Galle Sri Lanka Attractions & Things to Do


Galle Fort ariel view

Photo: Ariel view of Galle Fort

The Galle is located on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka. Since ancient times Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Indians and Chinese traded their goods at the bustling port of Galle. Marco Polo visited in the 13th century.

Starting in the 16th century, it was a prized possession for western European traders and empire builders. The Dutch built a massive fort with 14 bastions bristling with 109 cannons. It was so formidable that no one dared attack it.

Standing majestically against an azure sea, the old Dutch Fort is the showpiece of Galle today. Its glory days are long gone, but it still enchants the visitor with a mellow, quietly elegant charm. Its quaint cobblestone streets, lined with numerous old buildings, now house swank boutiques, restaurants, and hotels gently reminding us of a glorious bygone era.

• Related Article: History of Galle, Sri Lanka

25 Galle Facts

  1. Galle is located in the southwest corner of Sri Lanka, about 147km from the capital Colombo.
  2. It is situated on a peninsular overlooking a well-protected natural harbor which was a trading port since ancient times.
  3. Sindbad the Sailor is said to have disembarked at Galle, in the land of Serendib (Sri Lanka) where "diamonds are in its rivers and pearls are in its valleys".
  4. Marco Polo too visited Galle in the 13th century.
  1. It was through the port of Galle that precious gems and spices such as cinnamon, pepper, cardamoms and cloves were exported to the rest of the world.
  2. In the 17th century, spices were worth more than gold. For example, in Europe, the price of pepper was worth 5,000% its purchase price in Galle. Whoever controlled the spice trade became immensely rich.
  3. The Portuguese were the first to build a small fort in 1597 to protect their trading interests. They called the fort Fortaleza.
  4. The name Galle is derived from the Sinhalese word gala, meaning rock.
  5. The Portuguese noticed the similarity of this word with their word gallo, meaning a cock (roaster).
  6. They adopted the symbol of a cock standing on top of a rock as their court of arms and called the place Porto de Galle.
  7. The Dutch captured the fort in 1640. But the loss of lives amongst the Dutch troops was so high that they coined the phrase "in Malacca there is much gold, and in Galle much lead". Lead meaning gunshot.
  8. All that remains of the old Portuguese fort is the Zwart Bastian (Black Fort).
  9. The present fort was constructed by the Dutch commencing in 1669 to protect their lucrative spice trade.
  10. The fort of Galle, covers an area of 52 hectares and has a circumference of 3 km.
  11. It had massive ramparts with 14 bastions mounted with 109 cannons and was encircled by a wide moat.
  12. At the time of the Dutch, there was only one entrance to the fort, reached by a causeway and drawbridge on the seaward side.
  13. The first breadfruit tree planted in Sri Lanka was brought from the Maluku Islands (Indonesia) and planted in the Akersloot Bastion of the fort. It is still there today.
  14. The fort was considered so formidable that it was never attacked.
  15. Galle Fort was handed over to the British without a fight in 1786 as part of a treaty settlement.
  16. The British later filled in the moat and punched a second entrance through the landward side ramparts.
  17. Up to 33% of the Europeans who came to Galle died of diseases and misadventure. Several of their tombstones can be found at the Dutch Reform Church.
  18. The city within the fort was laid out in a grid pattern with cobblestone streets and building with colonnaded verandas in the Dutch colonial style.
  19. Many of the buildings have remained unchanged since the Dutch era and are being restored.
  20. By the late 1800s Galle harbor had passed its usefulness, and the city became a sleepy backwater. Most of the grand old Dutch and British buildings fell into disrepair and ruin. But in the 21st century, the city has been revived as a tourist attraction.
  21. The tsunami of Dec 26, 2004 devastated large parts of Galle and the surrounding area. However, the massive walls of the Galle Fort withstood the onslaught of the huge waves and remained intact.

Galle Attractions & Things to Do Galle Fort - Site Guide

Galle is best known today, for is Dutch fort, which is the best preserved European fort in Asia.

Galle Location, Entrance Fee, Opening Hours

Location: Southwestern Sri Lanka (147km from Colombo)
Entrance Fee:
Free
Opening Hours:
24/7
Best Visiting Times:
Morning & Late Afternoon
Duration:
Variable (up to you)

 


Galle Fort Walk

The city within the Galle Fort is an archaeological gem, a time capsule, taking you back to a bygone era. Take a leisurely walk along its pedestrian-friendly cobbled-stone streets. Admire the old Dutch buildings with their distinctive verandas with Tuscan columns. See if you can spot the dated keystones on numerous old buildings. There are even some art-deco houses from the early 20th century. Visit the old church with the gravestones of European adventurers and fortune hunters who lost their lives in this far off land. Also enjoy the numerous cafés, restaurants, museums and shops.

Location: Galle Fort
Entrance Fee:
Free
Opening Hours:
24/7
(Best morning & late afternoon)
Duration:
2+ hours


Galle Fort Old Gate

The main entry and exit to and from the fort was originally via a single entrance protected by a causeway, drawbridge and solid timber doors. This entrance is built through the Dutch Warehouse, bisecting the lower level of this building into two sections. The drawbridge has long disappeared, but the modern road is built on the ancient causeway. The huge wooden doors are still in place. Above the entrance today is the Coat of Arms of Great Britain, mounted sometime after 1796 when the British evicted the Dutch and took over the fort without a single shot being fired. The British Court of Arms was put in place of the original Dutch one. The balcony, for the Governor to display himself, and large panned-glass doors above the coat of arms were also added by the British. Note the original Dutch keystone dated 1668 on the arch, below the British coat of arms.

Location: Queens Street
Entrance Fee: Free (Walk- thro)
Opening Hours: 24/7
Visit Duration: 15 minutes


Galle Fort Ramparts

With the sea on three sides, a walk along the ramparts is exhilarating. Explore the numerous bastions, sentry posts, Lighthouse, Clock Tower and "Dungeon". In the evenings is when the locals come out to walk and play on the ramparts. The sunset is stunning. For more adventurous, there is usually a snake charmer near the clock tower. 

Be warned! There are no restrictions on clambering up onto the top of the rampart walls. It is fun, but you do so at your risk! A strong gust of wide or if you lose your balance could result in a nasty fall of up to 20 meters and possibly death.

Location: Rampart Street
Entrance Fee
: Free
Opening Hours: 24/7
(Best early morning and before sunset).
Duration: 2+ hours


Galle Natural Museum

Galle National Museum is housed in the oldest building in the fort. This long one-story building with a colonnaded front veranda is typical of Dutch architecture of the period. This building was once the barracks for junior officials of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). It is one of the oldest surviving structures from the Dutch period. The museum is rather basic but contains some interesting objects from the past. A large section of the museum is dedicated to the visit of the Chinese adventurer Zheng He whose fleet of over 200 vessels visited Galle between 1406 and 1433. The scale models of the Chinese ships, which dwarfed equivalent vessels used by the Europeans at the same time, is instructive. There is a large collection of ancient masks used for festive and religious occasions. A motley collection of objects from the Dutch period include furniture, weapons, cutlery and crockery. There are also some plates with Moorish art suggesting these were from the Arabs who lived in the area.

Location: Church Street
Entrance Fee: Rs300
(+Rs250 for photography)
Opening Hours: 9:00AM - 5:00PM
Visit Duration: 15 - 45 minutes


Amangalla Hotel

This three-story building was originally built in 1684 for the Dutch governor. In 1865 the British converted it into a barracks. It was later converted into the famous New Oriental Hotel. In its heyday, this hotel was one of the finest in Asia and a favorite stopovers of the British Raj on their way to and from the Orient. However, when ships no longer called into Galle harbor the grand old lady of Galle slowly lost her luster and fell into disrepair. As a young boy in the 1970's, the author remembers staying at this hotel when it was a mere shell of its past glory. Today, it one of the most exclusive hotels in Sri Lanka. It exudes an old-world charm but offers modern-day conveniences. It is a great place to stop by for a drink. You too, can sip tea on the balcony like the British Raj.

Location: Church Street
Entrance Fee: Hotel Guests Only
(Refreshments served to general public on front veranda.)
Opening Hours: 8:30AM - 9:30PM
Visit Duration: 30 - 45 minutes


Groote Kerk

The Groote Kerk was built in 1755 on the highest point inside the Fort. The foundations for the church had been laid in 1682, but the lack of funds prevented further progress, and the area reverted an open plot of land for the next 70 years. Work recommenced when the Commander of Galle, Casparus de Jong and his wife Geertruyda Adriana Le Grand donated funds to complete the church in thanksgiving for the long awaited birth of their first child. The church is of a cross-shaped cruciform design with Doric (Greek) pillars. The high vaulted wooden ceiling was originally painted blue and studded with golden stars. It has no internal pillars supporting the roof. High pews along the walls were for the Commander, the Deacons and high VOC officials. Some of these pews were removed by the British to accommodate an alter and communion rail. A stained glass window was added around 1830. The original ornate organ installed in 1760 has been lost. The church has a beautiful wooden hexagonal pulpit and baptismal stand. The floor and walls contain the tombstones of many Europeans who died so far away from their native lands. Some were only in their early twenties. The garden outside the church also has numerous early Dutch and British tombstones.

Location: Church Street
Entrance Fee: Free
Opening Hours: 8:30AM - 5:30PM
(except Mass times)
Visit Duration: 30 - 45 minutes


Anglican Church

All Saints Church was built in 1871 on the site of a former Court House. It is said that the altar stands on the location where the gallows once stood. The church is built in a Victorian Gothic revival style with modifications to cater for the local climate. It is one of the most beautiful Anglican churches in Sri Lanka. The weather-cock on the pinnacle of the roof and the bell in the central dome have disappeared. The pews are of teak and embossed with the Star of David. Other woodwork uses teak and numerous local fine woods. Stout walls support the structure, and interesting stained glass windows grace its white-washed walls. The building requires restoration.

Location: Church Street
Entrance Fee:
Free
Opening Hours: 8:30AM - 6:00PM
Visit Duration: 15-30 minutes


Mansion House Museum

This crazy odds and ends museum is one place in Galle, if not the whole world, where they actually don’t seem to want your money. It’s a labor of love. I love the notice advertising that it’s all free. Look for it. It’s worth a photograph.

The museum is set in an old Dutch colonial house with pillared verandas, a central courtyard and a water well. This private collection has been painstakingly assembled over 40 years by its owner, Abdul Gaffar. As a result, the museum contains more fascinating artifacts than either of the official museums in Galle.

You will discover all sorts of interesting and quirky paraphernalia from the past. These include oddments made from tortoiseshells (now banned) such as combs and boxes, porcelain crockery, lamps, household utensils and even old cameras. Also, notice the keystone block near the water well inscribed with the monogram of the Dutch East India Company, VOC, dated 1763.

Location: 31-39 Leyn Baan St
Entrance Fee: Free
Opening Hours: 9:00AM - 6:00PM
Visit Duration: 20-40 minutes


Dutch Warehouse

The Old Spice Warehouse is a huge two-story building constructed in 1671to store spices and other commodities for shipment back to Holland. The building extends a substantial distance along the inside of the eastern rampart of the fort and is part of the rampart itself. During the Dutch period, the main entrance to the fort was through the Main Gate in the middle of this building. The orange/yellow exterior walls and the solid black windows and doors make this building an interesting photo op.

Location: Queens Street
Entrance Fee:
Free (Walk by)
Opening Opening Hours: 24/7
Visit Duration: 10 minutes


Meeran Jumma Mosque

The mosque has a Portuguese baroque style to it. Being vehement anti-Muslim, the Portuguese permitted no mosques inside their fort. The Dutch were more tolerant, and the first mosque appeared on this site in the 1750s. It was replaced with the present structure in 1904. The reason for this definitely "un-Muslim" design is uncertain. It may have been intentionally designed not to arouse animosity with the Christian colonial overlords of the time. Or it may have been that the Muslims of Sri Lanka chose to adapt the prevalent architecture of the time. The only obvious exterior indications that it is a mosque are the miniature minarets and Arabic writing on the top facade on either side of the clock. You can only see the mosque from the outside. non-Muslim visitors are not allowed inside.

Location: Rampart Street
Entrance Fee: Free (Walk-by)
Opening Hours: 24/7
Visit Duration: 5-10 minutes


Galle Fort Old Gate (Inside Wall)

Installed on the inside wall, above the Main Entrance, is the coat of arms of Dutch East India Company (VOC) with a cock mounted on the top. This insignia may have been moved here (from the front entry) by the British once they took control of the fort. See How Galle Got its Name for more details.

Location: Queens Street
Entrance Fee:
Free (Walk- thro)
Opening Hours: 24/7
Visit Duration: 15 minutes


Galle Shopping

Galle Fort is an ideal place to hunt for local curios. A wide variety of jewelery, woodwork, lace-work, textiles, antics and quirky knick-knacks are available. The Galle Fort is rapidly becoming a tourist haven. This means that prices are slowly but surely going up. The quality of the merchandise is usually good.

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Galle Restaurants

There are many excellent restaurants and cafés in the fort; some set in beautiful old colonial buildings. Food and refreshments are available from several establishments ranging from 5-star restaurants to street stalls. Remember, hygiene standards vary. They are not all up to western standards. So chose sensibly. Read our Safety & Comfort page for some useful hints.

Location: Galle Fort
Cost:
Cheap to Reasonable
Opening Hours:
8:30AM - 10:00PM (times vary)
Duration:
Its up to you

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Peace Pagoda

Built on a hill a short distance from Galle, it is a beautifully serene place with a breathtaking view of the sea and the Galle Fort in the distance. It has a lovely golden Buddha statue and a tsunami memorial. This is a religious site, so you need to dress appropriately — cover your legs and shoulders. The sunset from this location is breathtaking.

Location:Unawatuna
Cost:
Free
Opening Hours:
24/7
Duration:
Its up to you


Galle Beaches

There are many excellent beaches close to Galle. The nearest and most famous are Unawatuna Beach and Jungle Beach, about 6 km south of Galle Fort. Unfortunately, the once pristine beaches are now somewhat commercialized.


Surfing

The waves around the beaches in Galle are most suitable for beginners to intermediate level surfers. Closenburg, also know as Dewata beach, is the nearest. Other beaches close by are Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna, Merissa and Weligama. The best seasons for surfing are between November and March.


Whales Watching

Get on board a small boat and head off to sea. The sight of these awesome beasts gliding gracefully past and playfully breaching the surface of the water close to you is exhilarating. Whales can be seen at Mirissa near Galle. The best time for whale watching is December to April.

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Trekking & Hiking

There are several interesting trekking opportunities close to Galle. For example, you could hike to the Watering Point at Unawatuna, where Dutch ships obtain their water before their long journeys to the orient or homeward. Or visit a tea plantation and take a refreshing dip by a waterfall.


Sinharaja Forest

The Sinharaja Forest is a tropical rainforest with trails that take you deep into the forest past rivers, waterfalls and a diversity of wildlife. If you are lucky, you may see a leopard. The best time to visit the forest is between December and April or August and September. Be on the lookout for leeches. So dress in long trousers and covered shoes. A guide is mandatory, so make sure he can speak your language.

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Turtle Hatchery

The entrance to this sea turtle farm and hatchery is unassuming and very basic by western standards. But once inside, you will see the effort of these volunteers to save and protect these vulnerable sea creatures. The guide is knowledgeable and friendly.


Tea Plantation

While the area around Galle is not the best area for growing tea, there is a tea and rubber plantation called Handunugoda Tea Estate, about 20kms away (40 min). This estate offers an interesting "tea experience". Walk through the tea plantation and watch tea-pluckers picking the finest tea leaves. Then visit the factory where it is produced and even taste the various types of teas available. The plantation also has rubber and cinnamon. You can observe these trees being harvested too. Remember, it was because of the lucrative cinnamon trade that the Dutch built Galle Fort.

 


Galle Traveler's Guide Everything You Need to Know

Best Way to Get there

Colombo to Galle is approximately 126km (2hr+) on the Southern Expressway. The more scenic route, on Galle Road, along the coast is 147km. There are many things to see and do on this longer route. As a result, the time taken will depend entirely on you. The quickest time is 3 hours.

Car Hire/Taxi: The fare is roughly Rs10000-13500 ($50-70) from Colombo. Depending on the route, it will take between 2-3 hours. The scenic beach route (3 hours) along the coast is recommended as you can probably make some wayside stops on the way. The faster route uses the freeway and takes about two hours. Transfers from the airport to Galle by hire car will probably be about $100-130,

Viator, a TripAdvisor company, offers an airport transfer service from the airport directly to Galle for as little as U$150.

Train: Trains depart from the Colombo Fort Station and follow a scenic route along the western coastline and arrive at the Galle station, which is about two kilometers from the Galle Fort. Trains depart during daylight hours, and the travel time is approximately 3 hours. Most trains have two carriage classes. These are rather "rough" and may not be up to some tourists expectations, but they are very cheap. Second Class tickets cost Rs 180 ($2). Third class (definitely not recommended) cost Rs100 ($0.75). There is also a privately run once-daily service called the Rajadhani Express, which has air-conditioned carriages and leather seats. Tickets for this train cost Rs 990 ($9).

Bus: Oh dear. Do you really want to? Buses depart from the central bus terminal near the Colombo Fort railroad station. The drop off point is at the bus terminus in Galle which is about a kilometer from the Galle Fort. Normal fare is Rs135 ($1). and Air-conditioned buses are Rs270 ($2).


Galle Tours

Several reputable local operators offer all-inclusive tours in Sri Lanka. Viator, a TripAdvisor company, offers 100s of packaged tours in Sri Lanka, including visits to Galle. They also offer very reasonable airport pick-up and drop-off services.

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Galle Hotels

Hotels in Galle range from basic home-stays to converted historic Dutch villas such as Dutch House built in 1712, to Amagalla Hotel - one of the most exclusive hotels in Asia.

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Getting Around Galle

The Galle Fort is a pedestrian paradise. The best way to appreciate it is on foot. The cobbled streets have hardly any traffic, and it's safe. If you prefer, you can ride a bicycle. You can also use a three-wheeler (tuk-tuk) or car but in doing so you will miss the essence of the city and its architecture. The attractions outside the Galle Fort can be reached via tuk-tuk, car, bus or hire car.


Galle Weather

Galle, like the rest of Sri Lanka, has a hot and humid tropical climate. The maximum temperatures are in the high twenties to low thirties. But the humidity is very high, so you will feel hot. The average temperature is 29°C. The temperature at night is about 22°C. The best months to visit are between December through January and July through September. The rainy monsoon season, which is quite windy and wet, is not a good time to visit Galle.


What to Wear in Galle

Being in the tropics, the weather in Galle is usually hot and humid, meaning that you will sweat a lot. Dressing for these climatic conditions will make your experience more enjoyable. Sri Lankans are pretty relaxed about what you wear. Shorts, tee-shirts etc. are fine. Nudity is frowned upon.

Note: Women wearing revealing clothing are more likely to be harassed by local males. So cover up.

• Clothing - Loose cotton, linen or breathable fabric clothes.
• "Proper" Clothing - Also, remember you need to wear "proper" clothing when visiting Buddhist and Hindu temples. This means your clothes must cover your shoulders and be below your knees. Wrapping a sarong around you is an easy solution. You also need to remove your footwear and hats when entering these places.
• Sunglasses - Always a good idea to protect your eyes.
• Shoes - Any footwear suitable for the tropics is fine.
• Hat - Broad-brimmed hat to keep the sun away.
• Sunscreen - Definitely a good idea in the tropics.


Your Safety & Comfort

Galle is a very safe city. You would have to be extremely unlucky, reckless or foolish to experience any harm. Always exercise due care and caution with your belonging. Don't accept any offers from strangers. A female traveling alone will draw attention from young men. Never talk to them as this will only encourage them. Remember, Western stomachs aren't used to Eastern bugs. This is a fact of life. So be careful with what you eat and drink.

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Mobile & Internet

Mobile phone services are good in the cities and patchy in regional areas, but there is coverage island-wide. Internet/WI-FI are available at most accommodations. The speeds, however, aren't as fast as you may be used to.


Good Manners

Sri Lankan people are naturally happy, friendly and courteous. It is in their culture. They are always willing to help. Unfortunately, modern commercialism and tourism have corrupted this lovely natural characteristic of the people, and some may take advantage of you. Good manners are always appreciated. Never be rude. They may not appear as prosperous as you, but they are cheerful, helpful and courteous people.


Tipping

Tipping is appreciated but is not compulsory. In Sri Lanka, tipping serves two purposes. Firstly is a token of your appreciation of the service someone has provided you. Not tipping can be hurtful to them because it will be interpreted that you were not happy with their service. Secondly, a more obvious reason is that it is a financial reward. Remember that a couple of Dollars or Euros on a tip is less than the cost of a candy bar in your home country. Be nice. Make someone happy. A tip of 10% or more is the accepted standard, rounded up in to rupees. For example, don't give a tip of 50 cents.


Taking Photographs

There are no restrictions in taking photographs, except for military installations. Most people don't mind you photographing them. If you visit any temples, remember it is very rude to take photographs posing next to religious statues and objects. It is especially rude to do so with your back towards them or leaning on them. This is the only time you are likely to get a comment from a local. Some museums charge extra fees to take photographs of their exhibits.


Smoking & Alcohol

Smoking and the consumption of alcohol in public places is not permitted. Alcohol is also not served during Poya Days which are holy days for the nation's Buddhists.