All aboard: 5 picturesque train journeys across Eastern Europe

All aboard: 5 picturesque train journeys across Eastern Europe

14 July 2020
Top image: The journey from Belgrade to Bar, Montenegro. Image: jbdodane under a CC license

As borders slowly reopen and tourists start to consider socially distanced holidays, the travel industry has a chance to reinvent itself. By forcing globetrotters to slow down, the global pandemic has given us a chance to rethink the social and environmental impacts of weekend breaks and relentless plane hopping.

At The Calvert Journal, we would like to play our part in promoting a more sustainable travel industry. We’ve selected five train trips that reveal our region’s natural and cultural treasures, and promise a journey that will be just as memorable as the destination.


Belgrade to Bar, Montenegro

Mala Rijeka bridge on the journey from Belgrade to Bar. Image: jbdodane under a CC license
Mala Rijeka bridge on the journey from Belgrade to Bar. Image: jbdodane under a CC license
Bar, Montenegro. Image: jbdodane under a CC license
Bar, Montenegro. Image: jbdodane under a CC license

This 11-hour journey will transport you from the bustle of Belgrade to the tranquil shores of Bar, a Montenegrin seaside town. Also called the Montenegro Express, this train line was inaugurated in 1976, when building a railway through the Dinaric Alps was no small feat of engineering. The result, however, is a spectacular journey across 254 tunnels and 435 bridges suspended over breathtaking gorges. The train also briefly crosses into Bosnia and passes by the Albanian border, leaving you to enjoy views of both countries, until the rolling hills and farmlands of Serbia transform into sheer cliffs, mountain lakes, and steep ridges as you get closer to Montenegro.

Be sure you stock up in gibanica (Serbian cheese pie) and drinks for the journey: the train is not especially luxurious and the dining options on board are limited — although the lush landscape makes up for it. The train runs twice a day, at 09:21 and at 21:21. If you have the time, leaving in the morning to be able to get the best view of the landscape is worth the extra day. And, as you arrive to Bar, the sun will be setting behind the mountains, with the late evening light flooding the old town and glistening on its turquoise bay.

Purchase your ticket through the Serbian or Montenegrin railways website.


Paris to Moscow

St Basil’s Cathedral and the Spasskaya Tower in Moscow’s Red Square. Image: Michael Perulava under a CC license

Overflowing with old-fashioned style, the Paris-Moscow express is the ideal option for those who want to travel from Europe to Russia with a touch of chic. Nicknamed the Trans-European Express, this train covers a distance of almost 4000km and travels across France, Germany, Poland, Russia, and Belarus, making it one of the longest direct passenger trains in Europe. Departing from Paris’ Gare de l’Est to Moscow’s Belorussky Station once a week, all year-round, the train offers two and four bed sleeper cars, or luxurious one or two bed sleeping cars, with prices varying from £300-1000. Most importantly, you get to sit back, relax, and admire the changing scenery from the window. And, if you’d like to take your trip to the next level, you can choose to embark on the Nice-Moscow express, and enjoy the sun-kissed glamour of the French Riviera before heading to the Russian capital.

Find out more information about tickets and visa requirements here.


Bucharest to Istanbul

Smardan Street in Bucharest. Image: Ștefan Jurcă/Wikimedia Commons under a CC licence
Smardan Street in Bucharest. Image: Ștefan Jurcă/Wikimedia Commons under a CC licence
Hagia Sophia and Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul. Image: Engin Yapıcı under a CC license
Hagia Sophia and Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul. Image: Engin Yapıcı under a CC license

Connecting two grandiose capitals, this rail journey is akin to literary mainstays such as the Orient Express. The train, appropriately called the Bosphorus Express, departs from Bucharest in the morning, and arrives in Istanbul at twilight. This iconic journey whisks you across Romania and over the Danube into Bulgaria, where you can choose to stop in Sofia or Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria’s ancient capital, for a couple of days before jumping on the next train.

After meandering through lush Bulgarian valleys, the train approaches the Bosphorus Strait and arrives at the Turkish town of Kırklareli, just outside Istanbul. With fares starting at £33, the train only operates a direct journey from June to October. The rest of the year it is possible to travel between Bucharest and Sofia, and then take another direct train from Sofia to Istanbul. However, whether your landscape of choice are lush summer fields or snow-dusted hills, this scenic train journey is an all-season alternative getaway.

Purchase your ticket through the Romanian railways website.


Berlin to Bratislava

Beblavého Street in Bratislava. Image: Anastasia Dulgier under a CC license

With their monumental opulence, buzzing artistic scenes, and youthful cosmopolitan vibes, Eastern European cities are becoming some of the hottest urban getaways. If you want to maximise your trip while also getting a glimpse of the landscape and leaving room for spontaneity, train travel is the best option. Allowing seven days of travel in the space of one month, an Interrail Global Pass (from £200) can take you from Berlin to the Polish port town of Gdansk, Warsaw, Kraków, the Tatra Mountains in Zakopane, Budapest, and Bratislava.

Train-hopping can be tiring, and there is a risk that you don’t fully experience every destination, so if you allow enough days between legs of the journey you can get a unique experience of each city. However — prepare yourself for an overload of night train journeys, free walking tours, delicious food and drink, history, and culture. Bratislava, a Danube capital emerging from the shadow of Vienna and Prague, will be a pleasant final destination to unwind from the journey in its baroque palaces, cobbled streets, and affordable bars.

Purchase your ticket here.


Warsaw to Tallinn

Old Town in Tallinn. Image: Maigi under a CC license
Old Town in Tallinn. Image: Maigi under a CC license
The village of Altja, in northern Estonia. Image: Anita under a CC license
The village of Altja, in northern Estonia. Image: Anita under a CC license

Fiercely combining elegant old towns, booming tech industries, classical culture, and contemporary minimalism, Baltic cities are soon to be on the global tourism spotlight. Currently, the easiest — but not very comfortable — way to travel between the countries is by bus.

But good things come to those who wait, and the Baltics are no exception. The Rail Baltica project, a railway linking Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland, is set to be completed by 2026, when travellers will be able to travel between the Baltic capitals in high-speed trains running a couple of times per day. Planned to boost tourism in the region, this rail journey will bring the Baltics much closer to the rest of Europe — giving us a chance to daydream about a future trip to the cities and breathtaking landscapes of a lesser-explored area of Europe.

Read more

All aboard: 5 picturesque train journeys across Eastern Europe

Trans-Siberian railway: I quit my job after an unforgettable trip across Russia

All aboard: 5 picturesque train journeys across Eastern Europe

5 minute guide to Tallinn: Brutalist ruins and seafood delicacies on the shores of the Baltic Sea

All aboard: 5 picturesque train journeys across Eastern Europe

How a roadtrip across Uzbekistan became a celebration of multi-generational womanhood