The Belgrade to Bar train journey is one of the most spectacular in Europe. The journey is 296 miles long and features 254 tunnels and 435 bridges. It links Serbia and Montenegro with a brief segue into Bosnia too.
My journey began at the rather ramshackle Topcider station south of the Serbian capital of Belgrade. Here on the opposite rails you can see the old Locomotives used to pull the train of former Yugoslav dictator Josep Tito. The Blue Train used to take Yugoslavia’s president-for-life, his wife and their entourage to Brijuni islands in Croatia, Tito’s favourite place in summertime. It was on this train that he hosted important guests from around the world, from Queen Elizabeth II to Haile Selassie, Yasser Arafat, Jawaharlal Nehr. The train is also remembered for Tito’s last journey, after he passed away on 4 May 1980, when it transported his coffin from Ljubljana to Belgrade.
Once it was time to board a friendly guard help me find my cabin number. Initially I had this 6-berth cabin to myself but was soon joined by a friendly Montenegrin lady, who told me, she had been visiting family in Serbia. Despite the complex history of the Balkans the 2 countries share friendly relations and it is not unusual to have family on both sides of the border. As is customary we shared some of the snacks we each had with us for the 12 hour journey to Bar in Montenegro.
Top Tip! If you are travelling from Belgrade to Bar try get a seat reservation on the right hand side of the train. Likewise if you are travelling from Bar to Belgrade, get a seat on the left.
The decision to build the Belgrade to Bar train was made in 1952 when both countries were part of the Yugoslav Republic. It took over 20 years to complete the project, opening fully in 1976. There has been some major incidents since then, not least a de-railment in 2006 causing the death of 47 people as well the route suffering bomb damage during the Balkans War. Despite this it is a cheap way to get between the 2 countries and is still popular with locals and tourists alike.
So off we trundled, certainly not at any great speed, this is not a bullet train kind of journey, but the weather was pleasant and views were lovely as we rolled out of Belgrade, passing local villages and farmland. As we progressed further into our journey the gradient became steeper as were began ascending into the Dinaric Alps. This is where the scenery became more and more impressive.
About halfway through the journey we approached the border. Customs officials boarded the train and took all the foreigner’s passports, I was told this was standard procedure so sat in the buffet car with a beer and waited for them to return……and waited and waited. I spoke to the train guard and he uttered back one word in his broad slavic tone, ‘normal‘ and gave a shrug. It must have been nearly 2 hours before the train was eventually moving again.
Onboard the food options are limited so it is recommended you take your own snacks. There is plenty of beverage options however, and the local Niksicke beer goes down a treat. Toilet facilities are fairly basic but they were kept relatively clean throughout.
As we continued on the scenery became even more spectacular, crossing huge ravines, precipitous bridges and through long dark tunnels as we veered up and around the mountain-side. About 30 minutes north of Podgorica, the Montenegrin capital, we soared atop the 499m-long, 198m-tall Mala Rijeka Viaduct, one of the planet’s highest railway bridges.
As a result of our long border stop and a few other waits the train was now running 2 hours late, this meant that as approached our end destination it was in complete darkness. Bear in mind I took the journey in late June when the days are at their longest. This was a tad disappointing as this section is meant to be even more breathtaking as it descends into Bar, I guess I will have to take people’s word for it! The train runs through the daytime whichever direction you take it. As the most scenic part of the journey is the section between Bar and Podgorica it is perhaps best to start in Bar meaning you will at least get to see it in the daylight. It is a seriously picturesque journey and one worth making the effort of undertaking if you are in the Balkan region!