Exploring Galle Fort in a day, Sri Lanka

posted in: Asia, Beaches, Heritage, Sri Lanka | 18

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!

Galle Lighthouse
Galle Lighthouse – the landmark of Galle fort

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.

The sea as seen from Galle Fort, Sri Lanka
The sea as seen from Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

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

Catch the Stilt Fishermen when you do a day trip from Mirissa to Galle
Catch the Stilt Fishermen when you do a day trip from Mirissa 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

The ancient clock tower of Galle Fort that you can see when you approach it from the main gate
The ancient clock tower of Galle Fort that you can see when you approach it from the main gate

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

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.
Flag Rock Bastion of Fort Galle
Flag Rock Bastion of Fort Galle

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.

Rocks on which the flags were kept to warn the ships
Rocks on which the flags were kept to warn the ships

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.

Meeran Mosque

First glance of Meeran Mosque
First glance of Meeran Mosque

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.

Meeran Jumma Masjid in Galle, Sri Lanka
Meeran Jumma Masjid in Galle, Sri Lanka

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.

The old structure in front of the Lighthouse of Galle Fort
The old structure in front of the Lighthouse of Galle Fort

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.

The Dutch Hospital which now hosts shops, cafes and offices
The Dutch Hospital which now hosts shops, cafes and offices

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

The lane that led to the other points of interest in Galle Fort
The lane that led to the other points of interest in 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 –

  1. The Court Square – this is an open are filled with Banyan trees. The buildings here serve as courtrooms.
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

Quaint lanes of Galle Fort
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.

An old building on Lighthouse road
An old building on Lighthouse road

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.

A Traditional home in Galle Fort
Traditional home in Galle Fort
The Windows and doors of a home in Dutch Fort, Galle
The Windows and doors of a home in Dutch Fort, Galle
The little European touch to the homes of Galle Fort
The little European touch to the homes of Galle Fort

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.

Shopping for curios near Lighthouse
Shopping for curios near Lighthouse

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?

Fort Bliss- One of the BnB options in Fort Galle
Fort Bliss- One of the BnB options in Fort 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.

In case you decide to base yourself out of Galle, you can opt for a Galle Scooter Tour to explore the nearby beaches as well as key attractions of Galle. You can use this link to book one at a discount. Remember by doing so, you are not going be charged anything additional but will definitely help me with the income. 

If scooter is not your thing, then try a self drive option. You can get an insured vehicle by clicking through this link. The prices are discounted.

Travel Tips

  • 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.

Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.
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18 Responses

  1. Kavita Favelle

    What a great guide to visiting Galle Fort and ensuring that you see all the key sights. I appreciate learning more of the history, and your photos bring alive how much there is to explore around this site.

  2. Lisa

    I’ve not yet been to Sri Lanka, but it looks like a destination I’d love to see. The Galle Fort is clearly bursting with history and an interesting place to explore. I also love the scenery there, some I can imagine are stunning, especially from the bastions. You’ve inspired me to visit here one day, I hope it will be soon!

    • Ami

      Definitely consider Galle for a day visit. Am sure with the kind of pics you take, you will love it.

  3. Jane Dempster-Smith

    Galle Fort has been on the top of our travel list for ages, we are looking to see if we can get there next year. Your article is timely. I have seen so many photos of the lighthouse but what I enjoyed seeing was your photos of the laneways and the homes. I am now keen to make this journey work for next year. Your tips are timely thanks.

    • Ami

      Actually, the quaint lanes are so amazing. They add that unique perspective to this place and which honestly, is the pulse of Galle.

  4. Joella

    I have not yet been to Sri Lanka. Galle seems to be a beautiful place your pictures have really brought it alive for me. I would like to visit one day and see the lighthouse in person as well as the hospital. The scooter tour you mention would also be fun to do.

    • Ami

      Saw a lot of people opting for the tour. I am sure it will be fun to go bike hopping. Thanks Joella for your comment.

  5. Laura Pedlar

    Galle looks like nice place to visit for a day. I like the idea of travelling by tuk-tuk to see everything. It was interesting to learn about some of its history. I also like the sound of tryin the local food.

    • Ami

      Am sure the tuk-tuk ride will be fun, especially if you are taking the route along the coast. Thanks for stopping by

  6. Mijia Eggers

    Galle Fort looks very beautiful. And you have made some nice pictures as well. It is always good to know some history knowledge when visiting a new place, that makes the trip more valuable. Thanks for the tips!

  7. FS Page

    Very well written and comprehensive guide to Galle Fort. I realised I was pronouncing it incorrectly all the while :P. Got to know a lot about the history from your post. Great photographs.. Good to know that you were able to cover it in your short itinerary.

    • Ami

      Yes, I chose to do so as I wanted to stay away from the city. And it is a good idea honestly. Thanks for stopping by

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