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Nuwara Eliya sits in the hill country of southern central Sri Lanka, close to the popular backpacker town of Ella, and is surrounded by tea plantations, which flourish here due to the mild, rainy weather. The weather and landscape, as well as the colonial style buildings, are the reason that Nuwara Eliya is often referred to as ‘Little England’.
So what is there to do in Nuwara Eliya and is it worth visiting? Well that depends on what you like doing. I would say if you enjoy hiking, being outdoors and experiencing a more 'local' town then Nuwara Eliya is worth adding to your Sri Lanka itinerary, however if you prefer more of a tourist town and sandy beaches, then head to the South Coast and to Mirissa instead.
Small hilltop villages in Nuwara Eliya's surrounding countryside
How to spend 2 days in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka - the best things to see and do
Day 1 - Wander around Nuwara Eliya town and visit St Clair's Falls
On your first day, spend a couple of hours wandering around the main town of Nuwara Eliya. You don't need a lot of time to explore the main town, as it isn't that big, so combine it with a trip to St Clair's falls.
1. Relax in Victoria Park
The park is named in honour of Queen Victoria’s 60th Jubilee coronation in 1897 and covers 27 acres of land in the centre of Nuwara Eliya. The park has several gardens, full of foreign flowers and birds and is nice for a little stroll away from the hustle of the main town. At the town entrance of the park, the Victoria Restaurant serves great local and western food for breakfast and lunch.
2. Visit the Nuwara Eliya Post office
The Post office building in Nuwara Eliya is one of the oldest in the country. Built in 1894, the Tudor Manor is open for visitors - it is very small and there's not lots to see, but it's right at the end of the main street, so you can pop in as you pass by.
3. Enjoy high tea at the Grand Hotel
After some research, one of the best things to do in Nuwara Eliya is to have afternoon tea at the Grand Hotel. We didn’t actually do this as we were on a budget, but if you love tea and cake and have a little extra money to spend, this would be a great way to spend a rainy afternoon.
4. Visit St Clair's falls
After you've spent some time wandering around the town of Nuwara Eliya, jump in a taxi and head to St. Clair's falls. St Clair's falls are known as the widest waterfalls in Sri Lanka. They are located about 50 minutes driver outside of Nuwara Eliya and can be seen from the viewpoint off the main road. Depending on how you arrive in Nuwara Eliya, you might pass St Clair's Falls on the way in. We hired a driver to take us from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya, so he stopped at St Clair's falls on the way to Nuwara Eliya.
St. Clairs falls, in the hill country of Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka
Day 2 - Visit Horton Plains National Park and a Tea Estate
Get ready for a busy day! If you are spending longer than 2 days in Nuwara Eliya, then I would suggest separating these activities out into two days, but as you need to get up early to visit Horton Plains then you can combine both activities into one day easily if you are short on time.
1. Hike to the World's End at Horton Plains National Park
Hiking at Horton Plains National Park is one of the best things to do whilst you're in Nuwara Eliya and bonus - you don't need to be an experienced hiker to enjoy this easy route!
We arranged to be picked up at 6am by our driver and headed to Horton Plains National Park, which was 1 hour 10 minutes from Nuwara Eliya. The park has several hiking routes, but the most popular hiking trail is ‘World’s end’. The hiking route was given this name due to the huge drop off from an impressive cliff edge at the end of Horton Plains plateau, down into the valley.
Due to the height above sea level, the climate and the diverse ecosystem in the national park, the view from World’s end becomes shrouded in thick cloud after about 9am (hence the early morning start!). We spent quite a bit of time at the World's end viewpoint and once the clouds come in, you really can't see the valley at all, so it really is worth getting up early and heading straight to the drop off point as soon as you arrive at the park. As you can see, the view is stunning!
High above the clouds at The World’s end viewpoint in Horton Plains National Park
When you're at the World's end viewpoint, please be careful. There are no barriers at all and it is so easy to simply step or stumble off the edge. Numerous people advised us to be careful and maintain distance after several tourists had accidentally fallen whilst trying to get a photo.
After we had spent some time at World’s end, we then explored some of the other hiking routes in the park. The hiking here is relatively easy and you don’t need to be an experienced hiker to walk here. All routes are also well sign-posted so you shouldn't get lost!
Once we had finished our walk at Horton Plains, we grabbed some lunch back in the main town of Nuwara Eliya before meeting up with our driver for an afternoon of exploring the surrounding countryside and visiting a tea estate.
Hiking in Horton Plains National Park is relatively easy and mostly flat
2. Visit a Tea Estate
You can't visit Nuwara Eliya without visiting a Tea Estate! Tea is what Nuwara Eliya is known for and there are so many tea estates and plantations in the area for you to choose from.
The Pedro tea estate is only a short drive or tuk tuk ride away from Nuwara Eliya and is one of the quieter tea plantations. As you drive up to the estate, you can see the tea pickers at work in the fields, placing the leaves into huge bags strapped onto their backs. Once you arrive at the estate, you can have a guided tour around the factory, learning about the full process of making tea and the differences between the variations of tea. I found the tour really quite interesting, made even better by the complimentary cup of Pedro estate Ceylon tea, enjoyed in the cafe at the end of the tour.
Enjoying Ceylon tea at Pedro Tea Estate, Nuwara Eliya
3. Walk to the Lover's Leap Waterfall
Opposite the Pedro tea estate is Lover’s Leap waterfall. To start the walk, take the only road opposite the tea estate and follow a small sign post. The walk will take you through more tea plantations and rural countryside. The walk took us about 40 minutes and wasn’t too strenuous. Unfortunately for us, it had started to rain before we set off, but in true British style, we put on our raincoats and carried on anyway. However by the time we reached the base of the falls, we were soaked! It is a pretty waterfall and the walk to it was nice with great views. This combined with the proximity to the main town makes it one of the top things to do in Nuwara Eliya.
Lover’s leap Waterfall – still impressive despite the mist and fog!
That was my 2 day itinerary for what we got up to in Nuwara Eliya. As I mentioned previously, I wasn't thrilled with the town itself, but I would really recommend getting out into the countryside surrounding the town of Nuwara Eliya. There are so many waterfalls nestled in the tea plantations and rolling hills, the landscape is really beautiful.
If you are a keen hiker, many people use Nuwara Eliya as a base for hiking Adams Peak (or Sri Padra) - a mountain over 7000 feet above sea level with a pilgrimage site at the top. Adam's Peak is a 2 hour 15 minute drive from Nuwara Eliya and it is advised to start the hike early, so just bare that in mind if you are taking on this strenuous challenge. If you are looking for more of an easy - moderate hike, then I would really recommend Little Adam's Peak or Ella Rock in the beautiful town of Ella.
How to get to Nuwara Eliya
Depending on where you are travelling from, there are several options for getting to Nuwara Eliya. Chances are you will arrive in Nuwara Eliya from either Kandy or Colombo, which are both well connected for public transport.
By bus - If you're on a tight budget, this will be your lowest cost option, however we spoke to another couple in our guest house who opted for the bus and hated it! They were stood up on a cramped bus for over 7 hours with almost no toilet stops and said they wished they had spent a little more for the train or taxi.
By train - The Kandy to Ella or Colombo to Ella train route is known as the most beautiful train ride in Sri Lanka and this route will stop at Nuwara Eliya. There is not a train station in Nuwara Eliya, but you can catch it from the nearby town of Nanu Oya, just 20 minutes drive away. I've written a separate post about my experience on Sri Lanka's best train journey here.
By taxi - I've mentioned in a couple of my other Sri Lanka blogs that taxis are a really common way of getting around Sri Lanka. Many companies offer private drivers which you can hire for the whole of your trip, for a pre-agreed fee. This is a great way of getting from place to place, and they can also take you to and from local attractions. We hired a taxi driver to drive us from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya and then we arranged with him to drive us to Horton Plains, Pedro tea estate and the Lover's Leap waterfall on our second day in Nuwara Eliya.
How long do you need in Nuwara Eliya?
I spent two days in Nuwara Eliya, which in my opinion, is plenty. Nuwara Eliya is often known as 'Little England', which in my opinion, can be a little misleading. I had pictured a quiet, scenic town, like some of the cute towns I'm used to in the UK, however in reality the main town area is dusty and industrial and the places to eat or grab a coffee did not feel particularly inviting.
If i’m honest, I didn’t really like the main town and was quite disappointed (maybe that's due to my preconceptions), BUT once you journey out into the countryside around Nuwara Eliya, you realise the charm that this area has.
If you enjoy hiking and are planning to use Nuwara Eliya as a base to explore the hill country, then 2-4 days will be plenty of time.
What should I pack for Nuwara Eliya?
Nuwara Eliya does have a much cooler (and wetter!) climate that other parts of Sri Lanka, which is why this area is so great for growing tea! Make sure that you pack a lightweight rain jacket and some thin layers to keep you warm whilst you are in Nuwara Eliya, particularly if you are hiking early in the morning as it is cool.
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