The Great Train Rides of Sri Lanka

Initially left to languish for decades, the railways of Sri Lanka have been given a new lease of life in recent years. Now a compelling tourist attraction, Sri Lankan train journeys are affordable and amazing in equal measure.

Classic railway routes of old have been opened to public access in a way that not only makes transportation around this island nation a cinch, but also shows off its truly inspiring scenery. Waterfalls, clifftop rail lines, rivers, jungles and quaint little towns infused with colour are among the splendours you’ll experience on a train journey in Sri Lanka.

If you’re planning to put a train trip on your holiday itinerary, here are some top journey options for the best destinations and most beautiful routes available across Sri Lanka.

Savouring the scenery

There are a number of routes that wind through Sri Lanka’s sublime countryside, all of which have evolved from the colonial railways of old. They were once used to transport tea and other goods from the heartlands to the shore for export to Europe.

These days, passenger trips are the done thing, and with good reason. It’s advisable to set aside an afternoon for the bulk of the trip, although for the true rail fanatic there are long cross-country rail voyages that factor overnight stays into the equation.

The most popular route is the railway line between Ella and Kandy, two scenic towns that share a rail trail winding between tea plantation fields, jungle canopies and dramatic clifftop views. At around seven hours per trip, you’ll want to make a day of it and prepare accordingly. Fortunately, a favourable exchange rate means it costs next to nothing to enjoy the ride in comfort and style.

A question of class

Like all trains, there are various classes and standards that you can expect while you travel. Remember, these train rides are just as prized by Sri Lankan people seeking to get from A to B as tourists looking to take in those spectacular views.

Third class carriages, as you might expect, are both the cheapest and the most crowded, while second class ups the comfort and adds fans to beat the heat. The carriages can otherwise hold the humidity tremendously, so consider that when you’re making your travel plans.

First class is where the greatest comforts come into play, but there are even more options open to you. Some lines offer open carriages for you to truly make the most of the sun and scenery, while observation cars – usually connected at the rear of the train – are panoramic carriages that offer the very best views.

Other routes to consider

Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka and the terminus of many of the railway routes over the island. As such, it’s a good place to start your journey once you’ve taken in its colonial charms.

Heading south from Colombo will let you experience the rugged railway between Colombo and Galle, well known for its views and vistas. On the other hand, a journey north touches cultural Jaffna via a renovated route that’s much more modern than the rail elsewhere in Sri Lanka. From Jaffna, you can continue on a northern train to Batticaloa or simply head for the seaside town of Trincomalee.

Whichever route you choose, make sure you meet the staff at every station. They’re usually super friendly and happy to show you how everything works. A train trip in Sri Lanka is a must to get the most out of the country’s charms and scenery, so make sure you take the opportunity.

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