Sri Lanka’s Most Beautiful Train Journey: Kandy to Nuwara Eliya to Ella

It is said that the 7 hour train journey from Kandy to Ella (with a stop in Nuwara Eliya) is the most beautiful in the world. And since I haven’t been on every train journey in the world, I can’t exactly confirm that to be true. What I do know, is that this train ride was the most beautiful and exhilarating one that I have ever been on.

I mean, when have you ever been able to literally hang out of the train doors while it’s in motion?

I was used to the European trains where the doors would be tightly locked the moment the car sets in motion. It is quite the opposite in Sri Lanka where the train doors are flapping opened and closed with every turn. Passengers take turns hanging out the windows. Or even leaning out of the doorways, craning their necks for better views of the tea terraced hills.

We started our journey in Kandy and had pre-purchased our train tickets the day prior to avoid them selling out. Since we were traveling in the off-season it wasn’t completely necessary. However,  I do recommend to pre-purchase. This allows you to save time and not stress on the day of your departure. We purchased the 2nd class tickets from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya.  But bought 3rd class tickets from Nuwara Eliya to Ella. Be sure to keep your train tickets on hand because you will need to turn them in when exiting the train station.

On the day of your train journey arrive slightly early.  Pulling in prior to our 8:47 am departure time, we were hoping it would secure us one of those highly sought after seats by the window or door. Unbeknownst to us the 2nd class seats are actually assigned and are spacious booths with a center table. Each set of seats has its own window which open from the bottom or top. Choosing to open it from the bottom we were able to take photographs easier while the train was in motion. Comfortably seated in our 2nd class cabin, the train departed right on time. Our journey from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya lasted around 4 hours with multiple stops along the way.

And the views were stunning. Around every new turn were more views of the Sri Lankan countryside.  Rolling hills filled with endless rows of vibrant green tea leaves.

Local men pass through the cabins selling delicious local snacks, most likely made in their own kitchens and carried in wicker baskets. I purchased an egg sandwich, basically consisting of a homemade sweet bread with a sliced hard boiled egg nestled inside. It was good and cheap and I was hungry.

When we arrived in Nuwara Eliya (Nanu-Oya station) it was cold and rainy. Unlike our previous days of endless sunshine and warm temperatures. Reading that Nuwara Eliya usually has colder weather we were happy with our packing choices.

After reaching our family run homestay we arranged for a tuk-tuk to take us to one of the more popular tea plantations: Mackwood’s. From our location, the cost for a tuk tuk to drive us the 10 km outside of town, wait for us and then bring us back to the main town was 1200 LKR (roughly $7.75).

Arriving at the Mackwood’s Tea Plantation (supposedly the most popular in the area) we took a quick and free tour. The guide will show you some of the tea leaves and will educate you on the process of making the tea. Unfortunately while we were there the machines were not running so we didn’t get to see the actual tea production.

Afterwards we roamed a bit outside around the tea fields. However, the weather was still misty and cold so we didn’t spend too much time outside.

Leaving the tea plantation we had our tuk-tuk driver drop us off in town so we could walk around and explore. The main area is quite dull and unexciting. Cement blocks form rows of stores that sell inexpensive clothes and cheap (but delicious) food.

Nuwara Eliya is well known for its rich British influence and charming colonial-style buildings. Despite the cute post office and a few other buildings, I was left wanting more. Maybe Nuwara Eliya is more charming when the weather is nice and it is enjoyable to walk around.

The following morning, with our bags packed and tickets in hand, we headed back to the train station to board our 12:30 pm train ride to finish our journey to Ella. For this part of the trip we reserved seats in the 3rd class cabin (2nd was full) and we didn’t want the 1st class car.

We’d heard that in the 1st class cabins there weren’t doors or windows to hang out of.  Yes, there is air conditioning. But who needs that when you’ve got the wind blowing in your face!

The 3rd class cabin wasn’t as comfortable as the 2nd class but it was perfectly fine. We had assigned seats and were placed right next to a door so we were happy.

The journey from Nuwara Eliya to Ella lasted for 3.5 hours. The views along the way were just as breathtaking as the day before.

The train arrived at the Ella station and from there we were able to walk to our guesthouse.

I absolutely loved Ella. This small town in the heart of Sri Lanka’s tea hill country has plenty of outdoor activities for everyone. Find out what adventures we got into during our stay in Ella here!

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Traveling through Sri Lanka by train on one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world!

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