Galle is a city on the coast of southwest Sri Lanka and is most famous for its fort. The Galle fort is the largest remaining European-built fortress in Asia and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The old colonial buildings and little lanes are utterly charming, even if it has calcified into a full-blown tourist town. You can walk around all the streets within the fort half a day, but I ended up spending a few days here wandering the streets.
These are my notes of my stay, and I’ve included useful external links as well.
Where To Stay
The best area to stay is inside the fort. The area within the fort is easily walkable so there is no area that is most advantageous. With the small area and high tourism demand the accommodation rates are double the rates of accommodation in Sri Lanka.
I had considered stayed outside the fort to save money but the hotels and guesthouses are either run down or inconveniently located. You are better off staying in the fort and enjoying the ambience of the old streets at all hours.
I would recommend booking a place as far in advance as you can manage. While I was ok to turn up in other towns without bookings, I found that booking a few days in advance many of the nicer places were already booked out.
If you are in Sri Lanka purely for the beach then you could stay at Unawatuna which is only 5km away, making for a good base for day trips to Galle and other beaches.
Things To See
Inside the fort
The biggest attraction of Galle is the fort itself. There are remnants of colonial-era forts that can be found across Asia, but nothing compares to Galle with its entire wall intact. During my stay I would walk around the wall at sunrise and sunset and then walk around the side streets throughout the day.
Within the fort the are churches, buddhist temples, and mosques.
The Dutch Reformed Church (Groote Kerk) was built in 1755 and is one of the oldest churches in Sri Lanka. I like its use of old tombstones for paving.
While the Court Complex has some attractive colonial buildings I was more impressed by the surrounding trees. This must be the worlds loveliest car park.
The Old Dutch Hospital is now a sparkling-new shopping centre. This was a case of too much restoration for my liking as the building is filled with fancy restaurants and cafes that made me feel underdressed to enter.
There are some little patches of beach around the fort if you are desperate, but you are better off saving your beach time for the “real beaches” which are not far away.
Outside the fort
There is not much to see outside the fort but I went wandering a few times to eat at local restaurants at half the price of places in the fort.
With its high wall the area inside the fort escaped major flooding from the 2004 tsunami. The rest of the city was not so fortunate and most of the old buildings in Galle were damaged.
If you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on your taste) you could be in Galle while an international cricket match is on. Galle is said to have one of the most picturesque cricket grounds in the world. The ground is next to the fort entrance so you can’t miss it.
If you’re not getting the train to or from Galle have a look inside the station anyway and see the antique departure board.
Near the train station is St Mary’s Church, which sits on top of a little hill overlooking the city.
The market streets are interesting to walk around and a good place to buy the spices that Sri Lanka is famous for.
Galle for digital nomads
Sri Lanka hasn’t been on the radar for digital nomads so I was curious to see what Galle would be like as a work base. In terms of places to work the options are limited. The fort area is small and the cafes are mostly of the ice-cream-for-tourists kind of cafes.
I did find some nice cafes to work from while I was there, but Galle is no Penang in the cafe department (and being in tea-loving Sri Lanka, the coffee was average).
My favourite place to work was at the Fort Dew Roof Top Cafe.
The cafe is on the western side of the wall, overlooking a green and the sea. It’s a great place to come and watch the sunset.
Another good cafe with wifi is Barista Cafe.
Galle is 120KM south of Colombo which is the closest international airport.
The bus and train station at Galle are next to each other opposite the cricket ground, which is in front of the fort entrance. There are regular buses and trains from Colombo and onwards along the south coast. The train is slower and you may not get a seat, but it travels along the coast for most of the way making for a scenic ride.
There is an expressway that runs from Colombo to Galle which has made bus travel faster. You could also hire a private car from Colombo which will get you to Galle in an hour.
Saving Galle – wsj.com article on the rapid gentrification of the fort (in 2012).
Galle Photo Gallery – Photo gallery of my time in Galle.