The train journey from Nuwara Eliya to Ella was one of our favourite train rides on our travels, rivalling our experience with the Trans Siberian railway.
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 base for the colonialists and still retains some of the British quirks, like the famous red post box.
The main attraction in this region of Sri Lanka is the tea. The large number of plantations surrounding Nuwara Eliya account for a large chunk of this popular Sri Lankan export. This is where you'll find the best tea.
The train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella 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. This is a journey not to be missed!
What we cover in this guide
How to get from Nuwara Elya to Ella?
You can choose to go to Ella by car but from our experience, the best way to get from Nuwara Elya to Ella is by train.
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 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.
How long is the train from Nuwara Elya 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.
This was one of our favourite 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.
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. This was one of our favourite memories from Sri Lanka and possibly our best ever train experience.
How much is the train ride from Nuwara Elya to Ella?
The most comfortable way to travel to Ella from Nuwara Elya is in 1st class, where you'll be seated in the “observation deck” carriage with panoramic windows. The cost of a 1st class ticket is about $20 (17€ / £15), which is definitely worth it given the views you'll get. And you'll also have air-con.
A second class ticket is about $15 (12€ / 10£). Given the price difference with 1st class, it was a no brainer for us, we decided to travel in 1st…
There's also the option to travel in 3rd class (with no air-con) which you can buy on the day at the train station. The cost of a 3rd class ticket is 60 rupees per person ($0.50).
How to book your train tickets?
You can turn up at Nuwara Eliya train station on the day and buy your ticket at the ticket office. Keep in mind, that the train station can get very busy especially during peak tourist periods and public holidays in Sri Lanka.
We preferred to book our tickets online because we wanted to make sure we could get on the train on a specific day. This is the best way to avoid stress or disappointment on the day.
Where to stay in Nuwara Eliya?
Nuwara 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:
Advice for LGBTQ travellers to Nuwara Eliya and Ella
It is illegal to be gay in Sri Lanka! The country sadly insists on retaining the archaic anti-gay laws from the Colonial days. Homophobic conservative attitudes are therefore prevalent across the country. However, we found that there is a huge discrepancy between how locals are treated versus how foreigners like us are treated. As a gay couple travelling in Sri Lanka, we found the people to be welcoming and curious towards us despite the anti-gay laws. We never had a problem booking a double bed in any of the hotels or guesthouses we stayed in, especially the ones listed in this article. The hotels in this article are tried/tested by us and we found them to be gay friendly and very welcoming to us as LGBTQ travellers.
For more, read our interview with Kaluu from Colombo about gay life in Sri Lanka.
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.
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.
Visit a tea plantation
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.
Happy travels are safe travels
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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.