The railway line from Belgrade to Thessaloniki via Skopje is the most important rail link from central Europe to Greece. Due to the political and economical situation in Greece, passenger services had been suspended for several years but luckily since spring 2014 there is once again a direct train connecting these cities. If you are heading to Greece from central Europe this normally is the best connection (you could also take the train from Sofia to Thessaloniki or one of the ferries from Italy to Greece). In Belgrade there are direct connections from Budapest as well as from Zagreb and Ljubljana, however I would strongly recommend to stay overnight in Belgrade: on the one hand you then do not have to worry about missing the connection due to delays and on the other hand Belgrade is a fantastic city and not to be missed.
The night train is cancelled once again from October 1 2018 and will not run during the winter months. It is said to resume service only for the summer season 2019. This means that there is no train connection at all between Belgrade, Skopje and Thessaloniki.
Due to ongoing construction works the train currently departs at Topcider station (not Belgrade Centar!).
It is now confirmed that from July 1 2018 the train departs from Belgrade Centar station. Timings below have been updated.
According to latest information from May 2018 the train will run only from Belgrade to Gevgelija until further notice (at least during the summer). Between Gevgelija and Thessaloniki a replacement bus service operates.
Also, the train is said to depart from the “new” Belgrade Centar station from a yet unknown date in June. Please ask locally if the train still departs from the old main station or from the new station already.
Information from May 2017 suggests that the night train will run again from June 1 between Belgrade and Gevgelija on the Macedonian/Greek border. From there a replacement bus shuttle operated to Thessaloniki. This should last until September 2017.
Both the Belgrade – Skopje day train as well as the Belgrade – Skopje – Thessaloniki night train are cancelled again from 11 September 2016! Work is scheduled to last until May 2017 and the night train will run again from mid/end of May. The day train won’t run in 2017 at all. There is no bus replacement service, we recommend to use either regular long distance buses or travel by train via Sofia.
Trains and Schedules from Belgrade to Thessaloniki
The Hellas Express runs once daily from Belgrade via Skopje to Thessaloniki (and vice versa, of course). The train leaves Belgrade in the late afternoon, reaches Skopje in the early hours of the following morning and is scheduled to arrive in Thessaloniki shortly after ten o’clock. Normally it consists of up to three 2nd class coaches of OSE (Greek Railways), MZ (Macedonian Railways) and ZS (Serbian Railways) and a MZ couchette car as well as a car-carrying wagon. There is no regular sleeping car on this service however there are occasional reports of one running in addition or replacing the couchette car.
|335 “Hellas Express”||334 “Hellas Express”|
|Niš||dep||2319||Idomeni (Greek border station)||dep||||
|Preševo (Serbian border station)||arr||0232||Gevgelija (Macedonian border station)||dep||1948|
|Tabanovici (Macedonian border station)||arr||0310||Skopje||dep||2219|
|Skopje||arr||0425||Tabanovici (Macedonian border station)||dep||2329|
|Gevgelija (Macedonian border station)||arr||0651||Preševo (Serbian border station)||dep||0018|
|Idomeni (Greek border station)||arr|||||Niš||arr||0326|
Tickets and Reservations
If you are travelling with Interrail or a Balkan Flexi Pass you do not need a seat reservation. If you want to travel in the couchette car, a reservation for one berth is 8€. If you are travelling with Eurail keep in mind that Eurail passes are not valid in Serbia and Macedonia.
Regular tickets are quite cheap when bought locally: A single ticket from Belgrade to Thessaloniki (2nd class – there is no 1st class on the train) is 33,80€, a return is 54€.
Good to Know
I have been travelling with this train twice in 2014 and 2015 and have travelled in the couchette car on both occasions. In general the coaches are definitely not the newest – do not expect western or central European standard, also regarding the toilets! Anyway, a trip on the train certainly will be a memorable experience. Personally, I recommend to travel in the couchette, as you can lie down overnight and also get clean sheets for the beds (at least that was the case when I travelled with the train). As the door locking mechanism might not work properly I recommend to bring a steel cable and a padlock with you to lock the compartment door overnight.
There is no bistro or buffet car on the train but theoretically the conductor of the couchette car sells coffee, water and beer – however this seems to depend on the conductor and his mood. When I was travelling from Belgrade to Thessaloniki with Pete we could get cold beer in the evening and hot Serbian/Greek/Turkish coffee in the morning (the way the coffee was prepared would be a nightmare for every western European health and safety organisation…). This year though, when I was travelling on the same route with a couple of friends the conductor didn’t sell anything so we had to get enough supplies from the kiosk at the Belgrade station.
The Hellas Express currently is the only train across the border between Macedonia and Greece – unfortunately the departure time at Skopje if you want to go to Thessaloniki is very early. If you don’t want to get up that early you have several options:
a) Take a bus from Skopje to Thessaloniki
b) Travel to Bitola by train, then cross the border by taxi and go to Florina from where you can get a train to Thessaloniki
c) Rearrange your route and travel in the opposite direction.
There will be passport controls at both borders, which means you will have to show your passport four times. Serbia and Macedonia aren’t members of EU and Schengen; for EU/Schengen residents a passport or national ID card is enough to enter each country. Unfortunately the southbound train crosses the border between Serbia and Macedonia in the middle of the night so prepare to get up early at around 2am for the checks.
Remember that Greece is in another time zone (EET) than Serbia and Macedonia (CET) and you have to set your clocks one hour forward when travelling to Thessaloniki.
The train can suffer considerably from delays – I recommend not to plan with very tight connections. In 2014 we arrived in Thessaloniki two and a half hours late, in 2015 the train arrived almost five hours late!
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or make a post in the railcc forum.
Update: October 2018