Galle is a beautiful port, a UNESCO Heritage site, on the south-west coast of Sri Lanka. It was built by the Portuguese in 16th century and later fortified by the Dutch in 17th century. Even now, the historic old town surrounded by Fort walls is quite well preserved and offers numerous places to visit. There are also interesting day trips from Galle with pristine beaches, surfing and marine life adventure.
The old town beckons a bygone era. It is surrounded by Galle Fort walls and is car-free. Ambling along it narrow streets is like doing time travel. You look at centuries-old merchant houses and villas, spice warehouses that hint at the island’s rich history and atmospheric local markets. We spent 2 days here almost at the end of our 10-day family trip to Sri Lanka.
Things to do in Galle
Take a walking tour of the historic old town
Exploring the Galle old town on foot and looking up at the colonial Portuguese and Dutch buildings is an essential part of Galle sightseeing. The Galle Fort town has numerous Portuguese and Dutch-era buildings carefully restored so you feel as if you have gone back in time. We didn’t go inside any of these buildings and admired the facade from outside, but depending on your interest, you can go in.
Start with the Clock Tower – constructed in 1883 and still showing the correct time – within the Galle Fort. One of the interesting places to visit in Galle is the Dutch Reformed Church built in 1752 whose floor is paved with gravestones from Dutch cemeteries. This is one of the oldest Protestant churches in Sri Lanka. There is the Marine Archeological Museum that occupies a large Dutch warehouse built in 17th century. There are interactive displays here at the museum that illuminate the city’s maritime past.
You could visit the impressive All Saints’ Anglican Church, built from 1868-71 or just see the structure from outside. We then went to the Dutch Hospital, that at one time treated many Europeans and is now lined with cafes and shops.
The Dutch Lighthouse is one of the most important places to visit in Galle. It is quite prominent on the southern end of the main road of Galle. We passed this structure twice, both in the morning and in the evening while going to the Fort ramparts to watch the sun go down. Facing the Lighthouse is the Meeran Mosque, an eclectic white washed building with Victorian, Islamic and Baroque architecture.
You would also note the ramparts and fortifications around the Galle old town during your walking tour. The Main Gate was built by the British in 1873 in the northern stretch of the wall. There are several Bastions to visit while going over the Fort ramparts – the Star Bastion, Moon Bastion, Triton Bastion, Aurora Bastion, Neptune bastion – to name a few.
Spend time at charming stores and cafes
The stylish stores, cafes and restaurants in Galle are not to be missed. There are numerous quirky stores just begging for window shopping and we ended up spending quite some time looking through these boutique stores within the Galle Fort town. Then there are charming cafes meant to while away time people-watching and sipping on coffee.
If you are staying at a hotel inside the town, they can point out a boutique shop for gems or local handicrafts if that is of interest to you. I bought some pretty jewelery with semi-precious stones and some linen dresses both for myself and my baby.
Enjoy the sunset
But my favourite part of what to do in Galle was to go to the ramparts of the wall to enjoy the ocean waves and the sunset in the evening. One of the best spots to do this is to take a turn from the Lighthouse and reach the end of the road, you can climb over the walls and spend a fascinating hour gazing at the ocean, people watching and feeling relaxed. It is the favourite pastime of the locals around.
Day trips from Galle
Many people stay at beach resorts in Mirissa and Unawatuna and do a day trip to Galle. If you are staying in Galle, you could do the opposite, that is, do a day out at the Unawatuna beach, just a 20 minute ride away.
One of the more exciting activities on offer as a day trip from Galle, during the right season, is whale and dolphin watching at Mirissa. Whale watching season in Mirissa is from November till April. It is best to take a morning tour that usually lasts for about 3-5 hours. You can get lucky and spot Blue whales, Bottlenose dolphins, Spinner dolphins, Sperm whales, Bryde´s whales and turtles. There are also surfing hotspots like Weligama and Midigama nearby.
Where to stay, eat and shop in Galle
There are several boutique hotels within Galle Fort. We stayed at Galle Fort Hotel, originally a Dutch mansion and now restored as a heritage property. Each of the rooms is unique and furnished in a different way. The hotel went a long way in making our stay pleasing in Galle.
Even if you are not staying here, do come for a meal. The living room and common spaces of the hotel are full of antique and interesting pieces. The food and the service are both good.
We also enjoyed a fabulous dinner at the boutique hotel across the road from Galle Fort Hotel, the Fort Bazaar. There is both an outdoor dining area decorated with ambient lighting as well as a richly furnished indoor dining room.
Like I mentioned earlier, there are numerous interesting cafes that you would come across while ambling through the town.
Colombo to Galle
Colombo to Galle distance is about 2 hours via Southern Expressway. We had rented a car and driver for the entire duration of our Sri Lanka stay, so the journey from Galle to Colombo was quick and comfortable. For those looking for a cheaper option, there are trains and buses that ply between Colombo and Galle.
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Have you been to Galle or any other colonial town in Sri Lanka? Share your experience in the comments below.
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