Nuwara Eliya turned out to be a positive surprise when I decided to visit this cute little town in the high mountains of Sri Lanka. The true meaning of Nuwara Eliya is City of Lights, but everyone knows it as Little England. Because of the climate and the many tea plantations in the area, many British chose this place to stay during the period 1815-1948, when Ceylon was part of Great Britain. And even today, you can still see plenty of British influences.
Are you also planning to stay a few days in Nuwara Eliya? Then read on and discover the possibilities in this historic town. But one thing, don’t forget to bring a raincoat…!
Nuwara Eliya – The history of a British creation
Actually, we can be brief about the history of Nuwara Eliya. Officially, it was founded in 1819 by John Davey, a British officer. However, there are also stories that this place was previously frequented by Sinhalese tourists. Nuwara Eliya was turned into a kind of health resort, where British settlers could pursue their hobbies, such as cricket and hunting. Many of the buildings that you see today were made in the British style and the place is therefore a British creation.
The British decided to cultivate coffee, strawberries and lettuce in the area. But after the coffee plantations were destroyed by a virus, they decided to grow tea. And that turned out to be a fantastic discovery. Since then, Nuwara Eliya calls itself the tea capital of Sri Lanka. For the cultivation of tea, the British mainly brought Tamils from South India. Although there has been much friction throughout history between the small minority, the Tamils and the large majority, the Sinhalese, it did not lead to major conflicts in Nuwara Eliya. In Jaffna, on the other hand, it has.
Jaffna is located in the far north of Sri Lanka. Until 2009, it was the scene of a bloody civil war between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government. If you want to know more about this civil war and what you can discover as a tourist in this city, read the article Jaffna | Tamil Tigers, colonialism and kingdoms: 8 sights.
What to do in Little England?
Are you a big fan of hiking? Then Nuwara Eliya is the right place for you. Here, you can enjoy beautiful walks along waterfalls and magnificent mountains. And did you know that the highest mountain in Sri Lanka, the Pidurutalagala (2534 metres) can also be seen? Just look to the north and you will see it immediately! Below are a number of nice sights to inspire your stay in Nuwara Eliya.
Wander around in Little England
If you’ve just arrived in Nuwara Eliya, then you’re good to go. Take a stroll and soon discover why the place is called Little England. All those houses in British style, you would almost think that you are in the countryside of England. But nothing could be further from the truth. Visit Victoria Park and take a walk to the horse racecourse as you head towards Gregory Lake. There is also a British cemetery and of course a golf club. And if you want to stay in a typical British house, read on.
Or have a walk around Gregory Lake
About 1.5 kilometres south of the city centre is Gregory Lake. This is a reservoir constructed around 1870 when Sir William Gregory (1816-1892) was the British governor of the island. In 1913 an underground tunnel was constructed, through which the water flows to a power station. This still supplies the surrounding area with electricity.
The lake itself is not so big and lends itself perfectly to a nice walk around Gregory Lake. Meanwhile, you pass nice cafes and restaurants, it is possible to hire a boat in good weather (well, while you are there) and you pass a number of tea plantations.
Visit Pedro Tea Factory and Lover’s Leap waterfall
The 1885 Pedro Tea Factory is located about 4 kilometres east of Nuwara Eliya town centre. It is a great opportunity to learn more about how tea leaves are processed into the final product. And after the tour, it is possible to enjoy a delicious cup of tea in the café. The tour is short and it is not allowed to take pictures inside the premises. There are no tours between 12:30 and 14:00, so keep this in mind.
Afterwards you can go to the other side of the road and walk through the tea plantations to Lover’s Leap. This waterfall is easy to see from the road and is fun to combine with the tea factory.
Horton Plains National Park – Go to the end of the world
Horton Plains National Park is a beautiful nature reserve about 30 kilometres south of Nuwara Eliya. Here you can take a walk of about 9 kilometres that will take you to, among other places, the end of the world! The end of the world? Read the article about Horton Plains National Park and you will understand why, but the view is magnificent.
Would you like to visit this beautiful national park in Sri Lanka? Then leave as early as possible (around 5 o’clock in the morning), because you might spot a wild animal. Also, the walk takes about 3 to 4 hours and then you can take the train to Ella around 12 o’clock. I did it that way and I liked it!
Practical information for a stay in Nuwara Eliya
As I said, Nuwara Eliya positively surprised me! In the end, I stayed here for 2 nights and in principle that is enough. But if you want to make nice walks and discover enough of the surroundings, an extra day is definitely recommended.
Accommodation – Where to stay?
Looking for historic accommodation in Nuwara Eliya? There are a number of possibilities, but these are not very cheap by Sri Lankan standards. Here are a few special British-style hotels:
The Grand Hotel: In 1828, Sir John Barnes, a British army officer, had a country house built which we know today as The Grand Hotel. The hotel is adjacent to the golf course and for a mere $200 you can stay here.
Heritance Tea Factory: Always wanted to spend the night in an old tea factory? Then the Heritance Tea Factory, now converted into a hotel, is a good idea. For more than 200 dollars a night, you can stay here. The only drawback is that it is about 10 kilometres from Nuwara Eliya. But then you wake up between the tea plantations.
Okay, for the accommodations above, you will need a slightly bigger wallet to stay there. If you are looking for a nice and affordable hotel, please check below for the possibilities.
Transport – How to get to Little England?
The best and most beautiful way to get to Nuwara Eliya is by train. This is not for nothing one of the most beautiful train journeys of the world and the stretch Kandy – Nuwara Eliya – Ella belongs to the most impressive part of the journey. But from Kandy, there are also buses to the tea capital of Sri Lanka. These take about 2 to 3 hours.
Looking for a next destination? Actually, you can mainly choose towards Kandy or Ella, but that depends on where you came from before.
And what did you think of this article about Little England, or Nuwara Eliya? If you have any more tips and ideas, feel free to leave a comment below.