Making a case for this Sri Lankan coastal city

Making a case for this Sri Lankan coastal city



With Sri Lanka officially open for tourism, our guide to Galle covers all the essentials.

With Eid and summer on the horizon, revenge travel is in full swing, and we're inevitably seeking easily accessible destinations that can be enjoyed without breaking the bank. Enter: Galle. A UNESCO World Heritage Site offering plenty of opportunities for R&R, it's easily one of Sri Lanka's unmissable highlights. 

For the uninitiated: this coastal city was built by the Portuguese in the 1500s, fortified by the Dutch in the 1600s, colonised by the British in the 1700s, and restored by the Sri Lankans after finally gaining independence in 1947. As a result, it's as cosmopolitan as it is historic. And that's why no trip to the teardrop-shaped island is complete without a pit stop in Galle.

Sleeping In

Luxury and colonial-era vibes collide at Amangalla, a retreat ideally located within the storied walls of the 400-year-old Galle Fort. Every inch of this property has a secret to tell; it served as the New Oriental Hotel for over 100 years during the heyday of steamship travel. Guests now enjoy modern creature comforts alongside nostalgic accents, a pool shaded by lush foliage, Ayurvedic spa treatments, and immeasurable charm. The signature culinary offering here is the afternoon tea served on the veranda, and one not to be missed (even if you're not a hotel guest). 

For a stay easier on the wallet, the nearby Fort Bazaar is the one to beat. Housed within a building that was a merchant's home dating back to the 1800s, this boutique hotel features 18 stylish rooms and suites, a spa, eclectic restaurant Church Street Social, and a courtyard worth photographing from every angle. It's also located mere footsteps from Galle Fort's most historic sights.


Venturing Out

The city is best explored on foot, hands down. For one, most of the sightseeing can be done within the Galle Fort vicinity. Start at Galle Clock Tower that, despite being built in 1883, still accurately tells time. The atmospheric Dutch Reformed Church was constructed in 1752, and its floor (paved with stone-carved gravestones from old Dutch cemeteries) alone makes it worth a visit. Another religious site that frequently draws tourists is Meeran Mosque due to its rather unusual facade; it looks more like a cathedral with Baroque detailing as a result of Dutch influences.

Meeran Mosque

The mosque faces Galle Lighthouse, one of the city's most iconic landmarks. Still operational, it towers at 25 metres in height and stands at Point Utrecht Bastion for undisturbed views across the seascape. Flag Rock, located at the southernmost end of the fort, is another point you'll want to visit — camera in tow, of course. From the bastion atop Flag Rock, the Dutch used it to warn approaching ships of dangerous rocks in the water, most of which are not visible (hence its name). Today, daredevil locals leap from this historical landmark into the Indian Ocean without a care in the world. 

There are countless such anecdotes – both historical and hilarious – that surround the city of Galle, and former advertising executive Shanjei Perumal of Galle Fort Walks is just the man to reveal them. He repeatedly wins rave reviews from his clients, so be sure to book well in advance to enjoy a walking tour like no other.

Galle Lighthouse

Food Matters

You'll want to kick off your walk about town with a hearty breakfast and strong coffee, and Pedlar's Inn Café is the place to do it. Occupying the entire ground floor of the former British post office, this casual eatery offers a great spot in which to people-watch in the heart of the city's ramparts. It also happens to serve the best brownies in town. Come midday, dine at a joint that few are privy to: Spoon's. There's a grand total of four tables at this truly authentic restaurant, and the curries are both reasonably priced and cooked to perfection.

Pedlar's Inn

You may need some ice cream to put out the fire on your palate (Sri Lankan food can feel a bit too spicy for some), and both Dairy King and Isle of Gelato are great contenders for the job. Dinner at 39 Bistro & Wine Bar gets our vote for its focus on grilled seafood and Mediterranean-inspired specialities served in a courtyard scented by frangipani trees. Traditional mains are also on offer, as are vegetarian options such as Seven Vegetable Couscous, making for an always crowd-pleasing selection.

39 Bistro & Wine

Retail Therapy

Arguably the best thing about shopping in Galle is just how relaxed the pace is. Not to mention, there's something to suit every budget. Sri Lanka is affectionately known as 'Ratna Dweepa' (or Gem Island), so start here — Ibrahim Jewellers to be exact. If you're a tea drinker, you're in luck because the country is renowned for its sweeping tea plantations. The Tea Shop stocks every type of brew imaginable (white tea included), and the staff will happily help you pick the right one.

Barefoot is a great choice for table linen, tote bags, jewellery, and knick-knacks – all colourful and affordable – while the beloved Stick No Bills is the ultimate destination for retro-inspired postcards and travel posters. If you're willing to splurge a little, there's also a handful of upscale concept stores selling art, clothing, and home accents: Exotic Roots, The Three by TPV, and KK Boutique. Everything is meticulously crafted by local artisans, so take the time to leisurely browse their collections.

Galle's charming streets

The Suite Life

Spa Ceylon products and spa treatments are known and loved the world over, so a visit to its heritage-themed outpost on Lighthouse Street is practically obligatory. This award-winning Ayurvedic spa combines the romance of Ceylon (the British colonial name for Sri Lanka) with all-natural products, ancient healing techniques, and modern dermatological science.

Here, the signature treatments range from purifying to calming and de-stressing rituals, but the 'Royal Body Ritual' is especially decadent. An extended full-body massage is accented with a soothing herbal compress, a relaxing foot bath, an exfoliating back scrub, and even a "tranquility forehead massage", making it the definitive choice if top-to-toe pampering is what you're after.

Spa Ceylo

One Fine Day

Surfing in Weligama, whale-watching off the coast in Mirissa, mask-making in Ambalangoda, touring a tea plantation in Tittagalla — it's all easily accessible from Galle. You'll need a car, which can be arranged by most hotels and tour companies. 

However, the majority of tourists end up lazing around on Unawatuna Beach, much to their detriment. We think the mass of hotels, cafés and restaurants scrunched up together is far from appealing. Head to Dalawella Beach, which takes only 20 minutes by taxi, instead. It's cleaner, less crowded, safe for swimming, and the ideal place to sip on coconut water while taking in the sunset. Bonus: it's also home to the Insta-famous rope swing at Dream Cabana guesthouse.

Dalawella Beach