Catching the Colombo to Kandy Train: All You Need to Know

Catching the Colombo to Kandy Train All You Need to Know

The train ride from Colombo to Kandy is an iconic way to travel from Sri Lanka’s largest city to its cultural capital.

Taking you the from coastline of this Indian Ocean island to the highlands that form its heritage centre, the Colombo to Kandy train ride is the perfect ways to soak up the traditional culture and stunning views of the brilliant destination that is Sri Lanka.

Packed with local people, and full on authentic atmosphere, enjoying a train ride is of the must-do things in Sri Lanka – it’s the perfect way to get around the island in a leisurely, not to mention utterly charming and affordable way.

So if you want to enjoy the journey from Colombo to Kandy by train, here’s all you need to know about the length and route of the journey, where to get the train from, how to buy your tickets and all my top tips to help you get the best experience too…

Sri Lanka, Kandy to Colombo, Woman in Red Dress


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Colombo to Kandy Train Facts

Sri Lanka, Train Ride, Me

I thought it best to start off with some basic facts about the Colombo to Kandy train journey, so you can get a sense of it what it entails…



The train from Colombo to Kandy covers a distance of 120km, or 75 miles.


Types of Train Services

There are several different types of train that ply the route between Colombo and Kandy, these include Express and Intercity trains (the most common options), along with Long Distance, Special, Ella Odyssey and Colombo Commuter services.


Journey Time

The Express and Intercity routes are the fastest and take just over 2.5 hours.

The slightly slower Long Distance and Colombo Commuter trains take between 3 and 3.5 hours.

At least, this is according to the Sri Lank Railways official timetable!

In reality, the trains are very often delayed and take a lot longer than scheduled – think more like 4-5 hours sometimes.

Word of warning therefore, is not to expect the train to run on time (a good mantra for travel in Sri Lanka in general!) and also not to book any tours or activities that begin straight after your journey and therefore require the train to be on time!


First and Last Trains

The first train on a Thursday and Saturday – the Ella Odyssey – leaves Colombo at 5:30am.

On the other days of the week it leaves at 5:55am.

These services arrive into Kandy at 8:13am and 8:46am respectively, according to the timetable (although as discussed, don’t count on this in real life!)

The last train leaves Colombo every day at 5:45pm.

It theoretically arrives into Kandy at 8:55pm.


Travel Days

As you may have gathered from the above, not all trains run daily!

Indeed only 7 trains make the journey from Colombo to Kandy every day.

The Ella Odyssey (which is the earliest train) runs only on Thursdays and Saturdays.

3 other services only run Monday through Friday (so not on Saturday or Sunday).

And finally, 1 service runs Monday through Saturday (so not on Sunday).

This means that from Monday through Friday, there’s 11 trains between Colombo and Kandy (on Thursday there’s 12).

On Saturday, there’s 9 trains from Colombo to Kandy, and on Sunday there’s 7.

As you can tell from this, the best advice is to read the timetable carefully and not to presume that all 12 trains run every day!

Be sure to plan your Sri Lanka itinerary and activities inline with this.


Train Departure Point

Sri Lanka, Colombo Fort, Location Map

The Colombo to Kandy train departs from the Colombo Fort Station.

This is one of 2 stations in Colombo, so do not get confused and go to the other one (Colombo Maradana) instead!

While many of the train services do call at both stations (they don’t all), heading to Colombo Fort is the easiest way to avoid any confusion.

Colombo Fort is all were all trains begin their journey, so heading here is also the best place to get onboard, get a seat and settle in for the journey.

Colombo Fort Station can be found just off the main Olcott Mawatha highway in downtown Colombo.

Opened in 1908, this historic station is apparently modelled on Manchester Victoria station in the UK.

The station boasts 10 platforms, a waiting room and a café.

Street sellers outside can also provide you with great snacks and drinks for the journey, which I advise you take them up on!

Colombo Fort station is based in the commercial hub of the city – Sri Lanka’s busiest district – so do be prepared for bustling chaos and keep your eyes on your bags when there.

Once inside the station itself and the train, things get a lot calmer.




Train Routes from Colombo to Kandy

Sri Lanka, Railway Main Line, Map

The train from Colombo to Kandy follows the route known, rather imaginatively, as the Main Line!

From Colombo the train continues to Ragama, Polgahawela, Rambukkana and Peradeniya, before calling at Kandy.

I just love the Sri Lankan stations names, but they aren’t always the easiest for anglophiles to pronounce – thankfully Kandy is simple in comparison!

Also, many of the trains terminate their journey at Kandy – which means it’s easy to know when you’ve arrived at your destination.

However, not all trains do, so make sure to check in advance and don’t fall asleep and mis your stop!

From Kandy, one train a day continues along the so-called Matale Line to reach Matale and then terminates here.

Other trains move on towards Badulla, following the “Hill Country” or “Tea Country” parts of the Main Line route.

These are the trains to get you if you want to enjoy the Kandy to Ella train ride in Sri Lanka.

One of the most picturesque train journeys on earth, you can read about this section of the famous Sri Lanka railway line in this post I wrote.

Finally, one train a day continues to Kandy as far as Nanu Oya, but then terminates here.

Nanu Oya is the station closest to Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka’s tea country, but be warned that if you want to enjoy the scenic train ride to Ella, don’t get a train that terminates at Nanu Oya, as it won’t take you far enough!


Train Timetable

Sri Lanka, Colombo to Kandy, Timetable

This is the latest Colombo to Kandy timetable at the time of writing.

Please refer to Sri Lanka Railways for the most up to date versions.


Which Train to Get?

Sri Lanka, Train Ride, Platform

The early trains that leave Colombo before 6am are, unsurprisingly, often the least crowded and can be good options if you like waking up early and want to take in the views in the fresh morning light.

Photographers especially may want to consider this!

The next 2 trains (the 7am and 8:30am at the time of writing) tend to be very busy as people use them to commute.

I’d avoid these trains if I were you.

Instead, opt for any train after 10:30am and before 4pm.

Once you start travelling after 4pm, you’re likely to be undergoing some of the journey either at dusk or in the dark, which means you’ll miss the views and the photo opps.

I’d avoid for this reason and the fact it will likely involve you arriving at your accommodation in the dark.



Sri Lanka, Train Ride, Men on Platform

Which leads me on nicely to discussing the scenery of the Colombo to Kandy train ride.

While it’s not as striking as the landscapes you’ll pass on the Kandy to Ella section of the journey, it is pretty close and another gorgeous glimpse into the diversity of Sri Lanka and its stunning tropical geographies.

From dense jungle scenes to picturesque villages, you’ll pass it all on the Colombo to Kandy route; surrounded by local people in your carriage and waving at you as the train passes.

All round it’s a truly wonderful experience.

You’ll then arrive into Kandy – one of Sri Lanka’s premier destinations, its cultural capital and the gateway to the island’s magnificent hill country.

Read until the end of this article, for my Kandy travel tips, including what to see and do there as well as where to stay.


Train Amenities

Sri Lanka, Train Ride, Man in Window

And now a short word about the amenities on the train, so you know what to expect!



There are toilets onboard the train, but they aren’t always the best.

Depending on where you join the train i.e. how far along the journey, you might find them in varying states!

If you want to aim for the best possible toilet, walk up the train towards first class and use them there.

As always, bring tissues and hand sanitiser with you because toilet paper is an unlikely find!



There’s no dining cart on the train, so I recommend you bring all the snacks, water and food you might need with you.

As mentioned, if you hop on the train at Colombo Fort station, you can grab some from the sellers outside.

Otherwise, it’s also great to know that snack sellers do pass through the train regularly, their baskets laden with local fresh snacks dripping with Sri Lankan spices and authenticity.



No wifi on the Sri Lanka Railways I’m afraid!

The good news is that if you have a Sri Lanka SIM card, or an eSIM plan, like those from aloSIM, you’re likely to have data signal for much of the journey so can use your mobile for connection.




Train Classes & Seat Reservations

Sri Lanka, Train Ride, First Class

Train Classes

There are 3 train classes on all Sri Lanka trains, including the route from Colombo to Sri Lanka, these are third, second and first class.

As always 3rd class is the cheapest and most basic, while 1st class offers the premium and most expensive experience.

Although it’s worth noting even 1st class is pretty affordable in Sri Lanka!

Within 2nd and 3rd class, you also have 2 sub-tiers of tickets – Reserved and Unreserved.


Unreserved Tickets

Unreserved tickets do just what they say on the tin!

You won’t have a seat allocated to you and will just have to hope for one, or else take the hit and stand for at least part (if not all) of the journey.

This means life in the unreserved lane can get very crowded, with everyone jostling for available space.

This is a great way to meet local people, but if you’re travelling with a lot of luggage, it can be a bit of a nightmare!

Unreserved tickets are unsurprisingly the cheapest option.

They rarely sell out and are only available to buy on the day of the journey, in person, at stations, a few hours before the train departs.

I’d personally use them as a last resort however and strongly recommend a reserved seat if you can.

Personally I think 3rd class reserved is better than 2nd class unreserved.


Reserved Tickets

3rd class reserved tickets guarantee you a seat and make for a much more comfortable experience therefore, especially if you have luggage!

Second class reserved tickets offer comfortable seats laid out in a 2-by-2 format.

There’s no AC, but carriages do have fans and are also well-ventilated thanks to open trains and doors.

Incidentally these are great for taking pictures and, as you’ll still be travelling with many local people, lots of travellers find 2nd class reserved train tickets a good balance between price, local experience and good photo opps!

Reserved 3rd class seats are on wooden benches, as opposed to seats, but still guarantee you someone to perch!

Doors and windows are open – allowing a good breeze and you’ll travel with many locals, a lot of whom crowd near the open door and leave their luggage on their seat instead!

Reserved tickets can be bought online 32 days in advance of your journey day.

Keep reading for the details.


First Class

All 1st class seats on Sri Lanka trains are reserved i.e. there’s no unreserved option in 1st class.

Aircon is available and, as a result, windows in the carriage are shut.

Many of the articles I’ve read complained about this creating a stuffy atmosphere, but I didn’t find this at all.

They also wrongly state that the train doors in 1st class aren’t open, but this isn’t true either, I hung out and got loads of great photos through the door here!

Seats are arranged across an isle in a 2-by-2 format, so it pays to get a forward-facing seat if you can.

Some seats recline and have a tray table, but I was in a 4 cluster, where 2 seats faced 2 others, so there was no chance of a table or a recline.

Nevertheless the seats were wide, soft and very comfortable with head and arm rests.

1st class tickets can be bought online 32 days in advance of your journey day.

They are limited in number, so sell out fast. Get in there quick is my advice.


Tickets Prices

Sri Lanka, Train Ride, Ticket

Ticket prices for the Sri Lanka train from Colombo to Kandy are amazingly affordable – an absolute win for travellers with small pockets!

Latest ticket prices at the time of writing are as follows…


3rd Class Reserved: 900 LKR (under $3 USD)

3rd Class Unreserved: 240 LKR (under $1 USD)


2nd Class Reserved: 1200 LKR (under $4 USD)

2nd Class Unreserved: 500 LKR (under $2 USD)


1st Class: 2000 LKR (about $6 USD)


Which Ticket to Buy?

Sri Lanka, Railway, Train Carriage

Given how affordable Sri Lanka trains are (and what a delight that is!), even 1st class is available to most travellers, meaning price really isn’t a determining factor when it comes to which ticket you should opt for on your journey from Colombo to Kandy.

Personally, I travelled in 1st class and found it really comfortable and enjoyable.

Yes there were other tourists in the carriage, but there was also local people and the whole experience was wonderful. 

With plenty of room for luggage, my uncrowded carriage it felt relaxed and easy.

Sellers still came through with snacks and there was plenty of opportunity to meet others in the carriage an open doorways.

Other writers say you shouldn’t opt for 1st class because the doors don’t open (not true), the windows are smaller (not true) and it’s stuffy and not authentic, but I really didn’t find this true either!

The only thing that is true is that the windows are slightly smaller in 1st class and they don’t open.

I don’t really mind this as you still get a good view and its cool with the aircon, plus you can hang out the door for photos anyway.


How to Buy Tickets?

Sri Lanka, Train Ride, Ticket Buying

Remember you can only buy reserved tickets online in advance for your Colombo to Kandy train journey.

They are not available to buy on the day.

All unreserved tickets (2nd and 3rd class only) can only be bought in person at the train station a few hours before departure.

If you’re going for reserved tickets, which I advise, then you should buy them early to avoid disappointment, as they regularly sell out and fast!

Especially 1st class and 2nd class.

There are a few different ways to buy your Sri Lanka rail tickets…


#1 Using Sri Lanka Rail Website

This is the only official site offering Colombo to Kandy train tickets.

Tickets go live at 10am, 30 days before your journey, but the website can be a bit glitchy, so don’t be surprised if it freezes or crashes on you, or runs super slow!

The only thing to note is that this is only a booking site – you can’t actually print tickets through here.

Instead you can buy them for your preferred journey using Visa or Mastercard, but then must go to one of a number of stations to collect them before you board the train.

The stations where you can collect tickets are Colombo Fort, Kandy, Nanu Oya and Badulla.

You must bring your passport for collection.

You also need a Sri Lankan mobile number to do this, so if you don’t have one, or you’re worried about getting to a station to collect your ticket in time, as I was, it’s definitely best to go for option #2 below.


#2 Using 12Go – The Best Way!

By far the easiest way to reserve your Sri Lanka rail tickets in my opinion is to use the excellent 12Go service.

In fact I’ve used them for transport across Sri Lanka and Asia and love their simple to use website, secure booking process and general stress-free experience!

The only thing you have to remember with this form of booking is to be early!

Trains need to be booked through 12Go 32 days ahead of your journey date.

This is so that, when Sri Lanka railways opens their bookings at 30 days ahead of a journey, 12Go can go straight in and reserve the tickets from them.

You’ll also pay a small handling fee of roughly $1 USD to 12Go, but it’s worth it for the smooth website experience, which won’t crash on you!

Pay using your credit or debit card via their website and then head to the station on the day of your journey to collect the tickets using the reference number provided by 12Go.


#3 In Person at Station

As we’ve talked about, you can buy unreserved tickets for the Colombo to Kandy train at the station up until the day of travel.

However, you can also buy reserved tickets at the station too.

I wouldn’t suggest leaving these until the day of travel however, because they’ll likely be sold out, but if you can get to a station a week before your journey, it’s worth trying your luck there for a reserved ticket (especially in low season).

That said, I only really advise this option if you’re a) passing a station anyway and b) you’re willing to settle for an unreserved ticket too.

If you’re going for it, then in Colombo Fort station you’ll want to go to ticket counter 17 and in Kandy station, you’ll want to go to counters 1 or 2.


#4 Using a Dialog SIM card

This is a bit of a unique method to buy your train tickets from Colombo to Kandy, but in case you’re in Sri Lanka for a while and have a Dialog SIM card, this might be for you!

Check you have enough credit on your SIM to make a call, buy a ticket and pay a 8 LKR fee (use the Dialog app or go into a store to check or top-up) and then dial 444 to speak to an operator.

Relay the details of your train (so have them prepped in advance) and then buy your ticket using your phone credit.

Like option #1, you still have to then go into a station to collect your ticket, but if you’re departing from one of those named stations, this shouldn’t be a problem ahead of your journey.


Other Tips for the Journey

Sri Lanka, Railway, Train Line

Where to Sit on the Train

Grab a window seat if you can and face forwards where possible.

It’s also advised that you sit on the right hand side for the best views.



You don’t need to pay extra for your luggage on Sri Lanka trains, bit if you are travelling with a lot, I definitely recommend a reserved seat – ideally in 1st class.

Luggage is unrestricted, but you’ll need to carry it on and off the train yourself.

Overhead racks are available, but there isn’t a huge amount of space, especially in 2nd and 3rd class, so be warned!



Sri Lankan trains are safe and easy to use.

I’d happily travel as a solo female on one and feel very safe.

As usual though, it pays to take the normal precautions – carry a small bag with all valuables such as passport, money, cards and phone etc on you at all times and don’t put down anything valuable down or leave bags unattended.


Kandy to Colombo Train

Sri Lanka, Kandy to Colombo, Timetable

You can of course also get the train from Kandy back to Colombo.

Just follow the same advice and see above for the latest timetable.


Other Ways to Travel from Colombo to Kandy

If you don’t fancy the train for some reason, then it pays to know you can also get a bus or taxi from Colombo to Kandy.

While you can grab a local bus, working out where they depart from and the whole logistical system can be a little bewildering, so I recommend a premium coach service instead, which you can easily book online in advance here too.

You can also pre-book a taxi to take you the distance from Colombo to Kandy.

Again, use 12Go for this service as your booking is secure. The price is around $75 USD.


Top Kandy Travel Tips

Sri Lanka, Temple, Flowers

Best Things to See in Kandy

Don’t miss the amazing Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy – it’s a must see.

Other top sites to visit in this historic city include the Kandy Lake, the Royal Botanic Gardens and the cemetery.


Where to Stay in Kandy

Check out these top places to stay in Kandy including the city’s best guesthouses and hotels.


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Top Travel Tips for Sri Lanka

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How to Get to Sri Lanka

Flights from across the world arrive at Sri Lanka’s main airport – Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB) – which is 30km north of Colombo.

Instead of heading straight to the city however, I recommend spending your first night or 2 at the more relaxed coastal spot of Negombo to acclimatise to both the culture and humidity here.

As always, I use Skyscanner to book my flight tickets and Agoda to book my accommodation.


Top Sri Lanka Tours

If you’d rather not travel Sri Lanka independently, these top Sri Lanka tours are a great way to experience an adventure here with others and a guide.


Travel Insurance for Sri Lanka

World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while travelling and claim online from anywhere in the world.

Alternatively, if you’re a long-term traveller, digital nomad or frequent remote worker seeking travel health cover, check out Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance policies.


Travel Money in Sri Lanka

The easy way to spend abroad with real exchange rates, no markups and no sneaky transaction fees, you can use your Wise card just like a debit card in Sri Lanka… and it links easily with Google and Apple pay. Get yours here.




And there you have it, my full guide to taking the Colombo to Kandy train.

Jam-packed with all you need to know about planning your perfect journey, including where to get the train from, how to buy tickets, how often the trains run and top tips for the best experience, it’s the only guide you’ll need to relish this iconic rail adventure!

Have you trained from Colombo to Kandy?

Have any tips to share?

Then please drop them into the comments box below and help some fellow travellers out…


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