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Train Travel in Bosnia, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria

Hi,

My wife and I decided to tour four countries in Eastern Europe in 2019 by train and would like to know the best way to make connections. I will list the towns below where we would like to stay. However, they are NOT in order of travel, since I am waiting to receive advice from this forum before making any reservations.

If anyone is able to recommend directions from Sarajevo for train travel to get from city to city, along with the order of travel, I would greatly appreciate your advice. Also, what method of booking the train tickets would you advise in order for us to obtain the best price. We will be traveling to these countries in May, June, or July, 2019. We normally spend 30 to 40 days on an international trip.

• We will be flying into Sarajevo, Bosnia. At this point, we are not sure if we will be returning home from this airport and I am waiting to review your advice.
• The cities that we will be traveling too are: Belgrade, Serbia - Bucharest, Romania - and Sofia, Bulgaria.
• Whichever city is recommended last, we will need to look at taking a train from that city back to Sarajevo, along with the number of hours that it will take.

Thanks for any help that you are able to provide,

Posted by
910 posts

Have you yet used the website rome2rio.com? That website will help you at least view transportation options, including trains (if they exist), between various cities, and the transportation companies involved. You can then go to the websites for the specific train companies to look up schedules, etc. I'm afraid you're going to discover that there are currently NO trains running from Sarajevo that will connect you to any of the other cities you plan to visit. I believe that the only train currently running out of Sarajevo is a small local train that goes to Mostar, BiH. You may need to fly from Sarajevo to one of the other cities and then continue on your trip by train - or by bus. Much/most of the public transportation in the countries you plan to visit is by bus or plane, rather than by train.

Posted by
6259 posts

I think you'll have much better luck getting this question answered on the Lonely Planet forum - this forum is very underrepresented when it comes to the Balkans and I doubt many folks here linked these particular cities together on a single trip, let alone traversed all of them by train. I think a few Lonely Planet books (showing train frequencies and durations, although probably with some inaccuracy) and the LP forum would be the best place to start. I would be surprised if most of these big cities won't have decent train connections and you'll have to rely on buses or planes - the Communists have built an extensive train system in the Balkans and E. Europe. Speed and timing may be a different issue though, and it depends how much investment these places have received to update their infrastructure. Some train rolling stock will be slow and outdated compared to high-speed trains you'd see in W. Europe (or even Poland). I think in the Balkans, you'll just have to go with the flow (efficiency is not exactly the motto). I bought my train tickets in Sarajevo on the ground (the day before), the prices were really inexpensive at least to Mostar and then to Ploce, Croatia - no need to worry about a huge advance reservation vs. on-the-spot price differential like you'd see elsewhere.

Posted by
17176 posts

In 2015 there was rail service between Bucharest and Sofia. Very slow rail service. But the buses weren't any faster. You should expect to cover about 30 mph in that part of Europe.

You didn't ask, but I know I'm not alone in thinking it's a shame to go to Romania and see only Bucharest. I preferred Timisoara, Cluj-Napoca, Sibiu, Brasov and Sighisoara. And a trip to Maramures is very highly recommended.

In Bulgaria I preferred Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo to Sofia. Both of those historic cities had rail service as of 2015.

Posted by
6259 posts

I agree with acraven. The beauty of at least two of these countries - Bulgaria and Romania - lies in their mountain and more rural regions, including much smaller cities. The capital cities won't give you a flavor of the country because they're less representative of what the majority of the country looks like. But of course they do make good entry points and are most likely to have trains that cross country borders into the adjacent countries.

Posted by
2 posts

Hi Agnes and Acraven,

I would like to thank both of your for replying to my request for info on train travel in Bosnia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria. The information that you provided is greatly appreciated and has helped us understand train travel in the Balkans.

Thanks,

Posted by
6259 posts

In some of these places, it's very hard to get accurate info unless you're already on the ground or close to your date of travel (or you have a really updated book which is sometimes rare for these countries, as a few may be at least a year or more behind). Just by way of a brief skim of similar questions posed on Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor forums, it appears that you can expect certain connections that "used to be there" are no longer there, but I don't think you'll have issues finding train service. It's just that you may have problems with advanced booking because the tourist infrastructure may not be totally set up for English speakers, particularly national train websites) or trains that traverse country borders). I'm from Poland, and many people on this forum seemed confounded by Polish train sites, which were in English and seemed straightforward to me (they looked very far in advance and were frustrated that they couldn't buy a ticket; on one site that just wasn't an option, period. But like many websites I've looked at (especially Southern Italy, for example), one page will be translated but others will remain in the local language. I've tried to figure out a Croatian bus schedule and just called it a day (I simply showed up in person and everything worked out great). So I wouldn't expect a super smooth experience like on the Deutsche Bahn site. Having said that, there's no reason why you wouldn't have a great trip and everything will turn out fine as long as you adjust your expectations a bit and expect to just "wing it" and be flexible. I've been to Bosnia, Croatia, and Montenegro and had a wonderful time. Trying to see 4 countries is pretty ambitious. No worries, you can find English speakers on the ground who will help you in a pinch (young people will know English). The prices will be very low in these countries.

Posted by
16796 posts

See our simplified rail maps for those countries at https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/trains/cost-maps. While a map never tells you everything, these were researched this year and will show you, for instance, that there are currently no trains crossing any border to/from Bosnia. Buses may provide more frequent or direct route options in this region, even where trains exist, and sometimes are the only option.

A guidebook like Lonely Planet will usually summarize transport connections but those books are not updated very regularly. Rome2rio.com can help you find some bus companies, or you may have equally good luck just to Google bus between A and B in order to find the actual operator web site. Plan to reconfirm as you go.

I hope that you'll visit smaller towns in each area. Especially in Romania and Bulgaria, the big capitol cities are rarely considered the highlight of the country for tourist purposes.

I believe the Bosnian train schedules are not reflected on DeutscheBahn but the other countries are.

Posted by
191 posts

Bus is the way to travel in the Balkans. They are cheap and they will get you where you want to go.

I would not fly in and out of the same airport if you are planning to travel around multiple countries. Not worth the time it takes to get back to your starting point.

The “Man in seat 61” is a website and resource on train travel.