Today we get to try the Ella-Kandy train route, that’s said to be one of the greatest not only in Asia but in the entire world.

We get to Ella railway station by 9am, our train leaves at 9.30. 2nd class tickets cost us 240 rupees, 1.50$, to cover 160km.
Ella-Kandy train fares
Fares from Ella
Following under, some lines to explain how to obtain your tickets.
There are 3 ways to book a train ticket in Sri Lanka:
  1. Simply show at the train station on the day of travel to buy a not reserved 2nd or 3rd class ticket. These kind of tickets are by far the cheapest ones, but be warned the carriages may be overcrowded, especially during high season and leaving from the main cities i.e. Colombo and Kandy, and standing for 4 hours is never a good idea.
  2. Reserve your ticket at the station with a few hours or better 1 day in advance. In this way you will have a guaranteed numbered seat in a standard coach never too busy since standees are not allowed in them. You can book anything except for 3rd class tickets; the prices are about 50% more expensive than same day tickets. When we were in Trincomalee, we got our tickets a couple of hours in advance.
  3. Book online through agencies before getting to Sri Lanka: according to The Man in Seat 61, www.visitsrilankatours.co.uk is a trusty one. Prices of course are higher than standard rate.

What seat do I need to buy?

There are quite a few different seat options in Sri Lanka. As travellers, we love adventure: the lower the class, the more the fun. 3rd class is a deep dive into local culture, 1st class and above are 95% tourists, so it’ll be closer to a private tour, which doesn’t sound fun. We personally think using 1st class is a shame! So let’s see in detail:

  • 3rd class seat: wooden non numbered benches. The most popular choice for local people, because of their super cheap prices (a 200+km ride from Colombo to Trincomalee costs less than 1$, 130 rupees!). We recommend this kind of seat if you want to have a taste of Sri Lankan culture. You will see all kind of people, big families, students, workers, etc.. In busy areas particularly around Colombo, these coaches will easily be full, so get prepared to stand. We don’t recommend 3rd class tickets for journeys longer than 3 hours, your back is the most important thing when you are backpacking, and you don’t want to lay it to a wooden surface for a long time, or worse, not lay it at all. We had a nice experience travelling in 3rd class from Colombo to Negombo!
  • 2nd class non reserved seat: way more soft, not too expensive. This might be your best option if you are travelling in mid-low tourist season, you won’t have to worry about the crowd and you will be able to sit back and enjoy the landscapes. Prices are still very very affordable, our Colombo-Galle 2nd class fare was 260rs (less than 2$).
  • 2nd class reserved seat: same coaches as above, with numbered seats. The price is about 50% higher than standard. Definitely suggested during high season and touristic routes.
  • 1st class seat: they come only numbered. You will have privacy and air conditioning, if that’s what you’re looking for, but you will miss the breeze of leaning from your window, which is the best part of the trip in my opinion! Recommended if you need some quietness and you’ve already experienced the lower classes.
  • Observation deck carriage (available only on selected trains): we came across one of them at a middle station, it looked like 3/4 of the carriage are closed, with AC, while there’s an open space area at the end of it where you can enjoy the panoramic sights. Prices of course are higher and booking in advance is required. This option is recommendable if you travel with a numerous family, for seniors, or during peak season when all other classes might be packed.

Whatever class you choose, make sure you do at least one train ride in Sri Lanka, you won’t regret it!


Let’s now go back to our Ella-Kandy journey. The platform becomes quite busy, there are about 40 foreigners ready to get in 1st and 2nd classes, only a few go for 3rd, while locals opt for mainly 3rd and some in 2nd class.

Ella train station
Ambra ready to get on the train
The train has just started it’s journey from Badulla, some 20 km away, it is not that crowded. Nevertheless everybody rushes to try and get the best spots next to the window and in the travelling direction.
Even though you have great views also in the opposite direction, and you can always stand up to go and take pictures from the open doors, if you really want to secure a good seat, try to get one on the left hand side of travel. Indeed after a short stretch throughout which the tea plantations are on the right side, the best view is on the left for the majority of the journey (So for the opposite journey Kandy-Ella, right hand side would be the best).
We wonder how the locals see us, acting like crazy running up and down the aisle.
We refuse to fight with 4 Chinese guys who are constantly taking pictures and monopolizing almost 2 carriages of doors and windows, hoping that eventually our time will come!
Ella-Kandy train Sri Lanka
Ambra free like a bird

Our patience will soon be rewarded, most of the westerns step off either in Haputale for Lipton’s Seat or in Nanu Oya for Nuwara Eliya.

Leaning out of the doors is a true feeling of freedom! The view is so beautiful, staring out of the window is a must.

Ella-Kandy train Sri Lanka
View on the tea plantations

Hours fly, only towards the end the sky becomes cloudy, while we approach Kandy. It really is a marvelous journey, would take a 6 hour train ride like this all day compared to any bus trip or flight!

Ella-Kandy train Sri Lanka
Edo leaning out from the door
We strongly recommend to do at least one stage of this railway, if you can’t make it completely. And don’t forget to run the train from top to bottom, not to miss the fascinating 3rd class.
If you do a short trip like Ella-Haputale, you can easily go for 3rd class, it is normally busy but you can stand it for an hour or so.
3rd class carriage Sri Lanka
3rd class carriage, with wooden benches
We would recommend 2nd class for longer trips, where you might want to sit back and relax after a couple of hours.
Travelling in mid season, we didn’t need to pre-book tickets, but be ready to do it if you come to Sri Lanka during high season, we are pretty sure it can get super crowded. Reserving tickets at the train station the previous day, costs around 50% more, it was 400rs instead of 240rs for the Ella-Kandy 2nd class tickets.
As of 1St class, we do not recommend it, for one main reason: it’s air conditioned, not bad you may say, but the windows don’t open, and you will lose the opportunity to lean out of them with the wind in your hair, enjoying the stunning views, one of the best feelings ever!
Overall we absolutely loved the Ella-Kandy train, we wish all transfers could be such memorable and enjoyable! Seeing is believing!
Ella-Kandy train Sri Lanka
In the middle of the forest
  • Misty Mount Homestay, Ella: 1500-2000rs/night, room with ensuite bathroom, sweet nice family;  
  • Kandy Hill Escape, Kandy: 2000rs/night, large room with bathroom and balcony, big house.
  • Plenty of choice in Kandy’s colonial atmosphere, search here.
  • Train, 2nd class, Ella-Kandy: 240rs/person.


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