This review details my trip on the Ljubljana to Zagreb train (EuroCity EC 1211), a highly scenic railway journey along the Sava River between Slovenia and Croatia.
So far my long journey from Switzerland to Croatia involved a Railjet train from Zurich to Feldkirch in Austria, a Nightjet sleeper train from Feldkirch to Graz and the Emona EuroCity train which brought me from Graz to Zidani Most in Slovenia.
Having spent three hours at the lovely little station of Zidani Most, the final train of my long journey south was finally arriving.
This train, EuroCity EC1211 ‘Sava’, started its journey down the line in Ljubljana earlier this day and would take me from Zidani Most to the Croatian capital of Zagreb.
EuroCity Train ‘Sava’ Zidani Most to Zagreb
Train EC 1211 – Departure: 3.44pm – Arrival: 5.12pm
Duration: 1h28m – Distance: 77 kilometres
Sava EuroCity train history
Before I will detail my experience on board the train and share impressions of the journey, let’s first take a look at the rich history behind the Sava EuroCity train.
The EuroCity train ‘Sava’ is named after the River Sava which flows from its source in the Slovenian mountains all the way towards its confluence with the mighty Danube in the Serbian capital of Belgrade.
For a big part of the journey, the Ljubljana to Zagreb railway line even runs parallel to the Sava river.
A decade ago the Sava EuroCity train ran from Villach in Austria all the way to Belgrade in Serbia (under train number EC 211) and even featured a Serbian dining car.
However, when I took this EuroCity train in the spring of 2021, the ‘Sava’ started its journey in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana instead of Villach due to works on the Karawanks railway tunnel linking Austria with Slovenia.
Instead of running all the way to Belgrade, the train now terminates at Vinkovci, just 40 kilometres shy from the Croatian-Serbian border.
It’s one of the many examples how train travel has grown worse over the years in the Balkans as overall connectivity and the quality of the services are just a shadow of their former glory.
On board the Sava EuroCity train
I entered the Sava EuroCity train at the station of Zidani Most and went looking for a good place to sit down for the relatively short ride to Zagreb.
The Sava EuroCity train exists out of both Slovenian and Croatian carriages, with seats arranged in 6-person compartments in both 2nd and 1st class.
Although historically this train did have a restaurant wagon attached, it doesn’t have one anymore so make sure you bring your own supplies for the journey.
As the passenger load was extremely light on today’s train, I was happy that I didn’t pay the optional 3 euro fee for seat reservation.
I had no problems whatsoever finding a comfortable seat in an empty compartment in one of the Slovenian carriages.
Departure from Zidani Most
The stretch of railway line just before and after Zidani Most station is one of the most scenic lines in all of Slovenia.
The train runs directly along the Sava at this point and the views from the train over the river and the forested hills are drop-dead gorgeous.
Fortunately, the railway carriages on this EuroCity train are the old-fashioned types with windows that can actually fully open.
Besides the fact that this is obviously great for photography, there is just something delightfully pleasant about hanging a bit out of the train window and feeling the wind breeze through your hair.
Along the Sava
Shortly after departure from Zidani Most, the narrow river gorge gradually flattens out as the Sava enters a wider river valley.
The scenery is however still superb and will have you glued to the window.
In my case, I was hanging out of the train window from Zidani Most all the way until the next stop at Sevnica, fully enjoying the great views over the river Sava and the quaint Slovenian towns.
During the train journey you should definitely try to spot some of the hilltop castles along the route.
Although Sevnica Castle is a bit tricky to see from the train, I managed to get a good view of hilltop Brestanica Castle (called Grad Rajhenburg in Slovenian) a few minutes before the stop at the station of Krško.
Towards the border
After the stop at Krško, the railway line diverts away from the Sava river and the landscape turns more flat.
Even though I knew the best bits of scenery were behind me, it was still enjoyable seeing the fields and houses of the Slovenian countryside.
It didn’t take long before the train reached the station of Dobova, which marks the border between Slovenia and Croatia.
After a complete absence of passport control and COVID documentation checks at the border between Switzerland and Austria as well as the border between Austria and Slovenia, this crossing turned out to be more serious.
As the border between Slovenia and Croatia marks the outer border of the Schengen Area (Croatia is part of the EU but not of the common Schengen travel area while Slovenia is part of both), border guards from both countries boarded the train for a passport check.
Especially the Slovenian check was thorough as the border guard demanded to go through my entire rucksack and even checked all my clothes piece by piece.
After the strict Slovenian check, the Croatian border guards were certainly more laid-back.
It took them just 10 seconds to quickly glance at my passport and COVID vaccination certificate before they turned their attention to the other passengers on the train.
From Dobova to Zagreb
From the border at Dobova, the Croatian capital of Zagreb is just a short distance away.
It didn’t take long before the suburbs of Zagreb appeared in the distance, a signal that it was time to pack all my stuff and to prepare for arrival.
Of course, I just had to hang out of the train window again to admire the views at the moment when the train slowly pulled into Zagreb’s main station.
Zagreb Glavni Kolodvor (which simply means ‘main station’) is located on perhaps the finest train station squares in the world.
This square, called Trg Kralja Tomislava (King Tomislav Square), starts immediately in front of the station and actually feels more like a pleasant park.
If you walk out of the station building you will have a great view over the statue of King Tomislav and the Art Pavilion at the other side of the square.
There really aren’t many other railway stations which give you such a grand entry into the city!
Into the city centre
From Zagreb’s centrally located train station, it’s a short and pleasant walk towards the main city square, called Trg bana Josipa Jelačića (Ban Josip Jelačić Square).
As I was quite hungry from the train journey, I walked a bit further north to lovely Tkalčića street, a pedestrianised street full of restaurants and pubs.
I sat down at a brewpub called Pivnica Mali Medo for a couple of good beers and some decent pljeskavica (spicy meat patty from the grill, a traditionally Serbian dish).
As I had an early flight the next morning I didn’t have much time to spend longer in the city centre, so after a short walk I ordered an Uber to drive me to my airport hotel.
Although my stay in Zagreb was rather short, I knew that later on during this Croatia trip I would be able to spend some more time in the city.
The train journey on the EuroCity ‘Sava’ between Ljubljana and Zagreb is one of the more pleasant rides you can take in Europe.
This is largely due to the highly scenic views in Slovenia, where the train tracks follow the meandering course of the Sava River through forested hills.
Although this train now only links Slovenia with Croatia and currently doesn’t continue to the Serbian capital of Belgrade like it used to do before, it’s still a classic European train ride.
If you need to travel between Ljubljana and Zagreb you’d be mad to take one of the buses linking Slovenia with Croatia as the train gives you a much more pleasant experience and far superior views.
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘Across Europe by Train: Interrail in the Age of Corona‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Review: LOT Polish Airlines Economy Class Bucharest to Warsaw (Embraer ERJ-175)
2. Walking Through an Empty Warsaw in Corona Lockdown
3. Review: Four Points by Sheraton Warsaw Mokotow
4. Review: LOT Polish Airlines Economy Class Warsaw to Zurich (Boeing 737 MAX)
5. A Stopover Walk Through the Old Town of Zurich
6. Review: Railjet Train Zurich to Feldkirch
7. An Evening in Friendly Little Feldkirch
8. Review: Nightjet Train Feldkirch to Graz
9. A Short Walk Along the Sights of Graz
10. Review: Emona EuroCity Train Vienna – Ljubljana – Trieste
11. Zidani Most: Europe’s Most Picturesque Train Station
12. Review: Ljubljana to Zagreb by EuroCity Train EC 1211 ‘Sava’ (current chapter)
13. Flying With Trade Air on a Let L-410 Turbolet Across Croatia
14. Review: Palace Derossi, Trogir, Croatia
15. A Visit to the Tranquil Island City of Trogir, Croatia
16. Cycling on Ciovo: A Trogir Day Trip by Bike
17. Split: Croatia’s Bustling Seaside City Full of History
18. Review: Croatian Railways ICN Train Split to Zagreb
19. Review: Esplanade Hotel, Zagreb, Croatia
20. Zagreb: A Guide to Croatia’s Underrated Capital City
21. Review: EuroCity Train “Croatia” Zagreb to Vienna
22. Review: Dacia Night Train Vienna to Bucharest