Galle Sri Lanka – Galle is located on Sri Lanka’s southwest coast, 116km south of Colombo. The small village is famous in Sri Lanka for the Dutch style fort surrounding the old city overlooking the sea, as well as Portuguese and Dutch-inspired architecture lining the small streets within the fort.
Galle is within easy reach of Colombo, and taking the train can have you arriving in Galle in just over 2 hours. The train line hugs the coast with views of beautiful swimming beaches, cutting through tiny villages and stopping briefly at various small stations making it an interesting trip with great views.
The train departs from Colombo Fort Railway Station, the main railway station in Colombo’s city centre. Buying a ticket at the train station entrance takes seconds, simply walk up to the counter, say Galle and your preferred class of travel. There are not many first-class carriages running during the day on the Colombo – Galle line, so i opted for second class. This costs only 180LKR.
The second class carriages have individual seating and windows that are left open with fans attached to the inner roof. However, as Colombo is the second stop on this route, all seats were already occupied when i boarded the train in Colombo.
I was dreading the trip, standing the entire journey, as the train slowly departed the station. I stood in the aisle with a bunch of foreigners, as the wind blew in and the good views of the coast became visible I realised standing was still quite enjoyable (and as an added bonus I did not disembark with a sweaty back or bottom from sitting on the vinyl seats for so long).
I also cannot stress enough, that if you get a seat on this journey (easy to find a seat on the return trip to Colombo) it is important to sit on the opposite side of the sun. As there is no tree cover along the way, the sun can shine in and roast you in an instant. On the journey back to Colombo, I managed to get a seat easily, first sitting in the sun, but quickly moving to a spare seat on the opposite side.
It is important to arrive at the station early, as the train will arrive early also. This means you can board the train and still find a seat. I would highly suggest bringing ample water, as well as hydrating fruit and snack foods. But make sure you don’t drink too much water and need to use the toilet, trust me, you DO NOT want that to happen!
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Things to See Inside Fort Walls
The obvious attraction to the city is the Fort, encasing an old city well preserved and filled with guesthouses, restaurants, museums and gemstone jewellery stores. Walking the perimeter of the walls, overlooking the sea and old city makes for a pleasant experience with exceptionally good views and photography opportunities at sunset.
The Clock Tower is a prominent feature on the north wall, overlooking the moon bastion. It was constructed on top of the former guard’s room in 1883. Head to the clock tower at sunset, walk atop the fort wall, take a seat and watch the pink and red mirage of the sun simmer into the sea. I really enjoyed this place and stopped for an hour to relax, eat snacks, chat to locals and other travellers and watch the sunset (while taking a million photographs).
The lighthouse that stands atop the fort walls you can see today makes for a picture-perfect image complete with surrounding palm trees. It is located on the southern wall, standing at 26 metres tall, making for a very prominent feature. It is Sri Lanka’s oldest lighthouse built in 1848.
However, this is not the original lighthouse. The original was situated approximately 24 metres tall, situated 100 metres away from the current site although perished in a fire in 1934. The original lighthouse had a glass prism lens floating in a bath of mercury and was powered by a weight-driven machine. However, the lighthouse you see today has electric light.
While wandering along the south wall one afternoon, I came across a snake charmer with a large cobra snake. I had never seen one in my life but had always wished to! I was as equally excited as I was scared! When the man stopped playing his flute at the cobra snake, it started to hiss and attempted to strike forward to bite the man.
The snake charmer had with him a large python snake, as well as a monkey. It was very sad to see the monkey as it had a collar tie around its waist connected to a lead. The man let the monkey play amongst the snakes, which did not seem to mind the monkey. And both snakes seemed to ignore one another too.
Various Prominent Buildings
As you wander the streets within the fort walls, you will come across various prominent buildings, including The Dutch Reformed, St-Mary’s Cathedral, the Arabic Collage, Historical Mansion Museum, the National Sea Museum, Meeran Masjib an Islamic Mosque and Groote Kerk (a church).
Walking the streets within the forts, you will not only stop to admire the unique architecture and pleasantly coloured guesthouses and stores but at the large number of gem stores neatly displaying their precious jewels in the window. Each store seems to sell a large range of various precious stones and unique pieces of jewellery.
If you love wearing jewellery, admiring and talking about precious gems then you will be in for a treat. If you stop to ponder, the store owner comes out to discuss gemstones with you, informing you of the origin and how Sri Lanka has the best gems in the world.
There is a large handful of restaurants dotted around the streets within the fort walls. Test your taste buds with some spicy Sri Lankan cuisine, or opt for the many restaurants offering traditional western foods such as pasta, pizzas, salads and more.
Most restaurants offer vegetarian foods. I found one restaurant on Happy Cow, named Lucky Fort, that offers an all-vegan Sri Lankan thali, including rice and 10 unique curries for under $6. The owners are very friendly and the food amazing! Happy Cow is a great website and app that allows you to search for vegetarian and vegan restaurants and stores while travelling, you can see the website here: http://www.happycow.net
Things Outside of The Fort Walls
Fish Market and Shoreline
The shoreline with small coloured fishing boats pulled up along the beach make for some beautiful photos. I walked past a very small fish market stalls right outside the east wall of the fort and being a non-meat eater was about to look away and keep walking.
Although a bright redfish caught my eye and I walked over to take a look. I ended up seeing bright red, bright blue, green and fluorescent yellow and silverfish. Some with big spiky teeth. The stall owner attempted to explain the various species of fish, however, I can only remember ‘snapper’ – it was the one with the large teeth.
Green Market, Fruit and Vegetable Market
If you have travelled around anywhere in Asia before, then i would skip visiting these markets. They are very small and dusty, and you may pass them at first without realising. Both are located nearby the main road market bazaar and the rocky shoreline.
The rocky shoreline along Sea Road is a popular jogging place with the locals in the late afternoon, however, with the fresh breeze blowing off the waves crashing into the rocks it makes for a relaxing place to sit and enjoy some fruit.
Main Road Local Market Bazaar
The Main Road market bazaar is a hectic, busy and dusty street lined with brightly coloured stores, roadside stores spilling onto the road and lots of noise. Various stores play loud music, cars and tuk-tuks constantly beep their hoon at one another, and locals dart around continuing their day. There are many stores selling the typical fisherman and elephant print pants, lots of local stores as well as sari shops. I visited the area once for a quick walkthrough, there was little of interest to me so I continued on.
If you cannot find something to suit your taste buds, have certain dietary requirements, or looking to purchase some snacks for the next train or bus trip you take, head to the supermarket. There are two medium-sized supermarkets stocking a fairly large mix of fresh produce, packaged foods, sweet biscuits, toiletries, stationery, accessories and more.
Personally, I bought moisturiser (the same brand I buy in Hong Kong and Australia), as well as lots of water, fresh dates and fresh fruit. The supermarket, as is all items I came across or needed to purchase in Sri Lanka are very inexpensive.
A short bus (take bus 350/2 from the bus station next to the railway station) or a tuk-tuk ride away (2.9kms) will have you arriving in Unawatuna Beach. All the restaurants, boutique stores and guesthouses are lining the beach road, while beach bars, coloured lights and outdoor dining litters the dunes at night. This makes for a beautiful walk along the beach, coloured lights and lanterns.
It is possible to stay in Unawatuna if you enjoy the beach and wish to swim each day. There are many guesthouses set up along the small laneways leading to the beach, so you will basically be staying within metres of sand.
I visited Unawatuna and Jungle Beach for one full day. I enjoyed the boutique stores that lined the main road along the beach, as well as the restaurants and bars that set up along the beach at night making the foreshore a beautiful display of colour and lights.
I really enjoyed dinner at Javi’s Restaurant – a vegetarian and vegan restaurant I found on HappyCow.net. Set meals cost around 600LKR ($6AUD), however, I opted for a soup, salad and fruit shake (all costing under $3AUD each!). The food was amazing, the service was slow because food is made fresh every time, and the setting was ok (clean, tidy, no view and no decor).
Jungle Beach is about a 20-minute walk along a small walking track from Unawatuna. Here you can find one beach bar, ample beach chairs and a beautiful small cove for swimming. You can also hire snorkel masks from the bar.
The beach is small, but the area is secluded with a good vibe. Bring your swimwear, a hat, sunscreen and a lot of snacks and spend the day here relaxing, swimming and enjoying a few cocktails. This is the place I would go to relax and swim without big waves attacking me!
If you choose to stay in Galle and not Unawatuna Beach, then your best option is to stay within the fort. Inside the fort walls, there are a large number of guesthouses set up to cater to the large number of foreign travellers that descend on the village. The streets within the walls are well lit, clean and all paved. You can walk around at any time of the day and explore streets, restaurants, souvenir stores and admire the architecture all while being within walking distance.
The attractions outside of the old city (outside of the fort) including the Green Market, Fish Market, Fruit and Vegetable Market and Main Road Market Bazaar are also within walking distance to the fort. However, the area outside the walls (in my experience) was not overly exciting to explore and i felt it was a bit too dusty. Accommodation within the fort walls is also a short walk (and easy to orientate) from the railway station and bus station.
If you are a beachy person, you might opt for staying at Unawatuna Beach, and visiting the Fort and Old City streets for just one day. You can easily catch the bus for 20LKR (20cents AUD), or a tuk-tuk to make the almost 3km journey.
As I am totally not a beachy person, I opted to stay within the fort walls. I stayed at Leyn Baan Villa, which was a very small guesthouse style accommodation just near the lighthouse. There were only 4 rooms, each with a double bed, WiFi, linen, fan and air-conditioner. There was a small balcony area overlooking the street and kitchen downstairs where you could make use of the refrigerator. There was a shared bathroom. It was far from new or luxurious, but it was inexpensive and peaceful.
I hope this article is helpful to anyone considering travelling to Sri Lanka. It is one of the least expensive countries I have travelled to thus far, and the locals are by far some of the friendliest I have ever met! As a solo female traveller, I felt very safe and secure the entire duration of my Sri Lankan trip.