Galle Fort: Best Things to Do in Sri Lanka’s Colonial Gem

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Ruled by various colonial powers, Galle Fort was already considered an important trading center long before the arrival of the Europeans. Located in the southern part of Sri Lanka, this historic fortress town dates back to the 13th century and is now a melting pot of cultures.

Conquered by the Portuguese in the 16th century, heavily fortified by the Dutch in the 1700s, and ruled by the English until 1948, Galle Fort is recognized as a UNESCO heritage site – all to preserve its extraordinary history.

Fun fact: Galle Fort is thought to have been the Biblical Tarshish – where King Solomon obtained gold, spices, ivory, and apes.

These days, this elegant little town has become one of Sri Lanka’s most revered tourist destinations, with its beautiful old buildings now housing boutique hotels, trendy cafes, and hipster shops!

Pro tip: It’s easy to spend an entire day exploring Galle Fort, and while the streets are quieter during the morning time, we highly recommend not missing the sunset and having a walk through the charming streets of the fortified town once the sun goes down.

Galle Fort Map

Things to do in Galle Fort

1. Wander through the Charming Alleys

Getting lost in the charming alleys of Galle Fort is easily the number one thing to do here! The white Dutch colonial-style buildings line up the cobblestoned laneways and the coconut trees frame the whole place, making for a very pleasant stroll.

Galle Fort
Galle Fort Cobblestone Streets

You can do it by yourself, or you can hop on a guided walking tour or even a private biking tour of the Fort where you can hear the stories of times past from a local guide.

Highlights of Galle Fort include:

  • Meeran Mosque: a beautiful white mosque built in 1904 as a space of prayer for the local Muslim community.
  • National Maritime Archaeology Museum: completely destroyed by the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, the Museum has been reconstructed and depicts all types of ancient marine artifacts.
  • Old Dutch Hospital: one of the oldest buildings in Galle, which has been converted into a shopping and dining complex.
  • Dutch Reformed Church: the oldest Protestant church in Sri Lanka, built by the Dutch in 1755 on the site of a former Portuguese Capuchin convent.
  • Clock Tower: built in the late 19th century in honor of a colonial surgeon born in Galle, the clock tower was donated by one of his patients.
  • All Saints Anglican Church: built by the British colonizers in the late 1800s from solid rock and Burmese wood.
Meeran Mosque in Galle
Dutch Reformed Church in Galle

2. Visit Galle Fort’s Lighthouse

The real icon of this town! Built in 1848 by the British, Galle Fort’s Lighthouse is the oldest of its kind in the country, and stamps most Sri Lankan postcards to this day. You can visit the interior of the lighthouse for 200r, although climbing to the top of the lighthouse is not allowed.

Galle Fort’s Lighthouse
Parrot resting on a coconut tree leaf

3. Watch the Sunset from the Fortified Walls

While morning walks through Galle Fort’s wall are a quieter option to take in the beautiful views of the city and the sea, a late afternoon walk ending with sunset at the Star Bastion is a must-do!

A great way to do this walk is by starting from the Main Gate, turning left on Church Street where you can find the Dutch Reformed Church, then left again on Queen Street until you reach Galle’s Lighthouse. From there, you can follow the perimeter of the fort, passing through different bastions and the Ramparts Green, where locals will very likely be playing some cricket.

The Star Bastion, right next to the historic Clock Tower, is where most locals and tourists come together to watch the sky transform into the most breathtaking sunset!

4. Head South for a day at the Beach

Galle Fort does have a stretch of rocky beach, but nothing compared to the amazing beaches nearby! Just a 10-minute drive south of Galle is the stunning beach town of Unawatuna with its palm tree beach swings and warm waters.

Another short 40-minute to 1-hour train ride and you reach Weligama and Mirissa, some of the most popular beach towns in the country. Weligama is particularly famous among surfers for its great waves, and Mirissa is home to the Insta-famous Coconut Hill.

Also read: Jungle Beach – Best Hidden Beach in Unawatuna

Aerial View of Dalawella Frog Rock

5. Go Whale Watching

The sea between Galle and Matara is one of the best places in the world to see endangered blue whales (and occasionally sperm whales and dolphins too!). From mid-November to early April, the sea hosts migrating whales that come feed – oddly enough – in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Most of the whale-watching tours depart from the town of Mirissa, and even the Navy offers whale-watching expeditions on their big ships!

Tip: If you’re short on time, we recommend this 2-Day Whale Watching & Southern Sri Lanka Tour.

6. Watch a Local Cricket Match

Being Sri Lanka’s national sport, Cricket is a sensation among locals and wherever you go, you’ll find them playing outside. If you want to have a little sneak peek at a professional cricket match, Galle Fort is just the place!

Sitting right outside of Galle Fort is the Galle International Cricket Stadium, where national and international matches are held throughout the year. Of course, you can watch it at the actual stadium, but the ramparts next to the clock tower up in Galle Fort offer perfect views of the grounds for an unforgettable game-watching experience.

Cricket Match inside of Galle Fort
Galle Fort's Clock Tower

7. Explore the Local Markets

Galle’s local markets are vibrant and colorful, with vendors selling a wide range of fresh produce, spices, seafood, and other local goods. This is the perfect place to experience the vibrant culture and cuisine of Sri Lanka!

The markets are located just outside of Galle Fort, and when paying a visit, make sure to try some of the sweet tropical fruits such as Longan, Mangosteen, Rambutan, and Honey Jackfruit! Prices on the markets are also much better than inside the fort, making it the go-to stop to shop for local spices and tea.

8. Grab a Bite at one of the Trendy Cafes & Restaurants

The beautiful old buildings of Galle Fort now house the most lovely restaurants and trendy cafes! Here are some of our favorites:

  • Anura’s Restaurant: cheap, nice decor, and offers a cool mix of Sri Lankan and Italian dishes
  • Dumplings Cafe: handmade fresh dumplings for a really good price!
  • Punto Cafe: very small, lovely restaurant for local Sri Lanka food and other Asian dishes
  • AQUA Forno Bakery: all-day breakfast and authentic Italian sandwiches

Also read: Sri Lanka Travel Cost – Budget Breakdown 2023

Galle Fort Travel Tips

Best time to visit

The best time to visit Galle Fort and the south portion of Sri Lanka is between February and April when the weather is mostly sunny and temperatures are stable, perfect to explore!

The monsoon season runs from May to September and offers a quieter atmosphere and cheaper prices. We visited Galle in July and experienced sunny and windy weather, with very little rain.

Note: the Galle Literary Festival takes place every January in the fortified town, which gets even more charming with music and dance performances taking place all over! It’s worth noting that the town also gets super busy during this time of the year.

How to visit Galle Fort

As one of the most popular destinations on the south coast, you can easily reach Galle Fort by hopping on a 3-hour train from the capital Colombo.

You can book the tickets online here or directly at the train stations, and the train schedule is available on the Sri Lankan rail website. Trains comprise three classes, and if you have the budget, the first class offers the most comfortable carriages and is recommended for long journeys. Second and Third-class observation tickets are also a great option, as it guarantees a reserved seat.

Pro tip: if you prefer to have more flexibility during your time in Sri Lanka, we recommend the most authentic way of travel in the country – renting and driving your very own Tuk-Tuk with TukTuk Rental! For a special discount, use our code wheretoflow when making a booking 🛺

Where to stay in Galle Fort

Spending the night inside the Fort is an awesome experience! Although accommodation in Galle Fort is more on the pricier side than in Galle town, you can still find reasonably priced guesthouses and hotels for all budgets. Here are some of our recommendations:

Find more accommodations in Galle >

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We’re Nick & Bruno, two creative souls who decided to set off to explore the world while sharing authentic experiences, travel resources and tips, and inspiring adventures online. We hope you can find inspiration and motivation from our posts to chase your travel dreams too. Come decide Where to Flow with us!

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