Colombo’s biggest commercial hub, complete with open air bazaars, reminiscent of the bazaars that thrive in Istanbul, Tehran and Hanoi, coupled with a number of historical monuments that hark back to the colonial days of old, Pettah is a kaleidoscope of wonder that allows one to delve into Colombo’s ‘commercial heritage’.

Top Reason to Visit

With a combination of bargain shopping, unique commercial culture and the presence of a myriad of historical artifacts and monuments, Pettah has a number of reasons to visit. However, it is without doubt that the eclectic mix of history and shopping is the main reason for visiting the commercial hub of Colombo.

While You’re There

The art of bargaining:

The Pettah Shopping Precinct, considered to be the crown jewel of the place, is a mishmash of wholesale and retail traders selling a myriad of consumer goods, from your everyday groceries to expensive jewellery and electronics. A simple jaunt from Main Street, through the narrow and crowded inner streets, such as the 1st Cross Street and Maliban Street to name but 2 of the prominent streets, to Olcott Mawatha, you are guaranteed to stop by more than a dozen times in the shops along the streets and inquire about the prices. Put on your bargaining hat and name your best price, as the street hawkers are all ears. It is, however, highly suggested that you brush up on your Sinhala and Tamil or go along with a guide, as communication is key in all bargaining that takes place.

Walk past history, culture and religion:

Pettah is not only a haven for the shopping enthuse, but also for the history buff. Possessing a myriad of monuments that trace its origins to the colonial era, the history enthuse will be able to understand how Pettah came to be Colombo’s biggest commercial hub, especially with the close proximity of the Khan Clock Tower, Colombo Dutch Museum and the Old Town Hall, sporting its gothic style architecture. Monuments, such as the historic Wolvendaal Church and the accompanying Kayman’s Gate, along with the Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque (popularly known as the Red Mosque), proves that Pettah is a melting pot of culture and religion, coexisting in peace and harmony. Considering all this, there is more to Pettah than meets the eye.

An experience of local gastronomy:

Tucked away in the bustling streets of Pettah, among the many consumer shops, are a number of local eateries that prepare some authentic Sri Lankan street food. Some eateries provide a fusion of Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine and is best personified by the Bombay Sweet Mahals dotted around. These are famed for being the go-to place to cool off from a hard day’s shopping under the tropical sun. Just a little sip of their Faluda mixed with vermicelli (a dairy drink) will certainly make you want to ask for the recipe then and there, due to its cooling effect on the entire body.

Insider Advice

Travel: Getting about in Pettah is easier than one would think, since most places of interest are in close proximity to each other. You could opt for a tuk-tuk, however, travelling by foot certainly makes for a more authentic experience.

Weather: Pettah generally experiences the same weather as in Colombo Fort, with temperatures averaging around 30°C, however, the months from January to March have shown to be the time that the temperature drops to around 28°C.

Money: Credit and debit cards can be used in certain shops, especially the electronic and jewellery shops, however, since the Pettah market teems with wholesale traders, it is imperative that you carry cash in hand with small notes like LKR 20s, 50s and 100s.

Clothing: Light, comfortable clothing is the best way to traverse through the streets of crowded, as the tropical humidity can be a bit too much to bear.

Safety: Although crowded, Pettah is generally a very safe place. However, being a crowded area you could be a victim of petty thievery, therefore it is imperative that you keep a watchful eye on your belongings.

Meals and refreshments: There are a number of places to satisfy those hunger pangs, however, do note that these places are very much local and specialise in street food. If you are looking for a more international flavour, then the Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct is the best bet.

Should you be looking for bargain priced consumer goods or looking to delve into Colombo’s diverse culture and rich heritage, Pettah is one place that should not be missed, as it offers the best of Colombo’s commercial heritage.

Title image by: Dilantha Weerasinghe
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