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The Galle Fort area is unlike any other we visited in Sri Lanka.
It has an interesting history, being first established by the Portuguese then taken over by the Dutch before the British having a turn. It is now firmly Sri Lankan and this mixture of different influences makes for a very interesting destination. We loved spending a couple of days in this sanctuary of beautiful buildings, the pretty walls and just the nice ambiance that this area exudes.
It is not just us who enjoyed it either – our first morning I must have seen over 50 bridal parties posing for photos! The colourful outfits and different styles helped illustrate how many cultural groups are in the area.
The beach town of Unawatuna is also a great place to visit in Galle. It is just a short rickshaw or bus ride away from Galle Fort but feels a whole world away. You can easily visit both these towns on the one stay or be like us and stay in both! Below you will find all the information to help make your stays in this area a success.
If you are wondering what to do in Galle, the main thing you should do is just get out there – explore UNESCO listed Galle Fort. The main places to visit in Galle are all in this area with about 400 historic houses, mosques, churches and old government buildings.
Galle Fort is a beautiful area to walk around and explore. It is big enough to feel a tiny bit lost at times, but small enough to explore completely on foot.
The first thing that will be ticked off your list of things to do in Galle Fort will be seeing this gate. You will no doubt enter through here to reach the fort area.
The natural place to start is on the fort walls. Galle Fort is surrounded by sea on three sides with walls around the whole length. You can walk about 3/4 of the way round on top of these walls and it makes for a great experience.
There were many locals out and about, brides posing for photos as well as a smattering of tourists when I did this. There are lots of scenic views.
Another of the main places to visit in Galle is this rock at the southern end of the fort walls. It is reputed to be the best place to see the sunset.
Another of the popular places to see in Galle is this bastion at the south east corner of the walls. It comes complete with an 18 metre high lighthouse which is still in use. There is a beach that is recommended here in my guide book. I think you would have to be desperate to swim here though – it was absolutely covered in trash.
For a different Galle tourist attraction, this pretty church was originally built in 1640 then was rebuilt in the 1750s. Its floor is actually paved with old gravestones from the Dutch cemetery with remains in the walls and floor. It has an organ from 1760.
For a different experience in our list of Galle things to do, these streets and the surrounding area are beautiful, quiet places to wander. They also are home to typical old Dutch colonial houses.
Although the New Town is not comparable to Galle Fort, it is definitely worth a wander if for nothing else but to see the contrast!
This item on the Galle places to visit list was an essential one for my cricket loving husband who has seen it on TV many times. Its located smack bang outside the Old Gate so you don’t even need to leave the fort walls to see it!
This attraction in Galle is packed full of the freshest produce so a great place to come if you have a craving for some fresh fruit or want to experience some hustle and bustle and the colours of a 300 year old market.
Unawatuna attractions are all about the beach!
My guide book talked it down as over developed with no beach left but as you can see from the above photo, this is far from the truth. Whatever problems there were have been resolved and I would actually say that Mirissa has more of that problem now.
The beach is nice and wide and the surf was fun (although a bit too rough for the kids to go too deep). We found this a pretty and fun spot to spend a couple of days. There are affordable hotels with pools (even on our low budget), and it is just a nice place to be.
Diving and snorkelling are popular activities in Unawatuna and it’s easy to find someone who can take you out and to hire the equipment. There’s many wrecks you can explore.
The Japanese Peace Pagoda is a lovely tranquil place to visit just a short drive (or longer walk) from Unawatuna Beach.
If you don’t have time to stay here, you can easily visit on a day trip (or less) from Galle.
There are some fabulous hotel options within the Galle Fort area – be warned that it is more expensive than staying elsewhere and this was probably the most expensive place we stayed – although our accommodation was very good value!
I was so happy when I found this hotel online. The price was very good for the fort and it had the best reviews that I have ever seen for a budget hotel. I can see why!
It is in a fabulous location in the fort – both very central and very quiet. Our room was big and comfortable with a queen size bed and single bed. It was on the simple side, but it had everything we needed and everything was good quality, especially the bed and linen.
It came with breakfast which was very good and the service in general was top rate. They seemed to genuinely care that we were comfortable and well taken care of. We highly recommend this place!
We paid about US$65 a night for a triple room which was a bargain. You can view all the latest prices here.
If you are looking for something fancier, there is fantastic accommodation in Galle, Sri Lanka. Here are our picks:
This budget accommodation is incredibly good value.
For US$40 a night, we had a mid range hotel room with a double and single bed and bar fridge, included breakfast and a balcony looking out over the pool about a minute’s walk from the beach. We would definitely stay here again if we are ever back in Unawatuna.
If you are looking for some good beach resorts right by Unawatuna Beach, here are some recommended choices:
Warning! Eating in the Fort area is not cheap especially if you want to try out some of the best restaurants in Galle which are meant to be superb.
We buffered the cost by eating lunch at a bakery in the New Town, so we could afford more for dinner. Here are the options we tried and can personally recommend:
If you are wondering how to get from Colombo to Galle, it could not be easier. There are buses and trains. The trains run regularly and are easy to catch. However, be warned that they can be quite full! Our train from Colombo to Galle was our worst journey in Sri Lanka. You can read more details here and you can find the train timetable from Colombo to Galle (and vice versa) here.
Taking the Galle to Colombo train is similarly easy. The train is meant to be quite scenic but I had problems seeing much at all. What I did see did not compare to the scenery in the Hill Country though.
It is also easy to get to Galle via train from along the south coast. If you are wanting to travel from Kandy to Galle, we were unable to find a direct train. We had to travel via Colombo. All the nitty gritty details of that journey are here .
The Galle train station is very central and very close to the Fort – if you don’t have much luggage, it is easy to walk from here.
You can also read our Colombo guide.
The Fort Area is quite compact and we found it easy to walk everywhere. To go elsewhere, there is a local bus station just outside the Fort and rickshaws are everywhere.
Our kids were not as impressed by Galle as us but they did have fun running along the walls! Unawatuna was a better match for them with the beach and the inexpensive accommodation complete with pool.
We kept to our AUD$110 budget which was great. Splitting up our stay between the Galle Fort and cheaper Unawatuna helped with this as did eating short eats for lunch.
My favourite place in Sri Lanka would have to be Galle and the nearby beach area of Unawatuna. We just loved these places!
Galle Fort is just lovely. It is such an easy place to just hang out and wander which is exactly what we loved. It is less crazy than other parts of Sri Lanka so it was much easier to walk around with the kids as well. There are lots of beautiful shops and restaurants and picture perfect scenery everywhere you look.
It also has a very local feel in pockets which adds to ambiance of the place. It is not just a historic fort, it is a place where people live and work.
My only complaint is the cost – the extra quality obviously costs more.
Unawatuna was also a favourite. We were so sad that we had to leave here so soon. The beach had our kind of vibe. Enough people, restaurants and hotels to make it easy and to not feel uncomfortable in a bikini, but really very few people around. It was also great for the budget which is a big plus! Our hotel there was exceptionally good value.
If we ever head back to Sri Lanka, I have no doubt that Galle and Unawatuna will be the first places on our must visit list – make sure they are on yours!
Read more about our time in Sri Lanka.
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