Walking Tour: The Historic Fort

  • Start Clock Tower
  • Finish Clock Tower
  • Length 2.75km; three to four hours

This walk will take you past many of Galle’s highlights as you traverse over four centuries of history. One of the Fort’s great charms is that detours and aimless wanderings are rewarded, so don’t hesitate to stray from the following route.

Start at the Clock Tower, which, unlike so many worldwide, actually displays the correct time thanks to the fine engineering of the 1882 British mechanism inside. Stop to look out across the cricket stadium to the New Town, with its ceaseless bustle. Walk down along the inside of the wall and pause at the British-built Main Gate. Avoid the careening three-wheelers and cross Lighthouse St, following the walls to the Sun Bastion, with its fine views of the harbour.

Head back down off the wall and proceed up Church St to the heart of old Dutch Galle. Admire the deep porches of the Amangalla hotel, then cross Middle St to the cool confines of the Dutch Reformed Church. Across from the church is a 1901 bell tower, which rings for tsunami warnings. Continue south on Church St to All Saints Anglican Church at the corner of Church Cross St. Constructed 1868–71, its solid rock structure would look right at home in an English village. Leave some money in the donation box, as relentless repairs are necessary to preserve the building. Just further south is the impressive facade of the 17th-century Fort Bazaar hotel.

Retrace your steps and turn east on Queens St. Admire the 1683 Dutch Governor's House. A slab over the doorway bears the date 1683 and Galle’s ubiquitous cockerel symbol. Walk down the gentle hill and stop to admire both sides of the Old Gate. Now make your way back up the walls to the Fort's northeast corner and the Zwart Bastion, thought to be Portuguese built. It is the oldest of the Fort bastions, with some portions dating to 1580.

Make your way down to the vast leafy expanse of Court Sq. As the name implies, various courts and related offices ring the sides. On weekdays you'll see people in the shade of the huge banyan trees nervously awaiting their turn in court. Follow Hospital St south and you'll encounter the lavishly restored Dutch Hospital, which once was filled with victims of the plague, but now boasts a slew of smart cafes. You might even consider a dip at Lighthouse Beach.

At the southeast corner of the Fort you can't miss the British-built lighthouse. Just west along Rampart St is the shining white and imposing Meeran Mosque, the centre of Galle's vibrant Muslim community. Continue west to the fun and frolic at Flag Rock, a good place to see so many of the submerged rocks that have claimed dozens of ships through the centuries. Walk the walls northwest to Triton Bastion, a great place to be at sunset.

Now come down off the wall to the cafe-lined Pedlar St and make a quick turn north on Parawa St. These two narrow blocks have some of the most typical of the old Dutch colonial houses, complete with characteristic thick columns and shaded porches. Curve west and at the corner of Rampart St you'll find Sudharmalaya Temple with its compact dagoba and large reclining Buddha. If you have the good fortune to be here on a full-moon day, you can expect to see all sorts of ceremonies, many featuring coloured lights and candles after dark.

Head back up onto the wall at Clippenberg Bastion. In the usually gentle surf surging around the rocks and sand below you may well see sea turtles feeding at dusk. Head north along the walls and enjoy the vast grassy expanse that until very recently was part of Galle's modern-day army base. Today you're more likely to see a cow chewing its cud than a recruit standing at attention.

North of Aeolus Bastion, look for the small tomb of the Muslim saint Dathini Ziryam outside the wall. At the northwest corner of the Fort, pause at the Star Bastion, which has ample evidence of the area's dark past; the fortifications were used at various times by the Dutch as a prison and slave quarters. Now complete your circuit at the Clock Tower.