We didn’t make it to the Galle Fort until close to the end of our stay, but were glad we did go! The fort is located on a rocky peninsula that juts out from the city of Galle. Only about 35 km from our place in Weligama, a motorbike ride was around an hour away.
If you don’t want to ride a motorbike around Sri Lanka – which is understandable – Galle should still be easy to reach via train, tuk-tuk, or taxi. We got into an accident just days before riding to Galle, but to be honest, you might feel a little nervous with any of the transportation options there with some of the crazy drivers on the road! We chose to go by motorbike because it was the most flexible (we could come/go when we wanted).
We set out for Galle around mid-morning with the intention of grabbing something to eat while in the fort. As was the usual for this time of the year, the weather was a little dreary but not quite rainy, which made for a pleasant ride along the the southern coast of Sri Lanka.
The traffic wasn’t too bad until we got within a few km of the fort. Luckily, if you come from the south you can get to the fort while avoiding having to travel through the congested city; whereas if you came in through the north, you’d have to ride through a congested city of over a hundred thousand residents.
We crossed through the walls and parked in a small parking lot at the Ambalama in the northeast section of the fort. There was no fee for parking, and we had no trouble finding a space – though we were visiting during the off-season so it could easily be more crowded at other times of the year.
We began by walking down the historic streets with no real direction in mind other than to find someplace to grab a bite to eat. Although the fort is over 400 years old, it still remains in good repair and continues it’s lively operation. The interior of the fort is filled with homestays, restaurants, religious and municipal buildings, museums, and residencies.
Our first stop ended up being a unique, free museum that showcased various trinkets and artifacts from Galle’s past. While it is hard to get good information on many of the pieces you can see, it still is very interesting. It also doubled as a jewelers to a small extent and we were able to see some of the tools used to polish the semi-precious stones.
Upon leaving the museum, we were really hungry so we stopped by the first place that seemed reasonable and had something for Briana to eat. The place seemed nice, and my food was pretty good – Fish and Chips – nothing special, but it was good. Bri, however, ordered garlic bread, and was very disappointed. I had assumed that she was just being a little picky, but upon trying it myself – no, it was just bad. Ultimately, the meal cost 1200 LKR (~$8.20) for us.
This was a problem that we had encountered frequently while in Sri Lanka – poor food. While in Colombo, we were impressed with the quality and variety of the food we could get – with a wide variety of Indian, Sri Lankan, and other south Asian dishes. But as we made our way down the coast, we found that the quality dropped severely. While the fish was usually decent, nothing that catered to locals seemed to be all that good – cold, poorly spiced, very starch heavy, and lacking in fruit and vegetables. We can’t be for sure here, but it could be that many locals do not go out to eat frequently, and thus the local establishments cater to tourists who don’t know any better. The more expensive spots could have decent food, but then you’re paying around $10 for a meal that should only have cost around $4 relative to the local economy.
So while the meal was satisfactory for me, Bri was still feeling ravenous, and as such we made our way towards an ice cream shop we had researched prior to arriving.
Along the way though, we first happened upon a few key landmarks, the first of which was the Meeran Mosque. The mosque does not look like a normal mosque, but rather more like a church. This was due in part to the Dutch colonialism, which encouraged the more European style architecture that is prominent throughout the entirety of the fort.
The Galle lighthouse is directly across from the mosque sitting on the southern end of the promontory. We found a few vendors trying to sell trinkets, but unlike most touristy vendors, they left us alone which was nice. Instead, we were able to take in the views of Galle Bay and the lighthouse.
We were surprised to find that there were people swimming in the jetties just below the wall. The water was rough in the bay, but the rocks immediately surrounding the fort made for a safer place to swim.
After viewing the lighthouse, we returned to the our previous goal of finding the ice cream shop: Dairy King. The shop features homemade ice cream, which was quite good. We each got our own, at 250 SLR each which came out to roughly $3.41 total. I got coconut flavor, while Bri got passion fruit flavor.
We then wandered down Church Street, where we found a friendly – though skinny – cat that enjoyed our attention.
The fort was first constructed by the Portuguese in 1588, and was then later fortified by the Dutch during their colonial period in 1649. The city of Galle itself however, has been historically acknowledged since at least 125 CE by Ptolmey as a major port for trade between Asia and Europe.
Wandering the fort is a great way to spend the afternoon and has many sites to see within. We made a stop for some sunglasses, which Briana had unfortunately lost on our previous outing on the bike. You can also find local artists from whom to buy paintings – which we did. Ultimately, we were tired and were only intending for a half-day, so we went light on the activities. However, for those that are interested, you can check out:
- The Dutch Reformed Church
- Great Warehouse
- National Maritime Museum
- Old Dutch Hospital
- All Saints Anglican Church
- Clock Tower
As we wandered, we eventually found ourselves back along the sea wall and made our way towards the ramparts that face the the city. The wind here was pretty substantial, which encouraged the locals to try to fly kites. Some of them were very big.
Sitting about twenty feet below the wall on the sea-side was a tomb as well. It is known as the Muslim Saint’s Tomb. I don’t know what else to say about it unfortunately, I am sure there is information somewhere, but what I can find is all in Singhalese.
The ramparts give a nice, sweeping view of the area in front of the fort and the sprawl of Galle before it. We enjoyed the overlook for a while before finally heading back to the motorbike to make our way home. We decided that we didn’t want to risk driving at night again.
Ultimately, Galle Fort is a great place to visit if you’re in the Southern end of Sri Lanka. And even if you’re up near Colombo, it is only a couple hour’s ride to get to. For those really wanting to experience Galle in a slow way, you can stay in a number of homestays within the walls of the fort for an authentic experience.