The 5 Best Things to do in Ella Sri Lanka with Kids
Ella is situated in what is arguably the most beautiful part of Sri Lanka and with lots of things to do in Ella Sri Lanka with kids, it is a must-see place on your Sri Lanka itinerary. If you can tear yourself away from the beautiful Sri Lankan beaches, head up to Hill Country (via one of the national parks for an Udawalawe safari or Yala safari) for a completely different side to Sri Lanka.
Where is Ella?
Ella sits around 200 km east of Colombo and about 1041 m above sea level in the Hill Country. It’s characterized by a sea of rolling hills clad with luscious green tea plantations and often shrouded with a fine mist. The climate in the Hill Country is completely different from the rest of the country, often being several degrees cooler and is a lovely refreshing change from the heat and humidity of the rest of the island. On a clear day, you’ll be treated to uninterrupted views across the southern plains of Sri Lanka down to the south coast through the Ella Gap.
How to get to Ella
There are a few different transport options available for getting to Ella depending on where you are coming from.
Ella by train
If you’re coming from Colombo or Kandy, you can take the train to Ella. It is one of the most scenic train rides in the world, so it would be a shame not to try it. The train tracks hug the hillsides and as you round bends you get the most amazing views across the hills. The train from Colombo takes around 9 hours and around 6 hours from Kandy. If you have time it’s worth taking the train to Kandy for a couple of days at least, as the ride is incredible and there’s enough cool things to do in Kandy to make the trip worthwhile.
We have more tips on making the most of your train ride in our ‘Things to Do in Ella’ section below.
Ella by car
If you approach Ella from the south coast, there is no train available so a car is our preferred mode of transport. The journey from Galle to Ella will take anything from 3 hours and cost around LKR 15,000 (£60). As you reach the latter part of the journey, the road starts twisting and turning, looping up the valley and you start to get glimpses of the view back down south. On the way up you may want to stop off at Ravanna Falls, the second-highest waterfall in Sri Lanka.
A word of warning, our eldest suffered from car sickness on this journey because of the constant looping as we climbed. If you suffer from bad motion sickness, you might want to consider the route from Colombo which is not as bad (or take the train). We always travel with motion sickness bands in our travel first aid kit and also it helps a lot to put our son in the front seat (although see our note below on tuk-tuks).
Ella by bus
Buses are a very cheap way to get around Sri Lanka. When we travelled around Sri Lanka on a budget before having kids, they suited us just fine and were sometimes the only method of transport between destinations when a train wasn’t available. The journeys were quite hair-raising though so we decided against taking buses with the kids.
If you want to take a bus to Ella from the south coast, you will need to budget about 5 – 6 hours as there is no direct route. You take the Matara to Bandarawela bus (route 31) which departs around every 30 minutes and get off at Wellawaya (or Bandarawela) and then take a tuk-tuk to Ella which takes about 30-minutes.
Ella by tuk-tuk
We love taking tuk-tuks in Sri Lanka but personally, we wouldn’t take a tuk-tuk to Ella. We’re not advising what you should and shouldn’t do but if you’re coming from the south coast, we feel that the journey by tuk-tuk is too far. It would be an uncomfortable ride with all of your luggage but the main reason we didn’t take a tuk-tuk is because the road up to Ella from the coast is long, winding and busy.
Buses take this route because there is no train route and meeting a bus careering round the hairpin bends in a tuk-tuk is not for the faint-hearted. Even travelling by car, our driver moved our eldest son (6) into the back of the car for safety.
Things to do in Ella
We have been to Ella 3 times now and although it has changed a lot over the years and become quite busy, it’s still a wonderful place to visit. There is something for everyone, whether it be a tour around a tea factory or a hike up one of the many hills. You could also take a stroll around the local art and craft shops or simply put your feet up on the veranda of your hotel and take in a beautiful view.
There are lots of other things to do in Ella, some more suitable for children than others depending on their ages. Here is a list of our favourite things to do in Ella with kids.
1. Climb Little Adam’s Peak
This was the best day out for the kids because they love an adventure. While climbing Adam’s Peak may not be possible if you have younger kids, Little Adam’s Peak is perfect for little ones. Our kids were 3 and 5 when we visited and they managed the 2-hour round trip with no problem. There is an easy track most of the way with only a very short section at the end being a bit of a scramble.
The kids felt a great sense of achievement and loved the views from the top. On the way back as a reward, we stopped off at the stunning 98 Acres Resort & Spa for a drink. Despite Ella being in cooler climes, it was still quite warm and humid on the day we climbed Little Adam’s Peak so we took plenty of water with us and a few snacks to keep energy levels up.
2. Nine Arch Bridge
Nine Arch Bridge is probably the most iconic sight in Ella. It’s a stone bridge that was built by the British in 1921 and is a fabulous structure. The trains don’t run frequently so take a look at the train timetable if you want to get a picture of the train crossing the bridge and also if you want to walk along the track to the tunnel. There is space on the bridge for a train to pass, but it’s more of a tight squeeze in the tunnel and I would not have felt comfortable taking the kids in there knowing a train was coming!
Aerial view of Nine Arch Bridge
To get an aerial view of the Nine Arch Bridge, head out of town along the Ella-Passara road for about 3 km. We walked from our accommodation (The Chillout Ella) because we were on the right side of town and less than 1 km from the turnoff to the Nine Arch Bridge track. It was a lovely early morning stroll before the tour buses arrived.
Walk along Nine Arch Bridge
You can walk from Ella train station along the track in the direction of Demodara for about 2 km. After you pass through the tunnel, you’ll arrive at the bridge.
3. Ravana Falls
Ravana Falls is the widest and second-highest falls in Sri Lanka. They’re located about 5 km south of Ella. If you’re travelling up to Ella from the south coast in a taxi, you can ask your driver to stop off on the way. From Ella you an take a bus for about LKR 50 (£0.20) or a tuk-tuk – although see our previous advice on taking a tuk-tuk on this stretch of road.
There’s no charge to visit the falls which is good because although it’s a lovely sight, it will be a relatively quick visit. Although you can climb up to the top of the falls for spectacular views, we just stuck to the lowest level because the climb can be somewhat dangerous and we didn’t want to attempt it with the kids. The falls are made up of 3 tiers of water cascading down over rocks with various rockpools which people (mainly locals) bathe in. There are also a number of stalls lining the road where you can get snacks and souvenirs.
Make sure to watch out for the monkeys around the viewing platform as they will try to grab anything they can from you!
4. Visit a tea factory
Hill Country is all about the tea industry. Our kids enjoyed taking a tour of the Halpweatte tea factory near Ella and learn about the tea-making process. We have written a more detailed post on visiting tea estates in the Hill Country. You get to learn about the life of a tea leaf from being picked to being processed and packed.
5. Ride the Kandy to Ella train
The Kandy to Ella train ride is one of the most scenic train journeys in the world. If you aren’t planning to arrive into or depart from Ella by train, then you should at least take a short train ride. You could do a day trip to Haputale from Ella as this is a very scenic stretch and is around 2 hours each way. If you have a driver for the whole of your trip, you could consider sending your driver ahead with your bags and taking a few tops before catching up with your driver again.
Our tips for taking the train in Hill Country are:
- We would recommend taking 2nd class or even 3rd class. If you know the dates you will be travelling, you can make reservations in advance. If you turn up on the day, you will either be able to get a 2nd class unreserved seat (and may not get a seat) or 3rd class. 3rd class is not so bad and may even be less busy. This line can get extremely busy in peak season and at weekends so you may not even get a ticket on the day. It’s best to try to reserve in advance, even if it means paying a bit more.
- Sit on the right-hand side of the train on the way to Ella from Kandy and on the left-hand side on the way to Kandy. This seating arrangement will give you the best views of the rolling hills.
- Try the food from the sellers on the train. If you’re lucky you might also get a seller coming along selling freshly made wadi wadi (or wade wade). They are little balls of heaven – lentils, curry leaves, chilli rolled into balls, deep-fried and served in a newspaper! As always, we recommend taking your own snacks for the kids. Whilst our kids are quite adventurous when it comes to food, the train snacks were just a step too far for them.
Other things to do in Ella
Here are some other things to do if you have time.
We did a cookery lesson on our first visit to Ella and we still have the recipes that we use today. We love Sri Lankan food and the cookery lesson was a real highlight of our trip. If we hadn’t already done a cookery lesson on a previous trip, we would have done one with the kids. There are some great reviews for Priya’s Cookery Class.
Accommodation in Ella
It is now a bustling town with hundreds of places to stay and eat with a backpacker vibe. The centre is a bit manic but there are plenty of places to stay on the outer edges which are a walk or a quick tuk-tuk ride into town. Seeing as there are bars and restaurants open until the wee hours, it is probably best to choose somewhere out of town for a bit of peace and quiet for the family.
There are just so many places to stay. We were on a budget so we stayed at Chillout Ella. It was basic but in a chic minimalist style. There was a double bed and a bunk bed in a large room with a large veranda. The breakfast on the veranda each morning looking out over the tea plantation was the perfect way to start the day.
Check here for more hotels in Ella Sri Lanka
Where to eat in Ella
If you only go to one restaurant in Ella, make sure it’s Matey Hut. There are only about 4 tables in a tiny unassuming hut so our advice is to get there early. We arrived just before 12 and waited for 10 minutes. Lots of people were turned away in the couple of hours we were there. The food is authentic, fresh and delicious.
Ceylon Tea Factory
High-quality fusion Sri Lankan food in a converted tea factory. It is a bit more expensive than anywhere else in Ella, but the food was great and service was excellent.
The food was actually so-so as they have so many different items on the menu from different countries around the world. It’s best not to go for Sri Lankan food here. But it is THE place in town and it’s always busy.
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