Pettah is just the most amazing place, it is the royalty of marketplaces, and tourists, expats, locals alike will find it jaw droppingly incredible! It is the place to go for buying things you never thought you wanted or needed. It is a treasure trove of chaotic lanes where you will find all you ever desired as cheap goods. This area is bustling with life, natamis shouting “side, side” with their carts loaded up, hawkers shouting out their wares to you and the rich aromatic smell of spices wafting through the hot streets. It is not for the faint of heart; the bustle can be overwhelming and the streets are narrow, busy and loud.
It is worth going in the morning before it gets too hot and chaotic, most shops open at 10am. It is a fabulous melting pot of ethnicities selling everything from fruit, vegetables, spices, rice, electronics, fabrics to artisanal goods.
Shopping is not the only thing Pettah has to offer, it has a few sights as well. Recommended are the Jami Ul Alfar Mosque, with its stunning red and white brick work, the Dutch museum, which is a converted townhouse in the heart of Pettah, the old Colombo Town hall with interesting architecture and a little museum of its own showcasing old Colombo’s municipal vehicles, and Kayman’s gate.
Things to note: it is hard to find parking; best place is around the Khan Clocktower. Best to dress modestly and cooly, you will be hassled, but primarily in a friendly way; they want you to buy stuff. Look confident, and be prepared to bargain in most of the shops.
Here is a very brief guide on where to get what.
© Mary Ansvananda Prothero (Instagram @mary_a_prothero)
Penguins, on Prince Street, is an excellent shop for cheap toys (especially for things like filling up party bags etc), there are lots of other toy shops on this street as well.
2. Electronic Goods
Prince Street and 1st Cross Street. Be careful when purchasing electronics from street vendors, as sometimes a deal that is too good to be true is just that.
3. Party things
China Street is a treasure trove for all things party from metallic balloons, party poppers, lanterns, sparkly hats, candles, party décor the list is endless. Critco Pvt sells disposable table ware, and you never know what else you’ll find.
4. Fabric and Habidashery
2nd Cross Street and 3rd Street, the variety is huge, the prices are low. There are some shops that only sell wholesale, but the majority will sell you even just a single yard of the fabric of your choice. The ranges of fabrics are huge, from towels, plastic rolls (amazing for messy play with kids)to Sari fabric. Also on 2nd Street you will find trims, ribbons, buttons, embroidery’s and lace, hot glue guns, beads…you name it you find it.
5. Fruit and vegetables
5th Cross Street market, great variety, but familiarize yourself with supermarket prices before you go; you may need to haggle.
2nd cross Street & Keyser Street for batik sarongs and saris
7. Kitchen equipment
Titus Stores on Main Street, excellent for knives, mason jars etc. Titus Stores is reputed for quality. They have a shop at Liberty Plaza too, but that has a smaller selection than the Main Street Store.
T&T TIP: A hidden gem in Pettah is the Royal Sweetmeat Mart; this shop has been in the same spot in Pettah for generations and was opened in the 1940s. They serve the most delectable Indian sweetmeats and drinks, and a few yummy savoury snacks too. It is the perfect respite in the midst of hot, sweaty trip to Pettah.
The Colombo Heritage Council and iDiscover teamed up to create a map of Pettah that you can download for free.