Nine Arch Bridge, Ella: everything you need to know
Sri Lanka’s Nine Arch Bridge is an architecturally stunning stone bridge located in the lush hill country of Ella.
Here’s everything you need to know for your visit.
If there’s a more beautiful scene than Sri Lanka’s Nine Arch Bridge, we’re definitely yet to witness it for ourselves.
Flanked by thick jungle and tea plantations; this stone bridge stands proudly across a lush green gorge in the hill country just outside Ella. Calling it picturesque would be a disservice, particularly on a misty day when cloud hangs low in the valley, and the famous blue train passes slowly over the bridge, creating a moody, mystical scene.
But we have a little confession to make.
When we first visited Sri Lanka in 2016, we’d spotted a few images of this (then) little-known bridge online. It looked like a photographer’s paradise, and it instantly went to the top of our Sri Lankan bucket list.
When the day finally came to visit, we were awake before the sun and bouncing off the walls with eager anticipation. We practically speed walked to what we thought was the entry point, made our way along the path, and then…. well… we got lost.
We’re still not quite sure how it happened, but no matter which path we tried to take, we just never seemed to get any closer to our goal.
Worst of all? We could see the arches, we just couldn’t work out how to get there. They seemed to beckon us mockingly as we became more and more frustrated with our predicament. Eventually we gave up and went back to our airbnb, disappointed and a tad embarrassed about our navigational failings.
Since then, the Nine Arch Bridge has exploded onto the scene as one of Ella’s most visited attractions, and after revisiting it again late last year, we can happily confirm that the path (or multiple paths!) is incredibly easy to find now too!
To help you have the best time ever (and avoid the mistakes we made), we’ve put together this guide to absolutely everything you need to know about visiting the Nine Arch Bridge. Enjoy!
Your ultimate guide to the Nine Arch Bridge, Sri Lanka
ABOUT THE NINE ARCH BRIDGE, ELLA
To this day, it boggles our minds that a bridge could become such a huge tourist spot, but the Nine Arches Bridge that straddles the green hills between Ella and Demodara stations isn’t just beautiful; it’s also one of the best examples of colonial-era construction and an incredible architectural feat.
In fact, the story goes that not long after the bridge had been commissioned by the British, WWI broke out between Europe’s Empires. When the steel allocated to this bridge was redirected to Britain’s war efforts, 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, and we think it’s a pretty damn good example of human ingenuity!
Today, the bridge is famous amongst travellers and locals alike, who come to catch a glimpse of the famous blue train slowly inching its way across the bridge. One of the things we love best about that moment is just how jovial it all is; those on the train smile and wave, and those on the ground often cheer with excitement. It’s impossible not to be swept up in the atmosphere of it all!
Adventures in the hill country: our guide to Ella, Sri Lanka
HOW TO GET TO THE NINE ARCH BRIDGE
There are a few ways to get to Nine Arch Bridge from Ella, and each depends on your budget, mobility, and time:
Tuk tuk from Ella Town | You can take a tuk tuk from Ella town most of the way to the bridge (then hike the remaining 5-10 minutes on foot), which was the quickest and easiest option and the way we took back from the falls. Tuk tuks cost about LKR 2-300 for this.
On foot | You can also walk to Nine Arch Bridge by following the Ella-Passara Road, turning left at Sri Kanaser Temple (where all the street food stalls are) and following the signs past multiple guesthouses until you arrive at the bridge.
Tuk tuk down to the bridge | There is the option to catch a tuk tuk right down to the bridge itself (rather than walk the remainder), however we heard rumours during our time there that a few unscrupulous drivers have been scamming tourists by taking them on a long-winded journey then charging them extra.
THE BEST VIEWPOINTS OF NINE ARCH BRIDGE
Depending on how much exploring you’re willing to do in the hills either side of the bridge, there are plenty of awesome viewpoints (and photography angles!) over the curved train track and misty slopes - although there are a few easy ones we’d recommend checking out:
THE BRIDGE ITSELF
The most popular of the viewpoints is from the bridge itself - though we do have to warn you that it’s still part of the working (and famous!) train line between Kandy and Bandarawela via Ella, so do be careful when you’re on the tracks!
THE TEA FIELDS TOWARDS DEMODARA
On the northern end of the bridge (away from the tunnel), there are some tea fields below the bridge that are popular for photography, particularly for shooting up to the bridge from below.
These are steep, muddy (read: full of leeches!) and technically private land, so be sure to ask the workers who work in them before traipsing through.
THE HILLS TOWARDS ELLA STATION
Head towards the tunnel at one end of the bridge (towards Ella), and take the path to the left. This winds up through the forested hills on that side, eventually coming to clearing with perfect views over the tracks below.
Photography-wise, this will give you a lovely shot of the bridge as it curves away from the camera.
THE ASANKA CAFE VIEWPOINT
Perched high above on the northern end of the bridge, the Asanka Cafe is probably the best spot to view the Nine Arch Bridge from. Our favourite shot of the foggy mountains and blue train is from this very spot!
From here, you can see the full curve of the track and the train as it emerges from the tunnel. The family who owns the cafe is absolutely lovely, and they make a delicious cup of sweet tea (perfect if you get stuck in a torrential downpour, as we did!).
THE FORESTED HILLS ABOVE THE BRIDGE
Another great lookout over the tracks can be found on the same side as the Asanka Cafe, simply walk along the track to the right, (away from the tunnel) and then hike up on the path found on your right hand side.
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WHEN TO VISIT THE NINE ARCH BRIDGE
There are two key times to visit the Nine Arch Bridge both for the best experience and perfect photographs: sunrise and when the train is crossing it.
Sunrise is a magical time here, as the tracks are bathed in golden light (perfect for photography - read our top photography tips here!) and there’s barely another soul in sight. You’ll have the joy of watching the surrounding hills come to life and snapping some epic shots without having to contend with a million selfie sticks at the same time. By about 7am the crowds are already starting to gather, and by the time 9am rolls around,the masses have well and truly descended.
The other key time is, obviously, as one of the famous trains crosses the bridge; a dash of blue through the lush green hills. We’ve listed the times of when the train is scheduled to pass over the bridge below, however the Sri Lankan train network is notoriously unreliable - so allocate some extra time either side!
Trains pass over the bridge at the following times:
our tips for visiting the nine arch bridge
LISTEN OUT FOR THE TRAIN HORN
As we’ve mentioned, this is very much a working train bridge, so if you plan to explore or take photos on the bridge or its surrounds, listen out for the train horn and make sure you’re well out of the way with plenty of time.
THERE ARE PLENTY OF CAFES
If you’ve been exploring on an empty tummy or you get stuck in a rainstorm (as we did), there are a couple of cafes both along the hiking path and down next to the bridge to sit and grab some food, a warm tea, or just relax and take it all in from.
PICK UP YOUR RUBBISH
There’s nothing worse than arriving at such a beautiful scene, only to find bits of rubbish and plastic littered about next to the tracks. Don’t be a gross human; avoid buying plastic where you can, and if you do, please take your trash out of the area with you until you can find a suitable place to dispose of it.
Trip planning essentials: everything you need to know before travelling to Sri Lanka
ELLA TRAVEL GUIDE | OUR ELLA TRIP PLANNING ESSENTIALS
For all the details you need to plan your trip to Sri Lanka’s beautiful hill country town, check out our comprehensive Ella travel guide for the lowdown on where to stay, other things to do in the area, and how to get there/around. In the meantime, here are a few key details to keep in mind:
HOW TO GET TO ELLA, SRI LANKA
You can get to Ella (Uva Province) via train or bus, although if the option is available, we highly, highly recommend you take the train - after all, there’s a reason this is one of the most popular train rides in the world!
COLOMBO to ELLA | The direct train from Colombo Fort to Ella encompasses the world famous Kandy to Ella train ride, however we’d highly recommend breaking up the journey and spending time in Kandy (read our guide to Kandy). If you’re keen to get straight to Ella, be prepared for a 10+ hour train ride.
KANDY to ELLA | One of the great train rides in the world, and one of the best things you’ll do in Sri Lanka. Expect the train ride from Kandy to Ella to take between 6-8 hours. We recommend booking 3rd class for the most authentic experience.
COLOMBO to ELLA | From Colombo/Pettah bus station, take the bus to Bandarawela (around LKR 200 - 700), where you’ll need to change and jump on a connecting bus to Ella (LKR 50 - 100). Or, for the final part of the journey, hire a tuk tuk to Ella town (LKR 500). This takes a total of 7-8 hours.
KANDY to ELLA | To be honest, don’t even think about taking a bus on this route - the train ride is too beautiful to miss.
THE SOUTH to ELLA | From Unawatuna, Mirissa, Hiriketiya, 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). It’ll stop in Ella via Wellawaya, and will take around 5-6 hours.
where to stay in ella
Accommodation in Ella is quite easy to come by; the town is literally teeming with low to mid-end hotels. We’ve recommended our three favourite options below:
For all your Ella trip planning essential information and tips, check out our Ella travel guide here
We hope this Nine Arch Bridge guide gives you all the information you need, but if we’ve missed anything, let us know in the comments!