Rail Journeys

Sri Lanka on the Viceroy Special

Tour Date: 4 to 17 November 2023
Location: Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a beautiful tropical island the size of Ireland that has it all: endless beaches, World Heritage, wildlife, beautiful scenery.

Step aboard the famous Viceroy Special for a unique rail adventure through the mountains, coast and Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. On this unique tour exploring the history, art and culture of this stunning country, you’ll have the option to ride the extraordinary Sri Lankan rail network in grand style, explore the wonders of the island up close and personal.

Off-limits for decades, Sri Lanka is again open for business. With its reputation as a destination bursting with colour and variety, it’s back on the radar of discerning travellers.  The country’s remarkable combination of stunning landscapes, pristine beaches, misty mountains and captivating cultural heritage is made all the more accessible by its compact size.

Thanks to its colonial history of settlement by the Portuguese, Dutch and British, and centuries of trade with Arab, Chinese, and Malay merchants, overlaid by its main religions of Buddhism and Hinduism, Sri Lanka boasts rich traditions, colourful festivals, exotic cuisine and eight UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The British-built broad gauge railway network reaches all the main regions of the island and is itself a living museum. It incorporates some of the most scenic and dramatic sections of railway to be found anywhere in the world. Cultural wonders, natural beauty and the fascinating life of Sri Lankan people are all on show from the window of your private, first-class train, the iconic Viceroy Special. Staying and dining in the best of Sri Lanka’s hotels and resorts with plenty of time for relaxation, shopping, exploring and appreciating the rail story, you are in for a rare treat on this all-inclusive luxury guided adventure.

Tour Highlights

  • Some private charter trains
  • Private train from the airport into town
  • All dinners and some lunches
  • Stunning scenery
  • Wildlife
  • Amazing welcoming and friendly people
  • Chance to travel of all rail lines in Sri Lanka

Tour Itinerary

The Viceroy Special is a private luxury train, pioneered and managed by JF Tours & Travels in collaboration with Sri Lanka Railways. Made up of two air-conditioned observation coaches and a restaurant car, the train has been meticulously restored with a High Colonial theme, including nineteenth-century period fittings and complimented by all modern conveniences behind the scenes.

Cars feature comfortable reclining chairs, individual adjustable tables, a smoking compartment with opening windows, and modern Western amenities. Observation windows allow views forward and down the line. A teak-panelled restaurant car is elegantly furnished with adjustable seating, opening windows, Edwardian ribbed fans, and a fully equipped kitchen and bar.

Throughout each journey, experienced guides are on hand to provide expert commentary and background on the sites visited, while the attentive stewards provide excellent service. Tea and coffee are available at all times during each journey; complimentary bottled water, soft drinks, beer and wine are also available.

For most of the journey the train is hauled by one of Sri Lankan Railways’ fleet of diesel locomotives. There are currently two operating steam locomotives in Sri Lanka. We have booked the 4-6-0 1928 vintage Sir Thomas Maitland to haul the train from Colombo to Galle on the last day.

From: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow

Arrival into Colombo you will be met at the airport and transferred to the local railway station for a special introductory charter trip on one of our special heritage trains which will take us from the airport terminal into the city of Colombo and onto the station of Kollupitiya, just a short walk to our hotel.

Later in the morning, join your tour leaders and your fellow travellers from both Europe and Australia for a welcome briefing and lunch at the hotel. This is followed by an afternoon city tour of Colombo, visiting its commercial and cultural centres and main seaport. The city boasts many fine colonial-era buildings, reminding us of its rich colonial past. Bustling bazaars, Buddhist and Hindu temples, and Muslim mosques are in dramatic contrast to modern Colombo with its high-rise buildings, smart modern shopping malls, and international hotels. Highlights of the tour include the old parliament houses, Buddhist temples, the Town Hall, and the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall. We also visit Sri Lanka’s National Museum, which houses a valuable collection of art and sculpture from the many great eras in the nation’s history, an inspiration for the journey ahead.

Seema Malaka Temple, Colombo

For our rail fans you may wish to join David for the afternoon on an optional tour of the rail system and the nearby railway workshops. This interesting rail option includes a visit to Ratmalana workshops after lunch. We’d do this on the T1 from Kollupitiya directly into the workshops on a very rare track. Returning on our special T1 railcar to the station near the hotel.

Colombo station, from this angle, could almost be mistaken for Britain

Back at the hotel you have some leisure time and later gather together to travel the short distance to the historic Galle Face Hotel for a lavish buffet welcome dinner. Overnight: Mövenpick Hotel, Colombo

After breakfast we board our private train, the splendid Viceroy Special, for our first great train journey. The route takes us via two main junctions into the heart of the Cultural Triangle, and on to the east coast. While enjoying morning tea in the restaurant car, watch the bustle of rural life passing by the windows, and notice how the landscape changes as we progress into the dry climate of the region. We stop at Avukana to see the magnificent 12m Buddha, believed to have been carved in the 5th century AD, and the adjacent Kala Wewa tank built in 400 AD.

Avukana. Magnificent 12m Buddha

Lunch is served onboard. In the early evening the train pulls into the historic port city of Trincomalee. Here we transfer to the hotel to settle in and enjoy dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. Trinco Blu by Cinnamon, Trincomalee

Colourful Hindu temple in Trincomalee

After a leisurely breakfast we embark on a city tour of Trincomalee, visiting the old Fort Fredrick and stopping at Swami Rock – also known as Lover’s Leap – and said to be one of the best vantage points for blue whale spotting. The Maritime and Naval History Museum and the ancient Hindu temple, Koneswaram, are on our agenda, before a break for lunch at one of the city’s popular venues.

Swami Rock

Travelling down the coast by coach we arrive at Pasikuda, a resort town near the city of Batticaloa, the bustling coastal resort, fishing and commercial centre a bit further down the highway. We check into our hotel and relax with a sumptuous dinner provided in the hotel’s signature tropical restaurant.


Rail fans have the option to take the train down the line on the Batticaloa branch line. This group will be transferred to the hotel on arrival at the nearest station. Overnight: Uga Bay Hotel, Pasikuda

This morning we enjoy a tour of the city of Batticaloa, visiting historical sites such as the old Dutch fort and the impressive Hindu and Buddhist temples.

Batticaloa Fort

We also make time for a spot of shopping and visit a traditional market. The afternoon will be free for you to hit the beach, take a spa or enjoy the many other facilities of our charming seafront hotel. Overnight: Uga Bay Hotel, Pasikuda

Today we re-board the Viceroy Special for a journey on the unique Batticaloa branch line, heading northwest into the heart of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle. Here we visit a number of outstanding World Heritage sites. You could fill your sketchpad at this inspiring ancient complex alone.

The first site we visit is Polonnaruwa, located in the North Central province. Formerly the capital of Sri Lanka from the 11th to 13th centuries, it was the favourite country retreat of royalty and a key settlement due to its strategic location near the crossing of the Mahaweli River. This ancient city marks one corner of the Cultural Triangle and contains a wealth of remarkable sites and monuments.


UNESCO inscribed the site in 1982 and described it as a ‘fabulous garden-city.’ After exploring the remains of a royal palace, the Buddhist Quadrangle, the Bodhi Tree shrine and massive dagobah (stupa) we relax for lunch at a restaurant in Polonnaruwa.


Further down the line is Dambulla. Here we check into our hotel, a wonderful structure designed by Geoffrey Bawa, set amongst dense jungle on the edge of Kandalama Lake. Overnight: Heritance Kandalama, Dambulla.

View from our hotel overlooking the swimming pool and Kandalama Lake

This morning we visit the legendary Sigiriya (Lion Rock), a massive stone monolith rising 183m (600 feet) from the surrounding jungle.

Sigiriya (Lion Rock)

We explore the remains of a vast fortress and royal palace complex that was built on top of the rock by an obsessed monarch 1,500 years ago – an extraordinary feat of engineering and construction. Remnants of moats, ramparts and water gardens spread out on two sides of the rock, with the remains of a pair of giant stone lion’s paws still guarding the staircase that leads to the summit once occupied by the royal palace. At the height of its brief glory of only 18 years in the late 5th century, Sigiriya was described as one of the loveliest royal cities that ever graced the earth.

We return to our hotel for lunch. After a brief rest, we visit Dambulla cave temple, another fascinating World Heritage site. Dambulla is a main centre for Buddhist pilgrimage, as well as one of the largest cave temple complexes in south Asia.

Dambulla Cave complex

The caves are adorned with numerous ancient and dazzling rock and wall paintings of Lord Buddha that showcase the exquisite colour and technique employed by the artisans of the ancient kingdom. The monastery was built in the 1st century AD, and of numerous chambers found in the shelter only five are in use today.  The best known is the Maharaja Vihara. Dinner and the evening are at leisure for you to enjoy the facilities of the resort. Overnight: Heritance Kandalama, Dambulla.

We travel south this morning by coach to the busy town of Matale, to re-board the Viceroy Special waiting at the old 1880 vintage terminus station. Lunch is served on board, as we make our way along a branch line to the junction of the main line near Kandy. From here the train begins its ascent to the famous hill country.

Running along the escarpment with views across Adam’s Peak, the coastal plain and tea plantation-clad hills, this is one of the most spectacular sections of our entire journey.

We arrive in the late afternoon at Nanu Oya, the garden station for nearby Nuwara Eliya. We then travel the short distance to our hotel in the heart of this old British Hill Station, where we’ll be based for the next three nights. Dinner is at the hotel. Overnight: Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya.

The Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya is a cool green mountain valley in the heart of Sri Lankan hill country, and was a favourite retreat for colonial Europeans in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The rolling hills are laced with tea plantations and interspersed with gushing streams and tumbling waterfalls. The spectacular railways we’ll be riding have been serving the community since 1885.

After breakfast we transfer by coach to the railway station for a one-day excursion on the Viceroy Special along the highlands railway to the mountain terminus station of Badulla. On this scenic journey, we descend from the heights of Nuwara Eliya at nearly 2,000m to Badulla at 680m on the banks of the Badulu Oya (river). The railway features numerous spirals, loops, spectacular viaducts, waterfalls and quaint colonial stations.

Badulla marks the southeast extremity of the hill country and is one of Sri Lanka’s oldest towns. The Portuguese briefly occupied it, and then in the dying days of the British Empire the railway from Nuwara Eliya was constructed at great expense in 1924. Lunch is hosted on board after which we take a short tour of Badulla town and later return by your choice of either train or private coach. Overnight: Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya.

A morning departure from the hotel takes us on a tour of the district. First stop is Victoria Park and Hakgala Botanical Gardens.

Established in 1861 for the purpose of experimentation and promotion of the medicinal Cinchona tree, it now houses over 10,000 species of plants. After lunch at a local restaurant we tour through one of the famous tea factories that dot the district around Nuwara Eliya, and watch how freshly-picked tea leaves are processed in these cavernous facilities. Tea is one of Sri Lanka’s biggest exports and it’s fascinating to see how the leaves from this humble Camellia plant are treated and blended to obtain the teas for which the country is renowned. Sampling the product is encouraged, of course. Dinner this evening is hosted by the historic Hill Club. Founded in 1876 by a British coffee planter as a home away from home, today it’s a privately-operated club and hotel.  Overnight: Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya.

Today the Viceroy Special descends from the high country to our next World Heritage site – the city of Kandy. This journey is our second opportunity to enjoy the spectacular views across the deep valleys to the sacred conical summit of Adam’s Peak. The spectacular engineering of the line and the beauty of the numerous colonial-era stations we’ll pass through en route, only enhance the view.


Lunch is served on board prior to our early afternoon arrival in Kandy. A city tour introduces us to many historic sites as we make our way to the hotel, including the lake, the Temple of the Tooth and the Kandy Town bazaar.

Temple of the Tooth, Kandy

After dinner the evening is yours to relax at the hotel, or to take a stroll around the vibrant heart of the old town centre. Overnight: The Grand Kandyan Hotel, Kandy.

After a leisurely breakfast we travel by coach to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya, and nearby temples. The gardens, 6km out of Kandy, were the pleasure gardens of the Sinhala king well before British colonisation.

The 60ha of gardens contain a staggering array of plants, including many ancient figs, teaks and even some massive Queensland and New Zealand kauri pines. After lunch at the Botanic Gardens, the afternoon is at leisure. In the evening we enjoy the rich culture of Kandy brought alive at a colourful cultural show.

The heart of Kandy offers a great venue to capture the vast complex that was the old royal palace and the sacred Temple of the Tooth. The human element adds another dimension to this setting, with pilgrims coming from everywhere, praying and reflecting amongst the myriad of smaller temples and shrines around this vast area. Overnight: The Grand Kandyan Hotel, Kandy.

The Viceroy Special departs in the morning, descending through plantations, jungle, villages and towns on its way to Colombo.

En route the train stops at Kadugannawa station as the national railway museum is here and we spend some time exploring the collection. Following this we continue to Rambukkana for an excursion to the world-renowned Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. Here elephants of all ages are looked after with loving care until such time as they are ready to be released back into the wild. We aim to view the elephants at bathing time in the wide river beside the town. Back on board the Viceroy Special, lunch is served as our journey continues through rich agricultural plains and into the metropolis of Colombo, arriving mid-afternoon. We are then taken to our hotel for an afternoon at leisure to enjoy the facilities of our centrally-located hotel. Enjoy a gourmet dinner in the hotel in the evening. Overnight: Mövenpick Hotel, Colombo.

Today we embark on the last leg of our journey aboard the Viceroy Special, this time hauled by one of Sri Lanka’s two remaining steam locomotives – the vintage 4-6-0 BIA Class, built by Beyer Peacock in 1928.

The train departs from Colombo’s main station at Fort in a flurry of activity, and steams south through the outer suburbs and along the coast. The line frequently runs parallel to the beach allowing great views out to sea. Opportunities for photo stops are provided and lunch is served on board before we arrive in Galle in the early afternoon. After disembarking we enjoy a tour of Galle, finishing at the World Heritage-listed old fort complex known as the ‘Ramparts of Galle.’

Galle Fort Complex

Annexed by the Portuguese in the 16th century and extensively fortified by subsequent Dutch and British custodians, the fort has a remarkable old-world atmosphere after 500 years of occupation. The minimalist, stately, and elegant Lighthouse Hotel is another Sri Lankan gem designed by the famous Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa.

For those interested in further exploration of the southern rail system you have the option to join David on an excursion on the regular train service to Beliatte and returning to Galle by the end of day. The farewell dinner tonight is at the hotel overlooking the bay and the Indian Ocean with drinks included. Overnight: Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel, Galle.

Today you are offered a late check-out and a day at leisure. Feel free to enjoy the beautiful coastal location of the hotel and its many facilities, including a famous spa. Tours of the region around Galle or to the many museums can be arranged. Lunch and dinner is offered at the hotel, and in the early evening, for those who are heading home, we depart together by coach for Colombo airport for the return flights home. Unless, of course, you are lucky enough to be lingering in this wonderful country and have other plans to extend your adventure on the magical island of Sri Lanka.

You also have the option to re-board our Viceroy steam hauled train for the return trip to Colombo and then onto the airport for evening flights or your hotel in Colombo if you wish to extend your stay in Sri Lanka.


  • Transfers on arrival and departure if travelling on the suggested group flights
  • 14 nights’ accommodation in centrally located 4-5 star hotels with daily breakfast
  • All meals (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
  • Special welcome and farewell lunch and dinner with drinks
  • Exclusive train travel throughout, aboard the beautifully appointed Viceroy Special
  • Comfortable air-conditioned coaches for road travel
  • Comprehensive sightseeing as shown on the itinerary, including local guides and entrance fees
  • Gratuities for local guides, drivers and train staff
  • Porterage at hotels and railway stations, and separate luggage handling
  • Visa for Sri Lanka


  • Transfers on arrival and departure if not travelling on group flights
  • Items of a personal nature (eg. telephone, laundry, mini-bar)
  • Travel insurance
  • Excursions mentioned as optional in the itinerary

Our itineraries are designed to make the most of each destination, so a reasonable amount of activity is built into most days, which is why we call them adventures. Our philosophy is to offer you the best experience possible, while leaving you, our guest, the flexibility to pace yourself and choose how much or how little you want to do. Each tour incorporates periods of free time for your own exploration and relaxation.

Prices & Options

Holiday Prices (per person)

  • Full 14-day holiday including UK flights via Dubai: £6,270
  • Full 14-day holiday including direct flights from Heathrow: £6,475
  • Full 13-day holiday joining in Colombo: £5,450


  • Single use room: £1,250


  • With flights included: £1,750
  • Own Flights: £750

Transport & Accommodation


  • Mövenpick Hotel, Colombo (1 night at the beginning and a second later in the tour)
  • Trinco Blu by Cinnamon, Trincomalee ( 1 night)
  • Uga Bay Hotel, Pasikuda (2 nights)
  • Heritance Kandalama, Dambulla (2 nights)
  • Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya (3 nights)
  • The Grand Kandyan Hotel, Kandy (2 nights)
  • Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel, Galle (1 night)

The Train

The Viceroy Special is a private luxury train, pioneered and managed by JF Tours & Travels in collaboration with Sri Lanka Railways. Made up of two air-conditioned observation coaches and a restaurant car, the train has been meticulously restored with a High Colonial theme, including nineteenth-century period fittings and complimented by all modern conveniences behind the scenes.

For most of the journey the train is hauled by one of Sri Lankan Railways’ fleet of diesel locomotives. There are currently two operating steam locomotives in Sri Lanka. We have booked the 4-6-0 1928 vintage Sir Thomas Maitland to haul the train from Colombo to Galle on the last day.