Grand Tour

Wonders of Sri Lanka by Rail

16 (or 21) Nov to 1 Dec 2019
Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a beautiful tropical island the size of Ireland that has it all: endless beaches, World Heritage, wildlife, beautiful scenery. And above all, a wonderful broad-gauge railway system still very much as originally built and we cover much of this system partly on service trains and partly with our own private train.

Highlights of the trip include leaving the airport on a private train and rail journeys through amazing scenery as we travel through the tea-growing areas of the island. We also take in many of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and for nature lovers, there are amazing birds and nature reserves which we will visit. In short, this tour offers something for everyone. Our dates have been chosen to enjoy the best month weather-wise (“best” meaning coolest temperatures and least rain).

Throughout this tour, we will have a local guide and crew, and our own private coach to take our luggage from hotel to hotel.

This year we are offering both 10 and 14-day options.

Your Tour Manager for this trip is David, who has led the Sri Lanka tour three times before. Should you have any queries about the itinerary or if you wish to have a chat with him about the trip, please feel free to e-mail him on

  • Some private charter trains
  • Private train from airport into town
  • All dinners and some lunches
  • Stunning scenery
  • Wildlife
  • Amazing welcoming and friendly people
  • Chance to travel of all rail lines in Sri Lanka

UPDATE: Sri Lankan Railways are extending the line from Matara to Beliatta/Beliwatte (various spellings exist!). It is expected to open this year, so if it does, we will be able to include it. Line reopened on 9th April 2019 so will be included.

Please take a look at the following BBC News article on Sri Lanka:

BBC News Queen’s Baton Relay: Sri Lanka by steam train By Mark Beaumont BBC Queen’s Baton Relay presenter (23 October 2013)

Tour Manager: David

Itinerary – Pre-tour

Saturday 16th November For those doing the full 16-day holiday, we will fly with Emirates via Dubai which gives us lunchtime departures from Gatwick, Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham. We all meet up in Dubai for our onward flight to Colombo. It is also possible to fly direct with Sri Lankan Airways leaving Heathrow at 21.15.

Sunday 17th November (D) We arrive at Colombo Airport where our coach will be waiting to take our luggage to the hotel, but we will travel into town by private train! And not just any train, but the luxurious Viceroy II carriage hauled by one of Sri Lanka’s last remaining operational steam locomotives. In fact, Mount Lavinia station is right next to our hotel, the excellent Mount Lavinia Hotel. As with most evening meals, dinner will be a buffet with a wide range of dishes to suit all tastes.

Monday 18th November (B,D) Ride a service train Colombo – Galle. This is a lovely ride through the palm-tree plantations south of Colombo, always with the sea on our right. After lunch we have a city tour including Galle Fort. Galle was a Dutch trading station and is dominated by the picturesque fortress built by the Portuguese in the 16th century and extensively fortified by the Dutch to protect both themselves and their commercial interests. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988.

Tuesday 19th November (B,D) We join a morning service train from Galle to Matara. From here we will visit the famous Star Fort and a snake conservation centre. Later we return to Galle to enjoy the excellent facilities at our hotel. Alternatively spend a relaxing day exploring the old and new parts of Galle. Note: if the new extension to the Matara line is open, there will be an option to do it.


Wednesday 20th November (B,L,D) Rail fan Option: Ride the public service train Galle – Moratuwa where the T1 railcar will meet us and take us into Ratmalana workshops by rail. The SLR’s main workshops are almost a Victorian time capsule, and it is a fascinating glimpse back in time. We return to Mount Lavinia on the T1. Culture option: Travel back to Mount Lavinia by coach with a special stop at a “Turtle Sanctuary”. Join the rail group at Ratmalana, or go to the hotel to enjoy its facilities. Picnic lunch served on board the T1.

Thursday 21st November (B,D) Rail fan Option: We will ride on the beautifully restored T1 railcar out of Colombo to Avissawela, a journey of around 3.5 hours each way. On our return, we travel directly to Demagoda Running Shed. As well as maintaining many of the diesel locos used on the network, it also stores a collection of long withdrawn steam locos, and what’s left of the narrow-gauge stock. We also visit the nearby Maradana running shed. A packed lunch will be served on board the T1. Culture Option: 3-hour City Tour, taking in many of the area’s most important historic locations. Sri Lanka’s commercial capital and sea-port is a blend of old and new, with many reminders of its European colonial past. Bustling bazaars, Buddhist and Hindu Temples and Muslim Mosques contrast with smart modern Shopping Malls. Sightseeing highlights include the old parliament houses, Buddhist Temple, Town Hall, and the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall.

Note: Clients who opt to start the tour here will leave the UK on Wednesday and will be met at the airport by the local guide and representatives of J F Tours and will transfer to the hotel in Colombo by coach. Depending on the arrival time, there may be an option for an afternoon sightseeing tour of Colombo.

Friday 22nd November (B,L,D) Another ride behind a steam locomotive today, as we leave Colombo and head into the mountains. We travel on the line from Mount Lavinia – Rambukkana – Nanu-Oya by Viceroy special train with the views of rice cultivation, coconut palms and charming villages, and the first part of our journey will be behind the steam loco, before the diesel takes over. On leaving Rambukkana our train begins to climb the Kadugannawa Incline, where trains climb 1400 ft in 13 miles, often on a ledge of rock cut out of the hillside. We also visit the new railway museum in Kadugannawa. On arrival at Nanu-Oya we are met by our coach for the short journey to Nuwara Eliya. This summer resort was discovered by British explorer Sir Samuel Baker in 1847 and was a favourite sanctuary of the British civil servants and planters in former Ceylon.  It still keeps the atmosphere of a British village with many of the buildings retaining features from the colonial period, such as the Grand Hotel, Town Post Office and Hill Club. After time to settle-in, there is an optional visit to a tea factory.

Saturday 23rd November (B,L,D) Nuwara Eliya – Badulla – Nuwara Eliya. We transfer to Nanu-Oya to catch our Viceroy special train to Badulla. This part of the scenic train journey climbs into the mountains to reach the summit at Pattipola at 6226 ft., which is the highest altitude achieved by a 5’6” broad gauge main line anywhere in the world. Connecting two mountains, the Demodara Nine Arch Bridge was constructed solely out of solid rock, bricks and cement without using iron or steel. The nearby Demodara spiral is another attraction. We continue to the end of the line at Badulla, where we will have free time to explore the town. Return by train to Nanu-Oya and then by coach to Nuwara Eliya. Lunch will be served on board the Viceroy train.

Sunday 24th November (B,L,D) Returning to Nanu-Oya to catch our Viceroy train, we make our way to Kandy. Kandy has an agreeable climate due to its altitude of over 1600 feet. Founded in the 14th century, it became the capital of the kingdom in 1592 and is located in a valley surrounded by forested hills. The city was declared a World Heritage Site because of the outstanding Kandyan royal architecture found in the sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic, adjoining royal palace and other historical buildings nearby, which we will visit this afternoon.

Monday 25th November (B,D) This morning we visit the immaculately kept Peradeniya Botanic Gardens. Renowned for its collection of orchids, the gardens include more than 4000 species of plants, including orchids, spices, medicinal plants and palm trees. Look out for the varied wildlife, including monkeys, fruit-bats and many birds. After lunch, we will have free time to relax in the hotel or explore the bustling town. The hotel is next to Bogambara Lake, and you will find locals and visitors alike strolling round it and enjoying the scenery. For rail fans, David will lead a trip on a service train along the branch line to Matale, with time to explore this very typical small town, well off the usual tourist route.

Tuesday 26th November (B,D) Today will begin with a visit to a beautiful spice garden and a very important UNESCO World Heritage Site by coach. Firstly, the spice garden, where we see spices familiar to us in jars growing in their natural habitat. A local guide shows us the garden and explains the properties of several spices. After lunch in the garden’s restaurant, we continue our journey north to Dambulla, which is the largest, best preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka.

Wednesday 27th November (B,L,D) Culture option: We make the short rail journey to Polonnaruwa to visit the Polonnaruwa World Heritage Site. The people of Sri Lanka are very proud of Polonnaruwa, the capital of the country from AD 200 to 1300 when it was sacked by Indian invaders and is the best preserved of the ruined cities. The city was supplied with water channelled from the still existing 2500-hectare reservoir known as the Sea of Parikrama. The Gal Vihara Rock Monastery is the most celebrated site in Polonnaruwa these days, with its gigantic rock sculptures. Rail option: The east coast town of Batticaloa is our destination today, as we make an out and back trip by train. This is a full day trip and takes us through the vast plains in this part of the island, but with a chance of seeing wild elephants. For track bashers not averse to an early rise, it may also be possible to take in the other branch to the east coast, to Trincomalee.

Thursday 28th November (B,L,D) Habarana – Maho – Anuradhapura. This morning we visit one of Sri Lanka’s best-known sites, Sigiriya, also known as the ‘palace in the sky’. Atop the 200-metre-high solid rock, an ancient Sri Lankan King (477-95) transformed the natural rock into a heavenly palace and part fortified town. We will have time to climb this to enjoy the spectacular views and see the ancient rock paintings. We then join our train to Maho Junction and Anuradhapura, arriving at our hotel at the end of the afternoon.

Friday 29th November (B,L,D) Culture option: Anuradhapura is another ruined city and was the first capital of the ancient kingdom of Sri Lanka and founded around the 5th century BC. The sacred city, which is spread out over approximately 100 acres (40 hectares) of land area, is home to the ruins of huge stupas, monasteries, Buddha images and colossal man-made lakes and ponds. This afternoon we will visit Mihintale & Isurumuniya temples. The 1080+ foot-high Mihintale rock is situated about 13 kilometres east of Anuradhapura. It is on this rock that the historic meeting between King Devanampiyatissa and Arahath Mahinda, the son of Emperor Asoka of India, is said to have taken place in 247 BC. This meeting led to the King converting to Buddhism and the establishment and growth of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. In Isurumuniya temple there are four carvings of special interest in this Viharaya. They are the Isurumuniya Lovers, Elephant Pond and the Royal Family. Rail option: David will lead a trip by train on one of the two recently reopened lines to Jaffna and Kankesanthurai in the north of the island, or to Talaimannar Pier in the north-west. Before the civil war, Jaffna was one of the busiest stations in Sri Lanka, but suffered heavy damage in the 1980s and by 1990 the line had been closed. It reopened in 2015. There are controversial plans to build a bridge to connect Sri Lankan and Indian railways at Talaimannar.

Saturday 30th November (B,L,D) We travel by coach from Anuradhapura to Wilpattu National Park. Wilpattu is Sri Lanka’s largest national park. The unique feature of this park is the existence of “Willus” – Natural, sand-rimmed water basins or depressions that fill with rainwater. The park is home to leopard, elephant, sloth bear, jackal and other mammals whilst providing ample opportunities for bird watching, and we can expect to see eagles, horn-bills and many others. We continue to Puttalam Station where our train is waiting to take us south to Negombo. We have our Farewell Dinner at our hotel tonight.

Sunday 1st December (B) Today we transfer to the airport for our flights home.

This is a relatively easy tour, however on some of the optional visits it is necessary to be able to climb a flight of stairs and walk over rough ground. Two locations in particular, Sigiriya and Mihintale, have some very narrow steps and steep climbs.


Mount Lavinia Hotel, Colombo (1 night then a further 2 nights) (1 night only if not doing the add-on)

Jetwing Lighthouse, Galle (2 nights) (add-on only)

Grand Hotel, Nuwara Elia (2 nights)

Hotel Suisse, Kandy (2 nights)

Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana (2 nights)

Palm Garden Village, Anuradhapura (2 nights)

Hotel Heritance, Negombo (1 night)


UL1504 22.10 Heathrow to Colombo (direct) arrives 16.35
UL505 02.20 Colombo to Heathrow (direct) arrives 08.40

Outward from regional airports:

EK036 13.00 Newcastle to Dubai
EK018 13.10 Manchester to Dubai
EK016 13.35 Gatwick to Dubai

EM650 02:35 Dubai to Colombo (a. 08.25)


EK649 02.55 Colombo to Dubai (a. 05:55)

EK035 07.25 Dubai to Newcastle
EK017 07.15 Dubai to Manchester
EK015 07.40 Dubai to Gatwick

Place(s) available
Holiday prices per person*
  • 10-day Main Tour including return flights with Emirates: £3,575
  • 10-day Main Tour joining in Colombo: £2,950
  • 6-day pre-tour: £995
    these reduced prices apply to anyone registering interest in this tour before 30 April 2019


  • 10-day supplement for single use room: £705
  • 6-day add-on supplement for single use room: £335
  • Fly direct from Heathrow with Sri Lankan: POA


  • No deposit to pay until 1st August 2019. Just register your interest in this tour.

Your holiday price includes

  • All travel and excursions as outlined in the itinerary
  • Good quality en-suite accommodation
  • Meals as shown in the itinerary; B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner
  • Services of our tour manager. Holiday is fully escorted.
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