Our Guide to the scenic Sri Lankan train ride

What’s so exciting about the train ride in Sri Lanka?

Well, you got to ride one to know it.

Tea shrugs in the centre of the landscape, tea shrugs in the left of the landscape and tea shrugs in the right of the landscape. The few seconds of debut of the tunnels, waterfalls rolling down its water, the echoes of local vendors selling chai and the smiles and laughter of the commuters, all this and joy.

The Train ride from Nuwara Eliya passes through the Southern hillside of the country and then up again little towards the central hillside and then finally descends to Ella. Throughout the journey the train passes through a lot of tea plantations, disappears into mist clouds and tunnels and cheers up the many towns that it passes by.

The iconic train ride is one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka but planning and booking this can be quite a task in itself. We had to do a lot of research around it for our trip and wished someone would have jotted down all at one place. Which is why we’ve tried to put together some very basic things to make it little simpler for you.

Waiting for our train at Nanu Oya station

Before you book

  • There are many train journey options in Sri Lanka but the specific, Kandy to Ella (approx. 7- hour trip) route is the most scenic and loved route by the travelers and photographers around the world.
  • The main route of the said train is – Colombo to Kandy to Badulla.
  • Kandy to Ella trains stop at N’ Eliya, hence you can board for the same route from N’ Eliya and make the long train trip short and simple, and spend one or two nights on N’ Eliya.
  • The train station serving N’ Eliya is Nanu Oya (8km from center of town).
  • There are 4 government run trains and one VIP train (fully air conditioned and includes meal) run by 12Go.
  • The Sri Lankan Railways doesn’t support online bookings, but tickets can be booked from 12GoAsia website for a fee.
Lush green scenery all around with tea fields

Duration

3-4 hours approximately from N’Eliya to Ella.

Seating

There are three types of seating available on trains –

  1. First class reserved, which are closed air-conditioned compartments.
  2. Second class reserved, which is not an air-conditioned carriage.
  3. Few trains also have third class reserved carriages too and are very much comfortable.

First class tickets are limited and generally gets fully booked by big tour operators so you may have to travel in Second or Third Class. But let me tell you, it is rather more exciting as you get to click some really great pictures through the windows, dangle feet out of the door (be careful though!) and also interact with fellow passengers.

The weather made our ride even more amazing

Cost

  1. First class ticket – around $20
  2. Second class ticket – $15
  3. Third class reserved ticket – $5

Booking

There may be three options available:

  • Visit and buy from any Sri Lanka Railway Station 30 days before the date of the journey. Note: The reserved ticket cannot be purchased on your journey date.
  • Book via 12go.asia for an additional delivery fee (32 days before intended journey date).
  • Contact your Captain or the Tour Operator for buying it on your behalf (we chose this option and booked through our car rental agency).

P.S.: Unreserved tickets are uncapped and are always available. They can’t be booked in advance, so you may have to reach the station a bit early and wait for your turn in the queue at the station master’s office and be prepare to be packed to the gills.

For more details visit the Sri Lanka Railways Website

Do this at your own risk 😛

Train timings

(SLST: UTC: +05.30)

Departure – Nanu OyaArrival – EllaTrain TypeSeating Class
09:18 A.M.12:31 P.M.Mixed TrainsI, II and III
12.45 A.M.03:14 P.M.Express TrainI, II and III
02:50 P.M.05:16 P.M.Express TrainI, II and III
03:51 P.M.06:22 P.M.Express TrainI, II and III
03:55 P.M.06:27 P.M.Viceroy by 12GoReserved

We highly recommend checking with your hotel or tour operator or Captain for more up-to-date information on train timings. We traveled in the Third-class reserved carriage, since the other reserved classed had already sold out to big groups. Our journey would have never been so authentic and complete as it was.

The iconic train wagon

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