The Bay of Galle on Sri Lanka’s lush southwest coast has been a destination for seafarers since antiquity, purportedly as the main hub of cinnamon exports. Not unlike other port cities of the world, Galle’s history as a trade stopover has forever left an impression on both its facade and its population. Citizens of modern Galle are a varied composition of native Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Moors and Tamils, Dutch, Portuguese, and English and German expats—among them Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, and Hindus. This great number of cultures and influences in Galle have produced an eclectic collection of buildings. A few of its architectural treasures include All Saint’s Church, a colorful Victorian Gothic Revival building with a bell salvaged from a cargo ship, and St. Mary’s Cathedral, a Baroque Revival masterpiece founded by Jesuit priests.

Alongside this variety, its greatest structural achievement is certainly Galle Fort. The walled fort itself, the site from which the rest of the city has sprung, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historic and cultural significance. Built by the Portuguese in the late 16th century and further fortified by the Dutch East India Company in the mid-17th century, this 130-acre walled compound is a thriving city within a city, home to a unique blend of Sri Lankan and European architectural styles. Following the British occupation of Sri Lanka, Galle Fort was used as the main administrative district, and has remained relatively unchanged since. Visitors walking the narrow streets today will find well-preserved Dutch emblems and words still carved into its solid granite walls, all in the shadow of a high clock tower.

While Galle is known for its encapsulation of a colorful history, some of the surrounding areas are known for their exquisite beaches and jungles. Unawatuna is a balance of both, with an inviting bay perfect for swimming and sunbathing. Nearby, observe the massive white dome of the Unawatuna Peace Pagoda and the many beautiful statues within. Local tea plantations offer up tastings and tours, and back within the Fort, the National Maritime Archaeology Museum provides a glimpse at the underwater artifacts that echo the golden era of naval exploration. Galle is a rich and varied area that should be included on any custom journey to Sri Lanka.