Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka’s Very Own Little England

Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka’s Very Own Little England

Nuwara Eliya is Sri Lanka’s very own British city. Situated in the famous Hill Country region of the island, Nuwara Eliya is best for slow walks in the pretty city, watching the innumerable waterfalls in the valleys, looking down from amazing view points and experiencing the best weather in Sri Lanka. And if you are up for it, one of the world’s best train journeys is to Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka!

In this blog post, you’ll find everything you need to know to plan a trip to Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka (consider this your very own Nuwara Eliya travel guide), including details on where to stay in Nuwara Eliya, the famous train journey in Sri Lanka, where to eat in the city. We’ve also put together a list of the best things to do in Nuwara Eliya and tell you why its worth visiting even if just for one night.

What is famous in Nuwara Eliya?

Also known as the “City of Light”, Nuwara Eliya was once a British retreat during the colonial times. The city is at one of the highest points (nearly 2,000 m above sea level) in the country and is always clouded in mist and fog. Consequently, it is the coldest place on the whole island and probably why the British loved Nuwara Eliya weather so much!

Nuwara Eliya is home to the grandest tea estates of Sri Lanka and many popular Ceylonese Tea brands like Damro, Mackwoods and Dilmah inherit their legacies from here. Besides this, people visit Nuwara Eliya for the waterfalls, beautiful vallets and the most famous train journey in Sri Lanka.

Best time to visit: September to April. The rains are torrentius between May and August, but can make the visit very thrilling! We visited in May and December and loved both experiences equally.

 

Explore the greenest valley on the Island

It is a little challenging to explore this city on your own (on foot or bikes) when the weather is harsh. It can get extremely windy and freezing cold at any time and it is so unpredictable in the rainy season!

So we decided to take a tour in a minivan with one of the local guides. We’d suggest that you consider doing this kind of tour, since its a lot more comfortable to sit in heated van, as you are driven uphill and downhill between so many beautiful waterfalls and valleys. A guided tour booked from your homestay or on the street costs about LKR 2,800 (USD 15 or INR 1,100) per person.

Tip: Look out for old British architechture in the valleys.

Seetha Eliya, a remnant of the Ramayana

The Seetha Amman Temple is a must visit for every Hindu traveler or for anyone who has read The Ramayana. It is 6 kms outside the city. The tour guide charged us an extra fee of SLR 1,000 (INR 450) to take us there and back from the city centre but you can visit this on the way out to Ella by road. The temple was built in traditional Tamil style in the Hakgala Nature Reserve and is supposedly over 2,000 years old.

Legend has it that Sita worshipped her husband God Rama everyday as she waited for him to rescue her. Eventually, Hanuman arrived there to speak with her and is said to have left his footprints in the rocks by the stream.

See how Tea is grown in the plantations

Every hillock in Nuwara Eliya is either a tea estate or a strawberry farm! The tea estates are all very large and are maintained by multinational tea manufacturers. The endless greenery and the blue hues of the hills in the background are perfect photography spots in Nuwara Eliya.

The tea factories are right at the entrance to these farms and they even offer free tours to visitors.

The factory tour takes about 15 minutes. At the end of the tour, visitors get to taste the tea, complimentary. After the tour we went into the tea plantation where you can volunteer to pick some tea leaves. With a basket on your back and factory staff or an expert picker leading you, go to the hills in search of the best tea leaves!

Tea packs are also available for purchase at the factory store. The whole tour and tasting took about 30 minutes and the guide waited for us the whole time. No tickets/parking fees either.

 

FAQ: What should I wear in Nuwara Eliya?

Men can wear pants and shirts or T-shirts and use up to two layers in the early mornings and evenings after 5 pm. During the day, when sunny, one layer is okay unless it is very windy. Keep a jacket or sweater with you. Long sleeves are better.

Women can wear long dresses and wear leggings/jeggings under other tops along with a sweater or coat to help with the cold. Dress in layers, and carry bright yellows, oranges, blues for photography in the valleys! Although short sleeves are okay in the day, you may prefer long sleeves at night.

Hiking boots are optional for visiting the National Parks, but regular shoes will do just fine.

The most beautiful train journey in the world

The three hour train rides between Kandy and Nanu Oya (Nuwara Eliya Station), and the next journey between Nanu Oya and Ella are considered to be the most beautiful train journeys in Sri Lanka. This route is also considered as one of the top ten trian journeys in the world too!

Nanu Oya is higher in elevation than Ella and Kandy and so, the train technically descends the hill to Kandy and Ella. And the views are just incredible!

On one side you’ll see the mountains rising higher and on the other side, the steep descent to the valleys. Along the way, there are beautiful train stations looking like they did in the colonial 1900s. And once you pull out of the station, the train chugs through delicate cloud forests passing waterfalls, small pools and brooklets, over stone arch bridges, by colourful villages and flower gardens grown by the locals along the railway line.

Read more: The Best Things To Do In Ella, Sri Lanka

This famous train journey can be experienced in two routes. You can ride the train between Kandy and Nanu Oya (Nuwara Eliya station) and between Nanu Oya to Ella. This route which is eastward. Or you can ride it westwards, from Ella to Nanu Oya and from Nanu Oya to Kandy. The ticket costs LKR 210 (INR 85 or USD 1.2) in second class, but its almost impossible to buy it at the local price if you are a foreigner.

Since there is no way to buy a ticket online from the railway website, you must buy it through one of the many agents who charge USD 12 or above. If you are willing to take a chance, you can buy it one day before travelling and might get lucky. Othrwise you may have to buy an unreserved ticket in the crowded car.

See pricing and book Sri Lanka train tickets here

Picturesque routes, viewpoints and waterfalls

If you are visiting in the rainy season, you can find waterfalls just about anywhere! At other times, there are at least three to six falls in actions. The popular waterfalls in Nuwara Eliya are the Lovers’ Leap and Ramboda Falls. The roads leading up to these falls are so pretty. With forest patches, strawberry farms, tea estates and flower gardens all around it is very picturesque! Although the weather is cold and the water is freezing, some of the falls are so inviting – but its best to check with your guide before taking a dip or hiking up to the top since the trail is usually infested with leeches. 

Here is a list of some waterfalls in Nuwara Eliya:

  • St. Clairs Falls
  • Ramboda Falls
  • Devon Falls
  • Lovers’ Leap Falls
  • Bomburuella Falls
  • Laxapana Falls

Our experience: We played in the Ramboda Falls at the entrance to Nuwara Eliya. It was easy to reach from the road and the water was so good to play in (on a December afternoon).

Gregory Lake and the City walk

This is the central attraction to all visitors and locals in Nuwara Eliya. Gregory lake is a freshwater lake in the middle of the city and features walkways, grasslands and snack stalls. It is perfect for leisure time in Nuwara Eliya, especially for families. The lake also features water sports like jet skis and slow boating. 

The lake is usually engulfed in thick mist and fast moving clouds. The best time to visit the lake is in the mornings before the clouds arrive and before 5 pm, as it can get extremely foggy in the evenings!

Tip: Make sure you carry a coat in the rainy season as umbrellas may not hold together in the strong wind.

During the evenings, check out the pink post office and the main street in Nuwara Eliya. There is a small Buddha temple at the circle and many food stalls, pubs and cafes all around. If you are curious to taste some street food, the stalls on the road here are good. We liked the taste and didn’t fall sick, thankfully!

The Pink Post Office is a fully functional post office. We learnt that the upper floor of the building was used as the residential accommodation of the Post Master for a long time. But now, that upper floor has been converted into a tourist accommodation!

Tip: Send out a post card from the Pink Post Office for as little as LKR 200 (INR 80 or about USD 1)

Experience British themed hospitality

We stayed in one of the most beautiful homestays in Nuwara Eliya, fondly called Heidi’s Home. The rooms, the hall, the stairway and even the garden were so pretty! On a very cold day, the experience was so warm. The hosts also cooked a tasty breakfast the next morning. 

There’s nothing quite like a perfect British tea party, wouldn’t you say? For the most authentic high tea experience, head to The Grand Hotel. Every evening the hotel hosts a traditional lawn party, complete with Victorian era furniture outside the charming building that is still one of the most luxurious inns in the city. It is one of the best ways to spend the evenings when in Nuwara Eliya. The room rates usually hover around SLR 35,000 (INR 15,000) or USD 220 a night. 

Our experience: We had a very delicious dinner at the restaurant at the Grand Hotel. The Mezze platter was just what we needed after days of eating rice and curry! And the pizza too, rich with cheese – especially after a long day out in the cold weather. 

 

See all accommodations here

Other places to see and things to do in Nuwara Eliya

If you want to see endless contoured grasslands where the horizon is often covered by clouds and mist, head to the Moon Plains National Park which is 6 kms outside the city. You could easily spend about 3-4 hours, including the drive to the park, the optional safari that you can take inside the reserve, and the drive back to city. The reserve is great for hiking (amateur), viewing the lush green country side and spotting birds and leopards. The cost is about SLR 2,000 (INR 800) for a 6 six seater jeep and a SLR 50 fee per person for entry, and personal vehicles are not allowed.

A similar, albeit larger nature reserve that allows you to explore on foot rather than on jeeps is Horton Plains National Park. This park is a two hour drive from Nuwara Eliya. Organised tours can cost about LKR 5,000 (INR 2,200 or USD 30) per person for 7 hours. You can visit the park and hike to World’s End (the smaller version is Mini World’s End in Ella).

If you are looking for something even more adventurous, then consider hiking Adam’s Peak (you need a full 12 hours to visit).

How to travel to Nuwara Eliya

There are three ways to get to Nuwara Eliya. Our suggestion is to take the train.

Train: The train journey between Ella and Kandy through Nanu Oya (Nuwara Eliya Station) is amongst the most beautiful train journeys in the world! The prices are reasonable (so cheap if you manage to buy them in the station) at LKR 210 (INR 80)

Bus: There are buses to Nanu Oya from Colombo and Kandy. Most of these are not direct and you’ll have to make a few stopovers.

Taxi: Expensive option of traveling from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya LKR 17,000 (about INR 7000 or USD 90) for the drive to Nuwara Eliya. Its cheaper to get to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy or Ella at LKR 5,000 (INR 2,200 or USD 30).

Traveling directly from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya can be hectic and strenuous because of how many hours it takes, so we recommend stopping at Kandy on the way.

 

See all transport options and prices here

Getting around in Nuwara Eliya

It is very easy to cover the main street of Nuwara Eliya city on foot, considering that it is a small town and most attractions are a couple of kilometres away from each other. You can also take a tuktuk or rent-a-bike.

If you want to visit the waterfalls, the view points in the valleys and the tea estates, you will need to hire a taxi or a tuktuk. The rates are LKR 2,500 (INR 1,100 or USD 15) per person for a shared tour in a minivan. This is especially helpful in Nuwara Eliya temperature which can go down to 13ºC and be very windy!

Tuktuks charge about LKR 70/km (INR 30) in Nuwara Eliya too. When it rains, the minimum is about LKR 300 (USD 1,5) for short distances. Many agencies organise safari trips to the nearby Horton Plains and Moon Plains National Parks. Check with your hotel/homestay for the tours.

Where to stay in Nuwara Eliya

Stay in any Nuwara Eliya hotel or homestay near Gregory Lake. This helps do the city walk at your own pace no matter what the time is. As the day gets darker, mist and fog cloud the roads making it nearly impossible to drive up to the mountains where many other hotels are located.

We stayed in Heidi’s Home (good for couples) and Rest Master Bungalow (best for large families and groups). You can find private rooms for as little as USD 9 in the city centre.

 

See all Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka hotels here.

Travel costs, food and safety

Nuwara Eliya is one of the more expensive places in Sri Lanka, because its a hill station and a tourist destination for the locals. Room rates are normal though starting at less than USD 10 and in most places with traditional English breakfast! Local transport costs LKR 300 for short tuktuk rides and over USD 15 for 3-4 hour shared tours of the valley. But experience these as Nuwara Eliya is very beautiful!

Cafes and restaurants at Nuwara Eliya serve all major cuisines including Indian and Continental, but local delicacies are really good too! Eat string hoppers, Sri Lankan rice and curry and near the Pink Post Offic, buy some fried or steamed snacks for LKR 50!

Nuwara Eliya is reasonably safe. Couples and even female travelers can explore the town in peace. It gets dark at 5 pm and is very quiet after sunset especially on streets away from the main Street area. Police is very helpful and so are most locals! But keep in mind how far your hotel or homestay is.

Tip: You can find many of minivan drivers at the Nanu Oya Train Station. They lure you saying they will take you up to Nuwara Eliya for LKR 400. When you are driving, they offer you high priced tour packages before you can even ask around at y0ur hotel. Although the drop to Nuwara Eliya is slightly cheaper than taking a tuktuk, you might end up overpaying for the local tour. So, remember to bargain – any fare under LKR 6,000 is okay for 2 passengers. 

Suggested itinerary for Nuwara Eliya

It is best to spend atleast two days and one night in Nuwara Eliya. The highlight is the cool Nuwara Eliya weather in an otherwise hot and tropical island. After the journey from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya or even from Kandy/Ella, the Nuwara Eliya temperature brings a pleasant surprise and then you’ll notice the other sights!

Spend one day visiting the waterfalls and the tea factory. We liked Glenloch and Damro tea factories and both have very beautiful plantations to walk in. Visit Lake Gregory Nuwara Eliya in the evenings and walk on the town streets to the Pink Post Office, the White Stupa and the Buddha temple. There’s an Indian restaurant called Indian Summer (pricey, but tasty) and a food court along Lake Gregory. Alternatively, spend the evening having high tea at The Grand Hotel uptown. Sleep at one of the beautiful homestays

After a hearty British breakfast, head to Seetha Eliya temple and then to other destinations like Ella or Kandy (play at Ramboda Falls). Nuwara Eliya to Bentota is also a great option!

If you can take the train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella or Kandy, or even Colombo, it’ll make the experience even better!

If you have more questions, or want to explore Nuwara Eliya and Sri Lanka with us, write to us or leave a comment below!

4 Comments

  1. Issac Paro

    Hi. I’m glad to have found backpacksters.com, I really like these budget travel guides to Sri Lanka – this particular article is very useful and I shared it!

    Reply
    • Shishira & Navneeth

      Thats very nice to hear Isaac! Thank you. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Fannie

    A wonderful article! This will come in quite handy while visiting the country! 🙂

    Reply
    • Shishira & Navneeth

      So glad you find this useful Fannie! 🙂

      Reply

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