Most people who visit Sri Lanka dream of taking this famously beautiful train journey between Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and finally Ella. It is really beautiful, the train twists and turns through the Sri Lankan tea plantations, forests and mountain sides.
But before getting this train, I could not for the life of me work out how you actually get a ticket for the train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya (Nanu Oya) or from Kandy to Ella. Some travel blogs would say one thing, others would say another. In the end we got tickets and this blog explains how.
Find out more about what I recommend doing (and not doing!) in the rest of Sri Lanka in my very honest Sri Lanka guide:
To note: Nuwara Eliya doesn’t have a train station, so you need to go to Nanu Oya which is nearby.
Dangle Your Whatever Out The Window
There seems to be a number of trains that run this route, some that include second and third class carriages, and one that is purely first class.
Blogs will endlessly tell you about how getting a first class train won’t be ‘the same’ because you can’t dangle your face, children or your whatever out of the window. In the blog, they’ll probably include over-posed instagram shots of them sitting on the floor looking out the train door, with the Sri Lankan countryside flying by.
Sometimes they’ll get their friend to dangerously hang out of the door on the next carriage to get that ‘perfect shot’. Whatever happened to holiday snaps where we all looked goofy in our too high-waisted bikinis?
FYI Sri Lankan train floors are GROSS and don’t worry, if you love sitting on packed train floors for hours Sri Lanka gives you plenty of opportunities to do this that aren’t glamourised by some travel bloggers. I’m sure the locals don’t much like having no choice but to sit on the floor of trains and think us westerners are dumb-asses for doing it for photos…
Anyway, these bloggers will give you vague advice on how to get on the bloody dangle everything out the window train. From what I read these trains are normally rammed with no space for luggage. And we couldn’t work out how to get on one. I wanted to actually get on the train, get my stuff on and not have to stand for 6 hours to Nuwara Eliya.
Here’s how we did it, and it was still a lovely experience!
Little-Known Way: Getting Tickets For The Kandy To Nuwara Eliya Train
We bought tickets for the first class train at Kandy train station a day before. They cost us LKR 1,200 ($6.80 USD) each. You can stay on this train if you want to just go straight to Ella. It costs a bit more to get to Ella – LKR 1,500 ($8.50) we think each. I’d advise not leaving it as late as us to book tickets, as the train was busy.
I’ve not ever been on a UK first class but it’s certainly not like UK first class! The train with only 1st class goes on a Saturday and Sunday according to the Sri Lankan train website, but we travelled on a Monday and only found out about this train by going to the ticket desk at Kandy train station.
No One Really Knows About This Train
We noticed that people in our hotel who had tried booking through an agent (for a lot more money) didn’t know about the train which suggests that the agent didn’t even know about it. It might go other days too, who flipping knows! There are at least 2 express trains a day during the week, that have 2nd and 3rd class options too. 2nd class is around LKR 240 ($1.36 USD).
How Long Did It Take?
Our train started at 7:40ish from Kandy. We got off at Nanu Oya, as Nuwara Eliya doesn’t have a train station. The train took around 6 hours.
Even though we had assigned seats we turned up to Kandy half an hour early to make sure we got them! We picked up some cheap and tasty vegetable rotis at the station for breakfast. The station is nice and worthy of a few pictures and there’s an old-fashioned, still functioning signal box at the end of one of the platforms. You may be allowed in to have a look around but the workers will try and charge you…
How Did You Get From Nanu Oya To Nuwara Eliya?
We jumped in a mini van from the station for LKR 1,300 ($7.37 USD) for 4 of us, to take us to Nuwara Eliya (8km away). You can do this route by public transport as there are buses from Nanu Oya to the crossroads near Lake Gregory and then you can take another bus into Nuwara Eliya but it was just easier to take a taxi with 4 of us and all our stuff. There are also plenty of tuk tuks available if there is less of you.
Space For Luggage?
The train was full of middle-aged westerners but you could get your stuff in. They have large overhead racks for backpacks and some space behind the last seats in the carriage.
What Were The Facilities Like?
There are toilets of varying quality. They even served tea and samosas albeit at inflated prices.
And The Views?
The scenery was beautiful. Everyone opened the train doors anyway so you can still get that insta shot. Don’t worry and no one needs to know you went on the first class train, I won’t tell. Maybe not particularly ‘authentic’, but still nice and sometimes practicality wins over authenticity I’d say.
Getting From Nuwara Eliya To Ella
As I said above, if you want to go straight to Ella just stay on this train. However, getting back on this train a few days later from Nuwara Eliya can be a nightmare. Here’s how we got from Nuwara Eliya to Ella:
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