Old Town of Galle

Old Town of Galle
Photo by Carlo Sarion.

The Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications illustrate the interaction of European architecture and South Asian traditions.

In the early 17th century Galle was taken from the Portuguese by the Dutch. They established the still-existing fortress and ramparts as well as its urban look. European building materials were replaced by those more convenient in Asia such as coral and granite, and verandahs and shaded streets were added to suit the climate. Particularly notable also is its 17th-century sewer system flushed by seawater.

Community Perspective: The fort and city center are in good condition and reviewers find the place quite charming.

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Germany - 29-Dec-23 -

Old Town of Galle by Nan

It’s quite clear why the Portuguese and then the Dutch chose Galle as a strategic location. The peninsula naturally offers protection against external threats. The walls encompass the entire old town, with the main fortifications and the sole entry gate facing north towards the mainland. The total width of the entry point is only 400 meters, making it easily defensible.

Within these walls, one can discover numerous colonial buildings from various periods. The most notable structures, aside from the fortifications, are the churches and the administrative buildings near the old entry gate. However, it’s challenging to highlight any specific building. For us, the experience was primarily about strolling through the city and soaking in the views.

Galle is often praised for its culinary offerings. The city is lively, with a plethora of dining options and a walkable old town. This was something we initially struggled to appreciate during our first days in Sri Lanka. Only after venturing into the countryside and realizing the difficulty of finding good food elsewhere did we come to fully value what Galle has to offer. Personally, Galle is the one place where I could have envisaged extending my stay.

Getting There

The World Heritage Site (WHS) encompasses only the fortification-enclosed peninsula. Within the walls, most hotels occupy historic buildings, so if you’re seeking a luxury or beach hotel, you’ll need to look outside the fortifications.

For those arriving in Sri Lanka by plane (or departing), you can arrange for a driver to take you directly to or from the airport to Galle, bypassing Colombo. I have mixed feelings about this, but Colombo isn’t essential to visit for a world heritage traveller. We traveled from Colombo and stayed for two days before proceeding to Sinharaja and Udawalawe National Park. In retrospect, Galle would have been an ideal final stop to unwind after an extensive tour of the country.

While You Are There

Along the coast, there are numerous turtle sanctuaries. It should be self-evident, but please ensure they are accredited by third parties and treat the animals humanely before paying for entry.

A day trip to Sinharaja is entirely feasible with a driver.

Between Colombo and Galle, you’ll find several Bawa-designed locations, with the Lighthouse hotel being the closest. Continuing south, you can visit the Ruhuna University campus. My personal highlight was visiting Kathaluwa Poorvarama Maha Viharaya, which boasts remarkable paintings. These, along with Bawa’s works, may eventually be added to the tentative list.

Michael Turtle

Australia - 23-Jan-16 -

Old Town of Galle by Michael Turtle

There's a really pleasant atmosphere in the streets of the old town of Galle. The architecture has that really interesting mix of European colonialism and South Asia. What I liked was that, although there are quite a few hotels and restaurants, not all of the Old Town felt touristy. There are still quite a few people living here and it has an authentic community.

There are great views along the coastline and it's worth walking the old fortifications to see that side of things.

Read more from Michael Turtle here.

Frederik Dawson

Netherlands - 18-Jan-09 -

Old Town of Galle by Frederik Dawson

If the list of world heritage site is Sri Lanka national history book, it will definitely start with Anuradhapura as the starting point of Sinhalese culture and end with Galle as the starting point of colonial period. Galle is a unique cultural world heritage site as it is not related to Sinhalese culture or Buddhism at all; visiting Galle is truly another chapter of Sri Lanka history.

Galle is located in the small peninsular and surrounded by the mighty fortifications system built by Portuguese and developed by Dutch. Galle was the important port of call that was a part of spice maritime route; as the result, Gall has unique atmosphere of cultural exchange of local people, Muslim, Dutch and British. At present, Galle has been regarded as one of best preserved colonial cities in South Asia.

During my visit, there was a large construction of new road surface, so Galle I saw was a big construction site with many pile of rock and sand for concrete road; however these were unable to destroy the charm of Galle. People are extremely friendly and each alley has its own characteristic, really similar with mosque area of George Town, Penang. The main attraction of Galle is the fort, the grandest is the northern part with comprise of three bastions, star, sun and moon, a real engineering wonder; however, the southern part is my favorite with extremely beautiful view of amazing Indian Ocean, lighthouse and lovely mosque. The city center around Dutch church is also nice with unique Holland atmosphere.

Galle is an easy and nice place to enjoy, this is not a must place to visit in my opinion, but visiting Galle is the complete historical lesson from colonial era to contemporary tsunami tragedy of this beautiful country, Sri Lanka, so why not visit this town is maybe the hardest question to answer.

Rob Wilson

UK - 16-Jul-08 -

Galle Fort is a beautiful place, but is, of course, almost overwhelmed by the horrors of the Asian Tsunami. So many people there must have lost everything.

If you are in Sri Lanka you should undoubtedly visit this place.

Els Slots

The Netherlands - 12-Aug-96 -

Old Town of Galle by Els Slots

The Dutch connection makes Galle an interesting place to visit (for me, as I am Dutch myself). Especially the church (Groote Kerk) and some of the little streets looked very familiar. Hire a bike, and you feel like you are in Holland.

The new part of Galle is hell, but the old town I found quite charming (though very small).


UK - 01-May-05 -

Old Town of Galle by Solivagant

We have just visited post-Tsunami Galle (Mar 2005). If you are in Sri Lanka you should DEFINITELY try to go there - both because the locals need tourists and because the old town is as delightful as ever. As far as we could make out the majority of the old town escaped the direct effect of the Tsunami (it is both protected by the ramparts and partially built on a rise) and the guest houses and restaurants are fully working. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the area outside the walls. Grass is growing on the cricket ground again and the railway and bus services are working but many of the structures facing the sea are destroyed.

The NGOs seem to have done (and are still doing) a wonderful job - but the same cannot be said for the Sri Lankan government - which seems paralysed by corruption, incompetence, lack of skills, inertia, bureaucracy and political infighting. Its suggested rule that no building can take place within 100 metres of the shore line (possibly including surviving buildings) is causing despondency and confusion among locals whose little piece of land is their only hope of a livelihood - suspicion abounds that such "forbidden areas" will find their way into the hands of big developers (politically connected of course!). Schools are not yet properly working and we heard of families whose children are unable to register anywhere (eg in other areas where they have relatives) because their papers have all been washed away. The army is noticeable by its absence when it should surely be building wooden structures to get people out of the tents which will not be suitable for the upcoming monsoon. The government has complained that it hasn’t seen any of the money promised by Western governments – but this is because it has been tardy in coming forward with properly thought through projects. Even the locals expect a large part of any monies reaching Sri Lanka through the government to “disappear”. It is hardly surprising that the government newspapers adopt a negative stance towards the NGOs, accusing them of overlapping and being uncoordinated – they are showing up the government’s own lack of action and providing a means by which monies can reach the locals without providing an opportunity for “siphoning off” by politicians and officials!

Site Info

Full Name
Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications
Unesco ID
Sri Lanka
Urban landscape - Colonial

Site History

1988 Inscribed


The site has 1 locations

Old Town of Galle


The site has

Art and Architecture
Human Activity
Individual People
Religion and Belief
WHS on Other Lists
World Heritage Process


Community Members have visited.

A. Mehmet Haksever AC Adrian Turtschi Afshin Iranpour Aj.daamen Akhilpreeti Alberto Rodriguez Gutierrez Alessandro Votta Alexander Barabanov Alexander Lehmann Alexfangel Alfons and Riki Verstraeten Ali Zingstra Allison Vies Ammon Watkins Amylaic@msn.com Andrea & Uwe Zimmermann Antlane Arnaugir Artur Anuszewski Aspasia Atila Ege Bamse Bazikoln Bernard Joseph Esposo Guerrero Bin Bodil Ankerly Boj Boroka Szamosi C82wc1 Carlo Medina Carlo Sarion Carolinerowe25 Chen Taotao Chiuliqi Chris Law Christravelblog ClaireWhiteley ClaraHH Cmtcosta Corbomite Corinne Vail DannyB Dimitar Krastev Disnsam Djpatten Donald M Parrish Jr Drinkteatravel Dutchbirder Dutchnick Els Slots Eric PK Erik Jelinek Errol Neo Eva Kisgyorgy FGKJR1492X Fan Yibo Fedemarch92 Ferdimerkx Fernweh Frederik Dawson Fuaron Garrett Ge zhang Geert Luiken George Evangelou Gernot Ghostbear Gillian Taylor Gisella GithaK Glenn Nightingale Grzegorz Andruszkiewicz Hammeel Harald T. Harry Mitsidis Hazcraig16 Henryjiao18 Hidalgo Hidalgo Houqian Howe Siang Tan Hsjamsil Htupaz Hyoga Iain Jackson Ingatastic Inomusay Ivan Rucek J Mitchell JGirlJGirl Jacob Otten Jana and Matt Janameerman Jarek Pokrzywnicki Jaroslav Klement Jason and Corrinna Jeanne OGrady Jezza Joel on the Road JoeriNortier John Westray John booth Jonathanliao Jos Schmitz Joshuakirbens Josie Borst Joyce van Soest Jsrinivasan Judith Tanner JudyWalsh Junwang111 Juropa Kbecq Kjlauer Knogles Knomadc Knut Koen Vliegenthart Krijn Kristin Kurt Lauer Leontine Helleman Lichia Lizzy Loic Pedras Longdutch Loratodorova Lou1983 Luis Filipe Gaspar Lukasz Palczewski MMM Malcolm Turner Maltishah100 Marcel staron Maria Mariska Mark K. Marlies van Wolfswinkel Marta Lempert Martina Rúčková Matthewrw Matthewsharris Michael Ayers Michael Novins Michael Turtle Michael anak Kenyalang Michal Marciniak Mikael Bjork Mikek Mikita M Mikko Milan Jirasek Miloš Tašković Monica Tasciotti Morodhi N273235s NCosta Nan Nanvano NataliaS Nihal Ege Nmocosta Nmocosta79 Nomad99 NonDuality Nongbulinqing Nushsamy Oliver.pluemper OnlyTheSnake PJ PabloNorte Palka25 Pamela MacNaughtan Pang Liang Fong Patrik Paul Hilder Paul Schofield Peter Day Peter Lööv Philipp Leu Philipp Peterer Piotrurbanski Plutomu Priyaranjan Mohapatra Ralf Rotheimer Randi Thomsen Rebeccafward Red Reinhardt Reza Ri Rich Forrest Richardleesa Rickard Alfredsson Rob Wilson Rocky Rodinia Rogerlee Roman Bruehwiler Roman Koeln Rudegirl SHIHE HUANG Sascha Grabow Saxondean Sazanami Seethebee Sergio Arjona Shandos Cleaver Simmot2019Z Sisa_p Sneijder55 Socon Solivagant Stanislaw Warwas Stephen S. Kamin Strogan Svein Elias Szucs Tamas Tevity ThoOlb Thomas Buechler Thomas van der Walt Toffee64 Tony0001 Travelure Trevni Triath Truls Brekke Vernon Prieto Victoria | Bridges and Balloons Vlad Lesnikov Voyager WHS Lux Walter H. Waxwing Westwards Wj1997yi Wojciech Fedoruk Wolfgang Sander YAO WEI YY Yi Han Goh Yuri Samozvanov Zach Zhang xiaozhong Zos M Zoë Sheng Zsuzsanna Forray