The Snake Charmers & Ice Cream Parlours of Galle Fort

The Fort of Galle in Sri Lanka is one of the island’s most historical spaces, having been held by both the Dutch and the Portugese in the 16th and the 17th centuries. The mark that they left is really interesting to travellers; for example, you’ll find the same style of cobblestone floors here that you’ll find in the city of Mumbai, India, thanks to the Portugese. History aside, the Galle fort today is a huge tourist attraction – it isn’t just a fort, it’s a mini-town with its own beach, and its own mosques and restaurants. More than anything else, it’s beautiful to look at – colourful, old, mossy walls mix and mash with hip new Cafés, snake charmers seated on the grass strike a funny contrast against the Europeans with cameras slung around their necks.

Here are five reasons why you should visit the Galle fort.

1. The Architecture

All Saints Church

This is one of Sri Lanka’s most photogenic spaces. In fact, it might be one of the most Instagram-friendly places you’ll ever visit in your life. The Maritime Museum is my favourite of all – it is one long sandpapery yellow wall against cobblestone floors and blue sky, with wood-panelled windows and old wooden artifacts outside. The Galle fort is home to mostly Muslims, and also a small Christian community, so their religious spaces are an obvious trademark: the Meeran Mosque has a lovely quiet interior with colourful mosaic tiles and tinted glasses that speak of a Dutch past, the All Saints Church has a pointed signature roof that can be spotted from miles away, and the Dutch Church has floors and gardens startlingly and beautifully covered in soldiers’ tomb stones. Just walking through the fort at any point is a pleasure, it is immaculately maintained, with plenty of greenery, clean cobblestone alleys, and buildings from an old, bygone world. The people here have a friendly demeanor and some rather interesting habits, from the men who play checkers at the crossroad of Church Street and Layn Baan Cross Street, to the Muslim gem traders who wander on the roads offering amethysts and moonstones wrapped up in tissues, to the vagabond on Queen Street with his trained monkey and snake.

Gem merchant

Snake charmer

2. The Rampart

Galle fort1

The rampart is the main thing – it is the wall that held the fort. Today, it is not just a wall but a happy walkway that stretches all around the fort, with its own mini parks along the way, also making it an idyllic spot to do some sea-gazing. Right at the front of the rampart, where the view of the sea is at it’s best, you’ll find a giant rock with a flight of stairs carved into it – at the top of this rock you can spot handsome, young men with long hair tied up in a bun who make a living by jumping off this rock into the sea. Sounds insane, but this is exactly what they do – you pay them Rs. 500 (or double that, if you look like a tourist) and they will commit a death-defying leap into the sea below, before climbing up the rock with amazing agility again. On the far left of these modern-day beach side trapeze artists, if you keep walking, you’ll stumble upon the Galle fort beach, hidden behind the fort’s lighthouse. It’s a small beach, the waves are nice and clear here, with coral stones under you feet, but during holiday season the shore is quite crowded. Wandering down the rampart, you might find a stone relic or two left alone from the fort’s past, a wild abandoned grassy plain on which you can sit comfortably and enjoy the view, ice cream and achcharu (mango pickle) vendors, and people selling small, wooden crafted ships.

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3. Food & Drink

Mamas Guest House rice and curry

 

Dairy King

The fort is generally expensive, compared to the costs of things outside – this is due to the fact that most of the visitors are Europeans who are not affected by the high costs due to the favourable exchange rates. Still, if you’re here and you’re not planning on stepping outside the fort’s great wooden doors for lunch, there are a few cosy places to eat at, especially on Pedlars Street. Pedlars Inn Café and Pedlars Inn Gelato are classic stop-overs, the former having a lovely ambience with a menu largely comprising of western food and the latter specializing in authentic ice cream with a wide range of flavours. On the same street is the Original Rocket Burger if you’re in the mood for a hefty hamburger. You can also bump into royalty on the rampart end of Church Street – the Dairy King – he serves up little cups of tasty, affordable ice cream in flavours like coconut and mint, and you can get a side of warm brownies to go with it. If you’re in the mood for Sri Lankan food, nearby you get Mamas Galle Fort Guest House who has been serving up traditional meals to the Galle audience for more than a decade. The Galle Dutch Hospital (an erstwhile hospital), a recent addition to the face of the fort, is also a good place to eat albeit expensive. It hosts a number of eateries, with fantastic meals and views of the sea: either have seafood at The Tuna & The Crab, kick your feet up at the Hammock Café, have a gourmet burger and cocktail at Sugar Bistro or have a traditional meal at the Thai Heritage.

Rocket burger

4. Shopping & Hotels 

Galle Heritage Villa

Galle fort is not typically shopping oriented, but caters to tourists especially if you want to buy gifts for your friends back home, or a pair of pants/shorts to remind you of your time on ‘paradise island’. At the rampart end of Pedlars Street, there are a whole row of shops that sell plain cotton pants and shirts in tie-dye and bright colours, at a good bargain. There are one or two interesting shops, like ‘Stick No Bills’ on Church Street, a personal favourite, a shop full of one-of-a-kind vintage Sri Lankan and Indian film posters and postcards, or ‘The Three By TPV’, which has fascinating, high quality home décor and clothing by Swedish designers. The fort has a whole bunch of hotels and guesthouses to choose from, at reasonable rates – some of which I’d recommend are Jetwing Lighthouse just outside the fort, the very amiable and colourful Mango House, and the homely, perfect-for-down-time Galle Heritage Villa.

The Three By TPV

5. Sunset At The Clocktower

Clocktower

Ramparts are truly the best places to watch the sunset from. The Galle fort rampart stretches all the way back to the Clock Tower, whose clock was installed in memory of Dr Anthonisz, a renowned Burgher (i.e. Dutch descendant) surgeon. This space is beautiful in the evenings, with golden rays pouring over the green grass and the old stone. You get a lovely view of the wide, green-and-grey expanse of the whole rampart from here, and for the best view you should get a seat at the edge of the rampart with your  feet dangling above the rocks and ocean below. The height might make you a little dizzy initially but you’ll soon be distracted by the breeze and the breathtaking view.

Lighthouse

Visiting the Galle Fort is a truly wonderful experience,