You’ve heard the tales, seen the scenic snapshots, and perhaps videos of people hanging out of the doors on the Sri Lanka Train from Ella. The legendary Kandy to Ella train ride or Ella to Kandy is a budget-friendly way to travel the lush landscapes of Sri Lanka.
However, we did not need or want to make the whole train journey from Ella to Kandy train station (6 ½ hours is a long train ride!). But that didn’t mean we wanted to miss out on the breathtaking views from the railway tracks. So we selected the part from Ella train station to Nanu Oya with the most scenic train journey, to experience the sights and feel the thrill of it.
Curiosity and excitement fueled our choice to embark on this most beautiful train ride. We were captivated by the pictures and videos of people leisurely hanging out of the open carriage doors. We yearned to experience swaying out of the carriage doors with the rhythmic melody of steel rails.
Having already secured a driver for our Sri Lankan tour. We did not need the entire journey via train, so our adventure began at the quaint Ella train station.
The morning train took us two and ¾ hours through the hill country to Nanu Oya Station in Nuwara Eliya. Watching Sri Lankan life go by us from the open door of this famous train ride.
We had first-class tickets, which ensured great views from our reserved seat at the back of the train. We said goodbye to all the things to do in Ella, from the Nine Arch Bridge to Little Adam’s Peak. Not forgetting our amazing stay at 98 Acres Resort. We started our journey to find all the things to do in Nuwara Eliya.
Table of contents
Ella Train Station
Ella Train Station is a small picturesque building nestled amidst the hills of Ella in Sri Lanka. From there, we embarked on a journey to Nanu Oya to see the beautiful Sri Lankan countryside from the train tracks.
When we arrived early to collect our tickets, it was quiet, but it soon got busy with tourists and locals whilst we eagerly awaited our Ella train to arrive.
There are toilets on the Ella Station platform and seats whilst you await the train.
How to get Ella Train Tickets
We were overwhelmed by the advice on getting tickets for the train ourselves, the prices on the Sri Lanka Railways website are cheap but the tickets go on sale 30 days before travel. These are sold at the station and brought and resold by agents with a markup.
We let Apple Vacations pre-arrange our tickets for us and highly recommend them; we picked them up at Ella station before we got on the train; it was easy and stress-free!
You must book your tickets in advance if you want a chance of getting on the first-class carriage. Second or third class carriages also get booked up quick.
We did find this Seat61 website full of information about all the different train and carriage types you can get when travelling by train in Sri Lanka. They also have up-to-date Ella train tickets cost and the prices for different classes of reserved and unreserved carriages.
If you want to book a reserved carriage on first or second-class tickets, this is a good starting point for getting the best ticket prices. But start planning at least a month ahead. Or use tour operators for the least stressful experience, but be aware that they buy all the tickets ahead of time and charge you more.
I am told that if you arrive at the station about an hour before the train arrives. You get unreserved tickets from the train station on the day of travel, but you will not be allocated a seat. Second-class unreserved or third-class unreserved will most likely leave you standing, which is fine if it is not too busy but a bit crowded when busy!
Ella Train Timetable
Ella Station has a train timetable I shared here, but the train times change, so always check. But here is a picture of the information from our visit in September 2023.
The timetable above also shows the Kandy train times if you are going in the opposite direction to get to Ella town!
Here is a poster with the Sri Lanka Railway Line route showing you the Ella train stops along the way.
Our Train Journey – Ella to Nanu Oya
We caught the SPL train number 1008 and sat in the observation carriage (OFV section) at the back of the train. The train arrived in Ella on time at 11:11 am.
The scenic train ride from Ella to Nanu Oya took 2 hours and 50 minutes. The time varies depending on the train you catch and where it stops along the route.
The observation carriage is the train’s last carriage, and all the seats face backwards, looking towards the large windows showing the beautiful views of the hills.
There is no air conditioning on the observation carriage of the train we took; there are fans on the ceiling, but they didn’t do much! The side windows were open, which ventilated the carriage sufficiently whilst moving.
Our seats number 21 and 22 were right in front of the windows, they had ample legroom and stunning views the windows framed stunning panoramas like live paintings.
There is an inspector who checks the tickets to make sure everyone is in their allocated seats.
Although the views from our seats (which I would say were the best on that carriage) were amazing, the entrance doors of the carriage were our favourite place to be. We were more drawn to this space between the observation carriage and the train guards’ room.
From here we could literally hang out of the open doors, with the thrill of the ride and feel the wind through our hair, it was such an exhilarating experience.
However, be warned, fellow adventurers – those tunnels sneak up on you! You’re hanging out the train one minute, looking over Sri Lanka’s tea country. The next, you’re swallowed in cool darkness – it’s all part of the fun. Just keep your eyes peeled for their approach!
The doors were left open during the whole journey, which also gave us a beautiful viewing point to sit down and look out off along the way when we weren’t hanging out of the doors, and it kept us cool.
As already mentioned, we went in September. This is not the peak time to go, so we had those doors to ourselves pretty much the whole journey! If you go during peak seasons, you will need to share these doors with others!
Let’s say the train toilets are best avoided if possible. Make sure to take your own toilet tissue, hand sanitiser, and a peg for your nose!!! I was going to get a picture for the blog but soon changed my mind!!
Despite this minor inconvenience, our September train ride was not overly crowded, making for a comfortable journey overall.
Kandy to Ella Train Views
We have shared plenty of pictures we took on the journey and shared videos on our social media channels. If you are doing the whole Ella to Kandy train ride. The sections shown here are some of the best sections of the longer train journey. Between Nanu Oya and Haputale stations are the best parts.
Most of the journey between Ella and Nanu Oya is looking over flourishing vegetable allotments and hilly tea plantations.
The train ride gradually creeps up and through the hills, getting cooler as you approach the Nuwara Eliya district. The highest station is Pattipola station (our train did not stop here), located 1897.5 m (6225 feet) above sea level.
There are temples to spot along the way and look out for the friendly locals as you pass their train-side homes. I even got a wave from this family!
We received a warning to be on the lookout for individuals standing near the rails, using sticks to knock phones out of people’s hands while taking photos. Although we did not witness or experience this ourselves, I wanted to share the message with others to advise them to stay vigilant!
We were amazed and impressed by the railway workers maintaining the lines. Being in the last carriage, we saw them waiting on the side of the train line, eager to get back to their repairs on the tracks.
You also saw locals walking on the rails as soon as we passed them!
Locals amused us as they sold their freshly grown vegetables to people on the train between Ohiya and Nanu Oya station. They passed the bags through the doors and windows, exchanging them for money.
Nanu Oya Train Station
Nanu Oya Station was our departing stop on this Ella to Kandy train journey. This small village station is located within the Nuwara Eliya District.
The climate in Nuwara Eliya is a significant change from Ella! We did not prepare ourselves well, so I advise you to take a jumper and warm shoes!
When you leave the station, there is a food truck (or bus) called Dr. Chef, which sells Sri Lankan food or hot dogs, burgers or chicken. Or get yourself a hot drink to warm up.
It wasn’t too much of a problem for us as we had arranged for our driver to pick us up from here to take us on to explore the things to do in Nuwara Eliya and a delightful stay at The Heritance Hotel. Read more about our stay at The Heritance Tea Factory Hotel.
I highly recommend stopping off at Nanu Oya during your Sri Lanka Train from Ella, where you can get a taxi or tuk-tuk to Nuwara Eliya, the coolest part (as in cool temperature) of the entire country.
It is a beautiful part of Sri Lanka to visit. Be aware that you will need two separate tickets for the next part of your Ella train journey. Or on to Kandy Railway Station.
The Kandy to Ella train is undeniably one of the most beautiful train rides you will experience. You are seeing the Sri Lankan hill country towns from a different perspective. We highly recommend you give it a go.
We will be sharing our adventures from our time in Nuwara Eliya next!