A Complete Guide To Galle, Sri Lanka

A Complete Guide To Galle, Sri Lanka

There are many fantastic things to do in Galle Sri Lanka. This seriously is the nicest city in the country – so nice that there is no way you should skip, and in fact I suggest to leave as the last stop of your trip, much like a cherry on the cake.

This is the kind of place where you can enjoy a bit of culture travel with some well deserved relaxing time at the beach. Indeed, Galle has a very rich history and culture; but its surroundings are packed with some of the nicest beaches in Sri Lanka.

Right by the sea and in a strategic position, Galle has always been an important town. It originally was a commercial port used to exchange spices and precious stones. It was so flourishing that it soon attracted the attention of colonizers.

The first to arrive were the Portuguese in the 16th century. They are the ones that gave it its name – apparently after hearing the singing of a rooster (called “galo” in Portuguese). However, Singhalese people believe that the name comes from the word “gala,” which means rock.

It then was the turn of the Dutch, who left the biggest mark on the landscape of the city, building Galle Fort. Finally, the British arrived at the end of the 18th century, leaving their mark too.

Today, this small colonial town is simply a very pleasant place to visit. In this post, I highlight the best things to see and do in Galle, Sri Lanka, and share a few tips to make the most of it.

Are you planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Make sure to read my post 13 Fabulous Places To Visit In Sri Lanka.”

These are some tours of Galle that will give you a good introduction to the city:

Galle Sri Lanka - ramparts

A walk along the ramparts is a must when in Galle

18 Great Things To Do In Galle Sri Lanka

Walk along the ramparts

One of the unmissable things to do in Galle is walking along the ramparts. In case you didn’t know, Galle is a fortified city, with thick walls that were built by the Portuguese at the end of the 16th century and then fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century. The ramparts surround the Old Town and are the main reason Galle became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But there’s more! When the 2004 Tsunami hit Sri Lanka claiming the lives of more than 40000 people, the walls proved essential in protecting Galle from being completely destroyed.

Admire the Dutch architecture in Galle Fort

Galle is fairly small, but there are a lot of interesting sights. If you want to learn more about its history, a walking tour of the Old Town is what to do in Galle. Here, you’ll be able to see the beautiful constructions left behind by the Dutch. Among them, I recommend stopping by the Maritime Museum, the Old Dutch Hospital, and the Amangalla Hotel, which used to serve as the New Oriental Hotel at the time of steamship travel. You can even plan to stay there!

Pass by Groote Kirk

Among the places to visit in Galle, Sri Lanka, there is Groote Kerk – the Dutch Reformed Church that was built in 1640 and subsequently restored. This is located near the Commandment Bastion, on Church Street. It’s another example of Dutch architecture which is still regularly used for Protestant functions. The inside is beautiful, with stained glass windows, an antique organ donated by another church in Colombo in the 18th century, as well as a beautiful pulpit.

Lighthouse in Galle Sri Lanka

The beautiful lighthouse can be seen during a walk along the ramparts

Visit the Old Lighthouse

Of all the things to do in Galle, this is one that you can’t miss. The sight of the Old Lighthouse from a distance is gorgeous, with the palm trees right next to it, and facing the sea. You can see it during your walk along the ramparts. The one in Galle is the oldest lighthouse in Sri Lanka. It was originally built in 1848, but as it was a wooden construction it was completely destroyed by a fire in 1934 and then rebuilt by the Brits in 1939. It’s still in use!

Visit the old Clock Tower

Another important landmark in Galle is its Clock Tower. This is located by one of the fort entrances, and it was built in 1883 thanks to donations by the people living in Galle at the time. From the Clock Tower, you can enjoy fabulous views of the cricket stadium, of the Old Fort and even of the newest part of town.

Clock Tower in Galle Sri Lanka

Visiting the Clock Tower is one of the things to do in Galle

Browse the local museums

Galle has a couple of good museums, and I recommend visiting them to get a better understanding of the fascinating history of this beautiful town. The Maritime Archeology Museum always has good exhibits. It costs €4.50 to get in, which is a reasonable price considering the amount of information you’ll get there. It’s located in a former Dutch Warehouse.

One of the most interesting places to visit in Galle is the Historical Mansion Museum. Privately owned and located in a restored house that dates back to the Dutch times, it is packed with vintage artifacts that used to belong to a local family. It’s free to visit, and a lot of the stuff you see is actually on sale.

Go shopping

The shopaholic in you will go crazy in Galle. After days of only seeing local markets and souvenirs, the beautiful boutiques of Galle, Sri Lanka, will be a welcome novelty. Some of them are located in colonial buildings, some almost look like an art gallery, all of them sell fabulous stuff (dresses, scarves, sandals, paintings and jewelry) which you will be tempted to buy – even though some of it is very expensive.

street life in Galle

Make sure to eat some fresh fruit!

Help the street dogs

Sri Lanka has a terrible stray dogs and cats emergency, with many of these lovely animals living in the streets in dire conditions. One of the nicest things to do in Galle, Sri Lanka, is paying a visit to Embark. This may look just like one of the many colorful boutiques that you can find in town, but it has a purpose: all profits are used to help the strays. You can buy a nice souvenir – a t-shirt or even just a fridge magnet, and help a good cause.

Have a fabulous afternoon tea

One of the biggest marks left by the Brits in Sri Lanka is tea. This is is a big thing in Sri Lanka. You can visit the tea plantations (the best place to do so is Nuwara Eliya, in the Hill Country), but if you care to have a fabulous tea experience, you have to go for high tea. The best place to do that in Galle is Amangalla Hotel – it comes with small sandwiches and pastries and is just so posh!

Read more about Nuwara Eliya in my post A Complete Guide to Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka.”

Eat 

With a fantastic choice of good restaurants, one of the best things to do in Galle is eating. Scattered around the Old Town you’ll find some beautiful restaurants where you can dine al fresco. Prices won’t be those of the usual rice and curry you can have in Sri Lanka, but it’s worth paying for a change. And if you care for a refreshing treat, have gelato! There are a few good gelaterie in Galle. The best one is Isle of Gelato.

things to do in Galle

Unawatuna is the nicest beach around Galle Sri Lanka

Learn how to surf in Unawatuna

Unawatuna is at a stone’s throw from Galle, and you can easily reach it on a bike or tuk tuk ride, or even by bus. This small town has lately become a surfers’ hub, with hostels, bars and a chilled atmosphere. Mind you, the waves are hardly the best you’ll get in Sri Lanka. It’s more the kind of place were you’d go if you want to learn – there even are places where you can rent a board.

Spend a relaxing day at the beach

If surfing is not your thing, or you are just done with your lesson, you can enjoy a day at the beach in one of the beaches near Galle. Unawatuna is the obvious choice, with the best beaches around. The beach is nice and sandy; there are some good kiosks and small restaurants where you can have seafood; you can grab a fresh coconut and even an icy cold Lion beer and just chill.

Visit the Japanese Pagoda

Not far from Unawatuna and actually visible from Galle Fort there’s one of the most unique places to visit in Galle. The Japanese Peace Pagoda is one of three Buddhist stupas in Sri Lanka, a gorgeous white structure that is entirely surrounded by statues painted in gold. You can walk there from Unawatuna, or take a tuk tuk. From there you’ll enjoy incredible views of the jungle and the bay.

Stay at a fabulous hotel

If you want to treat yourself to something special, staying in a gorgeous boutique hotel is what to do in Galle, Sri Lanka. Many are located in colonial buildings and inside Galle Fort. Some are so beautiful that, walking by them, you may mistake them for a museum and feel tempted to peep in. I will go into more details about the best places to stay in Galle below.

Villa in Galle Sri Lanka

One of the nicest things to do in Galle is staying in a colonial style villa

Or at a beautiful villa

In the last few years, lots of foreigners have invested in real estate in Galle, Sri Lanka, buying land to build fabulous villas at the outskirts of the city. These villas are all built in colonial style, decorated in a traditional way and come with a lush garden around, a beautiful pool and a butler. I have stayed at one of them when I visited, and felt spoiled. It’s actually not that expensive at all if you think that a villa has multiple double rooms and you can share the costs!

Enjoy an incredible sunset

Nothing beats a sunset by the sea, and Galle ramparts is the best place to enjoy it. By late afternoon, you’ll see multitude of people making their way to the old walls and stopping there, sitting, waiting for this incredible show of nature. The light is simply splendid – this is one thing you can’t miss.

sunsets in Galle

Galle is a perfect place to admire sunset

Don’t support cruel tourist attractions 

One thing you’ll notice all over Sri Lanka is that animals are often used to entertain tourists. I have seen people riding elephants near Sigiriya and was regularly offered this by tuk tuk drivers; I have seen dancing monkeys and snake charmers with crowds of locals and tourists around, many of them paying some tip to the owner. Please, don’t be this kind of person and do not support these activities.

Make sure to read my post The Complete Guide To Becoming A More Responsible Traveler.”

Go on a day trip to Mirissa

Mirissa is one of the most popular tourist destinations and an easy day trip from Galle, Sri Lanka. This small village has become famous for the stilt fishermen – though unfortunately they are becoming fewer and fewer – and as a prime location to spot dolphins and whales. The best time to spot these magnificent mammals is between December and January. If you decided to take a whale watching boat tour, make sure to check that the company you are doing it with is fully responsible and respectful of these animals. You may want to check this tour

stilt fishing in Mirissa

Make sure to go on a day trip to Mirissa

Practical Information To Organize Your Trip To Galle Sri Lanka

Where to stay in Galle Sri Lanka

As I have previously said, Galle has many excellent accommodation options and you are bound to find something for your budget and taste whether you decide to stay inside Galle Fort or a bit outside the city.

This is a selection of excellent places to stay in Galle:

Guided tours of Sri Lanka that also go to Galle

Sri Lanka isn’t a difficult country to travel around, but if you aren’t a fan of planning or want to leave the job to the experts, you can count on some excellent guided trips. I have selected the best tours on the market for you:

  • Sri Lanka encompassed – this 14 day G Adventures tour goes to all the most popular places to visit in the country, including Galle.
  • Sri Lanka on a shoestring – a 12 day G Adventures tour perfect for a younger crowd.
  • Sri Lanka express – an 8 day G Adventures tour that’s an excellent option if you have limited time but want to make the most of the country.

How to get to Galle 

Galle doesn’t have its own airport, but it’s easy to reach by public transportation from the main international airport in Colombo (which actually is located closer to Negombo). You can take the shuttle bus from the airport to Colombo and from there another express bus to Galle. The overall trip shouldn’t take more than 2 and a half hours.

If you aren’t comfortable using public transportation as soon as you arrive to Sri Lanka, you can book a private transfer here or here

You can reach Galle by bus from various locations around Sri Lanka.

For direct bus rides from Colombo, click here.

Depending on where you are, you may have to change. It takes a bit of an effort to navigate the bus system in Sri Lanka, but the locals are always very kind and ready to help.

things to do in Galle

Walking is the best way to move around Galle

How to move around Galle

If you are staying in Galle, you hardly have to worry about how to move around: just walk everywhere! To go to nearby locations such as Unawatuna, you can opt for the bus that leaves from the bus station right outside Galle Fort, or for a tuc tuc. Direct buses connect Galle to Mirissa.

When to visit Galle, Sri Lanka

This is a tricky question! Sri Lanka has two monsoon seasons, and despite your best efforts you may hit some rain when visiting, especially if you plan to move around a bit. Indeed, the monsoons hit different part of the country at different times of year. In general, December to March is a good time to go by you may find places a bit more crowded than you’d like, and prices a bit higher than you’d hope for.

I visited Galle, Sri Lanka, in September and while for the most part I was quite lucky with sunny days, I also had a good share of rain – I was stuck in my hotel for a full day because it was literally pouring!

Other useful information 

Make sure to check out whether you need a visa to enter Sri Lanka. Many countries – including the United States, Canada and all EU countries – can benefit from a visa waiver by way of which you don’t have to pay for the visa. You will still have to apply for the visa though – you will be asked for confirmation upon entering the country. Should you have to pay for your visa, you can easily apply for your visa online here.

I also recommend getting a good travel insurance. Get yours here.

Check out my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.”

For further readings about Galle, Sri Lanka, you can check one of these books:

Make sure to also read my post “Everything You Should Know Before Backpacking Sri Lanka.”

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Discover the things to do in Galle Sri Lanka - via @clautavani