The Nine Arch Bridge is one of Sri Lanka’s most famous Instagram spots, and now something of an icon in its tourism marketing efforts.
If you don’t know what the Nine Arch Bridge is, then likely an image of it will instantly have you saying “ah yes” as you recognise the familiar picture.
Absolutely huge and located in the central south of the country, near to the town of Ella, this huge feat of engineering is now a popular tourist and local spot – not only to take pictures, but also to wave to the passengers on the famous Sri Lankan Main Line as they rattle by.
So no matter whether you want to ride the train across the bridge, wave to the passengers as you stand on the bridge, or snap some incredible phots of this national icon, here’s all you need to know about visiting Sri Lanka’s Nine Arch Bridge…
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A Short History of the Bridge
Also known as the “Bridge in the Sky”, Sri Lanka’s Nine Arch Bridge is a whopping 24m high and over 9m long.
One of Sri Lanka’s finest examples of colonial-style railway architecture, the bridge was once considered the longest viaduct “in the east” and is now a heritage structure.
Completed back in 1921, the project was led by esteemed local builder and engineer team, PK Appuhami and DJ Wimalasurendra.
Rumours are that a team of British engineers helped on the initial consult of the bridge built, which was originally planned before the start of World War I.
However the subsequent onset of this conflict meant the steel earmarked for the bridge was diverted to Britain’s war efforts and, as a result, the Nine Arch build came to a standstill until locals finished it using only stone bricks and cement.
The lack of use of steel in the construction therefore makes this huge bridge even more incredible!
Now Sri Lanka’s Main Line railway network uses the bridge on its famous journey from Colombo to Badulla.
Nine Arch Bridge Location
And this leads me nicely on to talking about where exactly the Nine Arch Bridge is in Sri Lanka.
Just over 4km from the small city of Ella, the Nine Arch Bridge is located in the central south of Sri Lanka.
If you’re travelling by train, you’ll pass the bridge between the stations of Ella and Demodara.
How to Get to the Bridge?
To get to the Nine Arch Bridge from Ella, it’s easiest to take a tuk-tuk.
This will take about 15 minutes and cost around 300 LRK (under $1 USD).
The tuk-tuk driver will likely know where to drop you, but if unclear, ask to be taken to the parking spot after Art Café Umbrella.
From there, it’s a 10 minute walk to the bridge itself.
Alternatively, you can walk all the way to bridge from Ella – and there’s 2 routes to choose from here.
The first route will have you following the Ella-Passara Road, turning left at Sri Kanaser and then following the signs until you arrive at the bridge.
It’s this route that Google Maps will likely plot for you.
The second route follows the train tracks all the way from Ella’s station to the bridge.
If you go for this option, then please be aware this is an operational railway line, so do listen out closely for approaching trains and their sounding horns.
You can also take a tour from Ella that includes a visit to the Nine Arch Bridge, as well as Little Adam’s Peak – this will include transport and sort out the timing so you get to see the train going over the bridge perfectly!
What to Expect on Arrival + Best Photo Spots
Once you arrive at the bridge, the first thing you might be surprised to find, is that you’re not alone!
Indeed there’s likely to be a lot of other tourists and locals there too.
After all, this place is something of an icon and the train-spotting, a real experience!
The second thing you’ll notice is that there’s quite a lot of small cafes around the area, so don’t worry if the walk here has made you hungry!
The local cafes also make for great hang out spots while you wait for the train, and you can grab some amazing views of the bridge from them too.
The Asanka Café deserves a special mention thanks to its stellar lookout over the curve of the bridge and the train as it emerges from the tunnel.
You can also grab great shots from the bridge itself – just remember to listen out for the approaching trains and keep yourself safe.
As you’ll see from many Instagram shots of the bridge, you can also descend to the tea fields below the bridge and grab some great shots here with the bridge elevated in the backdrop.
This is private land however, so do ask workers before traipsing through and beware of leeches and snakes.
Best Time to Visit
The best time of day to visit the bridge is honestly in the early morning.
You’ll immediately notice the difference between getting there at 7am and 9am, so if you want to avoid the crowds, early is best!
This is also the time when the first train crosses the bridge.
If you can’t stand the early rise, then pick a time in the afternoon / evening, because this when you’ll see another train rattling over the Nine Arch Bridge.
According to the Sri Lanka railway website the Nine Arch Bridge crossing times are:
- 6:53 am
- 1:42 pm
- 3:53 pm
- 5:14 pm
However, do take these time with a pinch of salt because I’ve never known a Sri Lankan train to run on time in my life!
Instead, most are about 20 minutes late, so I think if you get to the bridge for 7am, you should make the first train sighting.
With regards to the time of year, the best time to visit the Nine Arch Bridge, Ella and the surrounding attractions in the south of Sri Lanka, is January through May.
This is when the dry season runs, so you can expect blue sky days and slightly lower humidity.
I visited in May and found it sunny, dry and delightful!
Learn more about the best time to visit Sri Lanka generally here.
How to View the Bridge from the Train
If you want to snap the bridge from the train itself, rather than outside of it, then you want to be prepared after you leave Ella station.
The bridge will be coming up between then and Demodara station!
Head to the door of train well in advance to get the best views and remember to go for the left hand side of the train, as this will give you the most striking view thanks to the curve of the tracks.
Once you get to Demodara station and disembark here, make sure you walk 2 minutes to see the train doubling back on itself.
Here you can get an epic snap of the train going through a tunnel right underneath where you are stood.
No matter whether you’re travelling in the train, or standing on the bridge to get shots, you need to be careful.
This is, after all, a real moving machine!
Don’t hang too far out of the train, with either your camera or your limbs, if you’re riding in it.
If you’re stood on the bridge, always be very careful of the approaching train – stand well back and listen carefully for the horn that will announce its upcoming arrival.
Also make sure you stay away from the edge of the bridge – there’s no barriers here, so please don’t lose your balance.
Also don’t walk to the bridge from the Ella alone, or in the dark – please get a tuk-tuk if either of these situations present themselves.
Please also beware of snakes, leeches and other creatures if you go down to the tea fields below the bridge.
Where to Stay Nearby?
The best places to stay near the Nine Arch Bridge are the guesthouses that line the Ella-Passara Road – which you’ll pass if you choose option #1 for walking to the bridge.
You can also stay in Ella itself and then grab a tuk-tuk to the Nine Arch Bridge as discussed.
Accommodation in Ella will provide you with a few more amenities and eating options – here’s the top picks.
When in Ella, don’t miss the amazing new Ravana Pool Club with its views of Little Adam’s Peak and epic large swing!
Top Travel Tips for Sri Lanka
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.
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
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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
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And there you have it, my full guide to visiting the Nine Arch Bridge in Sri Lanka.
Full of tips about how to get there, what to expect and how to stay safe, this article has you covered!
Have you visited this famous Sri Lankan icon?
Let me know your thoughts and advise in the comments box below…