Sri Lanka is a shopper’s paradise. Once upon a time, it was famous with Indians for garment shopping. Odel was a must-visit destination that had to be a part of the Sri Lanka itinerary. However, during my two visits to the island of Sri Lanka, I discovered so many Souvenirs that you can pick up in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka Souvenirs come in all price ranges to suit all kinds of budgets.
Gems & Jewelry
Let me begin with the most attractive one & potentially the most expensive one. Sri Lanka is home to many gemstone mines, specially moonstone mines. I visited one moonstone mine and it was fascinating to see the gems being mined, sorted, cut, polished and fitted into metal to make lovely jewelry. There was no way I could have come back without picking up some moonstones from there.
You can buy gems anywhere in Sri Lanka. Most tourist areas like Unawatuna and Kandy are full of big and small gem stores. There are many museums where they showcase the mining process through a film and give you basic information about gems. You are then spoilt for choices to choose from.
Bargain hard even at high-end showrooms.
The Ceylon tea has always been famous. It is an easy Sri Lanka Souvenir to pick for who does not appreciate some fine tea. You can visit the tea gardens in the central Sri Lanka, visit the tea factories and choose your tea flavor.
Every time I go to a tea growing region, I pick up my supply for next 2 months. In Sri Lanka, you can find nicely packed tea from all souvenir shops or anywhere in the market.
Dilmah is the most popular tea brand from Sri Lanka.
Do you know that Noritake – the world famous Japanese porcelain products are made in Sri Lanka? You can get them at a very reasonable price either at their factory outlet or at their huge showroom at Colombo. You can also find their products at multi-brand showrooms like Odel.
My kitchen still has the dinner set that I picked up in Sri Lanka during my last visit good 12 years back. Legend is that Mrs. Ambani also visited Sri Lanka to pick up her tableware when she was furnishing her new home in Mumbai.
Sri Lanka grows almost all spices that South India does – for the weather is similar. However, do you know that Sri Lanka is the biggest exporter of Cinnamon? So, my pick of all the spices here is Cinnamon. This time I picked up cinnamon sticks the one that looks like delicate scrolls.
You can pick up lovely packs of multiple spices or just the cinnamon sticks. Cinnamon powder is available too, but I prefer the sticks.
Wood carving is a widely practiced skill in Sri Lanka. In fact, when you see the assembly hall at Kandy Tooth Relic Temple, you would see finely carved pillar tops. Wood carved masks are quintessential Sri Lanka Souvenirs. You can find the colorful wooden masks to put at home – each with a meaning. Red one protects and yellow one brings wealth and Blue one helps in the career.
My favorite masks are the wood carved faces without any color. A famous sculpture to pick is that of a sitting fisherman holding a fishing rod in hand. I picked up the mask of Ravana – I thought that was very relevant to our connection with Sri Lanka. It is still my favorite piece for my museum collection.
Dumbara Mats & Cane Boxes
Dumbara is a hand woven coarse fabric that comes from villages around Kandy. They are typically woven in geometric patterns. I saw a lot of them in white and black colors with red making an occasional entry. At Cinnamon Citadel hotel in Kandy, I saw the front office walls covered in this weave. At souvenir shops, I saw the table linen in Dumbara Mats. And at designer shops, I saw small baskets and bags made of Dumbara.
If you like hand woven stuff, take your pick.
You can also pick the small cane baskets and boxes.
Sri Lankan Sari
The Sri Lankan Sari is a bit different from Indian Sari. It is a 3 piece Sari, much like Kerala Saris. However, unlike Kerala Saris that are primarily in white, Sri Lankan Saris come in bright colors. Every time I saw a Sri Lankan Lady wearing the elegant Sari with pleats at the waist and woven Pallus in front, I wondered how they tie the Sari. Well, I had assumed that it is one single piece of unstitched cloth. I was wrong. Sri Lankan Sari comes in 3 pieces – a piece to make the blouse, a wrap around with the frill at the top and a unstitched piece like dupatta or stole.
When my curiosity got the better of me, I asked a lady to show me how they wear. It is much simpler to wear a Sri Lankan Sari than our 6 yard one.
Sri Lankan Sari is actually like the Assamese Mekhala. I think it is a lovely Sri Lankan Souvenir to pick.
If you like to pick old stuff – culturally known as antiques – head to Galle. This is where you would find ample shops selling all kinds of antiques. In fact, when I visited Galle, it was raining heavily, so I ended up spending time in shops there. Two shops dominated the city markets – gemstones and antiques.
You find all kinds of old utensils, clocks, gramophones and what not. Let me warn you, you need lots of patience to sift through all the stuff in these shops. It can be like a treasure hunt.
Maps & Posters & Paper Products
At Galle fort, I discovered another interesting set of shops selling old Ceylon posters and maps.
There were lovely maps of Sri Lanka and of Galle Fort City. There were posters from yesteryears, well maintained and well presented. If you like to collect such old posters, streets of Galle are the best place to explore.
Then, there are recycled paper baskets that are so colorful and pleasing that you cannot say no them. When I looked at them in a store, I wanted to bring them back to India, only to replicate their fine quality – what a great eco-nazi souvenir to pick from Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan Stone Art
You have probably seen painted stones, but you may not have seen the rough surfaces of stones painted with elephants or dancers.
If like me, you fell in love with rock paintings at Dambulla or Sigiriya, these rock paintings are a perfect Sri Lanka Souvenirs to take back home. Styles have evolved but the ethos of paint of raw rock remains the same.
Carved & Painted Wooden Furniture
Workshops in Kandy have lovely wooden furniture and sculptures. At the workshop, I visited there were lovely chests with colorful paintings on them. Most of these workshops ship across the world, so it should not be too difficult to get them home.
Sri Lankan Paintings
You can also buy colorful Sri Lankan paintings that have a very bright color and yet clean look. Most of them depict mythological scenes including royal processions and epic characters.
Sri Lankan Paintings reminded me of Tambekar Wada Walls.
Cinnamon Tree Bowls
You can buy a lot of wooden bowls, but these white and cinnamon colored bowls with very fine polish look beautiful and unique. The shopkeeper told me that it is made with the just of cinnamon tree – basically the inner part of the tree after removing the bark that we use as a spice.
I think the presence of Cinnamon makes these bowls an interesting Sri Lankan Souvenir.
Pay your mandatory visit to Odel and other Sri Lankan stores for world famous garments of Sri Lanka. I picked up a lot of them last visit but this visit there was not enough time for garment shopping.
The elephant is the most popular motif in Sri Lanka. It should be for the country is full of elephants. You can find animals in all kinds of materials to carry back. Across the country, you can meet elephants in the jungles, so they obviously find their way into Sri Lankan Souvenir shops.
- Soft toys in cotton – great souvenirs for small kids
- Elephants in Gem Stones – for the connoisseurs
- Elephants in Elephant Bone – Yes, you can have elephants sculpted from the bones of an elephant
- Wood Carved Elephants – elephant motif is common in wood carving of Sri Lanka
- Elephant Fridge Magnets – There is one sitting proudly on my fridge
- Elephant poo paper is also very commonly available in souvenir shops in Sri Lanka
Shopping Tips for Sri Lanka Souvenirs
- Always remember to bargain hard in Sri Lanka. Rates quoted are manifold of the actual rate. There is no way to know the best rate but try your best.
- Laksala – a government emporium with branches all over the country and specifically at tourist locations is a fixed price shop offering a wide range of Sri Lanka Souvenirs.
- There are stores like Barefoot where you can get lovely designer souvenirs to pick – I found them a bit pricey though.
Most of these Sri Lanka Souvenirs mentioned in this post can be bought at Colombo Airport Departure Lounge as well. Of course, they are priced a bit higher & bargaining is a bit difficult here though do not rule that out.
Recommend you read following Places to visit in Sri Lanka.