It may often be thought that Galle is all about just a 16th century fortified fortress; but please do not be misguided. This colonial-era ‘show piece’ of Sri Lanka is a day well spent, and a perfect getaway from the bustling city of Colombo. And hence, when in Sri Lanka, a one day trip to Galle is highly recommended
Galle – the Southern Province Capital
It’s a complete joy to explore this historic city and here we get a very Mediterranean feel, with the bright blue skies, with windswept beaches and nodding palms surrounding its colonial-era fortified city. Galle prides itself for its centuries-old Portuguese-built fort, while the city is trimmed with Dutch-style houses.
The city is full of colonial sites with the influence derived from the Portuguese, Dutch and British invasions from time to time. This place is like a living monument, still very much inhabited by a bustling community all within the great Ramparts, massive Bastions and the Pepper Pot Towers. The narrow lanes are lined with quirky shops and churches; the surrounding hills have beautiful colonial whitewashed mansions, and there are also numerous heritage museums and galleries, for the inquisitive ones.
Travelling to Galle
The City is located at the South West coast of Sri Lanka; with a distance of around 120 km from the capital city, Colombo, and it can be easily travelled within an hour; so for a one day trip to Galle, an early start in the morning, gives us a complete day in this beautiful ocean city.
The Galle road trip is a smooth drive on the newly constructed expressway, at an additional cost to be paid at the toll. A day-taxi can be hired from Colombo, who stays and takes us around the city or alternatively Uber can be hired till Galle and locally we can travel around in the easily available tuk-tuks.
There are also direct trains every three hours from Colombo to Galle, this beautiful journey takes roughly two hours, passing through numerous coastal villages. Long-distance buses are also available.
Things to do in Galle
Galle wears history on its sleeves; it is a little city with a perfect combination of Culture and Beaches. A day trip to Galle can easily divide our time into two areas:
- The Galle Fort
- Unawatuna – the nearby beach town
The Galle Fort is a world heritage site and is the largest remaining fortress in Asia built by European occupiers. It is an impressive architectural treat built by the Dutch merchants who controlled the city. Today, schools, administrative offices, companies, and courts are found in this dynamic area. The great ramparts, thick enough for us to walk around, surround the walled city and are a perfect place to watch the waves rushing the rocks and gaze deep into the vast far off the Indian Ocean. This is one of the best things to do in Galle.
Walking and exploring through the little streets in the old town area of the Galle Fort is like walking through live history. We witness life and areas which still exist, the little streets are a mix between old houses and boutique hotels, we find little souvenir shops too, amongst the numerous little eating joints. Do check out the old Galle Fort Clock Tower, the Old Prison and the Light House, an Imperial beauty, while walking around the breezy rampart. It’s also a pleasant sight to watch the school-boys during a cricket practice session.
At the southernmost end of the fort, which was once a Portuguese bastion, is the Flag Rock, one of the most popular places to catch the sunset and the only place in Sri Lanka where we find ‘cliff divers’. Watching cliff jumping and these adrenalin junkies perform this extreme sport with no special clothing, gear or equipment is quite thrilling and a great end to our day trip to Galle!!!
Pro Tip: The Galle Fort is also a favourite spot for a pre-wedding shoot, as the beauty of the place is unsurpassed.
While walking around the fort, the places to visit in Galle
- Groote Kerk or The Dutch Reformed Church, is the country’s oldest Protestant churches and stands out for its grand hexagonal canopy, was originally built in 1640. The floors are paved with gravestones from the Dutch cemeteries. The St Joseph’s Chapel, a quaint Chapel, is a depiction of the Roman Catholics from the Portuguese times
- St. Mary’s Cathedral: it is titled as the landmark of the city and the best tourist place in Galle.
- The National Museum of Galle: The influence of Dutch on Sri Lanka can be easily seen from the architectural designs, relics, masks, shells wooden carvings to weapons and vessels; all preserved and displayed and is an excellent educative place for any passion-driven individual towards history.
- The Maritime Museum: The Dutch warehouse inside the ramparts is today the maritime archaeology museum. This valuable warehouse has some maritime items, boat models etc, and takes back a tourist to the Dutch East India trading company’s trade routes and relics.
Eating at Galle Fort
The Galle Fort is loaded with multicultural culinary outlets; Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Middle Eastern and of course the local flavours of Sri Lanka. We find high-end plush restaurants as well as cosy little cafes, and all promising to fulfil our tastes. It is recommended to complete your Galle trip by definitely trying the local fresh seafood variety available.
A highlight to complete the beautiful experience at Galle is to have an afternoon tea at the most iconic colonial building, now known as the Amangalla Hotel. Starting at 3 pm enjoy a variety of finest Ceylon tea accompanied by finger sandwiches, scones with cream and jam, cakes, tarts and much more.
A meal at one of the many speciality restaurants at the restored colonial building Old Dutch Hospital and Restaurant Complex, one of the oldest buildings in the fort area, is very highly recommended. Beautifully located, overlooking the ocean, we can enjoy a meal either in the verandah or in one of the restaurants. On our personal trip to Galle, we had a hearty Sri Lankan seafood meal at the Cannon Bar.
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Shopping is one amongst the many fun things to do in Galle. Walking down the cobbled streets, we can enjoy the Galle Fort’s beauty and tranquillity; with the narrow lanes lined with little cafes, souvenir shops, hotels, designer boutiques to numerous speciality furniture shops; we can find lots of attractions to take back home. But it’s best to buy little souvenirs like semi-precious gems and silver jewellery, some hand-woven sarongs and hand-made home linen.
Pro Tip: Local Lace is a key souvenir, easily available in the little shops, and you may even get to actually see them being made by the local ladies.
Unawatuna – the beach town
Our second half of the one day trip to Galle would be spent in visiting the little town around 5 km from the Galle City Centre.
Water Sports in Unawatuna
The Township is better known for its beautiful beach and corals. The good waves make it ideal for surfing, though not big but, enough for a fun time, especially for beginners; we can easily hire the equipment at the beach.
Pro Tip: Organised surfing happens at Ahangama, which is also less crowded; and also this area is home to Stilt fishing, it could be quite a sight to witness.
The town is a little bay with white sandy beaches and a coral reef off the shore, it becomes ideal for some Scuba diving; we can check out the reef or the wreck of Rangoon, a 100 year old British ship that sank with its mast intact. Equipment can be hired locally and tours are available.
Japanese Peace Pagoda
A popular attraction is a fairly newly built Japanese Peace Pagoda. Its location on the hilltop in the forests, with magnificent views of the bay of Galle and Galle Fort; and the mesmerizing Sri Lankan sunsets, makes it a must-visit place.
Beach ‘n’ Ocean
Swim in the Ocean!
Finally, after a dip in the warm ocean waters, laze around and walk along the shore, drinking a king coconut and eat some of the freshest seafood. The beach is lined with shacks and little restaurants and lovely coffee shops.
Pro Tip: A mid-morning swing on the beach Rope Swing at Dalawella beach, south of Unawatuna, is a real fun thing to do.
The afternoon is best spent at the beach watching the surrounding hills and forests and relaxing. Perfect for families outing and relaxing picnics, this beach is calm and has ample activities available for kids as well as adults. On weekends we find a lot of local families too enjoying the waters and beach.
A bit of adventure
The Jungle beach in Unawatuna is one of the most amazing hidden treasures of Sri Lanka. Although it is a bit difficult to locate (“hidden”), it is mere 15-20 min from the main Unawatuna beach.
Unawatuna is also home to the endangered Purple Faced Langur, an unusually shy monkey species that can be found only in Sri Lanka.
The forests and hills around the beach offer plenty of short-hiking opportunities, including visiting the Japanese Peace Pagoda (mentioned earlier).
Extending your stay?
Tips for things to do in Galle, if you extend your stay.
- If you intend to spend some more days in Galle, a Nature Walk, Camping or a Trekking Tour is recommended to the Hiyare Reservoir & Rain forests and Kanneliya Forest.
- Take a boat out of Mirissa Harbour and watch the largest mammal on planet Blue Whale and Dolphins in their habitat.
In the end…
Finally, the best time to visit Galle is anytime between October to April, to avoid the monsoons. This once a sleepy village is today a bustling city and a very happening tourist delight. There are many things to do in Galle, Pick the one that suits you. I consider it to be my personal favourite destination in Sri Lanka, but regrettably could only have a short one day trip, but, it definitely left me with many, many reasons to visit again… and hopefully soon!
This blog-post was co-authored by Anuradha Nag. An ex-marketing professional, Anuradha hails from India’s NCR (National Capital Region). She loves to travel and has recently been on a family vacation to Sri Lanka.
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