Monday, May 28, 2012

Travel by train in the Balkans- from Sarajevo to Belgrade

We travelled to Belgrade by train a few weeks ago. It was my first visit to that impressive city and I really couldn't wait to share my travel notes with visitors to help them plan their trips. Well, let's get started with the railway station in Sarajevo.

It's easy to find the railway station in Sarajevo since there is only one in the city. It's called željeznička stanica and the full address is  Put života 2, 71000 Sarajevo and the telephone number is +387 33 65 53 30. Take the tram No.1 from the center and the old part of Sarajevo.

Inside the Sarajevo railway station

The train we took on a Sunday left dead on time at 11:49 am from Sarajevo station and arrived in Belgrade at around 20:10 which means the journey takes a little more than eight hours. The fare was 33.00KM (around 21 US dollars) for a single ticket which is a bargain compared with a plane ticket, which often costs six times as muchThe station agents don't accept credit cards and write out each ticket by hand. 

There were so few passengers that the train was almost empty as the station agent had told us not to worry about not getting a seat! So we spread ourselves around on such an empty train.  
There were no plug points in the carriages, so if you plan to use your laptop or any other electrical appliances do remember to take extra batteries. It is a must. Access to Internet - I've not heard of any access in the trains. Remember to take a book or magazines to enjoy on the way.

The morning train is the only one available to Belgrade every day and so we lost exactly one whole day on the way to Belgrade. It's a pity that there isn't another alternative. If you could take the train which leaves in the evening, travelling after dark and so arriving in Belgrade in the morning would be a better choice because after the Bosnian territory the scenery loses its lure and there is nothing spectacular left to see as the train chugs along

The carriages are a little old and hardly luxurious but they are clean. There is no air conditioning and some windows don't function properly. If you travel in summer, it will be quite stuffy in the compartments. However, they are much better than the smaller seating offered in automobiles and airplanes. I liked this most. It was great to stretch your legs fully and even sleep whenever you feel like it. 
All the carriages had toilets. Although functioning, they are very old and in poor condition. Do remember to take some toilet paper with you - just in case.

There wasn't any cafe-bar or dining car on the train to my disappointment and no food and drinks were available. Travelling without a cup of coffee is something that you would never expect in the Balkans but things happen. Fortunately, we were well-prepared for the journey since Milou was with us. When you travel with a two-year-old toddler, you learn a lot to be ready for anything on the way. So, do remember to take at least some bottled water or other cold drinks with you as well as snacks enough for a trip that lasts more than eight hours.

Smoking is allowed in the carriages and so people smoked all along the journey. It was a bit annoying not to have another option for a non-smoking carriage. 

What about the route? It might sound a little bit confusing at first but keep in mind that you don't have to leave the train during your journey. Well, the Sarajevo-Belgrade train follows a route which goes through different territories: 

1. Starting from Sarajevo to Zenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
2. Doboj in Republika Srpska which is the second entity in BIH.
3. Strizivojna-Vrpolje in Croatia.
4. Starting from Šid (then respectively Vinkovci, Tovarnik, Sremska Mitrovica, Ruma, Stara Pazova and Nova Pazova) to Belgrade in Serbia. 

Therefore, the carriages used during this journey belong to four separate railway companies from three countries.

It was quite odd to witness that through different territories they change engines and carriages while making passengers wait without any explanation about what's going on out there. If it's your first time on this route and if you find yourself waiting for some time in a small station in nowhere in the Balkans, it most probably means that they're changing the engine or matching some other carriages to it. If your carriage is about to be left behind in that station, a conductor comes and tells you to move to another carriage just before the train leaves. Don't panic. If you don't understand what the man is telling you, just follow the other passengers.

Travelling through three different countries means the border formalities are conducted several times:

the first one is before you leave the Bosnian territory, 
the second one when you enter the Croatian territory, 
the third one when you leave the Croatian territory, and 
the fourth one when you enter the Serbian territory. 

The fact that you have to repeat the same formalities (waiting in your compartment for a customs police officer to check your passport and ticket) four times is a bit boring in the end. However, these formalities are conducted on the train briefly and the police officers are polite and quick. 

After you've gone through this post to see what to expect from such a train journey from Sarajevo to Belgrade, you might feel slightly intimidated by my observations. But please don't! It was a great experience after all. Having spent almost four years in Bosnia, I've learned not to expect too much. Still, travelling to Belgrade by train
was the ideal way to get a feel for the area's landscape, which is impossible to do if you're flying 30,000 feet above it or if you're driving a car and have to keep your eyes on the road. 

This is a useful map which can help you see the railway connections all around Europe including the Balkans. 


  1. I think it's a good deal - for 33 KM you not only travel, but pass three borders and don't get bored at all because there's always something to entertain you on the way... great blog, dear!