a few options of where to stay in Negombo:
Rated amongst the best hotels in Negombo, the Jetwing Beach Hotel is located on the Ethukala Beach around 3 km from Negombo. Equipped with a large Pool and Spa and beachfront accommodation, it provides all luxury comforts.
Serendib Village Guest House is just 400 meters from the beach and offers accommodation, and has a restaurant, lounge, free parking and an outdoor swimming pool. Well equipped air-conditioned rooms with a continental breakfast are provided.
The luxury hotels like Heritance Hotel and Blue Elephant Boutique Hotel are also popular among tourists. Laxmi Family Villa is a small, safe, comfortable two-room guest house, located 5 minutes walk from the beach; with the owner family taking care of all including providing guests with home-cooked meals, airport pick-ups, tour organisations etc.
On our trip to Negombo, we stayed in the Blue Water Boutique Hotel, a very centrally located hotel on Lewis Place, the beach road, just a few hundred meters from the beach. With clean, comfortable accommodation and an excellent breakfast, we highly recommend it you to take the services of these ever-friendly staff. Highly Recommended..!!
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– Places to visit around Negombo
Negombo is very centrally located, so day trips can be organised to most destinations in Sri Lanka like Colombo, Kandy, Galle, Sirigiya, the most common. Our suggestion is to visit Chilaw, a two-hour-away seaside town, very famous for crabs, coconut and curry. The beautiful Sea Pearls are also famous. An annual carnival to honour Lord Shiva, at the Munneswaram Temple is a grand affair in this quaint town in the month of August each year.
Muthurajawela Wetlands is a protected 6000 acres marchland, around 20 km away; which is home to 192 species of wildlife, including endangered Slender Loris and 102 species of birds.
The Mologoda Pottery Village is the oldest manual clay pottery village, at a distance of an hour’s drive from Negombo. It has more than 50 families occupied only in this skilled industry. Beautiful clay works and utensils can be purchased from direct potters and today commercialisation has significantly transformed this feudalist village.
If travelling with kids or love a thrill yourself, you can visit the country’s first theme park – Guruge Park, located on the Colombo highway. The park is open on all days and depicts the rich history of the country dating back to 547 BC, along with unlimited rides; a water park and mesmerising light shows. A Gem Museum within the premises takes you up close to the great historical and cultural asset of Sri Lanka.
Negombo should remain as the top place to visit in Sri Lanka, and ideally, you can make this as the base on Sri Lanka Vacation. Away from the city hustle-bustle, it is a perfect start to a peaceful vacation, after a long tiring journey, as the city also has the most pleasant throughout the year, but best visited from December to April. So, do add this great travel destination to your itinerary and explore another gem in Sri Lanka.
Read more about our Sri Lanka Travel Stories
This blog-post was co-authored by Anuradha Nag. An ex-marketing professional, Anuradha hails from India’s NCR (National Capital Region). She loves to travel and has recently been on a family vacation to Sri Lanka.
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