Colonial rule set its stamp on this island beginning in the 16th century when the Portuguese, Dutch and British arrived here with the purpose of trade. Most of their activities revolved around the coastal region because of this. But from 1597 to 1658, the Portuguese laid claim to a sizeable chunk of the island. In time however, the Dutch nudged them out and wrested all their territories in Ceylon, present-day Sri Lanka. Nipping at their heels were the British to gain a more firm foothold on the action here. By the mid-18th century the Dutch reluctantly took a back seat in this theatre. The outcome of the Kandayan Wars was that they gathered together the entire island under British sovereignty in 1815. A series of uprising against British rule forced the colonists to grant the island Independence in 1948, though till 1972 it remained a dominion of the British Empire.
This bustling port city encourages travellers to explore its offerings by the local tuk-tuk, on foot or by vintage car. Whatever one chooses, the tourist can enjoy up-close and personal vibes with Colombo’s rich colonial past in the Fort district, the nucleus for most of the historical sites. Whether it’s the colonial influences in the grand edifices, the mansions on serene tree-lined avenues, churches, period hotels, the bustling bazaars or influences on Sri Lanka’s culinary pursuits, there are many lovely takeaways for all age groups.
Slave Island, a name provided by the British during colonisation, is home to people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, including Moors, Malays and Burghers.
Delve into the martial and culture diversions of Dutch rule in Ceylon at the Dutch Period Museum, which was once the residence of the Governor of Dutch Ceylon. The 2-storied edifice has on display a veritable treasure trove of Dutch era weaponry, ceramics, artworks and furniture and furnishings.. In the old town, explore the cultural gems like the old town hall, which has an eye-catching neo-gothic building and Kayman’s Gate, the Dutch bell tower. Mount Lavinia Hotel, former home of the Governor General, has been converted into a big colonial heritage hotel complete with period settings and mod-cons. Head out for the oceanfront to Gall Face Green where locals and tourist gather at the cocktail hour to savour those stunning sunsets. It’s a popular spot for beach cricket and ocean-side dining as well and you will simply love it. Royal Colombo Golf Club dates to the 1800s and is Sri Lanka's finest and oldest club.
Its gorgeous setting in the misty, atmospheric highlands makes Kandy a nature lover’s paradise and an excellent place to soak in the colonial era-vibes of tea plantations, high teas and treks and hikes in the mountain trails. Unmissable here is the slow-paced train ride through these lush and spectacular environs. The railway, as one may recall, was another British–era gift to the island.
Head out for a history treasure hunt at the iconic Galle Dutch Fort. Originally a coastal garrison town established by the Portuguese in the 16th century, it was wrested by the Dutch who were in the ascendant of the trade war. It was expanded and better fortified. Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its significance lies in it being the best preserved example in of European forts from the colonial era in all of South and Southeast Asia. This living fort is Sri Lanka’s largest colonial monument. The walled town itself is pretty is rich in its old world atmospherics. Wander the cobble streets of Galle now awash with shops, cafes and restaurants and d souvenir shops to while your time away. Do as the locals do. Catch a panoramic sunset from the ramparts of this historic fort. Other high points include the Galle Lighthouse and the Dutch Reformed Church.
Many hidden gems await discovery from Sri Lanka’s colonial past. Next time you are here, enjoy a period hotel stay, go glamping sahib- style in one of its legendary game parks… or simply enjoy traditional English high tea on a tea plantation in the highlands.