Galle Things to Do

  • Ramparts, Galle, Sri Lanka.
    Ramparts, Galle, Sri Lanka.
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  • Ramparts, Galle, Sri Lanka.
    Ramparts, Galle, Sri Lanka.
    by planxty
  • Ramparts, Galle, Sri Lanka.
    Ramparts, Galle, Sri Lanka.
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Best Rated Things to Do in Galle

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    An entry and a mystery.

    by planxty Updated Feb 10, 2014

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    The rather imposing entrance to the Fort area you see here is known as the Old Gate and dates back to the 17th century, of which more later, and until 1897 was the only entrance into the fortifications. As the images show, it is slightly shabby looking on the outside and rather better looking on the inside where massive refurbishment has obviously taken place. I would have thought that on the principle that you never get a second chance to make a first impression that a little work on the outside might have been an idea.

    Apparently it had a portcullis and was a second line of defence to the moat which the Portuguese had built previously and the Dutch then reinforced. There is no evidence of the portcullis now but walking through it (watch the traffic as there is no footpath (sidewalk)) you can appreciate just how thick these defences were.

    Here then lies the mystery and if anyone can clear it up I would be most grateful and amend this tip with due aknowledgement. My best efforts on the internet have failed to bring a result.

    I know that in the colonial history of Sri Lanka the British came after the Dutch so why does the British coat of arms on the exterior bear the date 1668 whilst that of the V.O.C. (Dutch East Indies Company) on the interior wall bear a date a year later, if my schoolboy Latin numbering system does not desert me. Answers on a postcard please!

    Update 11/02/2014

    Well, it is no longer a mystery! Thanks to the excellent internet research of VT member alza, who directed me to this wonderful blog, all becomes clear. The 1668 date on the outside of the gate was apparently put there by the Dutch and when the British took over they were too gentlemanly to remove it but rather put their own royal coat of arms above it, so now I know!

    I don't intend to re-write the whole tip but again many thanks to Lou for her excellent sleuthing and it reinforces yet again what I often say about how useful a tool Virtual Tourist is in learning things.

    Old Gate, Galle Fort, Sri Lanka. Detail, Old Gate, Galle Fort, Sri Lanka. Old Gate, Galle Fort, Sri Lanka. Old Gate, Galle Fort, Sri Lanka. Detail, Old Gate, Galle Fort, Sri Lanka.
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    This is how the Dutch got here.

    by planxty Written Feb 9, 2014

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    The building you see in the images is the Akersloot Bastion which lies to the Southern side of the Fort facing the sea.

    This is the story of a man called Willem Jacobszoon Coster, a Dutchman born in 1590 and in 1638 in the employ of the V.O.C. (Dutch East Indies Company) which was dedicated, as the name implies to trade routes with the far East. They dealt particularly in spices which were a hugely precious commodity in those days. In 1637, King Rajasingha II, King of Kandy, had already asked the V.O.C. to help him oust the occupying Portuguese from the country and an Admiral named Adam Westerwold was dipatched. He was subsequently joined by Coster and his force and they succeeded in first capturing the Fort at Batticaloa. In 1638 the Dutch and the King made another agreement and proceeded to do exactly the same thing to Galle with the defeated Portuguese being transported to the Coromandel Coast (India).

    The entire Fort was named Akersloot after Coster's birthplace and his wife sailed to join him in 1640 making her one of the first Dutch women in the country. Coster was subsequently raised to the post of Governer of Zeylon (Ceylon). Things then went badly wrong for him. He returned Trincomalee to the King but refused to give back any more land and so the King had him murdered on 21st August 1640. His poor wife arrived after his murder and so turned straight round to return home.

    Be careful who you deal with!

    You cannot actually enter the bastion but it is interesting to look at it and learn about the history.

    Akersloot Bastion, Galle Fort, Sri Lanka. Detail, Akersloot Bastion, Galle Fort, Sri Lanka.
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    A very impressive mosque.

    by planxty Written Feb 13, 2014

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    It is not difficult to see that the Fort area in Galle is predominantly Muslim, psrticularly on Friday, the Islamic holy day when the citizens all seem to don traditional Islamic gear in order to go to Friday prayers. Even on other days of the week, the Islamic influence is very obvious and there are numerous buildings obviously associated with that faith. I even saw an Arabic College. I have sen these elsewhere and I am unsure as to to what their function might be, I suspect it may be for the teaching of the Arabic language, the better to facilitate reading of Holy Qu'uran.

    Anyway, back to the Mosque. I knew from my guidebook that it was not open to non-believers and that is fair enough, I would never profane anyone else's religious beliefs but it did make me wonder why. I have been in mosques in other parts of the world and indeed been invited into them and treated with the utmost hospitality. I really am unsure if this is specific to this building, Sri Lanka in general or for some other reason but if I do discover the reason I shall amend this tip accordingly. I am sure that Islamic travellers would be perfectly at liberty to enter for prayer or just to look around.

    Being of no religious faith I had to content myself with a photograph of what is a fairly impressive building although t did strike me that architecturally it looked rather more like a European Christian church than a mosque. It is not of huge historical importance having only been built in 1904 on the site of the old structure dating to the mid 18th century but it is a pleasant building to look at and like the lighthouse (see separate tip) although inaccessible to me it was certainly worthy of a photograph before moving on.

    Mosque, Galle Fort, Sri Lanka.
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    Great place for a sundowner.

    by planxty Updated Feb 14, 2014

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    Let's get one thing absolutely straight at the outset, the Galle Fort Hotel is way outside my budget to stay at but it does provide an absolutely gorgeous location for a drink in the late afternoon. Indeed, it would be lovely at any time but I tended to go there for a sundowner. One good thing about going at that time is that they will bring you a complimentary plate of delightful nibbles as pictured. For information the red dipping sauce is hotter than the green one and can be a little fiery!

    The service is escellent and there always seem to be almost too many staff standing around waiting to serve you

    Certainly you pay a bit more than normal for a drink here but not overly so and it really is worth it to sit in such wonderful surroundings and imagine yourself back in the days of the Empire. To put it in context a large bottle of beer here costs 400SLR which is a shade under £2 or about $3US so it is not exactly going to break the bank.

    Highly recommended.

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    87 not out.

    by planxty Written Feb 19, 2014

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    This tip concerns Galle international cricket stadium which I was surprised to read is one of seven international grounds in Sri Lanka. I could only think of Colombo and Kandy in addition to this place. The Esplanade, as it was previously known, was declared a cricket ground in 1927 and hence the title of this tip but it has a much longer history. Similar to %K[http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/23761f/]Galle Face Green in Colombo, it was originally laid out as a horse racing course and was opened in 1829. Over time the racing became less popular and the cricket moreso in what is a completely cricket -mad country and so the racing was eventually discontinued. As well as internationals, the venue is home to Galle C.C. and I was even lucky enough to catch a few overs of one of their games when I visited.

    Galle must be one of the most picturesque Test grounds in the world.with the Indian Ocean easily visible and the impressive World Heritage Site Dutch Fort (see separate tips) towering over it. During internationals the ramparts of the Fort become an impromptu gallery for thousands unlucky enough not to have a ticket. Regrettably there was no such fixture when I was in Galle as Sri Lanka were on a tour playing Pakistan in the Middle East and Bangladesh in Bangladesh but it was very pleasant just to wander around the ground and soak up some of the atmosphere of the place.

    Galle is a relative newcomer to international with he first one Test only having been played in 1998 with Sri Lanka comprehensively defeating New Zealand by an innings and 16 runs. The first One Day International (ODI) was scheduled for that year as well but was abandoned due to a waterlogged pitch. I am composing this tip in Sri Lanka and can sympathise as it has not stopped raining all morning and shows no sign of doing so any time soon! The ODI career of this ground was pretty short with the last one being played in 2000. At time of writing, the last Test here was in March 2013.

    Galle is known to favour spin bowlers and two of the greatest exponents of that skill have reached huge landmarks here. Shane Warne of Australia claimed his 500th Test scalp in Galle and the national hero that is Muttiah Muralitharan or Murali took his 800th wicket on this ground. I am sure batsmen around the world are mightily relieved that both have retired from the international game.

    Sadly it is almost impossible to write anything about Southern Sri Lanka without making mention of the appalling tsunami of 26 December 2004 and so it is with this tip. The ground was completely devastated in the carnage of that most awful natural disaster and subsequently served as both refugee camp for survivors and helipad for the rescue operation. When things returned to some semblance of normality there was a huge debate as to whether or not they were going to rebuild the ground to international standards, relocate it elsewhere or just not bother. Matters were not helped by political bickering both at national level and within the Sri Lankan cricket Board. Luminaries of the game, notably the above-mentioned "Warney" and Sir Ian "Beefy" Botham waded into the argument and it was eventually agreed that the ground should remain and be rebuilt where it was. Work commenced in 2996 and the ground was officially opened on 17 December 2007 with a Test against England which resulted in a draw. I, for one, am glad it is still here as it truly is a great venue for a Test.

    There are no organised tours of the ground but if you speak to the security guard on the gate he will probably let you in to have a wander around. That is what I did.

    Galle cricket ground, Sri Lanka. Galle cricket ground, Sri Lanka. Galle cricket ground, Sri Lanka. Galle cricket ground, Sri Lanka. Galle cricket ground, Sri Lanka.

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    The much less interesting of the two.

    by planxty Written Feb 13, 2014

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    I have created a separate tip on this page about the Dutch Reformed Church (now properly the Christian Reformed Church) and in the interests of fairness I feel I should also write about it's close neighbour (theologically and geographically) the Anglican Church of All Saints. Frankly, the Anglican place of worship is going to suffer rather badly by comparison. An explanation here as to why there is only one image accompanying this tip. When I entered the building, which I had to myself, the first thing I saw was a sign saying that photography was only allowed after obtaining permission from a lay member in the Church. Whether this is for some religious reason or because they want to aim you in the direction of the donation box I could not say. The notice is replicated in various places around the building. Try as I might I could not find a soul in the place, even in the little office out the back so I didn't take any images.

    The fact that I was unable to use the camera was really no great loss as there is just about nothing to see here and the fabric of the building has obviously seen much better days, none of them in this millenium. It really is slightly shabby.

    So what is the history of this somewhat neglected place of worship? Not that I know such things but
    I have learned that it is in the Victorian Gothic Revival style. Construction commenced in 1868 and it was consecrated in 1871 which makes it considerably later than it's Dutch counterpart. It was built on the site of an old Courthouse and local legend has it that the gallows once occupied the site of the present altar!

    There are a few steps to the front which may be a concern for mobility impaired travellers.

    If you are passing, it is worth popping in for a look but it won't take you long. You might even be lucky enough to find someone in there.

    All Saints Church, Galle, Sri Lanka.
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    For those in peril on the sea.

    by planxty Updated Feb 13, 2014

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    Whilst you are walking round the Fort area in Galle, you will certainly notice the lighthouse, it is certainly big enough at 26.5 metres. Unlike it's sister building in Colombo this structure is still operational although it is nowhere near as old and, frankly, not quite as aesthetically pleasing. Nor is it anywhere near as old as the old Colombo light. Although an original structure was built on this site in 1848 it was destroyed by fire in 1934 and the present light dates from 1939. I dread to think what might have happened to shipping in the intervening five years.

    As it is still in commission, you cannot enter the building but it is still a notable landmark in the delightful World Heritage site of Galle Fort. Even if you cannot enter, it is certainly worth a photograph, which is just what I did.

    Lighthouse, Galle, Sri Lanka.
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    Visit the Fort.

    by planxty Updated Feb 9, 2014

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    It is true that there is not a plethora of things to do in Galle but an absolute must is a wander round the old Fort area which is an absolute gem of colonial architecture. It is true there are still some signs of decay as seems to be so prevalent in Sri Lanka although I got the sense that the place i being very much revived with plenty of tourist orientated shops, restaurants and accommodation and it is very pleasant. It is not a huge place and you could probably wander it's entire circumference in about half an hour and yet I found myself spending hours and hours meandering aimlessly around the myriad little backstreets basically just gawping at things and going a little crazy with the camera.

    With this being Sri Lanka your progress was never going to be rapid anyway as about every third person will want to stop you for a chat but that is part of the inherent charm of the place.

    So what is this Fort? Well, they are obviously a military installation as the name implies and they also very neatly encapsulate the colonial period in Sri Lankan history having had influence from the Portuguese, Dutch and British in turn.

    The Portuguese first landed here in 1505 although the excellent and still busy harbour had been important for centuries before that. Soon after they began to fortify the place to protect their trade routes with the Far East. In 1640 the Dutch, who had allied themselves to the Sinhalese King, captured the Fort and expelled the Portuguese and undertook major renovation which is why it is predominantly now in the Dutch style. The third and final wave of colonialists, the British, took the Fort over in 1796 and nominally remained in control of it until Sri Lanka achieved it's independence in 1948. I still find it hard to imagine that we controlled this country until a mere 11 years before my birth.

    Of course, if you are interested in, or "collect", such things the entire Fort area is a World Heritage site, having been designated in 1988. I didn't know that when I visited so that is another one for my list which pleases me greatly.

    I shall be constructing specific tips on various individual aspects of the Fort as I go along but as a general "thing to do" this has to be well up there and hopefully the images will give you an overview of this fantastic neighbourhood. Just don't forget your camera.

    Street scene, Fort, Galle, Sri Lanka. Street scene, Fort, Galle, Sri Lanka. Street scene, Fort, Galle, Sri Lanka. Street scene, Fort, Galle, Sri Lanka.
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  • Kanneliya Forest

    by iroshank Written Nov 21, 2011

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    Kanneliya is a breathtaking forest which you will find various endemic plants to Sri Lanka. It a Mind Boggling Forest which u can either walk around abt 4 hrs or you can camp and stay about 2 nights. Which ever the case its a Really Nice place to Explore the Bio - Diversity. Thick green Forest with water falls and small caves which you can go under..An Amazing Experience which one shouldn't miss..

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    The more interesting of the two.

    by planxty Written Feb 13, 2014

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    There are two Christian places of worship in the old Fort area in Galle and this, as the title suggests, is undoubtedly the more interesting of the two. It is commonly called the Dutch Reformed Church (Groote Kerk in Dutch) although it is now officially the Christian Reformed Church, presumably because there are not so many Dutch in the area any more. Actually I wonder what size of a congregation they have as the Fort area is very predominantly Muslim.

    The Church was completed in 1755 on the site of a former Portuguese convent and it occupies the highest point within the Fort complex at 12 metres. It is built to the same design as Dutch churches in Negapatnam and Cochin in India and has been recently extensively re-furbished with financial and practical assistance from the Netherlands, specifically the Homogene Groep Internationale Samenwerking

    Entering the Church I was greeted by a a gentleman and a lady and after a little of the usual smalltalk I the donation box was very helpfully pointed out to me. Well, I suppose all that restoration has to be paid for. I had a good look round although there is not really that much to see but it is a pleasant enough place. If you visit, you are probably standing on the most interesting feature as much of the floor is paved with old gravestones from a long-decommissioned burial ground.

    I did notice a couple of memorials to obviously British people and can only conclude that they must have been of other faiths than Church of England as there is an Anglican church a short way down the road. There is one interesting if slightly unusual feature. As you go in the main door, look to your left and you will see the memorial pictured. It commemorates one Abraham Samlant, an 18th century Commander of the Galle Garrison and strangely features his baptismal robe. I have never seen such a thing before.

    The organ is worth a look, as is the pulpit which was constructed from wood brought specially from Malaysia for the purpose.

    If you take a walk outside there is a well-kept churchyard with old headstones lining the wall. There is also a burial chambers with steps leading down to it but I didn't really fancy that.

    There are five steps to the front of the Church which may make it difficult for the mobility impaired traveller.

    This is not the most interesting Church I have ever been in but if you are in the Fort it is worth a look.

    Dutch Church, Galle, Sri Lanka. Memorial, Dutch Church, Galle, Sri Lanka. Organ, Dutch Church, Galle, Sri Lanka. Memorial, Dutch Church, Galle, Sri Lanka. Churchyard, Dutch Church, Galle, Sri Lanka.
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    Send me a postcard.

    by planxty Written Feb 13, 2014

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    I really loved this quirky little place. The entire building you see was initially the "Negotie Kantoor" or Trade Office and Personnel Department for the Fort. Housed within it is a tiny little Post Office which has apparently been functioning as such since 1815. It is worth visiting just for a look but they do have an excellent selection of postcards for sale very reasonably and obviously you can buy the necessary stamps. You can use the postbox outside to send your card. It is one of the many British period boxes, this one of George VI vintage.

    Be warned though. A friend on mine who lives in Sri Lanka warned me that a postcard can take 90 days to reach the United Kingdom!

    Post Office, Galle Fort, Sri Lanka. Postbox, Galle Fort, Sri Lanka. Post Office, Galle Fort, Sri Lanka.
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    Meeran Jumma Masjid

    by jungles Written May 24, 2006

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    This mosque that dominates the Arab Quarter of the fort looks very much like a church in its architectural style, except that the domes and towers are topped by small crescents instead of crosses. The original mosque was built in the 1750s, though it was rebuilt at the same site in the early twentieth century.

    Meeran Jumma Masjid
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    National Maritime Archaeology Museum.

    by cachaseiro Written Nov 30, 2012

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    The National Maritime Archaeology Museum is located in an old dutch warehouse inside the fort in Galle and is worth a visit.
    It has been restored recently as it sufferd damage in the 2004 tsunami and is now standing as a very modern museum that exhibits Sri Lankas maritime past aswell as archaeological stuff.
    I was mainly visiting cause i am interested in maritime history and found the muesum quite interesting.
    It's not really that the place has a lot of things on exhibit, but what is there is very well presented and you can really see that this is a museum that has just been restored and modernised.
    This is not your old fashioned grey museum where nothing has been done the past 50 years.
    The warehouse that is hosting the museum is worth the visit too as it's a really nice old two storey warehouse from the 18th century.

    National Maritime Archaeology Museum in Galle. National Maritime Archaeology Museum in Galle. National Maritime Archaeology Museum in Galle. National Maritime Archaeology Museum in Galle. National Maritime Archaeology Museum in Galle.
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    Walk the ramparts.

    by planxty Written Mar 12, 2014

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    This tip is in relation to what is almost a rite of passage in the wonderful town of Galle and involves nothing more strenuous that going for a pleasant stroll. I should mention at the outset that, like much of this excellent country, there regrettably is no provision for the mobility impaired.

    The Galle Fort is the heart and soul of the town and a walk on it's ancient battlements seems to be absolutely de rigeur amongst locals and travellers alike. I should add here also that a complete circumnavigation of the walls is not possible for reasons both practical and military. Much of the East side does not actually have a walkway and there is a functioning military base on the Northwest corner.

    Thankfully, the awful civil war which only finished five years ago, is no longer an issue but the guys in green don't like you tramping about their camps and understandably so. If you do stray too far, as I did inadvertently, you will be very politely (with the usual Sri Lankan smile) but firmly pointed back in the direction of the main road by a young man carrying an assault rifle. Probably best to do what you are told. Don't get me wrong, these are not gun-toting thugs and I never felt threatened in the slightest but just be a bit careful how far you walk, and the walk, as far as you are allowed, is well worth it. You are literally walking in the footsteps of history. Who knows how many Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialists walked these very walls in years past. OK, the Portuguese didn't as they only built a wooden palissade here but you get the point. It really is a thing to do.

    This really is a wonderful attraction and, as I mentioned in another tip here, if you don't have a ticket for a cricket international at Galle International ground, this is where all the locals gather to watch for free as you can see right into the ground.

    I would recommend early morning or late afternoon to do this as the daytime heat can be brutal if you are not used to it. Best of all, it's free!

    Ramparts, Galle, Sri Lanka. Ramparts, Galle, Sri Lanka. Ramparts, Galle, Sri Lanka.
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    A late but decent find.

    by planxty Written Mar 20, 2014

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    I had seen the Sydney Hotel a few times as it stands right beside the rather large bus station in Galle (see separate tip) but it was only on the day I was leaving the town that I managed to visit as I was always getting a bus somewhere or returning lateish when it was shut (most bars in Sri Lanka shut @ 2200 hours). This turned out to be somewhat of a double-edged sword as I shall explain in another tip but I am glad I did it. Frankly, the wisdom of drinking several beers and then getting on a bus without a toilet for a several hour journey is dubious to say the least!

    Enough of my aging bladder, however, I am sure the reader wishes to know about the bar. The outside looks pretty opulent but the inside is just a typical Sri Lankan drinking venue. What actually detained me was that there was cricket on TV that day (isn't there always in Sri Lanka?) and I got a bit engrossed in it. My Lion Lager was about usual price nd certainly cheaper than the posh places in the Fort and I got to discussing the cricket with the locals without a word of a common language, if that makes any sense. Just the usual hand signals and mime sufficed, as always. I had a great time there.

    As is usual with Sri Lankan bars, there was not a woman to be seen in the place although a couple of groups of Caucasians including women did come in and were politely ushered out towards the back. I presume there must be a "posh" bar there but I did not check it out. I was having a great time where I was! There are a selection of inexpensive bar snacks available should you fancy a nibble with your beer.

    Despite my best efforts, I cannot find an internet footprint for this place anywhere online and so have no contact details but you really cannot miss it, it is the large building pictured right beside the bus stand and I do recommend it for a drink if you want to get a bit of local flavour away from the more touristed Fort hotels.

    Sydney Hotel, Galle, Sri Lanka. Joe's Pub, Sydney Hotel, Galle, Sri Lanka. Joe's Pub, Sydney Hotel, Galle, Sri Lanka. Joe's Pub, Sydney Hotel, Galle, Sri Lanka. Joe's Pub, Sydney Hotel, Galle, Sri Lanka.
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