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  • Coastline Sea-stained walls, sandy shores
  • Coast life Cultured colonial calm

A jaw-dropping fortress crammed with colonial flashbacks is at the heart of cosmopolitan Galle, a fishing town of 100,000 people on Sri Lanka’s sultry south-west coast.

Galle’s history dates back centuries, and this strategic port was once a bustling centre of maritime trade. Today, the fort’s richly preserved, Unesco-listed buildings bear indelible reminders of the European colonialists who built this bastion, and exude an easy calm that’s worlds away from the colourful new town and its market-lined streets. With seductive beaches in reach at Talpe, Dalawella and Unawatuna, it's no surprise Galle tops many travellers must-see lists.

Do go/Don’t go

December–April is the most popular time of year for visitors who like their days sunny but not too steamy, and the sea at its most serene. By May, humidity soars, storms intensify and the rain falls in short, sharp bursts until June and again from October–November. Don’t be deterred: the northern summer months falling in-between see plenty of sunshine and this is when Galle’s beaches are at their full-bodied best.

Getting thereView map

  • Planes Sri Lankan Airlines (www.srilankan.aero) is the only carrier flying to Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport (www.airport.lk) direct from Sydney and select European destinations. One-stop operators include Emirates (www.emirates.com), Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) and Cathay Pacific (www.cathaypacific.com). Air Taxis (www.srilankan.lk), flying from the airport to Koggala, 12 kilometres south of Galle, skim hours off travel time.
  • Trains The three-hour rail ride from Colombo’s Fort Station to Galle (www.railway.gov.lk) is a lesson in cultural immersion, both inside the carriages and out. Train travel certainly won’t break the bank – a one-way ticket costs around US$2 – so it’s understandably popular with the locals. Our tip? Travel light, snack up and arrive at the station early in order to secure a seat.
  • Automobiles Sri Lanka’s roads are not for the faint-hearted, and there’s no reason to self-drive. Hayleys (www.hayleys.com) can arrange tours and transport around the country. Alternatively, ask your hotel to have a driver and car collect you from the airport; transfers to Galle by taxi usually take between three and four hours depending on the time of day.
  • Taxis Tourists attract tuk tuks like magnets, and they’re in plentiful supply. None are metered, so agree on a fare before you ride; bartering is common and humour works best. Night owls should arrange for tuk tuks to come back and pick them up or risk a lengthy walk home. Book a car with driver for longer trips.