Sri Lanka

Long Weekend | 36 hours in Galle, Sri Lanka

Long Weekend | 36 hours in Galle, Sri Lanka

Just two hours south of Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport, it is one of Sri Lanka’s most fascinating tourist destinations.

Just two hours south of Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport, along the scenic Southern Highway, is one of Sri Lanka’s most fascinating tourist destinations. Galle has attracted traders and explorers for centuries. It appears on Ptolemy’s world map (125-150 CE) and was visited by Ibn Battuta. Nearly two thousand years later, it’s still one of the best places in Sri Lanka to slow down. Steeped in history, the streets of Galle are filled with little nuggets waiting to be explored.

first day

slow down, turn back time

The first lesson you learn in Galle is to slow down. Although many tourists come here for a short one or two-night visit, it’s best to explore this destination at a leisurely pace. Galle’s tryst with colonial powers began with the Portuguese, who built the iconic Galle Fort in 1588. The Dutch drove the Portuguese out in the 17th century and took Galle for themselves. They fortified the town with their unique architectural style, which can still be seen today; much of the town is still frozen in time. It has earned Galle UNESCO World Heritage status.

Lighthouse and Mayram Friday Mosque. (Photo: Samal Nadeeshan via Wikimedia Commons)

One of Galle’s most photogenic sights is the whitewashed lighthouse, which rubs shoulders with tall coconut trees. Galle is home to the oldest lighthouse (built in 1848) in Sri Lanka. The current lighthouse was built in 1939 when a fire destroyed the original lighthouse. It adjoins Flag Rock, a rocky outcrop that the Portuguese used to spot approaching ships. Across the road is the snow-white Meeran Jumma Masjid, a Dutch-era mosque with subtle Dutch architecture. The fort’s walls stretch around the old town and are also a great spot for sunset. The trails around Galle Fort will take you past historic landmarks such as the Dutch Hospital and the Dutch Reformed Church.

local flavor

Whether you want an all-day breakfast or a leisurely lunch experience, you’ll have options. Sugar Bistro is a popular stop serving Sri Lankan cuisine with a modern twist. Local seafood stands out at Fort Printers, an old colonial mansion turned into an intimate boutique hotel. There is also tuna and crab if you need sushi.

retail and spa

Shobha Display Gallery on Pedlar Street has a gallery selling beautiful handcrafted local crafts made by local women, and you can stop by their cafe for traditional Sri Lankan food. Wander the streets like Ceylon Spa and Odel and you’ll find Sri Lanka’s popular local brands – great for local tea and handicrafts. Three by TPV Check out home accessories and designer clothing. Amangalla is the most popular hotel in Galle. This 17th-century colonial mansion is also a great place to cool off those tired heels. Spa and Baths at Amangalla includes two spa suites with hot and cold pools, steam room and sauna.

One of the most scenic cricket grounds in the world

Galle International Cricket Ground. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Galle International Stadium may not have Lord’s heritage or cricket history, but it is easily one of the most beautiful venues to host international cricket. Try to time your visit during an international match and enjoy the panoramic views – flanked by the Indian Ocean and the historic Galle Fort, few cricket grounds can match. The best views of the stadium and live performances are from Galle’s city walls. Sri Lankans love their cricket and every game is a celebration.

river cruise

Mahamodara River, Galle, Sri Lanka. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Jetwing Kurulubedda is one of the most intimate resorts in Galle. It is on the edge of the Mahamodara River, a backwater that cuts through farms, moors and several villages. It’s also a paradise for ornithologists and casual bird watchers. Try to arrange a 90-minute boat trip after lunch.I spotted three species of kingfisher during my cruise – the elusive stork-billed kingfisher

magical sunset

Jetwing Lighthouse, Galle, Sri Lanka. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

I don’t think I’ve seen a better sunset in Sri Lanka. It was on the beach deck at Jetwing Lighthouse – sky, Indian Ocean and tall coconut trees come together in an idyllic sunset at one of Galle’s best beach resorts and architectural landmarks . It was one of the last projects of Geoffrey Bawa (Sri Lanka’s most famous architect), commissioned in the 1990s. Reminiscent of a 17th-century Dutch fort in Galle, this postmodern minimalist hotel overlooks the sea from the top of a rocky promontory. I recommend you have dinner at the resort’s Cinnamon Room, or book a tree house at Jetwing Kurulubedda to listen to the sounds of nature at night.

the next day

real surf adventure

Going from channel surfing mode to surfing at Freedom Surf School in Weligama. Leave the resort early (the surf school is about an hour away) and sign up for a beginner or advanced lesson. Weligama, with its small, steady waves, provided the perfect spot for our first surf lesson. Join fellow surfers for breakfast, or head back into town for a local breakfast at Pedlar’s Inn (try the egg hoppers).

Local food tour

Galle Fish Market, Sri Lanka. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

You can sign up for a local cooking class at resorts like Jetwing Lighthouse. I went with a local chef to two markets – the fish market in Galle and the compact but busy vegetable market to buy ingredients for my picnic with the chef.

See whales and spinner dolphins up close

After a lazy lunch, board the Lanka Princess for the Indian Ocean. You can choose from a range of cruise options (including one-hour cruises and five-hour cruises) offered on weekends. This cruise gives you the chance to spot whales and dolphins along the coast and is the perfect end to your Galle adventure.

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