The Pettah – Colombo’s Colorful Bazaar

The Pettah – Colombo’s Colorful Bazaar

Walking around Colombo’s Pettah neighborhood, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d landed in Tehran or Cairo. A bazaar with definite Middle Eastern flair, the Pettah is where Sri Lanka’s multi-culturalism is at its most pronounced. The district has long been inhabited by Muslims, but a strong population of Sinhalese and Tamils contribute to an intoxicating mix of ethnicities in Colombo’s most colorful area.

Pettah District

We visited the Pettah on our first full day in Sri Lanka, and were instantly won over. The narrow streets are clogged with tuk-tuks and men pulling heavy carts laden with goods, while a bewildering assortment of shops clamor for business. The Pettah spreads out north from the Fort Railway station, and we walked aimlessly about for a couple hours, snapping photos and absorbing the ambiance.

Similar shops tend to be grouped together. Hundreds of jewelry stores cling side-by-side on Sea Street, then around the corner you’ll find a collection of shops selling ayurvedic herbs and roots. South of the Old Town Hall, there’s a covered market selling fruits and vegetables, some of them familiar and some less so. Vendors were happy to identify the stranger specimens, and I almost bought a jackfruit — but carrying around the giant, spiky melon-shaped fruit for the rest of the day wouldn’t have been a good idea.

Eager for a break, we ventured into the Old Town Hall. In the midst of such chaos, it was strangely deserted. On the second floor, we found a collection of dummies dressed in official uniforms, seated around a long table. Some sort of recreation of an old town meeting? I don’t know, but it was definitely bizarre. We took a seat in a room full of empty school chairs and recharged.

The Pettah is home to a wide variety of places to worship. We visited the New Katherisan Kovil (Hindu), the gorgeous red and white Jami ul-Aftar (Muslim), and the Wolfendahl Church (Christian). Anyone in the market for a new religion should head straight to the Pettah, for some convenient comparison shopping. Without a doubt, this was the most lively and exciting neighborhood we visited during our short time in Colombo.

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Location of The Pettha on our Sri Lanka Map

Pettah Colombo
Water Transport
Strong Old Man
Street Food Sri Lanka
Chopping Coco Nuts
Sri Lanka Coco Nuts
Sri Lankan Breakfast Drink
Selling in Colombo
Sleeping In Colombo
Sri Lankan Hunk
Bus Market
Pettah Market
Fruit Market Colombo
Banana Republic
Banana Blossoms
Colored Pasta
Fish Market Colombo
Sweet Pine Apple
Sweets Sri Lanka
Machete Guy
Market Woman Colombo
Ayuveda Shop
Old Market Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Oils


  • elpariente

    For sure that you will enjoy taking photos in Sri Lanka Good photos !!!

    February 9, 2012 at 12:08 pm
    • Juergen

      Thank you !!!! Not sure how many pictures I have taken so far but it must be more than 2 thousand 🙂

      February 12, 2012 at 11:01 am
  • pubbaa

    those star shaped thingies are sort of a papadam it’s really nice, you’d have to deep fry it first..yummy!nice article by the way

    February 11, 2012 at 7:14 pm
    • Juergen

      We were wondering that that was … can you get them in restaurants as well?

      February 12, 2012 at 10:59 am
      • pubbaa

        i haven’t seen them in restaurants , i guess it’s a common mans treat.. the i’ve seen them at grocery stores , take a packet and fry it, enjoy!!!

        February 13, 2012 at 10:09 am
  • Mark E. Hazen

    My wife and I used to live in Sri Lanka back in 1975 to 1978. We helped install a 400,000 W radio station in Putalum on the NW of Sri Lanka about 85 miles above Columbo. We spent a lot of timne in Columbo and our son was born there. We remember the Pettah very well including the sounds and smells. The people of Sri Lanka are beautiful and kind. They were good to us. We have many fond memories.

    October 14, 2013 at 1:31 pm