Sri Lanka,  travel

Ella to Kandy – what to know about Sri Lanka’s famous train journey

The Kandy to Ella train is one of the most famous train journeys in the world. The approximately 7-hour journey travels through some of the most incredible scenery, traversing tea plantations and lush forests, crossing scenic rivers, and past villages and towns of waving locals.

Unlike some travellers, we took the famed route in reverse, beginning our journey in Ella and ending in Kandy.

And I think I preferred it this way – the most spectacular scenery is during the first few hours of the trip, leaving the last hour or so to relax. I feel like I might have gotten tired and not had the focus on the best part of the trip if we had done it the other way around.

The journey is a must for your Sri Lanka bucket list, so make sure to add it to your itinerary. I didn’t do it the first time I visited Sri Lanka and it was my number one regret and the first thing on my list for my next trip.

After breakfast at our homestay, our host dropped us off via tuk-tuk at the train station in Ella. We had booked ahead by a few days and caught the train at 9:24. You can start the journey farther along at Demodara and cross over Nine Arches Bridge if you wish. We had already gone to see the bridge and decided it was just more convenient to start in Ella.

How long does the journey take?

The full journey from Ella to Kandy takes about 7 hours. It is roughly 3-4 from Ella to Nuwara Eliya and same again from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy. I’ve heard it is often delayed so you should definitely expect it to take longer. However, we were lucky and everything arrived on time. Despite significant flooding at the time between Kandy and Colombo (the train continues on to Colombo after Kandy). Not that I would have minded a delay on this journey!

What are the train times from Ella to Kandy?

According to current timetables, Trains run from Ella to Kandy at 6:39 am, 9:23 am, 10:56 am, 12:04 pm and 6:58 pm. Although you would not want to get an evening train as it would be dark!

Trains to Ella run from Colombo at 5:55 am (Kandy 8:47 am), 8:30 am (Kandy 11:10 am) and 9:45am (doesn’t stop at Kandy).

You can find train times to and from Ella here.

Which class should I book?

We actually went against advice we had read and booked first class just because Matt doesn’t deal with heat well and it is air-conditioned. But after seeing 2nd class and how mild Ella and Nuwara Eliya are, I’d have happily booked second class. Lesson learned. Most of the train ride is through cooler parts of the country, the windows open and the seats are still comfy.

We didn’t get a good look at third class but seats looked padded and still fairly modern, a lot better than third class in other countries like Vietnam.

Tickets will cost you about:

  • Third class | LKR 300, LKR 440 to Colombo Fort.
  • Second class | LKR 600, LKR 900 to Colombo Fort.
  • First class | LKR 3,000 (LKR 2,500 if booked in advance)

There are spots to look out the train doors in each carriage. Or hang out of it if you want. Not that I’m endorsing that sort of dangerous behaviour (although in all seriousness, tunnels approach quickly and people have fallen out of this train by being careless).

Do make sure to sit on the left if you are doing Ella to Kandy and right if you are doing Kandy to Ella as that is where the best scenery is. Book reserved seats so you can make sure to get the side you want. So ideally, you want to be booking a second-class reserved seat.

To note that they seem to have retired most the classic trains in favour of a more modern model. You may have seen photos elsewhere of a bright blue train or barn red train. It might account for why our train was reliable and you can expect a modern looking, comfortable interior.

How do I book tickets for the train from Ella to Kandy?

I recommend booking your train in advance, at least a day or two. The route has become quite popular with tourists and the reserved seats in particular can sell out quickly.

You can book before you go with 12goasia, but do so well in advance (about 32 days is recommended) as they will take a while to process your order. I recall feeling a bit panicked as we only got our tickets the day before we travelled, although that might have been because our original train was cancelled.

Can I stop off?

I would recommend a stop-off at Nanu-Oya for Nuwara Eliya if you want to break the trip up a bit. This tea region of the country is beautiful. Often called Little England for its misty and mild climate. While you are there, you can visit waterfalls, tea plantations, Gregory Lake, Victoria Park, and more.

Other tips for the Ella to Kandy train

Every few hours a man will come around selling snacks such as samosas or tea made with condensed milk. I definitely recommend grabbing a bit of both. It was all delicious. I still think about that cup of tea sometimes.

Arriving in Kandy

If you take the train from Ella to Kandy, you’ll arrive in Sri Lanka’s former capital which is full of historical and cultural landmarks Kandy’s rail station is located about a 10-minute walk from the lake and city centre. Here are a few things to add to your list after you arrive:

  • Walk around the lake
  • Visit the Temple of the Tooth
  • Explore the Cultural Triangle
  • Visit the Royal Botanic Gardens in nearby Peradineya

You can find my guide to Kandy here.

Arriving in Ella

You’ll arrive on one end of this little village, which is easy to explore. If you are peckish at this point, stop into one of its many cafes for some great food (we didn’t have a single bad meal in Ella).

There’s plenty to do in Ella, including:

  • Climbing Little Adam’s Peak
  • Ziplining
  • Hiking Ella Rock
  • Visiting Ravana Falls
  • Seeing Nine Arches Bridge

You can find my complete guide to Ella here.

One Comment

  • ourcrossings

    First things first: the Kandy to Ella train is magnificent. I just love how the landscape changes from palm jungle to incredibly steep hills covered in tea bushes with huge open vistas – it’s not hard to see why it’s such a popular journey. I’ve never been on this particular train ride, but as with so many popular ones around the globe, I’d say that it matters which side of the train you sit on. Thanks for sharing, and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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