A hybrid of South Sri Lankan cuisine with an Indian flair, food in Jaffna is mouth-wateringly unique for the travelling foodie. Despite this, it’s a surprisingly difficult task mapping out where to begin when searching for the most noteworthy hotspots.Continue reading 8 Unmissable Foodie Destinations in Jaffna
Once a sleepy village morphing into what can only be described as a ghost town post 8pm, Galle Fort is now a buzzing epicentre of the South Coast. Brimming with sights, smells and sounds in every nook, the Fort encompasses the vibrant diversity of the island.
Nowadays Galle Fort is laden with multicultural culinary delights, all conveniently tucked within the magnetic ambience of the historic ramparts. There are charming multicultural eateries: Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Indian and Middle Eastern amongst the many local flavours of Sri Lankan cuisine.
To preempt your foodie ponderings, I’ve tasted my way across Galle Fort to share my personal favourites. While exploring by foot for the first time is best experienced map free, I recommended listing a few names of restaurants at the ready for mealtimes.
I like to flag mine on Google Maps as ‘want to go’, a screenshot of how my map currently looks is above- green flags are places I want to try in the future, hearts are favourites and blue squares are hotels I’ve stayed at.
While there are countless eateries to choose from, time is likely limited. My intention with this foodie guide is to use all my research (with visits to both the good and the not so good!) so I can recommend just a handful of highlights serving the best food in the Fort.
Poonie’s Kitchen $$
63 Pedlar Street (through Tallentire & Mimimango)
Specialising in fresh, locally sourced Sri Lankan produce, Poonie’s Kitchen is best described in two words: mouthwatering nourishment. Founder Jo Eden is a visionary in creating innovative nutrition-packed sustenance and was one of the initiators behind the health conscious food concept ever expanding in recent years across the country.
Poonie’s signature dish is no doubt the delightfully instagrammable ‘salad thali’ (inspired by Indian thalis i.e small bowls of piquant vegetarian curries presented on one larger metal plate) featuring an ensemble of oh so moreish kaleidoscopic salads
With perfectly seasoned (crunchy on the outside creamy in the middle) warm new potatoes, refreshing grated carrot in a light citrus dressing, beetroot raita amongst several others, the thali is topped with a generous portion of avocado (#healthyfats!) and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds for full multisensory goodness.
Her creative fusion is no less than divine, proving (and then some!) that Sri Lankan ingredients aren’t limited to curries alone.
Poonie’s fresh juices and smoothies reign superior in the Fort including local island favourite iced milo with a twist of fresh banana & kithul honey. All drinks are accompanied with a biodegradable straw made from the hollow stem of a local plant, avoiding the near instant sogginess of paper or metallic undertone of stainless steel straws.
52A Church Street
New to the Galle Fort foodie scene, Galley 52 is a real hidden gem in the Fort. A stone’s throw from Pedlar Street running across the middle of the picturesque UNESCO heritage site, the food at Galley 52 incorporates fresh local ingredients with innovative fusion flavours.
We ordered a pescatarian tasting platter in advance- our favourites were the coconut crumbed prawns with a chilli and jaggary sauce, paneer korma and fragrant biriyani also with paneer and a sprinkle of pomegranate.
Don’t forget to order a glass of their signature homemade pink lemonade to beat the heat!
40 Church Street
With a history as rich and exotic as the cuisine, dating back to a bygone era of arab traders, it seems only fitting that a middle eastern restaurant stands proudly in the Fort.
Once the chambers of an attorney-at-law, the restaurant serves a multitude of middle eastern favourites from it’s cosy hub on the ever evolving Church Street.
From a melt in the mouth hearty lamb tagine, zesty hummus with a swirl of olive oil and pinch of chilli powder to spiced grilled aubergine, this is among the best arabic cuisine I’ve tried in Sri Lanka- the #1 being Mama Aida’s in Colombo.
They also serve a selection of Italian pastas which could be a sigh of relief for families with children craving a less exotic taste palette. The fresh seasonal juices go down a treat as does a pot of refreshing mint tea.
A tiny hole in the wall cafe style restaurant which would be easy to miss if it wasn’t so different from the majority of neighbouring restaurants along the strip. Dumplings specialise in (you guessed it!) fresh Chinese dumplings; veggie, fish or meat.
Their eco friendly presentation in purple/red banana flower adds to the quirky charm, embracing the local while proving a photo friendly option in the Instagram era. Nab the two seats parallel to the street and watch the world go by.
6 Sudarmalaya Road
An affordable hostel tucked in a quieter street near the ramparts and buddhist temple, the food at Pilgrims’ restaurant is quite exceptional.
Craving a curry free meal? Order a wood fired pizza to share pronto, Pilgrim’s signature dish by reputation.
Expect (almost!) equally delicious salads too. To be honest, the pizza is so good I can’t really remember other dishes. They have a great curation of wine which is available both by the glass and bottle.
Church Street Social at Fort Bazaar $$$
26 Church Street
A regular in the pages of Conde Nast and other international publications since its inception, the irresistibly chic Fort Bazaar lovingly embraces its restored historic architecture with balmy Moroccan-eque interiors.
Avoid the midday heat in their air conditioned dining room or opt for the romantic street side verandah in the evening. Several cafe-style seats also await in the air conditioned bar, ideal for a quick coffee stop.
Aside from the killer eggs benedict and egg hoppers with creamy cashew nut & pea curry for breakfast, the à la carte menu at Church Street Social offers an array of western, Asian, Middle Eastern and fusion dishes.
They currently don’t have a liquor license. You’re warmly encouraged to bring your own. Neighbouring Galle Fort Hotel is a convenient spot to buy a bottle or head to the nearest wine shop in Galle town via tuk tuk to avoid a hefty markup.
A Minute by Tuk Tuk $$
The Old Dutch Hospital
With the meditative sounds of the sea softly breaking on the rocks below, A Minute by Tuk Tuk offers one of the best views in Galle Fort, extending along the curve of Rumassala’s Jungle Beach and the elegant Japanese Peace Pagoda.
I must confess, these days I’m not adventurous at A Minute by Tuk Tuk. My go to dish ‘batu moju’, a simple, beautifully presented dish of fluffy paratha bread, caramelised spicy aubergine and dhal served in a rustic banana flower. In my opinion it’s the best dish on the menu.
Galle Fort Hotel $$
28 Church Street
Originally a Dutch mansion built in the 18th century and refashioned in the British colonial era by a family of gem merchants, The Galle Fort Hotel proudly embraces its old-world historic charm in both style and service to the present day.
With a verandah rivalling that of Fort Bazaar’s, I opt to sit here for a quick drink stop. My seating preference for dining overlooks the courtyard.
Creamy crab soup, nourishing beetroot soup (served hot or cold on preference), calamari with a zesty mayonnaise side dressing and seafood ceviche are among the highlights of starters.
Authentic Sri Lankan rice and curry is one of the best in the Fort, with the deceivingly modest item served generously in multiple bowls on a portable side table.
Street Food $
And last but not least, I cannot complete a foodie feature of Galle Fort without mentioning the wonders of street food for a pre-dinner appetizer. Keep your eyes peeled for the wade cart which emerges opposite The Bartizan hotel just before sunset on weekends and public holidays.
Serving up freshly cooked deep fried lentils, with or without prawns accompanied by an optional handful of crispy salted chilis and tempered onion. The wade is served in a small makeshift pouch from newspaper. The full local experience!
You may also spot the Cargills/Elephant House ice cream cart along the ramparts in the afternoon or at the main entrance of the Fort. Despite the multitude of Italian Gelato joints along Pedlar Street in the Fort, there are days every now and then when I fancy the no frills option.
If you have a sweet tooth, try the Lankan favourite ‘pani cadju’ ice cream pot which drizzled with kithul honey and sprinkle of cashew nuts.
Other recommended restaurants in Galle Fort:
|Cafe Punto (£)|
Family run Sri Lankan cuisine.
42 Pedlar Street
Pedlars Inn Cafe/Pizzeria (££)
Hearty Italian food.
92 Pedlar Street
Cosy outside dining.
No 9 Church Cross Street
|Isle of Gelato (££)|
60a Pedlar Street
Sugar Bistro (££)
Stylish & modern casual restaurant.
The Old Dutch Hospital
For those who follow Style in Sri Lanka on Instagram, you will more than likely know I have a soft spot for Jaffna. Following a 2 week solo trip where I visited as many sights as possible, I decided to write a guide to help and inspire others on their travels too.
The furthest sight I’ve included is about 45 minutes from the centre- Point Pedro. I hope you find this guide full of inspiring places to add to your list for a wonderful cultural trip to the kaliedoscopic province of Jaffna!
If you’ve been to Jaffna you may notice I haven’t included everything such as the Architectural Museum and Nilavarai Bottomless Well. I visited both but to be honest, they were a bit of an anticlimax compared to the other sites.
From fascinating historic sights sprinkled across the town, humbling locals, majestic Hindu Kovils and Catholic Churches to mouthwatering Tamil cuisine; the North is a safe, culturally rich destination for the discerning traveler.
Travelling to Jaffna from Colombo is also incredibly easy- and I’m speaking from the perspective as a solo female traveller. I tend to favour the night train from Colombo Fort, leaving around 8:30pm and arriving about 6am but understand that may be a little too adventurous for some.
I book a seat on 1st class with AC which needs to be organised at least a couple of days in advance. As much as I love a local train experience on 2nd or 3rd class, I tend to keep those to shorter distances e.g from Colombo to Galle which are a little less cross country.
A huge thank you to Jetwing for sponsoring this guide. They have a beautiful hotel in the heart of Jaffna which is modern, comfortable and convinient, with a second property called Jetwing Northgate a stone’s throw from the railway station.
The rooms at Jetwing Jaffna are vibrant and spacious, with a modern infusion of an authentic Northern vibe.
If travelling solo, do take a little time to read my Ultimate Solo Female Travellers Guide to Sri Lanka. In fact if it’s your first visit to the country, you will probably find some useful tips in there as a family, couple or group too.
What to do in Jaffna Town
Set out bright and early, bring a large umbrella or plenty of sun protection and bottles of cold water. I tend to travel by tuk tuk around town but a bike or scooter can be rented should you wish. In comparison to the South Coast of Sri Lanka, the roads are generally calmer and safer- with bikes/motorbikes outnumbering cars.
1. Jaffna Library 10-15 minutes
Rebuilt after a fire in 1981 during the civil war, Jaffna Library is a bold tribute to it’s former 1933 glory. Visiting hours for non members is between 4:30-6pm (in restricted zones) although to be honest, peeking through reception and admiring the exterior is the main attraction.
2. Jaffna Fort 30-40 minutes
Towards the entrance of the Pannai causeway (in the direction of Nagadeepa and Delft island) is Jaffna Fort. It’s free to visit (as are many sites in Jaffna) with a small archaeological museum should you wish to learn more about the local history.
It’s just as popular with locals as it is with foreign visitors, with ice cream vans parked up at the entrance tempting eager-eyed children.
3. Jaffna Market 30 minutes
Jaffna’s central market is a haven for curious foodies. There are three sections- a row of impeccably displayed fresh fruit & veg , a narrow alleyway specializing in homemade palmyrah products (a species of palm) and a cluster of larger independent stalls with snacks, sweets, drinks, jars/pickles and more.
It’s not unknown for people to venture from all parts of Sri Lanka to stock up on local eats from this market alone!
4. Sinnakadai Market 30 minutes
Approximately 10 minutes out of town is Sinnakadai market, a rustic boxed building splashed with vibrant panels of colour. Here you will mainly find fish, fruit & vegetable, meat and spice vendors. I bought a couple of packets of Jaffna curry powder and turmeric. It can be a little chaotic but with an open mind and sense of adventure you will no doubt be mesmerized by the local buzz.
I enjoyed it as much as the central market because the crowd (both sellers and the general public) are so charismatic- just be sure to watch your step, especially in the fish section!
5. Nallur Kovil 30 minutes
No doubt the most iconic sight in Jaffna, Nallur Kovil is a short tuk tuk ride (or a scenic 30 minute walk if you can take the heat!) from the town centre. The surrounding shops are also very interesting- fresh local eats, fabrics/saris and religious offerings.
Don’t forget to respect the dress code– women are expected to cover knees & shoulders whilst men must cover knees and (upon entering the building) remove shirts. As Jaffna is a very modest part of Sri Lanka, I tend to dress suitably for Kovils at all times as a personal preference.
6. Mantri Manai (ruins of King Sangiliyan’s Minister’s Residence) 20 minutes
A rustic old building, also known as the ruins of Jaffna Kingdom. There used to be goats bleating about in the garden but I couldn’t spot any on my second visit.
Imagining what it looked like in it’s glory days as you amble from room to room is all part of it’s charm despite being a little unkempt today. It’s not managed per se so you can wander around at your own leisure.
7. St Mary’s Cathedral & St John Baptist’s Church 20 minutes
There are a cluster of Catholic Churches in and around Jaffna which I love to visit as much as exploring Hindu Kovils.
St Mary’s Cathedral is in a small, residential part of town (pictured) whilst St John Baptist’s Church is also close- opposite the US hotel (where I had a tasty biriyani one day). Take a seat in the pews, absorb the peace & calm and admire the architecture.
8. Maruthanamadam Anjaneyar Kovil 15 mins
10 minutes out of town, this slightly trippy new age Hindu Kovil with flashing green Tamil letters at the entrance has a 72 foot statue of Lord Hanuman. Be prepared to be wowed as it towers above you in a remarkable neon shade of jade green.
There are a handful of stalls lining the entrance selling buffalo curd, peanuts/nuts, fruit and coconuts amongst other local eats.
What to do out of town
Keerimalai- Springs, Naguleswaram Kovil and Dambakola Patuna Temple- 1/2 Day
A beautiful scenic drive North and slightly East of Jaffna, Keerimali is a calm, spiritual haven and still incredibly untouristy- in fact, the only people I met the two hours I was exploring were locals.
With a natural water spring, historic Hindu Kovil and Buddhist Temple alongside the crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean, it’s without a doubt one of the most underated gems of Sri Lanka.
9. Keerimali Springs 10-15 minutes (or longer to swim).
I would never have considered bathing in the water at Keerimalai (especially travelling solo) however had I brought a change of clothes, definitely would have. There were a few kids splashing around but it was incredibly relaxed and unintrusive.
If you look closely in the water there are tiny schools of fish swimming around- hence the strict no soap policy. The entrance fee is about 20 rupees which I’m sure you will agree won’t break the bank!
10. Naguleswaram Kovil 20 minutes
Very close to Keerimali Springs (walking distance) is Naguleswaram Kovil. There are two sections, the older part dating back to pre 6th century BCE (pictured above) and the newer section currently under renovation.
From what I was told, there’s an enormous bull in the garden but it was tucked around the side (I should have guessed there was something there as it attracted quite a crowd) and missed it.
11. Dambakola Patuna 10-15 minutes
A significant site for Buddhists, believed to be home to the first sacred boa tree brought from India when it was a port during ancient times. The story is beautifully illustrated on the walls inside so it’s worth visiting with someone who understands Sinhala and can translate, otherwise I recommend reading up on it’s history beforehand.
There are no historic monuments still standing from this era but it very tranquil -in fact one of the most tranquil places I have ever been in Sri Lanka- with a mesmerising view of the ocean.
12. Kadurugoda Raja Maha Viharaya 10 minutes
On route to Keerimalai, this ancient site is concealed in the depths of a local village- only easily accessible via private transport as there are no buses (to my knowledge) which go directly there. Visit Kadurugoda Raja Maha Viharaya on route to Keerimalai as it’s about half way.
13. Nagadeepa Island 3/4 Day
Just 35 miles from India, Nagadeepa is a popular pilgrimage site for Hindus and Buddhists across Sri Lanka. From the journey along the panoramic causeways, the boat trip to the island (not for the claustrophobic!) to exploring the sites, a trip to Nagadeepa is a real adventure. I’m not including boat departure times here in case they change- the best way to find out is by asking your hotel or guesthouse directly the day before.
There’s one section of the Buddhist Temple ‘Nagadeepa Viharaya’ which requests foreigners to pay Rs.500. I wouldn’t recommend doing this as there’s nothing additional to see beyond. I will always give a donation when visiting temples but I believe the amount should be up to the individual. You can either take a tuk tuk or walk from the Buddhist Temple to the Hindu Kovil.
14. Delft (Neduntheevu) Island 3/4 Day
Accessible from the same harbour as Nagadeepa, Delft (locally known as Neduntheevu) is a fascinating island, with a real neighbourly community atmosphere as you venture along the coral-lined tracks. I recommend hiring a tuk on the island (the going rate is Rs.1,500) for a couple of hours to see the main sites as it’s far (and hot!) to cover by foot.
There’s a very specific time when the boat heads back to the harbour so make sure not to miss it- the journey takes about 40 minutes each way.
If you wish to dine in the main restaurant on Delft, place your order when you arrive before heading off to explore- it to be ready when you return. I had some short eats and tea with the locals at the small tea shop which is on the left as you walk up from the harbour before the archway.
15. KKS Beach
At the very end of the railway line from Colombo Fort, Kankesanthurai (or KKS) is one of the most underrated beach havens in Sri Lanka. With clean golden sands and azure blue waters, it’s almost tempting to leave this out of the blog post to keep it a secret!
Sandwiched between the beach and the railway station, there’s a hotel owned by the army called Thalsevana should you wish to stay a couple of nights.
There’s also another beach called Casuarina which is very popular with locals but I personally prefer KKS as it’s cleaner, a little more spacious and I didn’t feel so self-conscious.
If you do choose to go to Casuarina there’s a Hindu Kovil close by which has a very spiritual, if somewhat eerie atmosphere which I felt made it worth the trip.
16. Point Pedro
The northernmost tip of Sri Lanka, Point Pedro is a charismatic local town, beaming with rustic authenticity. The ‘Point’ itself is understated, with a cluster of local fishing boats often surrounding the harbour.
Driving through Point Pedro is a nice experience and although I didn’t have a lot of time, there are some quaint Churches and Kovils in the area to explore too.
So there you have it- my ultimate guide of what to see and do in Jaffna. Do share your experiences, thoughts etc in the comments below and most importantly, I hope you have a wonderful time- it’s a beautiful, charming place which is very close to my heart.
Let me start by saying that I’ve quite literally travelled all across Sri Lanka solo in every way you could possibly imagine. From cars, trains, bicycles, tuk tuks, boats, vans and buses to a hot air balloon and an army jeep, I have a lot of first hand experience as both a tourist and a resident. From my first solo trip 2 years ago (I travelled with family prior to this) to the guesthouse where I’m writing this in Jaffna, I have learnt so much between then and now by these many experiences.
I honestly do believe Sri Lanka is one of the safest countries in Asia to travel solo but as much as I love living here, unwanted attention, even harassment can be an issue for women. The question is, how to avoid it and stay safe throughout your travels?Continue reading The Ultimate Guide to Solo Female Travel in Sri Lanka