Shopping in Sri Lanka

No trip to Sri Lanka would be complete without getting a little shopping done. And here, diversity in local retail culture shines true. From haggling with the vendors in Pettah to stocking up on high-end brands in Odel and from browsing the aisles of the Nugegoda Market to dropping in at the wayside ‘podi kade’ (small shop) along the way, shopping on island ground is an experience in itself, the full scope of which should not be missed.

Not sure where to start? Here’s a breakdown to help with that.

Best Known For

A full run-down of the diversity of retail offerings in Sri Lanka, listed in ascending order from small to large.

  • Street Shopping: Strewn wayside, perhaps on a piece of cloth spread out on the ground or on little stacks of boxes are the little retail offerings by vendors whose daily livelihood depends solely on the sale they made for the day. These retail figures may easily be stumbled upon as you go about the streets, offering everything from vegetables and fruits grown in their own gardens to toys, accessories and stationery. Give back to the community; a purchase made here would greatly help the vendors themselves. Seasonal appearances on the streets may be made by certain fruit vendors, one being the Rambutan (a local fruit) vendor.
  • Mini Retail Stores: Albeit small in size, the little shops strewn wayside may have quite an expansive range of offerings and - even better - may be considerably more cheaper than the products found at malls. This works well if you’re in a rush and looking for something that will be less of a burn on your wallet.
  • Markets: Step into the local markets, abuzz with the sights and sounds of hawker life. Vendors hailing from across the isle market their wares at cut-rate prices, offering a diverse range of homegrown Produce, fresh Fish and Meats as well as spices, condiments and the many cooking essentials. Haggle for lower rates when buying in bulk. The Sri Lankan Markets are a whirlwind of colour, energy and anticipation; the very epitome of local retail culture. Popularly known across the isle is the Nugegoda Market, Pettah Shopping Precinct, The Good Market, The Floating Market, Kandy Municipal Central Market and the Negombo Fish Market.
  • Supermarkets: The go-to shopping destinations for all basic home essentials. Branched across the isle, in every city and neighbourhood, are the outlets of some of the leading giants; Keells, Cargills, Laugfs and Arpico. Boasting an expansive collective of food offerings, from the packeted, the bottled, the frozen, the sweet and the savoury, produce, fish and meats as well as the ever-expanding Drink range, the giants are every home-shopper’s haven; drop in, along your travels, for a quick buy or two. Certain supermarkets will be open 24/7 for added convenience, namely the Laugfs Supermarket.
  • Retail stores:
    • Clothing - On a shopping spree? The isle has no shortage of retail clothing options. A well-versed household name, NOLIMIT retails an extensive collective of Mens’, Womens’ and Children’s Wear, for Casual, Party and Corporate purposes as does the local favourites, Cool Planet and House of Fashion. These names cater more to the local community, with store branches located island-wide for ease of access. Curated, branded picks line the holds of high-end clothing stores, the likes of Odel, Cotton Collection, Kelly Felder, Arienti and Mimosa and cater more to the younger and middle-age crowd. Showcasing clothing pieces crafted by homegrown talent, Fashion is a retail option that’s a celebration of Sri Lankan culture in itself; browse through its offerings for picks that seamlessly fuse Fashion and local culture.
    • Local items - What’s a shopping spree on the isle without a souvenir or two? Choose from a diverse range of items hand-crafted by pure Sri Lankan talent; from the isle’s famous Tea and Spices to Batik clothing, ornaments and crafts that speak of the local heritage. Of the specialty retail stores in Sri Lanka, some of the notable are Laksala, Lakpahana, Lakmedura and Paradise Road.
  • Shopping Malls: A collective of retailers, establishments and service providers, specializing in retail scopes, under one roof? Make your way over to the shopping malls. Be it Majestic City Shopping Mall and Cineplex, Odel, Marino Mall, Colombo City Centre or Kandy City Centre, these giant one-stop-shops line up everything from supermarkets and food courts to retail stores and banks, bringing all your shopping needs under one roof. Expect both, the branded and the non-branded items here. The shopping centres cater to the needs and preferences of the entire family and offer the full retail and lifestyle experience for all who drop by.
  • Shopping Areas: Owing to the notable retailing that has thrived within, certain areas of the isle have earned a reputation as the place to be, to obtain items (especially in bulk) for hawker prices. The Pettah Shopping Precinct is one. Vendors line the streets, showcasing a diverse range of merch, both the daily essentials and the rare, hard-to-find items. Haggle your way through to a reasonable price when purchasing large stocks and immerse in the local retail life, in all its bustling glory. The Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct, Colombo and the Galle Dutch Hospital are two more popular shopping arenas, brimming with little eateries, retail stores and lounges to just kick back and unwind at.

Interesting Facts

  • The Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct, Colombo and the Galle Dutch Hospital are marked as two of the oldest colonial buildings in Sri Lanka dating back to the Dutch era.
  • A distinctive feature of The Good Market is its mandate to front vendors who contribute towards the world we live in, going by the motto ‘Good For The Planet, Good For The People'.

Times, Seasons and Tips

  • Shop during the festive season for unbelievable discounts. Christmas, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and Ramazan, notably, come with its own clearance and seasonal sales, with store-wide discounts and flat-rates offered.
  • Shopping in Colombo, the commercial precinct of the isle, will give you retail options in abundance. Tucked into every corner and crevice of the city are retail stores, small and large, with most making for delightful one-stop-shops.
  • Expect mass turn-outs during sales, especially during the festive or holiday seasons. You might want to get a head-start on the shopping checklist in the season’s early days before the festive rush kicks in.
  • Anticipate the long sale queues. This might set a damper on your shopping plans if not considered.
  • For more of a tranquil shopping experience, best shop during the weekdays or the daily office hours.
  • It’s advised that you venture into the wide shopping area of Pettah with someone who’s well-versed in the local culture and surroundings as it’s quite easy to get lost in its massive expanse.
  • If on an extensive shopping spree, on the look-out for items that’s quite rare or buying items in bulk, it’s best that you travel in the bus over long distances to maintain your budget and tuk-tuks for small distances.

Shopping in Sri Lanka is an experience in its own right. Whilst you shop on its retail scape, discover the pure, local artistry reflected and local retail life at its finest; immerse in the isle’s wide range of offerings and take back a little something to remember your time on island ground. Countless retail options, large and small, located in every which corner and crevice of the island await.

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