Planning on taking the train from Podgorica, Montenegro to Belgrade, Serbia? Here’s what to expect:
There is a daytime train and an overnight train from Podgorica to Belgrade. The trains run on a line that stretches from Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, to Bar, the main industrial port of Montenegro. Podgorica sits about an hour north of Bar. The Man in Seat 61 has a good explainer on trains to and from Belgrade, up to date for 2017, with a separate page on traveling between Bar and Belgrade, including time tables, photos, a route map, approximate pricing, and a video of the journey. (Warning: the video includes footage of the train having hit a horse on the track.) It was the write up on this site that inspired us to make this journey–spectacular scenery, old-fashioned overland travel, and best of all, very affordable tickets.
To double check the train times, visit the timetable tool of the Deutsche Bahn, which is commonly held as the most comprehensive European railway schedule online. Note that if you enter Podgorica to Belgrade as your search terms, you’ll only see overnight trains. This is because the railway is being upgraded just outside of Belgrade, and the day train ends at Lajkovac, where the train is met by a few buses for the rest of the trip to Belgrade. If you search “Lajkovac” instead of “Belgrade” as your destination you will be able to find the train to confirm daytime departure time (8:10am, running daily, at the time of writing). Rail News reported in June 2017 that service on the Bar-Belgrade line would be restored in June 2018.
There isn’t a way to book tickets for the train to Podgorica to Belgrade in advance. We emailed the front desk of the Hotel Aurel, where we’d booked an overnight stay before the daytime train, and a staff member bought the tickets for us at the station and had them waiting when we checked in. They couldn’t buy the tickets for us until about 6 weeks before the date of the train. Our tickets cost 40.50 euros: 17.25 for each ticket and 3 euros each for a seat reservation.
There’s no need to arrive at Podgorica station more than 30 minutes before the train. There is no security or ticket check prior to getting on the train. The station has an indoor waiting room (a bit smelly with trapped air, no air conditioning), and benches outside facing the tracks. There is a paid bathroom for .30 euro cents, and a small shop selling drinks and baked items, including burek and very large (and tasty!) chocolate croissants for just .60 euro cents. They bake these on site, and it is fun to watch the baker work the dough in the little on-site kitchen. Another kiosk sells magazines and newspapers.
It was confusing figuring out which track would be the one for the train from Podgorica to Belgrade since there is no signage on the tracks nor a central departures and arrival board. A few other trains came into the station and none was marked with a destination. I asked a conductor just to be sure, and he pointed me in the direction of track 3 for the train from Podgorica to Belgrade. To get to the third track you will cross the other tracks with your luggage. The train arrived about 20 minutes behind schedule.
The second class cars were divided into six-seat compartments with toilets at either end. They were not air conditioned, but you can open the windows in the corridor and the compartments. Luggage is stored above your head on high racks. There was no soap, water, or toilet paper in the lavatory–we used tissues and Wet Ones. Bring those with you! Also note that smoking is permitted on the train–most people stood in the corridor and ashed out the window. There is no Wifi and the cell service for the journey is spotty.
You should also bring plenty of food and drinks with you. There is a dining car, but the offerings are slim. The dining car is similarly not air conditioned. A Turkish coffee can be purchased for 1 euro. You can drink your own alcohol on board the train.
The scenery as you head north from Podgorica truly is stunning. After all, Montenegro (or Crna Gora) means “black mountain.” As the trains crosses the Dinaric Alps, it tunnels through a great number of mountains and over extremely steep and picturesque valleys. One highlight is the Mala Rijeka viaduct, which is 200 meters above the river beneath it. It’s the second-highest railway bridge in the world after one in Guizhou, China.
Do not expect the train personnel to speak English. Interpreting their questions should be rather straightforward when you get on board–they need to check your tickets and make sure you are in the right seat. At the Montengro–Serbia border, your passport will be checked by both a customs official and an immigration official. I mention this because we weren’t quite sure what one of the officials was asking us when he gestured at our bags, and later I realized they were asking if we had anything to declare (which we didn’t, so it was fine).
Customs in Serbia and Montenegro seem to be based on electronic systems, so we didn’t get stamps in our passports when we’d entered Montenegro from Albania, nor did we get one when we departed Serbia at Belgrade airport, but we did get a Serbian stamp in Cyrillic lettering when we entered Serbia by train at Bijelo Polje.
The train from Podgorica to Belgrade was not crowded. No one else came to sit in our compartment and most groups of travelers seemed to have their space to themselves to spread out and lay down. It was permitted to put your feet on the seats.
The train stopped many times along the way, and never seemed to be going more than about forty or fifty miles an hour. Somewhere after the station stop at Branesci, Serbia, the train was stopped for a very long time. Without the air flow, lots of the passengers became uncomfortable and moved up to the first class car, which has air conditioning. This was allowed by the conductors. We were stopped for so long that many people got off the train to smoke and hang out along the tracks. We were stuck between two tunnels on a steep forested mountainside. No announcements were made. Finally, after about two hours, I went to the front of the train to investigate and saw that a little train engine was coming to help. We saw later that engineers determined that the train tracks were bent and that had made the carriages shake when they went over them, which prompted them to stop the train. An engineer observed the train as it went very slowly over the bent tracks and we were allowed to move on.
By this time all the passengers besides us were in the first class car, many people standing in the corridor smoking. A conductor came and asked us to move up front as well, and this was where we were glad we’d read up on the situation with the transfer from the train to a bus at Lajkovac–we would never have been able to follow what he was telling us to do if we didn’t have the context. We moved up the train and stood for the rest of the journey; about one hour. For this segment the rest of the train was chained off. We got to Lajkovac at about 8pm, about 12 hours after departing Podgorica. At Lajkovac the train tracks are lower than the platforms, so after disembarking everyone most people heaved their luggage over the tracks to the parking lot for the bus. Luggage is stowed under the bus for this part of the journey, so bring water and valuables with you in a smaller bag up top.
We arrived at the main train station in Belgrade about 2 hours later, at 10pm, turning our journey that we’d thought would be about 10-11 hours into a 14 hour trip.
There is an ATM inside of Belgrade’s train station, and plenty of taxis outside. There were lots of people around and seemed generally safe.
If you’re traveling between the Montenegrin and Serbian capitols, you might consider a flight on either Air Serbia or Montenegro Airlines (approximate travel time: 40 min-1 hour), or a bus (9-10 hours). If you do decide to take the train from Podgorica to Belgrade, be prepared for gorgeous views and a very leisurely pace.