The train journey from Belgrade, Serbia to Bar, Montenegro (or in reverse), is perhaps one of the most spectacular train rides in the world. It’s a mind blowing feat of engineering, with 254 tunnels and 435 bridges on the 296-mile journey from the Serbian capital to the Adriatic coastline. Construction of the line started in the 1950s but only completed in 1976 and was opened by the former Yugoslavian President Tito himself. In the 1990s, the train was vastly underfunded resulting in the deterioration of the tracks. In 1999, UN bombing destroyed a portion of the tracks that ran through Bosnia, and was rebuilt by 2006. The train derailed shortly after killing 45 people resulting in speed limits being put in place. Nowadays, chronic under-funding still plagues this train.
There are numerous ways to get between Serbia and Montenegro including buses and cheap flights. Buses are 1-2 hours faster than the train, and a flight from Belgrade to Tivat is only $90 one way. Forget all that nonsense. Take this train. It’s one of a kind.
The train is not fancy
My original idea of this train happened to come from the first Daniel Craig James Bond movie, Casino Royale. In this movie, Bond rides on a bullet train in “Montenegro” filled with plush seats, fancy wine, and white glove waiters. I can assure you now that there exists no such train or infrastructure in Montenegro. The trains are Soviet era trains that may or may not be properly cleaned, have drop toilets that give the whole train a faint urine smell, and max out at maybe 100 km/hr. These are not Japanese bullet trains!
At the end of the day, all fears were unfounded. The 11 hour train ride more than makes up for its shortcomings with incredible views and vintage Soviet charm. This is not a luxury train, but for 20 euros to witness spectacular scenery, there isn’t much to complain about!
The train ride from James Bond. This train is not it.
How to buy tickets
To start off, there is no way to buy tickets for the train online. The barely functional Serbian railways website offers bare bones information and no way to book tickets. The only way to book tickets is by visiting the main train station in Belgrade. There are two trains that depart daily; one in the morning at 09:10am and another at 21:10 which is the sleeper train. Belgrade to Bar or vice versa costs around 2,600 Serbian Dinars (~€20). For travel by night train, add €6 for a couchette, €15 for a bed in a 3-bed sleeper or €20 for a bed in a 2-bed sleeper. I booked chose the day time ticket because I wanted to see all of the scenery when it was still light out.
I called the train station when I got to Belgrade but they didn’t speak any English. Thankfully, my Airbnb host helped us make reservations. We went to the main train station a day later to pay for the tickets thinking we should make sure we don’t get caught up in a sold out situation. Turns out, none of that is necessary because the train was half empty!
Below is a list of all the train station stops that are made. The train schedule was mostly followed but this is a half century old train so anything can happen. The train makes many stops but the main points of interest are Belgrade, Podgorica, and Bar. Podgorica is the capital of Montenegro, and ideal for those looking to go to Kotor the same day (which was what I had planned).
Preparing for the train ride
There are no fancy restaurants, and no snack bars that I could see. This is a 12 hour train ride so make sure to stock up on supplies before you get on the train. There are plenty of grocery stores in Belgrade to stock up on water and supplies before hand. Belgrade is also known for its variety of high quality bakeries that make delicious Balkan style pastries. The morning of our train ride, we stopped at a few places to stock up on the day’s supplies. We went to Pita Break, a shop selling warm fluffy pita style snacks with meat and vegetables, only 50-60 dinars a piece. Next door was a bakery where we purchased some sandwiches. We also made sure to buy plenty of water and of course some Serbian pivo (beers).
If worst comes to worse and you did not purchase anything, I did see small stands selling water and light snacks at a few of the train stations.
The beautiful Serbia-Montenegro train ride
The train left exactly on time from the station. I had no idea how to read my ticket to determine where I was to sit exactly so I just chose an empty compartment. It seems like no one really cares whether you sit in the right seats or not anyway. The trains are old school. They are organized in compartments with six seats each and a narrow hallway. Try to book a seat sitting on the right side of the trains going southbound (Belgrade to Bar) as all the beautiful mountains scenery will be on your right. In the end, it doesn’t matter much because the windows in the hallways roll down making for perfect views of the surrounding.
As the train picks up speeds it passes by farms and rolling hills of the Central Serbian countryside. Farmlands and lush green rolling hills dot the landscape. The scenery really starts turning a few hours into the train ride. Following a river valley, It’s several hours into the ride that real beauty starts. Following a river valley, the train winds around corners, over small bridges and through countless tunnels. About halfway through your journey you will pass through the short Bosnian section although there won’t be any signs – track your progress on a map if you want to know where the spot is.
Crossing into Montenegro
The majority of the train ride is in Serbia but the most stunning scenery is in Montenegro. We didn’t get to Montenegro until almost 5pm, crossing into the town of Bijelo Polje. Immigration officials from Serbia checked out passports as we left the country, and Montenegrin officials boarded the train half hour later to check and stamp our passports.
It’s after the brief stop when you cross into the border in Montenegro that the magic starts. The train continues to climb and every tunnel you exit will reveal a new and stunning view. Small towns dot the valleys below and massive granite cliffs tower above. At this point, the scenery was too beautiful for me to do anything besides stand up. I went to the car behind as the hallway faced the mountains and all the windows were open. I just stood here for the next hour in awe of the mountains as one peak gave way to a bigger peak. It looked like something out of a Disney movie especially as the sunset in the horizon brought out that golden, orange hue.
Make sure to take a few “head sticking out of the train” photos as well.
The video to sum it all up:
Getting off in Podgorica
I chose to get off in Podgorica as we were planning to stay a few days in Kotor. You can get off at any point on the train ride, and I met other travelers that were planning to spend a few nights in the coastal town of Bar. Podgorica, Montenegro’s picturesque capital is 1.5 hours taxi ride to Kotor making it the ideal stop for us. Taxis are readily available at the station, even at 20:00 and the cost is €50 to Kotor. We arrived in Kotor before 10, just in time for a later dinner.
All in all, I would highly highly recommend this train ride. Sure the infrastructure is heavily lacking versus its Western neighbors but the mountains ranges of Montenegro are something special and well worth the €20 ticket