Updated on 31/7/2017 by Ella Davis.
Nestled in the heart of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country, Nuwara Eliya is a cool mountain retreat. Its cool climate is perfect for escaping the heat of Colombo. With an altitude of 1868 m, the views of this ‘city’ are some of the best you can find in Sri Lanka. The city itself is small and quaint. Locals refer to it as ‘Little England’ and it isn’t hard to see why. The colonial architecture and Victorian style leisure park, act as reminders of Sri Lanka’s past. While the rural surroundings give visitors the impression of being in the middle of nowhere, the city itself feels familiar with tea shops and grand hotels.
With a range of stunning villas available in the surrounding Hill Country, visitors can explore the natural wonders and sample the locally grown tea. Waterfalls, look out points, tea plantations and nature reserves are all a short tuk-tuk ride away, offering plenty to entertain families and nature lovers alike.
Nuwara Eliya: Things to know before you go
At an altitude of 1868 m, Nuwara Eliya has one of the coolest climates in Sri Lanka. Depending on the time of year you may find yourself reaching for a raincoat and wellies! The wettest period in the Hill county tends to be May and June as it catches the edge of the monsoons to the south. No matter what time of year you visit, don’t be surprised if you wake to a cloaking of mist across the valleys. While this is a beautiful sight, the sun will often burn it off before you’ve even finished breakfast so you can begin exploring in the sunshine.
Wifi and phone signal is very limited across the city and hotels and guest houses often have no or limited connectivity. While the local guides know the surrounding sites well, you may want to download a map and details of attractions you want to visit before you travel.
Nuwara Eliya: How to get there
There are two main options for travelling to Nuwara Eliya: Bus or Train. The road system connecting Colombo, Kandy and the hill country is very slow so buses and hired drivers are not recommended. The rail system connecting Colombo, Kandy and onto Nuwara Eliya is arguably the most scenic stretch of railway in the world. While the views remain untouched, so do the trains. The outdated wooden carriages are beautiful but incapable of high speeds. However, while the journey may be longer than expected, the views are exceptional and the destination is worth the wait!
Tickets can be bought from the station or online and are available in first, second and third class. While first class offers air conditioning and a viewing carriage, second and third class have a charm of their own. Street vendors meander through the lower classes, selling treats to the families onboard.
Nuwara Eliya: Things to see and do
St Clair’s Falls
This stunning waterfall, located near the St Clair tea estate also goes by the name, “Little Niagara”. At an impressive eighty metres high, this waterfall can be viewed from several viewing points known well by the local guides.
To visit these falls you can hire a tuk-tuk driver to take to the various viewing points. It can be accessed from the Hatton – Talawakelle Road. However, if you plan to climb down to the falls, be careful as the descent is steep and uneven.
If you are hiring a guide to take you to the falls, it’s worth making a day of it and also visiting Devon Falls or the Mackwood’s tea plantation.
Galway’s Land National Park
Nature lovers and avid bird watchers should visit Galway’s Land National Park. Home to around 50 bird species, this nature reserve on the edge of Nuwara Eliya city is a great way to spend an afternoon.
Galway’s is the most significant birding site in Sri Lanka, home to endemic species, such as the Dull-blue Flycatcher and the Yellow-eared Bulbul. Visitors should also keep an eye out for migratory species like the dainty Kashmir Flycatcher, vibrant Indian Blue Robin and queer-looking Scaly Thrush.
Gregory lake is within walking distance of the City centre. The scenic surroundings and serene lake have been developed into a well manicured public park. With a walking trail running around the entirety of the lake, this is a great spot to take in the views from all angles.
Lake Gregory is one of the most obvious legacies of the British settlement in Nuwara Eliya. This was developed to provide a site for the British occupants to take part in recreational activities as was popular in Victorian England. The small leisure boats that line the edge of the lake and the perfect flower beds are still enjoyed in the way they were originally intended.
Visitors can enjoy the treats sold by vendors lining the walkway, or take a boat trip around the lake. Entrance to the park is 250 LKR and boat trip costs vary between vendors.
Mackwood’s Tea Plantation
The Mackwood’s tea plantation and factory is one of the largest in Nuwara Eliya. The free factory tour will give you a brief oversight into the process of tea production. From: planting, picking to processing, the guides will take you through the journey from plant to teapot. Visitors can explore the grounds and walk amongst the tea fields. Look out for the workers using the traditional techniques for harvesting. The onsite café offers all visitors a sample cup of tea and the option to buy a slice of cake to go with it. The gift shop stocks lovely souvenirs such as carved tea caddies and taster tea packages, perfect for family and friends back home.
Nuwara Eliya: Where to stay
Many visitors to Nuwara Eliya choose to stay in the surrounding hill country for guaranteed views. Check out the villas in Kandy and the Hill Country for great options for exploring the region. For those who want to stay in Nuwara Eliya, Villa Brockenhurst is perfect for families or groups of friends.
Sleeping a maximum of 12 people, this heritage house is situated on the outskirts of the city. While the stunning manicured garden is perfect for relaxing and taking in views. It’s also a safe space for children to play. The rustic charm and log fireplace are perfect for relaxing after a long day hiking. With a homely feel, it’s no surprise that guests at Villa Brockenhurst keep returning. Moreover, Villa Brockenhurst is excellent value for money starting at $400 per night.
Nuwara Eliya: Where to eat
Sri Lankan food is a fusion of all its various influences. Therefore, it is no surprise then that almost every city you visit has a wide range of cuisines on offer- and Nuwara Eliya is no exception.
Indian Summer is a modern restaurant set on the banks of Lake Gregory. Diners can take in the boats while sitting on the large veranda and sampling superb Indian dishes. The friendly service will leave you wanting to return. while the choice of how much spice, means the dishes can be made suitable for children too. Although the prices are fairly high, the elegance of the food and surroundings make it well worth a visit for lunch or dinner.
For a more memorable dining experience, try Barnes Hall in the Grand Hotel. This large elegant dining hall harks back to the Hotels colonial past. The attentive service and exceptional food make this the perfect setting to celebrate a special occasion. Meanwhile, the buffet breakfast is fantastic especially for those who may be craving more variety than the typical Sri Lankan Breakfast. The lunch and evening menus are vast and a good selection of wines are also available.
If you are looking for somewhere to satisfy your sweet tooth then Tea Lounge is a must. The ‘High Tea’ served on beautiful cake stands comes with a huge range of cakes, tarts and sweet treats. However, it isn’t just cakes they are popular for. The huge selection of tea available includes varieties grown all over Sri Lanka. Making this a great stop off to re-fuel and experience true Sri Lankan tea. Meanwhile, the grounds are great for walking off all that cake!
Nuwara Eliya’s stunning natural surroundings draw nature lovers looking to explore its waterfalls and tea plantations. Yet the city itself also has so much to offer visitors. While the colonial history is fascinating, the elegance of the hotels adds some luxury to this mountain retreat. Nuwara Eliya is the perfect get away for couples or families who want to see another side to Sri Lanka.
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