Note that (international) rail service in the Balkans can be very sparse, many international routes are completely cancelled. For example getting into countries like Greece, Serbia, Bosnia or Albania by train is nearly impossible. Buses are often your only option. Many trains will not show up in the Rail Planner app, it’s better to check with the local operator. Trains are usually quite inexpensive in the Balkans, so it might make sense to buy single tickets instead of using Interrail/Euraill pass with limited travel days.
This map shows which international train connections are running in south-eastern Europe.
Trains between Bosnia and Croatia only run seasonally and are not daily. In Croatia they operate to Ploče which has no connection to the rest of the Croatian rail network. More information can be found at: https://interrailwiki.eu/balkans/#Bosnia
Trains between Hungary and Serbia consist of a regional train between Szeged and Szabadka. There are onward connections to Budapest and Belgrade but the whole trip takes 10-15 hours. And in Serbia requires a rail replacement bus from Novi Sad main station to ranžirna station. Long distance buses are much easier and faster.
Blue lines show ferries – note that some only operate seasonally and/or not daily.
Tickets are usually cheap, so Interrail doesn’t always pay off for travelling in the Balkans.
Most Balkan countries are not in Schengen, except for Slovenia, Greece and Croatia (since January 2023), so expect delays at any border crossing.
As usual, seat61 is a very useful guide for travelling by train, just select the country you’re interested in on the left.
Seat reservations in the Balkans
In most countries, reservations are mandatory on long distance trains. Reservations for domestic trains can usually only be bought at ticket offices in that country. For most international trains, they can be bought at ticket offices in most of Europe. There are some exceptions like Belgrade – Bar and Bucharest/Sofia – Istanbul: those are only available at ticket offices in the countries that the trains run in. If you don’t use Interrail, some countries offer tickets online with a reservation included, but not a separate reservation for travellers with Interrail. The conductors will sometimes only check your ticket (such as Interrail) and let you ride without a reservation if you don’t have one, or sell one to you on the train.
Bosnian railways are split into two networks. Schedules are can be found at https://www.zrs-rs.com/ (Serbian part) and https://www.zfbh.ba/ (Bosnian part). Here’s a map of the two entities within Bosnia, and a map of railways in Bosnia (and Croatia).
No international trains run to Bosnia, except for the seasonal Ploče – Sarajevo train, which connects to Croatia. However, Ploče is not connected to the rest of Croatia by any railway. It is not yet known if/how this train will run in summer 2024. Details on the summer 2023 operation can be found at: https://www.zfbh.ba/en/voz-sarajevo-ploce-sarajevo-ponovo-od-02-06-do-27-08-2023-godine/
Croatia is connected to Austria, Slovenia and Hungary by direct international trains. Seasonal trains also run from Czechia and Slovakia in summer. There’s no train connection to Serbia or Bosnia (except for the seasonal Ploče – Sarajevo train).
- EuroNight Croatia (Zagreb – Ljubljana – Bled – Stuttgart/Zurich): this night train runs daily, you can get reservations for that online via ÖBB but only for travel either to or through Austria – the seat carriages do not require reservations from Zagreb as far as Villach – Rail Planner is wrong.
- Domestic day and night trains run between Zagreb and Split. They have mandatory reservations, which can only be bought at ticket offices in Croatia or by email. For daytime trains traveling beyond 1st July 2023 reservations can be obtained through the ÖBB website as per https://www.reddit.com/r/Interrail/wiki/austria#wiki_reservations – this will not work for the domestic night train.
- Dubrovnik is not connected to any railway.
- Interrail is not valid on RegioJet’s seasonal Prague – Split/Rijeka sleeper train. It is valid on the seasonal ÖBB Bratislava – Split sleeper train.
- Reservations can be made at a Croatian ticket office, for seats, couchettes or sleepers (e.g. the night train Zagreb-Split). There have been reports that you may be able to send an email to [email protected], max. 2 months in advance – please do let the mod team know if you used this email and if it worked for you or did not.
No international trains run to Greece. Since no trains run through Serbia, you can go by train through Romania and Bulgaria. No trains run to Greece from there, so a bus from Sofia to Thessaloniki or Athens is your best bet (Thessaloniki – Athens is a fast train route). Alternatively you can take a shorter route through Serbia using buses. There is also the option of taking a ferry from Italy to Greece, you can get a discount for those with Interrail (or take them for free with a 6 day Greek Islands Pass).
Update from Hellenic Train customer service, January 2023 (via email):
We would like to inform you that, the international trains from Beograd or Sofia to Thessaloniki will not run this summer. At present, the re-circulation of the above itineraries, can not be determined. For any updated information concerning the international Hellenic Train’s itineraries, please keep visit Hellenic Train official website.
For south-east Europe, Romania is connected by trains fairly well: several direct night and day trains run every day from Vienna and Budapest to Bucharest, with stops in other cities like Cluj or Brasov. International trains also run to Bulgaria, Turkey, Moldova and Ukraine, while no trains run to Serbia.
All long distance trains in Romania have mandatory reservations (NT = Night Train and IR = Inter Regional). Regional trains (R) don’t. Reservations for the trains from Vienna to Bucharest can be bought online via the ÖBB website, others need to be bought at ticket offices. Reservations for international trains from Hungary/Austria can be bought in most of Europe, domestic trains within Romania and international further to Bulgaria or Turkey are only available in Romania.
Very few trains run in North Macedonia, no international ones exist. Only regional trains run. Schedules can be found here: https://mzt.mk/pristigane-vo-skopje/
Serbia has very few international trains running. The only convenient direct connection to another country is to Bar in Montenegro. One day train runs in summer, and one night train runs year round. Reservations are required in the night train, and can only be bought at the stations. This is sometimes called the most beautiful route in Europe.
Since November 28th 2023 a new cross border train started operating between Szeged and Subbotica
Connections to all other neighboring countries are better by a direct bus, but you want to take trains for as much of the journey as possible, here’s some notes: https://interrailwiki.eu/serbia.
A new 200 km/h railway is being built between Budapest and Belgrade. The Belgrade – Novi Sad part is already complete in 2022. Once the entire route is built, direct trains are likely to start running between Budapest and Belgrade.
Slovenia has convenient (though slow) train connections to all its neighbors.
Getting to lake Bled:
From Ljubljana – you can take a direct bus. Alternatively, train to Lesce Bled and bus to the Bled town.
From Austria – you can get off the train at Lesce-Bled if it stops there, and take a bus to the lake. Alternatively, you can get off at Jesenice and take a train to Bled Jezero.
Note: as of 2023-05-07 Interrail marks “Pendolino” trains as requiring reservations. It appears impossible to book those reservations online. The ticket office in Ljubljana claims that reservations on those aren’t mandatory and that you can board just with Interrail.
Travelling to Turkey: as with Greece, you can go by train via Romania and Bulgaria. Both Bucharest and Sofia are connected to Istanbul by direct trains. You can buy the reservations for those only at stations, in Istanbul that includes stations in the center such as Sirkeci.
If you’re travelling between Greece and Turkey, no trains run across the border, but some ferries do (https://www.levanteferries.com/gbr).
The Optima Express runs very infrequently and is not included in Interrail, but it does provide a direct train connection between Austria and Turkey via Serbia.