Galle (pronounced gawl in English, and gaar-le in Sinhala) is a town of colour, texture and sensation totally unlike anywhere else in Sri Lanka. It is at once endlessly exotic, bursting with the scent of spices and salty winds, and yet also, with its wonderful collection of slowly decaying Dutch-colonial buildings, vaguely familiar, like a whimsical medieval European town unexpectedly deposited in the tropics. Above all else Galle is a city of trade and, increasingly, art. Today the Fort is crammed full of little boutique shops, cafes and hotels owned by local and foreign artists, writers, photographers, designers and poets – a third of the houses are owned by foreigners.
Built by the Dutch, beginning in 1663, the 36-hectare Fort occupies most of the promontory that forms the older part of Galle and is an amazing collection of structures dating back through the centuries. Just wandering the streets at random yields one architectural surprise after another. Its glories have been recognised by Unesco, which has made the Fort a World Heritage Site.
A key part of the Fort’s allure, however, is that it isn’t just a pretty place. Rather, it remains a working community: there are administrative offices, courts, export companies, lots of regular folks populating the streets and a definite buzz of energy in the air.
Galle destination guides
Cultural Sri Lanka
For most travellers, Sri Lanka has been off the map for too long. It's back. Discover the vibrant colours, diverse cultures and swaying palm trees of this tropical jewel on a 14-day trip designed to please. You'll explore tea plantations and rock fortresses, try stilt fishing in Galle and get inspired at an elephant sanctuary and the children's orphanage in Negombo.