Galle Travel Guide
On Sri Lanka’s south coast, you’ll find the city of Galle. Over the centuries, it has been an important port – as such, it changed hands from one colonial master to another since the 16th century.
Defined by a mighty citadel, you’ll find plenty of historical attractions within and natural wonders in the surrounding area.
Come check out our Galle travel guide as we cover the best things to do in Galle, Sri Lanka.
One attraction stands out above all others in Galle – and that is the Galle Fort. The Portuguese built this massive coastal fortress in 1588 to defend this strategic port. It stayed in Portuguese hands until 1641, when the Dutch took Galle.
The Dutch made significant renovations, greatly expanding the reach of its walls and increasing the amenities within. They hung on to this valuable port for much longer than the Portuguese, only relinquishing it to the British in 1796.
Lately, its biggest foe wasn’t a foreign army, but Mother Nature. In 2004, the Boxing Day Tsunami ripped across the Indian Ocean, striking Galle with a wall of water nearly 20 feet high. While the fort’s walls withstood the impact well, water flooded into its streets, damaging many buildings and taking lives.
Galle was once home to one of Sri Lanka’s best-known authors. During your visit, take time to discover the Martin Wickramasinghe Folk Museum Complex. Martin Wickramasinghe grew up in Koggala, a village by the sea near Galle. The rural life he experienced informed his works, like Gamperaliya, which portrays a Sri Lankan village coping with the pressures of modernization.
The former home of the celebrated writer contains not just his personal effects, but photos and artwork he created over his lifetime. You’ll also find a variety of Sinhalese artifacts, including coins, old Sinhala scripts, and religious implements.
Learn about the attachment that Galle and Sri Lanka had to the sea by visiting the National Maritime Museum. Its collection used to be far more extensive – the 2004 tsunami changed that, sweeping away 80% of its artifacts. After the disaster, curators scoured the surrounding area for missing pieces. They recovered 20%, and they acquired new items for their galleries.
The new National Maritime Museum opened in 2010. Throughout, you’ll find items recovered from shipwrecks near Sri Lanka and throughout the Indian Ocean. These include things like smoking pipes, maps, beer steins, naval rope, guns, and much more.
When the Dutch took over Galle from the Portuguese, they brought their religion with them. Having split from the Roman Catholic Church, they constructed the Dutch Reformed Church. The Dutch built it in their trademark Colonial-style, giving this Protestant church a presence that makes it stand out. In the British era, authorities fitted it with a stained glass window and a Communion rail.
When the Boxing Day Tsunami came in 2004, the church escaped damage. Thanks to its high elevation and location within the walls, the water never reached its steps.
The Galle area is home to some of the last tracts of virgin rainforest in Sri Lanka. Explore the most significant remaining area by visiting the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. Within its bounds, 60% of tree species are endemic to Sri Lanka, including many threatened species. As such, UNESCO declared this park a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve.
While the flora spotting is excellent, animals are small and harder to find than in other national parks. The same mountainous terrain that kept logging at bay makes it tough for leopards and elephants to live here. If you keep your eyes open, though, you may see the purple-faced langur, a primate native to Sri Lanka.
The Kanneliya Rain Forest Reserve is another protected wilderness worth visiting while in Galle. It was also designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2004, thanks to its rich biodiversity. Some species can trace their roots back to Gondwana, the supercontinent that last existed in the Jurassic period.
Thanks to the wet underbrush and abundant rivers, leeches are common. As such, ensure your guide provides you with leech socks to deter these little bloodsuckers. Also, cover your legs in acidic soap, as this helps to ward them away.
After a hot, sweaty hike in the jungle, reward yourself with a swim at Dalawella Beach. While Unawatuna Beach gets loftier praise, tourists crowd it as a consequence. Dalawella Beach is a few kilometres away, is just as beautiful, but grants more room to enjoy the gorgeous seascapes of Galle.
While waves suitable only for expert surfers pound much of the beach, a calm section exists for swimmers. Here, a famed pizza restaurant and an Instagrammable swing will keep you busy when you’re not in the water.
Dine your last night in Galle away at the Old Dutch Hospital. As the name suggests, it formerly served as a hospital during the Dutch period. The British used it as a garrison, and the people of Galle last used it as a town hall.
After outgrowing it, the city sold it to a developer, who turned it into a dining and shopping plaza. Amidst Dutch Colonial architecture, your last evening there will be a memorable one.