The 17th-century Dutch fort of Galle is the jewel in Sri Lanka’s tropical crown. Located in the sleepy bay of the same name, near the southern tip of the pear-shaped island, Galle Fort has been beautifully preserved and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The walled fort is criss-crossed with brick streets and a mix of colorful colonial architecture.
Originally built by the Portuguese in the late 1500s, it was later fortified extensively by the Dutch. Many of the original buildings remain, including historic churches, ancient mosques and 18th-century merchants’ houses. Today, the narrow streets are also lined with cool shops, boutique hotels, and buzzy cafés–and it’s a wonderful place to simply wander.
Far from being just a tourist town, however, Galle Fort is still a living, breathing, working community, which only adds to its appeal. If you’ll be traveling to Sri Lanka with kids and paying a call to Galle, these are my top 4 recommended activities to do while you’re there, along with 1 great place to stay and 1 great place to eat during your family’s visit.
Activity 1: Walk the Walls
The best way to get a feel for Galle Fort is to wander the ramparts that surround the town. From the lighthouse you can walk clockwise all the way to the bastions that face the new part of town. You can do this at any time of day but I would recommend taking a stroll at sunset and mingling with the locals. A handful of resident daredevils occasionally hurl themselves off the town’s defensive walls into the waters below. If you do watch them perform their acrobatic tricks, be prepared to donate some rupees.
Juliet Coombe, a British writer living in Galle, offers fun 90-minute walking tours of the Fort according to different themes. There’s a Meet the Artists tour as well as a range of culinary walks. These can be booked at the Serendipity Arts Café.
Activity 2: Release Baby Turtles
The southern coast of Sri Lanka in the Galle District is the major nesting habitat for five species of sea turtle; the Olive Ridley turtle, Loggerhead turtle, Green turtle, Hawksbill turtle, and Leatherhead turtle. A number of turtle hatcheries have been established to protect these creatures and they can be found along the coastal road, from Bentota onwards.
The hatcheries are nothing fancy (don’t come expecting a high-tech aquarium!) but they perform extremely valuable conservation work and it’s well worth stopping by a turtle farm at least once. Kids can learn about the dangers turtles face, conservation efforts in place as well as meet turtles. Visit at the right time and they may even be allowed to help release baby turtles into the ocean – an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience! Click here to visit the Sea Turtle Farm online.
Activity 3: Learn to Surf!
Surfers flock to Sri Lanka for its consistent swells and uncrowded line-ups. Because of the island’s two seasons, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll find barrels and breaks somewhere; try the the south west coast between November and March and the east cost from May to September.
But Sri Lanka is not just for pro surfers, it’s a great place for beginners to learn, too. Weligama, just south of Galle, is a sheltered bay home to small, kid-friendly waves all year round. There are a number of local surf schools where you can book a lesson or simply rent a board. You’ll find the surf schools neatly positioned under the trees at the right side of the bay. My kids were really little when we visited Weligama so we didn’t get the chance to surf ourselves, but the following surf schools come highly recommended: Surf ‘n Lanka and Surf Discovery/Sri Lanka Surf School.
Activity 4: Howzat! Catch a Game of Cricket
It’s safe to say that Sri Lanka is cricket crazy. The British sport was first introduced to what was then called Ceylon, when it became a British colony in 1802. It didn’t take long for the game to take off and today it’s the most popular sport in the country with no fewer than eight grounds that have been used to host international cricket matches. Not bad for a small island.
The Galle International Stadium first opened in 1829 as a horse-racing track, but it was quickly transformed into an oval of emerald green. Today it’s one of the prettiest Test grounds in the world with view of Galle Fort from the stadium. If you fancy catching an “over” or two, then check the schedule for matches. If you can’t get tickets, then join the locals and watch from the fort ramparts. Click here to check for upcoming matches.
1 Great Place to Stay: Apa Villas
There are plenty of chichi boutique hotels within Galle’s walls, but if visiting with kids then I recommend staying just outside the fort at Apa Villas. Located in the small village of Thalpe, just 8km and a short auto-rickshaw ride away from Galle Fort, this is a wonderful family-friendly option.
Apa Villas is positioned on a private strip of beach, the property is divided into three villas that house seven individual suites. The suites are well appointed and open onto a private terrace where all your meals are served. That’s the other great thing about staying here, the food is absolutely delicious! Beyond the veranda is a grassy lawn, dotted with spindly palm trees, and the blue ocean beyond. Although the current is too strong to swim here, there is a lovely 25m-infinity pool on site instead. Click here to read my detailed review of Apa Villas, and find out more at the official site for Apa Villas at Thalpe.
1 Great Place to Eat: Pedlar’s Inn Cafe
With the arrival of more and more boutique hotels in Galle, so too has the restaurant scene exploded. There are lots of good places to eat and drink within the fortified walls, but we were rather taken with Pedlar’s Inn. This café claims to be the first coffee shop to open inside the fort and is almost always busy – be prepared to wait for a table. Food is a mixture of local favorites and Western staples, and there’s even an ice cream bar, which made our kids happy! Best of all, the service is great and always comes with a beaming, Sri Lankan smile. Click here for the Pedlars Inn site.
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