Galle is a historically important Dutch colonial city on Sri Lanka's southwestern tip, it became the main sea port on Sri Lanka when the Portuguese first arrived on the island in the 16th century and was heavily developed during the Dutch colonial period in the 18th century. The city of Galle was extensively fortified by the Dutch during the 17th century from 1649 onwards.
Today Galle has grown to become a large city of around 100,000 population and is the administrative capital of the Southern Province and is the district capital of Galle District. The Galle fort has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site and is the largest remaining fortress in Asia built by European occupiers.
The focal point of Galle is the Fort, a walled enclave that is surrounded on three sides by the Indian Ocean. The relatively small historic centre is the main attraction and is easy to explore on foot. Galle is a really beautiful little town comprising of imposing Dutch colonial buildings, ancient temples, churches, and mosques.
We found that Galle is best visited either at the start or end of your Sri Lanka itinerary. You can travel by road directly from the airport to Galle in around 2 to 2.5 hours so it makes a good first stop on arrival (you can miss the madness of Colombo traffic) or you can easily travel from Galle to Colombo before your flight home.
As you can see and experience everything Galle has to offer in 1 day there's no need to get up early, take your time over breakfast at your hotel - we suggest staying at the Bartizan, a relatively new addition in Galle and a really lovely boutique hotel.
Courtyard of the Bartizan
After breakfast, head out and take in the quirky shops along or just off of Pedlar Street. We found Galle to have the best souvenir shopping in the whole of Sri Lanka with many boutique shops offering quality merchandise. Our favourites included: KK Collection - for the most elegant souvenirs in Galle, Orchid house - full of handmade local products, Barefoot - ethically produced beautiful clothing, Stick No Bills - travel poster galley located in the heart of Galle near the intersection of Church Street and Pedlar Street.
After a morning of shopping head to the Church Street Social for lunch, this fairly new restaurant in Galle is a real treat, located in the newly renovated Fort Bazaar Hotel. Church Street Social offers a fusion of middle eastern and south Asian dishes from breakfast through to dinner. Sit on the street, verandah, in the restaurant or in the award winning bar. We can highly recommend the Black Pork Curry (a local specialty) which was delicious and for desert the Dark Chocolate Meringue is not to be missed!
Church Street / Pedlar Street, Galle
After lunch take a slow walk to the top of Church street where you can see the old Dutch reformed church and the Galle National Museum. You can then stroll back around the outside of the town walls along Hospital street passing the old Dutch Hospital and the Galle lighthouse bringing you back onto Rampart street along by the waterfront. There are also some interesting old mosques and shops along Lighthouse street between Rampart and Pedlar Streets that you may want to check out.
Beware of the street entertainers along the footpath by the lighthouse and pathway along the fort walls. Although amusing, some of them for example will try to extort up to 1000 Rs for a 2 minute snake charming show, we encountered countless guys with a Python or Cobra in Galle!
If you wish to see the famous Sri Lankan stilt fisherman then Galle is a good place to see this from as they occupy a few spots along the south coast from Galle to Mirissa, just beware of the fakes!