The scenic Ella to Kandy mountain train ride should be the number one, do-not-miss activity on your trip to Sri Lanka. This stunning train journey winds through the hill country and the tea fields right through the heart of Sri Lanka. Your 7 hours on the train will fly by as you watch the beauty of this awesome country go by. Watch mountains, waterfalls, tea plantations, local people and so much more as you ride the famous blue train of Sri Lanka.

We wanted to write this blog as we met quite a few people who said that they had a terrible experience when taking the train from Kandy to Ella. Instead of it being the dream train journey they thought it would be, it was an overcrowded and uncomfortable nightmare. One girl was unable to get a seat and had to stand body to body with people for the whole 7-hour train ride!

Hanging out the open doorway of the scenic train

If done right this train journey should be one of the highlights of your trip. We hope that by following our advice, you have an epic trip and have the freedom to move around and hang out the doors without fighting the crowds.

1. Take the train from Ella to Kandy

The common route guide around Sri Lanka is to go clockwise, meaning you would take the train from Kandy to Ella. There are horror stories of packed trains, people standing cramped for 7 hours straight and even fights breaking out over seats. We cannot stress enough how much we recommend coming from the opposite direction as we had a half-empty train carriage and an altogether awesome experience travelling from Ella to Kandy.

2. Book ahead

If you are able to put some sort of plan together you can book your ticket slightly in advance. We booked our tickets for the 6.40AM train a week before we travelled, and at the time the 9.24AM train was already sold out. You can still board the train on the day, but it will be in 2nd or 3rd class with no assigned seating and may result in you standing for the majority of the journey. As much as we love flying by the seat of our pants, having an assigned seat to leave our belongings and knowing we didn’t have to stand for 7 hours straight was worth planning ahead and sacrificing some of our flexibility.

Hanging out the window of the Ella to Kandy train

If you know the day you are traveling, you can book from any train station in Sri Lanka, not just the Ella station. Reserved seating in 2nd class was 600LKR ($3.40) and guarantees you an assigned seat. The public transport system allows you to travel around Sri Lanka on the cheap. It is best to book directly via the train station as tour operators will charge an arm and a leg for these reserved seats. Even online tickets, which are available through only if you book more than 32 days in advance, are heaps more expensive. Save yourself a headache, and book a ticket from the train station in advance.

We found a great way to get our tickets in advance was to spend a couple of days in Ella and book our tickets the day we arrived. After a few days in Ella, we traveled out to Arugam Bay for a 4-5 days and then swung back through Ella to jump on the train to Kandy.

3. Take the early train

The early bird gets the worm. As we mentioned the 9.24AM train was booked out a week in advance whereas our 6.40AM train was half empty the day we travelled.

4. Don’t travel on weekends

The guy at the ticket counter in the train station in Ella advised us to avoid the train on the weekends. Lots of locals take the train at the weekend and it can make for a very busy and unpleasant journey.

Platform at Ella train station

5. Make sure you catch a blue train

This may seem kind of silly and trivial, but we met a couple of people who did this train journey and were really disappointed when they didn’t get a blue train. You can ask the person at the ticket office if the train will be blue. We wanted to make sure that when taking such an iconic journey that it was exactly as we pictured it in our minds.

Train passing over 9 arch bridge in Ella

6. Sit on the best side of the train

From Ella to Nuwara Eliya most of the scenic views are on the right hand side. Then from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy the left side is better, although the views on both sides are still really amazing for this section of the trip. Even with your assigned seating you can still go to the open doors at the end of each carriage and hang out on the appropriate side to catch the best views. During our journey, the train conductor wandered through the carriages and informed us when something cool, like waterfalls, was coming up and which side it will be on.

7. Sit in the open doorway for a while

Just because you have an assigned seat doesn’t mean you have to stay there for the whole journey. We found the first few hours everyone was so excited to hang out the open doors that we didn’t want to hog the doorway by sitting there. After a few hours most people retreat to their seats and we were able to sit for as long as we wanted, dangling our feet out the train, without annoying anyone.

Sitting in the open doorway of the Ella to Kandy train

8. Mind your head

Obviously we all want the perfect picture hanging out the side of the train while travelling through the mountains. Make sure to keep an eye out for branches, tunnels, flowers and signs, as we almost got clattered a couple of times trying to take the perfect picture.

9. Bring small change

There are quite a few food vendors on board the train and at certain stops along the way. They usually require you to have small change to purchase short eats, chai tea and cold drinks.

Tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya

10. Pack some toilet paper

While there are toilets on board, there is no toilet paper provided and you’d be doing well to survive a 7-hour train journey without needing the loo. The on-board toilet drops straight through to the train tracks below…gross.

Standing in the open doorway of the train

Honestly we kind of thought we would be bored at some point as it was such a long train journey, but it passed by so quickly. The views are so dynamic and interesting and it is literally 7 hours of having your nose pressed up against the glass or hanging out of the open doorways. It was such a tremendous experience and one of those epic travel moments we will cherish when we are old, grey and boring.

Next stop Sigiriya!

*Please note, prices are a reflection of our experiences while traveling Sri Lanka in March 2019 and are subject to change. Prices quoted in LKR were the exact prices we paid and USD conversions are listed for your convenience.

For more information on Ella, including things to do, where to stay and where to eat, check out our blog here:

9 Amazing Things To Do In Ella, Sri Lanka