How to Get From Colombo to Kandy: The Best Routes for all Budgets
Easily travel from Colombo to Kandy with our detailed guide. Learn about the different modes of transportation including train, bus, and taxi, and choose the best option for you and start exploring the cultural capital of Sri Lanka.
Kandy is Sri Lanka’s City of Kings, second city and the island’s undisputed historical and cultural capital.
Filled with many well-known attractions, Kandy is a city of delightful chaos, with its bustling streets, ancient temples, colonial architecture, aristocratic gardens and the glorious Kandy lake forming the backdrop to a perfect few days amongst Sri Lanka's lush green hills.
The gateway to all of this hill-country action, Kandy is an essential stop when travelling through Sri Lanka, and getting from Colombo to Kandy is both easy and affordable.
Below is our detailed guide on getting from Colombo to Kandy, which covers all transport options to suit all budget types, from super cheap local buses and scenic train rides to more luxurious private transfer options.
However you get there, the City of Kings is one of the unmissable points of interest on your Sri Lankan itinerary.
COLOMBO TO KANDY TRAIN
The most scenic way to get from Colombo to Kandy is via train, which runs through dense jungle and picturesque villages for the majority of the journey. It’s a seriously scenic journey that is almost comparable to the Kandy to Ella train.
The Colombo Fort to Kandy train departs 10 times a day, with the earliest departure at 6:55 am and the final departure at 19:30.
The train journey takes around 2.5 - 3.5 hours.
WHERE IS COLOMBO FORT STATION?
Colombo Fort station is located in the centre of Colombo, right in the heart of the central business and commercial district.
This bustling, chaotic and lively part of the city is a little overwhelming at first, so you need to keep your wits about you, however, once inside the station, you’ll feel a little more relaxed as you wait for your train.
There are heaps of food stalls on the outside of the station if you need to stock up on food and water for the train ride.
COLOMBO TO KANDY TRAIN DEPARTURE TIMES & ROUTE
Departure times from Colombo Fort to Kandy are as follows: 05:55*, 07:00, 08:30*, 10:35, 12:40*, 15:35, 16:35* (Not on Saturday or Sunday), 17:15, 17:45*
It’s important to know that the Colombo to Kandy route is extremely busy, especially during rush hours when people are going to and from work. We suggest travelling outside the peak hours between 08:30 - 15:35, and 17:35 onwards - 14:00; 16:30 - 19:00.
NOTE | Daily departures listed. Check the most up-to-date timetable information on the Sri Lankan Railways website here
*Express train - Highlight times are daily departures
COLOMBO TO KANDY TRAIN TICKET PRICES
Overall, train travel in Sri Lanka is highly affordable, though some big differences in pricing depending on which class ticket you’re after.
From Colombo to Kandy, prices are as follows:
Third class | LKR 240
Second class | LKR 500
First class | LKR 7,000
*Prices applicable as of Jan 2023
BOOK | Book your Colombo to Kandy train tickets here | book at least 32 days in advance
HOW TO BOOK YOUR TICKET FOR THE COLOMBO TO KANDY TRAIN
The process for booking your ticket depends upon whether you’re travelling on an unreserved or reserved ticket:
Reserved seating cannot be purchased on your day of travel, so you must book reserved tickets 32 days ahead of your departure date. You can book your tickets here
In the off-season, you can probably get away with booking these at your departure station a few days ahead of time - otherwise, we suggest booking at least a month in advance to secure your seat
BOOK | You can book online (32 days before)here)
Unreserved tickets cannot be purchased before the day of travel. It’s simply a matter of showing up at the station a bit earlier and queueing at the ticket office. Unreserved tickets also can’t sell out - they’re uncapped.
If you’re told that tickets have sold out, it’s probably because the seller has assumed that as a foreigner, you’d prefer a reserved seat. You can always buy an unreserved ticket.
If you prefer winging your travels, we suggest getting to the station at least 2 hours prior to departure to purchase your tickets (but seriously, just buy them online) and save yourself the hassle!)
SRI LANKAN TRAIN CLASSES & AMENITIES
Reserved or unreserved? First class or third class?
When it comes to buying tickets for your train ride in Sri Lanka, the different ticket options can initially be a little confusing.
Personally, we strongly believe that this train ride is one of the rare times where the best experience is actually found in the lower ticket classes. First class is stuffy with windows and doors that won’t open and mostly other foreigners occupying the seats next to. Second and third class on the other hand, are a truly authentic taste of what life is really like for locals on the Sri Lankan railway system.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what each class entails (keep reading for costs!):
THIRD CLASS UNRESERVED
Third Class Unreserved are the cheapest tickets available for the train, and as such, tend to be the most popular with locals too. The seating here is non-allocated wooden benches (it’s basically a free for all!) so be prepared that at least some of your journey will involve standing.
For all that the journey may be a little uncomfortable though, this is where the most authentic taste of Sri Lankan life can be found though.
Groups of local boys sing and play the drums, big families crowd together on one or two benches, sharing meals and passing little ones across the carriage for the best views, while vendors squeeze past with precariously balanced trays of deep-fried delights.
The mood is jovial and everyone’s keen to chat - it’s just a super happy place to be!
THIRD CLASS RESERVED
Exactly as above, but with the difference of allocated seating. It’s a little less chaotic, but the mood is just as fun.
This is probably our favourite place to be on the Sri Lankan rail network, as it comes with all the fun and local interaction of third class, but with the slightly more organised aspect of having a (mostly) guaranteed seat.
You can also open the windows and doors here, and the doorways don’t tend to be as crowded as you may find in the unreserved carriages - perfect for dangling your feet over and feeling the wind through your hair!
BOOK | Secure your third-class reserved ticket here
SECOND CLASS UNRESERVED
A little softer than third-class seating-wise, though in a stuffy carriage with hard seating, this doesn’t really make too much of an impact!
Not too much more expensive than the third class, but again, you’ll probably need to push your way onto the train for this one.
These seats tend to be great if you’re travelling in the off or shoulder seasons, as the trains are a lot less busy then.
We’ve taken this option to Galle and managed to find a seat after Hikkaduwa - standing was kinda fun, but we did miss a lot of the beautiful coastline vistas.
SECOND CLASS RESERVED
As above, with allocated seating this time. The price jump for reserved seating in this carriage is about half again of what you’d pay for the other classes, but if you’re travelling during peak season and you know your travel dates in advance, it’s absolutely worth booking these well ahead of your arrival to Sri Lanka (read our top Sri Lanka travel tips for more handy tips).
Note that these will often sell out 1-2 months in advance during peak season, so booking online is the best option.
TIP | We recommend second class reserved for the Colombo to Galle train - book here
Allocated plush(ish) seating, privacy, and air conditioning are the main features here.
We absolutely wouldn’t recommend this carriage if you’re wanting to get a real feel for the train ride though; the windows and doors remain locked, and you’ll be rubbing shoulders mostly with other foreigners.
It’s not exactly the most authentic way to experience the country or the train, but if you’ve already taken a few train journeys and just want to get to your destination comfortably, this might be the option for you.
NOTE | At present, there is only one first class train per day servicing the Colombo to Galle route
THERE ARE TOILETS ON BOARD
There are toilets on board the trains, and while they’re definitely not the greatest we’ve ever encountered, they’re also not the worst.
They are squat toilets - so best avoided on particularly windy parts of the track - and always take some toilet paper in with you, as we’re yet to encounter any that provide it!
COLOMBO TO KANDY BUS
If trains aren't your thing, or you're on a strict budget, you can catch the public bus from Colombo bus station to Kandy easily.
If you've managed to snag a window seat (generally impossible on Sri Lankan buses), the drive from Colombo to Kandy is in many ways more spectacular than the train ride, as the road snakes its way through the countryside, rolling up and down before making the final ascent into the hill country.
Be warned though, the final few hours through the suburbs of Kandy are a hard, long slog!
WHERE IS PETTAH (BASTIAN MAWATHA) BUS STATION
Bastian Mawatha Bus station is located in downtown Colombo, right next to the bustling Pettah Markets.
It’s super easy to get to from anywhere in Colombo, as it is where most transport options depart from, including the Colombo Fort train station.
COLOMBO TO KANDY BUS TICKET PRICES
A one-way ticket from Pettah station to Kandy (bus #1) is around LKR 155 (around $0.50 USD). This is a non-A/C service.
A one-way ticket on the airconditioned service to Kandy is LKR 3,300 (around $9 USD). Book in advance here
NOTE | Price as of 2023. Prices change regularly in Sri Lanka, especially with the current economic and fuel issues
COLOMBO TO KANDY BUS TICKET DEPARTURE TIMES
Departure times for the public bus from Pettah central bus station to Kandy vary greatly, but services leave frequently 24 hours a day. Simply arrive at the bus station, ask around and there will be a bus departing soon enough.
Public buses generally take 4+ hours to complete the journey, are super crowded, and stop frequently.
NOTE | We were unable to find an up to date departure schedule
Departure times for the A/C bus from Pettah central bus station to Kandy are: 00:15, 10:00, 11:00, 15:00, 17:00
The A/C bus generally takes 4 hours for the 160km journey.
HOW TO BOOK YOUR COLOMBO TO KANDY BUS TICKET
Tickets for the Number 1 bus from Colombo to Kandy can be purchased from the conductor on the bus, so there’s a need to purchase in advance.
If you wish to purchase an A/C bus in advance, you can book here.
BOOK | A/C Bus from Colombo to Kandy
TAXI / PRIVATE TRANSFER
If you’re no longer a backpacker, and the days of catching long trains are behind you, there is a comfortable and efficient way to get to Kandy - via private transfer or taxi.
For a small (read: large) fee, you can be transferred directly from your Colombo hotel (or airport) directly to your accommodation in Kandy.
In fact, if you’re arriving to Sri Lanka and aren’t keen on staying in Colombo (or your flight arrives in the wee hours), this is definitely the best option.
The travel time to the coast is around 3.15 hrs (the expressway is faster and therefore cheaper), and, while the fee differs from provider to provider, will likely cost LKR 9,000 + ($100 USD - $150).
Hotels in Colombo can organise your transfer or taxi for you, while there’s a desk at Colombo airport for new arrivals to arrange their transport (here, the price is fixed and somewhat bloated).
Alternatively, we recommend booking in advance with a trusted provider here.
BOOK | Colombo to Kandy private transfer
KANDY TRAVEL INFORMATION
WHERE IS KANDY?
Set amongst the misty hills and dense forests of Sri Lanka's central province, Kandy is located about three hours northeast of the capital of Colombo.
Kandy is one of the largest and most culturally significant cities in Sri Lanka, with a population of around 110,000 calling the city home.
WHEN TO VISIT KANDY, SRI LANKA
Due to its position in the mountainous central region of Sri Lanka, Kandy has a wetter and cooler climate than most of the country.
For optimal weather conditions, we recommend visiting Kandy between January and April. Although the weather may be slightly warmer and humid, the days will be (mostly) rain free. From May to July, and from October to December, the region experiences its two monsoon seasons, during which time the weather is wetter and more volatile.
We visited Kandy in both April and November, and while both times of year were manageable, November was far wetter, which made it a lot harder to see everything we wanted. On the plus side, it was devoid of tourists and easier to see most attractions.
It's worth noting that the Sinhalese New Year occurs during the middle of April, which can make getting to Kandy (or anywhere in Sri Lanka) a huge problem, so we'd advise avoiding travelling to Sri Lanka over this period.
WHERE TO STAY IN KANDY
As it’s the cultural capital of Sri Lanka, accommodation for all budgets in Kandy is quite easy to come by
We’ve recommended three hotels below, but you can also search for all hotel options for Kandy, Sri Lanka using Booking.com.
TRAVEL INSURANCE | STAY SAFE IN SRI LANKA
If you can't afford travel insurance, you really can't afford to travel. As the current global situation has taught many people, things can go wrong anywhere in the world - and insurance is often the only way of mitigating any issues with minimal expense or stress for you.
For all travellers | HeyMondo - COVID-19 coverage, comprehensive travel + medical insurance, an app with 24-hour medical support, and no out-of-pocket fees. *Get 5% off your policy by booking through our link here.
For digital nomads | SafetyWing - COVID-19 coverage, comprehensive travel & medical, and policies can be purchased while already abroad.
Car Insurance | Insurance4CarHire - a great annual car insurance policy
EXPERIENCE SRI LANKA WITH THESE ESSENTIAL POSTS
KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN | Our definitive guide to the Kandy to Ella train
ECO-FRIENDLY PACKING ESSENTIALS | Don’t leave home without our favourite eco-friendly travel essentials
DISCOVER THE BEAUTY OF SRI LANKA WITH OUR GUIDES
Some of the links on this Colombo to Kandy Guide are affiliate links
If you choose to purchase using these links, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Please know that by using these affiliate links, you're directly supporting The Common Wanderer to stay wandering, the running costs of the site, and our ability to provide you with free content to help you on your travels.
That, and you're officially a legend.