Situated just 8km from Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport, Negombo has long served travellers as a convenient base from which to start or end their visits to Sri Lanka.
Located on Sri Lanka’s West Coast, and blessed with sandy beaches, it’s hardly surprising that Negombo is home to one of the country’s first ever seaside resorts.
It is said that Negombo owes its name to the Tamil word ‘Neerkolombu’, which was modified by the Portuguese to its present form.
It’s called ‘Meegamuwa’ in the Sinhala language. A legend states that King Kavantissa’s army discovered bee’s honey for Queen Viharamahadevi while she was pregnant with Prince Dutugemunu. This event is said to have marked Negombo as the ‘village of the honeycomb’, or mee-gomuwa.
Negombo was an important port and trading hub for spices since the times of the Sri Lankan kings. It was also famed for the cultivation of cinnamon.
Today, it is a fairly busy town with strong links to the tourism and fishing industries. But the place still retains a sense of calm and some of that ‘old world charm’, which has endeared it to the hearts of travellers.
Top Things to Do in Negombo
Now that you know a little bit about its history and background, here are our recommendations for the top things to do in Negombo:
Visit the Beach
Although arguably not as stunning as some of the beaches you’d find in the South and East of Sri Lanka, Negombo’s beaches are still worth visiting. Of these, Morawela Beach is our top recommendation. It’s usually cleaner and less crowded than some of the other beaches nearby. Also, the sea is not as rough, owing to the coral structures, therefore making it suitable for swimming and bathing.
Brown’s Beach and Negombo Beach are also top contenders and excellent for leisurely strolls and watching beautiful sunsets.
Bear in mind though, that these beaches tend to become busy during the weekends, when the locals take a break from work to come and enjoy them.
Of course, no write up about a visit to Negombo’s beaches would be complete without mentioning the local fishermen that live and work nearby. From the beach, you can see their traditional outrigger boats going out to sea in the evenings and returning with their catch, early in the morning.
Visit St. Mary’s Church
Negombo is somewhat unusual in the sense that its population is predominantly Christian, (whereas the majority of Sri Lanka’s population is Buddhist). So you’ll find plenty of churches in and around this town.
St. Mary’s Church stands out among these as the one definitely worth visiting, owing to its sheer size and beauty. Easily one of the largest Catholic cathedrals in Sri Lanka, it comes complete with painted ceilings, stained glass and statues of saints.
Visit Angurukaramulla Temple
One of the oldest Buddhist temples in the Negombo area, Angurukaramulla temple is known for its colour and artistry.
From the entrance, which is fashioned to represent a lion’s mouth, to the large Buddha statue, and even the ruins of a historic library, this temple is chock full of art and history.
Expect to see ornate sculptures, colourful murals and an entire chamber depicting the sufferings of hell.
Our top tips for visiting this site are:
- Dress conservatively (covering arms, legs, shoulders and midriff);
- Check on the price of admission beforehand with your accommodation provider and tour guide; and
- Take enough cash to cover the admission fee
Take a Tour of the Canals
Negombo’s canals form part of a system that spans from Puttalam, in the North, to Colombo, in the South. The first of these were built during the time of the Kotte Kingdom and used for transporting spices and other goods that were traded here.
Though originally built by the locals for transportation, the canals built by the colonial powers also served to help drain the saltwater from nearby marshes.
These early canals were modified and added to over time and most of what you see today were built by the Dutch and the British. Of these, Hamilton Canal is the most well known. Although named after Gavin Hamilton, a high-ranking British official during colonial times, it is now commonly referred to as the ‘Dutch Canal’.
In terms of exploring the canals, you have the choice of walking, cycling or taking a boat tour. We recommend going by boat, as you can enjoy scenic views of the local areas and of people going about their business, while you glide gently by on the water.
Visit Negombo Lagoon
Negombo Lagoon is the large body of water that most travellers see inland, as their plane makes its approach to land at Colombo’s international airport (in Katunayaka). But even though you may have already seen the Lagoon by air, we recommend that you explore it by boat.
The southern part of the Lagoon forms part of the Muthurajawela Wetland Sanctuary. Muthurajawela translates as ‘swamp of royal treasure’ – a title that is richly deserved owing to the many different species of fauna which live there.
So with a boat tour you can enjoy views of the local wildlife that includes, water monitors (large lizards like the one above), monkeys and a variety of birds.
The Dutch Fort
We would say ‘visit the Dutch Fort’ but it serves as prison now and is therefore not open to the general public. But if you’re a history buff, you might still enjoy walking around it and taking in the history and the architecture.
Built originally by the Portuguese, it traded hands a few times (and was used by both the Portuguese and the Dutch in turn) and its fortifications were greatly improved in the process. It was later demolished by the British, who built a prison in its place. But parts of it still exist and you can see the original arched gateway and a section of it’s Eastern ramparts from outside.
More Things to Do
We’ve told you the top things to do in Negombo, but there’s still a lot more for you to do, if you have the time and the inclination. Be sure to ask your tour guide or hotel/hostel about the following:
- Fishing tours
- Cycling tours
- Walking tours
- Visiting Kelaniya Temple
- Visiting the Fish Market
- Bars and restaurants
Video – 10 Things to Do in Negombo
We made this video some time back, but it still paints a fairly accurate picture of some of the things you can do in Negombo:
Hangover Hostels Colombo International Airport
Our Airport Hostel is located in Seeduwa and we’re minutes away from both Negombo Town and the International Airport. So if you’re looking for top class accommodation, then look no further!
This video will give you a some idea of what we have to offer and of course, we can also help with airport pick ups, transfers and organising tours.
Please get in touch, if you have any questions at all.