Train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella, a journey through the clouds

Train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella, a journey through the clouds

The train journey from Nuwara Eliya to Ella was one of our favourite ever train rides on our travels, rivalling our experience with the Trans Siberian railway.

This train powers up through Sri Lanka’s southern hill country, through the tea plantations, into the clouds and then weaves in and out of the many mountain tunnels as it descends to reach Ella.

A beautiful Sri Lankan train journey through the clouds

A beautiful Sri Lankan train journey through the clouds and through many mountain tunnels

NUWARE ELIYA: WELCOME TO ‘LITTLE ENGLAND’

Our journey began at Nuwara Eliya, a city at the heart of Sri Lanka’s popular tea industry, surrounded by many tea plantations.

Nuwara Eliya is nicknamed “Little England” because It was established by the British in the 1840s as a as a base for the colonialists and still retains some of the British quirks, like the famous red post box:

A very British post box in Nuwara Eliya

A very British post box in Nuwara Eliya also nicknamed “Little England”

Another very British influence in the area is tea. The large number of plantations surrounding Nuwara Eliya account for a large chunk of this popular Sri Lankan export.

We visited the nearby Pedro tea factory to get a flavour of freshly brewed Sri Lankan tea. We had to wear these gorgeous hats and aprons to enter the factory, but unfortunately, they would not let us keep them.

Visiting the Pedro tea factory in Nuwara Eliya

In Nuwara Eliya we visited the Pedro tea factory where we had to wear these sexy hats and aprons

THE SRI LANKAN RAILWAY NETWORK

The railway network in Sri Lanka was initially introduced by the British Colonial government in 1864, mainly to transport the tea (and coffee) from the hill country in places like Nuwara Eliya to the capital, Colombo.

Since the advent of road travel, the train network in Sri Lanka declined heavily after the the 1970s. Recently, the Sri Lankan government launched a 10 years Railway Development Strategy investment programme to upgrade and reignite this industry: a blessing for what we found to be one of the most scenic train journeys we’ve ever taken.

A view from the clouds

A view from the clouds as our train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella powers on

 

THE TRAIN RIDE FROM NUWARA ELIYA TO ELLA

This was one of our favourite ever train journeys because of the incredible views across the southern Sri Lankan hill country as the train passes in and out of numerous mountain tunnels through tea plantations, eucalyptus forests and nearby villages. The low lying clouds add to the beautiful scenery.

Our favourite train journey ever

Our favourite ever rain journey through the clouds in the heart of the Sri Lankan hill country

A stunning train journey through the clouds

A stunning train journey through the clouds in Sri Lanka’s hill country

Train journey through the clouds

The train journey through the clouds makes the scenery quite dramatic

Sebastien admiring the hill country from the train

Sebastien admiring the views of the Sri Lankan hill country from the train

COST OF TRAIN TICKETS FROM NUWARA ELIYA TO ELLA

The closest train station to Nuwara Eliya is Nanu Oya, around 8km away from Nuwara Eliya.

The distance from Nuwara Eliya to Ella is only around 60 kilometres, but the journey itself takes around 3-4 hours because it has to cross many mountain ranges.

We arrived early in the day to get our tickets in 3rd class. We paid 60 rupees each for our 3rd class tickets (around 30p / $0.45) instead of the pricier 1st class seats costing 1,000 rupees (around £5 / $8). There is no 2nd class on this train.

The train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella is small with only two carriages: 1st and 3rd class. The front carriage is the ‘observation deck’ 1st class with guaranteed seats and air conditioning.  The back carriage is the cheaper 3rd class with no air con.

The view from 3rd class

The view from 3rd class: get in there early and just stay by the door for the best views throughout

As soon as we got onto the carriage, we stashed our backpacks above the seats then sat by the open door throughout the entire journey watching the views unfold before us.

"Quick get back on the train Sebastien!"

“Quick quick Sebastien – get back on the train before the train leaves and DON’T forget the camera…!”

People boarding our train

At every station we had to move from our seats by the door to allow passengers to get on and off the carriage

This was one of our favourite memories from Sri Lanka and possibly our best ever train experience: all for less then £1 for 2!

 

WHERE TO STAY IN NUWARA ELIYA

Nuware Eliya is a quiet little town but has a great variety of places to stay. The ones that stood out the most for us were:

HERITANCE TEA FACTORY   Book online

  • Old colonial tea factory with amazing views over the plantation.
  • Very friendly and professional staff.
  • Prices start from $285 / £197 for a room with breakfast.

SINCERE WILDERNESS HOMESTAY   Book online

  • A homestay full of character, on the side of Sri Lanka’s highest mountain, overlooking Nuwara Eliya.
  • The host family will care for you with love. Food is amazing!
  • Prices start from $83 / £57 with breakfast included.

HEIDI’S HOME   Book online

  • A three bedrooms guesthouse with very friendly owners and their little daughter Heidi.
  • Great budget option in Nuwara Eliya.
  • Prices start from $34 / £23 with breakfast included.
Children running to board our train

Children running to board our train as it leaves the platform in Nuwara Eliya

WHERE TO STAY IN ELLA

Ella is a great base for trekking the surrounding hills and waterfalls. The place is beautiful and wherever you choose to stay, you will get amazing views.

THE SECRET ELLA   Book online

  • Former tea planter’s home converted into a small luxury boutique hotel.
  • Incredible views including the 9 arches iconic bridge.
  • Prices start from $244 / £169 for a room with breakfast.

ZION VIEW   Book online

  • Beautiful property overlooking the Ravana waterfalls and the hills surrounding it.
  • Room is comfortable, clean and nicely furbished.
  • Prices start from $114 / £79 with breakfast.

CHAMODYA HOMESTAY   Book online

  • Stunning views, lovely hosts and one of the best views in Ella.
  • Prices start from $33 / £23 with breakfast incuded.
The view from the train of the hill country

The beautiful view of the Sri Lankan hill country from our train which will forever stay in our minds

Watch our Sri Lanka video of our adventures through Sri Lanka as we ate our way through this tropical island, took some beautiful train journeys and enjoyed excellent safaris spotting leopards at Udawalawe and blue whales at Mirissa.

Sri Lanka travel recommendations

Transportation: First, there is no need to stress about getting taxis around the capital. Uber is heavily used in Colombo airport as well as Colombo city and if you've never used it before, we give you your 1st ride for free using this link. To go to Kandy, Nuwara Elya or Ella, just take the train: the landscapes are stunning, tickets are cheap and it is an amazing adventure.

Travel insurance: Whether you go on a safari in Yala National Park, scuba diving in Unawatuna, hiking in Ella or just lay on the beach all day long in Negombo, you need travel insurance. We use World Nomads because they offer considerable coverage especially for adventure travellers. They also make it easy to make a claim as it’s all done online.

Flights: Flying domestically in Sri Lanka doesn't make much sense, you're better off taking the train. For international flights, flying to Sri Lanka can be expensive, Google flights can help you find cheap fares and Momondo is our favourite website to book airfares. In addition, flights from Sri Lanka to India and The Maldives are cheap so don't miss out on the opportunity.

Hotels: Sri Lanka has a huge diversity of accommodation options. Make sure you check out our Sri Lanka content for hotel recommendations first. Tripadvisor is also a good place to start researching places to stay and activities to do. Going to the hotel in person and negotiating the price face to face will most of the time result in cheaper prices compared to what you would get online. But if like us, you're a bit of a control freak and like planning ahead, we recommend using Booking.com to find the best deals and book your accommodation online.

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33 Comments

  1. Shawn Blair

    Ive always loved mountain regions! I love tea too, can’t wait to see all of this!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      You will love it…when are you going to Sri Lanka Shawn?

      Reply
  2. Leox

    Awwwww the scenery is soooo beautiful !!
    It reminds me of the the movie Starry Night, Taiwan, 2011. I have always been looking forward to a journey like that, less expensive but more fun, more natural.. and the clouds! It just makes the view be more like from a fairy tale, with two cute heroes in that story! lol
    when i think of Sri Lanka, i will think of an exotic tale and tea first, because i love Sri Lanka tea lol, Impra, i think 🙂

    good to hear your guys’ story again 😉

    Reply
  3. Stefan Arestis

    Awwww Leox thanks for your lovely comment 🙂

    Reply
  4. Jen

    What an amazing experience! The landscape is gorgeous. Have to say though that the kids running to catch the train scares the crap out of the mom in me 🙂

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks for your comment Jen.

      The uncle in me got scared too- but the train was stationery-ish 🙂

      Reply
  5. Jean-Marie

    it sounds idilic! so would like to visit it too! keep the travels and adventures going! hugs JM xxx

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks JM

      Reply
  6. Zante Insider

    Wow, that was really an adventure guys! Those trains doesn’t seem comfy, but the scenery is absolutely amazing. I’ve put the hill country picture (the last one) as a wallpaper on my phone! 🙂

    Maybe you guys can send the big version to my email, so I can use it for my pc as well!! 😀

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Zante that’s really sweet 🙂 Definitely recommend this journey if you’re ever in Sri Lanka.

      Reply
  7. cathy

    Love your video – I leave on Sat for SL and it made me even more excited! Really looking forward to the train ride – cheers!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      You will love it Cathy 🙂 And thank you for your lovely comment.

      Reply
  8. Cecilia

    Hey,
    Love your description in your train trip to Ella. I was at the point of to go or not to go and reading your log i just decide, ok im doing it.
    Can i know is there other train or there is only 1 train from nurwara (nanu oya) to ella or there is other trains as well?

    Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Cecilia. Yes there’s more then 1 train. The trains from Nuwara Eliya to Ella are small, one carriage with limited (and expensive) 1st class seats for tourists (!) and the 2nd carriage (with much cheaper seats) for “everyone else”. We took the latter and loved it.

      Reply
  9. RakSiam

    very nice. I’ll be taking this ride in September as part of a 2.5 week trip in Sri Lanka. Really looking forward to it (and those handsome South Asian men!)

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      You’ll love it 🙂

      Reply
  10. Erin

    Hi, I really enjoyed reading about your trip…am planning on being in SL in April…would you say it’s safe for a female traveling alone to make the train journey and do some of the walks like Liptons Seat? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Absolutely! They are very respectful to women, particularly Westerners. We met lots of solo female travellers there. You’ll have an excellent time.

      Reply
  11. Paul Fournier

    Love the pictures! Looks like a pretty cool experience!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks!

      Reply
  12. Lyndsey Livingston

    Hi Stefan, not sure if you can help with this but here goes. How much does it usually cost to get from Colombo airport to Bentota? Which I think may be approx 60-90 Kilometers. The resort we are staying at have quoted us 100 dollars (U.S) for one way. I’m trying to figure out if this is ok or if it would be cheaper to get a taxi from the airport and if they would know the way. Any suggestions much appreciated, thanks
    Lyndsey

    Reply
    • Lyndsey Livingston

      Sorry make that 120 K, 2 hr drive

      Reply
      • Stefan Arestis

        Well, our taxi from Unawatuna to the airport was around 1.5 hours and cost 5,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($35/£25) but this was split with another couple- total that taxi driver got was 10,000 ($70/£50). So $100 for a 2 hours drive ain’t that bad for Bentota.

        Reply
        • Lyndsey

          Thanks again for your reply, very helpful. Looking forward to exploring your blog further and our trip to Sri Lanka ?

          Reply
          • Stefan Arestis

            🙂

  13. Lyndsey

    Hi again Stefan, hope your travels are going well. We have now booked everything for Sri Lanka including the train journey you have recommended on here and the safari. Thanks for all your blogging, it really is so interesting and helpful. I have just been reading your post on top foods in Sri Lanka and feeling very inspired and excited! A few questions I thought you may be able to help with (hope that’s ok).
    Can you take wine on the train? We have booked seats and hoped to take a little picnic with wine to drink.
    Do I need to cover up in public, like on the train? Arms, legs etc?
    How much should you too the driver? We have a driver from the airport to the hotel (maybe 1.30 hrs) and a driver for 2 days to take us to the train and safari? Also, pool guys and bar/restaurant staff?
    Is there Dengue fever in Sri Lanka? I’m presuming there are lots of mozzies?
    Thanks ??

    Reply
    • Lyndsey

      That was meant to be too not too! ?

      Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Our pleasure and thanks for reading.
      Yes you can take wine on the train and you don’t need to cover up in public. With tipping we always went for a safe 10%. There is no malaria in Sri Lanka but there is lots of dengue and they don’t have any decent mosquito product (they sell citronella which doesn’t last long). Bring lots of mosquito product before you arrive.

      Reply
      • Lyndsey

        Thanks Stefan, this helps. I’m off to get even more mosquito repellent! Can’t wait for our trip and to read more of your blog. Keep doing what your doing, it’s a great read. Safe and happy travels ?

        Reply
  14. Sumita

    Hi,

    Great blog guys and very informative. My husband and I are planning to visit Sri Lanka in August this year for 4 days (unfortunately cannot increase the number of days!), but cant wait to see the beautiful country. We are planning to visit Nuwara Eliya, Ella or Kandy. Since we are there only for 4 days cant decide which place to skip. Pls help us decide if Nuwara Eliya is better or Ella. Or should we go to both the places and skip Kandy. We are keen on taking the train journey too. Pls suggest.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Hi Sumita thanks for your message. In all honesty I’d recommend skipping Kandy and head straight to Ella- it was by far our favourite of the 3 🙂

      Reply
      • Sumita

        Hi Stefan,

        Thank you. Even I feel i can just skip Kandy and head straight to Ella and then take train from Ella to Nuwara Eliya. I hope the train journey from Nuwara Eliya to Ella is also as beautiful as Kandy to Ella. Since we have less days in hand I really want to make the most of it.

        Reply
        • Stefan Arestis

          It is! It’s one of the best we’ve ever taken 🙂

          Reply

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