Top Travel Guide to Galle, Sri Lanka: Things to Do, Where to Stay + Eat

Travel Guide to Galle, Sri Lanka

One of Sri Lanka’s top destinations, the southern city of Galle is the ideal spot to head for if you want to combine the beautiful coastal landscapes of this island with plenty of history, charm, sightseeing and great food.

All in all, it’s just about the best of Sri Lanka in a nutshell!

But what are the top things to do in Galle, where to stay and eat and how to get there?

Here to bring you all the information you need, is my ultimate travel guide in the UNESCO city of Galle in southwest Sri Lanka…

Sri Lanka, Galle, Lighthouse


Related Posts

My trip to Sri Lanka was sponsored by Sri Lanka Tourism but, as always, all views are my own.

This page contains affiliate links meaning Big World Small Pockets may receive a small commission on any purchases at no extra cost to you.


Where is Galle?

Sri Lanka, Galle, Man with Shirt

Galle is located on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka about 120km from Colombo.

Galle is actually the name of the city as well as the administrative province that surrounds it.

Now the 6th largest city in Sri Lanka, with a population of just under 100,000 people, during the time of colonialism Galle was once the main port on the island and capital.

Reaching its height under Dutch colonial rule in the 18th century, Galle became a walled fortified city, able to effectively defend itself against both coastal and inland attacks.

Much of the city built during this time remains today and Galle Fort is now a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site.

Occupying a small peninsula and headed by an iconic lighthouse, Galle is a key tourist destination in Sri Lanka and the gateway to the beautiful southwest coast of the island.


Why Visit Galle?

Sri Lanka, Galle, Fort Building

A stunning historic city that boasts beautiful coastal views and quaint heritage streets, Galle is filled with wonderful fantastic attractions, photogenic spots and some wonderful shops and places to eat.

The ancient streets here are filled with boutique galleries, cafes and stores, while the ancient of the walls of the city hold stories dating back centuries.

Beautiful coloured buildings, with wooden shutters line the streets, as bicycles and tuk tuks trundle by and the waves of the Indian Ocean lap just a few metres away/

Small and easy to navigate on foot, don’t however think that Galle is an artificial or tourist town, it’s very much a living and working city that throngs with an authentic sense of local life, all set against one of Sri Lanka’s most picturesque backdrop.


Who Should You Visit Galle?

Sri Lanka, Galle, Man

  • Solo Travellers
  • Romantic Travellers
  • Backpackers
  • Groups
  • Historical Tourists


Brief History of Galle

Sri Lanka, Galle, Building

A major port in Sri Lanka before the arrival of European colonisers, written records mentioning Galle date back to the 14th century, when it was called Qali.

At this time Arab, Indian, Malay and Chinese merchants dominated trade in the Indian Ocean and Galle was a commercial and prosperous port.

The city came under the rule of Portuguese colonialists in the 16th century and grew extensively.

Closely modelled on southern Europe cities of the time – including the addition of many churches – the city’s main fortifications during this period were built inland, protecting the city from internal infiltration attempts.

Galle then reached its peak in the 18th century under Dutch colonialists, when the city’s coastal defences were massively expanded in order to hold other European powers at bay.

Built from coral and stone, the city was structured on a grid layout and many of the Dutch fortifications added to the city can still be seen today.

Home to around 500 families at that time, many who lived in newly constructed Dutch-style homes, these colonial rulers also built public administrative buildings, warehouses, barracks and a range of trade establishments.

As such, Galle became the capital of Sri Lanka, until the title was assumed by Colombo in 1656.

After the Dutch, the British empire began to take control of Sri Lanka in 1786, and they reinforced some of the city’s fortifications including the construction of a moat and new city gate.

Considered to be one of the best fortified cities built by Europeans in south Asia, Galle received UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1988.

In December 2004, Galle was terribly affected by the huge tsunami that devastated huge swathes of Sri Lanka’s coastline.

Many parts of the city, including the famous cricket stadium, were either badly damaged or destroyed.

These have now been rebuilt however, and so Galle has once again risen to welcome locals and travellers back to its delightful streets.




Top Things to Do in Galle

Sri Lanka, Galle, Maritime Museum

Here’s my list of the 8 best Galle attractions you can’t miss while you are here…


#1 Stoll Galle Fort

Don’t get confused by the title Galle Fort when you see any list of top Galle attractions!

Galle Fort essentially refers to the entire historic part of the city, i.e. that sits within the historic walled fortifications.

Strolling the beautiful streets and corners of this heritage area is simply delightful, with atmospheric surprises waiting to be discovered at every turn.

Photography fanatics and architectural buffs will be in their element as they explore Galle’s largely colonial heritage aesthetic, and shoppers will delight in the many galleries and boutique stalls they can find in the vibrant destination.

Enter the city’s walls via one of the 2 gates, lose the map and just start wandering!

The only thing you can’t miss is walking along the fantastic ramparts of the city to take in the fresh sea air.


#2 Peruse the Art Galleries

I’ve mentioned this above, but Galle throngs with a cultural and vibrant air.

As such, there’s a number of great cultural spots in this city, including numerous art galleries.

My top picks to check out in the city include The Galle Fort Art Gallery, Nethroo Art Gallery and Lanka Living Gallery, all of which are found within the main historic area.


#3 Check Out the Maritime Museum

A small but brilliant museum within Galle Fort, the focus of the Maritime Musuem is, unsurprisingly, on the seafaring and fishing connections of this city, as well as the surrounding marine ecosystem, with many fascinating artefacts, some of which date back hundreds of years.

The museum opened in 1992 and, housed within an old Dutch warehouse built in 1671, perfectly captures the historic links between this city and the sea.

Badly damaged in the 2004 tsunami, the museum thankfully reopened in 2010.


#4 Snap Galle Lighthouse

Wondering the coastal ramparts of Galle are a must, and eventually they’ll lead you to the foot of the iconic Galle lighthouse, which stands at an impressive height of 26.5m.

Sri Lanka’s oldest lighthouse, this spot is particularly beautiful to snap at sunset.

Originally built by the British in 1848, you can’t go inside the lighthouse unfortunately, but that doesn’t mean standing at the foot of it and taking in the whole scene isn’t a top thing to do in Galle.


#5 Head to a Galle Beach

And right below the lighthouse is a lovely strip of sand that the locals certainly enjoy.

Be careful of the tidal currents here, but if you want to enjoy a bit of sand, sea and sun easily, Galle Fort Beach (as it’s known) is an quickly accessible spot to visit.

For beaches further outside of the city, it’s hard to beat the famous Unawatuna Beach, which is just a short drive away from Galle.

Here, turquoise waters and golden sands make it popular with sun-seeking travellers while waves bring the surfers in, before everyone enjoys the nightlife together after dark!


#6 Visit the Galle Fish Market

Located just outside Galle’s fort walls, the fish market is a very local affair, that buzzes with a sense of authentic culture and vibrancy.

Even if you aren’t a seafood eater like me, then there’s still some great snaps to grab here, as local sellers barter with buyers and colourful wooden boats bob in the background.

For more fishing action, head 20km from Galle by tuk-tuk to find the famous stilt fisherman at Koggala.


#7 Catch a Game at Galle International Stadium

Fringed on both sides by the Indian Ocean, this might just be one of the most picturesque stadiums in the world!

This means even if you’re not into cricket as much as the average Sri Lankan (and quite frankly, who is?!), catching a game here for the atmosphere and scenery alone is definitely worth it!

Originally built as a race course in 1876, with the first cricket game played here in 1892, the stadium is located just outside Galle Fort and regularly hosts national games and important tournaments.

Devastated by the 2004 tsunami, renovations began in 2006 and the stadium was officially reopened again in 2007.


#8 Enjoy the Galle Literary Festival

If you’re visiting in January, the you can’t miss the Galle Literary Festival.

Held over 5 days, during this time the city plays host to several well-known writers across a series of readings, lectures and presentations along with live music, art trails, cultural classes and more.

A must-experience.


Galle Hotels: Best Places to Stay

Sri Lanka, Tabula Rasa, Me in Pool

Budget Stay

When it comes to budget hotels in Galle, it’s hard to overlook Wijenayake’s Beach Haven Guest House.

Located inside the historic part of Galle, this place has a lovely terrace where breakfast is served daily.

Top staff and delicious food complete the offering at this budget hotel in Galle.

Other top affordable hotels in Galle include Southern Comforts Guesthouse and 56 Deco.


Mid-Range Stay

The Mer.chant perfectly combines modern comfort with a strong nod to the heritage feel of Galle.

Located in the centre of Galle Fort, with beautiful, large rooms and fantastic staff, breakfast is served daily here in a cool, relaxed courtyard.

Other good midrange hotels in Galle include Le Jardin du Fort, Mango House and Parawa House.


Luxury Stay

When it comes to luxury accommodation, I highly recommend the stunning Tabula Rasa Resort.

Situated a short drive from Galle, along the coast, this beautifully, elevated property offers beautiful ensuite rooms in stunning small villas that are dotted around its boutique grounds.

A stunning pool, fab staff and lovely restaurant complete this top spot.

Other good luxury hotels in and around Galle include Jetwing Lighthouse and The Fort Printers Hotel.

For more luxury stays in Sri Lanka, check out my list of top 5* hotels across this island.




Where to Eat?

Sri Lanka, Galle, Fish Market

I think that, in Sri Lanka, enjoying local cuisine is key, especially as it’s all so delicious and, for me, veggie-friendly!

In the southern coastal city of Galle, seafood predominates and so here’s some of the best places to enjoy it in the city…

#1 Pedlars Inn and Café

#2 Elita Restaurant

#3 Coconut Sambal

#4 A Minute by Tuk Tuk

#5 Hoppa Galle Fort


When to Visit: Galle Weather & Climate?

Sri Lanka, Galle, Outcrop

The best way to visit Galle is during Sri Lanka’s southwest dry season which runs from December through April.

This is the island’s high season in general too however, so if you’re looking to escape the crowds and high prices, then consider heading to Galle in May instead.

I visited the city during this month and, even though I did experience the occasional afternoon shower, I still got to enjoy plenty of blue sky days and, of course, warm temperatures!

The wettest time of year in Galle is from June through November, including during the Yala monsoon period which ends around September.

Temperatures however remain a steady 28 degrees year round, but humidity can be high, so be prepared!

For more info about when best to visit other destinations in Sri Lanka, as well as the island as a whole, check out this post I wrote.


How Long to Spend There?

Sri Lanka, Galle, Bicycle

Galle is a small city and it’s totally possible to cover most of the attractions and city streets in a day.

That said, there is a huge amount to do around Galle, including the beautiful coastal area of Unawatuna and the stilt fisherman at Koggala, so I recommend a stay of at least 3 nights.


How to Get There?

Sri Lanka, Galle, Tuk Tuk


Local buses are probably the best ways to get to Galle thanks to the new express highway that links the city to Colombo in around 90 minutes.

Buses run regularly – about every 20 mins – and many leave from Bastian Mawatha Bus station in Colombo.

The journey costs around $4 USD.

You can also take the slower bus, which travellers the older coastal road. This does take longer, but is more scenic.

Book your buses in Sri Lanka using 12Go.



If you’re sticking to public transport, there’s also an amazing train line that runs from Colombo to Galle.

Not the fastest way to travel, this is however an incredibly scenic journey and very cheap.

Like the train journey from Colombo to Ella, and the journey by train from Colombo to Kandy, the journey down to Galle boasts 3 ticket classes.

If you want to travel first class, tickets sell out quickly so reserve your tickets in advance here.

You’ll then need to collect them in person from Colombo rail station before your journey.



You can also drive or catch a taxi to Galle.

For car hire in Sri Lanka, check out Discover Cars.


How to Get Around?

Sri Lanka, Galle, Boats

The centre of Galle is easiest to naviagte on foot.

Otherwise tuk-tuks can be used to get around the greater area of Galle, including along the coast to spots like Unawatuna.


Top Packing Items for Galle

Sri Lanka, Galle, Bell

#1 Great camera like the Sony A6000

#2 Comfortable sandals like Arizona Birkenstocks

#3 Lightweight daypack like the Marmot Kompressor

#4 UV sunglasses

#5 Natural Sunscreen

Leanr more about what to pack for your trip more generally in this ultimate Sri Lanka packing list I wrote.


Get Your FREE Checklist Now!

Just enter your details below and I'll email it you - simple!

Information will be sent to the email provided above


Top Travel Tips for Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, Galle, Beach

Top Sri Lanka Tours

If you’d rather not travel Sri Lanka independently, these top Sri Lanka tours are another great way to experience an adventure here.


Travel Insurance for Sri Lanka

World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while travelling and claim online from anywhere in the world.

Alternatively, if you’re a long-term traveller, digital nomad or frequent remote worker seeking travel health cover, check out Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance policies.


Travel Money in Sri Lanka

The easy way to spend abroad with real exchange rates, no markups and no sneaky transaction fees, you can use your Wise card just like a debit card in Sri Lanka… and it links easily with Google and Apple pay. Get yours here.




And there you have it, my full guide to visiting the fabulous city of Galle in Sri Lanka.

Jampacked with all you need to know about planning your perfect visit, as well as Galle’s top attractions, best places to stay, where to eat and how to get there, it’s the only guide you’ll need to enjoying a great time in this magical city.

Have you visited Galle?

Have any tips to share to help fellow travellers out?

Please drop them into the comments box below…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.