Galle, a historic city located on the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka, is renowned for its well-preserved colonial architecture and stunning seaside setting. For those pondering things to do in Galle, exploring the Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and wandering through the charming streets lined with boutique shops and cafes, are top activities.
The city’s iconic lighthouse, standing tall at the fort’s southeastern tip, offers picturesque views and is a popular spot for both locals and tourists. Nearby, the Galle International Stadium, one of the most beautiful cricket grounds in the world, provides sports enthusiasts with the opportunity to catch a game in a scenic setting.
Beyond its historical and architectural attractions, Galle is also known for its vibrant art scene, with numerous galleries showcasing the work of local artists. For those seeking the best places to visit in Sri Lanka, Galle’s blend of colonial charm, artistic flair, and coastal beauty makes it a compelling destination.
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Attractions & Things to Do in Galle, Sri Lanka
1. Galle Fort
The Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a historical, archaeological, and architectural heritage monument that bears witness to the European colonial influence in South Asia. The seafront fort area is filled with narrow streets lined with Dutch and British colonial era buildings, still intact and full of life.
Travel Tip: Walk atop the fort walls at sunset for stunning views of the ocean and to feel the breeze off the sea.
2. Dutch Reformed Church
Also known as Groote Kerk, this church within Galle Fort dates back to the 17th century and is one of the oldest Protestant churches still in use in the country. It features classic Dutch architecture, with a well-maintained interior and an organ loft.
Travel Tip: Look for the historic belfry and check the floor as it is paved with gravestones from the old Dutch cemetery.
3. National Maritime Museum
Located in Galle Fort, the National Maritime Museum focuses on the marine biology and archaeology of the region. It is housed in a 1671 Dutch warehouse and displays a collection of marine artifacts that show the area’s trading history and sea life.
Travel Tip: The museum was heavily damaged during the 2004 tsunami, but has since been renovated; it’s worth a visit to learn about the impact of the tsunami on Galle.
4. Japanese Peace Pagoda
The Japanese Peace Pagoda on Rumassala Hill was built by Japanese Buddhist monks as part of a scheme to promote peace in conflict zones. It provides panoramic views of the city and the bay.
Travel Tip: Visit during a full moon for a particularly serene experience, as it’s a significant day in Buddhism when the temple is more active.
5. Unawatuna Beach
Just a few kilometers south of Galle Fort, Unawatuna Beach is a crescent-shaped coastal beauty known for its soft sand and clear waters, making it ideal for swimming and snorkeling.
Travel Tip: The beach can be crowded; for a quieter experience, walk further down to Jungle Beach.
6. Galle Lighthouse
This offshore lighthouse within Galle Fort is Sri Lanka’s oldest light station dating back to 1848. It’s an iconic landmark and offers great photo opportunities.
Travel Tip: You can’t enter the lighthouse, but the surrounding area is excellent for a leisurely stroll, especially in the late afternoon.
7. Galle Fort Clock Tower
The Clock Tower in Galle Fort was constructed in 1883 and is a prominent feature of the fort’s ramparts, offering another great opportunity for photographers.
Travel Tip: The area around the clock tower is often less crowded and provides a great view of the fort and surrounding city.
8. Historical Mansion Museum
A private museum located in Galle Fort, the Historical Mansion Museum has a vast collection of antiques, ranging from Dutch colonial furniture to old cameras and jewelry.
Travel Tip: The owner often gives personal tours, which makes for an engaging visit, and there’s no entry fee, though donations are welcome.
9. Old Dutch Hospital
This historical building dates back to the Dutch colonial era and has been beautifully restored. Now it hosts high-end shops, cafes, and restaurants.
Travel Tip: This is a perfect place to find quality souvenirs and to enjoy a meal in an ambient setting.
10. Galle International Cricket Stadium
Considered one of the most picturesque cricket grounds in the world, the Galle International Cricket Stadium is worth a visit for sports enthusiasts.
Travel Tip: Try to coincide your visit with a cricket match for an unforgettable experience, but even when there’s no game, it’s a peaceful spot to sit and relax.
11. Sinharaja Forest Reserve
While not immediately in Galle, Sinharaja Forest Reserve is an essential experience for anyone visiting the region. It is a biodiversity hotspot and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This lowland rainforest contains numerous endemic species and a variety of flora and fauna.
Travel Tip: Wear comfortable hiking shoes and bring leech socks if you plan to walk the trails; hiring a local guide is highly recommended to get the most out of your visit.
12. Jungle Beach
Nestled nearby Unawatuna, Jungle Beach is a quieter alternative to its busier neighbor. This secluded beach is accessible via a short jungle walk and offers great snorkeling in clear blue waters.
Travel Tip: Bring snorkeling gear with you, as there are no rental shops on this small beach.
13. Rumassala Sanctuaries
The Rumassala Sanctuaries are part of the legend of the Ramayana and are associated with medicinal plants and herbs. It’s a place shrouded in myth and offers both cultural significance and natural beauty.
Travel Tip: The sanctuaries are an excellent spot for bird watching, so if you’re an enthusiast, be sure to carry your binoculars.
14. Galle Fort Ramparts
A walk around the ramparts of Galle Fort offers impressive views of the Indian Ocean and the old part of the city. The ramparts are best enjoyed during sunrise or sunset when the heat of the sun is less intense.
Travel Tip: Grab a gelato from a nearby vendor and enjoy it as you take a leisurely walk along the ramparts.
15. Yatagala Raja Maha Viharaya
This ancient Buddhist temple is a few kilometers from Unawatuna and is believed to be over 2300 years old. It’s set into a rock and offers a peaceful place for reflection or meditation.
Travel Tip: Dress conservatively and remove your shoes before entering as a sign of respect.
16. Turtle Hatchery
The south coast of Sri Lanka is home to several turtle hatcheries where you can learn about conservation efforts and see different species of turtles.
Travel Tip: Visit during the evening when newly hatched turtles are often released into the sea, an experience that can be both educational and moving.
17. Galle Harbour
This historic harbor was a major port during Galle’s colonial days. Today, it’s a bustling area where you can observe the comings and goings of fishing boats and the daily catch.
Travel Tip: Try to visit early in the morning to see the fish market in full swing.
18. St. Mary’s Cathedral
St. Mary’s Cathedral stands as a testament to the religious diversity in Galle. It’s a significant landmark for the local Catholic community, with a history that stretches back to the 19th century.
Travel Tip: Check the mass timings if you wish to experience a service here.
19. Kanneliya Rainforest
Another natural gem close to Galle, Kanneliya Rainforest, is part of the Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya (KDN) forest complex. It’s recognized as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO and is teeming with endemic wildlife and plants.
Travel Tip: Take a guided tour to learn about the medicinal plants and the ecology of the forest.
FAQ About Things to Do in Galle, Sri Lanka
What is a must-see landmark in Galle, Sri Lanka?
The Galle Fort is an iconic historical landmark in Galle, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Its stunning architecture and the panoramic views of the Indian Ocean are a must-see for any visitor.
Can I explore Galle’s Dutch colonial history?
Yes, you can explore the Dutch colonial history by visiting the Dutch Reformed Church, the Galle Dutch Fort, and the National Maritime Museum which offer a glimpse into the colonial past of the city.
Are there any beaches near Galle that I should visit?
Absolutely! Unawatuna Beach is a picturesque and popular beach close to Galle, ideal for swimming and sunbathing. Jungle Beach and Hikkaduwa Beach are also beautiful spots worth visiting.
What wildlife experiences can I have in Galle?
You can visit the Habaraduwa Turtle Hatchery where you can learn about turtle conservation and even witness turtle hatchlings. Also, the Kanneliya Rainforest offers a chance to see diverse wildlife and flora.
Is there a place for art lovers in Galle?
Art enthusiasts should check out the Galle Fort Art Gallery, which showcases the work of local artists. The area within Galle Fort also has several boutique shops featuring unique handicrafts and art pieces.
What local cuisine should I try in Galle?
In Galle, you should try traditional Sri Lankan rice and curry, seafood dishes, and unique local snacks like ‘kottu roti.’ Visit the Galle Fort where you can find restaurants serving both local and international cuisine.
Are there any cultural or historical tours available in Galle?
Yes, there are various cultural and historical walking tours available, especially around the Galle Fort, where you can learn about the fort’s history, architecture, and the impact of Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonialism.
What are the best shopping places in Galle?
For shopping, head to Pedlar Street in Galle Fort for a range of boutiques selling jewelry, souvenirs, and handcrafted items. The Galle Fort also hosts several markets and artisan shops for textiles, spices, and teas.