6 Reasons for You to Take the Montenegro Express
There’s no shortage of scenic rail routes in Europe. Most high profile scenic trains have stellar marketing departments who make sure you know all about them. But one of Europe’s finest routes barely has an official name, let alone a marketing department. The Montenegro Express, as it’s been dubbed, runs twice daily between Bar in Montenegro and Belgrade in Serbia. Here are six reasons why you should include the Bar–Belgrade train route in your next European rail adventure.
1. The adventure
Whether you’re taking the train from Bar or Belgrade, there’s an ever-present sense of adventure aboard the Montenegro Express. Unlike the scenic trains of Western Europe, this is a no-frills experience. You probably won’t find a dining cart, or too many sparkling clean toilets. There’s certainly no air-conditioning in your carriage, and you may have to step over a few loose wires or make do with some MacGyver type fixes on loose doors. You’ll probably also encounter chain smoking passengers, but fear not – you can open the windows, which will give you plenty of fresh air and bring you closer to the elements.
2. The engineering
The Montenegro Express route is one modern long day marvel of engineering. Over the course of the entire journey you’ll cross 435 bridges and canon through 254 tunnels. You’ll also spend a lot of time wondering how on earth any of these structures are even possible given how treacherous the terrain is, especially considering the route opened back in 1976. If weren’t a fan of railway infrastructure before the journey, there’s a good chance you will be by the end.
3. The views
The scenery you’ll pass from the Montenegro Express is unlike any other you’ll encounter from a train while in Europe. If you’re leaving from Bar, it all starts out with panoramic views of the Adriatic Sea, before shifting to Lake Skadar. From that point on, it’s all about the mountains, and pretty soon you’ll be peering out the window feeling a mixture of terror and delight. The scenery changes depending on the season – but if you’re looking for true splendour consider timing it around autumn, when the vast foliage explodes into an array of reds, oranges and yellows for a significant portion of the trip.
4. The history
Josip Tito, the first president of Yugoslavia, opened this line in 1976. He used it for his famous Blue Train, and over the course of his reign he treated several high profile guests to first class service and stunning views between the two cities. His luxurious train is no longer in operation, and at times it may feel as if your carriage hasn’t seen an upgrade since the late 70s. But the palpable sense of history that enshrouds the whole trip – from the train, to the tracks and the villages you pass through – makes it one of the most historically intriguing train rides on the continent.
5. The people
You won’t meet a lot of tourists on board the train between Montenegro and Serbia. Over the course of my 10-hour journey I didn’t meet a single person who wasn’t from either of the two countries. And while you may yearn for a fellow traveler with whom to celebrate the experience, the people you’ll meet are kind, warm, and open about their lives. Strike up a polite conversation with the fellow passengers and there’s a good chance that you’ll get new insights into one of Europe’s most fascinating regions.
6. The cities
The cities and regions that the Montenegro Express train connects are equally impressive. The town of Bar may lack some of the frills of other famous Montenegro cities, but you’re only a short bus ride away from the incredible Bay of Kotor. From there, you can also easily reach southern Croatia.
Belgrade, on the other hand, is a gritty, intriguing European capital. Though it’s hard not to explore the city’s troubled past, there’s a thriving youthful population that’s driving a tourist revolution with vibrant hostels, popular clubs, edgy bars, and in several superb and incredibly priced restaurants. 24 hours in Belgrade will showcase all this and more.
Top tips for the Montenegro Express
- Don’t take the night train. Though you’ll lose a day of travel with the daytime train, the views are more than worth it.
- Pack plenty to eat and drink. The dining cart, if you can find it, has limited offerings, but there are stores close to the stations on either side.
- Technically speaking you should reserve a seat on board the train prior to departure for a few euros, but there’s a good chance no one will pay attention to it.
- Keep your passport handy. You’ll need to present it to border guards when you cross between the two countries.
- Most of the scenic beauty and engineering marvels are towards the Montenegro side of the journey, so make sure you travel this part in the daytime.
- To get the best of the views, make sure you sit on the left side of the train if traveling from Bar to Belgrade, and the right side if traveling from Belgrade to Bar.
- Expect delays. The trains seldom run on schedule and are often up to four hours late.
Despite the no-frills approach to this epic ride, there’s something about the experience that will leave you yearning for more. It may well be the throwback to a distant era of rail travel, the breathtaking scenery, or simply the fact that it combines it all in such a unique, captivating package. So if you’re planning your next big Eurail trip, shift your focus east and you’ll be richly rewarded.