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One of Sri Lanka’s first beach resorts, Negombo wraps around a lagoon fished for its prawns, with a long stretch of silver sand running north along the coast. It’s defined by its position, 10 km (6 miles) from Sri Lanka’s international airport. It’s a modest town of Buddhist temples, Portuguese churches and Dutch canals, which provides a gentle welcome for arriving visitors. The cluster of beach resorts are a worthy rest stop before flying home.

Long before the beach resorts arrived, Negombo was a key grower of Sri Lankan cinnamon. Its profitable crop and natural port made it a valuable asset, which saw control pass between the Jaffna kings, and the Portuguese, Dutch and British. The Portuguese left behind a large number of pastel-painted Catholic churches — many as large as cathedrals — prompting European traders to nickname it ‘Little Rome’.

Fishing boats in the harbour, NegomboIt’s still a busy trading town, with the second-largest fish market in the country. In the early morning, you can take a guided tour of the market and watch the boats sail back into port after a night at sea. Fishermen wander around in traditional sarams (sarongs) and wide-brimmed straw hats to the constant din of the morning auction, as the best of the catch is sold. You’ll see a variety of fish, but the specialties are the shrimps, prawns and lobster caught in Negombo Lagoon.

Adjacent to the fish market is the Dutch fort, which was built on the ruins of an earlier Portuguese bastion. The British then converted it to a prison in the late 19th century, and today you can only see inside if you commit a crime. You can, however, wander freely around the grass-covered ramparts and peer through the 17th-century entrance gate.

Although the beaches of the south and west coasts are better suited for a longer beach stay, Negombo makes a convenient rest stop before your flight. Designed by noted Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, Jetwing Beach is arguably the best of the hotels. All clean lines, cream walls and polished hardwood, it spills straight out onto the beach, where there are a pool, restaurant and neat line of loungers.

If you’re looking for somewhere to relax before or after a flight, consider staying inland, a little farther south of Negombo, in the tiny town of Kotugoda. An 18th-century manor house there, the Wallawwa, has been lovingly restored as a hotel with a choice of rooms and suites. Set in 200-year-old tropical gardens and surrounded by the green walls of the jungle, it’s quite the oasis of calm.

Best time to visit Negombo

With lots of sunshine, Sri Lanka is a year-round destination — although showers are possible at any time. The best time to stay in Negombo is from December to April, when the rainfall is at its lowest and temperatures average 30°C (86°F). From late April until September, the Negombo coast can be quite rough, and we don’t recommend swimming.

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Audley Travel specialist Sophie

Start planning your tailor-made trip to Negombo by calling one of our Sri Lanka specialists on 01993 838 335

Suggested Negombo itinerary

This sample itinerary will give you an idea of what is possible when you travel in Negombo, and showcases routes we know work particularly well. Treat this as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.

Map of Negombo

Places & hotels on the map

    Places near Negombo