While spending two days in Kandy, we got FOMO over not having planned to take the Sri Lanka train from Kandy to Ella. So at the last minute, we decided to take a day trip to Nuwara Eliya, which is in the heart of Sri Lanka’s tea country and on the train route to Ella. It’s an exhausting way to see this part of the country, but if you’re pressed for time, here’s how you can do Nuwara Eliya as a day trip on the train from Kandy.
Getting to Nuwara Eliya and back to Kandy
The trickiest part of doing this as a day trip and not as a stop is scheduling the transportation. To take the train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya (the station is actually Nanuoya), you only have two options at 8:47 am and at 11:10 am. There is no train back later in the day, as the latest train from Nanuoya to Kandy leaves at noon.
So we booked a car to pick us up at some arbitrary spot in Nuwara Eliya to take us back to Kandy. The earliest train from Kandy gets you in Nuwara Eliya, in theory, by 12:40 pm though we got in an hour later.
You can find everything you need to know about getting train tickets on and the train ride here.
We scheduled our car for 6 pm. Depending on what you want to do around Nuwara Eliya, this may or may not be enough time. Given that the train ride takes around 3-4 hours and the drive back takes around 3 hours as well, the biggest caveat to doing this is how much time you’ll spend in transit (which is visiting Sri Lanka in a nutshell).
Since we weren’t sure whether we would be able to make it on the train or not, we got in touch with a private transfer company the night before but confirmed the pickup the morning of the trip after we were already on the train. We used TaxiGo, which allows you to easily get an estimate instantly online and continue with the booking via email and WhatsApp.
What you can do in Nuwara Eliya in a day
When you arrive at the Nanuoya station, you will be 15-20 minutes by tuk tuk outside of the center of Nuwara Eliya. The second you leave the station, a million drivers will flock to you to offer you a ride. You can either take them up on it, or explore the area around the station a bit.
Nanuoya is small and rural, so there isn’t a whole lot to see there. We took a 30-minute walk from the station to the rocky Nanuoya Waterfall, where a couple of kids were bathing to escape the heat. It’s in the middle of a small village among the tea plantations. The most notable thing about it is that it’s quiet and clean. The waterfall was nothing special, particularly because in dry season and it hadn’t rained in months.
You can take a shortcut to this spot from the train station by walking on the train station tracks. We only realized it on the way back that the train track bridge you walk by to get to the waterfall led directly to Nanuoya station. This shaves off like 15 minutes of the walk. Just make sure there’s no trains coming. Better to do it if you see locals on the tracks doing the same thing.
Relax at Lake Gregory
Lake Gregory is a huge area designed for recreation. It’s one of the only places we visited during our trip that felt legitimately peaceful and wasn’t surrounded by loud, bumper to bumper traffic. Aside from a row of stalls where you can get food and drinks to enjoy by the lake, you can also partake in horseback riding, paddle boating and jetskiing, and boat tours on the lake. There is a small fee to get into the lake park. We had lunch at one of the local places overlooking the lake after the long train ride there.
You can also spend some leisurely time nearby at Victoria Park, which is divided by the Nanu Oya River. There are some gardens and lakes and fountains among the walking paths of the park, which is perfectly manicured like all the public parks in Sri Lanka.
Go up to Lover’s Leap Falls
One of the Nuwara Eliya’s notable waterfalls is Lover’s Leap Falls, which is the closest to the city and towers 30 meters in height. It’s one of the streams coming from the highest mountain in Sri Lanka, Piduruthalagala. It’s accessible either by foot or tuk tuk. Cars most definitely cannot go up the rocky dirty path up to the waterfall. By tuk tuk, it’s a very bumpy ride, and I suggest you wear a good bra. Even after the tuk tuk takes you as far as it can go, you still have about 5-10 minutes’ walk to Lover’s Leap.
The waterfall is far more impressive during rainy season, which is also when the path up to see it is far more muddy and dangerous. A tuk tuk ride may not be possible if the path is too wet. The ride/walk up takes you along the edge of several nearby tea plantations. In fact, you can walk from one of the most popular tea plantations in town, Pedro Tea Factory, where you can tour the factory and grounds and enjoy some tea in their teahouse.
Depending on how much time you have, you may be able to make it out to some of the other falls around Nuwara Eliya, like Devon Waterfall and St. Clair’s.
Visit a tea estate
If this is the deepest you’ll go into Sri Lanka’s tea country, you should take the opportunity to visit one of the nearby tea plantations that surround Nuwara Eliya like Pedro Tea Factory, enjoy a sip of some Ceylon tea, and learn a little bit about how it’s made. As an alternative, if you’re taking a car back, you can also ask your driver to take you to one of the many tea factories between Nuwara Eliya and Kandy, like Damro Tea Center (previously Mackwoods before it was bought out).
Right in the center of Nuwara Eliya, among the grand European-looking post office and bank buildings, you can also visit the Mackwoods Tea Museum, which is a showroom where you can see some information about how tea is produced and sample different kinds of teas for free. It’s on the third floor of a shopping center with an accompanying store on the first floor. The museum has a large fancy tearoom so you can sit and relax while you sip on some local teas.
Get the GPS-guided version of this and other Nuwara Eliya guides on GPSmyCity here.