Galle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the south of Sri Lanka. With its charming and narrow laneways, imposing Dutch-colonial buildings, ancient mosques, churches and the famous lighthouse, there are many beautiful places worth to explore in this old town. You can walk over the thick ramparts built by the Dutch merchants that controlled the city in the 17th century. There are also lots of cute boutique shops and cosy cafes and restaurants to fuel your body. Read in this blog post everything you need to know about Galle and the best things to do in Galle Sri Lanka!
First conquered by the Portuguese in the late 16th century, Galle was quickly overtaken by the Dutch in the 17th century. It then became an incredibly important spice trading port for over 200 years.
The 300-year-old Dutch atmosphere is still very much alive around the fort amidst its many historical buildings. Nowadays the town has grown greatly and spreads into the surroundings. But the Dutch Fort is and will always be the beating heart of Galle’s history. The walled city has stood since the early 16th century and still has the authentic vibe. Galle is a melting pot of culture, religion and interesting Dutch-colonial buildings.
The Galle lighthouse and Fort Meeran Jumma Masjid
If you only have the time to visit one thing in Galle, it has to be the famous Galle Lighthouse. The beautiful, picture perfect lighthouse, framed by palm trees with the Indian Ocean in the background, is the postcard-perfect Sri Lanka picture. The Galle Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in Sri Lanka and was built in 1848. But unfortunately it was completely destroyed by a fire in 1934 because of its wooden construction. Luckily the British rebuilt it in 1939 and nowadays it’s still in use!
Walk on the ramparts and of Galle Fort
The total walk on the ramparts is about 2kms long, and best done early in the morning or late in the afternoon. But if you want to watch a phenomenal sunset from the ramparts, you should go in the afternoon! So if you’re up for exploring all corners of Galle Fort, you have to follow the ‘Fort Walk’. The starting point is at the historic Clock Tower, before moving onto the Main Gate, heading south where you will go inside Galle Fort. There you will pass the Dutch Reformed Church until you reach the western section of the old Dutch Hospital. From there, continue south towards the famous Galle Lighthouse, before following the walls to Meeran Mosque, the Flag Rock and Triton Bastion. There you will overlook the northern coast towards Hikkaduwa and you can watch the beautiful sunset. Along the walk you can spot locals playing cricket, eat a selection of the many tasty street food options and cool off in one of the many fort bars.
Go shopping at the boutique shops
The shopaholic in you will go crazy in Galle, especially after days of only seeing local markets and souvenirs. The beautiful boutiques of Galle, located in colonial buildings, are a welcome novelty. Galle is one of the, if not THE, best shopping in Sri Lanka if you ask us. Some of the boutique shops almost look like an art gallery, and all of them sell fabulous stuff like dresses, scarves, sandals, paintings and jewellery. There are literally hundreds of boutiques, art galleries, spice stores and handicrafts dotted throughout Galle Fort. If you want to go to the main shopping street, go to Pedlar St where you will find most of the boutique shops.
Wander through the cute laneways of Galle
One of our favourite things to do in Galle was getting lost amongst the historic laneways and beautiful Dutch colonial-style buildings in the centre of Galle. You will almost feel as if you’ve been transported back to the cobblestones of Europe! During the horrible 2004 tsunami Sri Lanka was also hit. But thankfully, due to the high ramparts of the Fort wall, much of the area of Galle survived. This means there are still plenty of beautiful remnants to spot from the ancient Portuguese and Dutch colonial times. Just like the Galle Fort Hotel which was originally constructed in the 17th century. You can also book a cycling tour to explore Galle and its surroundings. The tour passes lagoons, paddy fields, the Galle town outskirts and the fruit, vegetable and fish markets. You guide will explain everything about what you will see.
Get ready to be transported back into time when you visit Galle!
Eat at one of the tasty cafes or restaurants
There are many great cafes and restaurants in Galle and we’d read that Poonies Kitchen was one of the coolest cafes in town. Serving incredible and fresh organic produced and photogenic salad bowls. But also Thai Prawn Soups, and many other different dishes. They also have fresh juices available at around 500 rupee. The food was really good and the garden where the restaurant is situated is a great spot to relax. Situated on Pedlar Street, it is the perfect location to take a break after all the exploring and or shopping!
Explore Unawatuna beach
If you stay in Galle and you’re in for some beach time, relaxing at Unawatuna beach is a nice day trip. You can get a Tuk Tuk which will bring you in just 10 minutes to Unawatuna beach where you can explore many other things which you can read in this blog post. Or read further below to see the highlights!
Unawatuna beach is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Sri Lanka and is the most “famous” beach on the island. It is a beautiful banana-shaped beach of golden sand with turquoise water and with green palm trees along the beach. But because this beach is one of the better known beaches in Sri Lanka, it is also one of the busier places.
Head to Jungle beach to relax
Close to Unawatuna beach after a 7 minute drive you will find Jungle Beach. If you prefer a more relaxing beach with not that much people as on Unawatuna, you can better head to Jungle beach. With lots of wildlife like monkeys and monitor lizards, you will feel as if you’ve arrived in the jungle. There is one restaurant, so if you’re hungry you can order some great curries here. It’s a bit of an adventure to get down the beach via the steep hill and some stairs, but that’s part of the adventure. And most of the time you will find the best hidden gems, beaches in this case, after some effort! That’s also the reason why this beach is less crowded than Unawatuna beach.
Visit the Japanese Peace pagoda in Unawatuna
The next stop after Jungle beach might be a visit to the Japanese Peace Pagoda. Very close to Unawatuna beach in the forest on the hillside you will find the impressive Japanese Peace Pagoda. Constructed in 2005 by Japanese monks to build peace temples in conflict zones, the monument is a symbol of hope for people all over the world. It’s now a popular tourist attraction and with incredible views over the bay of Galle the perfect place to take in the impressive Sri Lankan sunsets.
Go on a day trip to Mirissa for Whale watching
Mirissa is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sri Lanka and an easy day trip from Galle. This small village has become famous for the stilt fishermen, and is a prime location to spot dolphins and whales. The whale watching season in Mirissa runs from November to April, but for your best chance to see a whale you have to visit in March or April. There are many tour companies where you can book a whale and dolphin watching tour. If you are lucky you can get to see many different types of whales and dolphins. For example Blue whales, Bryde’s whales, Sperm whales, Fin whales and Orca’s have all been spotted along the coast of Mirissa. Other species that can be spotted are Common dolphins, Bottlenose dolphins, Spinner dolphins, Risso’s dolphins and Striped dolphins. You also have the chance of seeing turtles and various fish species like Bluefin tuna and flying fish. There are lots of options to spot marine life during a whale watching tour in Mirissa, but you have to be a bit lucky for whales!
Go scuba diving
Scuba diving is one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka and Unawatuna is one of the best places to go for this sport. The center of Unawatuna is only a 10-minute drive from Galle city. The diving institutes offer different levels of courses. You can go open water diving, refresh dive course, master level diving, reef diving, night diving and many more. If you love scuba diving, this might be a great thing to do while you stay in Galle.
More Sri Lanka travel inspiration
We hope we convinced you to visit Galle during your time in Sri Lanka. For more travel tips about Sri Lanka, click HERE to find all the travel guides! If you have any questions, let us know! And share the blogs on Social Media with your friends to inspire them to explore this beautiful country as well!