Positioned on the Sri Lankan southwest coast, Galle Sri Lanka divides into two parts – the new town and the old town. The new town, of course, is uneventful, like any other town though worth a stroll. The old town is exotic and extraordinarily charming. It, rightfully, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Old Town of Galle, Galle Fort, discovered by the Portugues (16th-century) and fortified by the Dutch (18th century), with its colonial fort, colorful and narrow cobbled streets, artsy vintage boutiques, sidewalk cafés, and restaurants, is a slice of Europe in Sri Lanka.
Galle is just about 2 hours away from Colombo and many travelers explore it as a day trip from Colombo. We’d strongly recommend spending a day or two in Galle as it’s unlike any other place in Sri Lanka. Plus, keeping Galle as a base, you can explore gorgeous beaches in and around Galle, go whale watching in Mirissa, and take a day trip to one of the best national parks in Sri Lanka, Udawalwa National Park.
December to April is said to be a good time to visit Galle. You should avoid the monsoon months of May to September.
Spring (February, March, and April) brings perfect weather and calmer seas that make it a perfect time to explore Galle.
Galle is 124 km away from Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka, and takes just about 2 hours to reach via Southern Expressway (E01). We hired a car with a driver that gave us the freedom to stop at beautiful vantage points and recommend it to families visiting Sri Lanka. Book the car transfer from Colombo Airport to Galle here.
If you don’t have a car, the second-best option is to travel by train or an AC bus from Colombo to Galle. A train ticket costs 990 LKR (first-class), 180 LKR (second-class), and 100 LKR (third-class), and a Southern Express bus ticket costs 375 LKR. Both the train and express bus journey can take anywhere between 2.5 to 3 hours.
We aren’t talking about the local buses (government-run and private) here as they are in bad shape, are crowded as hell, and aren’t recommended for families with kids at all. Not to mention, they are cheaper than the express buses and travel through a classic coastal route taking more time to reach Galle.
Make sure to explore Galle Fort early in the morning to avoid the touristy crowds, especially during the peak months of February, March, and April. And, you must come back in the evening to witness the remarkable sunset over the rip-roaring ocean from the Fort’s Wall.
The ramparts of Galle Fort are the outer walls where you can walk while admiring the views over the city and on the ocean.
The Galle Fort walk starts at the historic Clock Tower and ends at Star Bastion. As you enter the fort complex through the main gate and stroll the narrow streets in the Galle Fort, you can’t help but stop by the beautiful boutique and souvenir shops and impressive monuments in the fort.
Some of the notable Dutch-style colonial monuments, churches, and museums within the walls of the fort include Dutch Reform Church (De Groote Kerk), All Saints Anglican Church, Old Dutch Hospital, Amangalla, National Maritime Archeology Museum, Galle Lighthouse, Meeran Mosque, and Sudharmalaya Temple. Out of many defense bastions built around around the fort, the Flag Rock Bastion, Triton Bastion (sunset point), Aurora Bastion (sunrise point), and Star Bastion are the main ones.
The Flag Rock Bastion is famous for its daring cliff jumpers. The divers jump off the fort ramparts into the ocean for USD 10 per jump.
The entire walk (about 2 km) takes about 2 to 3 hours to complete.
You can take a self-guided walk or, better yet, join the Galle Fort Walks – a tour with deeper insights into the history of Galle Fort and Sri Lanka. And if you like some pampering, book a tour to Galle Fort and enjoy a relaxing fish foot massage later.
The iconic Galle Fort Lighthouse is the most sought-after attraction in Galle. Built by the British in 1848, it’s one of the oldest lighthouses in Sri Lanka.
The pretty palm-fringed white lighthouse very much epitomizes the essence of Galle. How can you leave Galle Fort before you take the classic picture of the lighthouse?
Wandering the winding streets of Galle Fort lined with vintage shops, art galleries, historic buildings, colonial houses, charming cafes, and traditional restaurants is an utter delight. It’s like each corner and every turn presents something new. Kids turn into little explorers.
From Pedlar Street, Leyn Baan Street, Church Street, Prarawa Street Galle, Hospital Street, to Queen’s Street, Parawa Street, and many more – you’ll fall in love with Galle as you stroll the colorful backstreets of the fort, one street at a time. And, you can’t escape the vintage vibes.
If you want to take back some unique souvenirs from Sri Lanka for friends and family, Galle Fort, especially Pedlar Street is your best bet. Pedlar Street turns on a shopaholic in you and there’s no limit to how much you can splurge here.
There is an umpteen number of amazing antique boutiques, artsy shops, gem stores, spice shops, stores selling gorgeous cotton, and linen dresses and sarongs perfect for Galle’s tropical weather, unique handicrafts, and diverse knick-knacks sprinkled throughout the fort.
Some of the shops that we recommend include Barefoot, Stick No Bills (adorable postcards), Mimimango, Laksana, Tallentire House, The Three by TPV, and Exotic Roots.
Galle aka Europe of South Asia demands you to chill at one of its coolest cafes. We personally loved:
Take some time to enjoy the sun and sand at one or two or maybe all the stunning beaches in and around Galle.
There are some amazing beach towns near Galle – Hikkaduwa towards the north and Unawatuna, Mirissa, and Weligama the south.
Beaches in Hikkaduwa: Narigama beach, Hikkaduwa beach, and Turtle beach.
Beaches in Unawatuna: Dalawella beach (famous for its rope swing), Jungle beach, Wijaya beach, and Unawatuna’s main beach.
Note: You must climb the Japanese Peace Pagoda in Unawatuna for the sweeping views over the bay of Galle.
Weligama is one of the best places to see stilt fishermen.
Beaches in Mirissa: Secret Beach, and Mirissa Beach
Note: Don’t miss the Parrot Rock (right in front of Mirissa Beach) and a coconut hill ( a little away from Mirissa Beach). Also, if you happen to visit Mirissa from November to April, book a whale watching tour. Mirissa is one of the best places to go whale watching in Sri Lanka.
Located in the Dutch Hospital Road, Minute by Tuk Tuk is one restaurant you can’t miss to dine in when in Galle. Traditional food with a contemporary touch and a perfect setting overlooking the sweeping views of the bay of Galle – Minute by Tuk Tuk is one of the best places to eat in Galle.
Watching the sun melting into the ocean is not just another activity in Galle but a tradition. Each evening, locals and tourists get together along the walls of the fort to witness the sunset over the bay of Galle. It’s that special, you see.
Triton Bastion aka Sunset Point is one of the best places to watch the sunset in Galle, Sri Lanka.
The Blockhouse at Church Street is a beautiful cafe with a terrace perfect for watching the sunset over the ocean.
With some more time in Galle, you can get away from the ocean into the wilderness. Udawalawe is 2 hours away from Galle and best reached by a rental car or taxi. The national park lets you see the Asian elephants roaming in the wild. There are even the chances of spotting leopards, deer, wild boars, peacocks, and crocodiles.
The National Park is best explored in a private Jeep Safari. Book the safari in advance to avoid any hassles.
Galle Fort is such a pretty place to stay in. There are so many amazing accommodation options that overwhelm travelers. If you’re a fan of Airbnb like us, there are a host of dreamy beach houses and villas to choose from.