A Journey Through Eastern Europe by Train

By Abi King | Europe

Nov 15

From Istanbul to Berlin on the Iron Route via @insidetravellab

Today, I am doing something unusual. At least unusual for me.

In a few short weeks (well, two to be precise, and they’re the same length as every other week in town) I’ll be embarking upon an unusual journey through eastern Europe. My idea was to start in Berlin, where the powers of east and western Europe fought so long and so hard in the name of ideology, supremacy and appearances over one brick wall with a thousand and one ramifications.

From there, I planned to travel east until I reached that near mythical, near arbitrary divide between Europe and Asia that is the Bosphorus River in Istanbul.

A Journey Through Eastern Europe By Train

Well, like many a great idea (and ideology,) things just weren’t meant to be. At least not as I imagined them. A twist of fate and fortune, otherwise known as the eurozone crisis, has meant a few behind-the-scenes modifications to the original plan.

I’ll now, sadly, be missing Greece and instead be working backwards: from the eastern edge of Europe in Istanbul back towards the modern city of Berlin.

I’ll be travelling on a complimentary InterRail Pass provided by the conveniently named InterRail Company and writing for their site as I go. I’ll also, of course, be writing for Inside the Travel Lab and I’ll also, of course, have complete editorial control. (As ever, as usual, mwa ha ha ha haaa!)

So what’s so unusual?

Well, the biggest and most unusual part about this for me is that I’m writing about it here before I’ve been there. That’s not what I usually do.

Ideas Please

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve been to or know anything about the following cities in the following countries. I’m looking for something unusual, something cultural, something exciting and something special. I’d love to know what you think…

An Eastern Odyssey – The Route

Istanbul > Sofia > Skopje > Belgrade > Zagreb > Ljubljana > Budapest > Vienna > Bratislava > Prague > Berlin

View Rail Odyssey Through Eastern Europe in a larger map

UPDATE: I’ve finished the journey!

Find all the details over here on the dedicated page to travelling from Istanbul to Berlin on the Iron Route. 


Thanks for stopping by!

Mel November 15, 2011

I’m not sure how this will fit into your plans whilst in Bulgaria, but I can highly recommend the abandoned Communist building near Shipka for an unusual destination and awesome photo oportunities.
There are some pictures in this link that were taken by someone else I recommended it to: http://www.flickr.com/photos/69517627@N00/4532076416

If you take a torch and go around the outside, there should be a way inside!

Enjoy your railway adventure!

    Abi King November 15, 2011

    That’s a fantastic suggestion, thank you. Looks spooky! Will delve into routes and timetables to see if I can make it…

Jenna November 15, 2011

Oh, how I wish I were in your shoes! When I lived near the Slovak border and traveled to Slovakia, I never made it to Bratislava but did enjoy some of the smaller places. Banska Bystrica is especially nice– a university city with a lively population, cellar bars, lovely square…

I could go on and on about things to do in Prague. Please don’t miss Velehrad, especially its cemetery, the little walled street and surrounding area of Novy Svet, and Strahov Monastery. I wrote this (and the misspelling of cemetery was not mine ;)http://holidayblog.easyjet.com/a-not-so-touristy-trip-to-prague/

The rest of the Czech Republic has so much to offer, but it sounds like you’re hitting the cities only. Have a wonderful trip!

    Abi King November 15, 2011

    Pretty much cities only this time, I’m afraid. I have 10 travel days and I was very intrigued by the east/west/Europe/Asia idea. That’s a very helpful post, thanks Jenna.

Sophie November 16, 2011

What a fab journey!

Let’s see:
-You’ll probably see Christmas Markets everywhere, so good timing!. Vienna’s are beautiful.
– Skopje has a medieval stone bridge, a fort and an Ottoman old town – all interesting to stumble about in. (If you have several days, I’d consider crossing into Kosovo to have a quick look).
– Bratislava is a sweet little city (bit like Prague was before) with interesting some cool street art (sculptures).
– Haven’t been in Belgrade in 20 years. Probably a world of difference now. What I remember most, oddly – is the point where the Danube meets the Sava river.
– Did you know Prague has a quirky claim to fame (or rather, infamy) called defenestration? They’ve tossed political dissenters (even Masaryk) out of windows for centuries.

Eastern Europe usually is very, very cold in December.

    Abi King November 16, 2011

    Defenestration, eh? It sounds so harmless but…shudder…

    Actually, it looks as though I may have to miss Skopje because of the rail connections but it’s very good to hear your opinion about Bratislava.

    I’m currently debating how long to spend in Belgrade…

    Cold? I’m cold just listening to the names of these places! It’s going to come as quite a shock from the hottest city in Europe…Gulp!

Philippa November 16, 2011

I lived in Zagreb for a couple of years and it’s wonderful. Don’t miss Miragoj Cemetery, The Museum of Broken Relationships, and Bacchus bar. Make sure you spend lots of time in cafes in the centar – sit outside at Cafe Flores or the Bulldog on a Saturday morning/midday and watch the beautiful and locally famous strut their stuff trailed by the paparazzi. The icecream is great (Vincek on Ilica has the best, also try their kremsnita cake.The coffee is great, try Medica the local honey rakija, and Kras chocolates esp Bajadera. I also lived in Bratislava which is small, lovely in the centar. These cities are all about the tiny hidden away cafes and bars. Follow the locals. Have a fab time.

    Abi King November 17, 2011

    Wow, Philippa. Thank you for the lovely, specific advice. I’m hoping that rakija tastes nicer than perhaps it sounds…The honey aspect and Bajadera chocolates sound excellent though ;)

Sean November 16, 2011

Hey, i did over half this trip in reverse over the summer :) a few things:

Theres an amazing hostel called “art hole” run by an english guy in Prague. Very nice, free breakfast and well priced, was one of my favourites! (and the organised pub crawls in prague are awesome!) Also, theres a “mini” eiffel tower thats a laugh. If you manage to make it, about 5 minutes walk from the base, there is a small cafe you cant miss. If its totally empty, the guy at the bar tends to give you free drinks and snacks because he’s glad of the company :)

Stay out of big hostel chains like the Meininger. Good free wifi and breakfasts but not sure the unsociableness is worth it

Pizza in Zagreb is awesome! Also, straight out of the train station, walk directly ahead about 200 meters until you come to a corner with a chinese restaurant. One of the best chineses i’ve ever had, and after the train ride from belgrade, you’ll want it :D

Ljubljana is beautiful, but if you have a spare few days, bled is unmissable. It truly looks photoshopped in real life :D Just dont do what i did and miss the stop at 11pm and realise the trains stop at 11, and have a 3 hour walk along traintracks during a thunderstorm with a giant backpack and have to rely on the kindness of strangers to give you a lift to your hostel, then realise you were actually walking the wrong way for an hour. Not cool. :)

    Abi King November 18, 2011

    I’m starting to hear more and more about Bled…I shall have to squint at those train timetables for a little longer and see if it’s going to be possible. (And keep my fingers crossed that I manage to heed your advice!! ;) )

dtravelsround November 16, 2011

I want to do this with you!!! I have taken a near similar route, minus the stops in Sofia, Skopje, Belgrade, Ljubljana and Bratislava (so, yeah, half) — you are going to some spectacular places!!!! I can’t wait to read about your adventures.

    Abi King November 18, 2011

    Well, I had a reread of yours for the half you did do! Would love to have you travelling along with me…stay social media tuned!

Lauren November 22, 2011

Hi Abigail. Really jealous of you doing this! At the moment I live in Prague. If you’re interested in communism you have to visit the communist museum, located just off wenceslas square (http://travellingmanc.blogspot.com/2011/10/communism-in-czechoslovakia-you-couldnt.html), and theres a nice memorial to the victims of communism on Ujezd Street, Mala Strana. I visit Zagreb alot, and I always stay at the same place, Mali Mrak Hostel, they’re so friendly and its a cool place to stay. In the quiet season they will usually give you a private room for the price of a shared room. Also, the museum of broken relationships, as mentioned above is awesome! i wrote an article on it last month (http://travellingmanc.blogspot.com/2011/10/museum-of-broken-relationships-zagreb.html). If you’re in Croatia you should make time for seeing the Adriatic coast, its beutiful, I usuall stay in Pula, their Roman architechture is amazing (http://travellingmanc.blogspot.com/2011/10/roman-pula.html). Have a fun journey, I look forward to following it! :)

    Abi King November 23, 2011

    Thank you for the recommendations – particularly for the communist museum in Prague. No time for the coast on this trip, alas, but maybe later…

Neha November 23, 2011

Hey. I live in Zagreb. It’s a neat little city, though not at its prettiest during the winter.

Like Philippa says the Mirogoj cemetery and the Museum of Broken Relationships is very interesting. Also hang around for the weekend coffee by the Main square and try the roasted chestnuts along the street corners. If you come this way, I’d love to say Hi!

Abi King December 1, 2011

Thanks for the tips! I’ll drop you a line, would be good to put a face to some good writing!

Siddhartha Joshi March 20, 2012

Fantastic, I wish you a great time…

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