The train from Belgrade to Bar at the Montenegrin coast is apparently the most famous scenic train ride you've probably never heard of. Well I suppose you have now technically heard of it. It's apparently one of those rail journeys you absolutely must do before you die and features on top 10s everywhere. This train takes around 12 hours (on the official timetable) to complete this journey. The entire reason we flew to Belgrade was to do this trip, so let's go!
There's not that much information on this journey floating around online so it was a bit of a hit and hope as to whether the service was even running!
We bought our tickets from the Belgrade station ticket office before departure. For two people from Belgrade to Podgorica it was 4700RSD (about £27). We were lucky enough to be placed (without asking) into an air conditioned carriage, there was only one of these.
Our carriage had compartments with 6 seats each. Despite reports that no trains in the Balkans run with buffet cars, this train did. We travelled on a Saturday, if that makes a difference I don't know. We took some bread rolls, crisps and salami and plenty of water. Despite the buffet car, I'd advise you to do the same. The locals all came prepared and had their own food too.
Our train left Belgrade at 9.10am(ish) at a snails pace. We soon learned this was in fact the pace of the entire trip! We had to stop for every level crossing, roughly every 2-5 mins. Coming from England where train stations have live information boards it's rather sobering to go to a capital cities station and see the years train departures listed on a sheet of paper. There really are no frills here. The train was ready and waiting in the platform over 30 mins before departure and the destination info was on a piece of paper taped to the carriage door windows.
During the journey there were extra stops over and above the ones advertised on the major websites though I didn't catch them all. The timetable seemed more like a rough estimation than an accurate measure of time. By the time we hit Užice (~160km), several hours into the journey we were over 45 minutes late. So far as I could tell, this wasn't due to the single track line with passing loops causing problems it was just that that was how it had taken us to travel that far.
We passed some beautiful sights but the windows of our carriage did not come down and most of my snaps are not good enough to post here. The carriages without air conditioning had fold down windows but it was just so hot there we elected to stay in our reserved seats.
The first few hours out of Belgrade were a bit dull if I'm completely honest. Flat fields full of corn, industry and not much else. After a couple of hours the scenery gets a little more interesting but isn't much more impressive than that you'd see on a train between Lyon and Geneva in the South of France. It really takes until the border with Montenegro for the ride to get going properly. That's about 8-9 hours into the trip folks!
By the time we left Užice the train was full. By that I mean there were no seats left and a few dozen people were littering the corridor for the remaining 5 hours of the journey. Poor souls. It's not long after leaving Užice that the line dips into Bosnia briefly. If you keep an eye on the right hand side of the train you'll see the border crossing sign.
A couple of stops later and finally, the train crosses the border into Montenegro. Border guards board the train at this point and checked our passports for a entry stamp into Serbia. This stop lasted about 15 minutes. We then carried on into Bijelo Polje where more border guards boarded, this time with electronic passport scanners and the all important passport stamps!!
We were an hour late by the time we left Bijelo Polje. The scenic part of the journey was yet to come and by this point I was getting a bit down that we hadn't seen anything spectacular yet. I guess I needn't have worried.
The River Tara (the namesake of our train) valley provided us with our most stunning views yet. Even Catherine got up and looked and "coo'd", that really tells you something. The train did spend a bit too long in tunnels overall to be really a thrill, but it's not surprising given the landscape!
We arrived into Kolašin still an hour late but had to wait for a Northbound train. I ventured to the buffet car for a drink at this point to find the attendant absolutely pissed out of his skill, singing at the top of his lungs, fag in the corner of his mouth jigging around to very loud folk music blaring from a tape player on the bar. I paid my 1.50EUR for a can of coke (that's all they had left besides Vodka!) and marvelled at what I'd just witnessed. "Never in the UK!" I thought! Still, he was doing noone any harm and seemed to be having a good time. When couped up for 12+ hours each direction who can blame him I suppose?!
The line was still pretty high (over 1000m) when I took this picture of clouds forming in the valley. By now though, it was almost 8pm and the light was fading fast.
I caught a fleeting glimpse of a tunnel and bridge through the window that we'd just come across. As you can see though by this point it's just too light inside and dark outside for more snaps. It did mean we missed the magnificent viaduct at Mala Rijeka, but we went out of our way in our hire car to go and see it a few days later.
We eventually arrived into Podgorica at 8.55pm. 11hrs 45mins after leaving Belgrade and over an hour down. Our poor AirBnB host had been waiting at the station for all that time and told us that the record was 22 hours for the same trip!
Bottom line, would I recommend this trip to others? Yes but perhaps just start in Bijelo Polje if you can. The bit between Kolašin and Podgorica is the standout segment of the trip. Possibly even break the trip up, stopping a night or two along the way. 12+ hours on the same train is just a bit too long without being able to take over the entire compartment and sloth out.
We shared a compartment with 4 people, non of whom spoke a word of English but went out of their way to make us feel welcome for the almost 12 hours we spent with them. No mean feat given the language barrier. We'll never know their names and they'll never know ours but thanks guys, you were great!
It's a good way to get the feel of a country travelling by train. The locals here all speak to each other all the time. No-one sits with their headphones on in their own little bubble. Everyone offers each other sweets if they have some. People leave the air conditioned carriage to smoke and are generally very polite and courteous. If you do decide to make this trip you'll have a great time. Just make sure to sit on the right going South.