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Feb 09 2016

Nuwara Eliya: Sri Lanka’s ‘Little England’

Nuwara EliyaAs I only had a week in Sri Lanka, I didn’t want to waste the short time I had there.  After checking out Kandy, I decided to go straight to Ella because I had heard so much about the place.  What I hadn’t realised was that the last train leaves Kandy before midday, and there is no direct bus to Ella.  That left me with two choices: stay in Kandy for another night, but get up early in the hope that I could get on a direct train to Ella or go by bus that afternoon to Nurwara Eliya, so I could get another bus to Ella.  It was pushing four o’clock when I left Kandy on a local bus, so I wasn’t expecting to get as far as Ella that day.  I didn’t.  It was another crazy bus journey, but the view on the way was amazing because we passed tons of lush, green tea plantations.
Tea Plantations Kandy to Nuwara Eliya

When I arrived, it was dark, but I wasn’t expecting to have difficulty finding a place to stay.  What I hadn’t anticipated was the volume of Sri Lankans on holiday.  That meant most of the accommodation was booked up and expensive.  I was lucky to find a place to lay my head for the night because, at one point, I didn’t think I would.

Since I wasn’t expecting to go to Nuwara Eliya, I didn’t know much about it.  That wasn’t a problem because my tuk tuk driver gave me the low down.  Nuwara Eliya is known as ‘Little England’ because it has a colder climate and the houses are similar to England.  He was right about the climate.  It was cold, really cold at night, but I didn’t think the houses looked a bit like the ones in England.   There’s more to it than that, though, having done a bit of research.  In 1818, a British Surgeon called Dr John Davy discovered Nuwara Eliya which hadn’t been used as a settlement for centuries.  It was Sir Edward Barnes and Major Skinner who, while constructing roads and bridges throughout the country, made it easier for people to get around and places like Nuwara Eliya became more accessible.  Sir Edward Barnes settled in Nuwara Eliya for a period of time.  He loved it there, and his enthusiasm for the place brushed off on others.  Another Brit, Samuel Baker, started to promote the town in the mid-18th century.  He started growing English vegetables, brought cattle from England, and encouraged other Brits to settle in this exotic yet cool climate.  During the 20th century, the town continued to develop with golf clubs, holiday homes, and flower shows, and flourish because of all the Brits visiting and settling in the town.

 Nuwara Eliya Little England

Having spent the night in this cold part of Sri Lanka, the following morning, I went out onto the narrow balcony to see the view I had missed the night before.  The view was fantastic with Lake Gregory and the tea plantations.
Balcony view of Lake GregoryI knew I would have to move on to Ella that day if I wanted to see all the things that were on the list in my head.  I walked the length of the lake towards the town on the roadside.  If you want to walk by the lake, foreigners have to pay 200 rupees, which is only £1, but, to put it in perspective, the bus from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya was 270 rupees.  I was happy enough because I had the view of the lake, and I spotted some cows casually crossing the street.  I wonder if they are descendants of the English cattle that came over in the 19th century! Lake Gregory

On the way into town, I was hoping to stop for breakfast.  I got fed up looking, and hopped on a bus for 10 rupees (approx. 5p).  After getting something to eat, it was time to move on.  I went to the bus station, and asked for a bus to Ella.  I was told I couldn’t get a direct bus to Ella.  That wasn’t what I had been told in Kandy.  Rather than hanging around, I made a split-second decision and decided to go for it.  I got on the bus, and expected to change once on the way to Ella.  It wasn’t quite that easy, but it rarely ever is!

My Thoughts

I had very little time in Nuwara Eliya.  I would certainly like to return and have a bit more time to explore.  I would also want to be closer to street level.  The place I stayed at was so high up, and so far from the town, I really had to rely on the tuk tuk driver I was staying with.  On that particular occasion, I had no choice.

It’s important to note that if you are going to be in Nuwara Eliya over Christmas and during the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year in April, it would be wise to book accommodation well in advance.  If not, you could experience difficulties, as I did, trying to find a place to stay because Sri Lankans holiday en masse in this region at these times of year.


This is where Nuwara Eliya is on the map. It doesn’t have a train station, so you will have to get a local bus or, if you’re brave enough, you could drive.

Center map
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Have you been to Nuwara Eliya?  If so, what was your favourite bit?

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