Oh, Sri Lanka, how you have stolen my heart! I know, I sound a bit pathetic and you may laugh at me, that’s alright. But honestly, this country… I miss it already (while I am sitting in Bali so talk about #travelbloggerproblems here).
Still, it is what it is. I fell head over heels in love with Sri Lanka. Part of the charm was a picture perfect first destination to ease into: Galle.
Galle is a historical fort town down in the south of Sri Lanka and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Like so many others, think Hoi An or Paraty, it is utterly charming if a little touristy. I honestly didn’t mind. Crooked buildings, paint peeling, kittens and tuk-tuks all mixed with a fresh sea breeze and I was sold.
I stayed in Galle for a total of five nights which to me was the perfect amount of time to wander the streets and get acclimatized with hoppers and tuk-tuk bartering. And with that, here are my recommendations on what to do in Galle.
You have four option to get from Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital to Galle: by private car, train, bus or plane. I tried two of the options, so I am going to focus on these.
Needless to say, that is the most comfortable option. Walk outside the airport and turn left until you hit the taxi counters. I ignored all other advances as I wanted a reputable taxi company. Costs were about $65, and that got me a whole air-conditioned minivan on my own. No need to book or worry, just pay at the counter, get your slip and they will take you to your driver. I paid the driver a bit extra for the toll for the expressway which is a great option if you don’t care about the scenic route (I didn’t, it was 5 am!). That got me to Galle in a little over two hours.
Sri Lanka is famous for its trains. While the most scenic route runs to Ella, I still wanted to give it a go, so I decided to take the train from Galle back to Colombo. You have two options: 2nd class for about $2 or 1st class for $10.
I opted for 1st class not because I am so terribly spoilt but because I wanted to make sure to have an assigned seat as I had a lot of luggage. In hindsight that wasn’t necessary and a waste of money. Yes, I am calling $10 a waste of money because just like in Titanic the 2nd class looked a lot more fun – hello open windows! – and the 1st class was still pretty dismal. That the aircon was working I could only tell once I left and the bathroom was… well, let’s just say that I was happy the ride was only three hours and I didn’t have to use it. So I recommend you follow the locals.
Just go to the train station and buy your tickets there, the schedule can be found here.
Bus & Plane
Another easy way which I would have considered is taking the bus. Just keep in mind that local buses don’t leave directly from the airport so you will need to get to the Maharagama Bus Station in the southeast of Colombo first.
National flights go to Koggala with Cinnamon Air and from there you can take a tuk-tuk to Galle.
I had the best hotels in Sri Lanka. Some of them had such comfy beds that I could have stayed in all day long. My favorites for all tastes and budgets in the south here:
If you want to splurge even just for a night, the Amangalla is the place to be. Otherwise, make sure to pop in for a cocktail during sunset or a dinner – the restaurant is so good you will even find it in the guidebooks of all the other hotels.
Sri Lankan design is quite wonderful but give it a hint of modern day Morocco, and you see me swooning. Swoon I did when I walked into the Fort Bazaar just a few houses down from the Amangalla. I didn’t want to leave the latter but arriving at Fort Bazaar made it a lot better.
It has modern, clean lines that are set in a 17th-century townhouse providing the perfect mix of old and new. Think four-poster bed without the frills, subway tile in the bathroom, and giant bouquets of flowers.
The highlight is their bar/restaurant The Social that extends to the veranda, perfect for people watching (and kitten feeding).
While they don’t have a liquor license yet, they make some great virgin cocktails or will organize a tuk-tuk driver to get you beer from the kiosk at night. The menu offers anything from Sri Lankan curries (and of course, hoppers for breakfast) to classics like Fish ‘n Chips and some excellent tuna sashimi.
As it is a historical building, they are also waiting to have their pool built. While that will be a lovely addition, I recommend you go quickly now if you are heading to Galle to take advantage of some preferential rates.
The only thing that could make this place any better would be a gift shop; because I was sorely tempted to fill my pockets with all their accessories.
Villa Amma Erna
I found Villa Amma Erna on Booking.com of all places, and it was a complete hit. A 20-minute tuk-tuk drive from Galle takes you deep into the countryside and a steep hill up to the villa. Amma Erna has only three rooms for now, and they are completely open to one side (yes, there are mosquito screens).
The ventilation is fantastic though and you get the wonderful feeling of sleeping outside while snug in yet another four-poster bed. Enjoy the view over the adjacent village while you take a shower and hope for a thunderstorm – it doesn’t get any more romantic!
Sri Lankan village life and a modern, eco setting show that you can have the best of all worlds at Amma Erna.
Pedlar’s Inn Gelateria
While I didn’t eat at famed Pedlars, I did try their ice-cream stand for some coconut galore. Perfect post-breakfast snack while you are exploring the streets of Galle and are in need of a refreshment.
Take a tuk-tuk to Wijaya Beach, an institution close to Unawatuna beach. Stuff your face with the freshest, most inexpensive tuna sashimi, followed by prawn curry or pizza.
Wash it all down with generous helpings of passion fruit mojitos, served, of course, in mason jars. Perfect for THE Instagram shot because the view you get with your meal deserves a few hashtags.
Right opposite Pedlars you will find another institution: Poonies. Come here for some backyard tranquility, coconut water and Thai inspired dished.
With renewed energy, you can then explore the little boutique upfront with Sri Lankan designers or head upstairs for a
napmassage at the spa.
While I am usually not a fan of hotel food, I did eat both, at the Amangalla and Fort Bazaar.
The former offers classic Sri Lankan dishes cooked to perfection while The Social is a little more international if you are craving something else but curries or hoppers.
Galle is a historical fort town with lots to see albeit being quite small. The old town can easily be discovered on foot or by tuk-tuk if you are really
You can see the buildings that Portuguese, Dutch and finally the English left over time and learn quite a bit about the country’s colonial history. Check out the Maritime Museum, take a stroll along the ramparts and to the lighthouse, and gaze at the mosque standing peacefully next to the local temple.
Stick no Bills
That shop is also part of the furniture in town and an event in itself. Go here to browse through vintage posters, mainly old advertisements for pretty much anything you can imagine.
You can get most prints from full sized framed versions to postcards. Get stamps too and mail some postcards right then and there from their old-fashioned red mailbox.
Unfortunately, there was no game on while I was in town but when I return I am very keen to see a cricket match at the stadium adjacent to the fort. After all, Sri Lanka is famous for its team and seats in the nosebleed section (do you call them that in a cricket stadium??) are as cheap as they get.
Life’s a Beach
Galle Fort does have its own beach though I dare say there are nicer beaches in the vicinity. Just take yourself a tuk-tuk and head to Unawatuna beach where the surf’s up and the tan is on.
Have you been to Galle and have recommendations? Please leave a comment, I am already planning my next to trip there!