Our favourite things to do in Galle Fort, Sri Lanka + a guide
Charming, exotic, and full of history: Galle is a must-see in Sri Lanka. Here are the best things to do in Galle Fort, plus our short guide to the city!
From the moment we first entered Galle Fort, we knew it was love.
Narrow, bustling laneways and crumbling colonial relics, an ever-present scent of exotic spices and the incredible tropical setting; there’s just something about this UNESCO World Heritage site that charms and captivates.
First conquered by the Portuguese in the late 16th century, Galle city was then overtaken by the Dutch in the 17th century and became extensively fortified as it transformed into Sri Lanka’s main spice trading port for over 200 years.
Today, the Galle Fort area is unlike any other place we’ve found in Sri Lanka; a vaguely European-feeling city plonked in the deliciously salty tropics, a melting pot of culture and religion bursting with colour, and where, thankfully, the taste of Ceylon tea and cinnamon is never far away.
The Fort is rapidly gentrifying as chic boutiques, cafes, and hotels begin to restore the whitewashed Dutch colonial buildings back to their former glory, but it only takes ducking down a quiet laneway to feel as though you’ve travelling back to the 1700s again.
Alluring, exotic, and totally loveable, Galle Fort is one of the unmissable points of interest on your Sri Lankan itinerary. We’d recommend staying at least two nights to get a good feel of the historic area and the daily life which still operates within it, before moving onto the southern beaches including Unawatuna – although however long you stay, you’ll have no trouble enjoying all the wonderful things to do in Galle.
The best things to see and do in galle fort, sri lanka
Visit the famous Galle Lighthouse
Framed by palm trees and postcard-perfect; if you only do one thing in Galle, it has to be visiting the beautiful Galle Lighthouse and admiring the most instantly recognisable feature of the Fort.
This beautiful white lighthouse dates back to 1848, (although the current structure was rebuilt in 1939), and stands on the walls of the ancient Galle Fort, guiding the safe passage of ships into Galle Harbour.
The lighthouse is still very much in use, although it now has another, secondary role, as prop to those wanting the perfect Sri Lankan photo.
What | Galle Lighthouse
Where | Corner of Hospital and Rampart St
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Walk the outer walls/ ramparts of Galle Fort
If these coral-mixed walls and ramparts could talk, they’d have many stories to share about Galle Fort’s long and varied history.
If you’re up for exploring each and every corner of Galle Fort’s outer walls, you can follow the ‘Fort Walk’, starting at the historic Clock Tower, before moving onto the Main Gate, heading south into the interior of the Fort, passing the Dutch Reform Church until you reach the western section’s restored Dutch Hospital.
From there, continue south towards the famous Galle Lighthouse, before following the walls to Meeran Mosque, Flag Rock and Triton Bastion. The walk finishes at Star Bastion, overlooking the northern coast towards Hikkaduwa.
The walk is around 2kms, and best done early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when the temperatures are more manageable - the sun in Galle is infamously fierce!
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Wander through the Galle Fort interior
Without doubt, one of our favourite things to do in Galle Fort was getting wonderfully lost amongst the time-worn laneways and breezy Dutch colonial-style buildings of the historic centre.
Thankfully, due to the high ramparts of the Fort wall, much of this area survived the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, which means that there are plenty of beautiful remnants still on display from ancient, Portuguese, and Dutch colonial times. Don’t be surprised if you often feel as though you’ve been transported straight to the cobblestones of Europe!
Some sights and attractions we suggest you visit are:
Dutch Reform Church | Historic Dutch church dating back to 1640
Old Dutch Hospital | Colonnaded former hospital dating back to the 18th century
Amangalla | Former home of the Dutch Governor, built in 1684. Now a luxurious hotel
All Saints Anglican Church | Built in the late 1800's from solid rock
Meeran Mosque | The centre of the local Muslim community, built in 1904
Sudharmalaya Temple | Beautiful white Buddhist temple within Galle Fort
Watch sunset from Galle Fort Wall
Each afternoon at around 5:30pm, locals and tourists alike gather along the fort walls to watch the sunset over the Indian Ocean. It’s a festive and happy affair; cricket games are played on the grass below, whole families gather to see of the last of the day, and travellers mingle and chat while Mother Nature streaks the sky all kinds of shades of blue, orange, pink and purple.
We’ve now visited Galle twice on two separate trips, and watching a sunset from Galle Fort remains one of our favourite experiences in Sri Lanka. There’s just something about the glorious technicolour end to the day that feels a little more special here than anywhere else we’ve visited.
We think the best point to watch the sunset from is the Triton Bastion, however you can watch the sunset from pretty much any point on the western side of the Fort walls.
Don’t forget to keep a lookout for the cliff jumpers at Flag Rock too; each evening a group of locals defy danger by leaping backwards off the ramparts to the ocean below.
What | Triton Bastion
Where | Rampart St, opposite Pilgrims Bar
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Shop till you drop in Galle Fort
Love shopping? Galle Fort is your place!
There are literally hundreds of boutiques, art galleries, spice and gem stores, and handicrafts dotted throughout Galle Fort, with Pedlar St being the epicentre of the action. We definitely think the best shopping in Sri Lanka is within the walls of Galle Fort, so if you're looking for a bargain, this is your place.
Mim was like a kid in a candy shop as we walked along Peddler St, visiting each and every store in search of handicrafts and textiles. Fortunately, Galle’s hub for shopaholics didn’t disappoint, and she walked away with the perfect linen dress for Sri Lanka's hot and humid weather.
Some stores we suggest you visit are:
Stick No Bills - sells incredible 'Ceylon' retro prints
MimiMango - perfect for females, selling clothes and accessories with a Sri Lankan twist
Koccoriko Paola's shop - well made textiles for the discerning backpacker, as well as a few handicrafts
Exotic Roots - a mother/daughter run boutique, selling handicrafts and artwork made by the owners themselves.
Where | Pedlar St. Galle Fort, Galle
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Eat a thali bowl at Poonies
We’d read that Poonies Kitchen was the coolest cafe in town, serving incredible, fresh organic produce and photogenic salad bowls. It absolutely didn’t disappoint.
Situated at the rear of Mimi Mango boutique on Pedlar St, Poonies specialises in colourful, nutritious and progressive food with a hint of Sri Lankan flavours. The signature dish, the super instagrammable Thali salad (1300r), is an absolute must eat. Based on an Indian 'thali', it's a mish-mash of deliciously fresh flavours and as Mim says, is like "eating a rainbow".
Other dishes worth trying include the Thai Prawn Soup with pumpkin, coconut and lemongrass (1200r), and if you're after dessert, tuck into their famous carrot cake (500r).
Fresh juices are also available at around 500r.
What | Poonie’s Kitchen
Where | 63 Pedlar Street, Fort, Galle
Cost | 500r - 1500r per dish. Drinks available from 250r
Opening Hours | Monday - Saturday: 10am - 5pm, Friday: Open 24 hours
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enjoy Dinner (and views) at Minute by Tuk Tuk
If we're honest, it was hard to select one restaurant to feature on our list of best things to do in Galle because there are so many to chose from. However, A Minute by Tuk Tuk takes the honours.
Located in inside Galle Fort at the Old Dutch Hospital, A Minute by Tuk Tuk offers great contemporary Sri Lanka food, with a few international additions for those unwilling to sample the local flavours, plus excellent views of the bay of Galle. For dinner we settled on the 'Batu Moju', an eggplant moju with roti and curry dips, washed down with the local brew, Lion Beer. For dessert, we sampled 'Watalappan', a coconut custard pudding and Sri Lanka's national dessert.
All up, dinner and drinks cost around 3,700r (£15/$20 USD) for two.
What | A Minute by Tuk Tuk
Where | Shop # U-12, Old Dutch Hospital, Hospital Street, Galle Fort
Cost | Mains: 1000 - 5000r, Dessert: 500r, Beer: 500r
Opening Hours | 8am - 11pm, daily
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Chat with the locals
Given Galle Fort has such a varied history, there are fascinating stories everywhere; you've just got to speak to the locals to hear them.
One morning, after a failed sunrise photography mission, we met a local named Shaffy, a Sri Lankan Muslim who’s lived in Galle his whole life. Not only that, his family had lived in the same colonial house for generations. Shaffy invited us in for a milk tea (which was great) and a chat, discussing everything from his family history (they immigrated here from the middle east centuries ago), to the gentrification of Galle Fort, as well as the obligatory local restaurant recommendations!
Our morning tea and chat was completely genuine and is one of our defining memories from our time in Galle Fort. Do yourself a favour - speak with the locals and ask questions - you'll be surprised what you may learn.
Explore Galle's many markets
The local fruit, spice and flower markets are located just outside of Galle Fort and are well worth a visit to embrace some authentic Sri Lankan culture.
The colourful, bustling markets are home to some of the best fruit we’ve ever tried, and the local shopkeepers are more than willing to let you taste all types of weird and wonderful tropical fruits. Make sure you try Mangosteen, a weird lychee type fruit which is absolutely delicious. Oh, and the pineapple... always have the pineapple.
The markets are also a great place to stock up on spices and curry mix. We couldn’t resist stocking up on a dhal mix, one of our favourite Sri Lankan curries. The spices here are about a 10th of the price of the ones within the fort walls, so it’s well worth the walk out to visit. In fact, almost every local in Sri Lanka will warn you off buying tea and spices from the trendy boutiques like Spa Ceylon - the good stuff is right here, where they shop.
We also met some wonderful people around the markets, who took time out of their day to show us around the area and teach us more about the local way of life.
What | Galle fruit market
Where | Sea St, near Galle-Colombo Rd, Galle
A map of the best things to do in Galle Fort
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Plan your trip to galle fort
where to stay in galle fort
Honestly, in our view AirBnB is your best option when looking for cheap accommodation in Sri Lanka. We used it almost exclusively throughout our trip!
If you’re a fan of AirBnB, there are heaps of options available in Galle. Although the rates within the Fort are more expensive than outside, you can still find some affordable options. We stayed about a two minute walk from the lighthouse in a locally run guesthouse, and paid less than £20 per night.
Book using our code and receive up to £30 off your booking.
If you’re after a more luxurious splurge, Galle Fort is literally teeming with mid to high end hotels, many of which are some of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen - think open, breezy rooms, private courtyards and exceptional service (it’s the Sri Lankan way!).
THE FORT BAZAAR | a former merchants home turned boutique hotel in the centre of Galle Fort. Prices and availability here
How to get to Galle fort
Definitely the most scenic way to get from Colombo to Galle is via train, which runs along the palm fringed coast the majority of the journey.
The Colombo Fort to Galle train departs 10 times a day, with the earliest departure at 6:55am and the final departure at 19:30. It takes around 2.5 - 3.5 hours. We recommend travelling outside of peak hours to avoid packed trains and an uncomfortable journey (we’ve taken the 10:30am train many times without issue).
Cost | 180r per person for 2nd class, 100r per person for 3rd class
Departure Times | From Colombo Fort only: 0655, 0835, 1030, 1425, 1550, 1646, 1730, 1735, 1805, 1930
If you prefer your creature comforts (air-conditioning), there’s a a direct bus from Maharagama bus station (in the suburbs of Colombo) to Galle, which follows the newly completed inland highway. You’re guaranteed a seat, and the air-conditioning is a welcome relief in Sri Lanka.
Cost | 360r - 400r per person
Departure Times | Every 20 minutes from 5am - 16:45pm
If you’re on a very tight budget, it’s also possible to take the local bus from Colombo to Galle, however we don’t recommend this option due to the exceedingly long and tedious journey. The local bus will leave from Colombo Fort bus station, and costs 100r per person.
When to visit Galle Fort
Anytime from October - April is a good time to visit Galle, as the monsoon rains have passed and the temperatures are fairly stable. That being said, the absolute BEST time to visit is between February - April, when low rainfall and calmer seas provide the perfect weather to explore.
We’ve been told to avoid visiting during early January, when Sri Lankan holidays occur and Galle is teeming with local tourists.
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