Sri Lanka is drawing in more visitors by the day with its beautiful beaches, lush rainforests and of course, endless cups of amazing Ceylon tea. Next to the gorgeous scenery and perfect cuppas, Sri Lanka offers rich culture. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the UNESCO protected Galle Fort. So what exactly there is to see and do in Galle Fort? Let’s take a tour.
Galle Fort: Orientation
Galle Fort is located in southern Sri Lanka in the Bay of Galle. It takes a little over two hours to reach the fort from the airport in Colombo. Galle Fort was originally built in 1588 by the Portuguese and fortified by the Dutch in the 1600s. The fort is often referred to as Galle Dutch Fort. The British took over in 1796, but the importance of Galle diminished as the British focused on fortifying the capital in Colombo.
The fort has been beautifully preserved to this day and it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988. Galle Fort offers a unique blend of European architecture and local South Asian heritage. UNESCO cites the fort as the best example of a fortified city built by Europeans anywhere in South and Southeast Asia.
A Day in Galle Fort
Galle Fort is one of the most popular sites to visit in Sri Lanka, and rightly so. If you prefer the beaches or want to spend time exploring the hill country, Galle Fort makes for a wonderful daytrip. That being said, you could easily spend a few days exploring this historic hub.
Start at the Gates
You enter Galle Fort through an imposing gate carved into the thick stone walls. The fort has two distinct gates. The main entrance is located opposite the roundabout where you’ll find the war memorial. This gate is often called the British Gate, as it was built during the British rule in Galle. The second gate is called the Old Gate, though it’s sometimes called the Portuguese Gate as well. No Portuguese markings are visible, though. Instead, you’ll find the British coat of arms above the entrance and that of the Dutch East Indies Company coat inside the arch.
Walk the Fort Walls
The best way to get a real feel of history is to walk the imposing fort walls. The fort sits on a small peninsula and is surrounded by ocean on three sides, so the views from the fort walls are quite majestic. The walls wrap around the fort and you can walk about ¾ of the wall’s length. The sturdy walls were the main reason Galle Fort survived the 2004 tsunami.
Explore the Narrow Alleys
After getting a bird’s eye view to the fort, it’s time to get down into the trenches. The streets of Galle Fort will transport you from the lush tropics into the cobble stoned cities of Europe. Add to that the unmistakable Sri Lankan charm – the friendly smiles, the fragrant aroma of tea and spices – and what you get is nothing short of magic. The street have charmingly descriptive names: Lighthouse Street intersects with Church Street and both share a crossroad with Peddlar Street. Galle Fort is easily explored on foot and you’ll find plenty of cafes and restaurants where you can stop to catch your breath.
Visit Galle National Museum
After walking through streets of living history, it’s time to scratch the surface a bit more. You can learn more about the history of southern Sri Lanka at the Galle National Museum. And really, the museum is worth visiting if just for the architecture alone: the museum is set in the oldest Dutch building in the fort, dating back to 1656. Besides the amazing setting, the museum offers a fascinating collection of archaeological and anthropological objects ranging from ritual masks worn by the southern tribes to Dutch maritime memorabilia.
Stop for Tea
When in Sri Lanka, you simply must try the tea. While the tea plantations are tucked into the country’s lush interior, Galle Fort is one of the most scenic spots for enjoying a cuppa. There are several cute cafes scattered across the historic fort. For decadent high tea, head to the grand Amangalla Hotel on Church Street. The hotel is set in a gorgeous restored building originally built way back in 1684. Sipping your tea in this setting will really make history come alive. Another popular choice is the wonderfully rustic Royal Dutch Cafe on Leyn Baan Street. Read more about all things tea in Sri Lanka.
Shop for Souvenirs
Next to the cafes and restaurants, there’s also plenty of opportunities for indulging in some retail therapy in Galle Fort. There are cute little shops dotted across the fort where you can pick up local crafts, spices and spa products – all of which make for great souvenirs and terrific gifts to bring back home with you. Looking for more ideas? Check out our guide for the best shopping in Galle.
Catch the Sunset at Flag Rock
After spending the day roaming the cobble stone alleys of Galle Fort, it’s time to breathe some fresh air. Make your way to the very southernmost tip of the fort where you’ll discover the famous Flag Rock. What was once a Portuguese bastion today offers one of the most scenic photo ops in Galle. During the day, you can catch divers leaping from the rock into the ocean. Before you get too excited though, it’s good to note that this is a form of income for many and the divers might expect some money for performing their tricks. Flag Rock is also a great spot for catching the sunset in Galle.
Accommodation in Galle Fort
Galle Fort doesn’t have to be a mere day trip either. Thanks to the renovation of old colonial homes, the area is seeing a real upsurge of new luxury villas. This means you can call one of the fort’s historic homes your own – at least for the night. 39 Galle Fort is located right in the heart of Galle Fort. Our team stayed at 39 Galle Fort and we loved the historic setting and really, you can’t go wrong with a villa that has an in-house chef. Villa 5 Middle St has beautifully arched doorways and magical views over the rooftops of Galle. This villa also has a personal chef for those nights you prefer to dine in.