The capital of Sri Lanka’s southern province, the ocean facing the
city of Galle has come into prominence once again. The devastating Asian
Tsunami of December 2004 had all but destroyed this ancient trading
city, founded by the Portuguese and developed by the Dutch colonists
during the 16th century. Over the last ten years, the city has slowly
been rebuilt with local and foreign aid. Today, this beautiful port city
once again brims with stylish hotels, boutiques, cafes and restaurants
especially within its fortified area and is firmly registered on the
global travel radar.
Getting to Galle
The Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) is the primary access point
for international travelers to Sri Lanka. Several local tour operators
have kiosks at the airport. In order to get to Galle in relative
comfort, you can hire a private car at the airport. The travel time to
Galle from Colombo is approximately three hours depending on traffic
However, if you are looking for a cheaper option to get to Galle, you could use the local train or express bus.
Express buses to Galle leave from Colombo’s Mahagrama bus station every
twenty minutes from 5am onwards daily. This bus station is located to
the southeast of Colombo city
center. Travel by express bus to Galle
from Colombo usually takes three hours as well.
To get to Galle by train from Colombo, you need to start your journey
from Colombo’s Maradana Station. You’re more likely to secure a seat
here than at Colombo Fort Station where the train usually arrives
packed. Train tickets for this second-class train journey cannot be
reserved in advance, so it makes sense to buy your ticket at Mardana
Station, the starting point of this train trip. There is also a
first-class train service for which tickets can be reserved in advance,
but this service operates only once a week on Thursdays and departs from
Colombo at the ungodly hour of 6.30 AM.
No matter which route you choose, your journey will take you through the
lush Lankan countryside, along the coast while you traverse charming
whitewashed villages, lush green fields, and dense coconut groves.
Best time to travel to Galle
Sri Lanka like neighboring India
has a year round tropical climate with
distinct dry and wet seasons. The Southwest monsoon arrives on the
island of Sri Lanka during the months of June to September. This period
is Sri Lanka’s wet season, a season when torrential rain showers are
common. The best time to visit Galle is between December and February
when average daily temperatures hover around 27 to 29 C (80 to 82F).
During this time, the dry season rainfall is scarce, and breezes from
the sea produce an air-conditioning effect on the island.
Galle Fort, a fortified city, built by the Portuguese and then enhanced
by the Dutch in the 16th century is the most prominent attraction in
Galle. The Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that extends over 36
hectares and contains several ochre colored colonial era buildings that
once housed administrative headquarters and homes of the Dutch
colonists. Today many of these buildings have been restored and house
stylish hotels, boutiques, and cafes. Thick, granite ramparts encircle
the fort until today. These ramparts prevented it from being destroyed
by the devastating Tsunami of 2004.
The Galle Fort lighthouse is one of the first structures that you will
spot while exploring the fort city. The lighthouse is one of the
fourteen lighthouses that remain in Sri Lanka and is the oldest one on
the island. The Galle Fort lighthouse dates back to 1848 though a fire
destroyed the original structure in 1936. Its replacement, which stands
until today was built in 1949 and rises to a height of 26 meters.
Visitors are not allowed to enter the lighthouse but can view it from
Flag Rock located at the southernmost end of the fort is a bastion,
which was built on the top of a natural rock outcrop. The Portuguese and
the Dutch used to signal approaching ships from this bastion. They used
flags as signals during good visibility conditions and fired muskets
from nearby Pigeon Island during times of reduced visibility. Today,
Flag Rock is the favored locale for a sunset stroll and attracts locals
(brave young lads today use flag rock as a diving platform) and tourists
The Dutch Reformed Church
The Dutch Reformed Church is located near the new entrance to Galle
Fort. This beautiful edifice dates back to 1754, and it stands on the
site of an older church built by the Portuguese in 1640. The church is
an architectural marvel as the building’s walls support its roof, as
there are no pillars located inside the church. The caretaker of the
church is often on hand and acts as a guide for sightseers offering
insights about the construction of the church. For instance, gravestones
from the old Dutch cemetery make up the floor of the church and the
organ, is the original instrument that dates back to 1760.
The Dutch Hospital
This large, colonnaded structure, which once served as an infirmary for
the European colonists ravaged by tropical diseases has recently been
restored and is now a smart shopping and dining destination at Galle
Galle Cricket Ground
If you follow the game of cricket, you must know the historic Galle
cricket ground that is located near Galle Fort. The ground is more than
hundred years old, but the tsunami wrecked havoc on the field and
surrounding stands and almost wiped them out completely. However, the
grounds and stadium have now been restored and are ready to host games
Sea Turtle Hatchery
The small but fascinating Sea Turtle Hatchery is a non-profit
organization that works to protect Sri Lanka’s turtle population. Sri
Lanka is home to five varieties of turtles, the Olive Ridley, the
Loggerhead, the Hawksbill, the Green and the Leatherhead turtle. These
turtles come to nest at various locations on the island including Galle.
The hatchery aims to protect the turtles of Sri Lanka by collecting and
securing the turtle eggs from fishermen and other residents of the
area. The hatchery's staffs store the eggs in the hatchery’s onsite
incubators and when the eggs hatch, the baby turtles are released into
the wild. The hatchery aims to educate the local population who are
prone to consuming these precious turtle eggs.
Where to stay
Accommodation choices are abundant in Galle. There are lodgings to suit
every travel budget. The UNESCO recognized Galle Fort Hotel, the
Amangalla, the Kahanda Kanda, the Fortress and the Fort Printers Hotel
are some of the well-known luxury hotels
located in Galle. Aside from
conventional hotels, travelers can also choose to stay in fully staffed
villas and boutique residences for a more intimate stay. Villa Indisch,
the Frangipani Tree, and the Turtle Beach House are some of the
well-known villa resorts of the Galle Area.
Eat, shop and play
Galle is a coastal city and is known for its beautiful beaches. No
matter where you choose to stay, you should rent a tuk tuk and tour the
area’s beaches such as Unawatuna, Weligama, Hikkaduwa, and Tangalle.
The narrow, winding streets and colonial edifices of the Galle Fort play
host to several chic shops and restaurants. Visit stores like Barefoot
and Odel LUV SL two homegrown lifestyle brands that offer stylish
clothing, accessories, gift items, cosmetics, local foods and much more
at reasonable prices.
Other stores worth perusing include Mimimango, Sithuvilli(artworks and
artifacts), Souk 58 and the Dutch Gallery (curios and souvenirs) and
Mansion Crafts(local handicrafts). Sri Lanka is famous for its gemstones
and many small jewelry stores dot the streets of the Galle Fort.
Laksana, Pedlar’s Inn Jewelers, and Jo Jo are some favorite haunts for
jewelry shopping at the Galle Fort. Also worth a visit is the Laksala
store (the Government owned souvenir and gift boutique), which is
located just outside the main gate of the Galle Fort.
If you need a respite from the relentless Lankan heat, head to the bars
at the Amangalla and Galle Fort Hotels. Both these watering holes are
favored pit spots during excursions of the Galle Fort Area. Try area
restaurants like Mamas Roof Café( Western and Sri Lankan cuisine),
Pedlar’s Inn Café (coffee and casual fare), Serendipity Arts Café or
Nicos@Olanda if you need to grab a bite or want to stop for a coffee or
tea. If you rather eat on the beach, then the beachfront Wijeya Beach
Hut, which serves a selection of western eats including wood-oven
pizzas, is worth a visit.