Your travel guide for Sri Lanka

The Galle Fort is one of Sri Lanka's most iconic tourist destinations. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in the heart of Galle, on the Southern coast of Sri Lanka. It combines European architectural styles with local Sri Lankan culture. This iconic destination is a well-preserved colonial fortification that attracts visitors from around the world. With a rich history, beautiful architecture, and vibrant culture, Galle Fort is an architectural marvel you absolutely must visit. In this guide, we'll explore the history, features, and top things to do in Galle Fort.

Galle Dutch Fort, Sri Lanka during the evening with people walking nearby
The Galle Dutch Fort

History of the Galle Fort

The history of Galle Fort is intertwined with that of Sri Lanka and the broader region. The Portuguese, who arrived in Galle in 1505, built the fort around 1584 and named it "Santa Cruz." The Dutch, who had established a trading post in Colombo, captured and rebuilt the fort in 1649, renaming it the "New Dutch Fort." The fort underwent further renovations and expansions under the British. Today, the fort is a unique blend of several architectural styles of the colonial era.

Two canons used by the Dutch during the colonial era in Sri Lanka, now seen in display in the Galle Fort, Sri Lanka.
Replicas of canons used during the Dutch colonial era can be seen lined along the ramparts. [Photo by P.L. Ariyananda]

Features of the Fort

One of the most unique and magnificent features of the fort is its walls, which stretch for over two kilometers and are up to several meters thick in some places. You can walk along the walls and enjoy scenic views of the Indian Ocean and the surrounding town. It is especially glorious at sunset and offers magical views and a truly uplifting atmosphere.

One of the entrances of the Galle Dutch Fort.
One of the entrances to the Galle Fort.
Ramparts of the Galle Dutch Fort with people walking around during the evening.
The Galle Fort has wide ramparts where you can go for a jog or a leisurely stroll.

Inside the fort is a maze of narrow streets lined with Dutch colonial buildings, many of which have been beautifully restored. The streets are home to a variety of shops, restaurants, cafes, and several museums and art galleries. Some of the highlights of the fort include the Dutch Reformed Church, the Old Dutch Hospital, the clock tower, the lighthouse, and the National Maritime Museum.

Guided Tours

If you're interested in the history and culture of Galle Fort and Sri Lanka, several guided tours are available. These tours typically include a visit to the fort's main sights, as well as a visit to a local village or temple. A popular type of tour is the bicycle tour which takes around 4 hours to visit the sites of the fort.

Top 10 Things to Do in Galle Fort

As one of Sri Lanka's most beloved destinations by both tourists and locals, the Galle Fort is a fascinating place with plenty of things to do. Here are our recommendations for the top 10 things to do in the fort.

1. Walk along the ramparts:

Probably the best way to explore the fort is by walking along the ramparts, which offer stunning views of the Indian Ocean and the surrounding area. It is a peaceful walk, and you can relax while enjoying the views. The best time to take a stroll in the ramparts is the early mornings or evenings. Watching the sunset from the Galle fort is an experience like no other.

Ramparts of the Galle Dutch Fort, Sri Lanka, with a large tree arching over the pathway.
The ramparts of the Galle Fort overlooking the sea.

2. Visit the Galle Fort Clock Tower:

The Galle Fort Clock Tower is a prominent feature within the fort. It offers visitors a great view of the fort and the surrounding area. The clock tower was built in 1883 and is considered an important architectural feature of the fort. It's a great spot to take a photo and appreciate the beauty of the Galle Fort.

The Galle Fort clock tower during the evening.
A close view of the Galle Fort clock tower

3. Visit the Galle National Museum:

The Galle National Museum is located within the fort and offers visitors a peek into the history and culture of Sri Lanka. The museum houses an impressive collection of colonial artifacts, including Dutch and Portuguese ceramics, weapons, and coins.

4. Shop at the local markets:

Galle Fort is home to several local markets where you can shop for souvenirs, textiles, and other traditional Sri Lankan goods. As you wander through the vibrant streets, you'll discover a wide variety of handcrafted items, such as intricate wood carvings, colorful batik prints, and beautiful gemstone jewelry. These markets offer an authentic shopping experience, allowing you to interact with local artisans and learn about their craftsmanship while supporting the local economy.

5. Explore the Religious Architecture:

Galle Fort is a treasure trove of diverse religious architecture, reflecting the rich tapestry of cultural and religious influences in Sri Lanka.

Visit Dutch Reformed Church, a stunning example of Dutch colonial architecture with its unique interior. The Meeran Jumma Mosque, with its distinctive white domes, blends Indian, Arabic, and Moorish styles, while the Sudharmalaya Temple provides a serene glimpse into Sri Lankan Buddhism.

Also, don't forget to visit the magnificent All Saints' Anglican Church, which was built in the Gothic revival style and is one of the oldest churches in Sri Lanka. As you explore, you'll appreciate the diverse architectural styles and religious traditions that make Galle Fort a unique cultural hub.

The All Saint's Anglican Church in Galle Fort, Sri Lanka during the evening.
The All Saint's Anglican Church

6. Go on a bike tour:

A bike tour is one of the best ways to explore the fort and the surrounding area. Several tour operators offer bike tours, which will take you through the narrow streets of the Galle fort. It will usually take around 4 hours.

7. Visit the Old Dutch Hospital:

The Old Dutch Hospital is a beautiful example of Dutch colonial architecture. It is considered one of the fort's oldest and most important buildings. Built in the 17th century, it was used as a hospital during the Dutch colonial period. However, it is now home to several coffee shops and restaurants. The Old Dutch Hospital is a great place to explore and appreciate the history and architecture of the fort while enjoying a cup of coffee or a delicious meal.

The Old Dutch Hospital in Galle Fort, Sri Lanka
The Old Dutch Hospital

8. Dining and refreshments at the Galle Fort

Galle fort is home to several upscale restaurants that offer delicious local and international cuisine. There are also several lovely coffee shops. It's also a great place to try some local street food. Popular options include Kottu, which is a Sri Lankan dish made with chopped roti and vegetables, "wade" and "kadala" (salted and spiced chickpeas).

A street in Galle Fort, with people lined up near a street food vendor selling roti, with the Galle Fort lighthouse in the background.
People lined up at a shop selling roti and streetfood.

9. Visit the Galle Fort Lighthouse

One of Sri Lanka's oldest lighthouses, The Galle Fort Lighthouse is located within the fort and offers visitors a great view of the fort and the surrounding area. It is also a famous photo spot and provides a picture-perfect chance for a photo, specially during the sunset.

Galle Fort Lighthouse, Sri Lanka, during the evening surrounded by coconut trees and the evening sun in the background.
A view of the Galle Fort Lighthouse in the evening. [Photo by P.L. Ariyananda]
The Galle Fort Lighthouse in Sri Lanka, with locals and tourists gathered nearby to enjoy the view.
The area near the Galle Fort Lighthouse is a favorite spot among locals and tourists alike.

10. Visit the Maritime Archaeology Museum

The Maritime Archaeology Museum is located within the fort and offers visitors a glimpse into the area's maritime history. The museum has an extensive collection of maritime artifacts, including shipwrecks, navigation tools, and maps.

Accommodation at the Galle Fort

The Galle fort is known for some of the most upscale hotels in the country. So if you are looking for a luxurious experience, you will not be disappointed. There are several mid-range and budget options as well. But keep in mind that Galle Fort is one of Sri Lanka's busiest destinations, and you should definitely book well ahead. You can also find plenty of options to suit any budget in Galle city and its outer areas.

Nearby Attractions

The city of Galle is Sri Lanka's 3rd largest metropolis and is a truly amazing destination. So make sure you stay a few days here so you can explore this charming city. Find out more about Galle.

There are also some small towns and cities, such as Unawatuna, Hikkaduwa, and Koggala. They are ideal for a relaxing and fun day trip or even for spending a few days. Read more about the top things to do in Unawatuna, and the top things to do in Hikkaduwa. You can also read more about the beautiful Koggala beach. Mirissa, famous for whale-watching, is also only a short drive away, making Galle the ideal hub for exploring down south Sri Lanka. Find out more about the best things to do in Mirissa.

Galle Fort is a must-see destination in Sri Lanka and is perfect for spending a few days. With a rich history, beautiful architecture, and a vibrant culture, it's no wonder that it is one of the most renowned destinations in the entire world. Whether you're interested in exploring history and culture or just want a beautiful place to relax and enjoy the ocean views, this is the perfect destination.

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