Hello, fellow travellers! It’s Luke and Kay, back with another exciting tale from our travel diary. This time, we will take you on a journey to the historic Galle Fort, where history comes alive around every corner.
We visited Galle during our honeymoon bliss in Sri Lanka, a trip that was nothing short of magical. Use this guide to jump to what you want to know, or continue reading for all the information.
Table of contents
- The History of Galle Fort
- UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Exploring Galle Fort
- Restoration and Preservation Efforts
- When to visit
- More things to do near Galle
- Where to stay near Galle
The History of Galle Fort
The Galle Fort in Sri Lanka has seen it all. The Portuguese originally built it, which was later fortified by the Dutch and then taken over by the British until Sri Lanka took over the island’s independence.
It’s not just a fort but a whole community sitting on the edge of land and sea. You’ll find a fantastic mix of old-world European architecture and South Asian vibes.
It started as a spice trade hub and now is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the 16th century, the Portuguese landed in Galle, Sri Lanka, and started building an early version of the now iconic Galle Fort. It was a smaller structure, with a part known as the Black Fort, which mainly served as a defensive site.
They fiercely defended their stronghold, even engaging in intense battles for days. Although the fort grew much more significant in the later Dutch era, the Portuguese’s influence set the stage for what Galle Fort has become today.
After the Portuguese, the Dutch took over Galle Fort in the 17th century. They kicked things up a notch – expanding the fort and adding some serious style.
They transformed it into a fortified city with large stone walls, intricate gateways, and beautiful buildings.
You can still see their influence today in the stunning architecture and layout of the fort. They held onto the fort until the British came along.
Fast forward to the late 18th century, the Dutch had to let go of some of their overseas territories.
This is when the British saw an opportunity and swooped in to take control of Sri Lanka, which was then known as Ceylon.
They held onto it for a long while, introducing their customs and systems.
Sri Lankan Independance
But the Sri Lankans were not just sitting idle. There was a strong independence movement brewing. After more than a century of British rule, Sri Lanka regained its independence in 1948.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Galle Fort got its name in lights when UNESCO dubbed it a World Heritage Site in 1988. The special shout-out was all thanks to the fort’s well-preserved European-built fortified city status, rare in South and Southeast Asia.
Even though it’s been around for over four centuries, the fort’s still looking sharp, all thanks to some serious upkeep. This significant recognition has made Galle Fort a must-see spot for tourists visiting Sri Lanka.
Exploring Galle Fort
Get ready to wander its cobblestone streets, soak up stunning ocean views, and feel the history around every corner. You can go by foot, bike, tuk-tuk or car to see all the sites! You can easily spend a lot of time here.
We used Apple Vacations for our journey to Galle; we navigated through the winding roads, stopped off at a turtle hatchery, went on a water safari, and saw sweeping coastal views, quaint villages, and a vibrant display of local life.
Our driver, Christo, enhanced our experience with his warm smile and captivating storytelling, offering fascinating insights into the local culture. You can book this trip below.
Here are some must-see architectural highlights and landmarks you will want to see inside Galle Fort.
Galle Fort Clock Tower
The Galle Clock Tower is a standout feature in the Galle Fort, Sri Lanka. Standing tall at over 25 meters, it once served as a guardroom and is now an iconic city symbol.
It’s one of the first things tourists see when entering the fort. Apart from its historical significance, the tower offers stunning city views on one side and a view over the Galle International Cricket Stadium on the other.
This colonial-era structure is free to visit and gives visitors a glimpse into the city’s rich past.
The National Maritime Museum in Galle Fort, Sri Lanka, resides in an ancient Dutch warehouse dating back to 1671. It opened on May 9, 1992, showcasing Sri Lanka’s rich maritime history through exhibits on fishing vessels, colonial history, navigation, marine biology, and anthropology.
The museum was affected by the devastating Tsunami of December 26, 2004. But has since been restored. We visited a tsunami museum and learnt more about the devastation caused at another museum near Galle.
Dutch Reformed Church
Also, near the entrance, you will find a Dutch reformed church. Built by the Dutch in 1755, this church is one of the country’s oldest Protestant churches still in use.
The white exterior features gables on the eastern and western walls but notably lacks a tower. Apart from its rich history, the church is an iconic landmark of Sri Lanka and continues to be a place of worship, attracting both locals and tourists alike.
All Saints Church
All Saints’ Church, situated within the Galle Fort in Sri Lanka, is a notable Anglican church renowned for its stunning architecture.
As a must-see tourist attraction, the church’s architectural significance and historical charm make it a fascinating stop for visitors exploring the old Galle Fort.
Old Dutch Hospital
Experience the rich history of Hospital Street on your visit. This iconic street, once bustling with medical activity, now thrives as a vibrant hub of shops and restaurants.
The original white hospital building serves as a charming reminder of the past.
The Galle Lighthouse, perched on the corner of Sri Lanka’s Galle Fort, is a piece of history and one of the oldest lighthouses along the coast.
Run by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, it uses automatic lights to caution ships about nearby reefs. The lighthouse sits 20 feet above the road on the fort’s ramparts, offering an amazing view.
Flag Rock is located at the southernmost point of Galle Fort in Sri Lanka. It’s a place where history and nature collide, offering breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean.
The skies opened as we reached Flag Rock, and a sudden downpour greeted us. There we were, drenched in the rain, snapping a memorable photo against the backdrop of the fort.
Then came the mad dash back to the car, laughing. A moment of pure joy and spontaneity made our visit to Flag Rock unforgettable.
Looking for more things to do in Galle? It is a great place to shop for souvenirs. Traditional handicrafts, antiques, and gemstones are popular items.
Additionally, Galle is known for its lace-making, so you can buy beautiful handmade lace products.
The prices in Galle are known to be a little pricey, so if you have plans to go to Kandy, it is worth waiting to make your purchases from there instead.
Galle offers a variety of dining options, ranging from local Sri Lankan cuisine to international dishes. Some popular spots include The Fortyard Café and Restaurant for a touch of luxury fine dining.
Try Lucky Fort Restaurant for authentic food. Or visit one of the many ice cream shops. We recommend the Isle of Gelato!
Plenty of bars to stop off for a drink and rest your feet after exploring! Or, in our case, to escape the rain!
Restoration and Preservation Efforts
Galle Fort in Sri Lanka, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, has been the subject of significant restoration and preservation.
A conservation plan was set up 2006 to maintain the fort’s historical value. It also includes renovating the ancient underground drainage system, showcasing advanced Dutch engineering skills. Funded by the World Bank, the project focuses on the fort’s defence works and restoring other vital elements.
When to visit
The optimal time to visit Galle, Sri Lanka, is from December to April, when the city experiences less rainfall, making it ideal for outdoor exploration. However, this period attracts many tourists due to the favourable weather conditions, resulting in a busier atmosphere.
Despite the occasional showers, August is a good alternative if you prefer a cooler climate and fewer crowds. It is advisable to avoid the monsoon season, which peaks between October and November, as the heavy rains could disrupt your travel plans.
More things to do near Galle
Check out our Udawalawe National Safari blog post for another great place to visit in Sri Lanka.
Where to stay near Galle
Our hotel was the luxurious Riu Sri Lanka in Ahungalla, a tranquil town offering relaxation and romance. From there, we embarked on the highly anticipated day trip to the historic Galle Fort, two hours away.
Read more about our adventures there shortly!