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Exploring Galle Fort by Foot – Things to Do in Galle Fort

Jun 26, 2019
Galle Fort

Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a beautifully preserved fortress dating back to the colonial era. Known to be one of the oldest living forts in the world, the Dutch Fort is located in the south coast of Sri Lanka in the old town of Galle, offering views of the glistening Indian Ocean from its historic ramparts. As you stroll through the cobbled stone streets that are marked with architectural structures of immense historical value, here are the most important places to visit in Galle.

Map of Galle Fort

Brief history of Galle Fort

The history of Galle Fort has been traced back to 125-150 AD with references from Ptolmey’s world map when it was once a busy port and trading hub to China, Greece and the Arab countries. When the Portuguese first arrived in 1505 to the island, they made notable developments to the area with the help of the then king of the country. The Galle Fort was first built by the Portuguese in 1588 during their occupation of the island and was often used as a prison camp for locals who opposed the foreign rule. However, the fort was heavily fortified by the Dutch from 1649 onwards, where several prominent buildings and an advanced sewerage system was implemented within the fort. However, Galle Fort seemingly lost its significance as the main trading port after the British seized control in 1796 and later developed Colombo as the major trading hub by the 19th century. The fort is now an amalgamation of architectural styles and cultural values where European influences seamlessly blend with local lifestyles.

How to get to the Galle Fort

Travelling to Galle for the day is fairly easy, whether you’re coming in from Colombo, the international airport or from one of the other coastal cities of Sri Lanka. Easily accessible by train, bus and private vehicles, the Galle Fort is located less than 5 minutes from the main train and bus station.

Best time to visit Galle Fort

While you can visit the Galle Fort all year round, the best time to visit Galle Fort and the city of Galle is between the months from November to April. The weathers often mild and windy; with winds blowing in from the Indian Ocean. Temperatures during this time often range from 26°C to 30°C. The months from May to October usually bring about rains; which can vary from light scattered showers to torrential downpours as the south coast is affected by the south-west monsoon during this period. While a walk around Galle Fort is best enjoyed in fairly pleasant weather, those travelling to the city in the other months should be prepared for hot summer days and stormy nights; or vice versa – that’s the beauty of this tropical island – and why we love it too!

Most Popular Attractions in Galle

While walking around Galle Fort, you’ll find that there are numerous things to see from the functional courthouse and rustic-looking law offices to the stunning historic monuments and museums with treasures and relics. As you walk around the fort here are some of places you must visit during your day outing to Galle.

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Main Gate & Old Gate

There are two main entrances to the Galle Fort; the Main Gate & the Old Gate. The Main Gate is located opposite the Galle Cricket Stadium; just a few meters away from the central bus and train stations. The Old Gate is located by the seaside and can be identified by the intricate carving of the letters VOC flanked by two lions and a cockerel on top, marked with the date 1669; which symbolised the Dutch East India Company, a.k.a. Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie. The Main Gate that was built by the British as they continued to heavily fortify the old fort, who then separated the wall into the Star, Sun and Moon Bastions.

 

Galle Lighthouse

Shining in the social media limelight, the Galle Lighthouse towers above the cobblestoned streets, offering an unhindered view of the harbour and the glistening coast. Built in 1939 by the British during their occupation of the island, the lighthouse is also known as Pointe de Galle Light and is the oldest in Sri Lanka. The automated lighthouse illuminates the ancient town as the sun dips over the Indian Ocean.

Tip – Walk around towards the back of the lighthouse and look for a secret passage that leads directly to the beach. Dip your toes into the refreshing waters!

Galle Clocktower

The Galle Clocktower is a popular landmark, which was built in the 19th century in recognition of the services of Colonel Surgeon Dr. Anthonisz. The bricked tower is situated within the ramparts and overlooks the central Moon Bastion. The clocktower shares the social media spotlight with the pristine lighthouse.

Tip – At the base of the clocktower, look for the life-size statues depicting a scene from the colonial conquests.

Groote Kerk

Also known as the Dutch Reformed Church, the Groote Kerk was built by the Dutch in 1755 and holds great historical and religious value. Having won the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage for restoration, the church’s grandiose beauty is a vision to behold! The cruciform shape, the burial vault, the pebbled pathways, and the honeycomb pattern on the floor, which is made of gravestones, are some of the many things you could be in awe of at Groote Kerk.

Tip – Inscribed with emblems and epitaphs from the colonial period, the gravestones are intricately carved and line the walls and floors of the church. Spend some time reading these!

 

Meeran Mosque

Located near the lighthouse, the Meeran Jumma Masjid Mosque combines architectural features of Victorian and Islamic styles. Though the façade resembles a Portuguese cathedral, it was built by early Arab traders more than 300 years ago. Those keen on visiting the mosque can admire the little mihrab complete with decorative domes and intricately designed floor tiles.

Tip – There’s no admission fees to visit inside the mosque, but remember to dress appropriately before venturing inside.

 

Old Dutch Hospital

The Old Dutch Hospital was once used as a hospital during the Dutch occupation of Galle. Over the years, it developed and now functions as a shopping and dining precinct offering breath taking views of the Indian Ocean. Reflecting 17th century Dutch architecture, with long open verandahs, the building was designed to keep humidity and heat away.

Tip – On the balcony overlooking the ocean, you can get a glimpse of the Japanese Peace Pagoda in Unawatuna.

 

Restaurants in Galle Fort

Unlike the rest of the island, Galle Fort’s atmosphere is romantic and charming. Cobblestoned streets are illuminated by soft streetlights and the vibrance seeping from quaint restaurants and boutique hotels. With numerous places to eat in Galle offering a variety of cuisines, from local delights to Indian, Japanese or Italian options, you’ll be spoilt for choice as you embark on this gastronomic adventure. However, if you’re looking for one of the best restaurants in Galle Fort that serves authentic Italian cuisine; wine and dine at AQUA Forte; where mouth-watering food and premium wines are at your fingertips.

Tip – Ask our head chef Roberto for his recommendations!

 

Souvenir Shopping

Shopping at Galle Fort is a fun activity. Within the fort, you’ll find numerous stores to fulfil your shopping needs; be it for souvenirs, tea, clothes or even exotic spices! Vibrant and colourful in its own way, each store stands out from the other though equally tempting!

Tip – We actually don’t have ONE favourite store, so we recommend you visit every store!

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Museums In Galle Fort

The Galle National Museum contains many archaeological and anthropological artifacts and is the oldest building within the Galle Fort. Take a walk-through history and visit the museum, as you admire various traditional artifacts and items from masks, ornaments and carvings from Colonial Ceylon. The National Maritime Museum holds exhibits of marine artifacts, ancient maps, beer mugs, smoking pipes, artillery guns and more.

Tip – The Kingdom of Netherlands facilitated the restoration of the National Maritime Museum following the devastating 2004 tsunami.

 

Sunsets in Galle Fort

Sunsets in Sri Lanka are quite bold and dramatic and there’s no question that each one is unique. However, a Galle Fort sunset; over the ramparts will leave you speechless. The setting sun paints the horizon in various shades of reds, pinks, blues and purples, sometimes vibrant colours and other times soft pastel strokes. As the sun sets, the lighthouse beams across the coast acting as a glimmer of hope to many sailors.

Tip – Pick a spot on the rampart – ideally on an available bench and wait for the magic!

FAQS

Yes! Smothered in history, architecture, a variety of cuisines, cultures and more; Galle is definitely worth visiting.

The best place to watch the sunset in Galle is over the fort’s ramparts, closer to the Galle lighthouse.

You can spend a full day in Galle Fort, visiting museums, exploring ancient monuments, dining and more.

The weather is Galle is always sunny and fairly windy. Temperatures range from 26°C to 30°C.

Some of the nearby places to Galle that you can visit are Unawatuna, Talpe and Koggala.

The best time to visit Galle is during the south coast’s peak season; between the months of December to April.

The key attractions in Galle Fort are the lighthouse, clock tower, Groote Kerk, and the museums.

There are many dining options available for you to choose from. For Italian cuisine, dine at AQUA Forte. For Indian cuisine, try out Elite Restaurant. For Japanese cuisine, dine at The Tuna & Crab and for Sri Lankan cuisine; there are plenty of restaurants like Lucky Fort Restaurant Spoons.

Do you want to know more about authentic Italian cuisine, best wine pairings and secret offers at AQUA Forte? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and stay up to-date!

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