“East meets West” is the most common sentence we all bloggers use. The truth is, East and West have met each other long ago in many parts of the world. But Galle is a real gem where Dutches met Sinhalas. European and Ceylon port town is my favourite place in Sri Lanka. I regret not staying enough here to absorb more salty air from the sea and the aroma of the spices from the streets. Here is your mini guide to exploring beautiful Galle wandering and pondering.
Heads up – Until the shared taxi driver laughed at us and corrected us at Bentota, we kept pronouncing Galle as “Ga-all-ae”. But it is actually It is “Gaaawl.”
- Where to Stay
- How to reach
- Why visit Galle
- How many days to spend here
- Things to do and not to do
- Where to eat and where not to eat
- Strolling down the streets
While selecting the hotel, consider the locality -the new town or the old Dutch Colony.
Like any other Sri Lankan town buzzing with traffic, the new city has lots of options for restaurants overlooking the Indian ocean. If we were staying there in Galle, we would have chosen the Old town where the actual Dutch Galle fort is- the old world charm locality. From budget hostels to Pricey resorts, Galle can cater to all kinds of tourists. You find lots of budget homestays in Lighthouse street and Pedlar street.
The Heritage hotel Galle fort is the nearest to Galle – An 18th century Dutch Mansion converted into a hotel now. It is definitely not a budget accommodation, but you get to stay in a heritage Villa. The other option I suggest for those seeking luxury is- Jetwing Lighthouse by the architect I admire – Ar. Geoffrey Bawa.
RACISM ALERT– We happened to see a signboard on one of the lodges in Pedlar street. “Rooms for whites Only” ( Really? It is their personal choice, and he may have faced some problems by “Non-White” people. But still!)We wanted to click that board picture, but the owner was standing right there! First of all, he had specified it is for “whites only”, so definitely he wouldn’t have liked two browns clicking the photos of his racist board.
How to reach Galle
- Nearest airport- Colombo International airport – 125km.
- Nearest train station – The railway station is opposite the Cricket stadium is in walking distance from the lighthouse of the Dutch colony.
- Bus– Central bus stand is near the cricket stadium. Plenty of buses from most of the parts of Sri Lanka (Colombo, Mirissa, Unawatuna) Check Routemaster to track the bus routes.
- Shared Taxi –We Came by a shared taxi from Bentota and took a direct bus to Mirissa. A shared taxi is not standard. We just got lucky at our Bentota guest house with the other guests, that’s all.
Tuk-tuk (the soul of Sri Lanka) are found everywhere. Though you don’t need it while wandering in the Old fort town, you may need it to get to the train station or the bus stand. Since the bus stand was just a km walk from the lighthouse, we walked. If you take tuk-tuks, make sure to bargain and fix the price before the ride begins.
Why Visit Galle
A beautiful Dutch colony (initially occupied by Portuguese) with colonial buildings, vehicle restricted lanes, Indian ocean on one side, sidewalk cafes. What more do you need for an evening stroll and watching a stunning sunset?
The cafe culture, the Dutch Boqoue style churches, narrow lanes are the Dutch derivatives. But the vibrant yellow, turquoise colour with half-round clay tiles on the sloping roof of buildings not more than two floors high is true to Ceylon. You see a white building that looks like a church, but it is a mosque. The yellow Portuguese style cafe invites you, but the interiors are filled with traditional Sri-Lankan masks.
It’s like Traditional Sri Lankan spice curry with rice – A bit of all the spices blend to create a unique dish for Sri Lanka itself. Portuguese + Dutch + British + Sri Lanka = Galle.
Because it is the most beautiful of all Sri Lankan’s cities, it is neither touristy nor deserted. Most tourists go near the lighthouse and go back. The inner streets and lanes remain untouched. There is nothing better than getting lost in the streets full of colonial buildings that got the Ceylon touch, sipping tea in a nearby cafe when the salty tropical air from the sea washes your hair. If you love wandering in beautiful historic streets and go on cafe hopping and end the day by sitting on the rampart to watch the sun sinking in the sea, turning the sky greyish orange, my favourite city, Galle, must be on your top list.
How many days to spend here
Making a day trip is common among travellers like us on the go. But I regret doing so. I wish we stayed in Galle than Bentota and made a day trip to Bentota instead. Two days stay at Galle is the best way to explore this fort city. If you are in Sri Lanka for a beach vacation, only a day trip may suit you. We saw nobody sunbathing on neither the beach nor in the water. The seawater here isn’t that “bathing friendly.”
Things to do in Galle
Other than in places like Ella and Nuwara Eliya, cycling in Sri Lanka sweats you out like a pig. But Galle with shaded streets makes it a fantastic place to go cycling. You find a lot of cycle rental shops in Old part of the city.
Get lost wandering, Go cycling, inhale the Cinnamon aroma, Take a break, sit under the shade with Locals, see how the colourful TukTuks add charm to the town, watch people, shop, have ginger Beer. Soak in history. Observe the influence of Christianity and Islam on this part of a Buddhist nation. End of the day- watch the sunset at the outer wall of the Dutch fort.
Things not to do in Galle
You will likely be heading either to Mirissa or Hikkaduwa, or Bentota from here. While going to Mirissa, we thought we l stop at the Koggala Stilt fisherman village. Thank god we didn’t! One of my friends went to Koggala village during her trip to Sri Lanka. She says, “The whole thing is staged. Few men were laying on the beach. The moment they saw tourists like me, they climbed the pole and started to pose with their fishing rods. They shouted, “We charge 1000LKR in the evening picture with sunset. It is afternoon. So 500 Only”
We heard the same thing from our Mirissa guest house owner too. He said,” It is nice to go there for a picture, but that type of fishing is hardly practised anymore. It is a scam for lovely photos.
SO IF YOU ARE ON A SHORT TRIP TO SRI LANKA, BETTER NOT TO WASTE TIME ON KOGGALA BEACH, instead stop at random beaches or ask locals for recommendations. Galle to Mirissa route by the coastline is one of the most enchanting journeys. So leave an hour before the sunset to witness the mesmerising journey by the coastline.
Where we ate in Galle
WHERE TO EAT -Sunset Paradise at Colombo – Matara road.
WHERE NOT TO EAT– Elita Restaurant.
Sunset Paradise, GALLE
If you come from Colombo or Bentota, you will likely get off the Galle cricket stadium junction bus. You can continue straight to the New Galle town or take a right to go to the Dutch colony. Restaurants in the Dutch fort area are a bit polished – made to suit foreigners. But the New Galle town food joints are purely local. One such restaurant where we had late early lunch was- The sunset Paradise. Clean, tasty seafood, plenty vegetarian food options, sea view, right on the main road – You will love this mid-range restaurant.
Elita Restaurant -The “NOTHING IS AVAILABLE” RESTAURANT –
This was like a “love at first sight “place. We thought we would get some great Lankan food and refreshing tropical fruit shakes here in this 200-year-old building with impressive interiors and a great seafood display. When we asked for the menu – “Sir, sorry, nothing available other than Lemonade. “The power is down, so we cannot run any machine. The refrigerator is off, so the Soda and soft drinks cannot be served warm.” OK! Some Ceylon tea? – “Sir, it will take a while; staff are yet to come. So nothing is ready yet (even at 5 PM)!
We sat outside, enjoying the Galle vibe with the “only available” Lemonade.
I don’t know if we were the only victims of this. Others might have got a chance to munch on some delicacies. But, ending a good day with good food makes it Perfect. Sadly, we opted for the wrong restaurant at the wrong timing.
Let us take you on a walk on the streets of Galle.
The first thing every tourist does is walk towards the Lighthouse. So do you. The sound of the ocean will be very likely overpowered by running tuk-tuks & giggling tourists like you and me. The seafront here is lined with restaurants/cafes. Good food with great views come at a high price. But fresh coconut water doesn’t cost you a fortune. So buy one, sit on the parapet and take time to decide which direction you want to go watching the blue ocean that stretches as long as you can see. – The landmark lighthouse or the moat?
A group of school kids (on their field trip or day excursion) and other tourists on the street head to either. The moat is an excellent place to get a view of the Lighthouse. After spending some time there, you have to leave the area because – that is where everyone loves to click selfies/photos. Before the tourist vibe overwhelms you, disappear from there and hit the streets. The transition is drastic – other than chatting with some locals now and then, the streets are super quiet and empty.
If you see the board ” Rooms for whites only” in one of the hotels, don’t worry (like how we did) if the locals will judge us and pass some mean comments – like an unwanted guest while strolling? The locals and tourists – everyone is laid back here and are up to themselves. Just one signboard can not define the entire town! Stop overthinking.
It is hard to resist buying something at these super chic “Bohemian” shops if you are a shopaholic. (I did resist. We were on a super-tight budget while travelling in Sri Lanka.)
The low height buildings, pretty creepers, bright walls, and louvred walls are beyond beautiful.
The streets are so clean that you can sit on the footpath for a while if you need to rest your foot for a while. Don’t forget to notice the timeline on the building’s hoardings – 1700s-1800s. You can never have enough of these streets in the Dutch library, Anglican church. While Sri Lanka is all about Buddhism, it is strange to see an Arabic school in the middle of a Dutch-time town.
No matter how far you have gone in Galle Old fort city, you come back to the rampart at beachside by sunset time. Somehow the sunset quiets everyone, I guess. Many people will be looking for a perfect spot to be seated and see the sun going down. You can find your private place a few metres away from a fellow traveller who is painting the scene in his tiny sketchbooks with brushes. Or sit next near a lady writing with her black Inkpen on elephant dung paper handmade sheet she has bought from Sigiriya. Crack a short conversation and see where it takes you – you may know more of their fascinating journeys or their favourite restaurant in Galle. By then, she might stop writing because the sun began going down. The sky turns greyish orange, the blue water loses its colour, and the sun looks like a tiny orange sliding down to take a dip in the water.
The magic happens, and tourists leave. The streets get lit; restaurants brighten up – Galle gets ready to end the day, and you leave Galle unsatisfied because you decided to take a day trip like us, and you haven’t had enough of the charming small town.
Have you wandered in a town that is authentic yet feels foreign? Let us know in the comment section below.