Places to visit in Galle
Welcome to the enchanting city of Galle, where history whispers through every narrow lane and vibrant storefront. Located along Sri Lanka’s southern coast, this colonial gem is a must-visit destination for those seeking a glimpse into the island’s rich heritage. Situated approximately 120 km south of Colombo, Galle is easily accessible by road, offering a captivating day trip or a delightful weekend getaway. The name “Galle” has a fascinating origin with multiple theories surrounding its etymology. One prominent interpretation suggests that the word is derived from the Portuguese term “Gallo,” meaning “rooster.” However, another theory proposes a Sinhala origin for the name. According to this version, “Galle” is derived from the Sinhala word “gaala,” which means a “cattle herd” or a place where cattle were herded. At the heart of Galle lies its UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Galle Fort. Step into this living testament of Dutch and Portuguese colonial influence, and be transported back in time. Meandering through its cobbled streets, you’ll discover charming cafes, boutique shops, and colonial-era buildings. Don’t forget to explore the iconic Galle Lighthouse and capture breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean from its ancient ramparts. Explore these top places to visit in Galle, and let the city’s magic unfold before your eyes.
1. Galle Fort
Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a captivating destination with a rich history and numerous places to visit in Galle. This remarkable fortress, originally built in 1588 by the Portuguese, has stood the test of time and witnessed the passage of centuries. During the 17th century, the Dutch recognized the strategic importance of Galle Fort and extensively fortified it from 1649 onwards. Even today, the influence of Dutch craftsmanship is evident in the fort’s structure and design. As you explore its winding streets, you’ll encounter the charming residences that still belong to many Dutch families, serving as a testament to the fort’s vibrant past. Galle Fort’s historical significance is further emphasized by its designation as a cultural heritage UNESCO World Heritage Site. This prestigious recognition is a testament to the fort’s exceptional blend of European architectural styles and South Asian traditions, which span from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Covering an expansive area of 52 hectares, Galle Fort is a true marvel to behold. Its construction, primarily using coral and granite stones, showcases the skill and craftsmanship of the builders. As you wander through its impressive fortifications, you’ll encounter 14 magnificent bastions, each with its unique name. From the mighty Sun Bastion to the enchanting Moon Bastion and the celestial Star Bastion, every corner of the fort holds a story waiting to be discovered.
2. Galle Fort Lighthouse
The story begins in 1848 when the British constructed the first lighthouse at Galle. Standing an impressive 24.4 m high, this towering structure was crafted from sturdy cast-iron plates imported from England. Its imposing presence served as a guiding light for sailors navigating the treacherous waters of Galle Harbor. However, tragedy struck in July 1936 when a devastating fire consumed the original lighthouse, leaving it in ruins. It was a heartbreaking moment as this iconic symbol of maritime safety fell victim to the flames. Yet, the spirit of resilience prevailed, and the British took swift action to restore this beacon of light. In 1939, a new chapter in the lighthouse’s history began as a grand 26.5-meter-high concrete structure rose from the ashes. Meticulously erected by the British, the new lighthouse stood tall, ready to guide ships to safety once again. Whether you’re a history buff or simply seeking a picturesque spot to capture memorable photographs, the Galle Fort Lighthouse promises an unforgettable experience. Step into the past and witness the resilience of this remarkable structure that continues to guide ships and captivate hearts to this day. So, Galle Fort Lighthouse is one of the top places to visit in Galle, offering stunning views and a glimpse into the city’s rich maritime history.
3. Galle Fort Clock Tower
The Galle Fort Clock Tower, a magnificent architectural gem, proudly overlooks the central Moon Bastion within the historic Galle Fort. Constructed in 1883, this iconic clock tower holds a rich history and stands as a testament to the gratitude and generosity of the people of Galle. The origins of this splendid tower can be traced back to the gratitude of a patient named Mudaliyar Samson de Abrew Rajapakse. Impressed by the exceptional care and skill of Dr P. D. Anthonisz, a renowned doctor and colonial surgeon, Mudaliyar Rajapakse bestowed upon the city of Galle the sole gift of this majestic clock tower. Rising to an impressive height of 25.3 m, the Galle Fort Clock Tower stands tall and proud. Its stately presence immediately captures the attention of visitors, serving as a focal point within the fort’s historic ramparts. The clock tower’s elegant design, with intricate details and timeless beauty, showcases the architectural brilliance of its time. Its four-storey structure is a testament to the craftsmanship and skill of the builders who brought this iconic landmark to life. So, the Galle Fort Clock Tower is a top attraction among the diverse array of places to visit in Galle, offering a glimpse into the city’s rich history and architectural splendour.
4. Old Dutch Hospital
The Old Dutch Hospital in Galle is not only a fascinating historic landmark but also a gateway to exploring the rich heritage of the city. Originally built as a hospital by the Dutch, it played a vital role in looking after the health of officers and staff serving under the Dutch East India Company during colonial times. This remarkable two-storey hospital showcases exquisite Dutch colonial architecture. Constructed using cabook, a coral stone, for its masonry work, the building boasts sturdy granite-paved floors and thick plinth walls, standing as a testament to the craftsmanship of the era. In 1850, the British repurposed the hospital, converting it into a barracks to meet their requirements. However, following Sri Lanka’s independence, the building found new life as the Galle Town Hall, serving as the administrative centre of the district. In 2014, a transformation took place, breathing new vitality into the Old Dutch Hospital. Preserving its historic architecture, the building underwent a renovation to create a vibrant shopping and dining precinct. Today, visitors can explore its corridors, immersing themselves in a fusion of the past and present. As you venture through the Old Dutch Hospital, take the opportunity to discover the charming places to visit in Galle.
5. National Maritime Museum
The National Maritime Museum in Galle is a fascinating destination that offers a glimpse into the captivating world of the sea. Opened to the public on 9th May 1992, this unique museum is a treasure trove of knowledge and discovery. Step into the National Maritime Museum and embark on a journey exploring the diverse fauna and flora of the sea. From colourful marine life to majestic whales, the museum’s exhibits showcase the beauty and wonder of the ocean’s ecosystems. The museum faced a significant challenge in 2004 when the devastating tsunami struck on 26th December. The impact was felt deeply, with the adjoining UNESCO Maritime Archaeology Unit being destroyed, and many exhibitions suffering flood damage. However, after a period of reconstruction, the National Maritime Museum triumphantly reopened its doors on 4th March 2010. The new museum boasts dual access, offering visitors a seamless experience. The upper-level entry is connected to the present main gate, providing convenient access for visitors. Additionally, the lower-level access has reinstated the building’s prominent gateway status, blending historical significance with modern convenience. The National Maritime Museum in Galle is one of the captivating places to visit in Galle, offering a fascinating exploration of the sea’s wonders and the region’s rich maritime heritage.
6. Old Gate
The Old Gate of Galle Fort, located at Queen Street, is not only a historical entry point but also a gateway to the numerous captivating places to visit in Galle. Originally constructed by the Dutch, the Old Gate stands as a testament to their architectural prowess. Over time, it underwent modifications by the British, resulting in a blend of styles that adds to its unique charm. As you approach the Old Gate from the outside, your eyes will be drawn to the grand arch adorned with the British coat of arms. This emblem symbolizes the colonial influence of the British Empire. Alongside the coat of arms, you will find the phrase ‘Dieu et Mon Droit,’ representing the British monarchy. A plaque proudly displays the year 1668, marking a significant moment in the gate’s history. Beyond its walls, you’ll find the mesmerizing Galle Fort itself, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stroll along its cobblestone streets, marvel at the well-preserved colonial buildings, and soak in the vibrant atmosphere. Venture further, and you’ll discover the bustling Galle International Cricket Stadium, where thrilling matches take place against a backdrop of ancient fortifications. Nearby, explore the National Maritime Museum housed within the integrated two-story warehouse building adjacent to the Old Gate.
7. St. Mary's Cathedral
St. Mary’s Cathedral, a magnificent architectural gem, is a must-visit destination for those exploring the vibrant city of Galle. This awe-inspiring cathedral, built by the Society of Jesus in the late 19th century, stands as a testament to both faith and artistic brilliance. Its architectural design draws inspiration from the elegant Victorian and Neoclassical styles, creating a visually stunning masterpiece. Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s Cathedral holds great significance for the local community and welcomes visitors with open arms. Its serene ambience and exquisite craftsmanship offer a sanctuary for reflection and spiritual contemplation. Stepping inside, you will be greeted by the intricate beauty of stained glass windows that bathe the interior in a kaleidoscope of colours, casting a gentle glow on the worshipers below. The ornate details and carefully crafted interiors create a sense of reverence and awe, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the cathedral’s peaceful atmosphere. A noteworthy figure associated with St. Mary’s Cathedral is the Belgian Jesuit Joseph Van Reeth, who served as its first bishop. His dedicated efforts and unwavering commitment to the community have left an indelible mark on the cathedral’s history. St. Mary’s Cathedral is a prominent attraction and one of the top places to visit in Galle, renowned for its remarkable architecture and serene ambience.
8. National Museum of Galle
The National Museum of Galle, housed within the majestic Galle Fort, is a treasure trove of history waiting to be explored. Nestled in the oldest surviving Dutch building, this single-storey collonaded structure was originally erected in 1656 as the commissariat store for the Dutch garrison. Today, it stands as a testament to the enduring architectural beauty of the past. Stepping inside, visitors are greeted with a fascinating collection of exhibits spanning the Portuguese, Dutch, and British periods. The museum’s three main galleries offer a captivating journey through time, each revealing unique aspects of Sri Lanka’s rich cultural heritage. In the first gallery, discover the intricate craftsmanship behind the area’s cottage industries. Delve into the artistry of turtle shell jewellery manufacturing, marvel at the delicate beauty of Beeralu lace weaving, and witness the skilful carving of traditional wooden masks. The second gallery transports visitors to the Dutch era, where they can admire an impressive array of Dutch period furniture and weaponry. The third gallery, the ‘Sri Lanka-China Friendship Gallery,’ is a captivating addition that explores the vibrant trade relations between Sri Lanka and China. Hence, the National Museum of Galle is a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and an integral part of the captivating places to visit in Galle.
9. Dutch Reformed Church
The Dutch Reformed Church, located near the entrance of the Galle Fort, is a captivating historical site and one of the top places to visit in Galle. Believed to be the third building constructed within the fort, the Dutch Reformed Church stands proudly on the highest point of the Galle fort, towering more than 12 m above sea level. Its foundations were laid in 1682, and after years of anticipation, the church was finally completed in 1755. The construction of this splendid church was made possible by the generous donation from the Commandeur of Galle, Casparus de Jong and his wife Geertruyda Adriana Le Grand. They contributed the funds as an expression of gratitude for the long-awaited birth of their daughter, who was baptized within the church once it was finished. The architectural style of the Dutch Reformed Church reflects the elegance and grandeur of the Doric style popular during that period. It is imposing presence and exquisite design makes it a captivating sight for visitors. As you step inside, you’ll be enchanted by the serene atmosphere and the rich history that envelops the church. The well-preserved interior showcases the craftsmanship of the time, with ornate details and beautiful stained glass windows.
10. Galle Cricket Stadium
Galle International Cricket Stadium, one of the most picturesque cricket grounds in the world, is a must-visit destination among the remarkable places to visit in Galle. Originally established in 1876 as a racecourse, the stadium underwent a remarkable transformation to become a cricket venue. As the popularity of cricket grew, the racing activities gradually ceased, and the ground became more renowned for hosting thrilling cricket matches. The stadium’s rich history dates back to May 1888 when it hosted its first school cricket match, back then known as the ‘Galle Esplanade’. From that moment on, the ground became a cherished venue for cricketing events. Over time, the stadium underwent extensive upgrades to meet international cricket standards, eventually becoming the seventh international cricket stadium in Sri Lanka. On 3 June 1998, it proudly hosted its first test match between Sri Lanka and New Zealand, marking a momentous milestone in its legacy. The Galle International Cricket Stadium is renowned for its idyllic setting and breathtaking views. Surrounded by the mesmerizing Indian Ocean, this enchanting venue provides a unique backdrop for thrilling cricket encounters. The lush green field, vibrant atmosphere, and passionate crowd make every match an unforgettable experience.
11. Sri Sudharmalaya Temple
The Sri Sudharmalaya Temple, located in the enchanting city of Galle, is a must-visit destination for those seeking a deeper connection with spirituality and a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of Sri Lanka. Nestled within the historic Galle Fort, this Buddhist temple beckons visitors with its serene ambience and captivating architectural beauty. Step into the temple’s prayer hall, a sacred space that invites contemplation and introspection. The Sri Sudharmalaya Temple is adorned with remarkable features that showcase the artistic prowess of the craftsmen of yesteryears. Marvel at the mini stupa, a precious relic that dates back to 1889, standing as a testament to the temple’s historical significance. Discover the grandeur of a large reclining statue of Lord Buddha, radiating a sense of serenity and wisdom. As you explore the temple, take a moment to appreciate the land on which it stands. The Sri Sudharmalaya Temple owes its existence to the generosity of Mr S.A. Wickramasinghe, a Mudliar, who donated the land to create this sacred haven. While visiting Galle, be sure to include the Sri Sudharmalaya Temple on your list of places to visit in Galle. Immerse yourself in the spiritual ambience, admire the architectural wonders, and witness the devotion of those who seek solace within its walls.
12. Meeran Jumma Masjid
Meeran Jumma Masjid, also known as Galle Fort Mosque, is a remarkable place of worship nestled within the enchanting Galle Fort. This architectural gem, commissioned in 1904 by the esteemed Ahamed Haji Ismail, is not only a religious site but also a must-visit destination for those exploring the captivating places to visit in Galle. The current two-storey building of the mosque is a sight to behold. Its floors are adorned with vibrantly coloured ceramic tiles, adding a splash of beauty and elegance to the sacred space. As you step inside, you’ll be greeted by small decorative domes that grace the ceiling, creating a sense of grandeur and serenity. The mosque’s exquisite stained glass windows are a true marvel, allowing the gentle sunlight to filter through and create a captivating play of light and shadow. The intricate patterns and vibrant hues of the stained glass add an artistic touch to the ambience, making it an awe-inspiring sight to behold. One cannot miss the mosque’s immaculate atrium, a serene central courtyard that invites peaceful reflection and prayer. Surrounded by the mosque’s architectural splendour, the atrium provides a tranquil space for worshippers and visitors alike to connect with their faith or simply soak in the serene atmosphere.
13. Historical Mansion Museum
Located on Leyn Baan Street within the enchanting Galle Fort, the Historical Mansion Museum is a captivating destination that offers a unique glimpse into the past. As you explore this extraordinary museum, surrounded by rows, shelves, and cupboards brimming with colonial artefacts, you’ll discover one of the most intriguing places to visit in Galle. Immerse yourself in history as you browse through the collections of antique typewriters, vintage cameras, and exquisite jewellery. One of the highlights of the museum is the ancient Dutch well located in the courtyard, which dates back to the year 1763. This well stands as a testament to the rich heritage of Galle Fort, adding a touch of authenticity to the museum experience. The Historical Mansion Museum is the result of Abdul Gaffar’s passion for collecting. As one of the largest private collections in Sri Lanka, it offers a unique opportunity to witness history firsthand. What sets this museum apart is that there is no entrance fee, and everything on display is available for purchase. In addition to the incredible artefacts, the museum also hosts live presentations of traditional crafts. You can witness the art of gem cutting and polishing, as well as the intricate ‘beeralu lace’ embroidery, brought to the region by the Portuguese.
14. All Saints Anglican Church
All Saints Anglican Church, nestled within the captivating Galle Fort, is not only a place of worship but also a must-visit destination for those exploring the historic fort and its many attractions. Designed by James George Smither, this remarkable church, was initiated by the first Bishop of Colombo, Rt. Rev. James Chapman stands as a testament to the rich history and architectural beauty of Galle Fort. Built-in a basilican plan, showcasing a Victorian Gothic Revival style, All Saints Anglican Church is a visual delight. Its magnificent arches, constructed using local kabuk and lime mortar, add a unique charm to the structure. Stepping inside, visitors are greeted by a serene atmosphere and a stunning interior adorned with intricate details. As you wander through the cobblestone streets of Galle Fort, make sure to include All Saints Anglican Church in your itinerary of places to visit in Galle. This historical gem offers a glimpse into the past and exemplifies the cultural diversity within the fort’s walls. It is architectural splendour and tranquil ambience makes it a destination that appeals to both history enthusiasts and architecture lovers. Visiting All Saints Anglican Church is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the rich heritage of Galle Fort and appreciate the captivating blend of history and spirituality.
15. Black Fort
The Black Fort, also known as “Kalu Kotuwa,” is a must-visit destination within the enchanting Galle Fort. The Black Fort was ingeniously designed to serve as a stronghold during times of conflict. It boasted an impressive array of defensive features, including tunnels, underground caverns, closets, and warehouses. These elements were essential for military operations and the storage of supplies. One of the highlights of the Black Fort is the ground floor, where cannons were positioned to guard the harbour. The sight of these cannons aimed towards the shimmering waters is a powerful reminder of the fort’s military significance. The upper floor of the fort showcases a circular-shaped front that is connected to the ground floor by a tunnel passageway. This clever design allowed soldiers to move swiftly and efficiently within the fort, ensuring the fort’s defence was impregnable. As you walk through these tunnels, you can almost imagine the footsteps of the soldiers who once patrolled these halls. In addition to its historical significance, the Black Fort is surrounded by other captivating places to visit in Galle. Take a stroll along the fortified walls and soak in panoramic views of the ocean and the charming streets of the fort.
16. Old Dutch Market
Old Dutch Market is also known as the Green Market. This lively destination is nestled within a 300-year-old European-style structure that exudes charm and character. As you step into the market, you’ll be greeted by an architectural marvel. The T-shaped building stands tall, boasting a steeply pitched roof adorned with three magnificent conical towers. Its grand peak entrance beckons visitors to explore the treasures within. The open-sided design is supported by colossal wooden columns and beams, creating a captivating atmosphere for shoppers. The Old Dutch Market offers a wide array of produce that will tantalize your taste buds. From juicy tropical fruits to crisp leafy greens, you’ll find a variety of options to choose from. One of the highlights of the Old Dutch Market is the abundance of fresh and flavoursome fruits and vegetables. Stroll through the bustling aisles and be mesmerized by the vibrant colours and enticing aromas. Locals and tourists alike flock to this market to sample the bounties of nature and experience the authentic flavours of Sri Lanka. Visiting the Old Dutch Market is not just a shopping experience; it’s an opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and indulge in the flavours of Sri Lanka. So, make sure to add the Old Dutch Market to your list of places to visit in Galle.
17. Unawatuna Beach
Unawatuna Beach, with its pristine shores and vibrant atmosphere, is undoubtedly one of the great places to visit in Galle, offering a perfect blend of natural beauty and exciting beachside activities. With its picturesque banana-shaped shoreline, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and a myriad of exciting activities, Unawatuna Beach offers an unforgettable experience for travellers of all ages. As you step onto the soft golden sand, you’ll notice the inviting sunbeds lining the beach, beckoning you to relax and soak up the warm tropical sun. Unawatuna Beach is not only a feast for the senses but also a delight for the taste buds. The beach is dotted with a plethora of restaurants, serving up an array of mouth-watering local delicacies and international cuisines. For adventure seekers, Unawatuna Beach is a haven for surfing enthusiasts. Take to the waves and ride the rolling tides under the expert guidance of experienced instructors. As you venture towards the west end of the beach, you’ll encounter a unique sight. Nestled amidst the rocks, a set of stairs leads you to a small hill adorned with a pagoda and a magnificent Buddha statue. The best time to visit Unawatuna is between December and April when the weather is sunny and rainfall is minimal.
18. Mahamodara Sea Turtle Hatchery
Situated near the captivating city of Galle, the Mahamodara Sea Turtle Hatchery is not only a remarkable conservation centre for endangered sea turtles but also a popular addition to the list of places to visit in Galle, allowing visitors to witness the admirable efforts in protecting these fascinating marine creatures. At the hatchery, you will discover a haven for the five sea turtle species that grace the waters surrounding the island: the Green, Olive Ridley, Loggerhead, Leatherback, and Hawksbill turtles. These majestic beings occasionally visit the shores to lay their precious eggs, but sadly, many of them face challenges during the hatching process and the journey to the ocean. To ensure the survival of these feeble creatures, the Mahamodara Sea Turtle Hatchery collects the vulnerable eggs and provides a safe environment for incubation. Under the watchful care of the volunteers, the eggs hatch, and the adorable hatchlings are allowed to thrive before being released into the welcoming embrace of the ocean. As you step into the hatchery, knowledgeable volunteers will guide you through their dedicated efforts in turtle conservation. You will have the incredible chance to get up close with these gentle creatures, observing their mesmerising beauty and even having the opportunity to touch them.
19. Jungle Beach
Jungle Beach, one of the most enchanting places to visit in Galle, beckons with its secluded cove, pristine turquoise waters, and lush greenery, creating a captivating coastal paradise. This captivating destination consists of two small beaches, each with its unique charm and allure. With lengths of 50 and 100 m, these secluded shores offer an intimate and tranquil escape for nature lovers and beach enthusiasts alike. The larger beach is separated from the smaller one by a captivating 100 m rocky area. This adds a touch of adventure and provides a sense of exploration as you traverse the terrain. Relaxation is paramount at Jungle Beach, and you’ll find a quaint cafe and comfortable sun beds available for rent. Take a moment to unwind, soak up the sun’s rays, and indulge in delicious refreshments while admiring the breathtaking coastal views. For those seeking underwater adventures, Jungle Beach is a snorkeler’s paradise. The crystal-clear waters teem with an abundance of vibrant coral and a plethora of captivating fish species. Dive beneath the surface and witness the kaleidoscope of colours as you encounter these fascinating marine creatures in their natural habitat. Immerse yourself in the tranquillity and natural beauty of Jungle Beach, a true hidden gem along the Sri Lankan coastline.
20. Japanese Peace Pagoda
The Japanese Peace Pagoda stands tall amidst the serene landscapes of Sri Lanka, serving as a powerful symbol of peace on the island. Built in 2004 by Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist monks, this magnificent structure is a testament to humanity’s enduring desire for harmony and tranquillity. The primary purpose of the Peace Pagoda is to promote peace in countries that have been ravaged by conflicts and wars. With over 80 temples constructed around the world, these pagodas act as beacons of hope and reminders of the importance of unity and understanding. As you approach the Peace Pagoda, you’ll be struck by its majestic presence and graceful design. Its pure white exterior exudes a sense of purity and serenity, inviting visitors to pause and reflect on the significance of peace in our tumultuous world. Surrounded by lush greenery and nestled near the tranquil waters, the pagoda offers a peaceful sanctuary for contemplation and introspection. Soft incense permeates the air, creating an atmosphere of serenity and spirituality. Hence, the Japanese Peace Pagoda, a serene symbol of peace nestled among the captivating places to visit in Galle, stands as a testament to harmony and unity in Sri Lanka.