Galle stands sentry on the southern shores of Sri Lanka and is best known for beaches, cultural heritage, and more recently for its fleet of great restaurants and boutiques. Today, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, notable for being a fortified city built by Dutch colonial lords. Within the fort premises, cobbled streets are brimming with vibrant cafes, boutiques, upscale eateries, heritage properties mostly owned by cross communities who made Galle their home.
Here’s a 48 hrs guide for the best places to see, eat and shop in the multi-cultural city of Galle.
Best things to do and see
Galle is best explored on foot. Heritage walks take you to an era when this coastal city was another outpost of Dutch empire.
The marine archaeological museum
Part of the fort, the museum sheds light on the city’s maritime trade and many of its shipwrecks on the periphery. The government set the marine museum in the erstwhile spice warehouse build by the Dutch in the late 1700s. It was the Dutch who recognized the island's rich produce - cinnamon, betel nuts, high-value gemstones, and underwater mined pearls that became Sri Lanka’s major exports.
The dutch hospital
High, vaulted ceilings, tall-wooden shutters, and a vast colonnaded courtyard design were brought in to interact with nature as much as possible. This facet is common to Dutch architecture of the 1700s and this design pattern treated with an addition of terracotta brick roofs, eventually gave rise to the Galle-style of architecture. Adjoining the fort, the dutch hospital raised on the similar design is today revamped into an upscale shopping cum eating pavilion.
Dutch Reform church
Another 1700s white-washed Doric-style colonnaded facade is the Dutch Reform Church. Protestant faith ushered in the Netherlands during the turbulent Protestant Reformation of the 1600s and carried to Galle by the Dutch. That gave birth to the first foundation stone of the church in the 1640s and today honoured as the oldest protestant church in the area.
Lighthouse & flag rock
Standing sentinel since 1900s, the elegant 27 metre working lighthouse is another landmark of Galle and today a must-visit selfie point.
At the southernmost corner of the Fort, a rocky outcrop juts out of the sea – Flag Rock. It stood as a former Portuguese bastion that signalled the approaching ships of the minacious rock boulders, and many a time thundering fire shots would reach the ships of some lurking danger. Today during the daytime, swashbucklers engage in cliff-jumping, and a popular spot for catching the beautiful Sri Lankan sunset along the cliff-side.
The best even all the major landmarks are within a kilometre’s trail and those outdoorsy adventurers can sign up for a guided 4 hr cycle tours to know all about Galle.
Best places to shop
The cobbled lanes bring you to old heritage buildings, and sauntering to these alleys transform to a stunning ensemble of retail therapy. Here’s a list to check out:
• The Three by TPV
If you’re looking for stunning designer-wear and colourful accessories, Three by TPV will have you covered. The lifestyle store in Galle also features homeware and their keen eye in selecting home decors, light installations, artifacts that throws a distinctive aura coming from the Swedish/ Latvian trio - Thomas Elbaum, Patrick Österman and Vadim Stepanoff who are also the proprietors of the TPV estate. Handcrafted bamboo earrings, 100% natural and biodegradable bamboo, jute bags, pure cotton scarfs and linen wears are a must pick.
The Three by TPV, 77 Pedlar Street, Fort Galle 80000, Sri Lanka | (+94) 912 231 778
• Stick no Bills
Art connoisseurs and collectors of avant-garde come to Galle looking for the ultimate collection of vintage posters. The founders, Meg Williams and Philip James Barber came up with an honest intention to spread the rich heritage and natural beauty of once war-town island by re-mastering prints that come with limited edition. A walk inside is like strolling at a mid-century modern art gallery in posters.
Stick No Bills, 71 Pedlar Street, Fort Galle 00001, Sri Lanka | ( +34663949075)
Barefoot is an iconic store chain in Sri Lanka that celebrates the best textiles and weaves of the island nation. Hand-spun cotton and linens washed in natural dyes are further weaved into bags, tablecloths, runners, blankets, soft toys, clothes and fabric jewellery. Barefoot textiles can be bought by the metre, for both clothes and household linen.If bright-hued handloom sarongs, pure linen shirts and fabric jewellery defines your kind of fashion, head to Barefoot.
Barefoot, 41 Pedlar Street, Fort Galle 80000, Sri Lanka | (+94) 912 226 299
• Spa Ceylon
Spa Ceylon reminds of ancient Ayurvedic wisdom with its range of majestic royal spa rituals & luxury products designed to soothe, calm & relax the body, mind & soul. That's not all, the make-up range to home aroma blends, candles, diffusers, incense, herbal infusions & teas, handmade stoneware, and home spa accessories pamper you to decadent luxury. The Galle Fort Spa Ceylon laid out so pretty, it almost feels like a royal citadel scented in sandalwood, lemongrass, rose, frangipani, magnolia, and many such tropical blooms.
Spa Ceylon, 47 Lighthouse Street, Fort Galle 80000, Sri Lanka | (+94) 912 232 410
KWAII the city’s only address to surf wears, is a concept by a French nomad-entrepreneur, who fell in love with Sri Lanka while visiting with his children on a surfing trip. Surfers coming from the world over to ride the warm swell of the Indian Ocean are always on the lookout for comfortable surfing gears. Kwaii’s clothing reflects the love for the ocean and today the brand blends surf with art, music, and fashion. If surfing is your mojo or simply observing the joys of being outside and in water leaves you high, then KWAII is your one-stop destination.
KWAII, 28A Pedlar Street, Fort Galle 80000, Sri Lanka | (+94) 772 825 593
The Odel store prides in handcrafted “made in Sri Lanka” products. Also, a better place to stock up boho-chic wearables, teas in gift collections, handcrafted wooden masks, souvenirs from a whole range, of artists and designers. A great place for browsing, wandering, and buying souvenirs for friends and families back home.
Odel Store, Pedlar Street, Fort Galle 80000, Sri Lanka | (+94) 912 223 120
And after satisfying the shopping spree, take some time to refuel at some of the best dining options.
Best places to eat
• Sugar Bistro
Colombo-based restaurateurs Gehan Fernando and Dinesh Wijesinghe have designed the Sugar Bistro as a lounge bar that’s both a breakfast and dinner hangout. Fish & chips, crab kottu ( rice cake) and pan-fried parsley crusted fillet of salmon with salad niçoise- are a few examples of Sugar Bistro’s global contemporary take on Sri Lankan cuisine.
Sugar Bistro & Wine Bar, Old Hospital Building, Hospital St, Galle 80000, Sri Lanka.
• The Tuna and Crab
If you’re a fan of Asian fare, then The Tuna and Crab is your best bet. The casual fine dining features an open kitchen that cooks with its star ingredients - tuna and crab. Don’t miss the nigiri and fresh sashimi, part of the sushi assortment box. The Avant-Garde Japanese restaurants of modern Tokyo were a major influence in the design of this upscale dining. Note, the garlic chili crab tossed in a fusion of Mediterranean and Japanese flavours make you smile and sigh in content.
The Tuna and Crab, Dutch Hospital Precinct, Hospital St, Galle 80000, Sri Lanka. Tel : +94 91 2 242 405
• Fort Printers
Fort Printers, a 18th century British mansion turned printing press today is revamped to an elegant private hotel. Each corner of the property ooze out elegant décor and much loved by design savvy travellers. But the real draw here is the food, a step ahead from traditional—a modern twist on Sri Lankan cuisine. Seared yellow-fin tuna steak, lobster curry with basmati rice and coconut sambol and grilled jumbo prawns are some of the star dishes priding on local produce and fresh ingredients.
Fort Printers, 39 Pedlar Street, Galle Fort, Sri Lanka. Phone: +94 912 247 977
• Isle of Gelato
Beat the scorching island heat by gorging on to a whole new range of Sri Lankan homemade gelatos and vegan sorbets at the Isle of Gelato. The artisanal gelato whipped out of locally sourced produce are always a great option. The out-of-the-box selection of buffalo curd, coconut milk, Ceylon tea, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, Puttalam sea salt, tamarind, woodapple, jackfruit, mangosteen are flavour bombs to indulge in.
Isle of Gelato, 60A Pedlar Street, Galle
• Church Street Social
The elegant Fort Bazaar’s in-house gourmet modern dining focuses on Moroccan, Turkish, middle-eastern to Asian-fusion flavours. Think of aromatic lamb tagine paired with saffron praline couscous & grilled lime, Sri Lankan black pork curry clubbed with chutneys, Malay-style chili crabs and mezze platters of quality imported cold meats, cheese, homemade pickles, pâtés and dips—you'll find here. Just be sure not to leave the table without tasting their one-of-a-kind desserts. The moist gin and tonic sponge cake with lime sorbet is like summer on a plate.
Church Street Social, 26 Church St, Galle 80000, Sri Lanka. +94770072597.
• A Minute by Tuk Tuk
Whether it is Isso (prawn curry mixed with shredded coconut), served with Sri Lankan crusty breads, lamprais (sticky rice in mixed meat delicacies wrapped in banana leaves and left to slow bake), chicken cheese kotu or Thai green curry with prawn chips or spicy crust chicken breast paired in cashew pea curry mousse & batu moju (eggplant pickle) the Chef has curated a menu that’s a beautiful mash-up of classic flavours and modern techniques.
A Minute by Tuk Tuk, Old Hospital Building, Hospital St, Galle 80000, Sri Lanka.
Now that it is officially the season to explore Sri Lanka, I hope my carefully curated itinerary will help you fall in love with Galle, just like I did.
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