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Negombo is a melting pot of Dutch, Portuguese and British colonial influence where Christian and Buddhist architecture sit side-by-side. The city is still an important exporter of cinnamon but nowadays it's better known as Sri Lanka's relaxed beach town with long sandy bays, water sports and fresh seafood stalls jostling for business. To understand the town's multi-faith culture, take a short stroll between grand Catholic churches and the 6-metre tall Buddha statue at Angurukaramulla Temple.
You can stay in a Negombo hostel made from shipping containers or pick a beachfront villa that comes complete with four-poster beds. When looking for a slightly different travel experience join a skills exchange in a hostel complex set around a lake and taste local dishes in a restaurant on the beach. Most hostels in Negombo have free breakfast and communal kitchens. Look out for free Wi-Fi or common rooms to organise a game's night. Some Negombo hostels have female-only dorms and almost all have a choice of private and shared rooms.
The main area for travellers is the historic centre between the train station and the Dutch Fort. St Mary's Church is the heart of this colonial quarter and most of the restaurants and bars line the main road heading north out of town to the beach and Waikkal Village. This is also the best place for water sports. The Christian shrine on Duwa Island (across the lagoon) makes an interesting visit, particularly at Easter when fishermen perform their famous Duwa Passion Play – a centuries-old tradition. South of town, Pamunugama is a paradise of sandy dunes, coconut palms and historic Portuguese churches.
There's plenty to do in sunny Negombo. Blend in with the locals by watching a cricket match on the Esplanade outside the Dutch Fort. The town's fish market, known as Lellama, is a morning of entertainment when piles of lobster and prawns from the lagoon are brought in on oruvas (local fishing canoes). For an alternative to beach activities take a canoe down Hamilton Canal to Muthurajawela Marsh – where you might spot crocodiles and monkeys.
Negombo is just a 40-minute bus ride from Bandaranaike International Airport. Both the bus and train stations are a short walk from the centre of Negombo, and regular buses and trains link the city to Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo. This small city is walkable, although to get to the beach and restaurants further north you can hire a three-wheeler taxi or tuk-tuk.