Best for: Railways, colonial history, dramatic landscapes, tea estates & trekking
Duration: 12 to 14 days
Route: Colombo • Kandy • Hatton • Nuwara Eliya • Haputale • Ella • Demodera
Why do it? To experience one of the most scenic train routes in the world.
The Main Line Railway was built in the late 19th century to transport coffee, and later tea, between the hills and Colombo in colonial-era ‘Ceylon’. It took over 50 years to complete, and the track crosses waterfalls, climbs steep escarpments and tunnels through 46 hills. Take it all in on a slow journey, hopping on and off to explore key sights. Second-class carriages reward with better views as you can open the windows.
Begin in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s multi-ethnic capital city, and get your bearings on a Colombo City Walk. Join charming, in-the-know guide Mark Forbes as he takes you through key precincts such as the Pettah Market district and Colombo Fort.
Then board a train from Fort Railway Station to cultural Kandy via Kadugannawa (home to the island’s national train museum), where the track inclines nearly 430m in just over 20km.
From Kandy, continue to Hatton, a colonial-era market town surrounded by a breath-catching scene of tea estates, lakes and forests. Navigate estate trails on foot and tour tea factories buzzing with clunky, century-old machinery. Stop for lunch at Nuwara Eliya, a former British hill station dating back to 1847, a 15-minute drive from Nanu Oya station.
At Pattipola the track reaches its highest altitude (1,898m) before it descends into Sir Thomas Lipton territory and Haputale, a long ridge marked by viewpoint walks. The widescreen panoramas reveal low-lying plains and hazy glimpses of the Indian Ocean, 75km in the distance.
To get to end-of-the-line Badulla you cross the Nine Arches Bridge, although there are better places to stay near Demodera, where the track makes a 360-degree loop under and into the station. Or try in Ella, where the mountains hikes are up through misty tea estates and old pine forests.