Nine Arch Bridge in Ella, Sri Lanka: The Ultimate Guide

NINE ARCH BRIDGE IN ELLA, SRI LANKA
NINE ARCH BRIDGE, ELLA
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Set against a backdrop of thick jungle and tea plantations, Ella’s Nine Arch Bridge is truly one of the most beautiful sights that Sri Lanka has to offer. When the mist hangs low over the surrounding mountains, and the iconic blue Sri Lankan train passes sleepily along the tracks, the place takes on an almost mystical feel and it’s easy to imagine you are on the set of a film, or have walked from the pages of a novel.

The Nine Arch Bridge has become one of Ella’s most visited attractions, and it’s easy to see why, but it’s still amazingly hard to find for such a well known attraction and we very nearly didn’t make it at all! Luckily, even though we went completely the wrong way, we still managed to scramble through the jungle and made it eventually.

We have put together this comprehensive guide so that you can fully enjoy this spectacular sight, and not make the same mistakes we did!

ABOUT THE NINE ARCH BRIDGE, ELLA: A Little History

A BOY WALKING ALONG THE RAILWAY TRACKS OF NINE ARCH BRIDGE IN ELLA
WALKING ALONG NINE ARCH BRIDGE IN ELLA

Not only is Nine Arch Bridge incredibly beautiful, it is also one of the best examples of colonial-era construction and has a design that architects marvel at.

The bridge was built at Gotuwala between the Ella and Demodara stations during the British Colonial period. The story goes that not long after the Nine Arch Bridge had been commisioned by the British, WW1 broke out. They couldn’t possibly justify using steel to build the bridge, as it was needed far more for the war efforts, so a team of Sri Lankan engineers and builders completed the job in 1921 using blocks of stone and cement. To this day, the 91m long, 24m high bridge has stood entirely without steel support! We love this little bit of history and think it makes The Nine Arch Bridge even more special.

We wonder whether the engineers and builders who bought this bridge to life could possibly have guessed that today it would be a favourite spot for travellers and locals alike, who come to wave at the passengers as the blue Sri Lankan train snakes it’s way along the railway to cheers and smile.

Locally it is known as ‘Ahas Namaye Palama’ meaning nine skies bridge in Sinhala, because when you stand below the bridge you can see the sky through the nine arches.

HOW TO GET TO NINE ARCH BRIDGE

A GIRL SITTING ON THE RAILWAY TRACKS OF NINE ARCH BRIDGE IN ELLA
A LITTLE REST STOP

There are many different ways of getting to Nine Arch Bridge in Ella. You will need to choose the option that suits your needs best, depending on time, mobility and money.

Tuk tuk to Nine Arch Bridge | You can grab a tuk tuk from the main street in Ella town. It will take you most of the way to the bridge and then you can walk the last little bit on foot (or get a tuk tuk the whole way, but beware, we heard rumours of them charging a lot more for this service!) This is definitely the quickest and easiest route, though not the best for scenery and taking in the atmosphere. If, however, it starts pouring down with rain and you predict it will be a quick shower then this might be the perfect time to get there quick (read below to find out why!) Tuk tuks cost about LKR 2-300 for this.

Walking to Nine Arch Bridge | You can walk to Nine Arch Bridge. There are actually many different routes to the bridge (as we found out when we got lost!) We have detailed the main and easiest route here, but if you fancy a little trek through the jungle, and you have time to spare in case you end up down a dead end, then why not try mapping out a route of your own on google?

To be sure you will get there: Follow the Ella-Passara Road, then turn left at Sri Kanaser Temple (look out for all the food stalls here) and follow the signs past rows of guesthouses.

Take A Nine Arch Bridge Tour

If you’re short on time then we recommend you take a guided tour that takes in some of Ella’s key sights, including Nine Arch Bridge. In fact, even if you aren’t short on time, a guided tour is a great way to see a country. Meeting a local whose job is know about the area you are visiting is usually a massive highlight for us when we travel, and we always try to do a mixture of exploring places ourselves and paying a local to show us the best spots (plus we also believe that supporting the country we’re visiting through tourism is an ethical thing to do where possible!)

This tour packs in Ella Rock, Nine Arch Bridge and Little Adams Peak, the three top sights in Ella, into a days sight seeing including lunch and all your water for under £40. If you only have a half day this tour will take you to Little Adam’s Peak and Nine Arch Bridge. All transport is included, along with a knowledgeable guide.

THE BEST VIEWPOINTS AT NINE ARCH BRIDGE

A GIRL TAKING IN THE VIEWS OF NONE ARCH BRIDGE IN ELLA, SRI LANKA
TAKING IN THE VIEWS FROM NINE ARCH BRIDGE

Most tourists stick to the track itself to get views of Nine Arch Bridge, but some of the best spots are actually a little walk away. Depending on how much walking and exploring you’re prepared to do it is possible to see the bridge from all sorts of different angles so if you have time to spare it is worth doing a little exploration to get the best shots. Below we have listed a few of the more accessible viewpoints, but it’s worth getting a little off the beaten track to find the best view points.

Nine Arch Bridge Itself

The most popular (and therefore the most crowded) viewpoint is Nine Arch Bridge itself. You can walk the length of the railway that runs across it and see the beautiful curve from either end.

It is a used railway line, so be very careful not to be standing near the lines when a train passes through. You should always be keeping eyes and ears peeled when walking near the railway lines, but you can help yourself even more by checking the estimated train arrival times below.

The Tea Field Plantations

A particularly beautiful viewpoint, and also a very popular one, is from the tea fields at the end of Nine Arch Bridge (the opposite side to the tunnel). From the tea fields you get a great view of the whole bridge, and a real feel for the immensity of it as you are looking up. We recommend making the short scramble down as it is the perfect place to appreciate those cleverly designed (and rather striking) nine arches.

A GIRL STANDING IN TEA PLANTATIONS LOOKING AT NINE ARCH BRIDGE IN ELLA
JUST CHECKING THERE ARE NINE ARCHES

Top tip: The tea fields are private land, so if there are workers in them then make sure you check that it is ok for you to walk through them and be careful not to damage the plants. It can be very wet and muddy there, and it’s pretty steep, so take care when exploring!

The Hills Behind Nine Arch Bridge

If you’re heading towards the tunnel take a path into the forest on your left. It leads you up into the jungle a bit and you get an incredible view looking down on the bridge as it curves away from you.

The Asanka Cafe

This is a great spot to watch the train from if you’ve timed it right. It’s high above the bridge on the northern end and look down onto the track so you can see the full curve. Why not stop here for a cup of tea or coffee as you wait for the magical moment that the train passes over the bridge. 

From here, walk along the track to the right, the opposite direction to the tunnel, and then hike the path you find on the right hand side for even more amazing views of Nine Arch Bridge.

WHEN TO VISIT NINE ARCH BRIDGE

ALL NINE OF THE ARCHES ON NINE ARCH BRIDGE, ELLA
STUNNING VIEWS

The most popular time for photographers to visit Nine Arch Bridge is at sunrise, when the light is golden and there are fewer tourists. The other time is when the blue Sri Lankan train crosses the bridge, making a stunning photo with the blue contrasting with the greens of the surrounding jungle.

If you’re an early riser then sunrise is the time for you. You really will have to get there early, as by about 7am the crowds are already starting to gather, and come 9am you will have missed the quiet completely. The trouble with coming super early (other than missing your lie in), is that the first train doesn’t pass over the tracks until around 9.30am, so you will either have to hang around for hours, come back again, or miss the train.

When the train passes through it’s quite a magical moment. Not only does it look beautiful, a flash of blue amongst all the lush green surroundings, but it is also very atmospheric. The people in the train wave at the spectators and the crowds even clap and cheer as the train goes past. It’s a really lovely moment.

Trains pass over the bridge at the following times, but make sure you get there early and have time to hang around after, as the train is notoriously unreliable:  

  • 9:30
  • 11:30
  • 15:30
  • 16:30
  • 17:30 

Top Tip: We only had half a day to fit in several sights, so we ended up arriving late morning. By this time the bridge was completely packed with tourists and it was impossible to get photos without someones peace sign in the background. The bridge was still spectacular, so we hung around taking it all in, until the daily downpour started. At this point almost everyone jumped in a tuk tuk and fled the bridge. We took shelter under a tree, and as the rains passed about 10 minutes later we had the bridge almost entirely to ourselves! So if you’re willing to risk getting a little wet then in the rain may well be the perfect time to go!

WHERE TO STAY WHEN VISITING NINE ARCH BRIDGE

A SIGN FOR ELLA TRAIN STATION
ELLA TRAIN STATION

The closest and easiest place to stay for your visit to Nine Arch Bridge is the nearby town of Ella. There is tonnes of accommodation in Ella and you will easily find something to suit your budget. The sights around Ella are somewhat spread out, so close to the central town is an obvious choice. If you are prepared to do a little walking or catch tuk tuks then there are some stunning choices outside of the main town that offer incredible views for budget prices.

Luxury

The Secret Ella is a little out of town but close to Nine Arch Bridge and offers pure luxury for it’s guests, with an infinity pool looking out of the mountains and beautiful little wooden chalets. This is somewhere rather special to stay.

Midrange

The One, Ella, offers incredible views and is close to Nine Arch Bridge and other Ella based attractions. It’s little chalets come with an outdoor hammock for the ultimate relaxation experience!

Cheap as chips

Try Ella Village Inn for cheap accommodation in the centre of town. It might not be the quietest but being central will save you time and money on transport.

HOW TO GET TO ELLA, SRI LANKA

THE BEST TRAIN JOURNEY OF ALL TIME FROM NUWARA ELIYA TO ELLA
THE BEST WAY TO TRAVEL IN ALL OF SRI LANKA

As Ella is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sri Lanka, there are lots of different ways to get there. If you have the time then we thoroughly recommend getting the train. It’s one of the best ways to travel in Sri Lanka and is honestly an experience in itself.

By Train

COLOMBO to ELLA | The direct train from Colombo Fort to Ella follows the world famous Kandy to Ella route, ,making it one of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful train journeys (check out our guide here for information on times, prices and how to book tickets). It is definitely worth stopping in Nuwara Eliya on the way though to break up the 10+ hour journey.

KANDY to ELLA | This must be one of the best train rides in the world, with views like no other. When you’ve travelled a lot it becomes rare to find experiences that are truly different, but travelling on Sri Lanka’s trains was one of these moments for us. Sitting in the doorway of a train as it rushes past beautiful tree plantations and misty mountains is incredible. Expect the train ride from Kandy to Ella to take between 6-8 hours, and break it up with a stop in Nuwara Eliya.

By Bus

COLOMBO to ELLA | From Colombo/Pettah bus station, take the bus to Bandarawela (around LKR 200 – 700). Change here for the bus to Ella (LKR 50 – 100). This will take around 8 hours and may not be the most comfortable! It’s as cheap as the train and slightly shorter so may work out best if you’re on a budget and in a rush!

THE SOUTH COAST to ELLA | From Galle, Unawatuna, Mirissa etc to Ella, take a local bus to Matara bus station (LKR 50 – 200), then change to the Matara – Bandarawela bus (#31, or 31-1 bus). This bus stops in Ella and will take around 5-6 hours. As there are no trains to Ella from the south coast, this is your cheapest option.

By Tuk tuk or Taxi

A GIRL IN A TUK TUK GETTING TO ELLA
LOADED UP

COLOMBO to ELLA | This is a long journey by road, taking about 7 hours depending on traffic. You would probably find a tuk tuk driver prepared to make the journey but it would be a long and bumpy ride, so if you want to travel this far then we would recommend you take a taxi or hire your own driver. It will be much more expensive than public transport but more comfortable and faster!

COLOMBO to ELLA | From Colombo/Pettah bus station, take the bus to Bandarawela (around LKR 200 – 700). Change here for the bus to Ella (LKR 50 – 100). This will take around 8 hours and may not be the most comfortable! It’s as cheap as the train and slightly shorter so may work out best if you’re on a budget and in a rush!

THE SOUTH COAST to ELLA | From Galle, Unawatuna, Mirissa etc to Ella, take a local bus to Matara bus station (LKR 50 – 200), then change to the Matara – Bandarawela bus (#31, or 31-1 bus). This bus stops in Ella and will take around 5-6 hours. As there are no trains to Ella from the south coast, this is your cheapest option.

By Tour

A fantastic option if you’re short on time and can’t spare several days to spend in Ella itself. This tour starts in Nuwara Eliya and takes you to some of Ella’s top spots in a day tour, so you don’t need to stay over night.

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