In this article, learn more about the fortified city of Galle Dutch Fort, things to see and places to visit in one day, on foot.
Galle Dutch Fort, UNESCO World Heritage Site
Galle (pronounced in English as “gawl”) is on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka, consisting of a new town and an old town. Galle Dutch Fort or Galle Fort, is the heart of the old town, a fortified city inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Galle Fort was first built by the Portuguese in the 16th century but was taken over by the Dutch in 1640. The Dutch greatly improved the fortifications while they used it as their main base.
Today, the preserved colonial structures reflect European influence with a dash of Asian flavor. Easily explorable by foot in a day, wandering through the streets of Galle Dutch Fort will take you to colonial buildings turned into chic cafes, boutique shops, hotels and restaurants. This once major trading port is also a hub for historical institutions like hospital, houses of worship, museums, grand mansions and administrative offices. Read on further to discover things to do in Galle as we explore places to visit in Galle Fort.
Walking through Galle Fort, Sri Lanka is like walking the streets of an old town in Europe on a hot Asian weather. Here are some of the Galle attractions that you can get covered in a day.
Churches and Mosque
Within the walled city are beautiful houses of worship that are co-existing harmoniously, serving as legacies from the colonial era. Among which are the Dutch Reformed Church, the Victorian-styled Meeran Mosque and All Saints Anglican Church. Interestingly, Meeran Mosque is unlike other Islam mosques because it was a Dutch church originally and later transformed into a mosque since it was abandoned.
The Dutch Reformed Church along Church Street
The All Saints Anglican Church along, guess where? Church Street!
Meeran Mosque at the corner of Leyn Baan Street and Rampart Street
Galle Fort Historical Buildings and Museums
Notable things to see in Galle Dutch Fort are the colonial buildings reminiscent of European occupation. Among these is the Old Dutch Government House, which then served as residence of the Dutch Commander. The building, however, looks like an abandoned, somewhat eerie space.
Old Dutch Government House along Queen’s Street
Next to the Old Dutch Government House and opposite the Old Post Office is the National Maritime Museum. The rustic and faded yellow-orange exterior walls of the National Maritime Museum and the Post Office strongly reminded me of my time in Georgetown, Penang in Malaysia while I scoured its streets for street art installations. See my photos of Georgetown here, to see the semblance.
The colonnaded Old Post Office Building is a nice spot for some photoshoot
I love the rustic texture of the Old Post Office along Church Cross Street
The National Maritime Museum
Dating back to 1684, the Amangalla was built as residence of the Dutch governor and officers. Today, it stands as the 5-star New Oriental Hotel. Beside the hotel is the National Museum of Galle, which houses galleries of handicrafts and artcrafts, and archaeological artifacts from the colonial period.
The white building is the New Oriental Hotel. Beside it is the National Museum of Galle
Unfortunately, we missed the Old Dutch Hospital along Hospital Road at the eastern side of the coast. The Old Dutch Hospital is now converted into a commercial establishment with boutiques and restaurants.
Shops and Restaurants at Galle Dutch Fort
I am not a keen shopper but I find Galle Fort’s little souvenir shops quaint and attractive. I still didn’t buy anything though, hehe. I’m happy with taking home some photos of the shops’ façade. Shops and restaurants are scattered around Galle Fort but I find them more concentrated along Pedlar Street.
The Galle Lighthouse is probably the most well-known image representation of Galle Fort. The present lighthouse was built in 1939 but the very first lighthouse that guided the ships at the Galle harbor dates back to 1848. A survivor of the 2004 tsunami, the present day Galle Lighthouse is a working lighthouse. It would have been exciting to see the views at the top of the lighthouse but visitors aren’t allowed to climb it.
Galle Clock Tower
Galle Clock Tower is another prominent Galle Dutch Fort landmark. It was erected through the combined contributions of the people in commemoration of Dr. Peter Daniel Anthonisz. The renowned doctor is a Burgher (No, don’t think food. Burghers are Eurasians in Sri Lanka with Portuguese, Dutch or British descent) who served the local government.
The Fort Walls
To complete your things to do in Galle, Sri Lanka, walk along the top of the Fort Walls circuit. The fortification was built as defense against colonial forces. Years later, the walls proved its strength after protecting the Galle Fort from what could have been a greater damage caused by the 2004 tsunami. You can walk through the entire Fort Walls circle in probably an hour. I find some of the bastion names amusing, sounding like Sailor Moon’s league of heroes – Star, Moon, Sun, Aurora, Triton, Neptune, Aeolus Bastions.
Watch cricket from the Sun or Moon Bastion
Just as most Filipinos are obsessed with basketball, Sri Lankans are big fans of cricket. Galle’s International Cricket Stadium is just north of the Main Entrance outside the Fort Wall. From the Sun and Moon Bastions, you can have a view of the cricket players at the stadium. It would have been interesting to watch locals watching a live cricket game.
International Cricket Stadium as viewed from Sun Bastion
We went around Galle Fort on a Sunday when Sri Lankan residents, in addition to foreign visitors, were up and about . Fort Walls was busy with people but I didn’t mind as I found it amusing to observe how the locals are spending their free time on a weekend. In fact, people watching was probably my favorite thing to do when I was in Galle.
I found a lot of young and not so young dating couples who have chosen their own spots around the rampart to “set-up” their umbrellas for some privacy. Look at the pictures below to understand what I mean when I say “Payong (umbrella) is heart” in Galle.
Double, double, single….
Also, I haven’t seen so many couple photo shoots going on simultaneously over a small area as I did in Galle Fort. There were just too many of them that I am close to thinking that singles aren’t allowed in Galle Fort.
I also found a few snake charmers in Galle Fort. Snake charming is an ancient practice that has two faces – one being an iconic art or one depicting violation of animal rights. Because of the latter, snake charmers are said to be declining in number.
Crow watching, to be specific, does not sound as appealing as bird watching (like going on a bird safari in Sri Lanka). The presence of crows is often associated with the presence of food scraps, garbage and dead living things. Sadly, seeing crows as scavengers had been one of my observations in my 10 days in India. In fairness, however, Galle Fort is a clean city. This is maybe the reason why I enjoyed watching large groups of crows in Galle Fort. They actually kept me and my camera busy.
But wait, there’s more to bird watching in Galle than crows. I also found other interesting bird species (sorry, I can’t identify them all correctly) in my wandering.
Watch a gorgeous sunset
The best time to walk around the ramparts is during early morning when it not blazing hot yet or during the late afternoon in time for the sunset. If you’re around for the sunset, the best way is to end at the southern tip of Galle Dutch Fort.
The Flag Rock Bastion is where it gets the most crowded because of its popular spot for sunset watching. The rampart, however, is long enough, to find other less crowded spaces that similarly faces the coast and equally provides stunning views of the sunset.
The Flag Rock Bastion
Galle was where I experienced my first sunset in Sri Lanka and it did not disappoint. The setting sun was in full circle and I could not believe how magenta orangey it was. As the sun set, I looked up and the moon took its turn of capturing my attention. What a great way of ending our walk through Galle Fort!
How to Get to Galle Fort
Colombo to Galle: Train
If you are coming from Colombo, the best way to travel to Galle is by train. Aside from being the cheapest option, trains being a mass transport will entail lesser traffic congestion, air pollution and fuel consumption. Likewise, the railway from Colombo to Galle takes the coastal route, giving you a great view of the Indian Ocean coast.
Indian Ocean view on our way to Galle from Colombo
You can check the Sri Lanka railway time table through the official website of the Sri Lanka Railways. The line stopping at Galle railway station connects Colombo to Galle and ends in Matara. Travel time is about 3 hours.
Unreserved seats for trains to Galle are 2nd class and 3rd class seats only. Tickets are sold on the day of the travel. Check the latest railway schedule, show up at the train station about an hour prior to your selected departure time on the day of your travel and purchase your ticket. Be sure to wait for your train at the correct platform. We bought 2nd class seats from Colombo Fort Station at LKR 180 per head (March 2018 price).
Reserved seats can only be purchased for air-conditioned 1st class observation car. Sri Lanka railway online booking can be made through 12Go.asia at least 32 days prior to your travel date. For more information about Sri Lanka Transport by train, check here.
Colombo to Galle: Bus
Taking the bus getting to Galle from Colombo will involve two transfers. If you are coming from the Colombo city center, you need to go to Maharagama bus station first, southeast of the city center, where you can catch the bus heading to Galle Bus Station. To get to the Maharagama bus station from Colombo city center, you may take bus 112 or 138. The bus route from Maharagama to Galle is via Expressway EX001. Find out more about Sri Lanka Transport by bus here.
We stayed at Galle Center Home, located 1 kilometer away from the Galle Dutch Fort Main Entrance. The room was clean with nicely decorated walls. They offer a common area, free wifi and a shared kitchen. The staff were friendly and helpful, too. The owner also runs a daycare facility within their compound.
You can find other hotels inside the Galle Fort, which unsurprisingly gets more expensive than the ones located further away from the fort. Check Galle accommodation reviews and the latest prices here from all top booking sites with just one search.
Other Things to Do in Galle/ Near Galle
Surfing Lessons in Weligama – Get introductory surfing lesson that gives you all the basics to take on your first wave.
Balapitiya River Safari and Nature Tour from Galle – Cruise along the Madu River by motorboat and experience the rural life in the surrounding areas, visit Kothduwa Temple, witness the process of cinnamon cultivation and see baby turtles at the Turtle Hatchery in Kosgoda
Traditional Fishing Trip in Galle – Experience an immersive day time fishing activity at Hikkaduwa Lagoon with a local fisherman
Hikkaduwa Lagoon Camping Day Tour – Spend a day at Hikkaduwa Lagoon and swim in its many beautiful beaches, enjoy traditional boat riding, a foot treatment at a fish spa, kayaking, canoe riding, and more
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