Founded in the 16th century by the Portuguese, Galle is currently the district capital of the broader Galle District. The city was later fortified by the Dutch during the 17th century and served as an important port and military stronghold before the arrival of the British. Galle Fort is the best example of a fortified city that exhibits distinct European architectural styles while effortlessly blending in with South Asian traditions, and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
The Galle Dutch Fort has a laid-back charm, almost a small city within a city. Much of the local community are descendants of spice traders from Morocco, and tuk tuks still zip through pedestrian traffic along narrow lane ways. While many might brand Galle as “kitschy”, “gentrified” or “overrated”, I’ve always been a fan. It’s an easy day trip destination along the south coast of Sri Lanka, and it may be true that it has changed over the past five years, but in my opinion the charm and integrity of the architectural features has lived on.
Even after 400 years, Galle Fort has maintained its polished appearance after extensive reconstruction after the tsunami that devastated Sri Lanka in 2004. Exploring Galle Fort and walking along the craggy peninsula that it is located on is one of the best things to do in southern Sri Lanka. Read on for what you need to know before visiting Galle Dutch Fort!
Essential information before you go to Sri Lanka
- Most visitors to Sri Lanka will need to apply for an e-visa (except for nationals of Singapore, Maldives and Seychelles) but this is easily done online for a small fee. From August 1st 2019 the government is waiving visa fees for a 6-month period in an effort to boost tourism – nationals from nearly 50 countries do not have to pay the requisite US$35 visa fee when applying for the e-visa. The visa approval generally comes through in less than 48 hours.
- The currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee, and the exchange rate varies from approximately 165-180 LKR: 1 USD. There are plenty of places to exchange money in Sri Lanka, and there are also ATMs in Galle where you can withdraw money – just make sure your bank has enabled international withdrawals.
- The best way to travel around Sri Lanka is by car, especially if you are short on time. Most hotels can help you to arrange airport pick up or book a private car to take you to your next destination, even on short notice. Alternatively, you can also take local buses or trains.
- The primary religion in Sri Lanka is Buddhism, and people are used to dressing on the conservative side: I would encourage you to be mindful of what you wear in Sri Lanka. Unlike some other countries where it may be completely fine to drive shirtless on a scooter or wear a crop top in the streets, it is not so common in Sri Lanka.
- There are hotel options to suit every budget under the sun in Sri Lanka. I personally look for comfort, beautiful decor and warm hospitality when I travel – click here for some of the best boutique and luxury hotels to stay at in Sri Lanka.
Visiting Sri Lanka? Click here for a full list of 12 things you should know before your trip to Sri Lanka in addition to 15 things you definitely shouldn’t do if you’re visiting!
How to get to Galle
If you’re kicking off your Sri Lanka trip, it’s easy to get from Colombo to Galle via the A2 highway – it will take approximately 2 hours to get there via expressway. You can ask your hotel to organize a car, or hire an Uber for 8,000-10,000 LKR (US$45-55). Alternatively, you can catch the coastal train from Colombo Fort to Matara via Galle, click here for the train schedule.
Once you’ve arrived in Galle, it’s easy to get around the Dutch Fort on foot or simply hail down a tuk tuk to take you outside the fort or to a neighbouring town.
Best time of year to visit Galle
Galle experiences the southwestern monsoon season from May to about October, and rainfall tends to be the heaviest between these months. However, don’t let the rainy season stop you from visiting southern Sri Lanka – the rain tends to come in heavy spurts with periods of sunshine. The benefit of visiting from May to October is that the crowds are far thinner and you might score a better price at one of the boutique hotels within the Galle Dutch Fort.
The most popular time to visit Galle is during the dry season from December to February. Galle Fort tends to get sweltering hot so you’ll want to bring a hat and wear plenty of sunscreen; it’s also possible to duck into one of the many cafes for a drink to cool off or wait out the rain.
Where to stay in Galle
Wondering how long to stay in Galle for? It all really depends on how much time you have to spare. One thing to bear in mind is that Galle itself does not have any noteworthy beaches (and few hotels within the fort have a pool), whereas you can easily plan a day trip to Galle from one of the beach towns along the south coast such as Weligama, Mirissa, Ahangama or Talalla.
If you do stay overnight, there are several incredible boutique hotels in Galle, many of which are converted from old colonial heritage homes. For a unique hotel experience in Sri Lanka, I would recommend that you stay a night or two at The Fort Printers, a converted heritage hotel in the heart of Galle Fort. It offers an on-site restaurant as well as a small pool. Click here to check current rates and room availability at The Fort Printers or click here to see some other highly rated hotel options in Galle!
If you want to go on a day trip to Galle from one of the other towns along Sri Lanka’s south coast, I recommend you stay west of Talalla/Matara. Anything further east is just a tad far and you’re looking at drive times of 2 hours (and up) each way. Check out Talalla Retreat, an eco-resort offering daily drop-in Yoga classes, an on-site spa and beach access, or Zephyr, a quiet boutique 4-room beachfront villa down the road from Talalla Retreat with a killer restaurant. Click here to book your stay at Talalla Retreat or click here to book your stay at Zephyr Talalla!
Unmissable things to do in Galle Fort
Galle Fort absolutely has to be on your list of places to visit in Sri Lanka (click here for my 2 week Sri Lanka itinerary for first time visitors), even if it’s just for a breezy day trip. You can easily find yourself wandering away from the crowds and stumbling upon age-old colonial Portuguese and Dutch-era buildings, some restored, some in ruins, but equally enchanting. There are strict enovation and restoration guidelines set by UNESCO and the Archeological Department of Sri Lanka, which ensures that the unique architectural styles are preserved within the fort and that the heritage value is protected. Read on for what to see in Galle Fort!
1. Walk along the Galle Fort Walls
The Galle Fort ramparts surround the walled city and consists of more than a dozen bastions, all varying in design and size. The full length is approximately 3 kilometres and the wall was made primarily using lime, sand and coral stones. Together with the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, the walls have undergone extensive repair and conservation.
Today, you can walk along the Galle Fort walls for panoramic views across the bay. Don’t miss the Aurora Bastion and Flag Rock Bastion.
2. See the Galle Lighthouse
This lighthouse is iconic and almost synonymous with Sri Lanka – look through any Sri Lanka travel guide and you’ll see a photo of the perfectly palm tree-framed white lighthouse! Galle Lighthouse is Sri Lanka’s oldest light station dating back to 1848 and stands at nearly 30 metres tall.
3. Check out the Old Dutch Hospital
The Old Dutch Hospital is one of the oldest buildings in Galle Fort dating back to the Dutch colonial period in Sri Lanka. As the name suggests, it was built as a hospital by the Dutch to care for sick officers and seamen serving under the Dutch East India Trading Company. Since the 1850s, it has also been converted into barracks, a town hall and government offices.
In 2014, the Galle Dutch Hospital was re-opened after extensive restoration as a dining and shopping complex. If you’re after souvenirs, there are several upmarket tea emporiums in here, and we love Sugar Bistro and Minute by Tuk Tuk for a delicious lunch.
Ready to book your stay in southern Sri Lanka? Here are some of the best boutique hotels in the area, or click here to see more options in Sri Lanka’s southern coast!
4. Shop for souvenirs
There’s plenty of shopping to be done in Galle Fort, and an easy place to pick up souvenirs for friends and family back home. Stop at Stick No Bills for retro-style posters and postcards, Spa Ceylon for incredible bath, body & home products, Stolen Paradise for surf lifestyle clothing produced locally in Sri Lanka, and Barefoot Gallery for an array of Sri Lankan homeware, hand-woven products and apparel. There are also a plethora of gemstone dealers if you’re looking for some jewelry: the iridescent moonstone is the specialty in Sri Lanka.
5. Get a massage
Indulge in an Ayurvedic massage or treatment at Spa Ceylon. It’s one of my favorite places to go for massages in Sri Lanka and the masseuses are consistently great at what they do. I love the natural ingredients that go into their products, and have never experienced an allergic reaction (even though I have highly sensitive skin).
6. Learn about the history of the fort
Among the list of Galle attractions are a handful of small museums. including the Maritime Archaeological Museum and Galle National Museum. Read more about museums in Sri Lanka here.
7. Enjoy high tea
Afternoon tea at the Amangalla luxury hotel is a time-tested tradition. Enjoy scones, finger sandwiches and smooth Ceylon tea in an extremely refined and elegant setting – book ahead if you are visiting Galle during high season as this is a very popular hotel for tourists visiting Sri Lanka.
Ready to visit the southern coast of Sri Lanka? Check out my guide to Sri Lanka’s south coast, or head on over here for a 2 week Sri lanka itinerary!
Places to visit near Galle
If you’re headed to Galle, why not check out these other landmarks and attractions in neighbouring towns? Visit the Japanese Peace Pagoda perched high up on a hill between Unawatuna and Galle; learn about tea production at Handunugoda Tea Estate, about 45 minutes away from Galle; see the traditional stilt fishermen in Koggala or Ahangama; or lounge at Sugar Beach, a new beach club in Talpe, about 20 minutes away from Galle.
Have you visited Galle? What did you think? Tell me all about it below!
Looking for even more Sri Lanka travel tips and guides? Click here for everything you need to know ahead of your trip!
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