When it comes to naming the key cities in Sri Lanka, Galle always finds a mention. For some, it is owing to its famed Galle Cricket stadium. Others like me, recognize it for its colonial history. While I build my Mirissa itinerary on the go, the one thing that I was certain was a day trip to Galle. I really did not care much about wanting to stay there or seeing the rest of the city. It was all about Galle Fort for me!
I was prepared to cut short on my list of Galle sightseeing as I had only half a day. However, to my surprise, this time enough to get the essence of this port city. What I did not know is visiting the fort ticked off most of the key things to do in Galle. The ancient walls of the Galle Fort do not just enclose its past glory. They also, house the contemporary, cultural and local experiences. So let’s get onto what I discovered and how it can help you plan your one day in Galle Fort.
About Galle Fort
Ever wondered how to pronounce Galle? Well, it is Ga-a-ll (roll the L in the end). Till I reached Sri Lanka, I kept alternating between Gall and Ga-a-lay. Pretty sure a lot of you are making the same mistake. 😉 Anyway, this historic city is said to have been a known port city from the times of Ptolemy. In fact, it has been charted in his world map dated 125 AD. The famous wander Ibn Battuta called it Qali. The port was an important link in the sea routes between the east and the west.
It was some time during the rule of Kotte King Dharmaparakrama Bahu in the 1500s, that the Portuguese landed at Galle. The commander Lourenço de Almeida struck a friendship with the King and thus began their reign. They build a mud fort and expanded their reign to Colombo. Overthrown by King Raja Singha I, they retreated back to Galle and build a mud fort with bastions and a watchtower. The fort termed as Santa Cruz fell to the Dutch in the 1640s, who further fortified it to its present condition.
The Dutch made the fort into a citadel by adding a Protestant church, residential buildings, offices and warehouses. Owing to the development they brought about, the Galle fort came to be known as the Galle Dutch Fort or the Dutch Fort. They prospered here for decades until the British took over. It became less important for the British as they picked Colombo over Galle as their main port and city. Galle Fort stood strong through all these events and even the natural calamities like Tsunamis. It is no wonder that Galle Fort has earned the tag of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And that is not the only reason why you should visit it.
Day Trip to Galle
Galle is a destination of its own. You will find plenty of tour operators and tourists opting for a stay in Galle. However, it is also, a very popular day trip from Colombo and Mirissa. In fact, it will take you under one hour by a tuk-tuk to get to Galle from Mirissa. The road runs parallel to the gorgeous beaches of Sri Lanka and you can do some beach hopping just as I did. I saw some really pretty shores, got a chance to watch the Stilt Fishermen and caught up with a turtle hatchery all on this one trip. Of course, I did spend the maximum time in Galle, covering all the major places to visit in Galle Fort.
The Gates of Galle Fort
As soon as I entered Galle, I caught sight of its mighty walls that stood strong to the mighty waves. Our tuk-tuk circled around the outer walls and crossed over a dry moat to enter the ancient gates of Galle Fort. They say that there are two of these gates. The one that we had zoomed through was the oldest one built by the Portuguese but widened by its later occupants. In ruins, it was hard to see anything significant on the arches. I tried to take a shot while zooming past it but well, I guess was not skilled enough to capture the inscribed Dutch emblem. The same is said to have a cock between two lions. If you are walking along this gate, you should try spotting the British Coat of Arms too. The road was too busy to stop the speeding tuk-tuk, so I let go and continued further to reach the Ramparts of Galle Fort.
Ramparts of Galle Fort
The ramparts of Galle Fort are basically the outer walls on which you can walk. There are various bastions along these ramparts that encircle the entire fort. Here is a list of the key ones –
- Flag Rock Bastion – this is where we began our walk of Galle Fort. More on this coming up
- Triton Bastion – A sunset point. It is said that a windmill here used to draw the water from the sea and throw it into the dusty streets of Galle.
- Aurora Bastion – Named after the Roman God and known for its lovely sunrises.
- Clippenburg Bastion – Clippen means jutting into the sea while burg refers to a village. Once you see the bastion, you will know why it is called so. You will find remnants of signaling equipment that was housed in the Lloyd’s Signal Station.
- Sun Bastion – One of the earliest bastions constructed by the Portuguese. It used to be called Sao Lago. Stop here for some amazing views of the sea.
- Moon Bastion – Yet another Portuguese construction that overlooks the famed Galle Cricket Stadium
- Star Bastion – Filled with cannons, this was the place that was used to imprison people. It was called Sao Antonio by the Portuguese and Zee Punt by the Dutch.
- Neptune Bastion – A place to just sit and enjoy the breeze
- Commandment Bastion – Called so as it was close to the Commander’s quarters.
With our Tuk Tuk parked, we first scaled up the Flag Rock Bastion. The place was called so as there are a lot of rocks in the sea around. Some of them are covered by water while the others jut out in a scenic manner. It is said that they used to keep flags on these rocks to warn the ships of the danger and hence, the place got its name. Of course, the ships could only see them if the visibility was good. In case the place was covered with fog, guns were fired at the nearby Pigeon Island to warn the vessels.
Flag Rock Bastion was a lovely spot to just sit around and feel the misty spray of waves hitting the rocks. I did spend some time devouring it but ultimately, the looming Lighthouse beckoned me to explore more of the Galle Fort.
En route to the lighthouse, I had to stop and admire the lone mosque of Galle Fort. The Meeran Mosque or the Meeran Jumma Masjid is said to have been built by the Muslim tradesmen in the 1900s. At the first glimpse, I almost thought it was a church or possibly a museum. With its arched windows and doors and the hidden domes, it almost seemed so.
It was only when I faced it, I noticed the tell-tale marks of a mosque. The mosque still caters to the community around and unless you belong to the religion, you are not allowed in.
Lighthouse of Galle
Built by the British in 1938, this functional lighthouse is a landmark of Galle Fort. Surrounded by palm trees, against the backdrop of blue, this is one of the most picturesque places in Galle Fort. I am pretty sure that the view from the top would be amazing but well, you are not allowed in.
You can descend down to the Lighthouse beach and enjoy a few moments of the Galle shore here or like me, circle around to come to the front of the lighthouse. It is here that you will discover an ancient warehouse with the year 1782 inscribed on it. The lack of signages could not shed light on what exactly this was but from the windows, I did feel it was a storehouse of sorts.
Old Dutch Hospital in Galle
One look at this massive complex, you know that it was designed for a different purpose. Despite the buzzing restaurants and offices, it had this inherent heritage atmosphere. Sure enough, I discovered that this is one of the oldest buildings in Galle fort. It was designed to be a hospital that treated the foreigners who fell sick during their voyage to Sri Lanka.
If you are keen to take back some Sri Lankan tea with you as gifts, then browse the tea emporiums here. While they were lovely, I did feel that they were a tad bit expensive. Don’t leave this place before you have seen the iconic Breadfruit tree. This is one of the first that was planned by the Dutch. Over time, it has been planted across Sri Lanka. The fruit has also, found its place in the local specialties as a dessert.
The other relics of Galle Fort
Now we were at the crossroads. One path led to the lovely lanes of Galle Fort and the other along the ramparts to the other beautiful places to visit in Galle Fort. Given that my travel companions were eying the Gelato stands in the lane, we ditched the other trail. However, I did do a quick run to get a glimpse of the following points of interest in Galle Fort –
- The Court Square – this is an open are filled with Banyan trees. The buildings here serve as courtrooms.
- All Saints Anglican Church – The pretty church with sloping roofs is a functional place of worship that was built in the 1860s. I could see the interesting stained glass interiors from the outside. They made me feel a little bad that I did not have time to get in. On another note, I believe that there were gallows kept opposite to the church
- Dutch Reformed Church or the Groote Kerk – I could only glimpse this from afar. However, please do not miss this when you visit for it is the oldest church in Galle. Built-in the 1640s and remodeled later with a Belfry in the 1700s, this church is said to be paved with the gravestones from an old Dutch cemetery. It is home to an ancient 1760 organ and has a pulpit fashioned out of Calamander wood from Malaysia.
- Maritime Museum – An old Portuguese warehouse that has been converted to a museum. The exhibits showcase various artifacts used in sea transport. You can even see a huge whale skeleton here. This museum building survived the Tsunami but did lose quite a few treasures during the same.
- Clock tower – An 1883 clock tower that I just saw from a distance. They say that it works perfectly even now.
I tried convincing my travel partners to venture to this section but honestly, we did run out of time. In any case, I did not feel too disappointed as there was plenty within the quaint lanes of Galle Fort.
The quaint lanes of Galle Fort
The first things to note about these streets are their names. They are a reminiscence of the colonial period of this fort. We walked along what was called Pedlar street. It is also, known as Moorse Kramerstraat famous for their Muslim retailer or the moors. At some point, we turned in towards the Lighthouse road or the Middelpuntstraat. Bet you can guess, what that was named after.
The interesting thing about these streets was not just the names but the old homes and shops that still had the vestiges of the past. As I understand, a lot of Portuguese, Dutch and British families still own properties here. The wooden doors with arched stained glass windows and the swinging half doors, almost had me believe that I was not in Asia.
These lanes are great for some shopping in Galle. From pretty souvenirs to tea shops, gemstones and cotton wear, there is plenty to get you excited. The prices make them fairly affordable and yes, remember that you need to bargain well here.
Before you leave Galle fort, make sure you venture into some of the vintage cafes. Not just for a gelato or a coffee but also, for some local meals like Rotis and curries. If you would like something even more colonial, stiff upper lip kind of experience, then a high tea at a heritage hotel – Amangala is highly recommended. Along with the delicious sandwiches, you get a glimpse of the Governor’s quarters. The 1865 home is also, referred to as the 17th century New Orient Hotel.
If I get a chance again, I am sure I would find more treasures in these historic lanes of Galle. However, for that day, that was all I could manage. Even though there was some I could not see, I was not disappointed. Maybe, coz what I did see gave me a good insight into Galle. I am pretty sure that if you were to do a complete day trip to Galle, you will be able to cover all this and more!
How to get to Galle?
- A major city in Sri Lanka, you can get to Galle either by road or rail. There are plenty of trains from Colombo as well as the other Southern Sri Lanka towns like Mirissa and Matara to get you to Galle.
- Regular buses ply between Colombo and Galle as well as Galle and Matara. You can pick from the local regular buses to the luxury and semi-luxury ones.
- You can book a cab online or through your hotel from Colombo or other Southern towns to get you to Galle. Here is a link that gets you one at a discounted price. Booking through this does not cost you extra but does get me some commission to keep this site going. It takes only 45 mins from towns like Mirissa and around 2 hours from Colombo by road.
- If you are in any of the Southern towns like Mirissa or Hikkaduwa, you can even hire a tuk-tuk. It might cost you between 1500 – 2000 LKR for a half a day tour. The Tuk-tuk will be happy to wait for 2 – 3 hours when in Galle. You can even cover the other beaches along the way as I did from Mirissa.
Where to stay in Galle?
Not keen on just a day trip to Galle? Well, in that case, opt for a stay here. You get the choicest of stay options – from high luxury to Bnbs. Refer to this website for booking a Galle Fort Hotel.
- Entry to Galle Fort is free.
- It is best to do a walking tour of this Fort. You can start from the Lighthouse and go in an anticlockwise direction to get back here again. Refer to this Galle Fort map. It will help you plan your own walking tour in Galle Fort.
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Popularly referred to as a Restless Ball of Energy. My Mom refuses to entertain my complaints about my equally restless daughter & assures my husband that I was born with a travel bug.
I am a Post-Graduate in Marketing by qualification and a travel blogger by passion. Besides travel, I enjoy photography and if you don’t find me at my desk, I would be out playing badminton or swimming or just running. I believe in planning for every long weekend through the year. And when I cannot travel physically, I travel virtually through this travel blog. My travel stories have also, got published on various websites and magazines including BBC Travel, Lonely Planet India and Jetwings.