Balkan Train Travel

The need for speed has seen Europe investing for many years now in ultra-modern rail networks with state-of-the-art trains running on them.

The likes of the TGVs (Train à Grande Vitesse) of France, ICE (Intercity Express) trains of Germany, Austria, Switzerland etc. and Spain’s AVEs (Alta Velocidad Española).

The UK is also now catching up with HS1 & 2 networks and London North Eastern Railway’s Azuma trains.

LNER Azuma Train

LNER Azuma Train

As a result, speeds of up to 250 km/h are achievable fairly commonly across Western Europe.

Not so in the east of the continent, very notably in the Balkans. Refreshingly so in my opinion.

Diesel monsters roar and trundle reliably along the tracks of Serbia, Bulgaria and Montenegro, in Albania trains often seem not to run at all, in Kosovo just a single train runs twice daily from the capital Pristina towards the border with North Macedonia.

Not very environmentally friendly, not always overly reliable or comfortable for that matter, but a real throwback to that post-steam, pre-electric era of train travel. I love it!

Having ridden the rails many times over the years in the often volatile but always amazing region, I decided to write a book about it. My most memorable journeys have included:

Tirana to Durres, Albania

I undertook this journey in 2007 from the now defunct Tirana Central Station. Despite being only 72km, the journey to Albania’s second city situated on the Adriatic Coast, took over an hour.

Tirana's Former Train Station

Tirana’s Former Train Station

Albania Train

Albania Train Stop

Albania Locomotive, Durres Station

Our loco lets of steam in Durres

Just being on a train in Albania was all the excitement I needed however. Sadly I was unable to repeat it during a 2017 visit as despite positive noises being made, there has been no move on building a new Tirania Central and all trains in the country were not operating at that time.

Pristina to Hani-i-Elezit

My 2017 trip from Kosovo was supposed to take me to Skopje, but for operational reasons it came to an abrupt halt at the nondescript border town.

We travelled on a pretty dilapidated train with hard seats and zero frills, but again loved the fact that we were moving slowly on a train in the fledgling independent nation.

Kosovo Train

Our train at the Kosovo-North Macedonian border. Not budging for a while!

Prizren, Kosovo, View From The Castle

Prizren, Kosovo, View From The Castle

70km was completed in a tad under two hours this time at an average speed of around 36 km/h.

Nis to Sofia

The 2006 journey from Serbia to Bulgaria is undoubtedly the most tortuous train journey of my life.

Faulty electronics, an incompetent train crew and sub-zero external temperatures meant that we arrived in the Bulgarian capital six hours late in the pitch black whilst we displayed the early signs of hyperthermia!

Train Journey From Niš to Sofia 

Heating Engineers, Not!

Train Journey From Niš to Sofia 

Trying To Keep Our Spirits Up In Freezing Conditions

Istanbul to Thessaloniki

My first overnight train journey in the Balkans was on a route sadly no longer running. Apparently this has nothing to do with Greek-Turkish relations and is purely down to economics.

Istanbul to Thessaloniki Train

Istanbul to Thessaloniki Train

This is a great shame as the 2006 journey between the two magnificent cities was brilliant and gave us plenty of opportunity to drink dark beer and talk all things train travel.

Turkey Train Sleeping Compartment

Relaxing In Our Turkish Train Sleeping Compartment

Zagreb to Split

The 2014 overnight train journey within Croatia was memorable taking us from Croatia’s capital to the ancient city on the Dalmatian Coast. This was a special arrival as we pulled into the station by the sea on a beautiful morning.

Coffee & croissants in a small cafe by the water’s edge left us in no hurry to go and find our old town hotel. Just as well that we got refreshment as it took us ages to find our accommodation in the labyrinth of narrow streets that make up Split old town.

Split Waterfront, Croatia

Split Waterfront, Croatia

Skopje to Belgrade

2017 Skopje is massively different to 2006 Skopje. Back then the city was a pleasant if unremarkable place with a single ancient stone footbridge across the Vardar River. Nowadays it is a bling capital with more footbridges, statues, lampposts and hideously grandiose buildings than is tastefully good for it.

The Original Stone Footbridge, Skopje

The Original Stone Footbridge, Skopje

We couldn’t get out quick enough, pleasingly waking up to the sight of Belgrade’s wonderful old central station. Sadly the great building has been pensioned off in favour of a new out of town version.

Belgrade Train Station

Belgrade’s Former Main Train Station

Nothing is forever. I urge you to take some trains in the Balkans before it is all sanitised and the nostalgia lost.

You can read about my journeys by train and other transport across the whole of the region in my book ‘Travelling By Train Across The Balkans’ available as an e-book or paperback on Amazon.

Balkans Cover



  1. Love the pictures – it’s really interesting to see what Skopje was like a decade ago. We went in around 2014 when all the craziness was still being built. I suppose it’s a spectacle in itself, but certainly not charming!

    Have you been on the Belgrade – Bar line? It’s supposedly stunning but when I went a few years ago we broke down three times and by the time we got to the beautiful part it was pitch black :’) That said though, getting the train to the coast from Belgrade and then getting the boat across the Adriatic to Bari is a fantastic experience, even despite the idiosyncrasies of Balkan railways!

    1. There are lots of wonderful journeys in the region for sure but a few technical hitches are common too. My book details a few of them! I did Bar to Podgorica which is also lovely.

  2. I m not surprised Serbia, Bulgaria , Albania are the slow train countries, I’ve been there, I know all about the problems. They try really hard but have too many challenges to overcome. Frankly, if Albania had one of those 250 miles per hour trains I wouldn’t dare to get on it, as I’m sure something bad would happen.

    1. It’s just nice to maintain a difference between nations. Economics dictate for sure but this stops the all too rapid globalisation we see far too much.

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