The original Sinhala name, Kalantotta was corrupted to Kolambu by Arab traders and then changed to Colombo by the Portuguese that arrived in 1505. They gained a monopoly in the spice and cinnamon trade. By the mid 17th century, the Dutch had taken control of the costal areas of the island. The British made it the capital of their crown colony of Ceylon in 1802 and in 1948 Colombo became the capital of independent Ceylon.


Colombo remains the largest city and commercial capital and possesses many restaurants, bars, shops and places to see including the Pettah bazaar district, the wealthy residential area of Cinnamon Gardens, the National Museum and Wolvendhal Church, both dating from the Dutch colonial period, and numerous temples and mosques. Colombo still carrying remnants of colonization is filled with many-starred international hotels, shopping centers and is surprisingly westernized, yet with its own unmistakable Sri Lankan character.


The commercial and political heart of Sri Lanka, it is a fascinating mix of old and new, with high-rise office blocks and hotels overshadowing red-tiled colonial-era buildings. Sprawling stretches of street markets overflow with high piled delicious fresh fruit and vegetables, colourful silks and cottons, and fragrant spices. The colonial-era buildings, museums and galleries, churches, mosques and temples, and parks of Colombo can easily be explored on foot, taking a three-wheeler ride or even public transport.