Looking for information on how to travel from Colombo to Kandy by train? You’ve come to the right place.
I recently spent over 4 months travelling around Sri Lanka. Taking the train was (and still is) one of my favourite ways of getting around this incredible island. It’s also one of the most affordable ways to travel.
In this post, I’ll be sharing with you everything you need to know about travelling from Colombo to Kandy by train: how much it costs, where to find up-to-date schedules and train timetables, which tickets to buy, how to reserve a seat, and more.
I’ll also provide some tips for making your journey as smooth and enjoyable as possible.
If you’re going in the other direction, from Kandy to Colombo by train, the information is very similar. But I’ve also included a section near the bottom with specific info on this.
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- 8 Best National Parks For Safari In Sri Lanka
- 16 Best Things To Do In Sigiriya
- 9 Best Hiriketiya Hotels
- How To Get From Colombo to Weligama, Sri Lanka
- 19 Best Places To Visit In Anuradhapura
Train Travel in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is known for its scenic train journeys. The most famous one is from Kandy to Ella. However, this train is so popular, it often gets hugely overcrowded.
The Colombo to Kandy train is much less busy. The scenery is just as gorgeous, with panoramic views of the mountains, lush valleys, and tea plantations.
But, as long as you follow the advice and tips in this guide, you shouldn’t struggle to get a seat – or a space at one of the open doors.
Key Info About the Colombo to Kandy Train
Here’s some key info about the trains that run between Colombo and Kandy.
The distance from Colombo to Kandy by train is 120 kilometres (75 miles).
Length of journey
The fastest express intercity trains from Colombo to Kandy take just over 2.5 hours. Most services take around 3–3.5 hours, depending on the type of train and the time of day you travel.
Different classes of carriage
Sri Lankan trains have several different classes of reserved and unreserved carriages (more info on this below). Virtually all trains have both second and third class (both reserved and unreserved). A few also have first-class carriages.
Finding the right train
Once you get to the station, check the departures board to see which platform your train will depart from. The trains themselves aren’t very well labeled, so I always try to ask an official just to double-check before getting on board.
Note: Some trains terminate in Kandy, while others go on to other destinations further along the Hill Country Line like Hatton, Ella, and Badulla. If you see any of these destinations, the train is also going to Kandy.
Where to sit
The view is better from the right-hand side of the train on the way from Colombo to Kandy. Try to grab a window seat on this side of the train if you can.
You’re allowed to take as much luggage as you want, within reason. The trains have overhead racks and a few luggage storage areas.
I’ve heard reports of some people being charged an extra few hundred rupees for having too much stuff. But this has never happened to me (and I’ve had a lot of stuff with me).
I have no idea how much is too much, it’s probably down to the discretion of the train manager.
Food and drink
Most trains don’t have dining cars. At some stations, vendors get onto the train to sell snacks, water, tea, and sometimes even hot food. You can either buy this or bring your own.
Either way, you should at least bring enough water for the journey.
There are toilets on the trains in all classes. I was pleasantly surprised by how not grim they were. I mean, they aren’t amazing – but they’re much nicer than the toilets on Indian trains!
Should You Travel from Colombo Fort Station or Colombo Maradana Station?
Trains to Kandy depart from both Colombo Fort and Colombo Maradana stations. However, all services to Kandy originate at Colombo Fort.
From Monday–Friday, two of these services also stop at Maradana on the way out of the city towards Kandy. There’s one service on Saturday and none on Sunday. (See below for more info.)
So, I’d recommend joining the train at Colombo Fort. This means that you get on at the start of the journey.
You’ll have more time to get on board and get settled in. If you’ve reserved a seat, there’s a good chance that nobody else will be sitting in it yet. And if you don’t have a reserved seat, you have a better chance of finding a spare one.
(See below for more info on the different types of tickets, including reserved and unreserved.)
Train Schedule: Colombo to Kandy
There are usually 9 trains per day from Colombo to Kandy on weekdays (Monday–Friday). There are often 8 departures on a Saturday and 7 departures on a Sunday.
The first train usually leaves Colombo Fort at 05:55 and gets to Kandy at 08:46. And the last train tends to leave at 17:45 and get in at 20:55.
As of January 2024, the train timetable from Colombo to Kandy is as follows:
|2 hrs 51 mins
|Podi Menike (express train)
|2 hrs 38 mins
|2 hrs 33 mins
|Udarata Menike (express train)
|3 hrs 20 mins
|3 hrs 19 mins
|2 hrs 31 mins
|2 hrs 59 mins
|2 hrs 50 mins
|3 hrs 10 mins
* These two trains also stop at Colombo Maradana station, at 16:40 and 17:19 respectively.
Check the Sri Lanka Railways website for the most up-to-date train timetables.
Note: Every train I’ve ever taken in Sri Lanka has always been delayed. Sometimes they’re only a few minutes behind schedule. But it’s not uncommon to see delays of up to an hour or more.
Taking the train to Kandy from Colombo is a great experience. But only if you’re not super pressed for time!
Colombo to Kandy Train Ticket Price
Taking the train is definitely the cheapest way to get from Colombo to Kandy!
Second-class unreserved tickets cost 500 LKR ($1.50 USD) if you buy them at the station. Third-class unreserved tickets cost just 240 LKR ($0.70 USD).
If you want a reserved seat, it’s 900 LKR ($2.70) for 3rd class, 1,200 LKR ($3.60) for 2nd class, or 2,000 LKR ($6) for 1st class.
In each case, this is the price you pay when booking at the station or booking online using the Sri Lanka Railways website’s online seat reservation system.
However, the most reliable way to purchase tickets online in advance is via 12Go Asia. This usually costs about $1 more per ticket, but I think it’s well worth it for the convenience and peace of mind. (More on this below.)
Which Class of Train Ticket to Buy?
When you first try to buy tickets for Sri Lanka Railways, it can be a little confusing to know which type of ticket to select. To make things easier, here’s a brief summary of each.
First-class carriages are air-conditioned and have reclining seats with seat-back tables.
The seats are cushioned and comfortable. They’re organised in a 2-by-2 layout, with an aisle running down the middle, and there’s plenty of room.
First-class seats are always reserved – which means that every ticket has an allocated seat. There’s no unreserved first class, so there are only a very limited number of first-class tickets available.
However, I think travelling in second-class reserved is much better than first-class.
Because first-class carriages have air conditioning, the windows and doors are shut. The windows are also smaller in first class than in second or third class, so you don’t get anywhere near as good a view.
First-class tickets also tend to sell out very quickly. If you do want to buy these tickets, you should try and do so as far in advance as possible (you can get them up to 30 days in advance).
Also, remember that not all Sri Lankan trains have first-class carriages. But even if the one you’re travelling on does, I’d still recommend getting a second-class reserved ticket instead.
See below for information on how to book reserved tickets with allocated seats.
Second Class Reserved
Most Sri Lankan trains have dedicated second-class reserved carriages, including all of the services from Colombo to Kandy station.
Second-class carriages are similar to first-class. There are cushioned, comfortable seats laid out in a 2-by-2 format.
There’s no AC, but there are fans and the windows and doors are usually wide open throughout the journey. This means the carriages are well-ventilated and there’s a pleasant soft breeze.
It also means you can enjoy uninterrupted views of the wonderful scenery.
If you buy a second-class reserved ticket, your ticket will come with a seat number and that seat is yours for the duration of the trip.
Ticket inspectors walk up and down the train from time to time making sure that everybody is in the correct part of the train.
You’re only supposed to be in a reserved carriage if you have a reservation for a seat in that specific carriage. This means that reserved carriages shouldn’t ever be too crowded.
Just like with first class, you can book second-class reserved seats up to 30 days in advance. They also often sell out quickly (especially on the Colombo to Kandy route), so I recommend booking them as early as you can to avoid disappointment.
Second Class Unreserved
If all of the reserved seats (including 3rd class reserved) have sold out, the next best option is to go for second-class unreserved. There isn’t a limited number of these tickets, so you can buy them even if the train is “full”.
There are usually plenty of unreserved seats on most trains. However, often more unreserved tickets are sold than the number of seats available. You aren’t guaranteed a seat so might need to stand for some (if not all) of the trip if the train is busy.
You can’t book unreserved tickets in advance. They only go on sale at station ticket offices a few hours before the train leaves.
The actual carriages in 2nd class reserved and unreserved are the same. The difference is that the unreserved ones can get extremely busy, with lots of people standing.
Given the choice between second-class unreserved and third-class reserved, I’d personally recommend going for third-class reserved. It’s much better to have a seat in (uncrowded) third class than risk having to stand all the way in (crowded) second.
And as I found out on one occasion, having to travel a long distance in an unreserved carriage with lots of luggage, while doable, is not fun at all.
Third Class Reserved
Third-class carriages have bench-style seats. There is some padding, but it’s not as comfortable as second class.
Also, the seats in third class are arranged 3-by-2, so there’s an extra seat across the width of the carriage. This means that there’s less space per seat, and the aisle is slightly narrower.
There also usually aren’t any fans in third class (except on newer trains). With the windows and doors wide open, you don’t really need them though.
I travelled all the way from Ella to Kandy in third-class reserved (7+ hours) and it was fantastic.
The seats were comfortable enough. And, while I had a guaranteed seat for the entire journey, I spent most of it standing/sitting by the open door and chatting with the other people (mostly locals) in the vestibule.
Even if you intend to do the same, it’s still much better to have a reserved seat, even if you just use this space to store your luggage. Otherwise, you might struggle to find places to store your stuff.
Third Class Unreserved
Third-class unreserved are the cheapest tickets on offer.
As with second class, the actual carriages for 3rd class reserved and unreserved are the same. And similarly, unreserved can get extremely busy, with lots of people standing.
Seats are not allocated, so everyone squeezes into whatever space they can find.
You’ll rub shoulders with a wide range of people, all just looking for a cheap way to travel around the country.
The carriages can be somewhat cramped and uncomfortable, but the atmosphere is usually great. People will probably be interested to talk and share their food with you.
It’s an amazing opportunity to meet locals and get to know more about their culture and customs firsthand.
Travelling in third-class unreserved can be quite fun as long as you don’t have too much luggage with you, you avoid the morning rush-hour trains, and you don’t mind standing up for some of the trip.
If you have lots of luggage and need to travel in 3rd class unreserved… I wish you good luck.
How to Book Train Tickets in Sri Lanka
There are 4 main ways to book Sri Lanka Railways tickets:
- in person at the station
- online using the Sri Lanka Railways website
- using a pre-paid Dialog phone SIM card
- via 12Go Asia (best)
Reserved tickets go on sale at 10 am, 30 days before the travel date, and often sell out fast. Try to book as early as you can to avoid disappointment.
In person at the station ticket office (okay for unreserved tickets)
The first time I caught a train in Sri Lanka – from Colombo to Weligama – I bought my tickets in person at the station, just before the train departed.
Sadly, there were no reserved tickets left, so I had to annoy several people on the train and move around at various points in the journey when seats became available. I subsequently learned that this is very common. Sad times.
It’s sometimes possible to buy reserved tickets at the station, especially if you can go there a few days before the date you want to travel.
At Colombo Fort, head to ticket counter 17 and the “Intercity Reservations Office” to try your luck. In Kandy, go to counters 1 and 2, which are marked “Intercity”.
However, reserved tickets often sell out (sometimes way in advance), so I’d only recommend this method if you don’t mind taking your chances with unreserved tickets.
Online booking using the Sri Lanka Railways website (reserved tickets)
First off, the Sri Lanka Railways online booking system doesn’t always work. The website isn’t great and tends to crash from time to time.
The system also currently requires you to have a local Sri Lankan mobile number. So, this isn’t likely to be a good option for short-term travellers.
If you can get it to work, the website allows you to book reserved tickets online and pay for them using a Visa or Mastercard.
You still need to collect the physical tickets at the station using the collection reference number you get after making a successful booking.
The Dialog method (can work for long-term travellers)
If you have a local Sri Lankan SIM card from Dialog, you can also reserve train tickets in advance by dialing “444”. This will connect you with an operator – tell them that you want to reserve train tickets.
(You can also use this service to reserve tickets for cricket matches!)
Then you state which train you want to book tickets for (have the details handy), on which date, how many tickets you need (up to a maximum of 5 per train), and which class of ticket you’d like.
Dialog then deducts the cost of the tickets, plus a tiny service fee (about 8 LKR) from your pre-paid balance.
You need to have enough credit on your account in order to do this. Use the Dialog app to check if you’re not sure, and go to a Dialog shop to top up if necessary.
You still need to collect your physical tickets from the station before you travel. Dialog will send you a text message with your reference number, which you show (along with your passport) to collect the tickets.
Note: You need to actually be in Sri Lanka in order to make reservations through Dialog, so this is only really likely to be a good option if you’re in Sri Lanka for an extended period of time (and have a Dialog SIM).
12Go Asia (my preferred method for buying reserved tickets from Colombo to Kandy)
12Go Asia is an online agency that you can use to book bus and train tickets, as well as private transfers and pre-booked taxis throughout Asia. I’ve used it quite a lot and it’s a great service.
Even though it costs around $1 more per ticket, this is still my preferred method for buying Sri Lankan Railway tickets.
There’s no need to mess around with unreliable government websites. You can make reservations well in advance, giving you a better chance of being able to secure the tickets you want.
You don’t even need to be in the country so can get everything booked at home before you get to Sri Lanka. This is particularly helpful for people who are visiting Sri Lanka on holiday and want to get everything sorted in advance.
Note: 12Go Asia describes their tickets as “e-tickets”. However, somewhat unhelpfully, the ticket inspectors won’t actually accept these as valid tickets.
Instead, you need to collect your physical tickets from the ticket collection counter at the station, using the reference number. So, factor in time for this when you arrive at the station before your train.
Alternatively, you can pay extra for your tickets to be posted to your hotel in Colombo (although I’ve never used this service).
Also, 12Go recommends that you book your tickets at least 4 weeks in advance of the date of travel. This isn’t always necessary in my experience, although I still recommend buying them as early as you can in case of any issues.
Finally, you can only use this to book reserved tickets, unreserved tickets can only be bought at the station on the day of departure.
Best Time to Travel From Colombo to Kandy by Train
If you don’t mind waking up really early, the first train from Colombo to Kandy (which departs at 05:55) is often one of the quietest – and therefore best – trains to take.
Even if you aren’t able to get a reserved seat, you hopefully shouldn’t struggle to find a seat at this time in the morning.
However, if you (like me) prefer not to wake up so early, I’d recommend waiting until at least the 10:35 train service. Many people use the 07:00 and 08:30 trains to get to work, and they’re often packed with commuters.
From the 10:35 service onwards, the trains tend to be much less crowded. Although it’s still a good idea to have a reserved seat if you can.
Kandy to Colombo Train
If you need to take the train to Colombo from Kandy, much of the above information is the same.
Here’s some extra info that might be helpful.
Kandy to Colombo train schedule
As of January 2024, the train schedule from Kandy to Colombo is as follows:
|2 hrs 42 mins
|3 hrs 7 mins
|2 hrs 36 mins
|2 hrs 35 mins
|3 hrs 25 mins
|3 hrs 25 mins
|2 hrs 37 mins
|Udarata Menike (express train)
|2 hrs 36 mins
|3 hrs 14 mins
|2 hrs 57 mins
|Podi Menike (express train)
|2 hrs 50 mins
|Sat, Sun &
Check the Sri Lanka Railways website for the most up-to-date train timetables.
Kandy to Colombo train ticket prices
The train tickets from Kandy to Colombo cost the same as from Colombo to Kandy.
In other words:
- 1st class (reserved): 2,000 LKR
- 2nd class reserved: 1,200 LKR
- 2nd class unreserved: 500 LKR
- 3rd class reserved: 900 LKR
- 3rd class unreserved: 240 LKR
Kandy to Colombo train: online booking = best
The best way to book the Kandy to Colombo train is via 12Go Asia, as described above.
Top-Rated Sri Lanka Tours
If you’re pressed for time, or would simply like someone else to take care of all the planning and logistics, here’s a selection of some of the best tours in Sri Lanka.
- Private 8-day tour of Sri Lanka (includes transport and hotel accommodation)
- 3-day tour of Sigiriya, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Ella & Udawalawe from Colombo
- Full-day safari tour of Yala National Park
- Full-day tour of Galle from Colombo
- Half-day tuk-tuk tour of Colombo
- Market tour & cooking class in Colombo
- Day tour to Sigiriya & Dambulla cave temples from Kandy
- Day tour to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy
- Private street food tour of Kandy
- Kandy to Ella train tickets with reserved seats (very difficult to secure without booking through a tour company like this)
An Alternative: Taking the Bus From Colombo to Kandy
Another (very cheap) way to get from Colombo to Kandy is to take the bus. The scenery is similarly beautiful, and the journey takes about the same amount of time (3–3.5 hours) as the train, depending on the traffic.
There are two types of buses to choose from.
Public bus from Colombo to Kandy
Public buses are the cheapest way to get from Colombo to Kandy. Tickets cost just 155 LKR ($0.75 USD). You can’t reserve a seat in advance, just pay the driver in cash as you get on board.
However, public buses in Sri Lanka tend to be quite cramped. You won’t be able to stand up and walk around, and there’s less space for luggage.
Personally, I’d much rather take the train (even in unreserved 2nd or 3rd) than the bus as it’s usually more comfortable.
But if you still want to take the bus from Colombo to Kandy, they depart from Colombo’s Central Bus Stand (also known as Pettah bus station) every 15 minutes or so. These buses run 24/7, with a slightly reduced service throughout the night.
Pettah bus station is right next to Colombo Fort railway station. You want bus number 1, which should have “01 Colombo – Kandy” displayed on the front. Ask someone if you can’t find it.
AC coach from Colombo to Kandy
There are also a few air-conditioned coaches that run between Colombo and Kandy. These cost 2,500–3,000 LKR ($7.50–9 USD) and can be reserved online through 12Go Asia, just like with train tickets.
This is more expensive even than a first-class ticket on the train, although admittedly it’s still pretty cheap.
However, cost aside, taking the train is still far more fun than the coach, and a much more memorable experience.
I’d only really recommend taking the coach if, for whatever reason, there are issues with the train. And/or if you aren’t able to get reserved (1st, 2nd, or 3rd class) train tickets but don’t feel confident chancing it with unreserved.
Colombo Airport to Kandy
If you’re coming from Colombo airport, the easiest and quickest way to get to Kandy is to take a private transfer straight from the airport.
This avoids needing to go from the airport (which is actually in Negombo) into the centre of Colombo city. It will save you at least half a day of travelling and a lot of hassle.
Taking the Colombo to Hatton Train (or Colombo to Nanu Oya, Ella & Badulla)
Some trains from Colombo to Kandy terminate at Kandy. Others continue onwards through the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka to other destinations, including Hatton, Nanu Oya, Ella, and Badulla.
Hatton is the closest railway station to Adam’s Peak, while Nanu Oya is the closest station to Nuwara Eliya.
This section of track after Kandy is sometimes called the Tea Country Line, or the Hill Country Line, and is one of the most picturesque stretches of railway in the world.
However, most of the world now knows this (thanks, Instagram).
Be warned that the train from Kandy to Ella is usually jam-packed, unless you get the very first train of the day. Reserved tickets often sell out within minutes of being released.
For some reason, virtually all tourists who want to experience this famous stretch of railway choose to travel from Kandy to Ella. My number one tip is to travel in the opposite direction.
Taking the train from Ella to Kandy (not Kandy to Ella) is so much better. Same track, same train, same views. But about 90% fewer tourists all dressed up and hanging out of the doors.
And you’re much more likely to be able to book reserved tickets. It’s just better.
Where to Stay in Kandy
Kandy is the cultural capital of Sri Lanka. There’s no shortage of great places to stay here, with something for all budgets and preferences.
Here are some of the best options:
Budget: City Breeze Residence
Mid-range: Skyloft Kandy
Luxury: The Theva Residency
FAQs About Travelling From Colombo to Kandy by Train
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about taking the train from Colombo to Kandy.
Is Colombo to Kandy train available?
Yes, there are around 7–9 direct trains per day from Colombo Fort to Kandy station.
How long is the train from Colombo to Kandy?
The train from Colombo to Kandy usually takes between 2.5–3.5 hours.
How much is the ticket from Kandy to Colombo?
Tickets from Kandy to Colombo cost between 240 LKR ($0.70 USD) for unreserved third class and 2,000 LKR ($6) for first class.
What is the most beautiful train ride in Sri Lanka?
The most beautiful train ride in Sri Lanka is between Colombo and Badulla. Kandy is located approximately halfway along this route, so you’ll travel about half of it going from Colombo to Kandy.
How much is a taxi from Colombo to Kandy?
A taxi from Colombo to Kandy should cost approximately 20,000–25,000 LKR ($60–75 USD). Agree on a price with the driver in advance.
Does Kandy have an airport?
No, Kandy does not have an airport. The closest airport to Kandy is Colombo (Bandaranaike) international airport.
When should I go to Kandy?
The best time to visit Kandy is between December and May. The weather is mostly dry, sunny, and pleasant during these months.
Do you need to pay extra for luggage on Sri Lanka Railways?
No, you don’t need to pay extra for luggage when you travel on the train in Sri Lanka.
Do Sri Lankan trains have WiFi?
No, Sri Lankan trains don’t have WiFi. Look out of the window instead – the views are wonderful!
Is food available on the train from Colombo to Kandy?
Most trains from Colombo to Kandy don’t have dining cars. However, at various stations along the way vendors will walk through the carriages selling various things to eat and drink.
You can get tea, water, soft drinks, snacks, fruit, and even hot food like samosas, hoppers, and curries. Of course, you can always pack your own food if you prefer.
Is it safe to travel from Colombo to Kandy by train?
Yes, travelling around Sri Lanka is on the whole very safe, including train travel. Just be on your guard for pickpockets, as you would anywhere else in the world.
That said, you’ll probably see people hanging out of the open doors on trains, especially people trying to get that Instagram shot. Several people have died in the past doing this – use common sense.
What time is the first train from Colombo to Kandy?
The first train from Colombo to Kandy leaves Colombo Fort at 05:55 and arrives in Kandy at 08:46.
What time is the last train from Colombo to Kandy?
The last train from Colombo to Kandy leaves Colombo Fort at 17:45 and arrives in Kandy at 20:55.
Final Thoughts: Travelling From Colombo to Kandy by Train
Now you know everything you need to know about how to travel from Colombo to Kandy by train.
I hope this guide has been helpful, and that you enjoy this stunning train journey.
Let me know how it goes!