Galle, Sri Lanka travel guide and things to do: Nine must-do highlights


Unless you arrive, like me, during a presidential election you are assured of well-crafted gin and tonic at Church Street Social. The elegant colonial-style bar, part of the equally elegant Fort Bazaar Hotel, has a decent selection of artisan gins from around the world, plus a good range of classic cocktails and chilled beers. The spotless tiled veranda seems to have leapt from the pages of Somerset Maugham. The hotel's airy dining room serves delicious Middle Eastern, Asian and Sri Lankan fare, and the breakfast here is equally impressive.



Housed in a 17th-century Dutch warehouse, the Maritime Museum is one of the few really touristy attractions in Galle, alongside the Lighthouse. The original museum was extensively damaged in the 2004 tsunami and the present building is the result of a three-year restoration program funded by the Netherlands. The collection is focused around maritime archaeology, with plenty of fine porcelain, cannons, anchors and other material recovered from shipwrecks.



Sadly, Galle Fort is now overrun with gemstone sellers, hawkers and Tuk Tuk drivers but if you are looking for a taste of old Ceylon then check out the retro posters at Stick No Bills. Founded in 2011, this charming little business reprints classic posters from the heyday of tourism. Formats range from postcards to A3. Prices are modest and staff will arrange free shipping worldwide.



Olu Spa is a one-stop shop for all things natural, wholesome and Ayurvedic. Housed appropriately in the Old Dutch hospital, the business includes the spa itself and a tasteful emporium selling a wide range of herbal teas, organic body lotions, shower gels and essential oils. The spa menu includes standard massages, body scrubs, pedicures and facials. Full-day spa packages are available.



In a climate such as Sri Lanka's eating ice-cream is a necessity rather than an indulgence, which is why you'll appreciate the wholesome offerings at the tiny Isle of Gelato bar on Pedlar Street. Under the giant brass lampshades the gelato lover will find myriad flavours such as coconut, pistachio, mango, toffee, strawberry, passionfruit and caramel. Gelato is available in a traditional cone, cup or take-way plastic tub.



Just 15 minutes by Tuk Tuk from Galle Fort, Unawatuna Beach offers clean water, safe swimming and plenty of affordable beach bars. Sadly, the area is now inundated with cheap massage joints, backpacker hostels and dodgy souvenir shops, so get the driver to drop you as close to the beach as possible. And remember to have plenty of small notes – drivers overcharge by claiming they cannot provide the correct change. Several snorkelling and scuba dive boats operate from Unawatuna.


Eating pasta in a tropical climate may seem peculiar until you tuck into one of the exquisitely crafted dishes at AQUA Forte. This modest, white-walled restaurant is a thing of joy. Head chef Roberto Vicario is not only passionate about regional Italian cooking, but his dishes show admirable restraint. All pasta is freshly made on-site. Only the finest local and imported ingredients are used. The wine has been chosen, and stored, with the same care.



Over the years local design genius Nayantara Fonseka has created some of Sri Lanka's most luxurious holiday accommodation but nothing quite like Seventy 7 At Leyn Baan – the latest addition to her Galle property portfolio. The four-bedroom villa is lavishly furnished with antique rugs, contemporary artwork and sumptuous sofas. The property comes with a high-quality kitchen, oodles of space, its own resident staff and a lap pool on the roof. It would make the ideal base for a family or group of friends who want to a slice of luxury in the heart of Galle Fort.



Galle International Cricket Stadium is considered one of the prettiest grounds in the world and hosts both domestic and international matches. After the facility was badly damaged by the 2004 tsunami, former Australian spinner Shane Warne contributed money for its restoration and is much loved by local cricket fans. The ground has witnessed many significant sporting milestones, including the last match played by Sri Lankan great Muttiah Muralitharan who also took his 800th wicket here in 2010. Spectators congregate on the slopes of Galle Fort when a match is being played, but it's worth buying a ticket to explore this atmospheric sports ground.


Mark Chipperfield was a guest of Abercrombie & Kent. See