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Galle, Sri Lanka | Discover Dutch colonial History at Dutch Fort

by Steven
Published: Last Updated on

In the south of Sri Lanka, you will find one of the best-preserved remnants of the Dutch colonial past: the Dutch Fort in Galle. Anyone visiting the south of the country should absolutely visit this place. The history, but also the cozy streets, cafes, restaurants, and beautiful views of the coast of Sri Lanka make Galle a wonderful place to visit, never to be forgotten. And since 1988 it has been on the Unesco World Heritage List, which means that the old center must be well maintained.

Are you planning to visit Galle during your trip through Sri Lanka? Then read on and discover the history of the Dutch past in Dutch Fort.

In this Travel Guide to Galle

The lighthouse of Dutch Fort, Sri Lanka
In the background are a lighthouse and a Dutch powder store. The lighthouse, by the way, was built in 1938.

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A brief look back – Dutch build a strong fortress

As early as the 14th century, it was the Arabs who traded with the locals in Sri Lanka. That changed when the Portuguese established contacts with the local population at the beginning of the 16th century. Gradually they built forts on the coast of what was then Ceylon, and in 1589 a small fortress was built in Galle. But the king of Kandy wanted the Portuguese gone and called in the help of the Dutch. In 1640, together they chased away the Portuguese and seized the small fort of Galle.

The Dutch expanded the fort at Galle considerably. For example, a sturdy city wall was erected with 14 bastions that can still be seen today. Perhaps it also says enough that the 2004 tsunami left the fort largely intact, so strong did the walls appear. Furthermore, the Dutch built churches, warehouses, and residential houses, many of which are still standing. In short, you understand that a visit to Galle is a trip back in time, so special is this fort.

In 1796 the Dutch had to hand over Sri Lanka to the British after the defeat in the Napoleonic wars. Galle then became the largest port in the country. This changed in 1970 when it got competition from Colombo. But in the meantime, Sri Lanka had also become independent in 1949.

The foundations of the strong Dutch Fort
The defenses of Dutch Fort in Galle

Practical information about visiting Galle

The old fort of Galle is nice and cozy to stroll through. There is a lot to do and the nice restaurants and cafes make this attraction a really nice day out. Many of the buildings are from the 17th or 18th century, but even when the Dutch left the fort, the British erected some buildings. Below are some great tips and ideas.

Part of the Dutch Fort in Galle
One of the bastions of the fort, from which you have a beautiful view of the sea and the coast of Sri Lanka

Take a walk on the fortifications

The Dutch built a thick city wall that turned out to be so strong that the tsunami of 2004 barely hit the inner city of the fort. The new center, however, suffered greatly. The fortifications consist of 14 bastions, most of which have Dutch names: Akersloot, Utrecht, and Zwart are a few examples. A walk along these fortifications really shows what a strong structure the Dutch left behind.

The Maritime Museum of Galle in Sri Lanka
The National Maritime Archaeology Museum in Galle, Sri Lanka

Visit the National Maritime Archaeology Museum, housed in an old warehouse

If you possibly feel like visiting a museum then the National Maritime Archaeology Museum is a must. This museum is housed in an old warehouse where ships used to store their precious supplies such as cinnamon and cloth. It is mainly about shipping and during the 2004 tsunami, a number of objects were damaged. And what’s special is that objects also made it to shore, including a wooden Buddha statue.

The Dutch Reformed Church in Galle
Dutch Reformed Church in Galle

Discover the Dutch church of Galle

And then suddenly you walk past the Dutch Reformed Church. This church was built in the 18th century and still looks great with its white facade. Inside it may be a bit sober, but the special tombstones on the floor of the church are typically Dutch. By the way, in the old fort, you will still come across a number of churches, such as the All Saints Church. This was built by the British in the 19th century.

Inside the Dutch Church in Sri Lanka
Inside the Dutch Reformed Church

Stop by Dutch Hospital, for lunch and shopping

This striking white building used to treat sailors and officers when they arrived in Sri Lanka ill. Dutch Hospital is one of the oldest buildings in the fort and today you will find a number of stores and restaurants here. Ideal for a stopover, although of course, the prices are a bit higher than in the rest of Galle.

The Dutch hospital in Galle, Sri Lanka
The Dutch hospital, where nowadays you can find restaurants and stores

Just stroll through the streets of the fortress

Actually, Galle is one big open-air museum. Besides the above attractions, you will also find two bell towers, a lighthouse, a mosque that was once a Portuguese church, and other colonial buildings over 300 years old. And if you are really done walking you can also sit down at the fortifications and relax for a while.

Sunset in Galle, Sri Lanka
And finally, end the day with a beautiful evening sky?

Accommodation – Where to stay?

Galle is ideal for a fun day trip to the old fort. Along the coast east and west of the city, you will find several nice little seaside resorts. Therefore it is best to choose accommodation in one of these small towns. I myself was in the town of Mirissa, where I was within 30 minutes in Galle. Practically every bus in Mirissa passes by Galle. I was at SunBird Eco Guesthouse, budget accommodation with a fantastically helpful owner.

Would you rather book a hotel in Galle? Check here for the options.

Transportation – How to get there?

Galle is located about 125 kilometers south of the capital of Colombo. By bus, you can reach Galle within 3 hours. Another option is to take the train. The station of Galle is located near the fort and from there you can easily visit the fort. Furthermore, there are many buses from Galle to the coastal towns, where you can avoid the crowds of this city. Looking for a next destination? Head towards Ella for the highlands or towards Colombo and Negombo when your vacation is almost over.

Long history of the Dutch Fort in Sri Lanka

A review – What did I think of Galle and the Dutch Fort?

If you are staying a few nights on the south coast of Sri Lanka then you absolutely should not skip Galle and the Dutch Fort. First of all, it is beautifully situated on a kind of protrusion, from where you have beautiful views of the coast. But in addition, there are plenty of nice stores and cozy restaurants and cafes where you can visit. And then there is the Dutch history that is nowhere in Sri Lanka more visible than in Galle. Really an absolute must during a visit to Sri Lanka. Have you been to Galle? Do you have more great tips and ideas? Feel free to leave a message below.

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