A quick guide to riding the scenic railway from Podgorica to Bar, plus the best things to do in Stari Bar, Montenegro’s charming medieval town.
Perast will always be my favourite place in Montenegro, but Stari Bar is a close second.
Backlit by the jagged peaks of the Dinaric Alps and wreathed in silvery olive trees, Stari Bar, the old part of the city – established in the Middle Ages, abandoned in 1979, then resettled – is the largest and most important medieval archaeological site in the Balkans.
The fortified Old Town is a maze of stone ramparts, churches and squares, with the lofty spans of the Tatarovica Aqueduct threaded through the hills just beyond. A pending UNESCO World Heritage Site, Stari Bar is one of the essential places to visit in Montenegro.
Old Bar is tucked in the hills behind the modern port city of Bar. The journey there from Podgorica is an abridged version of the Belgrade Bar railway, widely considered one of the most beautiful train rides in Europe.
After our road trip around Montenegro concluded, we returned our car and boarded a train to the coast to spend a day in Old Bar. It was the perfect way to end our Montenegro visit and kick-start the next phase of our Balkan Overland Adventure in Kosovo and Albania.
This quick guide includes an overview of travelling from Podgorica to Bar by train – with a short video filmed on the journey – plus the best things to see and do in historic Stari Bar.
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Why visit Bar, Montenegro?
Bar is a modern seaport city in southern Montenegro, visited for its beaches and the King Nikola’s Palace history museum. In the hills beyond the port, Stari Bar or Old Bar is a charming mountain town that is the perfect size to explore in a day.
Stari Bar has a long history going back to the Neolithic era. In Roman times, it was known as Antipargal and in the 15th and 16th centuries – like much of the Montenegrin coast and Bay of Kotor – it was ruled by the Venetian Empire.
The tiny settlement in the shadow of Mount Rumija is a pending UNESCO World Heritage Site, with layers of old fortifications and an impressive aqueduct.
Crafted from cobbled stone, the old fortress is beyond picturesque. It takes at least two hours to cover the massive area by foot, clamouring over the old walls and admiring the Byzantine frescoes left exposed by the earthquake of 1979.
Outside the fortress walls, Stari Bar’s slanted streets are crowded with quaint restaurants and cafes, many of them serving up famous Stari Bar olive oil.
Olive orchards plaster the surrounding hills. No visit to Bar is complete without making a pilgrimage to the Old Olive Tree. The symbol of Bar, it is 2,000 years old – which makes it the oldest in Europe.
How to get to Stari Bar: The Podgorica to Bar train
The best way to travel to Bar and Stari Bar – whether it’s as a day trip from Podgorica or an add-on to your Montenegro itinerary – is by taking the train.
The Belgrade to Bar Railway is widely considered one of Eastern Europe’s most scenic train journeys. Completed in 1976 and inaugurated by President Josip Broz Tito, it traverses no less than 254 tunnels and 435 bridges on its way from the Serbian capital to the Adriatic Coast.
If you don’t have time for the whole thing – the 475-kilometre ride takes around 12 hours – this is the perfect opportunity to experience an abridged version.
The section of railway between Podgorica and Bar is arguably one of the most spectacular as the train runs directly across Lake Skadar, the biggest lake in the Balkans.
Watch my short video filmed on the Podgorica to Bar train
Podgorica Bar train times & fares
There are two daily services on this route, a sleeper train (called the Lovcen) and a daytime train (the Tara). The Lovcen overnight train is the better choice for sightseeing as it crosses through the most beautiful landscapes in the early hours of the morning.
The train departs from Podgorica bright and early at 6.20am and arrives in Bar an hour later at 7.30am. This is perfect timing for spending a day in Bar (the fortress gates open at 8am). On our visit, we explored the ruins in the early hours before it got too hot, then enjoyed an early lunch before making our way to our next destination, Ulcinj.
It costs just €3 for a seat in a 6-seat compartment. Tickets cannot be purchased online – you need to go to the station and buy them with cash. We had no trouble getting tickets on our day of travel in May. If you’re visiting Montenegro during the summer high season, you might want to pick up your tickets a few days in advance.
Important: The daytime Tara train is currently on pause and will hopefully resume services in 2023.
Find more information about the Belgrade Bar railway here on Seat 61.
Before departing from the delightfully retro Podgorica Railway Station, pick up a breakfast snack at the little Mesopotamia bakery inside the waiting room (pictured above). I swear their burek is one of the best in the Balkans!
The train journey to the coast only lasts an hour, but it’s lovely scenery all the way. The train itself is quite comfortable, with soft seats and plenty of luggage space. We had our 6-seater carriage all to ourselves.
As the train leaves Podgorica, it first passes through Montenegro’s main wine region. Vineyards stretch out as far as the eye can see.
When you go skimming over Lake Skadar, be on the lookout for the Lesendro Fortress ruins (1843) that cling to the water’s edge.
The final stage of the journey as you approach the Adriatic is very pretty as well.
Arrival in Bar
If you only have a day in Bar, you will want to focus all your energy on the old part of town, Stari Bar, located 10 minutes’ drive north. You could walk – but it’s uphill the entire way, so it’s best to go by road.
There are two ways to get there from Bar Railway Station: Local bus (tickets cost €1) or taxi (€5-7).
We left our bags with a trustworthy looking lady at the market opposite the railway station and took a local taxi straight up the hill to the main gate of the fortress.
Things to do in Stari Bar
Explore Stari Bar Old Fortress
Fortress Old Bar is a vast open-air museum of churches, palaces and buildings enclosed within a high city wall. There are stairways and walking paths you can use to navigate the area.
The oldest parts of the citadel date back to the 11th century. Highlights include the main gate, customs house (below left), the 13th-century St. Nicola’s Church, the Clock Tower, erected in 1752, and the old Ottoman baths.
The ruins are in various states of decay – some are easier to identify than others. There is some signage, but it’s still a good idea to read up on the history of the citadel before you go.
Even if you don’t want to go deep on the history, the area is extremely pleasant to walk around, especially if you’re lucky enough to visit Stari Bar on a clear day. Views of the hills and mountains appear at every turn, framed by ramparts and stone arches.
Gates to Fortress Old Bar open at 8am daily. Entrance costs €2.
Take a peek at the Bar Aqueduct
Constructed between the 16th and 17th centuries by the Ottomans, Bar Aqueduct or the Tatarovica Aqueduct is one of a handful of preserved aqueducts in the former Yugoslavia.
With 17 arches and 18 stone pillars, its scale and shape is even more impressive than the structure outside of Gjirokaster in Albania, which I also recommend visiting when you’re in the area.
In its heyday, the aqueduct carried water 3km from Mount Rumija down to the town. It was completely decimated in the days following the earthquake of 1979, but restored a few years later. Unable to access clean water, the town emptied out in the wake of the earthquake and residents were only able to return once the aqueduct had been returned to working order.
You can see the aqueduct from various lookout points on the fortress grounds. Peek through the stone portals and loopholes to see the incredible snaking structure from different angles.
Eat lunch on Staro Barska Čarsija
Staro Barska Čarsija is a pedestrian-only street that runs from the parking area at the bottom of the hill up to the main gate of the fortress. Lined with shops and cafes, it’s the ideal place to stop for a cold drink and a light meal after a morning exploring the ruins.
The street is quite steep and cobbled, so watch your step as you walk up and down. Some of the painted timber houses have rooftop terraces and colourful balconies.
A few of the restaurants here are a bit touristy and overpriced, so be sure to read reviews online before you settle on a venue.
We had an incredible meal at Restaurant Kaldrma, a slow food seafood and Mediterranean restaurant with lots of veg-heavy options that showcase local produce.
Taste Stari Bar’s famous olive oil
Stari Bar is famous for its extra-virgin olive oil, which is pressed just beyond the Old Town near the village of Mikulici. One thing you should definitely order for lunch in Stari Bar is a starter plate of olive oil and balsamic with fresh bread.
There are lots of souvenir shops on Staro Barska Čarsija selling bottles of local olive oil to take home.
Visit the Old Olive Tree, Stara maslina
The Old Olive Tree, Stara maslina, is located downhill from Stari Bar and takes around 30 minutes to reach by foot. One of the oldest – if not the oldest – olive tree in Europe, it survived the earthquake and endures as a symbol of Bar city.
The tree is protected by a gate and surrounded by peaceful courtyards and gardens. The area is open to visitors from 8am daily. Entrance costs €1.
Where to stay in Stari Bar
If you decide to stay longer than a day, there are plenty of lovely accommodations where you can spend a night in the Stari Bar area.
My top choice is The Grove, a new boutique hotel-hostel set inside a restored Ottoman olive mill. It is located behind the fortress overlooking a sea of olive trees.
Onward from Bar to Ulcinj & Albania or Kosovo
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to overnight in Stari Bar (next time!) so instead, we headed back down the hill to Bar Bus Station. There are frequent onward bus connections to Kotor, Perast, Tivat, Budva, Sveti Stefan, Herceg Novi, and other locations on the Adriatic Coast and Bay of Kotor.
Check times and fares on Balkan Viator.
We travelled the opposite way to Ulcinj (roughly 45 minutes by road) in preparation to travel overland to Prizren, Kosovo the following day.
Ulcinj is a very interesting city and well worth a stop if you have time – the predominantly Albanian Muslim area has a very different feel, and the castle is stunning.
Are you planning a visit to Bar in Montenegro? Do you have any questions about Stari Bar or the Belgrade Bar train?
Here are my favourite resources to help you organise your visit to Montenegro.
FLIGHTS: Find affordable flights to Montenegro on Skyscanner.
TRAVEL INSURANCE: Insure your trip with HeyMondo, my preferred provider for single-trip and annual travel insurance.
ACCOMMODATION: Find the best hotel and apartment deals on Booking.com, the most popular booking platform in Montenegro.
TOP-RATED MONTENEGRO DAY TRIP: Durmitor, Tara & Ostrog Monastery (from $60/person).
MORE TRAVEL TIPS: Check out this post – 21 things to know before you visit Montenegro.