Galle Fort balances on a rocky peninsula on Sri Lanka’s pretty south coast. Experiencing something of a resurgence now that the country’s tourism industry is booming, there’s never been a better time to visit. Here’s what you need to know. As the name suggests, the place was built as a fort by the Portuguese back in 1588. The Dutch moved in during the 17th century and beefed up the ramparts, adding coral and granite stonework to the original somewhat puny earthworks. The fort came under British control by the end of the 18th century, modifying its layout. They removed a moat, erected a tower and built a lighthouse, infilling with a grid of streets. It’s this that gives the fort its character: today, the fort is a walled town crammed with shops, homes, hotels, restaurants and places of worship. UNESCO, unsurprisingly, listed Galle Fort Sri Lanka as a World Heritage Site in 1988 and it’s an essential stop if you’re in the region.
A Guide to Galle Fort Sri Lanka
While one of the most pleasant things to do in Galle Fort Sri Lanka is to take a stroll past myriad charming colonial buildings, there are a few essential experiences that you should include on your itinerary.
Delve into the fort’s maritime history
Walking the walls of the fort and looking out at the fishing boats in the bay, there’s no denying the connection with the sea. The National Maritime Museum lost many of its exhibits in the 2004 tsunami but it’s still worth a visit. Housed in the 1671 Old Dutch Spice Warehouse you’ll find it easily due to its distinctive yellow ochre paintwork.
Compare its churches
The Victorian Gothic All Saints Anglican church would be impressive on its own, but just a stone’s throw away is the exquisite Dutch Groote Kerk which was built over a century earlier in 1755. Together they’re a reminder of the European influence on the fort. But it’s not all churches: down near the lighthouse, you’ll find a stunning white mosque and there’s also a Buddhist temple on the west side of the fort.
Watch the cricket
Make sure you time your visit for a weekend and you’ll see the locals hanging out with their kids under the shady trees that line the thick stone walls. Food vendors do a roaring trade and it won’t take you long to spot at least one cricket match going on – it’s a very popular sport here. Don’t rush away: the sunsets are pretty special here too.
Galle Fort Sri Lanka has many boutiques and they just beg to be browsed. There are quirky home wares to be found, clothes shops and of course tea and spices aplenty. Don’t miss Barefoot‘s colourful textiles on Pedlar Street, home wares from The Three by TPV, The Withered Leaves in Old Dutch Hospital for more tea than you could ever imagine and countless spice shops, art galleries and jewellers replete with enough gemstones to keep you amused for hours.
Lunch with a view
There’s no shortage of great eateries offering an al fresco lunch overlooking the water. I’d recommend A Minute by Tuk Tuk; perch yourself on the breezy veranda of what was the Old Dutch Hospital and try not to let the incredible view distract you from the delicious food.
Take afternoon tea at the Amangalla
Its room rates will be prohibitively expensive for most of us but high tea is an affordable way of luxuriating on the delightful veranda. Originally built as the residence for the Dutch governor in 1684, It became a barracks under the British before being converted into the New Oriental Hotel in 1865, and becaming the Amangalla in 2005. Duran Duran fans will recognise it from the Save A Prayer video.