Trains to Serbia

A common way for people to reach Serbia is by train. There are good links to Belgrade, Novi Sad and other cities in Serbia, and although trains are somewhat slow, they tend to get there in the end. Just one note – do not schedule tight transfers when travelling to, in or from Serbia. The trains are not reliable enough. For example, it is tempting to try to get to Bratislava from Belgrade via Budapest using a train which leaves Keleti for Slovakia only half an hour after the train from Belgrade arrives. I have missed this connection before now – don’t risk it! And don’t trust the train to get you to Budapest in time for a flight either, unless you leave a good half a day’s margin at least!

Trains from Budapest to Novi Sad and Belgrade

Because of the cheap flights coming from Europe into Hungary (though as of summer 2010 Wizz-Air flies into Belgrade too!), the most common train service used for getting to Serbia is from Budapest. There is a twice-daily service from Budapest Keleti station, passing through Subotica, Novi Sad, Belgrade, and continuing down south all the way to Istanbul. You can check out the Hungarian train timetable here, just enter Budapest and, say, Novi Sad as your starting and ending points.

The service is not too bad for all its slowness, though expect the toilets to be less than hygienic and don’t be surprised if there is a long wait at the Hungarian-Serbian border (though things have improved in recent years). The price of a second-class return ticket to Novi Sad or Belgrade was in the region of 50 EUR last time I travelled which, given that a return minibus to Novi Sad is 60 EUR direct from the airport, means it is pretty unlikely that you will bother taking the train to Serbia if you have arrived at Budapest airport. If you do decide on the train make sure you have a full ticket before leaving Keleti – including reservation, as these can work out more expensive when paid for on the train itself.

Crime

Be vigilant both in Budapest and on the train. Keleti used to be rife with pickpockets and bagsnatchers, though an increased police presence in the last few years has hugely improved things. Serbia is relatively free of crime, but still be careful, there is always someone around who might try to take advantage of foreigners.

Cyclists

Oh, and for cyclists, this route being an international one, there is more understanding of those wanting to take bikes on board trains, but ask at the departure station before trying to get on board exactly what the arrangements are. Your best bet is to take the bike apart as much as possible and wrap in cardboard so that it takes up no more room than some of the dirty great bags people bring on board! That way you won’t have to leave your precious two-wheeler in some freight carriage. Or why not just cycle down along the Danube!?

Smugglers

Another interesting sight on this train, which may be less common now, was the vast numbers of people smuggling goods from Hungary to Serbia, especially while sanctions were still in force. If you see a lot of wrapped-up bags, that’s what it is. The train used to slow down in the area between the two borders and the smugglers would hurl all the stuff out of the windows to accomplices who were presumably waiting in No Man’s Land to pick it up. A similar thing used to happen during the approach to Belgrade, where, presumably with the complicity of the driver, the train used to slow down and passengers would throw out big bags of cigarettes, to avoid getting fingered by police waiting for them in Belgrade station!

On the way back out of Serbia, you will get old ladies coming up to you in the carriages seemingly offering bottles of liquor to you! It took me ages to figure out what that was about! They are basically trying to earn a few pennies by taking bottles of Serbian rakija over into Hungary and selling them at a much higher price. Because the allowance is only a couple of bottles per person, they enlist obliging passengers to carry the booze over the border for them, upon which they will reclaim the bottle from you. It’s up to you whether you want to help! Personally I would rather not get involved in anything like that, even though it’s pretty harmless.

Other rail routes to and from Serbia

There are also direct services to and from Vienna, Zurich, Zagreb, Thessaloniki and others. See the Serbian rail timetable here, where you can enter a route and see which direct services are available.

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11 Responses to Trains to Serbia

  1. Jmill says:

    Hi there,
    Thanks so much for setting up this useful website. My friends and I are travelling from Budapest to Novi Sad next week for Exit festival, and are just a little unsure about whether it’s worth while booking our train tickets in advance for the journey. Should we just arrive in good time at the station and buy them then? Would it be any cheaper to buy in advance? Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated!
    J

  2. markowe says:

    Hi, I am not 100% sure, but I would book tickets in advance, making a proper reservation for a particular train on a particular day etc. if possible. It’s bound to get busy for EXIT and though you can probably always buy a ticket on the day, this way you might get to sit down too! Even without a reservation you can probably get on the train and just pay on the spot (though it’s more expensive, as I mentioned above), but it could be very crowded and a reservation might just ensure you a seat – not sure, but better safe than sorry at such a busy time of year! Still, the train will probably be chock-full of EXIT-goers anyway, so it’ll probably be a bit of a party atmosphere 🙂

  3. rxtd says:

    Hey!

    I’m a student, I’m from Serbia but study in Slovakia. I travel there and back again (Slovakia-Budapest-Novi Sad-Budapest-Slovakia) all the time and I always take a return ticket from Kosice to Budapest 20euros and from Budapest to Novi Sad 23euros (You can use it for 1 month whenever you want). I traveled this way many times and the price has always been the same. I don’t go to Belgrade, because Novi Sad is closer to my town 🙂
    One thing is for sure: if you ever travel on this track, never take only one ticket to your destination. When you buy more tickets, like, make cuts, it’s way cheaper. My friend once bought one way ticket from Kosice, Slovakia to Belgrade, Serbia and the price was 80euros! That’s 38euros plus for not waiting in Budapest one-two hours for the next train xD

    Everything else, specially train slowness and lack of hygiene, are just the way the author of this article pointed it out :))

  4. markowe says:

    Really?! So if you buy separate tickets it’s much cheaper?! Thanks for this information – I haven’t travelled by train for quite a while, especially not to Slovakia, so I didn’t know this! I am sure this will help other readers!

  5. Francis says:

    I am researching my next Eurovelo6 stage from Budapest to Belgrade by bike, but I shall need to return by train (with the bike!). Nowhere can I find clear definitive information about facilities for unpacked bikes on Serb trains. Does any one know what is possible, please?
    Thanks

  6. markowe says:

    Francis, sorry, basically there is no real option for taking a bike on the train in Serbia other than to pack it up like luggage. See this site: http://www.zeleznicesrbije.com/active/en/home/glavna_navigacija/putnicki_saobracaj/unutrasnji_saobracaj/node_1226488208.html

    It’s a sad fact, but Serbia has very old trains that just don’t have room for a bike on them. I would make different plans, to be honest… It MIGHT be possible to make some informal arrangement on the spot, but that is not something you can reliably plan a trip around, as you can appreciate…

  7. David McTier says:

    I am flying into Belgrade next month for a visit and would like to take the night train from Belgrade to Skopje. I would like to book a sleeper (single or double) if available and affordable. Any advice about booking? (I have sent a request to Wasteels as recommended by seat61.com.) Any advice about the overnight ride, the border, etc.? Thanks!

  8. Mark says:

    Hi David,

    As I live here, I would just go to the train station and pick up a ticket, so I am not exactly sure about booking “remotely”, but I very much doubt that this train is often fully booked, unless you are travelling in holiday season. So you could probably just do the same and buy when you get here if all else failed (though better to book now if you can, obviously). I haven’t been for a while, but it’s really never been very expensive by European standards. I would be VERY surprised if it was more than 100 EUR total, and could in fact be a lot less.

    My advice would be just to make sure you book up a sleeper, NOT a “couchette”, and if possible try to get a 2-berth (if they have them, most sleepers are for 3) – they are more expensive but it means you only share with one other person, rather than 5 others in the case of a couchette!

    Otherwise, the ride will be fairly uneventful I would imagine, a little bit of peering out of the window at Belgrade by night to begin with and then gradually retiring to bunks as there is not much else to do. Doors are lockable, there is no crime to speak of any more (there were all kinds of stories 10-15 years ago, but that is a thing of the past), the conductor will come round a few times to collect tickets and return stubs etc. Not sure when you hit the border, but it’ll be a bit of a rude awakening, with the police knocking on the door and then the customs officers separately probably. Should be a formality though, and probably too late for more sleep after that.

    Hope it works out, enjoy your trip!

  9. David McTier says:

    As it turned out, I did not take the night train from Belgrade to Skopje. Evidently, there was so little demand for sleepers that the railways said only a T6 (compartment with 6 berths) would be available. I opted instead for a day bus that left Belgrade at 7:00 and arrived in Skopje around 15:00. The ride was slow but uneventful, even at the border. The only “problem” for me was never knowing how long a stop would be (and there were lots of stops!). Basically, I went without bathroom or lunch the entire trip. C’est le vie.

  10. Kasia says:

    Just had a trip from Belgrade to Budapest, and I am still in shock how a thief got into my compartment which I locked from the inside; Stay tunned as it seems you never know how they can enter through the locked door. I woke up the moment he was about to leave my compartment with my suitcase in his hands… so nothing got stolen… as he pretended to try to sell me something…

  11. markowe says:

    Hey, Kasia, that’s a bummer, and not a very pleasant experience, I bet. I haven’t heard about any incidents like that for a long time. I hope that’s not becoming more common.

    Yes, unfortunately it is easy to unlock the door from the outside – there is a allen/hex-key hole obviously for use by staff, but presumably thieves have made their own and it’s a piece of cake for them to put it in and turn it. You probably have to get creative with some additional security measures. Like take a Dobermann with you.

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