“A unique and charming hotel in the very centre of Galle Fort. A boutique oasis that oozes history and sophistication in equal measure.”
visited in February 2020
The real magic of Galle Fort lies in the many layers of history harboured by its walls – and The Fort Printers is no exception. Fusing Dutch foundations with British post-1796 renovations, the impressive colonial-era mansion has, at different times, served as a boys’ school, a bank and a printing press, before finally re-opening as a unique heritage hotel in 2007.
To step into the simple yet stylish interior of the Fort Printers is to step back in time. Renovations have been undertaken sensitively, achieving a smart, grown-up vibe while retaining the rich history and characterful feel of the original building. Wander through yellow-walled courtyards where frangipani trees twist in the sunshine, past photographs of the Fort ramparts from the 1890s and 1940s, and up the creaky wooden stairs to huge bedrooms named for the old subjects they once hosted as classrooms.
Whether you step out of the doors on Church Street or Pedlar Street, the best of the Fort is all around you here: the impenetrable old walls, the winding lanes lined with boutique shops and eateries, the traditional homes and places of worship. If you can tear yourself away from the hotel’s antique charm and enthralling history, the surrounding streets are simply begging to be explored – and your spacious heritage hideaway will always be right around the corner.
The hotel’s five original rooms, housed in the main building at the corner of Church Street and Pedlar Street, are named for the functions they provided when the structure was part of Mahinda College. These include 3 Standard Rooms – Arts, Geography, History – and 2 Deluxe Rooms: the Prefect’s Suite, which sits alongside the pool, and the sublime Headmaster’s Suite, which comes especially highly recommended for its views over the orange-tiled rooftops.
Rooms are enormous, understated and quirky. Think white walls, original teak touches, creaky floorboards and beautiful beamed ceilings.
We stayed at the top of the stairs in Arts. Highlights included an indulgent brass-walled rain shower and a first-floor walkway which wrapped around the outside of our room, offering secret views through shuttered portals of the bustling street below, whilst also keeping us hidden from over-inquisitive passersby.
The hotel’s pared-back classic design continues in the other eight Deluxe Rooms, split across the Church Street and Pedlar Street wings – the latter of which opened in 2013. Floors are wood or polished concrete, and the decor minimalist and muted. Elegantly appointed suites include sofas and writing desks, while bathrooms are slick and contemporary, with large showers. Many also come with freestanding tubs for lazy evening soaks.
Communal lounge spaces
Drinking & dining
The main hotel restaurant is an airy, white-washed space, with intriguing artwork and photographs dotted around the walls. Polished concrete seating is topped with cosy cushions clad in soft neutral tones. In the day, it’s bright and cool; come evening, candles and low lighting make it a romantic setting.
We feasted on fresh fruit, Sri Lankan omelettes and indulgent pain au chocolat in the sunlit courtyard at breakfast, returning again later in the day for a well-deserved pot of tea after our ramblings around the Fort.
As with any big, open space, the restaurant risks feeling a little vacant on quieter nights. Retreat to the courtyard for a more intimate setting, or take a pew at one of the street-side terrace tables for a perfect people-watching position.
We savoured delicious fish tacos for dinner, enjoying red wine as the world went by on the ever-bustling Pedlar Street.
After dessert, retire to the bar inside for a digestif, or seek out one of the Fort’s few watering holes for a nightcap – the terrace of the Galle Fort Hotel is a favourite – to feel a hush descend with darkness.
Facilities & activities
A tranquil retreat in the heart of bustling Galle Fort, the Fort Printers offers plenty of tucked-away places to recline and relax. Take a dip in the small courtyard pool, sunbathe on a lounger or put your feet up in the shared library.
Rise early to beat the heat or await the cooling evening breeze before taking a turn about the seventeenth-century limestone, coral and stucco ramparts, built by the Dutch to defend what was once the island’s main trading hub. A wander from the Old Gate, past the British-built lighthouse and around towards the Clock Tower – complete with view over the picturesque Galle International Cricket Stadium – is a wonderful way to experience the living, breathing Fort.
Stroll past churches, mosques and temples, spot families catching up on the day’s gossip and groups of young men and boys playing cricket on the grass as the light fades. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a turtle or two, larking in the shallows as the sun goes down.
Whilst tourists abound, a centuries-old community continues to exist in this very special place, and visitors would do well to respect local customs and traditions – as well as to make the most of the chance to meet the people who call the Fort home.
The Fort is also home to a whole host of trendy boutiques, galleries and eateries, ideal for shopping, frequent coffee breaks and long, leisurely lunches.
There’s so much to see and do here that many are content to stay within the Fort’s historic walls. A short drive away, however, is Jungle Beach – a great spot for a dip – while Surfers can take to the waves at nearby Dewata Beach. Prefer bikes to boards? Eager cyclists can explore the paddy fields and quiet villages back from the coast road on a guided excursion with Idle Bikes in Mihiripenna, 20 minutes from Galle Fort.
Be sure to ask the hotel team for ideas and recommendations as well – we found them to be both friendly and knowledgeable.
Cricket fan? The picturesque Galle International Cricket Stadium is just a 15-minute walk away (or even quicker by trishaw) — ideal if you’re in the mood to catch a match.
The annual Galle Literary Festival usually takes place every January. This is a wonderful cultural event that celebrates both Sri Lankan and international writing – a buzzing time to visit the Fort! Be aware, though, that hotel prices are at their peak during the Festival.
Things we love
• A fabulous location in the heart of the Fort – and the opportunity to stay in a unique heritage building
• The small courtyard pool is a rare find in Galle Fort – perfect for cooling off on a sticky afternoon
• Attention to detail: complimentary glass water bottles, tea and coffee are available both in the room and in the guests’ kitchen beyond the pool courtyard
Things to note
• Creaky antique floorboards are atmospheric, but light sleepers beware: floors, doors and walls are thin, so those staying in Arts or Geography may be able to hear the buzz of the restaurant below – or the guests next door
• Because they’re later additions to a heritage building, some bathrooms don’t have full-height walls
• There is very little space around the pool, so parents will need to keep an eye on small children.
When to visit
The Fort Printers is open year-round. The island is at its hottest in April and it can get particularly hot in the Fort. The nearby south coast beaches are in season from November to March. This is also usually the cooler part of the year, which makes it the most popular period for visiting Galle Fort. Explore outside of this period to avoid the crowds.
Location & information
The journey from Bandaranaike International Airport to Galle Fort takes around 2 hours by car.
Alternatively, the train from Colombo Fort station to Galle takes around 3 hours, while the A/C highway bus from Kottawa will get you there in two.
For more information about getting to and from the airport or Colombo, check out our travel tips.