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

Sebastien Chaneac

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!

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.

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

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.

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

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).

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

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.

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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:

Travel advice for LGTBQ community

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

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.

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

Happy travels are safe travels

We recommend you always take out travel insurance before your next vacation. What happens if you suffer from illness, injury, theft or a cancellation? With travel insurance, you can have peace of mind and not worry. We love World Nomads travel insurance and have been using it for years. Their comprehensive coverage is second to none and their online claims process is very user friendly.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation, an activity or your insurance, we’ll earn a small commission. There is never an extra cost to you for using these links and it helps us keep the site going.

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.

Sebastien Chaneac

Sebastien is the co-founder, editor and author of nomadicboys.com. He is a tech geek, a total travel nerd and a food enthusiast. He spends the majority of his time planning Nomadic Boys' travels meticulously right down to the minute details. Sebastien has travelled to over 80 countries with his partner in crime and the love of his life, Stefan. He regularly shares his expertise of what it’s like travelling as a gay couple both on Nomadic Boys and on prominent publications ranging from Pink News, Matador, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian and many more. Originally from France, Sebastien moved to London in the early 2000s where he pursued a career as a computer programmer for Thompson Reuters and Bloomberg. He subsequently left it all to explore his passion for travelling around the world with Stefan to hand, and thus Nomadic Boys was born. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

43 thoughts on “Train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella, a journey through the clouds”

    • We loved Galle, Marissa and the safaris. Also the train rides around Ella. So a trip based around these is a must. You can get anywhere in Sri Lanka- either by bus or taxi. Best advice is to reach out to a reputable tour company for the most up to date info, like Master Campers.

  1. Hi guys;
    Thanks for the info, I’m a train junkie so when I go to SL, this route is definitely on the menu.

    One point of contention that I feel compelled to address is the photo of one of you posing while an elderly lady tries to climb into the train. Would it have been considered inappropriate for you to assist her?

    • No because she was getting off not on and when we did offer she insisted on doing it herself which we respected and left her alone 🙂

  2. Hi,
    lovely blog! is it any difference in going NE-ella or Ella-NE? if we have three night to spend, how should we divide them between NE and Ella?

    best regards
    Kidde from Sweden, going thereNov/Dec

    • Hi Kidde- journey is the same both ways but we loved Ella the most so I’d recommend maximising your time there. We went from Kandy – NE – Ella then to the parks for safari.

  3. Hi, Great info!
    Whats the best ride? Kandy to Nuwara Eliya or NE to Ella?
    We’re going to SL in sept 2017.

    Looking forward hearing from you!

  4. 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.

    • 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 🙂

      • 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.

  5. 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 ??

    • 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.

      • 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 ?

  6. 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

  7. 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!

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

  8. 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!)

  9. 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!

    • 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.

  10. 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!! 😀

  11. 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 🙂

  12. 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 😉

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