Things to do in Galle

The 17 Best Things to Do in Galle, Sri Lanka

Galle is glorious.  The first time we visited it rained the entire time, and so of course we had to return some 8 years later and we were glad we did.  It is quite the nicest city in Sri Lanka and it’s a great mix of both culture and a great place to relax.  Galle is the kind of place where you can enjoy a combination of cultural travel with some chill-out time at the beach. Galle has a very rich history and culture, but the surrounding area has some of the nicest beaches in Sri Lanka.  Here are the best things to do in Galle.



Stilt fisherman

Traditional fishing trip in Galle

Take a traditional fishing trip in Galle.  Each year there are fewer of the stilt fishermen around the area. So go now while there are still some here.

Located right by the sea and in a strategic position, Galle has always been an important town. It originally was a commercial port used to exchange spices and precious stones. It flourished so much that it soon attracted the attention of colonizers.

The first to arrive were the Portuguese in the 16th century. They are the ones that gave Galle its name – apparently after hearing the singing of a rooster (called “galo” in Portuguese). However, Singhalese people believe that the name comes from the word “gala,” which means rock.

It then was the turn of the Dutch, who left the biggest mark on the landscape of the city, building Galle Fort. Finally, the British arrived at the end of the 18th century, leaving their mark too.  There are two parts to Galle, which is the provincial capital, the city of Galle, and the delightful area of Galle Fort out on the peninsular.  And today, this small colonial city is simply a very pleasant place to visit. So let’s explore shall we? 

The 17 Best Things to Do in Galle Sri Lanka

It’s best to base yourself within the area of Galle Fort (you can see our map later in this article) to enjoy and explore Galle.  We stayed at the Arches Fort Hotel, which I highly recommend.  The family there are friendly, the rooms are comfortable, and the breakfast is amazing, do go for the Sri Lanka option!

Sri Lankan Breakfast at the Arches Fort Hotel

1.     Walk along the ramparts of Galle Fort

One of the unmissable things to do in Galle is walking along the ramparts. The area of Galle Fort is a fortified city, with thick walls that were built by the Portuguese at the end of the 16th century.  Galle Fort walls were then fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century. The ramparts surround the Old Town and are the main reason Galle became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

The Ramparts of Galle Fort

When the 2004 Tsunami hit Sri Lanka claiming the lives of more than 40,000 people, the walls proved essential in protecting Galle from being completely destroyed.  You can read more about the Boxing Day Tsunami here, and about the small museum just up the coast from Galle.

2.      Explore the Dutch architecture in Galle Fort

Galle Fort itself is fairly small, but there are a lot of interesting things to see and do here. If you want to learn more about its history, then you should consider a walking tour of the Old Town in Galle. Here, you’ll be able to see the beautiful constructions left behind by the Dutch. Among them, I recommend stopping by the Maritime Museum, the Old Dutch Hospital, and the Amangalla Hotel, which used to serve as the New Oriental Hotel at the time of steamship travel. You can even plan to stay there!

The Old Dutch Hospital Galle Sri Lanka

The Old Dutch Hospital now is a series of restaurants (there’s a pub here too) and small stores.  It’s a lovely place to hang out on an evening. 

3.     Pass by Groote Kirk, Galle

Among the places to visit in Galle Sri Lanka, is Groote Kerk – the Dutch Reformed Church that was built in 1640 and which has been subsequently restored. This is located near the Commandment Bastion, on Church Street. It’s another example of Dutch architecture which is still regularly used for Protestant functions.

Groot Church Galle Sri Lanka

The inside is beautiful, with stained glass windows, and an antique organ donated by another church from Colombo in the 18th century.  There’s also a beautiful pulpit.

4.     Visit the All Saints Anglican Church in Galle

While you’re visiting churches, then take a look at Galle’s All Saints Anglican Church.  The design is very different from the Dutch Reform Church in Galle, as this is a Victorian Gothic Revival style.  The interior is glorious, and you’ll find the pews have carvings of the Jewish Star of David, made from Burmese teak. 

The Anglican Church Galle Sri Lanka

This church in Galle was designed by the (at the time) government architect, James George Smither, who later designed the National Museum in Colombo.

5.     Visit Galle Fort’s Old Lighthouse

Of all the things to do in Galle, this is one that you can’t miss. The sight of the Old Lighthouse from a distance is gorgeous, with the palm trees right next to it, and facing the sea. You can see it during your walk along the ramparts. The lighthouse in Galle is the oldest in Sri Lanka. It was originally built in 1848, but as it was a wooden construction it was completely destroyed by a fire in 1934 and then rebuilt by the British in 1939. It’s still in use!

The lighthouse in Galle Fort Sri Lanka

6.     Visit the old Clock Tower of Galle

Another important landmark in Galle is the Clock Tower. This is located by one of the fort entrances, and it was built in 1883 thanks to donations by the people living in Galle at the time. From the Clock Tower, you can enjoy fabulous views of the cricket stadium, the Old Fort, and even of the newest part of town.

The Clock Tower Galle Fort

7. Browse the local museums in Galle

Galle has a couple of good museums, and I recommend visiting them to get a better understanding of the fascinating history of this beautiful town. The Maritime Archeology Museum always has good exhibits. It’s located in a former Dutch Warehouse.  One of the most interesting places to visit in Galle is the Historical Mansion Museum. Privately owned and located in a restored house that dates back to Dutch times, it is packed with vintage artifacts that used to belong to a local family. It’s free to visit, and a lot of the stuff you see is actually on sale.

8.     Go shopping in Galle

The shopaholic in you will go crazy in Galle. After days of only seeing local markets and souvenirs, the beautiful boutiques of Galle Sri Lanka, will be a welcome novelty. Some of them are located in colonial buildings, some almost look like an art gallery, and all of them sell fabulous stuff (dresses, scarves, sandals, paintings, and jewelry) which you will be tempted to buy – even though some of it is very expensive.  My favorite was the reused rice bags made into shopping bags.  Practical yet such a great memory of Sri Lanka.

9.     Have a fabulous afternoon tea

One of the biggest marks left by the Brits in Sri Lanka is tea. This is a big thing in Sri Lanka. You can visit the tea plantations (the best place to do so is Nuwara Eliya), but if you care to have a fabulous tea experience, you have to go for high tea. The best place to do that in Galle is Amangalla Hotel – it comes with small sandwiches and pastries and is just so posh!

10.  Eat Well in Galle

With a fantastic choice of good restaurants, one of the best things to do in Galle is eat. Scattered around the Old Town you’ll find some beautiful restaurants where you can dine al fresco. Prices won’t be those of the usual rice and curry you can have in Sri Lanka, but it’s worth paying a little more for a change. Things changed a lot in the 8 years between our visits, and there are now a lot of international cuisine options.  One of the best places to eat for cheap is the Hot Roti Shop (I’ve marked it on the map of things to do in Galle).

However, if you go to one restaurant in Galle you should make it the Lucky Fort Restaurant, again I’ve marked it on the map, as it’s up a side street and you won’t stumble across it. 

RIce and Curry at the Lucky Fort Restaurant

We ate here 8 years ago and came back.  And yes it was still as good.  An amazing Rice and Curry.  Great prices, and it was so good to chat with the owners, who are still the same family.  They’ve had a really tough few years, so go and stop by.  The food is great, and the service is lovely. 

11.  Stay at a fabulous hotel in Galle

If you want to treat yourself to something special, staying in a gorgeous boutique hotel is what to do in Galle, Sri Lanka. Many are located in colonial buildings and inside Galle Fort. We stayed at the lovely, but completely affordable Arches Fort.

Arches Fort Hotel Lobby Galle Fort

Some are so beautiful that, walking by them, you may mistake them for a museum and feel tempted to peep in. I’ll go into more detail about the best places to stay in Galle below.

12.  Enjoy the sunset or people watching with a beer

Nothing beats a sunset by the sea, and Galle Ramparts is the best place to enjoy it. By late afternoon, you’ll see a multitude of people making their way to the old walls and stopping there, sitting, waiting for this incredible show of nature. The light is simply splendid – this is one thing you can’t miss.  You’ll find a few bars and cafes where you can have a beer too and watch the sun slip away.

Lion Beer and People Watching in Galle Fort

Don’t support cruel tourist attractions

One thing you’ll notice all over Sri Lanka (as well as many other places) is that animals are often used to entertain tourists. I have seen people riding elephants near Sigiriya and we were regularly offered this by tuk-tuk drivers; I have seen dancing monkeys and snake charmers with crowds of locals and tourists around, many of them paying some tip to the owner. Please, don’t be this kind of person and do not support these activities.  If you are looking for ethical elephant activities in Asia, then check out

Map of Things to do in Galle Sri Lanka

You can see the full map of things to do in Galle here.

Map of Things to do in Galle, Sri Lanka

The Best Things to Do near Galle, Sri Lanka

Galle is a great place to base yourself if you want to explore the local area.  On both of our trips to Galle, we’ve used it as a base and then headed out to other areas

13.  Go on a day trip to Mirissa

Mirissa is one of the most popular tourist destinations in this part of Sri Lanka and an easy day trip from Galle, Sri Lanka. This small village has become famous for both the stilt fishermen – though unfortunately, they are becoming fewer and fewer – and as a prime location to spot dolphins and whales. The best time to spot these magnificent mammals is between December and January. If you decided to take a whale watching boat tour, make sure to check that the company you are doing it with is fully responsible and respectful of these animals.   This tour gets excellent reviews and is generally known for being respectful of the animals.

14.  Visit the Japanese Pagoda near Galle

Not far from Unawatuna and actually visible from Galle Fort, there’s one of the most unique places to visit in Galle. The Japanese Peace Pagoda is one of three Buddhist stupas in Sri Lanka, a gorgeous white structure that is entirely surrounded by statues painted in gold. You can walk there from Unawatuna, or take a tuk-tuk. From there you’ll enjoy incredible views of the jungle and the bay.

15.  Learn how to surf in Unawatuna

Unawatuna is a stone’s throw from Galle, and you can easily reach it on a bike or tuk-tuk ride, or even by bus. This small town has lately become a surfers’ hub, with hostels, bars, and a chilled atmosphere. Mind you, the waves are hardly the best you’ll get in Sri Lanka. It’s more the kind of place where you’d go if you want to learn – there even are places where you can rent a board.  You can get there from Galle and easily take lessons.

16.  Spend a relaxing day at the beach

If surfing is not your thing, or you are just done with your lesson, you can enjoy a day at the beach on one of the beaches near Galle. Unawatuna is the obvious choice, with the best beaches around. The beach is nice and sandy; there are some good kiosks and small restaurants where you can have seafood; you can grab a fresh coconut and even an icy cold Lion beer and just chill.

17.  Take a Yala Safari from Galle

Now this is incredible.  We didn’t get to Yala on our first trip to Sri Lanka (which lasted a month, and it rained every single day of our trip), but we did this time and it was incredible.  Whether it’s elephants you want to see or potential leopard spotting, Yala is amazing.  There are only so many people allowed into the park each day, so you’ll need to make sure you pre-book your trip.

You can read about our Yala National Park Safari here.

Practical Information to Organize Your Trip to Galle

Galle is well and truly on the foreign visitors trail to Sri Lanka and it’s a lovely place to visit.  You’ll want to book your accommodation well in advance to make sure you get the place you want. 


That goes the same for transport too.  Don’t make the same mistake we did on getting walk-on tickets for the train in Colombo the day before Christmas Eve.  We might have walked on, but it was the most crowded train I’ve ever been on! Our guide for how to go from Colombo to Galle is here.

Where to stay in Galle

As I have previously said, Galle has many excellent accommodation options and you are bound to find something for your budget and taste whether you decide to stay inside Galle Fort or a bit outside the city.  This is a selection of excellent places to stay in Galle:

Arches Fort Hotel – super breakfast, fabulously comfortable rooms set around a rear courtyard.  Book a room here.

The Galle Backpack and Beach Hostel is an excellent option for backpackers and travelers on a budget wanting to be close to the beach. It’s located right on the beach north of Galle Fort and gets great reviews.. Check availability here.

Yara Galle Fort is a fabulous boutique hotel with gorgeous, spacious, and comfortable rooms in colonial style. It’s located inside the fort. There’s just a handful of rooms so you’ll have to book in advance.

A cautionary note for accommodation in Sri Lanka – power sockets differ throughout the country – our guide to electric sockets and power plug requirements is here.

How to get to Galle

Galle doesn’t have its own airport, but it’s easy to reach by public transportation from the main international airport in Colombo (which actually is located closer to Negombo). You can take the shuttle bus from the airport to Colombo and from there another express bus to Galle. The overall trip shouldn’t take more than 2 and a half hours.  You can also take the train from Colombo to Galle, but you’ll want to book WELL IN ADVANCE.

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How to get around Galle

If you are staying in Galle Fort, you hardly have to worry about how to move around: just walk everywhere! To go to nearby locations such as Unawatuna, you can opt for the bus that leaves from the bus station right outside Galle Fort, or for a tuk-tuk. Direct buses connect Galle to Mirissa.  When we moved on, in our most recent visit to Sri Lanka we took a private transfer down to Yala National Park. 

When to visit Galle, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has two monsoon seasons, and despite your best efforts, you may hit some rain when visiting, our first trip saw 30 out of 30 days of rain.  This last time, we did somewhat better, despite being at the same time of year!  The monsoons hit a different part of the country at different times of the year. In general, December to March is a good time to go but you may find places a bit more crowded than you’d like, and prices a bit higher than you’d hope for.

Travel Tips for Exploring Sri Lanka

Final Words on the Best Things to Do in Galle, Sri Lanka

Galle is a fabulous place in Sri Lanka to visit, we loved it so much, even in torrential rain, that we came back again.  There’s a faded colonial elegance here, and it’s a great place to chill out while exploring the area.  You’ll want to book your transport and accommodation in advance, as it is popular amongst foreign and domestic travelers alike.

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