“The best example of a fortified city built by Europeans in south and southeast Asia”UNESCO
Galle is a town of color, texture, and sensation unlike anywhere else in Sri Lanka!
This historical coastal city on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka was founded in the 16th century by the Portuguese and later conquered by the Dutch and the British. Galle was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988 by UNESCO.
It is at once endlessly exotic—bursting with the scent of spices and salty winds—and yet vaguely familiar, with its collection of slowly decaying Dutch-colonial buildings.
The charming Old Town of Galle is known for a gentle meld of European architecture and South Asian traditions. Like a whimsical medieval European town deposited in the tropics. The little streets and churches look like they could be right out of an old town in Portugal or the Netherlands.
A truly unique experience you don’t want to miss!
Things to Do
1. The Galle Fort (Old Town of Galle)
The Fort of Galle is a complex building structure with many things to see. It consists of multiple gates and towers, which you should definitely check out! The 1-2 hour walking circuit of Fort Walls in Galle at dusk is highly recommended for a leisurely stroll. You’ll pass boutiques, cafes, and shops to keep you entertained and well stocked!
The Main Gate is a relatively new addition. Built in the year 1873 by the Portuguese, it helped control heavy traffic flowing into the old town. The Old Gate has the British coat of arms topping the entrance. On the inside, you will find the letters VOC inscribed, which stands for Verenigde Oostindische Campgnie or United East Indian Company.
- Duration: 2-5 hours (Depending on what you chose to do)
- Cost: Free of charge
- Transportation from city center: Take a tuk-tuk or walk
- Opening hours: Every day 5:30 am to 10 pm
- Location: Galle (Clearly visible from the city center)
Galle Fort is truly one-of-a-kind! Below we list some of top attractions within the walls of fort:
1.1 Galle National Museum
The National Museum of Galle is in the oldest remaining Dutch building in the Galle Fort. A single storey building in traditional colonnaded Dutch style. Museum is home to collections from Portuguese, Dutch and British periods. You can see exciting Dutch furniture and weapons! Keep an eye out for a relic casket—you can buy one! There is also a gallery dedicated to the historical and archeological evidence of trade relations between China and Sri Lanka, which was flourishing much before the colonization by Europeans.
- Duration: 1 hour
- Cost: Rs 300 for adults and Rs 150 for children
- Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday 9 am to 5 pm (closed on holidays)
- Location: 17 Church Street, Galle
1.2 National Maritime Museum
The most modern—as well as high-tech—of all museums in Sri Lanka, the National Maritime Museum is a delightful place to visit!
In the 2004 Tsunami the museum was completely destroyed and all belongings and expositions of the museum were damaged. The rebuilt museum depicts types of watercrafts used in passenger transport, fishing boats with displays and models. A gallery section also focuses on marine ecosystem and its flora and fauna. Exhibits include marine artifacts, maps, naval crafts, beer mugs, smoking pipes, earthenware, ropes, artillery guns, sailor shoes, and many others.
- Duration: 1-2 hours
- Cost: Rs 300 for adults and Rs 150 for children
- Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday 9 am to 5 pm (closed on holidays)
- Location: Queens Street, Galle Fort
1.3 Clock Tower
The iconic Clock Tower of Galle Fort overlooking the Central Moon Bastion was built in 1883. The Clock Tower was paid for through public subscriptions by the people of Galle, in recognition of Dr. P. D. Anthonisz. The clock itself was gifted by a thankful patient. Dr Anthonisz was a renowned Burgher doctor, who served as the Colonial Surgeon for the Southern Province. .
1.4 Dutch Reformed Church (Groote Kerk)
The Groote Kerk or Dutch Reformed Church is located near the entrance of Galle Fort. The Dutch Reformed Church was originally constructed in 1640 close to the Clock Tower. However, the building that stands today was built around 1750, on the highest point in the Galle fort, which stands more than 12 m (39 ft) above sea level.
An organ from 1760 and a beautiful pulpit built using calamander wood are still available to view. Visit on a Sunday and you can participate in the Service!
- Duration: 1 hour
- Cost: Free of charge. (You may donate towards the church.)
- Opening Hours: 8.30 am to 5 pm
- Location: Church Street, Galle Fort
1.5 Dutch Government House
The Dutch Government House is right opposite of the Old Lloyd’s Post Office or the Dutch Church. Over the gate you can check out the carved date of built which is 1683, and the cockerel crest of Galle. Sadly the building was abandoned a few years ago, and you cannot enter it now, however, the building inside features a grand staircase and wonderful chandeliers. View at your own risk – legend says it is haunted!
1.6 Flag Rock
Once an important Portuguese bastion of the fort area, Flag Rock lies close to the eastern section of the fort walls. The Dutch used this bastion to warn approaching ships of dangerous rocks, hence the name Flag Rock, if further warnings were needed, musket shots were fired.
During daylight hours you may see daredevil locals leaping into the water from the rocks. Numerous vendors sell good street food such as fresh papaya with chilli powder from carts. A truly unique delight!
1.7 Historical Mansion museum
Famous for its colonial artifacts, this privately owned museum is a good to visit destination inside the Fort. Expect to see many interesting antique items like old typewriters, jewelry, spectacles, and VOC china. This Mansion serves more like an antique store, rather than a museum, but make sure to check out the walls where the plaster was removed to show the structure of the building.
- Duration: 1 hour
- Cost: Free of charge
- Opening hours: 9 am to 6 pm
- Location: 31-39 Leyn Baan Street, Galle Fort
1.8 Galle Fort Lighthouse
The Galle Lighthouse is Sri Lanka’s oldest light stations dating back to 1848. The original building was destroyed in a fire in 1934 and it was rebuilt later in 1939. The Galle Fort Lighthouse is hard to miss. You can climb on the ramparts, but entry inside the Lighthouse is prohibited. The lighthouse makes for a good place to watch the sunset.
1.9 All Saints Anglican Church
A must visit place in the Galle Fort, All Saints Anglican Church is a beautiful, old church with memorial plaques shedding light on its history. The church was built in 1868 and consecrated in 1871. This beautiful church is admired by thousands of tourists. The original building still stands and the church holds services even today.
1.10 Meeran Mosque
Meeran Mosque is an amazing architectural site near the Lighthouse. Locals reveal that the mosque was built over 300 years ago! The mosque has an exquisite white washed structure, the windows, doors and facades have stained glass windows. Inside you will find vibrant floor tiles, magnificent chandeliers and woodworks. The walls have amazing floral motifs.
What an amazing view by sunset! The sun will paint the white walls orange and red, and you can enjoy all the surrounding buildings’ beauty as well.
The Point Utrecht Bastion is near the end of the eastern wall. The lighthouse, which was constructed in 1938, sits atop the bastion. Don’t forget your camera! The photos here are superb.
Oldest of all Fort bastions, Zwart Bastion lies just beyond the old gate. Zwart Bastion is also called the Black Bastion. The Portuguese are credited with building this structure. Locals say the bastions once were used as secret pathways outside the fort, however, there are no evidence of this today. Maybe they are just very well hidden!
1.11 The Ramparts
The ramparts are prominent features of the town as it showcases the interaction of European and local architecture, with a few changes scattered throughout. The layout and dimensions are based on regional meteorology. A mixture of coral and granite comprise the walls. You can walk around and experience the mix of tropical integrity and European history. Many restaurants and local shops are open all year around for you to indulge in.
2. Kanneliya Rain Forest Reserve
There is no other place in Sri Lanka with more biodiversity than this reserve! A hike through the thick rain forest is very thrilly. Kanneliya is ideal for bird lovers, with many native and lower wetland birds to spot.
3. Hot Air Balloon Ride
The view of Sri Lanka from the air is one you’ll never forget! While flying over the jungle, keep an eye out for elephants roaming freely, water buffaloes standing in the paddy fields, and monkeys swinging from the trees.
4. Martin Wickramasinghe Folk Museum Complex
The home of Martin Wikramasinghe (a famous Sri lankan writer and traveler), has a Folk Museum Complex that displays plenty of the culture, history, and economical activities of the Sri Lankan people. The house and surroundings brings to life a little part of the Koggala, which is so vividly depicted in Wickramasinghe’s writings.
5. Galle Harbor
The Galle Harbor was of great importance in Sri Lanka and was in use during the pre-Christian times. It gained importance after the 12th century. By the 14th century, Galle Harbor was the most important in Sri Lanka and retained its importance until 1873, when an artificial harbor was built in Colombo.
6. Yatagala Raja Maha Viharaya
This ancient rock temple is characterised by three Sinhalese kings, a wonderful Bodhi tree, and rupas. The mural-covered walls are painted in the typical style of the Kandyan period. Monks have been living here for at least 1,500 years.
7. Kottawa Conservation Forest
This fourteen hectare wet evergreen forest has many walking through the forest. Wear good walking shoes and trousers! The flora is very educational—all trees are identified with their botanical names!
8. Narigama and Dodanduwa Beaches
To the west of Galle (before you hit Hikkaduwa), are perfectly clean and uncrowded beaches between Narigama and Dodanduwa. Experience the raw and soul-stirring beauty of Mother Nature and the majestic ocean.
Galle for Foodies – Must Try Dishes
Food makes travel great. Good food will make a memory of a trip last forever. Galle is a culinary paradise and here are few of the best experiences:
Seafood at The Fort Printers
Galle is known for its fort and when in Galle, dine like the royals do at The Fort Printers – an 18th century mansion developed into an elegant small hotel. The Fort Printers offers a fresh menu that uses predominantly fresh seafood and organic local produce. The mains comprise grilled fresh seafood, Mediterranean inspired specialties, and traditional Sri Lankan cuisine.
But what takes the cake is their Ocean fresh seafood ranging from sashimi, grilled or seared tuna to lobster, prawns and several kinds of fish. So, have a lavish affair with food that is served in a fancy frangipani courtyard overlooking the thin lap pool or in the grand dining room – whatever suits you!
Sri Lankan food with Singaporean twist at Fortaleza
Now if we say the words Sri Lanka and Singapore, the only common factor you may draw out will be that both the countries are Asian. But not for the food in Fortaleza and its head chef Arun who beautifully combines the cuisine of both countries to serve you a palate of fusion flavours.
What was once a spice warehouse now hosts an attractive restaurant in its boutique hotel property. Treat your taste buds to finger lickin’ Sri Lankan cuisine combined with Singaporean taste, complete with wine pairing or a signature cocktail.
The restaurant food is very good and popular with weekenders from Colombo and comprises both traditional and contemporary choices with a Singaporean twist as head chef Arun worked in one of Singapore’s best restaurants before moving to Fortaleza.
The restaurant maintains hints of Asian flavours tucked into a western style menu so that you have that authentic experience but at the same time do not feel homesick. Best of both worlds, eh!
10 curries at Lucky Fort
While rice and curry is available almost everywhere in Sri Lanka, there is nothing like too many curries when in Galle.
If you want to enjoy the delish Sri Lankan feast, head to the Lucky Fort restaurant. Run by a Sri Lankan Buddhist family, it is known for its authentic homemade ten curries and rice that’s just a perfect feast for two. Set on Parawa street, this secluded restaurant serves an incredible range of local curries in huge portions adapted to suit Western tastes.
Their ten curries include a wide range of flavours from beetroot, cucumber, potato, pumpkin and okra to cabbage, fried onion, jack fruit curry and curd among others. And while you eat, you can chat with the couple about this quirky little place and its origin. A perfect combination of food and learning something new, we say!
Where to Eat
There are enough restaurants of all sizes and types in Galle. Why limit yourself to just one place when there are so many delicious restaurants to try! Apart from the honourable mentions above, here we list some of the best for all budgets:
10 Church St, Galle | 91 2 233388 | www.aman.com/resorts/amangalla
Purely Sri Lankan, Amangalla offers a variety of vegetarian meals as well as meat dishes. Elegant is the word that describes this place! The staff are courteous, friendly, and always ready to part with stories of the rich and cultural Sri Lankan history. Expect an old world charm from an era long gone when you step into Amangalla. You will be in love with its food.
Deco on 44 ($$)
44 Light House St, Galle
Located just twenty minutes away from a whale watching area, Deco on 44 is an old building rebirthed as a classy and stylish restaurant. This uniquely decorated place offers a historic mystic in the midst of Galle. They specialize in Sri Lankan cuisine and have a name for it too. If you want a quiet evening or a meal away from the bustle of Galle Streets, this is the place to go to.
Pedlar St, Galle
Spoon’s is known for its outstanding food. This hole in the wall eatery is small, but the flavor of their menu is not! Their most ordered dessert is the coconut flan and is a must try for any traveller who ventures out to Galle.
The National Tea Room ($)
Pedlar St, Galle
Run by a sweet old Sri Lankan couple, this place is special and quaint in its own way. It offers delicious cakes and tea for a very low cost. A must visit if you want to taste authentic Sri Lankan tea. It’s also known for its delicious breakfast spread. The old couple who runs this tea room has been blessed in the hearts of many a traveller who visited their eatery.
Where to Sleep
Galle has some of the best hotels in Sri Lanka! Some of our picks are as follows:
Jetwing Lighthouse ($$$$)
Jetwing Lighthouse is a sprawling, colonial-style hotel that boasts of comfort and style delivered with subtlety and minimalism. Sleep and wake up to the breathtaking view of the Indian Ocean from your very own private balcony. Each guestroom has an attached bathroom with a shower and bathtub, dressing room, and entertainment facilities.
Indulge in a wide-range of activities, including a yoga class, take a dip in any of the 2 outdoor pools, or get the royal treatment from the in-house spa. Delectable food and drinks are served in the on-site restaurants, bar and café. Free Wi-Fi in all areas. Lovely and efficient staff.
Taru Villas – Light House Street ($$$$$)
Restored to its classical design and demeanor, the Taru Villas – Light House Street is a boutique hotel that offers luxury and elegance in every square inch.
Rich, beautifully appointed guestrooms come with en suite bathrooms with a rain shower, and spacious seating area, living room and TV lounge. Enjoy a spread of scrumptious spicy rice curry specialties and international cuisine for a diverse gastronomic journey. You can be sure that your culinary craving will be satisfied. Free Wi-Fi in all areas. Exceptional customer service will make you want to come back again and again.
Antic Guest House ($$$)
A beautiful colonial property close to many of Galle’s popular attractions – the Galle Harbour, the Galle Lighthouse, and the Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications, the Antic Guest House is the most convenient accommodation option for your holiday.
Sleep in comfortable and tastefully appointed guestrooms with a private bathroom fitted with either a shower or bath. Some units have a seating area and a terrace or balcony. The property features an in-house restaurant, free Wi-Fi in public areas, and a shared lounge. Staff is as delightful as the colorful furnishings.
White House Apartment ($)
The White House Apartment is a self-catering accommodation, fully furnished to make your stay as comfortable as though you never left home. Each serviced apartment has a working kitchen, seating and dining area, flat-screen TV, washing machine, and a private bathroom with shower.
Enjoy amazing views of the sea from the shared terrace. You can cook your own meals, or have the lovely owner delight you with local treats. The property is highly rated for cozy accommodation and fast internet connection.
If these are fully booked or you are not convinced enough, check our guides to best hotels and budget accommodations in Galle.
Shopping in Galle
Whether you are interested in clothes, jewellery or spices, you will find your store in Galle!
Make sure to check out the fresh herbs, spices, fruits and plant based gels! You can get fresh aloe vera, balms made for pains or beauty oils. If you are a lover of wooden things, check out the market. You can buy small statuettes, wooden bowls, everyday objects and various souvenirs.
Do not forget to check out what each museum is selling, you can buy traditional Dutch trinkets, exquisite teas, and wooden pistols resembling the ones used by the Dutch in the 19th century.
You should bargain as the local sellers will set the price too high initially. Respectful bargaining is expected and appreciated.
What to Wear in Galle
Make sure your clothing is respectful towards the locals and their religion. It is inappropriate to visit temples and sacred places with uncovered shoulders and knees. Also, make sure to take off your hat when you enter a building – especially if it is a place of worship!
You can wear shorter clothing on the beach and no one is going to look at you funky if you are wearing a bathing suit near the beach, but make sure to change when you get out of beach. Do not enter restaurants or shops under-dressed.
Evenings and early mornings can get a little colder and sudden rains are always a possibility, bringing a light jacket and a raincoat or an umbrella is always advisable.
Getting in and around
Galle is a major city in Sri Lanka, situated on the southwestern tip. There are plenty of buses linking the towns along the coastal road. They leave from the bus station in the center of Galle, opposite the cricket stadium. Express passenger trains to Galle leave from Colombo’s Maradana station daily.
Within Galle, you can hire a tuk-tuk or explore on foot!
Here are the best ways to travel between Galle and other major travel destinations:
Colombo is 130 kms north of Galle. You can take the express direct train from Colombo to Galle, which will get you there in two hours. There are also direct buses to Galle, but it takes a bit longer. A taxi is the most comfortable option and will take about 2 hours.
Negombo is futher 30 kms north of Colombo. You have to travel to Colombo first, then take a train or bus.
Kandy is 220 kms northeast of Galle. Best option when using public transportation is to transit in Colombo. Trains are your best option for both legs of the journey. You can go with a private car which will take you to Galle in about 4 – 5 hours depending on traffic.
Ella is in the central of Sri Lanka, 210 km from Galle. You can take a direct bus to Galle from Wellawaya,which is only 30 km away from Ella. The bus ride is about 6 hours. Or you can take a taxi which will get you to Galle in 3.5 hours.
Dambulla and Sigiriya are on the northern part of Sri Lanka and about 280/290 km away. The closest train station is Aukana, Hoever the best option will be to take a bus to Colombo, then transfer to a local bus or train, and you can reach Galle in 9 hours. Or you can go with taxi, which will get you to Galle in 5 – 6 hours!
When to Go
There are two monsoon seasons, therefore it’s good to know which time of the year fits best for the holiday. However, there won’t be a really bad time to go, there is always some sunshine and warm weather.
Galle’s weather is dictated by the southwestern monsoon, which bring rain from May to June and mid August to October. The rest of the year is more sunny and dry. Galle being on the coastal region means the average temperature is between 25-30°C. The best time to go is between December to April and this is the peak season as well. However, if you want to go when there is less tourist but still good weather, October, November is the best fit for you.
Galle is a World Heritage Site and hot tourist attraction, so it tends to be more expensive, than the rest of the island.
However, you have the chance to find cheaper hotels and hostels ($15-$35), mid-range hotels ($40-$80) or luxury ($90-). These prices allow both backpackers, families and luxury lovers to experience the beauty of Sri Lanka with their own set budget.
The entry to the Galle Fort is free and fees to museums are also cheap.
The public transportation is the cheapest option to get around ($1- $4), but not so comfortable, as you have to stand most times. You can hire a driver who will take you anywhere for around $50/day.
Restaurants usually ask $25/meal because of the view, but you can grab food from buffets and stands, which won’t cost too much ($1-$5).
What People Say
“Kept in fantastic condition since its construction over 400 years ago, the Galle Fortifications in the Bay of Galle comprise one of the most popular tourist attractions on the island of Sri Lanka. Built by the Portuguese in 1588, the fort is recognised for its unification of European architecture and South Asian heritage “Dynamiclives
“Let’s take a moment to relax after this walking route. Sunset is the time that locals gather and see the sun disappearing in the sea. It’s beautiful to see that so many different religions can have fun together in this country”Hannah and Nick of Salt in our Hair
Galle, with all its unique options, is one of the best stops in your visit to Sri Lanka!
Stroll down the quaint streets—reminiscent of middle ages Europe, Portugal, or the Netherlands—or shop in the delightful boutiques. If you haven’t checked out Galle Fort yet, you must go soon! The view from the top of the wall is stunning, and the history priceless. Once you finish there, shack up in one of many luxurious seaside resorts. Or take a dip in the ocean!
After you fill up on delicious local cuisine, appreciate the beautiful atmosphere, and plan your next adventure, you will never want to leave!!!