Catching the train in Sri Lanka from Ella to Kandy with kids

Catching the train in Sri Lanka from Ella to Kandy with kids

Seriously, let’s just cut to the chase here to start with. I read so much before I left and had the fear put into me that we’d be left standing for 7 hours with our kids the whole way on the train from Ella to Kandy. This is not the case. Please do not fret as I did. Read on……😊

What you can find in this post

Here are some top tips for the famous blue train in Sri Lanka: All you need to know about this journey.

Hailed as one of the world’s best train journeys and the most beautiful train journey in the world, the train trip from Ella to Kandy (or more popular from Kandy to Ella) was a great experience and one we can highly recommend.

Scenery from the blue train along the Ella to Kandy route. Beautiful Sri Lanka train journey

Gorgeous countryside

Catching a Sri Lanka train is great fun, it’s noisy, busy and crazy; but if you buy reserved seats it’ll also be very peaceful, calm and organised (truly!).

The famous Ella to Kandy Sri Lanka train journey is known as one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. It is also very do-able with young children. It is only going to be a real challenge for you if you travel in a third class unreserved carriage. There are no limits to the number of people that can get on these carriages so you’ll be squashed in like sardines!

Booking your tickets in advance for your journey is going to make it as easy as possible when travelling the Ella to Kandy train ride, especially with little ones.

Train travel in Sri Lanka is relatively cheap, the routes are served by red trains as well as newer ‘blue’ trains, which are slightly faster. We caught both a red train and a blue train. The red train was from Colombo Fort Station down past Galle to Weligama. We stood for the first couple of hours (a lovely local lady stood so the kids could share a seat. So grateful, it was only day 2 and Olive was a tad emotional!). The train from Ella to Kandy was an iconic blue train.

Typically, this train trip is done in reverse, from Kandy down to Ella. We like to shake things up a bit so our itinerary was around the other way!

What type of ticket should you buy

So, first things first. Tickets. What do you need to buy to guarantee a seat (highly recommended if you are travelling with kids)?

First class observation carriage

Located at the front of the train, these carriages are locked to the riff raff! They are air-conditioned, therefore the windows do not open. Having windows that open was one of the things the kids absolutely loved on our train trip.

I wouldn’t travel in first class, even with the kids. But if you are used to European travel or slightly better conditions this might suit! Don’t go expecting anything like proper first class though – this is Sri Lanka after all. Similar to what I said when we caught the overnight train in Vietnam!

Second class reserved and third class reserved

Second class reserved are the tickets which we purchased. Seats were in a row of 2 and 2 with an aisle in the middle. Each carriage had seats facing either forward or backwards.

The third class reserved carriages looked great. I would recommend this as a great option for a family. There were 4 seats around a small table. Perfect for a family of 4. Please take note of the following –

If you buy a ticket for a reserved seat you are guaranteed a seat, and a specific seat number will be printed on your ticket.  The reserved cars are guarded by an attendant. We had tickets checked as we got onto the train, as we entered the carriage and at least twice along the journey!!

Conductor on the train from Ella to Kandy.

Tickets please. At least 3 times throughout the journey we had our tickets checked.

If anybody tells you that they had reserved seating but didn’t get a seat then they either didn’t actually have reserved seating tickets or maybe they were pointed to the wrong carriage!

There are no standees allowed – so reserved carriages aren’t crowded.

Second class un-reserved and third class un-reserved

Exactly what it says, these are unreserved carriages, there is no limit to the number of people who are allowed on these carriages. We passed the blue train going in the opposite direction and boy were those carriages full to the brim!

How to buy your tickets for your Sri Lanka train trip from Ella to Kandy

You can buy your tickets from any train station in Sri Lanka. Although, be warned though that tickets are released 30 days in advance. There are many tourist companies which will snap up the seated tickets as soon as they are released. Of course, they will charge more for these tickets. But, given I was freaking out about not being able to enjoy the trip as we’d be standing the whole time, I didn’t hesitate to pre-purchase our tickets.

We booked through Visit Sri Lanka Tours, you can also book through 12Go.Asia.

It was more than 30 days until our travel date when we requested our tickets. We had an immediate reply from Visit Sri Lanka Tours stating they had received the request and the tickets would become available to them around 30 days from the actual travel date.

This was not a confirmation of booking but they state they will do their best to secure the tickets. If they can’t, a full refund is assured.

If you are told that a train is full, all this means is that the reserved seats have sold out.  You can still buy a ticket at the station on the day for the 2nd & 3rd class unreserved cars, these cannot sell out.  So you can still travel on that train, just without a reserved seat.

You may be lucky though, you may turn up at the station and request to buy 2nd/3rd class reserved seats and bingo, there are tickets available. If Ross and I were travelling before the kids I would have done this. But, with the kids, we 100% wanted to guarantee seats for us all.

Remember, these websites aren’t run by the train company and are just agencies who have pre-bought tickets. So if seats are sold out with one agency, they may still be available from others.

Around 30 days before our travel date (the day of our train trip) we received an email from Visit Sri Lanka Tours stating that our tickets were all booked for us. They supplied reference numbers.

Our next steps were not until we were in Sri Lanka. At Colombo Forte Train station; before we caught our red Colombo to Galle train we visited the main reservation ticket counter, showed our passport and reference numbers and we were handed our tickets. You can collect them at any major station, they are printed from the computer.

Don’t be alarmed (as we were) when you look at your tickets as it probably won’t say Ella to Kandy. Our tickets said Badulla to Colombo as that is the whole leg of the journey.

It is especially easy and better to book the tickets in advance, especially if you are not confident in trying to buy tickets at a Sri Lankan railway station.

The tickets are marked up a lot to buy in advance, they were about $23 each. Shock horror!!! It’s around double the price. But in the scheme of things for us that is not expensive.

I think the 3rd class reserved would be a good option but unfortunately, I couldn’t see this option to book, and I didn’t want to risk turning up and having to hunt around for tickets at various agencies or at the station. No time for that!!!

Sri Lanka was easy for us to travel around. But, if this is your first experience in Asia then I would definitely recommend pre-purchasing.

Seat 61 Sri Lanka has loads of information on timings etc for the Sri Lanka railway system.

The blue train heading over Nine Arches Bridge. Hill Tribe Travels caught the blue train from Ella to Kandy in Sri Lanka

The blue train heading over Nine Arches Bridge

Facilities on the iconic blue train in Sri Lanka

There were a couple of ceiling fans in each carriage and two toilets. A western toilet and a traditional squat toilet. The western toilet looked to go straight onto the tracks so the kids thought that was hilarious. It was clean but had the smell of old wee!

Something which I wasn’t expecting was the doors at each end of the carriage were locked. Was this to keep the general public out? Or to keep the tourists in? I’m not sure, but I do know the Sri Lankan government is cracking down on tourists being allowed to hang out of the train doorways for photos.  This meant, that it wasn’t possible to walk the length of the train (not that you can get through the crowded carriages anyway) and I did feel a little ‘shut off’ being in our locked carriage.

There were also plenty of refreshment opportunities. There is now a catering company with staff who wander up and down the carriages selling drinks and snacks (I think this is new as I hadn’t read anything about this being ‘official’).

Staff member from the catering team selling snacks on the train from Ella to Kandy

Staff member from the catering team selling snacks

There were spicy curry puffs and other tasty things and cold drinks including milo pouches for $1 which Ned had about 4 of!

Ned from Hill Tribe Travels enjoying a milo pouch on the train from Ella to Kandy

More please. The milo pouches were a big hit.

We had a breakfast box each from our hotel in Ella with sandwiches and fruit so between this and the snacks being sold on the train we had plenty to keep us going.

There are tray tables on the back of each chair and metal-bar shelves overhead for luggage too, so we put our backpacks above us and had plenty of space. There was plenty of bag space for everyone.

We really loved looking out the windows at each stop with the hustle and bustle of the food vendors. They had baskets on their heads overflowing with tasting looking snacks which they sold through the windows.

Local food vendors at a local station selling food from baskets on top of their heads. Ella to Kandy Train

Pulling up at a station and the food vendors come running.

Sri Lanka train times from Ella to Kandy

There are two express trains a day from Ella to Kandy:

  • Departure from Ella: 06:40 – arrives in Kandy: 12:38
  • Departure from Ella: 09:24 – arrives in Kandy: 15:51

Going back in the other direction – Sri Lanka train from Kandy to Ella

There are two express trains a day from Kandy to Ella:

  • Departure from Kandy: 08:47 – arrives in Ella: 15:14
  • Departure from Kandy: 11:10 – arrives in Ella: 17:16

We caught the 6.40am train. We left around 6am from our accommodation and walked along the tracks to the station. You don’t need to arrive too early if you have reserved seats. The guards will tell you where to stand and ticket inspectors will check your tickets when you are boarding.

As I mentioned above, the trip from Kandy back to Ella seems to be the more popular route when looking for the best train journey to take in Sri Lanka.

If you don’t book reserved seats in advance there is a trick which will hopefully score you a seat, even in unreserved seating on the Kandy to Ella train

Hint, hint – Don’t get on the train in Kandy!

Here’s what to do instead:

Get a tuk-tuk 10 minutes out of Kandy to Peradeniya station. If you get on the train at Peradeniya before it gets to Kandy, many people will get off and you’ll already be in the carriage giving you a good chance of getting a seat!!

Getting from Ella to Kandy

The other ways to get from Ella to Kandy or Kandy to Ella are by bus or taxi. The train is cheaper, smoother, more spacious and more fun. I would 100% recommend taking the Ella to Kandy Sri Lanka train if you can; and nowhere near as scary as the buses!!!!! It really is the best Sri Lanka train journey.

Hill Tribe Travels standing at Ella Station with our backpacks waiting for the train from Ella to Kandy

Ella train station

In Summary, catching the Ella to Kandy Sri Lanka Train with kids

You can buy tickets at any station in Sri Lanka.

You can pre-purchase tickets through 12GoAsia and Visit Sri Lanka Tours. 12Go Asia will most likely have better prices. Do this as soon as you know your dates and 30 days before departure you’ll be told whether you have tickets.

Don’t stress if your ticket doesn’t say Ella to Kandy as the train will be taking the whole journey.

Buy reserved seats and you’ll be guaranteed a seat.

The guards at the station will direct you to where to you need stand.

Relax and enjoy the journey. It doesn’t need to be stressful xx


Have you caught the train OS before? How did you find it?

Wondering what else we got up to in Sri Lanka? Check out our post on hiking Little Adams Peak or visiting Udawalawe National Park.

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By | 2019-09-12T13:22:24+10:00 September 5th, 2019|Categories: Sri Lanka|0 Comments

About the Author:

I love travelling with my family! When we are not travelling I am researching all things travel!

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