The Sri Lankan City Of Light (Nuwara Eliya) stands tall amongst all the rest of Sri Lanka—for many reasons!
Nuwara Eliya is a small city located in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country and is often referred to as Little England for its temperate climate. It’s also nestled in the skirts of Sri Lanka’s tallest mountain, Pidurutalagala, which stands at 2,524 meters.
The city was founded quite recently, in relation to most of Sri Lanka, in the year 1846, by British explorer Samuel Baker, who also discovered Lake Albert and explored the Nile. The region was used as a vacation destination for British colonialists seeking elephant, fox and deer hunting. The location and high altitude lends to a cooler climate, which has made this area a popular destination vacation.
The Hakgala Botanical Garden is a nearby attraction that lends to Nuwara Eliya’s popularity. The garden was established during the 1880’s. There are over 10,000 species of sub-tropical and temperate plants growing here.
Things to Do and Places to Visit
1. Victoria Park
Victoria Park in Nuwara Eliya is one of the oldest parks in the country. In the middle of the busy town of Little England, you can walk through a calm and peaceful area while enjoying the vacation at Nuwara Eliya. Initially, it was the field research centre of Hakgala botanical garden. In 1897 it was renamed to celebrate the diamond jubilee of queen victoria. With an area of over 25 acres, this park has a beautiful garden full of flowers during the blooming season. Since then the best time to visit is March to May or August to December. However the park is open every day, you can enjoy the scenic green meadows bordered with towering trees. The first plant in the park in an “Oaktree” planted by a German Princess.
Nanuoya flows through the park, making it a heaven for nature lovers. Also, Victoria Park is an excellent place to see birds in the area, especially the endemic birds in the hill country. For the easy trekking, there are paved pathways to enjoy the flower beds in order. However, there are a few natural off beaten paths for the nature lovers to experience the true beauty of the Victoria Park. You need to buy a ticket to enter the park, if you take kids with you, they have a separate play area as well.
2. Gregory Lake
Gregory lake is one of the major tourist attractions in Nuwara Eliya. This is not in the middle of town, you need to drive around two kilometres to reach this in Welimada road. In 1873 one of the British governors made this lake for recreational purposes of the Planters and British families in the area. First, it was a small damp area bordering to low hills in the town. Mainly they did fishing in the lake as they introduced trout fish in 1881. Later they expanded by blocking the Thalagala water stream.
Nowadays this lake is supporting a hydro plant in Blackpool with the water sending through a tunnel. Other than that Gregory lake is an excellent spot for water sports in Hill country. There are a lot of boat services and horse riding services close to the Gregory lake. So it a place for adventures with your family. And also it is used by domestic flight operators to land their seaplanes when they get passengers visiting this beautiful city.
3. Golf Club
Same as most of the attractions in Nuwara Eliya, Golf club is also a part of colonialism in old Ceylon. When the British planters started to settle in the hill country, they built various entertaining places for their families. This 18-hole golf course was built in 1889 by a Scottish soldier who served for the British army in Sri Lanka. The total area of the golf club is around 100 acres with the old buildings of the golf club. The club is still active over 2000 members. Even if you want to play golf there, you can pay an hourly amount and enjoy a game with friends and family.
Since it has a large holiday home built for British planters, they have a small hotel in the middle of the land, which is a fantastic place to stay in Nuwara Eliya. So even if you don’t like to play Golf, having a drink in the Golf club would be a different experience for you.
4. Nuwara Eliya Post Office
Nuwara Eliya post office is one of the iconic buildings from the Colonial Era. It is a beautiful Tudor mansion with a clock tower and a living quarters of the postmaster on the second floor. In 1894, the British wanted to build this for getting mails from their families in England. So this is the oldest post office in Sri Lanka. It is located in the middle of the city, with red bricks with white bricks makes it a landmark of the city.
Later in 2012, they decided to turn the second floor as tourist accommodation, so people can stay inside this beautiful building and enjoy the beautiful mansion. Even if you don’t get a chance to stay in the post office, you can still visit this beautiful piece of British architecture in the heart of Nuwara Eliya town. They have a small souvenir shop to sell pretty postcards as well.
5. Visit Pidurutalagala
Pidurutalagala is the highest mountain peak in Sri Lanka. Also known as Pedro mountain with a height of 2524meters. Not like many mountain treks in the country, you can drive up to the viewpoint of Pidurutalagala. The summit is an important area for the telecommunication towers in Sri Lanka. Since the central radar system is also located at the summit, it is a high-security zone which is secured by the military army. However, you can drive after obtaining permission from the first checkpoint. Most importantly, you can’t get down or stop on the way due to security reasons. And also don’t forget to keep your ID or passport as they check everything before issuing the ticket for your vehicle.
The view from the summit is impressive with all other mountains next to each other. In a clear day, you could see the whole Horton Plains National Park as well. When driving to the peak, you can enjoy the picturesque view of the montane forest beside the road. This forest cover once destroyed by the wildfires and the authorities were able to build it back. If you are driving from Nuwara Eliya, it is just a half an hour journey to reach the summit. Morning hours are preferred as the mist could cover the whole area during the evenings.
6. Ramboda Falls
Even it is a bit outskirt the Nuwara Eliya suburbs, Ramboda falls an awe-inspiring waterfall to visit in Sri Lanka. You can reach Ramboda falls from the Pussellawa road from Nuwara Eliya. As the eleventh highest waterfall in Sri Lanka, it has a spectacular view among the tea estates. If you are not ready to get closer to the waterfall, you can still enjoy that from the main road. But paying a small amount to the hotel and getting closer would be great as you get much closer to the fall. It is such a beautiful location for breathtaking pictures with the waterfall in the backdrop. Also, you can get in to the bottom part of the waterfall if it is not the rainy season for the area.
Next to the closer viewing platform, you can take the road to the top of the waterfall to enjoy the scenery from the top. It has a few different cascades and a rocky outcrop with small slippery rocks. Since then, it is better to wear proper gear for the hike. Once you reach the top after a thirty-minute walk, you are approximately 109 m above from the base. Even you don’t want to climb up to the top, staying in the bottom would be a great chance to enjoy the true beauty of a natural waterfall in Sri Lanka.
7. Trek a Tea Plantation
Trekking through a tea plantation could be a little different from a trek through a mountain. In Sri Lanka, they still do pick tea by fingers, and they do that in an excellent way of controlling their fingers. In the area of Nuwara Eliya, you can visit the Pedro estate for a walking tour in the estate. It is just around 7-kilo meters to the estate from the town, and you can quickly get a tuk-tuk to visit the estate.
Tea tour is happening inside the factory as well, but walking tour outside is more attractive as you get a chance to pluck tea. Not everyone can do that, and you need to know what leaves are suitable for the tea making process. It will be a great chance to learn about tea plantation in the field than talking about the machinery process inside the factory. Friendliest staff in the estate will always welcome you with a smile on the face, and they even teach you how to do the plucking like a pro. Some roads during the trek could be a bit challenging after the rains, so better to wear proper shoes for an everlasting memory in the land of Tea.
8. Labookellie Tea Factory
Visiting a tea factory is a must-do if you are in Little England for your holidays. The labookellie tea factory is known as the closest to the town and has a great tea tour for the visitors. And another essential thing to remember is that they still use the traditional ways of processing. It is about five kilometres away from Nuwara Eliya, over 2000m above sea level in the middle of lush tea estates.
This factory and the estate owned by Damro, a pioneer in the tea business in Sri Lanka. They own more than 27000 acres of tea plantations in the Nuwara Eliya area. Once you get in to the factory area, you can see the logo of Mackwood in the middle of the tea estate. The visitors’ centre is expanded to give more space for the visitors. They start tea tours every day at 8.30 AM from the visitors’ centre. Even after 178 years, they still have one section to work with old types of machinery from the colonial era. The tea tour is entirely free, yet you will have to pay if you buy tea during the visit. Outside the visitors’ centre, they have a souvenir shop and a small restaurant as well. They are having a fresh cup of Ceylon tea after the tea tour, so it will be a great chance to enjoy the tea culture in Little England.
9. Lovers Leap Waterfall
With the surrounding misty hills, water streams in hill country create a large number of waterfalls in the region. In the Ncentreliya area, You can easily visit lovers leap waterfall a few miles away from the town. You could take the small road through the tea estate and then get into the foot path to reach the waterfall. If you are too lazy to walk, you can find a tuk easily from the main road which will be around 8$ for the ride.
This beautiful waterfall is around thirty meters in height, yet having a not beautiful story behind the name. As per the folklores during the colonial era, a couple has decided to praise their love by jumping from the top of the fall to their death. Since then, villagers avoid visiting the waterfall after evenings. The best time to visit Lovers leap is late morning, as it gives a real relaxing experience if you manage to get close to the base. The road towards the waterfall is a bit steep and challenging, so you need to be in a good fit for a visit. However, from the lower level in the middle of plantations also you can see this impressive waterfall in a beautiful backdrop of tea plantations.
10. Hakgala Gardens
Hakgala botanical garden is the second largest botanical garden in Sri Lanka, rich with a high diversity of flora in the hill country. In 1861, British colonials started the garden as a place to grow medicinal crop Cinchona. But years later, it becomes a Tea grden by replacing Cinchona and in 1884, became a Botanical garden. You can visit this fantastic piece of land with exciting flora by travelling sixteen kilometres away from the Nuwara Eliya town towards Badulla. As this garden is adjacent to the Hakgala Strict Nature Reserve, it has a considerable amount of fauna as well.
There are about ten thousand plant species in the Hakgala botanical garden. You can visit different sections in the garden-themed as a rose garden, Rock garden, and fern Garden and a few other areas as well. Other than the native trees in Hakgala, it is famous for orchids and roses as well. Even you don’t feel the four seasons in other areas of the country, Nuwara Eliya is a little exception. Since then, especially during the spring, thousands of visitors get into the botanical garden to see the new flowers blooming after winter, the coldest months in the country. If you are a person in good health, it will worth walking in the hill roads and explore every inch of this exotic land to have a great experience in this well-kept Botanical garden.
11. Seetha Amman Temple
Sri Lankan History has a great story to tell you about the King Ravana. As this ancient king has kidnapped a princess from India, her husband has to send someone to rescue her. As folklores, Hanuman came and met Seetha at Seetha Eliya four kilometres away from Nuwara Eliya. As she could not see the sunlight for a long time in prison of King Ravana, she wasn’t able to see the light and Hanuman gave her the sight back. Since then, Hanuman is known as a god in Sri Lankan and Indian culture. Even he is a god for Indians, and this temple is the only Seetha-Amman temple in the world. In the front yard, it is believed the carving of rock is footprints of God Hanuman.
This temple has a history dating back to more than five thousand years. However the temple is a small place beside the road, and if you don’t pay attention, you will miss that. It is on Hakgala-Nuwraeliaya road, with a bright yellow building as the landmark. The staff of the temple could tell you the whole interesting Ramayana story if you are interested in Hindu mythologies.
12. High Tea at Grand Hotel Nuwara Eliya
If you are looking for a typical British Tea party during your holidays in Sri Lanka, Nuwaraleiya is the best place to experience that. The Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya is an excellent destination for high tea lovers. This hotel was a residence of a British governor in 1830, so it has a touch of old British colonial architecture. Even after several decades, they have preserved this beautiful mansion turning into a hotel. It is located in the heart of Nuwara Eliya, so no hassle of finding this luxurious grand property in Little England.
In the half-open lounge, they serve freshly baked cakes with a bulging buffet, including fresh sandwiches in different choices. They start the High -tea at 3.30 pm sharp and runs until 6.30 PM every day. With the cold weather of Little England, having a cup of Ceylon tea with dainty cakes would be a great experience for you in Sri Lanka.
13. Visit Strawberry Fields
With a cold climate in Nuwara Eliya, it is a popular area to grow strawberries in Sri Lanka. In Nuwara Eliya, there are several farms and shops to sell freshly picked strawberries. In some farms, they allowed to visit and see the cultivation in tunnels and open fields. If you are visiting the area, there are two leading farms to visit for seeing the crop of strawberries. One is known as “Jagro,” a pioneer in the business of fresh strawberries. With their special tunnels, they produce harvest within three to five months. It is a great place to visit on your way to Pattipola, which is a few kilometres away from the town.
The next big farm is called Ramya Horticulture, close to the Meepilimana road. You will not miss it if you notice the considerable windmill as a prominent landmark. They have designed a tour on the farm for visitors. During the trail, you can head into a greenhouse and pluck some fresh strawberries under the supervision of the guide. In Ramya Horticulture, there are seven polytunnels with varieties of strawberries. In both farms, they have separate sales centre for fresh berries and value-added products such as jam and other sweet snacks.
14. Moon Plains
Another famous destination in Nuwara Eliya is moon Plains, which is a 360 view above the mountains. It is also a government potato farm, so you can’t take your own vehicles to the area. To get in to this area, you need to travel around 2.5km from the Nuwara Eliya town towards Seethaeliya. Local communities have a safari jeep service to give you a high chance of exploring moon Plains in an open vehicle. As it is a newly opened tourist destination by government, you have to buy a ticket before taking a jeep.
In a clear day, moon Plains viewpoint gives a spectacular view of neighbouring mountains. Somedays it could give you a clear view of Southern Plains as well. PiduruthalaGala and Kikiliyamana are the clearest summits as it is closer to moon Plains. However, if you take a morning safari, you could easily see the birds and other wildlife as well. There are around a hundred records of resident birds in MoonPlains while 16 of them are endemic to the country. Other than birds, wild boars and sambar deers are also a magnificent sight in this ecosystem.
15. Visit Ambewela and New Zealand Farms
Since Nuwara Eliya has an excellent climate for having dairy farms, there are two largest farms in the country. Both farms are owned by Lanka milk foods company, where they maintain a high blood line of Friesian cows. Ambewela farm is just 17km away from the Nuwara Eliya town, an excellent stop to enjoy a fresh cup of milk on your way to Horton Plains. As they have health concerns, Ambewela is not open for visitors to explore the farm. But they operate a nice restaurant and a shop to buy dairy products for a very affordable price.
Next farm is known as New Zealand farm, around 4 kilometres away from Ambewela. This is also a part of the same farm company, located in Pattipola area. Pattipola farm is open 365 days from 8PM-6PM for the visitors. If you make your way for a tour on this farm, you could explore the lush grasslands with magnificent cows with high breeds. In the sales centre of the farm, they sell various value-added products for the visitors. You can visit this by vehicle, but inside the park, you need to walk around to get a better experience of dairy farming in Sri Lanka.
16. St. Clair’s Falls
St Clair’s waterfall is the 20th highest waterfall in Sri Lanka. As it is one of the widest waterfalls in the country, it is quite famous for its picturesque view. Its actually two waterfalls twinning and making a massive one waterfall. Since this has several extensive cascades, it is also known as the little Niagara in Sri Lanka. If you are planning to visit this waterfall, it is just three kilometres away from the Thalawakale town from Hatton. As it is close to the main road, this is one of the most visited waterfalls in Sri Lanka.
St Clair’s waterfall is originated by the Kotmale river, running through the lush tea gardens over a rocky ridge. With a width of 50 meters, it breaks into three cascades and making a large pool. If you want to get a closer look, follow the footpath below the viewpoint deck through the tea estate. Once you reach the base, there is another path to the top of the waterfall as well. Since it can be very slippery, it is crucial to pay more attention to your safety if you want to climb up to the waterfall.
17. Bomuru Ella
Bomuru Ella is a beautiful waterfall located at the Seetha Eliya—Kandapola forest reserve. The waterfall drops thirty meters in height and is created from the Uma Oya River, which originates from Kotakithula mountain. Bomuru Ella is known as the widest waterfall in Sri Lanka because several small waterfalls grouped together to create it. This waterfall is located 15 km away from Welimada town. You can reach the waterfall by hiking five hundred meters from the main road of Badulla—Bomuru Ella.
Even this can be seen from the highway, take the hike for a better view up close to the waterfall. The walk can be a bit tiring, yet the reward is an impressive picturesque waterfall. As it is surrounded by several mountains, you get a beautiful green backdrop for the waterfall. As the base of the waterfall has a grassland to sit and enjoy the view, it is also can be a good picnic spot. If you are visiting in a weekend, there can be many visitors as locals travel on weekends. So make sure you get a bit early to get a better view in a peaceful morning. It’s not possible to dip into the waterfall as no access road is there to reach the bottom part.
18. Lakshapana Falls
Laxapana waterfall is the eighth highest waterfall in Sri Lanka with a fantastic view. It’s one hundred and twenty-nine meters in height and originates from the Maskeliya Oya river. A trail starting from pathana village will lead right to this beautiful waterfall. Visiting this waterfall is easy as it is just 16 kilometres away from Maskeliya town. It would be best if you travelled in Nuwara Eliya road to the small village Norton bridge and then to the 4th-mile post. From there, take the small lane that leads to the waterfall. It has nearly 1000 steps to climb and halfway you will hear the sound of the waterfall. So it is a total reward for you after a long walk.
In the bottom part of the waterfall, you could easily take some great instagrammble pictures. But as the rocks are slippery, you need to be careful when stepping on the rocks. In a dry season, you could get into the water, but never in a rainy season. You can also reach the top of the waterfall by walking five hundred meters away and climbing along the road for 2.3 km. It gives a spectacular view from the top of this massive waterfall.
19. Devon Falls
Devon waterfall is a ninety-seven-meter high waterfall located at Thalawakale, above 1,140 meters from sea level, and is formed by the Kothmale Oya river. The best viewpoint is known as Dimbula on the Hatton—Nuwara Eliya road near the Mlesna tea centre. Another perspective is at the Watagoda railway station between Thalawakale and Nanu Oya. The waterfall was named after a British coffee planter named devon, who owned the lands around the waterfall.
Being the 19th highest waterfall in Sri Lanka, it has a great view if you could manage to walk through the tea plantations to the top. It originated by Kotmale Oya and went down to the Mahaweli river. Due to the beautiful view from the main road, it is popular among travellers. It is highly advised not to dip into the waterfall as the flash floods are seen more often in this waterfall. Recently it was impacted with upper Kotmale hydropower project, yet have high water levels every day. However, from December to march, it has the full force of water due to the monsoons. So it would be the best time to visit, yet it gives a fantastic view throughout the year. So it is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Sri Lanka.
20. Singletree Hill
Singletree hill is the ninth highest mountain in Sri Lanka, also a great viewpoint in Nuwara Eliya. Its 2100 meters above from the sea level, but just 250meters above the Nuwara Eliya city. This mountain has an access road that you could go to in a vehicle, but most people choose to hike the mountain. As there is a Buddhist temple on the top of the hill, you have to pass that before the viewpoint. The trek can be a little challenging, with slippery rocks that have been washed away. So better to wear comfortable shoes for this trip up to the summit on the Singletree hill.
Close-by village is called “Shanthithapura,” which is the highest village in the country. Once you start the trail through the tea plantations, you can enjoy the scenic beauty of lush tea estates, as well. This trek gives you a spectacular view of the underneath city of Nuwara Eliya and misty mountains around the city. On a clear day, you could see the Adams peak, seven virgin hills, and Pedro mountain beside the singletree hill. This trek is a must-do in Nuwara Eliya to enjoy the beauty of the highlands in a birds-eye view.
21. Galway’s Land Bird Sanctuary
Galway’s lands National Park is a small protected area close to Nuwara Eliya. It is located close to the victoria park, around 15 minutes away from the town. First, it was declared as a National Park in 1938, and later in 2006, it became a National Park in Sri Lanka as it has a montane highlands vegetation, it is a popular destination for bird watching in central highlands. It is home for 30 native birds and 20 rare migrant birds. Also, it has several hill country endemic birds, that you could enjoy seeing in the wild. Even though its called a bird sanctuary, you can see numerous reptiles and small mammals as well. Especially look out for sambar deer and elusive leopards when you are visiting this National Park. It is a great place to see some of the rare endemic flora as it has a montane cloud forest inside the park. You can buy a ticket from the office in the park entrance and uniquely enjoy nature.
Getting In and Around
The nearest station to Nuwara Eliya is Nanu Oya. Podi Menike and Udara Menike are the two trains that can take one from Kandy and Colombo. Buses are frequent at the station, so one can board one to Nuwara Eliya. It takes about 4 hours from Kandy in a private intercity express van. Colombo is also well connected by intercity express buses taking about 6 hours per ride. There are direct CTB buses to Haputale. From Welimada and Bandarawela, take any of the frequent buses to Welimada, where you can change to a Haputale-bound bus. To get to Matara, a single intercity express bus leaves about 7:30 each morning and takes up to eight hours.
When to Go
Best time: January to April.
Time to avoid: October to December.
Where to Sleep
St. Andrews Hotel
This hotel is designed in the Colonial style and is the most luxurious hotel in the area. It has all amenities, food, and is known for stocking beverages as well.
Experience luxury at its best with state-of-the-art amenities here at Grand Hotel. This hotel is grand in every sense of the word.
Rising Lion Guesthouse
This hotel is a must-stay for people who travel in groups or are budget travelers by nature. All facilities are provided at a cheaper alternative.
Where to Eat
The Old Course Restaurant
Set inside St. Andrews hotel, The Old Course is the best choice for scumptious main courses, with grand Indian being the other.
Eat here to feel the tingle of spicy seafood with a mixture of drinks! Known for it’s cleanliness and delicious food, you can’t go wrong.
Lakeview Pub is a low-priced joint for unforgettable drinks. They also offer yummy Sri- Lankan, Indian, Thai, and Western dishes.
For a pick-me-up afternoon snack, Milano is a wonderful choice. This is a good place to beat the heat in the afternoons, as you’ll cool off quickly inside.
Nuwara Eliya holds so many adventures . . . it’s just waiting for you! There is no lack of waterfalls for you here—not at all! Come to Nuwara Eliya to see the wetter side of Sri Lanka. Many of these easy-to-access waterfalls have trails for you to climb—or drive—to the top and get a glimpse of standing on top of the world. Such a charming environment is one that you won’t find everywhere, in Sri Lanka, especially because the climate is less sultry here. Thanks to the steep history with British colonials, this quaint place has always been a resort style home, and has history markers, like Lovers Leap Waterfall and the Seetha Amman temple. Waterfalls aren’t the only abundant things here; don’t forget to stop by all the native plants and birds in several sanctuaries and habitats. No matter what you do in Nuwara Eliya, you’re bound to enjoy it!