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Sri Lanka by Rail – Colombo, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Ella

Sri Lanka by Rail – Colombo, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Ella

The below trip can be done as part of Sri Lanka upcountry rail journey-a comfortable rail journey lasts 4 days which includes “Podimenike express” train plus several excursions to Colombo, Nuwara Eliya, Ella and Kandy with its most sacred Buddhist temple (Tooth relic temple), where the left eye tooth of Buddha rests. Prices start from USD 360pp. Please write to us at for more information. Click here for more info on this Sri Lanka tour by Rail.

Colombo to Kandy on Podimenike express

The first leg of this train journey starts in Colombo at the Fort railway station, the fort railway station is the central railway station in the island. You arrive at the Fort railway station in early hours to take the upcountry express train, where you feel that considerable portion of 3.7 million people, who travel daily on trains have decided to take the train. The guests who take this tour package board the express train, which bound to Kandy from Fort railway station at 7.00 AM.  It is a 2 hours 30 minutes journey and AC passenger compartment is comfortable and includes free WIFI and freshly brewed warming up cups of Ceylon tea of Coffee.

Usually, this express train arrives at the destination on time (9.35 AM), but there can be instances that you have to plan a few hours more on the rail journey. Today’s journey will take place through busy urban areas and towards the latter part of the journey the passengers encounter mountainous area with considerable green cover.


The rest of the day is reserved to explore the city of Kandy. Kandy is one of the most scenic towns of Sri Lanka, which harbours many interesting places such as Tooth relic temple, Royal botanical garden, Colorful market, cultural shows, shopping and entertainments. The city has a fascinating blend of old fashioned Sri Lankan buildings, colonial mansions and modern architectural high-rise constructions. One striking fact about Kandy is its inheritance of extended green cover, which surrounded the city from all directions. Kandy lies 500 meters above sea level and has a mild climate with day time temperature of 27°c and night temperature dipping up to 21 °c.

kandy tooth relic temple

The guests usually visit the tooth relic temple during the evening ceremony, which starts at 6.30 PM. Tooth relic temple had been the living quarters of the Kandyan king and later it was converted to a Buddhist temple with the arrival of left eye tooth of Buddha. The building is a typical Sri Lankan design, all gables and turrets built out of local wood. The building of the present temple was built by King Vimaladharmasooriya 1st in 1592 AD.

Daily a large number of local and foreign travellers visit the temple and the majority of the visitors are impressed by the architectural splendour achieved by the ancient craftsmen.  The visitors are allowed to visit part of the temple complex including the wooden panelled main shrine room, audience hall, and the museum where the visitors can witness a large collection of statues and paintings.

Kandy to Nuwara Eliya

The rail journey from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya considered as one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world and this part of the rail network carried out by the British government (1796 to 1948) in order to transport coffee/tea produced by British planters in the mountains from Nuwara Eliya to Colombo harbour and to transport labour, machinery, manure, rice and foodstuff, etc to Kandy and Nuwara Eliya.  Furthermore, there had been a big demand for passenger transport between Colombo and Nuwara Eliya during the British colonial era, due to the fact that mountain was a very popular holiday station, alternative to the steamy plains below. When the planters wanted to send their goods to Colombo from Kandy in early 18s, the 100 miles journey from Colombo to Kandy, any combination of elephant, horse, bullock cart and rickshaw took seven bone-rattling days. The First railway line of Sri Lanka was opened in 1864 between Colombo and Kandy and later the railway line was further extended to Nuwara Eliya.

Nuwara eliya gregory lake garden

Most carriages of the upcountry train are fully packed with local travellers as well as foreigners. A large number of foreign travellers opts to travel by train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya and vice-a-versa during their Sri Lanka trip in order to enjoy the beautiful scenery in the mountains. Therefore don’t be surprised to see a large number of foreigners on the train in some cases the number of foreigners surpasses the number of local passengers. Despite the distance from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya merely 60 miles it takes around 4 hours for the sluggish climb of the train from Kandy to Colombo, which start at 500 meters above sea level and ends at 1800 meters above sea level.  The rail journey if flanked by hills on one side at any time of the journey and railway line is flanked on both sides on many occasions.

Sitting by the open window is the best and safe way to capture the beautiful scenery, enjoying the cool breeze and enjoy the smell of fresh tea as the locomotive chugs uphill.  The average speed of the train on this stretch would be around 10 km per hour in some places.

Building the railway track on this route was an extraordinary feat of engineering, with 2 dozens of tunnels, a dozen bridges, around 4 dozens of curves. The railway line climbs 1300 meters from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya over the distance of 60 miles, and the train journey takes around 5 hours, passing a dozen stations.

Immediately after Kandy, the railway starts to cut through the mountains in s series of tunnels, the longest is around 500 meters. Most of the work of the railway track carried out under the purview of British engineers and labour was provided by the local people.

Exploring Nuwara Eliya

It will be a late evening as the train arrived in Nuwara Eliya, but the visitors are still able to see the town, most travellers say that Nuwara Eliya is much smaller than they imagined, sprawling over the surrounding mountains. A large portion of the city came to be in the recent past and British built Theodor styled comfy mansions rise above the station to Observatory hills. It is topped with the summer residence of the governor, who was appointed by the queen of British to govern the administrative tasks of the island.

It was open only to the high rank British colonial officers during the British rule and it is worth to take a closer look into the mansion.  The Theodor styled mansion is mainly built out of local wood and granite stones. It was built after the design of British engineers and meant to remind his native home and impress visiting dignitaries. After the independence in 1948 the ownership was passed to a local family and now it is converted to a luxurious hotel. The visitors are allowed to see the grandeur of the mansion and visit Restaurant, pub, coffee lounge and teak panelled main hall, the visitors can also visit a few rooms if unoccupied rooms are available.

grand hotel nuwara eliya

There are several major attractions along the main road such as Victoria Park, Gregory Lake, race course, Golf club. Most of these places are recently restored and now part of the major tourist attractions in Nuwara Eliya. The city draws a large number of tourists during the “Salalihini wasanthaya”, which is the main holiday season of Nuwara Eliya, falls parallel to the school holidays on the island in April. A large number of Colonial buildings line up along the main road between the city and the lake are converted tourist hotels due to the increasing demand for lodging due to the increasing number of holidaymakers in the city.

Nuwara Eliya to Ella

The journey from Nuwara Eliya to Ella is much faster than the journey from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, due to the fact that it takes place on a flat surface. Ella is one of the major tourist resting areas in the mountains with a large number of foreign travellers opts to anchor in the city. The majority of travellers choose Ella due to its calm and serene atmosphere with overwhelming natural forest cover that allows them to have a peaceful and restful holiday with plenty of nature. Ella is also the adventure playground in the mountains with a large number of places for trekking, mountain climbing, rock climbing, and caving.

Ella to Colombo

The journey from Ella to Colombo takes place on the winding road in an air-conditioned vehicle, before boarding the flight back to your home country. Most travellers say that this train journey is very enjoyable and surprisingly relaxed. The tour is pre-planned by the serendipity tours and everything is sorted out on behalf of the travellers, making it more relaxed and takes away the most of the strain.

Sri Lanka is upgrading its infrastructure to accelerate the economic development and improving the railway track is part of the plan, under the new development plan, the government is planning to build a much faster railway track in the island, in this context it may be that one day those speed train will arrive in Sri Lanka. However, it is these slow trains make the journey between Nuwara Eliya and Kandy attractive and let’s hope this railway remain the same in the future.

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Sanjeewa Padmal (Seerendipity tours)

This blog is all about travelling in Sri Lanka, I am trying to illuminate my readers with a wide range of information related to Sri Lanka travel. Please feel free to contact me at any time if you need more information. Furthermore, we can organize your holiday package or any travel related requirement in Sri Lanka. Please contact us on

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