Galle Travel Guide: Top 44 Things to Do in Galle, Sri Lanka

Welcome to Galle, a charming coastal city located on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka. With its rich history, captivating architecture, and stunning coastal landscapes, Galle offers a unique and unforgettable travel experience.

Galle has a history that spans over two millennia, dating back to ancient times when it served as an important port along the historic Silk Route. Over the centuries, the city has been influenced by various civilizations, including the Portuguese, Dutch, and British, leaving behind a diverse and fascinating cultural heritage.

The city’s most iconic landmark is the Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built by the Portuguese in the 16th century and later fortified by the Dutch, the fort stands as a testament to the region’s colonial past. Within its fortified walls, you’ll find a labyrinth of narrow streets lined with colonial-era buildings, quaint cafes, boutique shops, and art galleries.

Beyond the fort, Galle’s picturesque coastline offers stunning beaches, vibrant coral reefs, and turquoise waters. Unawatuna Beach, located just a short distance from the city, is known for its golden sands, clear waters, and excellent snorkeling and diving opportunities. The coastal area also boasts scenic viewpoints, where you can capture breathtaking sunsets and panoramic views of the Indian Ocean.

Galle is not only renowned for its historical and natural beauty but also for its vibrant cultural scene. The city is home to numerous art galleries, showcasing the works of local and international artists. The Galle Literary Festival, held annually, attracts renowned authors, poets, and intellectuals from around the world.

Culinary enthusiasts will be delighted by Galle’s diverse dining scene, offering a fusion of Sri Lankan and international cuisines. Sample mouthwatering seafood dishes, indulge in traditional Sri Lankan curries, or enjoy international flavors in the city’s restaurants and cafes.

The friendly and welcoming locals add to the charm of Galle, always ready to share their stories, traditions, and warm hospitality. Engaging with the community will give you a deeper appreciation for the city’s vibrant culture and way of life.

As you embark on your journey through Galle, this travel guide will provide you with insights and recommendations to make the most of your visit. Explore the historic fort, soak up the sun on stunning beaches, savor delectable cuisine, and immerse yourself in the unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty that Galle has to offer.

Galle Travel Guide: Things to do in Galle, Sri Lanka

Galle City Guide: A Brief History Of Galle, Sri Lanka

Galle has a rich and fascinating history that spans over two millennia. The city’s strategic location along the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka made it an important trading port and a gateway to the Indian Ocean for various civilizations throughout the ages.

The earliest recorded history of Galle dates back to the 2nd century BC, during the time of ancient Sri Lankan kingdoms. It is believed that Galle was a prominent seaport known as “Gimhathiththa” during this period, trading with merchants from around the world.

During the medieval period, Galle came under the rule of the Kingdom of Kotte. The city’s strategic location made it a target for foreign powers seeking control over the lucrative spice trade. In the early 16th century, the Portuguese arrived and established a fortification in Galle, taking control of the city and renaming it “Santa Cruz.”

The Portuguese rule was later challenged by the Dutch, who arrived in the 17th century and successfully captured Galle in 1640. Under Dutch rule, the city flourished as a center of commerce and trade. The Dutch fortifications were expanded, and Galle became a crucial outpost for the Dutch East India Company.

Galle’s colonial era came to an end in 1796 when the British Empire gained control over Sri Lanka. Galle continued to serve as an important port for the British, who further developed the city’s infrastructure and transformed it into a significant administrative center.

The city’s most iconic landmark, the Galle Fort, was constructed by the Portuguese and fortified by the Dutch. The fort’s sturdy ramparts and bastions have withstood the test of time and stand as a reminder of Galle’s colonial past. In recognition of its historical significance, the Galle Fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988.

Today, Galle is a vibrant city that seamlessly blends its colonial heritage with modern influences. The Galle Fort continues to be a hub of activity, with its narrow streets lined with charming cafes, boutique hotels, art galleries, and souvenir shops.

Exploring the fort’s winding streets offers a glimpse into its multicultural past, with Dutch and Portuguese colonial architecture intertwining with traditional Sri Lankan elements. The blend of these architectural styles creates a unique and captivating atmosphere.

As you explore Galle, you’ll discover the remnants of its storied history in the form of ancient churches, mosques, and colonial-era buildings. The city’s historical sites, coupled with its stunning coastal landscapes, make Galle a must-visit destination for travelers seeking a rich cultural experience.

By understanding the historical significance of Galle, you can fully appreciate the city’s unique character and immerse yourself in its captivating heritage as you explore its ancient streets and iconic fortifications.

Galle Top Attractions and Best Places to Visit in Sri Lanka

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.

Other Cultural Attractions: Trip to Galle, Sri Lanka

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.

source: Trip Pisso on YouTube

Top 44 Things To Do in Galle, Sri Lanka For Visitors

Here is a list of 44 of the top things to do in Galle:

1. Explore the Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and immerse yourself in its rich history. Wander through its cobblestone streets, admire the well-preserved Dutch and Portuguese architecture, and visit the historic buildings that house boutique hotels, cafes, and art galleries.

2. Visit the Dutch Reformed Church, an iconic landmark within the fort, known for its elegant architecture and beautiful stained glass windows. Step inside to appreciate its historical significance and peaceful atmosphere.

3. Take a leisurely walk along the fort walls, enjoying panoramic views of the Indian Ocean and the city of Galle. Don’t miss the chance to capture stunning photographs of the fort and the surrounding coastline.

4. Explore the National Maritime Museum located within the fort, which showcases the maritime heritage of Sri Lanka. Discover artifacts from shipwrecks, learn about navigational instruments, and explore the exhibits that bring the history of seafaring to life.

5. Climb up the Galle Fort Lighthouse, a picturesque structure that offers panoramic views of the fort and the ocean. Take in the breathtaking scenery and capture memorable photos from the top.

6. Experience the vibrant atmosphere of the Galle Fort Market, where you can find a variety of local handicrafts, artwork, spices, and souvenirs. Interact with friendly vendors, indulge in street food, and immerse yourself in the lively ambiance of this bustling market.

7. Treat yourself to a rejuvenating spa session at one of the wellness centers within the fort. Pamper yourself with traditional Ayurvedic therapies, relaxing massages, and wellness treatments that will leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

8. Rent a bicycle and explore the fort at your own pace. Ride along its quaint streets, soak up the colonial charm, and discover hidden gems, such as cozy cafes, boutique shops, and local art studios.

9. Visit the Galle Clock Tower, an elegant structure that stands at the entrance to the fort. Learn about its historical significance as a timekeeping device and enjoy its architectural beauty.

10. Immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of Galle by attending a traditional dance performance. Witness the captivating movements, vibrant costumes, and rhythmic music that bring the ancient art form to life.

11. Take a boat ride along the Madu River, located just outside Galle. Cruise through the serene mangroves, spot wildlife such as birds and water monitors, and visit small islands with temples and cinnamon plantations.

12. Visit the Japanese Peace Pagoda, a serene Buddhist temple located on Rumassala Hill. Enjoy the tranquil surroundings, take in the panoramic views of Galle and its coastline, and experience a sense of inner peace and tranquility.

13. Unwind on the pristine shores of Unawatuna Beach, one of Sri Lanka’s most popular beaches. Bask in the sun, swim in the crystal-clear waters, and explore the vibrant coral reefs while snorkeling or diving.

14. Explore the enchanting Rumassala Hill, a lush forested area with nature trails. Hike to viewpoints overlooking Galle and its coastline, discover hidden coves, and spot diverse flora and fauna along the way.

15. Visit the Handunugoda Tea Estate, located near Galle, and learn about the process of making specialty teas, including the famous white tea. Take a guided tour of the estate, witness tea plucking, and enjoy a tea tasting experience.

16. Participate in a traditional mask-carving workshop and unleash your creativity. Learn about the cultural significance of Sri Lankan masks, the different styles, and the intricate techniques involved in their creation.

17. Immerse yourself in the world of renowned Sri Lankan author Martin Wickramasinghe at the Martin Wickramasinghe Folk Museum. Explore the exhibits that showcase the country’s rural traditions, folklore, and cultural heritage.

18. Escape to the tranquil Jungle Beach, a hidden gem nestled between Unawatuna and Rumassala. Relax on its pristine sands, swim in the calm waters, and soak up the natural beauty of this secluded paradise.

19. Embark on a day trip to Hikkaduwa, a lively beach town known for its vibrant coral reefs, perfect for snorkeling and diving. Explore the marine life, relax on the beaches, and indulge in delicious seafood at beachside restaurants.

20. Discover the beauty of Koggala Lake, a serene waterbody surrounded by lush greenery. Take a boat safari to observe wildlife, including birds, monkeys, and water monitors, and enjoy the tranquility of this picturesque lake.

21. Visit the historic Dutch Church Museum, housed in an 18th-century Dutch Reformed Church near the fort. Explore the exhibits that showcase artifacts and religious relics from the Dutch colonial period.

22. Take part in a traditional Sri Lankan cooking class and learn to prepare authentic dishes using local ingredients and techniques. Gain insight into the flavors and spices that make Sri Lankan cuisine unique.

23. Explore the enchanting Moonstone Mines in Meetiyagoda, where you can witness the mining and cutting of these unique gemstones. Learn about their significance and browse the gemstone jewelry available for purchase.

24. Take a leisurely stroll along the streets of Galle and engage with friendly locals. Discover their stories, traditions, and customs, and gain a deeper appreciation for the cultural diversity of the city.

25. Visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, located near Galle, and observe elephants being bathed and fed in their natural habitat. Learn about elephant conservation efforts and the importance of protecting these magnificent creatures.

26. Venture into the Hiyare Rainforest, a biodiverse forest reserve near Galle. Explore the nature trails, spot a variety of bird species, and immerse yourself in the tranquility of this pristine natural environment.

27. Explore the intriguing history and artifacts at the National Museum in Galle. Learn about the region’s archaeological treasures, ancient artifacts, and cultural heritage.

28. Take a scenic boat ride along the Galle Harbor, observing the bustling activity of fishing boats and witnessing the sunset over the Indian Ocean. Capture stunning photos of the colorful sky and the silhouettes of the boats.

29. Attend a traditional Sri Lankan wedding ceremony and experience the vibrant customs, rituals, and colorful attire that make these celebrations unique. Immerse yourself in the joyful atmosphere and witness traditional wedding traditions.

30. Visit the Kahawa Café, a cozy coffee shop within the fort, and savor a cup of freshly brewed Sri Lankan coffee. Relax in the peaceful ambiance, read a book, or engage in conversations with fellow travelers.

31. Explore the Kanneliya Forest Reserve, located near Galle, and embark on a nature trek through its dense rainforest. Discover an array of flora and fauna, including endemic species, and enjoy the tranquility of this natural sanctuary.

32. Visit the Galle International Stadium, a picturesque cricket ground known for its colonial charm and scenic surroundings. Catch a cricket match and experience the enthusiasm of Sri Lankan cricket fans.

33. Join a traditional batik workshop and learn the intricate art of designing and dyeing fabric. Create your own unique batik piece under the guidance of skilled artisans.

34. Take a day trip to Yala National Park, a renowned wildlife sanctuary. Embark on a thrilling safari experience, spotting elephants, leopards, crocodiles, and a myriad of bird species in their natural habitat.

35. Visit the Old Dutch Hospital, a historic building within the fort, now transformed into a shopping and dining precinct. Browse through boutiques, enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants, or relax in the courtyard.

36. Engage in a traditional Ayurvedic wellness retreat and rejuvenate your mind, body, and soul. Experience Ayurvedic treatments, meditation, yoga, and healthy vegetarian cuisine in a serene and nurturing environment.

37. Witness the traditional art of lace-making in Galle, known for its intricate designs and delicate craftsmanship. Visit local lace workshops to observe the process and appreciate the skill and precision required.

38. Attend a cultural performance at the Karava Mask Museum, which showcases a collection of intricate traditional masks. Experience traditional dance, music, and storytelling that bring Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage to life.

39. Participate in a turtle conservation project and contribute to the protection of endangered sea turtles. Learn about their nesting habits, help release hatchlings into the ocean, and gain a deeper understanding of the importance of marine conservation.

40. Explore the enchanting biodiversity of the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Take a guided trek through this tropical rainforest, encountering exotic flora, rare bird species, and stunning waterfalls along the way.

41. Discover the historical richness of the All Saints Church, an Anglican church in Galle known for its stunning architecture and serene atmosphere. Attend a Sunday service or simply take in the beauty of the surroundings.

42. Visit the Galle Fort Library, a quaint library that houses a collection of books on local history, culture, and literature. Spend some quiet time reading, researching, or simply enjoying the peaceful ambiance.

43. Join a traditional dance workshop and learn the rhythmic movements and vibrant costumes of Sri Lankan dance forms such as Kandyan, Low Country, or Sabaragamuwa. Experience the joy of traditional dance and expressiveness.

44. Relax on the beaches of Ahangama, Koggala, or Talpe, located near Galle, and enjoy the sun, sand, and surf. Take a refreshing swim, indulge in beachside seafood, or simply unwind while admiring the stunning coastal scenery.

With these 44 activities, you can create an unforgettable itinerary in Galle, immersing yourself in its rich history, cultural heritage, natural beauty, and warm hospitality. Enjoy your exploration of this captivating city and the treasures it holds.

Galle Travel Guide: Final Thoughts

As you conclude your Galle travel guide journey, you’ll carry with you memories of a city rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. Galle’s enchanting blend of colonial charm, pristine beaches, and vibrant atmosphere offers a unique and captivating experience for travelers.

Exploring the Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site, allows you to step back in time and immerse yourself in its fascinating history. The fort’s cobblestone streets, colonial-era architecture, and lively market create a vibrant ambiance that showcases the city’s multicultural heritage.

Beyond the fort, Galle offers stunning beaches where you can relax, swim, and indulge in water activities like snorkeling and diving. Unawatuna Beach and Jungle Beach provide picturesque settings and crystal-clear waters that are perfect for unwinding and enjoying the coastal beauty.

Galle’s cultural scene is equally captivating, with opportunities to witness traditional dance performances, attend workshops on mask-carving and lace-making, and explore museums that showcase the region’s art, history, and folklore.

The city’s proximity to natural attractions like Rumassala Hill, Madu River, and wildlife reserves allows you to explore Sri Lanka’s rich biodiversity and immerse yourself in the country’s natural wonders.

Throughout your visit, the warm hospitality of the locals adds a special touch to your experience. Interacting with the friendly people of Galle allows you to gain insights into their traditions, stories, and way of life.

This travel guide has provided you with insights and recommendations to make the most of your visit to Galle. Whether you’re exploring the fort, enjoying the beaches, engaging in cultural activities, or simply savoring the local cuisine, Galle will leave an indelible impression on your journey through Sri Lanka.

So, embrace the spirit of exploration, immerse yourself in the rich history and culture, and let Galle’s unique blend of colonial charm, natural beauty, and warm hospitality create lasting memories as you embark on your adventure in this captivating city.

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