Nuwara Eliya, part of Sri Lanka’s lush hill country, is blessed with a temperate winter, rolling green hills and a dramatic waterfall. Read on for the top things to see and do once you arrive.
Known as Little England, because some British settlers built their holiday bungalows here, Nuwara Eliya offers plenty to do, from hikes and jet ski rides for the adventurous, to markets, farm visits and colonial-era architecture for pleasure seekers – and everyone should visit the tea estates. Your travel time from Colombo will be four to five hours if you drive, or about six hours if you take the train.
Built in 1891 as the home for the governor of Sri Lanka, Sir Edward Barnes, the Grand Hotel is the perfect place to spend the night in Nuwara Eliya, with great dining options and a divine high tea. They can also organise activities such as trekking, fishing and sunrise safaris for you.
Gregory Lake, in the middle of Nuwara Eliya, was created by Governor William Gregory between 1872 and 1877 for British colonial settlers. There are horses here you can ride, or swan-shaped paddleboats that you can take onto the lake; or, for a few hundred rupees you can hire a jet ski for 20 minutes. The cool air is refreshing and the sights are unbeatable, and there’s a park next to the lake that you can stroll around.
The main park in Nuwara Eliya, created in honour of Queen Victoria’s 60th jubilee in 1897, spreads out over 11ha (27 acres) and is home to foreign trees and an abundance of flowers. It’s the perfect place to enjoy nature, and for families there is a little train for kids to enjoy, and a playground. At quiet times, plenty of native birds flock the trees, drawing birdwatchers who come to see them.
The Bale Bazaar in Nuwara Eliya is aptly nicknamed the Winter Market because they sell winter clothes for the chilly Nuwara Eliya weather. Locals who live abroad shop here for inexpensive winter fare before going back. If you forgot a sweatshirt or just want to have a fun stroll, then head here.
No visit to Nuwara Eliya is complete without a visit to the Adma Agro Farm and lots of strawberry eating. Strawberries love colder weather and Nuwara Eliya is perfect for them. Eat them straight off the plants or in the cafe with cream or condensed milk, or drink in a juice.
The largest and more prestigious dairy farm in Sri Lanka is also in Nuwara Eliya. Head just a little bit out of town and you will reach the rolling hills of Ambewela, where the cows are free to roam and graze. Visitors can see the milking stations and the calves in the nursery. The cows are well taken care of and a visit is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. The farm is pretty big, so there is a lot of walking involved. Drink a fresh glass of milk at the cafe station up the hill and buy some cheese to take home with you.
Nuwara Eliya is hill country, so it’s also tea country, and you can expect to see tea plantations everywhere in the hills. There are hundreds of acres of tea plantations in Nuwara Eliya, and plenty of tea factories to visit. A little further from town is St Clair’s Falls, one of the widest falls in Sri Lanka, which cascades gently down various craggy tiers. It’s well worth a visit – and a photo, especially if you can align it with a tea picker at work.
The Moon Plains of Nuwara Eliya are an open area full of fields, forests, walking paths and surrounding mountains. This is a place for visitors who love taking walks in nature or spending a day out in the open.
The Hakgala Botanical Gardens are the highest-altitude botanical gardens in the world. On the road to Badulla, stop at the green gates and visit the beautifully manicured gardens full of roses, orchids and other plant species.
Further down south than Ambewela, and higher up the mountains, lies Horton Plains National Park. The hiking trails here are top-notch, and a must if you like walking. World’s End is a drop-off at the edge of a huge cliff at the end of the Horton Plains plateau.