Galle is the capital of a district with the same name and is also called the Gateway to the South. This port city, 119 km from Colombo, has managed to retain its old colonial town feel even today and is also known for its Dutch walled fortress.
It is believed that Galle is the biblical seaport of Tarshish, from which King Solomon obtained gold, ivory, peacocks and other valuables. Being on the strategic sea-route between Arabia, India and Southeast Asia, as well a natural harbour, Galle became an important trading port for Persians, Arabs, Greeks, Romans, Malays, Indians and Chinese.
According to other schools of thought, the name Galle derives from ‘Gallus’ (chicken in Dutch), or from ‘Gaala’, in Sinhala, meaning a herding place for cattle. Before the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century, Galle was known as ‘Gimhathiththa’. In less than 100 yrs, the Dutch had taken over and reinforced the fort. The Galle fort is now a world heritage site and shows the amalgamation of European architectural styles with south Asian traditions.
Beyond Galle, lies a stretch of coast with a series of beaches like Unawatuna and Thalpe, the latter also being famous for its stilt fishermen. In cricketing circles, Galle is known for its cricket ground, which has rebuilt itself successfully after the tsunami destruction.
Other prominent landmarks are the natural harbour, the National Maritime Museum, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Amangalla the historic luxury hotel and one of Sri Lanka’s main Shiva temples. Other natural attractions, temples and forts are also tourist hotspots.
By itself Galle is a large town, with a busy bus station and market are its heart. It provides varying attractions for its tourists with multiple art festivals. The annual Galle Literary Festival attracts litterateurs from all over the world.
General info on accommodation options and specific info on types of accommodation according to location
A wide range of accommodations from guest houses, bed and breakfast, star hotels, to boutique resorts is available in Galle. There is something for every budget, with prices ranging from 20 USD to 600 USD for exclusive properties. Most of the hotels in Galle are situated in the Fort and Beach area. However, one can find hotels located within the city limits as well. There are also a number of villas offering luxurious accommodation.
Among the high end hotels, the Amangalla and the Galle Fort Hotel inside the Fort and The Dutch House outside promise luxurious colonial style accommodation.
Among the medium range properties, The Lady Hill is the best option. The Fort House and Tamarind Hut are other options..
The budget properties are mostly family run guesthouses, offering homely lodgings and home cooked food. Beach Haven, Weltevreden and Rampart View are some such properties.
The villas are generally historic houses or tea plantation bungalows. The Last House, Auraliya and The Beach House are the few high end ones. The Fort House and Tamarind Hut come with lower budgets.
Info on International and major domestic hotel chains
There are no major international chains of hotels operating in Galle. A local chain of hotels, Jetwing does however have properties here.
Focus on business & leisure travel
Most of the hotels here have business and leisure facilities. One can find conference halls, wireless internet and fax facility in most of the hotels.
High end hotels also have in house entertainment choices for guests, which takes of the leisure needs of tourists.
Pricing variation according to season and events
The monsoon months from April to September are less busy and the prices are slightly on the lesser side during these months. Otherwise, Galle is a typical tropical coastal town and weather remains warm and welcoming throughout the year.
Things to Do
Things to Do – Overview
Overview of what all can be done in the destination across various categories of Things to do. Also, duration based possibilities to be listed.
There are lots of things to do in Galle. It has beaches, cultural attractions, temples, tea plantations, paddy fields and also shopping and dining. Everyone can find an activity of their choice here.
Old Galle has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO. The well preserved 17th century colonial Galle Fort is the major attraction here. The fort is an example of the colonial style of architecture.
There is a museum inside the fort which represents the art and culture of the Southern Province. The Maritime Museum also inside the fort provides the history of Galle’s maritime successes. The Dutch Reformed Church has been restored and is worth a visit for its atmosphere and architecture.
The Galle harbour still handles shipping, and one can get a view of cruising yachts now and then. The cricket stadium here reminds one of the Dutch architecture.
Guided bike tours are also available to get a view of the countryside. Around Galle, trips to the Koggala lagoon, the Sea Turtle Hatchery, Whale watching trips from Mirissa and Kottawa Rainforest and Arboretum make for day outings. The beaches of Unawatuna and Thalpe are also good options.
Sightseeing – Overview
Overview on the sightseeing in the destination, including the popular ones and thematic ones
The main attraction for sight seers in Galle is its old colonial Fort. With a lot of reconstruction work done lately, the Fort has recently been restored. Inside the ramparts of the fort, there are a lot of old buildings and colonial structures to see.
The Dutch Reformed Church and The All Saints’ Church are the Dutch and Anglican places of worship. The National Museum, Maritime Museum and the Historical Maritime Museum have some ancient artefacts.
Themed walking tours of the Fort, adapted to individual interests can be taken to get some new insights into the life of Fort residents as well as see some off the beat aspects of the Fort.
The Koggala Lagoon, with several islands, is a place for bird watching. The Temple Island here has an old Buddhist temple, which is still in use and attracts many visitors on full moon (Poya) day. The Cinnamon Island is also worth exploring and Ananda Spice Garden are other sightseeing options here.
The Kottawa Rainforest and Arboretum, on the road to Udugama introduces one to the Sri Lankan rainforest.
Sightseeing – Individual level write-ups
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Timing: 9 a.m – 5:30 p.m (Monday to Friday)
9 a.m – 9:00 p.m (Saturday and Sunday)
Admission Fees: RM 3.00 per entry for adult and RM 0.50 for children and students.
The Galle Fort
This fort, initially built by the Portuguese, was taken over by the Dutch in 1640. They further fortified it over the next 6-7 decades, also building a new elaborate system of sewers. Every high tide they would be flooded, taking the sewage out to the sea.
This walled city, within the city gives a peak into Galle’s colonial past. The pillars and the facades, courtyards full of the shops selling spices and sarongs, antiques and modern curios give a glimpse of the old times.
The Fort is a common pastime of tourists as well as locals. Walking tours, organized by Juliet Coombe and Daisy Perry, may be adapted according to individual tastes – wildlife, history or architecture.
National Museum, (Church Street, Tues – Sat, 9am to 5pm, LKR 300), Historical Mansion Museum (Leyn Baan Street, daily, 9am to 6pm, donations optional) and Maritime Museum (Queen’s Street) are located inside the Fort.
‘Koggala Lagoon’, approx 20 km from Galle has mangroves which are home to birds and reptiles like monitor lizards and snakes. There is also a beach which stretches upto the Ahangama and Midigama bays.
There are several islands within the lagoon. On Poya (full moon) day, many people visit the Temple Island, which has an old Buddhist Temple. One can also explore the Cinnamon Island, or the Ananda Spice Garden on a separate island.
Visitors to Koggala can also visit the Martin Wickramasinghe Folk Art Museum. Beyond Koggala, in the town of Ahangama, one can see a lot of stilt fishermen as they fish on stilts, surrounded by water. Further on, Midigama offers surfing options.
Kottawa Rainforest and Arboterum
Located 16 km from Galle, this is easily accessible and introduces the Sri Lankan rainforest to the tourists. A 1 km walking trail is shaded by dipterocarps. One can find purple faced langurs, giant squirrels, muntjacs and sambars residing here. There are also different varieties of birds and reptiles. Guided tours for groups are run by Rainforest Rescue International (LKR 2250 – LKR 3000).
Address: 14 km post, Udugama Road
Timing: 8 am – 5 pm
Admission Fees: LKR 600
Activities – Overview
Info on the kind of activities possible in the destination
One can explore the Fort and the surrounding area either on foot or on a bicycle. The bicycle rides can range from sedate 2 -3 hr ones to whole day trips. Surfing at Midigama and Ahangama is another option for surfing enthusiasts. Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa offer beautiful beaches. Galle also offers the option of diving to see rock and coral reefs and also some artificial reefs which have come up on wrecks.
One can also go to Habaraduwa, to see baby turtles hatching at the Sea Turtle Hatchery. For those interested in gems and jewellery, Millenium Gems offers a range of gem stones and jewellery.
Activities – Generic, Individual level write-ups
Overview of any 3 top, generic activities of the destination
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Address and contact details (if applicable.)
Sea Turtle Hatchery – Habaraduwa
With the aim to aid the survival of sea turtles, Sea Turtle Farm and Hatchery is a not- for- profit organization which has opened a “Turtle Farm” in Habaraduwa (Galle District) near a beach. This 8is km from the Galle Matara road. The farm was opened in 1986 and to date have released over 500,000 sea turtles into the sea
With the entry fee of LKR 300 only, one can experience a baby turtle hatching out and making its way to the sea.
To see a range of gem stones and ready-made jewellery, one can visit Millennium Gems in the Fort area. A fifth generation jeweller, the owner, Mr Mahesh, has over 20 years of experience in making custom jewellery. All the jewellery on offer is hand-made. Millennium Gems specialize in Moonstones and are licensed exporters for it.
Tel.: 00 94 91 438 1621
Surfing is a popular activity in Galle. There are many beaches in and around the city where one can take part in water sporting activities including water surfing. However, one should avoid the monsoon months if one wishes to enjoy the water sporting activities here, as the beaches are closed during the monsoon months. A popular location for surfing in the region is Ahangama and Midigama, which are less crowded than some other areas.
Excursions & Tours – Overview
Info on the type of excursions and tours possible from the destination and the popular ones depending on choice and budget
Excursions to Kottawa Rainforest and Arboretum and Hiyare Rainforest Park are possible as full day outings. The Samakanda eco-tourism project (www.samakanda.org) has a 60 acre organic farm and eco-retreat. Day trips can also be organised to visit tea plantations and tea processing factories for approx LKR 750-1000 per person
The Yala Wildlife Sanctuary has leopards, elephants and crocodiles. There is also rich birdlife here, especially from October to March when migratory birds arrive.
Whale watching is another activity possible near Galle. The seas south of Dondra are a good location to see blue whales. Recent observers also say that it may be possible to see blue whales and sperm whales together.
Restaurants – Overview
Info on Main cuisines, types of establishments, Street food, Specialities etc.
A range of restaurants offering western as well as local cuisine are available in Galle. Most restaurants are expensive, but a lot of cafes have also come up to cater light meals at reasonable prices. Several guesthouses in the Fort area also dish out home-made local cooking for budget travelers.
Seafood is popular, and the traditional cuisine has a whole range of vegetarian options as well. Pan asian food is also easily available. Most cafes offer rice and curry at lunchtime, as well as soups, salads and sandwiches. Restaurants at Amangalla an Galle Fort Hotel are quite popular.
Restaurants with other international cuisines are also coming up. Though not many Indian restaurants are available, one can find rice and curry options at most places. Indian Hut, (on the format of Pizza Hut) offers a range of Indian, Pakistani and Chinese dishes for decent price.
(DO NoT give addresses / contact details in restaurant.)
Shopping – Overview
Info on main shopping districts, duty-free, bargains, specialities, VAT refund etc.
A number of galleries and boutiques have come up in Galle. These offer both the western requisites and native artefacts. Galle is also famous for its handicrafts. Teas, spices, antiques and handicrafts are some of the main shopping items for tourists.
The Dutch Market is known for selling the freshest fruits and vegetables and dates back 300 years. Elephant Walk has a good selection of spices, potions and handicrafts. Kanthisiri is a good option to buy good quality cotton fabrics. Traditional Sri Lankan apparel can be bought at Shoba Apparel
Traditional craftspeople can be seen creating jewellery, leatherwork, batik, lace and embroidery at the South Ceylon Industrial Agency & Handicraft Factories. For antique Dutch furniture and reproductions, one can visit Olanda .
Attractions – Overview
Overview of the main destination’s highlights
(This will be a sum-up of 5 to 6 main attractions from sightseeing, activities, excursions, shopping and restaurants, as applicable)
The Galle Fort is the landmark attraction. The fort dates back to 1640 and has recently been restored after lot of reconstruction and beautification work. There are many old structured within the fort to see and explore.
The Dutch Reformed Church is the oldest church in the region. An old pipe organ with manual bellows, though not in working condition can still be seen inside the church.
The Galle lighthouse on Point Utrecht bastion is also popular. Peace Pagoda, a Buddhist temple, and Meeran Jumma Masjid can also be visited. The beaches of Unawatuna are also a major attraction. The traffic free part of Main Street offers the local colour of small shops and pavement traders.
Whale watching is also a very popular attraction. Apart from all that, one can go surfing on the various beaches here. There is also the sea turtle hatchery at Habaraduwa which one can visit. The hatchery is a non profit organisation where tourists can see purple turtles laying their eggs.
The Yala national Park houses many species of plants and animals. The place gets a lot of migratory birds during the month of October, which makes it good for bird watching.
Travelling to – Overview
Overview of how to travel to the destination
At present, the only way to get to Sri Lanka is to fly into the island’s international airport at Katunayake, just north of Colombo. Sri Lanka is well connected by international airlines and to the Asian air networks.
From India, regular non-stop flights of Jet Airways, Kingfisher, Air India and SriLankan Airlines are available from Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Trivandrum, Tiruchirappali and Delhi. As such, one stop connection is available to Colombo from almost all Indian cities. A few cruise liners that sail between India and Maldives also stop at Colombo.
After getting out of the airport, one can take a tuk-tuk or taxi to the train station less than 1 km away. This station can be used to catch a train to Colombo and onwards to Galle. Alternatively one can take a taxi to Colombo and then catch the train to Galle. A single one way trip to Galle from Colombo costs Rs 100 to Rs 340 per person, depending on the class of travel.
One can also go to Galle by road, either by a taxi or by bus. The distance from the international airport to Galle is 130 km. It takes about four hours to reach Galle from the airport by taxi or bus, depending on the traffic density.
Best way of reaching the destination – will be site specific, including connecting flights.
Taxis or rental cars are the fastest and most comfortable way to reach Galle from the airport or Colombo. However, taxis are an expensive option. There are standard taxis and deluxe taxis, which are air conditioned, available from outside the airport.
Trains and buses are a cheaper alternative to taxis and car rentals. Intercity express is available from Colombo to Galle and offers comfortable seating. However, trains are usually late and do not run frequently.
Buses are another option to reach Galle from the airport. Majority of the buses are run by the government, although there are private operators as well. Buses run frequently, at an interval of 15-20 minutes. However, buses can get crowded as they are the most popular mode of transport among locals.
Airport info: Location in city, info on airport itself and services available, on the terminals.
The Bandaranaike International Airport is 130 km from Galle. It has 39 check-in desks, 4 gates, short term parking spaces, 3 Airport Hotels, Banks, Post Office, Restaurants, Cafeterias, Bars, VIP Lounge, Duty Free Shop, Gift Shops, Travel Agent, Tourist Help Desk, Car Rental, Taxi Service/Rank, First Aid, Baby/Parent Room and Disabled Access/Facilities.
Six banks operate in the arrival lobby for currency exchange facilities. Telephone booths are available in the arrival, departure and transit areas. A communications counter with international direct dialling and fax facilities is located in the transit lounge.
Travelers can also avail the bond baggage facility at the airport. Day rooms are available for transit passengers.
There are ATMs and currency exchange counters easily available at the airport.
If airport is nearby, include distance, mode of transport and traveling time
The airport is 130 km from Galle. From the airport, one can take a bus or a taxi to come to Colombo. Taxis and buses are available at the airport. From Colombo to Galle, one can take a train or bus or taxi. The journey from Colombo to Galle takes approx 2.5 to 3 hrs.
The buses from airport to Colombo Fort Railway Station (Bus # 187) run frequently and cost about LKR 50 per person, (may charge additional LKR 50 per piece of baggage) and take approximately 1.5 hrs.
There are taxis available directly from the airport to Galle. The journey by taxi takes about four hours and is the most expensive option to travel.
Transfers to city (from the airport)
Taxi/Bus/Metro etc., distance and travelling time
From the airport, one can rent a car or hire a taxi, to Colombo or beyond to Galle itself. Alternately, take bus #187 from the airport to The Fort Railway Station in Colombo. From Colombo, a bus or a train or a taxi can be taken to Galle.
Buses do not run directly to Galle. However, one can catch a bus to Colombo and then catch a connecting bus to Colombo. The journey by bus takes about 4 hours form the airport to Galle. Trains are another option to reach Galle. However, to catch the train, one has to come to Colombo Fort station from the airport.
The distance between Colombo and Galle is 117 km and the journey by train takes about 2 hours.
Train station info: Basic info on the station/s. Location and distance from city landmarks. Facilities at the station
The train station in Galle is located close to the cricket ground and near the fort area. The bus stand is just 500 m away from the station. One can catch a bus form the station for travelling around the city. The station has ATMs and currency exchange counters.
There is also a supermarket outside the station from where one can buy groceries and other stuff. The Galle Fort is at a walking distance from the Galle railway station. One can also train timings at www.bluehaventours.com
If nearby train station, include distance, mode of transport and traveling time
The bus station is close to the train station and there are buses available to other parts of the city as well as other neighbouring areas. Buses run frequently from the station and the cheapest mode of transport to travel. However, they can get crowded. Three wheelers and taxis are also available from outside the station.
The three wheelers or the tuk tuks do not have a metre installed, which is why one has to negotiate a price before boarding the three wheeler.
Facilities available in the trains
The intercity express is a train which runs from Colombo to Galle. The train has sleeper class and prior reservation is needed to board the train. The train has large seats and spacious interiors.
Bus station info: If multiple bus stations, mention them and share info
The main bus station of Galle is located in the central area of the city, outside the train station. Buses originate from here and travel to other parts of the city and also neighbouring cities. There are air conditioned buses as well as standard buses available from the bus station.
The buses run at regular intervals, usually at a gap of 15-20 minutes. There are bus stands near major tourist attractions, and buses provide good connectivity within the city. However, buses can get crowded, as they are the popular mode of transport in the city.
Operators: Govt. and Private, Frequency of operation
Both government and private buses ply on the Colombo – Galle route. Frequency of the buses ranges from 15 to 30 mins.
Summary: General climate, Best time to visit
Galle’s weather remains pleasant throughout the year. Coastal and low-land areas have a high temperature around 30 C. Humidity is high, sometimes upto 90%. Galle being on the south-western coast experiences the southwest monsoon from late April or May to September/October, with May and June being the wettest months.
The best time to visit Galle is from November to mid April. Galle being a cosmopolitan with a number of expats settled here, does not close down in the monsoon season like some other smaller towns. However, the sea remains choppy during this season and activities may be restricted. Cotton clothes are advisable throughout the year, with additional waterproof protective clothing required during the monsoon season.
Visa info: Basic introduction on visa
It is easy for Indians to obtain the Sri Lankan visa, because of the various tie ups and the 1954 agreement between India and Sri Lanka.
India is one of the 80 countries listed in the schedule “A” of Sri Lanka Visa list. Residents of any of these countries can obtain the visiting visa at the port of entry in Sri Lanka. The documents required are valid passport, application form, photographs and visa fees. Default validity of visa is 30 days which can be extended by 2 months. Visa fee is approximately LKR 150 with a tax of LKR 1.50.
Tourists can also get transit visa at the entry port if the traveler is making an incident journey to Sri Lanka during his/her onward journey to his/her final destinations.
Sri Lanka also has a guest Visa scheme, which encourages foreign investors to reside with family in Sri Lanka and contribute to the socio economic development of the country. The resident’s visa can be availed by the spouse, children, and parents of the primary applicant along with the applicant. There are some investment requirements to be fulfilled in order to obtain the resident guest scheme of visa.
For further information, please contact:
Sri Lanka High Comission , India
196, T. T. K. Road, Alwarpet
600 018 Chennai India
Department of Immigration and Emigration
#41, Ananda Rajakaruna Mawatha,
Tele : +00-94-11-5329000, +00-94-11-5329316/20/21/25
Based on originating country – time period, on arrival availability etc
If one is from India, one can get a visa on arrival in Sri Lanka. However, if one wishes to apply for a Visa before landing in Sri Lanka, one can do so by applying at the Sri Lankan high commission in the country. It usually takes 3-4 days to get the visa for Sri Lanka.
One needs a valid passport, two passport sized photographs, a duly filled application form and visa fee to apply for a visa to the country.
Tourists from the following countries are issued visas free of charge for a period of 30 days on arrival at Colombo Airport (facility applicable only for the tourists):
(b) nationals of Albania, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, China (PR, including Hong Kong), Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Korea (Rep), Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malaysia, Maldives, Montenegro, Nepal, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Serbia and Montenegro, Singapore, Slovenia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and United Arab Emirates;
(c) nationals of CIS countries.
However, all business travelers to the country need a visa.
Documents required, Processing time etc.
India is one of the countries listed in the schedule “A” of Sri Lanka Visa list. One can obtain the visit visa on arrival in Sri Lanka with the documents such as valid passport, application form, photographs and visa fees. If one is applying for a visa before coming to the country, it usually takes 3-4 working days for the application to get processed. The visa allows a 30 day of stay validity along with an extension for 2 months allowed with reasons. Visa fee is nearly 150INR with a tax of 1.50INR.
Overview: Name, denominations etc.
The currency used is the Sri Lankan Rupee represented as LKR. Each rupee has 100 cents. Coins come in denominations of LKR 10, 5,2 and 1 and 25 and 50 cents. Notes are available in denominations of LKR 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 2000. It is advisable to keep change handy as change may not be available with all shopkeepers.
Accepted Currencies: Other currencies widely accepted
Most of the hotels and travel services quote their rates in US Dollar or Euros. However the payments still need to be made in the Sri Lankan Rupee. The Indian Rupee also cannot be used for any transactions and must be converted. Some hotels may accept payments from credit cards of another currency.
Currency availability: Best locations where to convert currencies, ATM, Money changers, acceptability of traveller’s cheques and international credit cards, Comparative fees charged for these services
One can exchange the currency at the airport itself, which has many exchange counters, which are open 24/7. The exchange rates at the airport are usually the best.
There are also various ATMs available on the airport itself, if one needs to withdraw money. However, the banks may deduct some service charges for withdrawing money from an ATM. ATMs and money exchangers can also be found near the fort area or in markets. However, the money exchangers in this area do not offer very good exchange rates.
Private banks, like Commercial Bank, Hatton National Bank, HSBC and Sampath Bank offer a quicker service than their government-run competitors (Bank of Ceylon, People’s Bank and National Savings Bank).
It is always advised to make all foreign exchange transactions through authorised banks or exchanges with the provision of an encashment receipt. Changing money through unauthorised dealers is illegal. Unspent rupees may be reconverted at a commercial bank before one leaves the country.
Travellers’ cheques (T/Cs) issued by American Express and Thomas Cook (in UK£, US$ or Euro â‚¬) are best and are accepted without difficulty and give a slightly better exchange rate than currency notes in Sri Lanka. They also offer the security of replacement if lost or stolen.
Mon – Fri Most banks are open from 9.00 am to 3.00 pm, while certain banks are open till 5.00 pm
Saturday Most banks are open on Saturdays till 1.00 pm
Sundays Banks are closed
Info on Forex changers and possibilities of best prices
Foreign currency can be exchanged at the Bandaranaike International Airport as well as banks, hotels and authorised exchanges found all over the city. However, one should avoid hotels, which always charge huge premium over the rates available in the city locations.
Alert on scams and tips to avoid them
Sri Lanka, along with many countries has a major problem with credit/debit card fraud card skimming etc. People have even had problems at the airport. Therefore, it is best advised to use the credit cards only when extremely necessary.
Some establishments may try to add a surcharge on the credit cards payments, whi