All aboard! Nothing quite makes for a better story than taking the night train through Central-Eastern Europe. In order to save time and get a cheap fare, I took the 22:25 train from Budapest, Hungary, to Belgrade, Serbia. While this wasn’t the first time I’d traveled by night train in this part of the world (I had gone from Krakow, Poland, to Prague, Czech Republic two years earlier), this train journey was definitely an experience!
On this trip I was traveling with my boyfriend, and we had booked a 4 person couchette—so we’d be sharing a compartment with two other people. We were assigned the two top bunk beds, and cramped was an understatement as to how little room we had! (I also felt like I was going to fall off for the first 15 minutes. After that, I got used to it and it was fine.)
Before departure, I was really nervous about who our travel companions would be. When I traveled by night train previously, I had been traveling solo and ended up sharing a compartment with a Japanese guy who seemed very nice (but didn’t speak much English). I was apprehensive about who we’d be sharing the compartment with—and whether or not I’d have to sleep with one eye open to be sure no one stole my stuff. Lucky for us, it was a pair of friendly Russians who brought booze to share! The journey saw lots of laughs, drinks, and struggles brushing up on my (increasingly poor) Russian skills.
The train journey had two different border checks, where the conductor and customs officials came to our compartment, turned on the lights, and checked our passports. The first was at 1:00am, as we were leaving the Schengen zone. The second was at 2:30am when we arrived in Subotica (Суботица) in Serbia. We were woken up about 10 minutes before arriving into Belgrade (Београд), about 6:00am. If you’re expecting a great night of sleep, don’t plan on this journey!
The train itself is a bit rough around the edges. As my new Russian friend said, “we saw the train and said—we need to drink.” Truer words have never been spoken.
The train isn’t modern and doesn’t come with any frills (although clean sheets were provided). I would avoid using the bathroom if possible—besides the fact that the door didn’t lock, there was no toilet paper, water, or soap. So it was basically just a toilet bowl in the ground—use with caution. (Or get a little drunk first so it doesn’t seem as bad…)
Basic Information: The ticket price was 15€. The seat reservation (for a 4-person couchette) was 10€. You can buy tickets online, and can then pick them up at the Budapest-Keleti train station (from one of the ticket machines). The journey lasted just about 8 hours, for the most part on time with the schedule: leaving at 22:25 and arriving at 6:21 the next morning.
Tips: Keep your luggage stored (up and away if you’re on the top bunk), and the door closed and locked at all times to ensure your stuff is safe. Don’t open the door to anyone besides the conductor/immigration officers. You can also sleep with your valuables and/or use your backpack or luggage as a pillow. If you’re worried about theft, bring a padlock and lock your luggage to the train. If you’re a light sleeper, an eyemask and earplugs will go a long way! You should also have your passport in an accessible place to make the border checks a bit easier. And to be honest, you might want to bring some alcohol to take the edge off… and it’s a surefire way to make new friends!
It’s not everyday that you take the night train to Serbia and stay up drinking with some Russians! Despite the gross bathroom and being woken up twice for border checks, overall I felt the Budapest-Belgrade night train to be reasonably secure (although maybe I would have felt differently if I was going solo), and a good way to save time and money. It was definitely an experience I won’t forget!
Have you ever taken a night train?! I’d love to hear your experiences!