Where Sri Lankan history, Portuguese and Dutch Colonialism come together, Galle Fort is where you will get a good fill of history and architecture. Built in 1588 by the Portuguese and later fortified by the Dutch in the 1600s, this European style fort community was once a major trading post along the Indian Ocean route.
Galle Fort is now one the main destinations firmly planted on any tourist’s Sri Lankan itinerary, but for good reason. Galle Fort comes complete with wide, walkable walls to watch the sunset, quaint but bustling shopping streets to find quality local souvenirs and clothing, and beautiful architecture to ponder and marvel at. Last but not least, Galle Fort has some really great food, both Sri Lankan and western.
To experience all the best things to do and see in Galle Fort, make sure to spend a good full day here (if not overnight) to absorb everything this little fortified town has to offer.
READ MORE | First time to Sri Lanka? Read my ultimate guide on everything you need to know before you go.
The Essential Guide: Things to Do, See and Eat in Fort Galle, Sri Lanka
#1 Visit the famous Lighthouse in Galle Fort
Originally built in 1848, the dutch lighthouse stands on the ramparts as the most recognizable symbol of historic Galle Fort. Picture perfect and ready for your next photo, the Galle Fort lighthouse (pictured above) was rebuilt back in 1939 but still holds the same design as yesteryear. The 87 foot tall beauty is a perfect drop back to some of the best sunsets in Sri Lanka.
WHERE | The Lighthouse, Galle Fort
#2 Walk the Ramparts of Galle Fort
It wouldn’t be a visit to Galle Fort, without walking the circumference of the rampart walls. The fort walk starts at the Clock Tower and will take you roughly 30 minutes if you don’t stop to marvel at the architecture (which you will). From the Clock Tower, head west and walk towards the Main Gate of Galle Fort.
From there you can continue on the ramparts, passing highlights like the Dutch Reform Church, Galle Lighthouse overlooking Galle Harbour, Flag Rock and Clippenberg Bastion. End your walk at the Sunset Observing Place for a great view of the western coastline.
TIP | Go at 6pm and watch the sky light up with pinks, purples and oranges.
TAKE A TOUR | Try exploring Galle Fort by bicycle
#3 Stroll down Pedlar St, the Shopping Mecca of Galle Fort
Shop ‘til you drop, on Galle Fort’s Pedlar St. Located in the centre of the fort, this street will be a feast for any shopper’s eyes. Full of cute and funky stores, you will find anything from artistic postcards, linen clothing, gems and antiques, to coconut bowls. Do note that this street is mainly occupied by expats though, so expect prices to reflect this.
A few of the stores I recommend visiting:
WHERE | Pedlar Street, Galle Fort
COST | Window shopping is free
#4 Treat Yourself with Gelato
Perusing along Pedlar St in the heat of the day calls for an ice cold treat. Isle of Gelato is just the spot and was my favourite out of the surprisingly large selection of gelato shops in Galle Fort. This white washed shop with turquoise wooden furniture almost reminds me of Greece, but the gelato itself is really what steals the show. Isle of Gelato offers a small curated selection of creams, ensuring only quality ingredients are used and they have vegan options too!
WHERE | Isle of Gelato, Galle Fort
COST| 1 scoop (400 LKR), 2 scoop (600 LKR), and 3 scoop (800 LKR)
TIP | I’m a huge fan of traditional hazelnut gelato, and their rendition did not disappoint
#5 Explore Local Markets Outside the Fort Walls
Just outside this tourist epicentre, are the chaotic but beautiful local flower, spice and fruit markets. Galle Fort, in and of itself can be quite pricey, so walking 10 minutes outside of the ramparts can give you a really good look at authentic Sri Lankan life, and food essentials for a fraction of the cost.
I’d recommend hitting up the fruit market and trying one of every fruit you don’t recognize. The stall patrons are usually happy to slice you off a piece of whatever you choose for tasting. Try the wood apple, mangosteen and pineapple and you won’t be disappointed. Grab a small bag of fruits to enjoy on the ramparts while watching the sun go down.
WHERE | Galle Fruit Market, Galle
TIP | Don’t forget to pick up some local spices and curry mixes. My favourites are the dahl curry mix, cinnamon and cardamom.
Galle Fort Travel Guide
Where is Galle Fort?
Set on the peninsula of Galle Harbour on the most southwest corner of Sri Lanka, is the historic Galle Fort. Located in the Southern Province, Galle city can be reached by driving 2 hours south-east from the capital city of Colombo. Situated between the surf towns of Hikkaduwa and Weligama, Galle Fort can easily be done in a day trip from either destination.
Galle Fort, with a population of under a 1000 residents, is just a fraction of the 115,000 people that live in the greater Galle city area.
Best Time to Visit Galle Fort, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has two distinct monsoon seasons, each striking the north-east and south-west coasts at opposite times of year. You can visit Galle Fort anytime between October and April as the days are relatively dry, with only a slight chance of showers, but the absolute best time to visit Galle Fort is between February and April for ideal conditions.
September and October are the wettest months in this area.
TIP | Make sure to check for local holidays as it’s common for shops, restaurants and attractions to close down. A list of 2021 public holidays in Sri Lanka is available here.
TIP | Galle Fort specifically can see a large influx of local tourists in early January, so avoid this time if you can.
How to Get Around Galle Fort
What I consider to be the best way to see a place, walking can enhance your experience with a combination of exercise and time to notice the details. Galle Fort is an extremely walkable town as it only takes 30 minutes to walk the full circumference of the fort. Most of the main attractions in Galle Fort are located within the walls and can be reached by walking, and if you do choose to visit the fruit and spice markets in greater Galle city, a quick 10 minute walk from the main gate will get you there.
Galle Fort can experience some really intense heat during the day, so if you are interested in the outlying attractions, hailing a tuk tuk is your best bet. Costing approximately 250 LKR each way to the Galle fruit market, a tuk tuk ride is super fun and can provide you a chance to chat with a local.
TIP | Haggling is a must and make sure you stick to your guns and finalize the price before getting into the tuk tuk.
Sri Lanka’s local bus system is one of the most economical ways to get around the island. If you are looking to get to and from Galle Fort from any of the villages along the south coast, the humble bus is the way to go. Costing a mere $0.50 USD, the #2 and #32 buses run every 15 minutes and will take you down the main coastal road which gives a great view of the Indian Ocean.
Galle Fort bus stand is located on the opposite side of the cricket pitch across from the main gate to the fort. You can walk the distance (6 minutes) or hail a tuk tuk for the short journey.
TIP | Make sure you have small denominations of Sri Lankan rupees available as the bus driver will not return your change until the end of your bus ride.
Where to Stay in Galle Fort
Due to Galle Fort’s large expat community and plethora of heritage buildings, inside the walls are many high end boutique hotels. Check Airbnb for more economical accommodations in and outside of the fort.
I’ve recommended two hotels below, but you can also search for all hotel options for Galle, Sri Lanka using Agoda.com.
Where to Eat + Drink in Galle Fort
A MINUTE BY TUK TUK | A mix of western and South Asian cuisine, this restaurant is located in the Dutch Hospital area right on the east side of the ramparts and offers a great view of Galle Harbour. See location here.
MORE ESSENTIAL GUIDES FOR SRI LANKA
Want to continue planning your trip to Sri Lanka?
Check out my 3 WEEK SRI LANKA ITINERARY or if you prefer to determine the route yourself, read the specialized guides below for some of the best experiences in Sri Lanka:
SRI LANKA BUCKET LIST | Get inspired by all that Sri Lanka has to offer. Here are my Sri Lanka highlights.
SRI LANKA TRAVEL TIPS | Prepare for your Sri Lanka trip by reading my 21 top tips on what you should know before visiting the beautiful teardrop isle
KANDY | Bustling market streets, quiet strolls around the lake, lush botanical gardens, and ornate Buddhist temples, the cultural capital of Sri Lanka has it all
ELLA | Nestled in the green centre of Sri Lanka, this hiker’s paradise features trails with panoramic views of jagged green hills, deep valleys and rushing waterfalls.
YALA NATIONAL PARK | Majestic elephants, elusive leopards, and a myriad of bird species can all be found in one of the biggest national parks in Sri Lanka.
WELIGAMA | Where surf culture is alive and thriving, this central town is located on the golden south coast of Sri Lanka and offers the best surf beach for beginners, and an abundance of traditional and modern eateries.
MIRISSA | A small surf town located 15 minutes away from Weligama, offers golden beaches, surfing, serene spas, and healthy food.
GALLE FORT | Fortified stone walls, dutch and Portuguese style architecture, great food and shopping all culminate in this little town that was once a major Sri Lankan trading post.
SRI LANKA PACKING LIST | Take the guesswork out of packing and easily check off my list to all things you will need for Sri Lanka’s warm climate