Cover photo from www.locopage.net
It’s 2019, the days of the “Akropolis Express” are long gone, but at least there are some international connections left from the Greek region. Let’s have a look:
Thessaloniki-Belgrade (14 June to 15 September 2019)
There is one daily train running this route called the “Hellas Express”, numbered 334/335 on each direction. It departs from Thessaloniki at 18.23, and arrives at Belgrade at 08.11. Tickets are not available online, and must be bought at a local ticket desk before departure, but not too early (I went a week before and they wouldn’t sell them yet, you can buy them a day before you travel). Some information on the journey:
There isn’t actually a train departing Thessaloniki, as it has been replaced by a bus hired by TRAINOSE, that departs at the same time, and heads all the way to Gevgelija. You’ll board the actual train there and hope for the best. Enjoy the bus ride while it lasts, as the train does not have air condition, and can be quite cramped if there are few wagons.Also don’t be concerned if your passport is collected upon boarding (the bus), it will be returned to you before boarding the train.
The train is composed of former Yugoslavian cars from MZ and ZS, the railway companies of North Macedonia and Serbia. Having travelled onboard this train myself, I would recommend buying a couchette supplement as soon as possible, as sleeping in the seats is nearly impossible. You will be interrupted many times throughout the night, and the safety of your luggage is not guaranteed. The wagons can be at a really bad condition, so don’t expect any western standards on cleanliness and overall comfort. The train personnel might not speak fluent English, but basic communication is achievable.
The train generally travels at slow speed and only starts running when getting close to Belgrade. However, as I have been told by others aswell, it may suffer from significant delays, ranging from 1 to 5 hours. So, if you’re planning on a tight connection time, plan an alternative route beforehand if you miss your connecting train. Also, due to the renovation works in Belgrade’s Centar Station, the train arrives at Topcider, a small station located at the north side of the town, while some connecting trains depart from Centar.
Personal review: Having done this route by train and bus, I really can’t say I have any preference, as I found both of them equally exhausting. The train, despite being a badly maintained relic of the 70s, party maintains the charm of the original “Interrail” experience. Give it a shot if you can.
There is a train running this route daily, split into three segments. In order to travel in this route, you will have to first board the Thessaloniki-Alexandroupolis train departing at 06.55 (600A) and travel all the way to Strymonas. There, you will disembark the train and head to the TRAINOSE bus headed to Kulata (a short ride). At Kulata you will board on the Bulgarian train MBV 360/361 headed to Sofia, where you will arrive at 14.22. Once again, tickets are not available online, and must be bought at local ticket desks.
The first train (600A) is a former Greek InterCity train. Despite looking bad from the outside, its fairly comfortable inside, and features 1st class and a catering service.
Back when I did this journey the bus change didn’t exist, so I don’t have any photos of that. The station of Strymonas is a small building, and the bus will probably be parked right infront of it. Ask the TRAINOSE staff onboard the train for more information before disembarking.
The Bulgarian train features 2-3 wagons, some of them with compartments, other with open seating arrangement. You’ll spend around 4 hours in these carriages, so pick a seat wisely. Onboard the train you will probably find backpackers from Thessaloniki and locals. No catering service is provided, and once again, do not expect too much on cleanliness and comfort.
Sofia’s central station has recently undergone a major renovation, and offers a large waiting hall with many shops/cafes.
Personal review: The journey through Bulgaria’s countryside is a slow one, but not as bad as I thought. If you’re up for the Balkan experience you might aswell pick the train on this route. Also, if you’re headed to Turkey, you might consider the Sofia-Istanbul express as the second leg of your journey.
This train runs once a week, from Thessaloniki on Sundays, and Bucharest on Fridays. I haven’t travelled onboard this one yet, so I can’t provide you with my personal experience. The train follows the same route as the Thessaloniki-Sofia one all the way to Sofia, and from there climbs all the way to Bucharest’s central station. 1st and 2nd class sleepers are provided on this journey. You’ll find all the information you need at TRAINOSE’s site: International Trips
Greek freight rail operator Rail Cargo Goldair have expressed their desire to enter the greek passenger rail market in 2020. According to their business plan, an Athens-Vienna sleeper service is being considered, in cooperation with OBB (Austrian Railways). Certainly an interesting and ambitious concept for a Greek operator, which would benefit many travellers around Europe.