kandy to ella train

The Kandy to Ella Train: The Ultimate Sri Lanka Experience

The famous train from Kandy to Ella is one of the most scenic and recognisable journeys in Sri Lanka. With breathtaking views of tea plantations, quaint villages and atmospheric mountains, it’s a must-do whilst visiting the country. The train ride takes around 7-9 hours, covering 144km of distance between the two popular regions. After two days in Kandy, I made my way to Ella, largely unaware of what the journey would hold. So I wanted to create a guide for anyone looking to do this stunning journey!

Kandy to Ella Train Tickets

There are a few different ways to purchase your train tickets, along with various carriage and class options:

Buying Tickets at The Station

You can buy your train tickets from the respective train stations, if you’re in Kandy or Ella. This is convenient if you’re planning your trip as you go – as I was. However, if you go down this route, be prepared for long queues and some ticket options selling out! Alternatively, you can ask at your accomodation and they can get in touch with ticket sellers. I originally tried this route but the ticket sellers had sold out. Be mindful if you’re travelling during peak season as it does get very busy.

Buying Your Tickets Online

You can also buy your train tickets online. For information on train timetables and schedule times, visit the official Sri Lankan railway site. To buy your tickets online, check out one of the many third party agencies who sell them; e.g. 12go.asia or Visit Sri Lanka Tours. If you find one agency has sold out of tickets, be sure to still check out other third parties who might have some left.

Unreserved vs Reserved Carriages

tea plantation sri lanka

Unreserved Tickets

Tickets for unreserved seats are only available for 2nd and 3rd class seat and CAN’T be booked in advance. You have to buy them on the day of travel and, unlike reserved tickets, they can’t sell out. Therefore, once you’ve bought your unreserved ticket, you can hop on any train that day.

Unreserved carriages are often busy, with people standing throughout the aisles and doorways. Getting a seat is usually dependant on how busy the train is that day and the route you’re taking (the Kandy to Ella train is extremely popular for example). It’ll be easier to get a seat if you’re joining at the starting station.

Reserved Tickets

Longer train journeys typically have designated 2nd class reserved carriages, and sometimes reserved 3rd class carriages. Some will also have a 1st class carriage – these are always reserved. Tickets for reserved seats will become available 30 days in advance. I would recommend buying them as far in advance as possible as they typically sell out quickly.

Reserved tickets guarantee a seat and will come with a designated seat number. Furthermore, you’ll be able to enjoy a quieter journey as these carriage don’t allow people to stand in them. If you hear the train if full, it just means the reserved tickets have sold out. There will always be unreserved tickets left as these can’t sell out (you just won’t be guaranteed a seat).

Kandy to Ella Train Advice & Information

The Kandy to Ella train is one of the most popular in Sri Lanka and you can expect that this will be busy throughout the year. The journey takes over 7 hours, so you if you’re looking for optimum comfort during this time, opt for 1st class reserved tickets. This will guarantee you a seat, space for your bags and air con.

However, for the ultimate Kandy to Ella experience (photos, scenery and all), buy 2nd class carriage tickets. Here you’ll be able to enjoy the incredible views through open windows and doors, whilst having the experience to dangle your legs out the doorways. The 1st and 3rd carriages will have closed windows and doors, therefore, taking photos will be harder.

Tea Plantations Sri Lanka

Best Option for Photos and The View: 2nd Class Carriage

Buy a reserved second class ticket. If you know your travel dates in advance, this will be your best option. A reserved ticket will guarantee you a seat (with a ceiling fan). Plus you’ll be able to open the windows and sit in the doorways to get the best views and pictures.

For unreserved second class tickets, you will have to purchase these on the day at the station. If you’re hoping to get a seat (and bag space), I suggest you get a tuk tuk to Perideniya Station. Perideniya Station is 10 minutes away from Kandy, and trains coming from Colombo will stop here before Kandy. You will be able to get a seat more easily here as fewer people will be getting on. Many people will be getting off at Kandy too, increasing your chances of getting a seat


The less favourable option for getting an unreserved seat on the Kandy to Ella train, is queueing at Kandy station first thing in the morning. This is the route I took. I queued for 45 minutes in the sun and bought my unreserved second class ticket for a train that morning. It’s worth noting the 3rd class ticket queue was practically empty.

Tips for the train ride

  • Pack water and snacks! I arrived at Ella station very dehydrated! – local Sri Lankans hop on at different stations with ice coolers and buckets of food/drinks but you can’t guarantee getting what you want.
  • Bring small change. This is to buy things on the train. I tried a few different local foods and they were all delicious, so bring change!
  • Make sure you’ve got a fully charged phone/camera to take lots of amazing photos and videos.
  • Bring entertainment. Despite the incredible views, the train takes over 7 hours from Kandy to Ella (longer if you start at an earlier station, like Colombo). Although the views are stunning, you’ll appreciate having music/podcast/book to help break up the journey.
  • Use the bathroom beforehand. Although there are toilets on board, it’s a tight squeeze standing in the aisles and corridors. Therefore, trying to walk down the carriages to find the bathroom (and making your way back again) would be a mission. Also I heard they weren’t that pleasant to visit several hours into the ride…

Highlights Along the Way

  • Tea Plantations: You’ll spend several hours of the journey travelling through tea plantations. These are so stunning and the air smells heavenly.
  • Nine Arch Bridge: One of the most iconic things to see in Ella is the Nine Arch Bridge. You should be able to get a glimpse of the bridge as you start approaching the Ella region.
  • Waterfalls: Amongst the hillsides are several waterfalls, including the Ramboda Falls and the Dunhinda Falls.

Despite it being a long and hot journey, the incredible views and people I met made for an unforgettable adventure. I’d highly recommend taking the train for the experience and the scenery. That being said, if you have limited time in Sri Lanka, this 7 hour journey might not be for you. Furthermore, as Sri Lanka has become a very popular destination, you might find the train too packed to fully enjoy the views. For alternative ways to travel between Kandy and Ella, look at bus or taxi options.

Happy Travels x

If you’re looking for more tips of travel in Sri Lanka, I have a few guides on Climbing Sigiriya and visiting Galle!