Historic Galle Fort was once an outpost for Dutch maritime trade in the Indian Ocean. Now the streets of this 17th-century port are lined with beautifully preserved, grand colonial buildings, such as the one housing elegant boutique stay Fort Bazaar.
Bandaranaike International Airport is slightly under two-and-a-half hours away by car. Leave all your travel bits to our Smith24 Team (03334 145 550), who can organise both your flights and transfers to the hotel (US$125 each way).
A daily express train connects Colombo’s Fort Station to Galle; it’s a two-and-a-half-hour journey, but beautiful beach and jungle views will distract you as you chug along the coast. Our Smith24 Team can arrange tickets and transfers from Galle station.
Taxis, tuk tuks and hired drivers are a relatively cheap and easy way to explore the island, but if you want to discover it at your own speed, hire a car at Bandaranaike; our Smith24 team can help you to secure a set of wheels. You’ll need an International Driving Permit and a Sri Lankan recognition permit, which you can get at the AA in Colombo. There’s no parking at the hotel, so you’ll have to find a space in Galle’s narrow streets.
Worth getting out of bed for
With more than 400 years of heritage to uncover, there’s plenty to do in this Unesco World Heritage site. Your historic Galle hit-list includes the curious carvings on the tombstones in the Dutch Reformed Church, the lavish stained-glass windows of the Anglican Church, the old spice warehouses of the Maritime Archaeology Museum and the Historical Mansion Museum to see how the city’s other half (read, colonists) lived. The hotel’s staff can impart their expert local knowledge on a guided tour of the fort. Alternatively, escape the fort walls and bomb past the nearby paddy fields and tea plantations on a bike borrowed from the hotel, or head to Sri Lanka’s golden coastline for relaxing afternoons on Unawatuna beach, whale-watching in Mirissa, and snorkelling and scuba-diving around fish-filled coral reefs and centuries-old shipwrecks.
From lobsters and jumbo prawns bought at that morning’s fish market, to rice grown on nearby paddies, and fruit and vegetables harvested at neighbouring farms, Galle Fort Hotel’s restaurant is all about fresh fare. Pop next door to try their varied menu that explores flavours from the old Spice Route. For a more formal dining experience, walk two minutes down Church Street to Amangalla. The indoor Dining Room has old-world charm and grandeur with antique furnishings, glittering chandeliers, elegant silverware and tall French windows that open onto a veranda. For a night to remember, ask our Smith24 Team to organise a private dinner in the hotel grounds; dine under the stars, serenaded by a local flautist or with a private fire-dance performance. Alternatively, experience a traditional Sri Lankan roti dinner for two at Amangalla for US$285.
Pedlar’s Inn was the first coffee shop to open in Galle Fort in 2004, and the laid-back eatery is now a must for tourists and locals alike. Just as the 19th-century British post office that first occupied the building, the diner's menu offers dishes from near and far, with Sri Lankan fish curries, crispy pizzas, creamy carbonara and full-English breakfasts. Stop by their ice-cream shop at 61 Pedlar Street for gelato while exploring Galle. Royal Dutch Café’s (+94 (0)77 177 4949) owner, Fazal Badurdeen has more stories to tell of Galle than he does types of tea – and that’s a lot. Stop by for a home-made curry lunch or a nice cup of cinnamon- or cardamom-spiced milk tea (the list goes on and on) and let Fazal regale you with yarns about the fort’s former life.
Sample the local brew or try an arrack sour at Amangalla’s rooftop bar, which overlooks the city and Galle bay beyond. Venture beyond the fort’s walls, to Dick’s Bar at the Sun House in central Galle to enjoy glasses, or pitchers, of Ginger Rogers rum cocktails: a moreish blend of ginger, lime cordial, soda water and the island's favourite spirit; we also recommend their Bloody Marys or another tot of arrack in their signature tipple, the Sun House Sundowner.