Sri Lanka by rail: what you need to know

With an extensive rail network linking some of the country’s most interesting sights, Sri Lanka train travel is a great way to see the country. Here’s what you need to know before planning your trip.

Sri Lanka Train Travel: Give yourself plenty of time to catch the train
Give yourself plenty of time to catch the train

Sri Lanka Train Travel

Where should I go?

A couple of lines have enormous potential for holidaymakers. The Sri Lanka train travel from Colombo Fort to Badulla is one of the most scenic and rewarding the country has to offer. Take the Rajhadani Express to Kandy; it’s comfortable, air-conditioned but not strictly what you’d call luxurious. At Kandy, a detour by car or bus will take you to Sigiriya, or Lion Rock, or for something a little closer, there are several animal sanctuaries where you can ride and feed the delightful elephants. Onwards and upwards, switch to a local train to head past the verdant slopes that signify you’ve reached tea country, breaking your journey at Nanu Oya (for Nuwara Eliya) or at pretty Ella. Train aficionados will not be able to resist the final stretch to Badulla for the corkscrew track laid by talented civil engineers.

Sri Lanka Train Travel: Sri Lanka's hill country is easy to reach by train
Sri Lanka’s hill country is easy to reach by train

Alternatively, on the beautiful south coast, begin at Matara. Just a short ride along the coast brings you to the fishing town of Weligama. Plenty of atmosphere is provided as the traditional boats land their catch. Further along this coast, there are opportunities to see the iconic stilt fishermen – though remember you’ll have to pay handsomely for the privilege of taking a souvenir photograph. You can also alight the train to go whale watching. The railway heads west to Galle, its fort packed full of historic museums, charming boutique hotels and myriad cafes and shops in which to pass the time. Take the train north along Sri Lanka’s west coast to get back to Colombo.

Sri Lanka Train Travel: Get off at Weligama station to see the famous stilt fishermen
Get off at Weligama station to see the famous stilt fishermen

Should I reserve in advance?

A few tourist trains, including the Rajhadani Express and Expo Rail, have their own booking systems and should be reserved in advance. Collect your ticket by visiting the station or any Mobitel office prior to departure. It’s also possible to make Internet bookings via reputable agencies for several other trains on these main routes. However, don’t worry too much if the train you wish to take doesn’t support advance reservations online, as most trains will have seats available a few days before travel. Just visit the station and buy your ticket for cash.

Sri Lanka Train Travel: On the Kandy to Badulla route
On the Kandy to Badulla route

What’s the difference between classes?

In reality, the difference between the Sri Lanka train travel classes varies between trains. Often, first class carriages will have air-conditioning, a plus in the heat but not so great if you’re keen on taking photos through the often grubby windows. Some trains have an observation car attached to the back with a huge picture window facing the way you’ve come. Second class is often the best all-round choice, as these compartments are fitted with windows that open as well as with overhead fans. Third class is crowded but is where you’ll have the best chance of travelling with the locals. I wouldn’t advise the latter at rush hour or for extended journeys, though it’s fine for short hops.

Sri Lanka Train Travel: Second class carriage
Second class carriage

Sign me up! Where do I get more information?

Sri Lankan Railways have a comprehensive website listing current schedules. You’ll be able to see which trains are running and the classes of travel that are offered. I also found the Man in Seat 61’s website invaluable in learning more about the different trains.

About JuliaHammond

Website: http://www.juliahammond.co.uk

Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel’s Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt’s Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

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One Response

  1. Avatar for JuliaHammond joe says:

    Thats some good info.
    Like that first candid picture – trying to catch the train.

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