Galle Fort, also known as the Dutch Fort, is a peninsula that the Portuguese first partitioned with earthen walls in 1588. When the Dutch took control in the mid-17th century, they extended it and turned it into a fortified bastion. Recognized for its value in cultural heritage, UNESCO declared the Fort a World Heritage Site in 1988.
The two entrances to this walled landmass connect Galle’s city center, with the Old Gate at the eastern end bearing the carved insignia of the Dutch East Indies Company “VOC” (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie), a reminder today of the Fort’s colonial legacy. The Main Gate dates to 1873 and was an addition by the British, who took over the Fort in 1796.
The peacefulness within the Fort Walls offers respite from the crowded, incessantly noisy streets of Galle. The well-kept cobblestone streets, lined with centuries-old trees, charming boutiques, inviting restaurants, and colonial buildings exude the by-gone era of the Fort’s past. Though most of the streets bear English names today, signs indicate the original Dutch names and my people in Galle Fort will use both versions.
Streets of Galle Fort
One thing you can’t miss while exploring the streets of the Fort is the irresistible smiles of vendors, who invite you to step inside their boutiques with one thing in mind: to sell jewelry and accessories. There are hundreds of boutiques selling gems, stones, rocks, antiques, post cards, and other local handicraft.
The Fort has become a spot almost exclusively for tourists, but it’s fun to spend a whole day exploring these narrow, old streets looking for something eye-catching in shop windows. Of course, prices may vary, and it’s perfectly acceptable to negotiate.
There are two museums worth visiting in Galle Fort. The Galle Maritime Museum reflects the connection to the sea and aims to collect and conserve objects related to the culture of this fishing community, while the Marine Archaeological Museum recounts the Fort’s maritime history, with exhibits providing insight into the former livelihood of the locals. There’s also the Dutch Reformed Church from 1755, the Meera Mosque from 1904, and the Historical Mansion Museum, which displays a private collection of artifacts that include VOC china, jewelry, and antique typewriters.
Ramparts of Galle Fort
On a hot day, a walk along the Fort’s ramparts will refresh you with the winds off the vast Indian Ocean. Most locals and tourists use the perimeter of the Fort as a running path, but you’ll also come across a myriad of vendors selling items like old coins, clothes, table tops, masks, and plenty of local food.
The original lighthouse was built in 1840 and burned down in 1936. Today’s 87-foot-high Galle Lighthouse dates from 1938 and stands atop the Point Utrecht Bastion at the eastern end of the ramparts.
A narrow staircase leads to Lighthouse Beach, a mix of sand and pebbles where locals and tourists alike swim in the warm ocean waters and enjoy the stunning views of the bay.
There are a myriad of bars and restaurants to celebrate the night, and you’ll find most bars in the area of the Dutch Reformed Church. For local cuisine, check out Spoon’s Café, Heritage Café, and the Rampart Hotel, the latter is also a nice place to enjoy a drink with an ocean view. There are also two good French restaurants Crep-ology, which offers a place for kids to play and read books while parents can enjoy their meal, and La Clochette.
Galle is a must-see destination while traveling around Sri Lanka, and it offers the best-kept colonial heritage sites in southern Asia.