Montenegro express: the Belgrade to Bar train
This post is about the Belgrade to Bar train, also called the Montenegro express. A spectacular journey from the rolling hills in Serbia to the rugged mountains in Montenegro.
I love trains, but in the Balkans they are not the most convenient mode of transport. They are slow with frequent delays and locals prefer to take buses that are quicker. However, It is considered to be the most beautiful train journey in Europe. The nostalgic Belgrade to Bar train is not about speed, but natural beauty and history.
The history of the Belgrade to Bar train
The Montenegro express was Tito’s engineering marvel. As the leader of communist Yoguslavia he wanted to to connect the capital Belgrade with the Montenegrin coast. This sounds easier than it was. With the Dinaric Alps in between, it was a tough job.
The Belgrade to Bar train winds through spectacular mountains, crosses more than 400 bridges over deep gorges and passes more than 200 dark tunnels. The line is 476 kilometers and takes 11 hours.
Tito himself was a huge fan of railway travel and used his own luxury blue train to travel through Yugoslavia. He loved his train so much that he also used it to discuss diplomatic issues with famous guests such as Queen Elizabeth, Yasser Arafat and Francois Mitterand.
The blue train still exists in its original state. If money is no issue you can hire it on the famous Belgrade to Bar line. Most people will have to make do with the daily passenger trains though.
How to book tickets for the Belgrade to Bar train?
The Belgrade to Bar train was on my bucketlist for a long time when I finally decided to go. I looked everywhere, but came to the conclusion that it was impossible to book tickets online. Except by contacting a certain mister Popovic.
It was summer and I was scared that the Montenegro express, might be full, so I sent an e-mail. I didn’t hear from him for weeks when I got instructions to send my credit card details in seperate e-mails. Obviously I was skeptic, but internet sources assured me of his trustworthiness.
The next e-mail told me I could pick up my tickets for the Belgrade to Bar train at a kiosk near the station the day before our departure. I never saw the mysterious mister Popovic, but the small kiosk selling sigarettes and snacks indeed had an envelope with the tickets. Everything was in order and I even got a free upgrade to the first class.
My experience on the Belgrade to Bar train
The day of my journey on the Belgrade to Bar train it was a hot day in Belgrade. It was in the middle of a summer heat wave with temperatures rising above forty degrees Celsius. I was not concerned with my first class tickets that promised me fluffy seats in an airconditioned coupé.
Before going on the Montenegro express I had a nice breakfast on the station and bought some water and snacks. Several bakeries were selling crispy phyllo pastry pies filled with cheese, spinach or meat. They smelled so good that I bought more than I could possibly eat for one meal.
It turned out to be a good decision as the journey took much longer than expecxted.
Europe’s most beautiful train ride?
Was it really Europe’s most beautiful train ride? Let me start with saying that being stuck on a train that frequently broke down and whose airconditioning kept going on and off during a heat wave does not make for a pleasant journey.
But then, comfort was not the reason I took the train in the first place. Tito opened the line in 1976 and used it to travel accross the Dinaric Alps to Montenegro’s coast. The Montenegro express crosses 435 bridges and passes through 254 tunnels. The old trains are still being used and even the first class is no fancy affair.
For some, the Montenegro express still offers the most affordable way to get from Belgrade to Bar in Montenegro, even though the train takes its sweet time. 11 hours if you are lucky, but more if the train breaks down. My fellow passengers told me this was a common occurence when I was once more standing still in the middle of Serbian farmlands.
By the time, I reached the most spectacular part in Montenegro, the sun was already setting behind the mountains. We reached Podgorica by nightfall and I felt I had to leave the Montenegro express before the real show began.
I have seen enough that I would want to take the Belgrade to Bar train again, but then starting in Montenegro and focus on the part from Podgorica to Bar.
For historical reasons this train is a must for those with an interest in the Balkan region. However, if it comes to beautiful train journeys in Europe there are definitely competitors out there such as the Dogu express in Turkey, the Arktika express in Russia, or the Lapland express in Sweden.
The Belgrade to Bar train travel tips
The Belgrade to Bar train runs twice a day. The Tara leaves at 09:21 from Belgrade to Bar and 08:20 from Bar to Belgrade. The nighttrain Lovcen leaves from Belgrade to Bar at 21:21 and from Bar to Belgrade at 19:00. The journey takes around 11 hours. Check the man in seat61 for the most recent timetables.
From the 1st of July 2018 trains are no longer leaving from Belgrade central train station but from the historic Topcider train station south of the city centre. Tramline number 3 will take you there.
Update: Due to covid the day time train Tara was suspended. In 2022 it is running irregelur so check whether it is going. Hopefully it will be up and running daily again in 2023. The Lovcen night trains are running normally on schedule.
Belgrade to Bar train tickets
Tickets for the Montenegro express cost 21 to 24 euro one way. For the nighttrain you should add 6 euro for a reservation in a couchette.
The train from Bar to Belgrade can not be booked online through the Serbian railways or Montenegrin railways. Tickets should be booked at a station in Montenegro or Serbia. If you travel from Belgrade to Bar you can book the tickets through mister Popovic from Wasteels agency
email: [email protected]
The blue train tickets
If you want to see Tito’s historic blue train you have several option. Taking the Belgrade to Bar journey in the blue train is possible as you can hire the train from the Serbian railways for this journey. This will cost you though. Serbian adventure occasionally organizes a 2 day tour to Uzice using the blue train. Prices are still high, but more reasonable.
If the blue train is not in use it is stored at the Topcider station. It is possible to visit the blue train. You need to buy tickets at the Belgrade central station. They cost 300 dinars ( 2 – 3 Euros). Then you need to take tramline 3 to Topcider station and find someone that will open the train for you.
How to get the most out of the Montenegro express
The best scenery on the Belgrade to Bar train is in Montenegro, especially the part from Podgorica to Bar.
Therefore I can recommend you to take the train from Bar to Belgrade. Alternatively, you can take the nighttrain from Belgrade to Bar in which case you get the best scenery once you wake up. If you have time in your itinerary you could also make stops along the way.
The Belgrade to Bar train route
In Serbia the train stops among others in Bijelo polje, Mojkovac and Uzice. The route even drops for a little bit in Bosnia Herzegovina before going back to Serbia and finally Montenegro. In Montenegro it stops in Kolasin, Podgorica (capital) and Virpazar (gateway to lake Skadar).
The daytrains are a long and hot journey in the summer. If you want to break up your trip kathmanduandbeyond offer some interesting ideas where to stop along the way. Uzice, Kolasin and Podgorica are nice cities if you are interested in the regions history and architecture. Virpazar is the gateway to beautiful lake Skadar and a great stop if you like nature.
What to expect on the Montenegro express
Like I said before, the Belgrade to Bar train is no luxury affair. Our first class coupes had soft cushioned chairs and was theoretically shared with 4 other people. However, the train was not full so there were only two other people during our trip. There was airconditioning, but this broke down frequently. Each compartment has toilets at the front.
What to bring on the Montenegro express
Bring enough food, snacks and water with you for the 11 hour journey. There is a cafe bar in the train that sells snacks, but the choices are limited. Also keep in mind that there could be delays.
If you leave from Belgrade there are some bakeries (pekara) near the station selling delicious breads. The pita’s filled with cheese or spinach are delicious and perfect to bring along on the Montenegro express. Also bring toilet paper or wet wipes as these are not guaranteed in the toilet.
Safety on the Montenegro express
The Belgrade to Bar train is one of the safest ways to travel between Serbia and Montenegro. Avoiding the risk of road accidents on windy mountain roads is a great plus of the Montenegro express.
Crime on the train is rare, but it is better not to leave your luggage unattended as opportunity theft can happen. For solo female travelers I can say that I had no problems on the train. Most other passengers are families and I saw other women traveling alone as well.
Where to sleep in Belgrade Serbia
Budget dormitory: Belgrade has lots of cheap hostels in its city center. Some recommendations with excellent reviews are Good people design hostel & Balkan Soul Hostel. If you prefer to stay in charming Zemun I can recommend Hostel 1910.Budget rooms: K43 rooms has private rooms for a reasonable price close to the city center. Budget apartment: Apartman Rale & Royal suites offer appartments that are a great option for longer stays.
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