Taking the train is the most comfortable way to travel in my opinion. You can walk around whenever you want, go to the toilet, have some food, meet other travelers and locals, read, listen to music, relax and watch the landscape go by peacefully outside.

Train travel in Sri Lanka is both a beautiful and affordable way to see the country, and no trip is more scenic than the train from Ella to Kandy or the reverse train from Kandy to Ella!

We took the train on two transport stretches; EllaKandy and PolonnaruwaColombo. They were both pretty long journeys, around 7 hours each. The nicest was Ella to Kandy, due to the incredible scenery along the way!

The Beautiful Train Trip From Ella To Kandy

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Ella train station

Taking the train to or from Ella is the most famous stretch of train travel in Sri Lanka, and is nearly a tourist attraction in itself.

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Lots of people waiting for the train at Ella train station

At each train station on the way, the train cabins were filled with sellers hustling treats like freshly cut pineapple and mango with cinnamon, corn with salty butter, freshly made rice and curry, chili fritters and crispy papadums. Yummy!!

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The Sri Lankan Railway System

The Railway system in Sri Lanka was initially built by the British in 1864. The main reason was to transport tea and coffee from the Hill Country to Colombo for shipping internationally.

Today there are train tracks between some of the biggest cities in Sri Lanka.

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Train information, timetables, and ticket prices can be found on the Sri Lanka Government Railway Information web side.

Most trains have different government-run classes/ carriages that you can choose from:

  • 1st class sleeper carries sleeping-berths and is available on a few overnight trains.
  • 1st class observation car is available on certain daytime trains, mostly on the Main Line, and is very popular among tourists. The observation car provides a wide view of the scenery and is usually at the rear of the train but occasionally behind the locomotive.
  • 1st class air-conditioned seats are available on occasional inter-city express trains.
  • 2nd class seats are provided on all inter-city trains and are available as either unreserved seats or reserved seats.
  • 3rd class seats are available on most trains. This class can get very crowded and carries only basic facilities.

There are also two privately run services addition to the above government-run; Rajadhani Express and Expo Rail, which operate on the most famous stretches. Their carriages are part of the same train as the government-run ones. It is basically the same train just different carriages.

We took the Expo Rail carriage between Ella and Kandy, because the government-run 1st class observation car was fully booked. We paid 1700 Srilankan rupees (78 Nkr, 13 us$) per person for luxury class, and bought the Expo Rail tickets at Ella train station a couple of days in advanced. This is very expensive by Sri Lankan standards, but it was the only tickets available.

You can also book a reservation on the Expo Rail carriage on their webpage.

On our trip from Polonnaruwa to Colombo, we traveled 2nd class in a government-run train car, and that was also perfectly fine, and incredibly cheap. There was no food or water included.

At least on this popular stretch, to and from Ella, it is recommended to buy the ticket in advance. There are three trains a day on the stretch Ella – Kandy. Check for departure times here.

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Maria buying train tickets at Ella train station

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The ExpoRail car was a VERY nice train cabin, with comfortable seats, air condition and flat screen TV showing movies. We also got dinner, water and tea/coffee included in the price. Great deal for only 13 us$! 🙂 We bought the ExpoRail train tickets at Ella train station a couple of days in advanced.

Some ExpoRail carriages have one or two open deck on their carriages. There was, unfortunately, no open deck on our train from Ella to Kandy. The open deck sounds great, however, for photography and just enjoying the scenery and get some fresh mountain air.

The Ella train station is a peaceful, sleepy and beautiful station!

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The beautiful Ella train station

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Next to Ella Train Station is a cricket court! Great entertainment while waiting!

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Cricket game outside of Ella train station

Awesome View From The Train

The scenery from the train is breathtaking! Like a green carpet of tea bushes rolling by, with colorful sari-dressed tea pickers popping out of the sea of green.

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Tea picker in a colorful sari

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Tea pickers in the hill-side

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Our two train trips in Sri Lanka were great, especially the trip from Ella to Kandy was spectacular! I would say it is among the world`s most beautiful train trips. Both journeys were a bit long though, 7 hours, but as long as one has a good book and some music downloaded to the iPhone, one can survive a sore bum :).

Train Trip Information

  • How long is the train trip: 7 hours
  • How much did it cost: We booked the ExpoRail car which cost 13 us$. Included in that price are dinner, water, and tea/coffee. Great deal!
  • How to book train tickets: For the government-run train cars you have to buy the tickets at any train station in Sri Lanka, as they do not have an online booking system yet. For ExpoRail tickets, you can buy tickets online in advance. We did, however, buy the ExpoRail tickets at Ella train station a couple of days in advanced.

Where To Stay In Ella

Ella has mostly small family run guesthouses but also a few higher end boutique hotels. The recent popularity surge means that there is no shortage of accommodation options for any budget. Below are some of the best accommodation options in Ella, including their address and price, starting with the place we called home for 7 nights.

We stayed at Ravana Heights
Accommodation in Ella, Sri LankaBy chance, we ended up at Ravana Heights and while we had originally intended to stay two nights we ended up staying for a full week. We especially enjoyed the new big and comfortable superior rooms with stunning views from the balcony. The location is excellent, you're just a short walk away from the main street of Ella with shops and restaurants.

The food at this hotel is fantastic! The breakfast is served on the terrace, with spectacular views over the Ella valley, mountains, and tea plantations. You are served pancakes, eggs, bread, jams, tea/coffee, juice, fruits, basically everything a good breakfast should have.

And the dinner, oh the dinner is delicious! The best food we have had in Sri Lanka, maybe the whole of Asia! It cost $15 and consists of several different tasty dishes including dessert. The dinner varies from day to day and is a fusion of Thai and Sri Lankan.

The owner Senadhi speaks perfect English (he studied at the London School of Economics). He is a great character and really makes you feel at home at Ravana Heights. He can also organize walks for you, with or without a guide, and will draw maps of hiking routes for you. We did two walks with a guide, and one without a guide. The other staff are also very sweet and couldn't do enough for us.

Boutique hotels
An old converted tea planters bungalow located in a very peaceful and relaxing setting away from town. It's also one of the very few places around Ella that have a swimming pool to enjoy after a day of hiking. They have rooms set in the newly refurbished colonial bungalow as well apartment style rooms in a new building. Rooms are very comfortable and no two are alike. The staff is super friendly and the Sri Lankan style breakfast is very tasty. There is a $15 set dinner menu that changes every evening. It’s great choice if you like a place to relax and enjoy the scenery and don’t mind being 20 minutes drive away from the touristy and busy Ella town.

Zion View Ella
The rooms here have floor to ceiling windows that truly let you admire the awe-inspiring view in all its's majesty. The rooms are cozy, well maintained and clean, with comfortable beds and hot water showers. Every room has a balcony with chairs for relaxing as well as a hammock. Wi-Fi is free and surprisingly fast. Despite being just a six-minute walk from Ella center, it's a quiet and relaxing place. Breakfast is plentiful and very tasty. It's a popular choice with families and there is a childrens play area with toys.

Guesthouses
This is a new small hotel located a ten-minute tuk-tuk ride away from the city center. It has 3 large and spotlessly clean rooms with hot water showers and spectacular views overlooking Ella gap. The service can rival any five-star hotel and the excellent breakfast is served on your balcony. There is free in room Wi-Fi.
If you want a place centrally located and close to the train station then this is an excellent alternative. It’s just a five-minute walk away from the station and two minutes from Ella center with its shops and restaurants. Standard rooms are in the old section and are a little small and worn down but the newly built rooms (2017) are very nice and spacious so it is definitely worth upgrading to a new superior room. It’s family run and the owners are very friendly and helpful.
This family run place is very popular so reserve your room early! The view is spectacular and the rooms are well furnished, clean and comfortable with hot water showers, fridge, cable TV and free Wi-Fi. The three brothers that run it are super friendly, and the mother cooks a delicious breakfast served on the terrace. It’s located on a quiet hill about 10 minutes walk from Ella Town. All in all, its fantastic value for money!
Basic but large and clean rooms with amazing views make this a popular budget homestay option. Breakfast is good and they serve a delicious rice & curry dinner. Location is a 15 minute walk away from the city center.

Where To Stay In Kandy

Kandy offers a wide selection of accommodation for all budgets, and here you will have plenty of choices when it comes to finding the right place to stay. Kandy is a big city and the competition seems to be tough so you can find some excellent deals here.

Below are some of the best accommodation options in Kandy, including the address and price.

We stayed at Sharon Inn
Sharon Inn is located up on the hillside above the Kandy Lake. The road up to the hotel is a bit steep but we walked to Kandy Lake several times. Owned and run by a family where the wife is German. It is a decent hotel, and we were happy with the accommodation and the service, although it is a bit run down. It is recommended in the Lonely Planet.

Our favorite part of our stay here was the dinner buffet in the garden. Each evening they serve traditional Sri Lankan rice and curry with lots of different dishes, for only 7 us$. A very good value. The food was excellent, among the best we had in Sri Lanka.

We had one of the top floor rooms and had spectacular views from our balcony. The rooms are however quite basic, albeit with private bathrooms. It is a bit over-prized for this kind of room standard, but the location is great.

Viyana Boutique Hotel
This new boutique hotel is located within easy walking distance to the Temple of the Tooth Relic. The rooms are large and modern with comfortable beds and free WiFi. The staff is enthusiastic and helpful. Some of the rooms have views overlooking the lake.

Staying Outside the City Center

Kandy can be a busy and noisy city so it is worth considering staying a little outside the city center. Especially with transportation being so cheap and readily available.

Elephant Stables
Elephant Stables is a beautiful little hotel in a colonial style bungalow about 10 minutes drive away from Kandy center. There is a lovely pool and a nice view overlooking the green valley. It's a small intimate hotel where every guest is taken care of and made to feel exceptionally welcome. It is somewhat expensive but if it's within your budget then this comes highly recommended.

Elegant Hotel
If you want to get away from busy downtown Kandy then this small hotel is a great option! Located about 20 minutes drive from Kandy center it overlooks the valley and offers spectacular views of the area. It has a huge swimming pool and the friendly staff makes you feel right at home. If we ever visit Kandy again, we will for sure have a look at this! 🙂

  • Address: No. 200/3 Sunflower Garden, Meewaladeniya Handessa, Kandy, Sri Lanka
  • Price: from 63 us$
  • Click for latest prices

Sky Pavilion
Wow, what a lovely hotel with spectacular views! Would definitely not mind staying here!

  • Address: 102 / 123 Hewaheta Road, Talwatta, Kandy 20000, Sri Lanka (a bit out of Kandy center)
  • Price: from 156 us$
  • Click for latest prices

Kandyan Crown Hotel
This budget hotel offers good value for money and is beautifully located up in the hillside outside of Kandy!

Travel Guides

We used the Lonely Planet`s Sri Lanka travel guide on our trip, which we love. You can get that and other great books by clicking on the pictures below:

Sri Lanka Lonely Planet      Sri Lanka Rough Guide


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The World`s Most Beautiful Train Trip - Ella to Kandy, Sri Lanka
What do you think of long train trips? How do you get the time to fly aboard trains? We’d love to hear your train experiences in the comment area below! If you liked this blog post, or found it useful, please share and like on social media! Thank you! 🙂 

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