15 Best Things to do in Galle, Sri Lanka

by Danushka Tharindu
Fortification walls around Galle Fort

Situated on a peninsula in the southwest of Sri Lanka’s beautiful coastline, the ancient city of Galle is one of the country’s most famous tourist sites. Having been ruled by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British, the city is teeming with historic sites and cultural attractions that are sure to fascinate any traveler.

The old Dutch Fort, located in a breathtaking site at the city’s port entry, serves as the focal point of local activity. In addition to stunning mosques, churches, and colonial-era buildings, this area is also home to a plethora of charming cafés and restaurants and a constant buzz of activity.

Aside from its cultural attractions, Galle also offers visitors the chance to get in touch with nature at one of the many local beaches or natural reserves. Galle, the capital of Sri Lanka’s Southern Province, is a must-see for everyone interested in history, culture, and the great outdoors.

15. Clock Tower

Clock tower in Galle, Sri Lanka

The clock tower in Galle, Sri Lanka, is a popular tourist attraction in the historic town. Image source: AlinaMD/Shutterstock.com

One of the most photographed monuments in Galle, the Clock Tower can be found right within the fort’s massive stone walls. It was constructed in 1883 as a memorial to the renowned doctor Peter Daniel Anthonisz.

To this day, a plaque honoring the doctor’s life and praising “his talent and generosity in curing human suffering” can be read. The Clock Tower, with a height of 25 meters, is an impressive landmark against the backdrop of the port and the fort.

14. National Maritime Museum

Galle Fort National Maritime Museum in Sri Lanka

The Galle Fort National Maritime Museum in Sri Lanka. Image source: kerenby/Shutterstock.com

The National Maritime Museum of Sri Lanka and Galle was opened to the public in 1992 and is an excellent resource for learning about the maritime history of Sri Lanka and Galle. The museum is housed in a charming old warehouse constructed by the Dutch in 1671 and is stuffed with interesting maps, models, and artifacts from the sea.

Large dioramas of marine life in Sri Lanka are on display, as is a skeleton of a whale and information on maritime commerce, indigenous fishing techniques, and marine archaeological sites.

13. All Saints Anglican Church

All Saints Anglican Church in Galle, Sri Lanka

All Saints Anglican Church is one of the oldest churches in Galle, Sri Lanka. Image source: Cezary Wojtkowski/Shutterstock.com

All Saints Anglican Church is one of the numerous attractions in Galle Fort. The church, inaugurated in 1871, was constructed in the beautiful Gothic Revival style and has many attractive characteristics. The inside is as dazzlingly brilliant as the outside, with white walls, arches, and a central tower that pops beautifully against the gray Kabuk rock and mortar.

The seats in this church are rock solid, and the stained glass windows are breathtaking. There’s no better location to get away from the bustle of the city and think deeply than this cool, calm spot.

12. Old Gate

Galle Fort Old Gate with Coat of Arms of East India Company, Sri Lanka

The Galle Fort Old Gate with Coat of Arms of East India Company is a popular tourist attraction in Sri Lanka. Image source: Travel Faery/Shutterstock.com

The Old Gate is an ancient entrance to the Galle Fort that has been a part of the city’s defenses for hundreds of years. Although unimpressive at first glance, the gateway and its architecture and emblems wonderfully capture the rich history and legacy of Galle.

Above the gate on the exterior is the British coat of arms, between two roaring lions; within is an inscription from the Dutch East India Company, the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, dating back to 1669.

These two magnificent sculptures are modest tributes to the many civilizations and empires that fought over the years for control of the city and its rich spice trade.

11. Fort Lighthouse

Galle Fort Lighthouse in Sri Lanka

The Galle Fort Lighthouse is a prominent landmark in the historic town of Galle, Sri Lanka. Image source: Kengoo/Shutterstock.com

The beautiful lighthouse atop the point on which Galle Fort sits has been keeping watch over the sea and guiding ships into port for generations. There have been lighthouses at this location at least as far back as 1848, when the present structure was built.

The slim and white lighthouse glistens in the scorching rays of the Sri Lankan sun. The Fort Lighthouse is a popular tourist attraction because of its picturesque setting in the harbor, surrounded by swaying palm trees.

10. Meeran Mosque

A view of Fort Meeran Jumma Masjid in Galle Fort, Sri Lanka against a blue sky.

The Galle Fort Lighthouse is a prominent landmark in the historic town of Galle, Sri Lanka. Image source: HeadSpinPhoto/Shutterstock.com

Meeran Mosque, which was constructed fairly recently in 1904, has a wonderful fusion of architectural forms that once again demonstrates the extraordinary variety of civilizations that have lived in and governed over Galle throughout the years.

While its Baroque exterior is more reminiscent of a cathedral, beautiful Islamic ornamentation and details serve as a constant reminder that we are in fact gazing at a mosque. When you factor in the mosque’s history and architecture, as well as Galle’s, you can begin to see the impact of the British Victorian era, the Dutch, and Italian floor tiles.

This whitewashed structure is elegant and striking against its natural backdrop. This odd and fascinating mixture is what makes Meeran Mosque so special and worth seeing.

9. Dalawella Beach

A boy having fun swinging on a rope at a tropical island beach in Sri Lanka

A boy having fun swinging on a rope at a tropical island beach in Sri Lanka. Image source: BlueOrange Studio/Shutterstock.com

All the sites we’ve seen so far are in Galle Fort, but Dalawella Beach, on the outside of the city, is easily accessible by bus. The beach is as picturesque as it gets, with lovely golden sands and softly swaying palm trees framing the shoreline of the warm and welcoming Indian Ocean.

If you want to relax in a beautiful location without fighting crowds, Dalawella is the beach for you. People come from far and wide to snap a photo on the spot’s now-iconic beach swing.

There are several excellent cafés, restaurants, and hotels in the area if you decide to extend your stay on Dalawella Beach. The sunset is quite breathtaking and is reason enough to stay.

8. Dutch Hospital

The Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct in Galle Fort, Sri Lanka.

The Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct in Galle Fort, Sri Lanka. Image source: SamanWeeratunga/Shutterstock.com

Originally a colonial-era hospital, the Dutch Hospital is now home to trendy shops and restaurants.

The two-story hospital, which is conveniently located near the port, has beautiful colonnaded verandas, wooden stairs, and gleaming white walls. With careful maintenance and updates over the last several decades, it now rivals its appearance from the 17th century, when it was at the height of its popularity.

7. Unawatuna Beach

A tropical beach with palm trees and clear blue water in Unawatuna, Sri Lanka

A beautiful tropical beach with palm trees and clear blue water in Unawatuna, Sri Lanka. Image source: Val Shevchenko/Shutterstock.com

Unawatuna is one of Sri Lanka’s most famous and well-loved beaches, and for good reason: it’s a picture-perfect spot to soak up the rays and enjoy the spectacular surroundings. Unawatuna is well-known for its abundance of watersports, but its palm tree-lined golden beaches and soothing ocean waves are also notable attractions in their own right.

Unawatuna is a popular destination for scuba divers and snorkelers due to the abundance of beautiful coral reefs and shipwrecks just offshore. To top it all off, turtles will nest on the beach at various times of the year. Furthermore, there are a plethora of small restaurants, bars, and hotels from which to choose. If you wish to visit Galle and enjoy the beach as well as the city’s rich cultural heritage, this is an excellent spot to stay.

6. Dutch Reformed Church

The Dutch Reformed Church in Galle Fort, Sri Lanka.

The Dutch Reformed Church in Galle Fort, Sri Lanka. Image source: Dmitry Vorobyev/Shutterstock.com

The Dutch Reformed Church, or Groote Kerk as it is more often known, was constructed in 1755 and is one of the most spectacular and well-known structures remaining from the city’s colonial past. The doric-style church has a wonderful interior, making it well worth the trip inside despite its somewhat austere aspect from the outside (with just a few flourishes and ornaments above its door).

There is a great organ and pulpit to see in addition to the beautiful stained-glass windows that provide a warm and welcoming glow to the nave. Surprisingly, the ground under your feet is made of gravestones. The Dutch Reformed Church, located on the fort’s highest point, is within a short distance of a number of other religious buildings of note, including mosques and temples.

5. Sinharaja Forest Reserve

River in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve

A river flowing through the lush green landscape of Sinharaja Forest Reserve, a national park in Sri Lanka. Image source: Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock.com

The Sinharaja Forest Reserve is home to the country’s biggest lowland rainforest and is a sight to see. There are several beautiful trails and routes that wind their way through the forest’s thick vegetation. These paths get you close to glistening waterfalls and rushing rivers.

In the company of a knowledgeable guide, you could see elephants, leopards, and purple-faced langurs, and you may be treated to the sight of a rainbow of birds in flight. Sinharaja Forest Reserve, the only park in Sri Lanka accessible exclusively by foot, is well worth the time it takes to get there from Galle.

4. Sea Turtle Farm

Sea turtle in a pond

This image features a lovely sea turtle swimming in a pond. Image source: AfriramPOE/Shutterstock.com

The Sea Turtle Farm at Mahamodara, on the outskirts of Galle, has been working to save these beautiful marine animals, maintain their natural environment, and improve their welfare for many years. Thousands of sea turtles have been born, raised, and returned to the wild by the family-run institution, which has also taught numerous residents and visitors about the turtles’ nesting and eating routines since it first opened.

The Sea Turtle Farm is a great place to learn about the organization’s conservation efforts and to have hands-on experience with these fascinating animals.

3. Flag Rock

Flag Rock Bastion fortress in Galle, Sri Lanka

the Flag Rock Bastion fortress in Galle, Sri Lanka. Image source: PixHound/Shutterstock.com

Flag Rock, near the southernmost extremity of Galle Fort, was originally an impressive Portuguese bastion overlooking the ocean. Its ruined walls and clifftop perch have made it a famous sunset spot in recent years. When the sun goes down over the water, the scenery is stunning.

Many street vendors set up shop at this time, making it an ideal opportunity to get a bite to eat while taking in the calm yet exciting vibe. It’s particularly interesting to visit this area early in the day, when local cliff divers can be seen plunging into the waters below.

2. Old Town

Fortress fort in Galle, Sri Lanka

the old town and fortress fort in Galle, Sri Lanka. Image source: Pavel Dorogin/Shutterstock.com

The Old Town of Galle is an exciting site to explore, with a variety of amazing things to see and do, despite being packed into a relatively tiny space inside the fort’s robust walls. Traveling through its congested streets, you’ll see a wide variety of building types, from colonial-era Portuguese, Dutch, and British structures to more contemporary ones inspired by South Asian art and architecture.

Walking around and soaking in the lively atmosphere is as important as seeing the main landmarks like the Dutch Reformed Church, Clock Tower, and Fort Lighthouse. The Old Town is where you want to be to experience the full vibrancy of the city, with its plethora of charming cafés, top-notch dining options, and trendy bars.

1. Fort’s Walls

Fortification walls around Galle Fort

the fortification walls surrounding Galle Fort in Sri Lanka. Image source: Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock.com

Galle Fort and its towering walls were constructed by the Portuguese in 1588 and then fortified and improved by the Dutch to defend them and their commercial interests from both other colonial powers and the local population.

The fort’s walls are exceptionally well-preserved given their age, and it is located in a strategically favorable and aesthetically pleasing place on the shores of three bodies of water. It is intriguing to explore the fortifications, which are dotted with gates and bastions and separated from the mainland by a moat that has since dried up.

Its ramparts provide stunning vistas of the ocean and harbor, in addition to the various historic sites on display. Galle Fort, the largest surviving fortress in South Asia established by European conquerors, should not be overlooked by any visitors to the area.

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