Getting a train ticket from Budapest to Belgrade is so easy that it makes me wonder why more people don’t make the leap from Hungary to the Balkans. The ticket can be bought online or head to the international ticket office at Budapest Keleti station. You have to get a ticket and wait for your number to be called up (I had to wait about half an hour). It was all very easy – there are two day trains to Belgrade and one night train, though I’ve heard some dodgy stories about the night train. The 12.05pm doesn’t involve getting up early and is supposed to be the comfiest so my friend and I opted for that one. As always, the Bible of trains, Seat61, has got information on all the trains. There’s an unlimited special offer on Budapest-Belgrade trains, meaning it costs just €15 one way (around 4750 HUF) and because it wasn’t very busy, it was actually more comfortable than the Prague to Budapest train.
The downside is that it’s slow… very slow. It wasn’t too bad on the Hungarian side but for some reason once we crossed the border, the train lost all concept of speed and chugged more or less at walking pace through the Serbian countryside. It takes about 8 hours or so. We arrived about 8.45pm but we were a bit late I think. It’s a really chilled ride, especially on the Serbian side where you pass through houses plonked in the middle of nowhere and vast farmland with kids on bikes waving at the train. It’s like passing through a 1950s film.
The border check was also pretty hassle-free. We stopped on the Hungarian side for about half an hour or so then about 45 minutes on the Serbian side. I got a Serbian passport stamp too which I was delighted about. So it’s a long journey but it’s not a particularly arduous one. We were excited to get going when we pulled into Belgrade train station, which looks more like a village train station than the railway hub of a capital city. It’s got an ATM and an exchange office which were still open just before 9pm which was handy.
There was a definite feeling of “we’re not in Kansas anymore” when we stepped out onto the streets of Belgrade. This wasn’t Budapest, with its wide, tree-lined pavements and rigorously enforced red and green men. The traffic was sprawling, horns were blaring and I was back to the Asian way of crossing the road – go for it and hope for the best. You could feel that little touch of madness that some of the more traditional European cities are missing. And I loved it. The hot weather and dilapidated buildings almost gave it a Middle Eastern vibe.
We made our way to our hostel Hostel Inn Downtown – which was complete with its own fab roof terrace – and celebrated our arrival with bottles of 100 RSD (around 68p) beers. I know Belgrade’s not so far off the beaten track as to be undiscovered but it certainly felt like we were in new and uncharted territory. We went out for an explore and stumbled across a music festival on the streets. It wasn’t the world renowned EXIT festival but it was still pretty buzzing with Mimi Mercedes as the headline act. I’m not sure who she is but the Serbs seemed to like her. There was a great young vibe and we had a brilliant first night drinking rakia and listening to Serbian performers we couldn’t possibly understand.