A Local's Guide to Colombo, Sri Lanka

Designer Annika Fernando on where to eat and shop in the Sri Lankan capital.
Photo taken in Colombo Sri Lanka

Annika Fernando is a major force in Sri Lanka’s creative scene: In addition to her own interior design practice, she’s the owner and curator of the concept store PR; director of her family’s Paradise Road group of boutiques, restaurants, and hotels; and the designer of the fashion label Maus.

This interview is part of The World Made Local, a global collaboration between the seven international editions of Condé Nast Traveler in which 100 people in 100 countries tell us why their home turf should be your next destination.

How would you describe Colombo?

Sri Lanka is a unique country. It really is paradise, and Colombo is a small, exciting city—it has become more beautiful through the years and is incredibly green. We have great food, warm hospitality, unique shopping, and that Sri Lankan smile: Our people are naturally warm and incredibly hospitable. Anyone who has been here knows the island gets into your veins. Beaches, culture, wildlife, tea country, architecture, design, food… There’s always more to see, and it’s infectious.

If a friend was visiting Colombo and had just 24 hours there, what would you tell them to do?

Sri Lankan breakfast can't be missed: from kiri bath to pol roti, and everything with a side of pol sambol. If you can’t get it at home, go to Sugar Bistro for the best Sri Lankan breakfast. If you want something casual and to catch the city people, go to Café Kumbuk, Seed Café, or Black Cat. The Gallery Café is a Colombo institution with a little bit of architectural history and an opportunity to experience Sri Lankan art. I love Barefoot Garden Café on Sundays for long lunches, jazz, and the alfresco vibe. For drinks, Tintagel’s The Red Bar is intimate and special and has live music. I also really like the newbie Table by Taru, which has a lovely rooftop and bar area.

Annika Fernando

Tristan Laurens Bernard

What should people go see beyond the usual tourist sites?

I always tell friends to visit the National Museum, especially if they haven’t had an opportunity to go to the Cultural Triangle. It gives you a good introduction to our architectural and engineering history. Watch the sunset from the Chequerboard at the Galle Face Hotel and go kite-flying at Galle Face Green—or better still, charter a yacht from the Port City Marina and see Colombo from the sea.

What should we buy and where should we shop?

First, the predictable Sri Lankan spices and Ceylon cinnamon are no-brainers. Ceylon tea is another big one, and while you may gravitate to big labels, also check out some of the smaller organic labels and their infusions, too. If you are here on a weekend, check out the Good Market, where you’ll find most of our organic labels, home bakers, and small produce options.

Sri Lanka has a strong architectural and design sensibility, and you know you have to shop at Paradise Road and Barefoot for gifts! For local fashion, there’s PR and our representation of local design, along with The Design Collective and Urban Island. Collectively, these stores encompass the entire local fashion-design scene.