Ljubljana to Budapest and back: Train vs Bus vs Car | A Review

Budapest is a city I have a real soft spot for. I have spent extended periods working there over the years, during which I got to know this most elegant of cities, and some of its locals. Therefore, it was always in my mind to return, and when I moved to Slovenia, Hungary became my next door neighbour.

Beautiful Budapest – one of my favourite cities

There are three realistic options for travel between Budapest and Ljubljana:

  1. Driving a car
  2. Bus
  3. Train

It’s also possible to fly although there are currently no direct flights between Ljubljana and Budapest, meaning you would have to connect somewhere, and therefore not save much in time once you factor in all the airport phaff. And it would also be an expensive journey.

I have tried all three transport options personally and here’s my review.

Driving from Ljubljana to Budapest

Price: Approx €80 in fuel and tolls

Duration: ~5 hours

According to Google maps, Ljubljana to Budapest is around a 4h30min journey. In practice, when I have done it – it’s more like 5 hours once you hit rush hour traffic and enter the throng of Budapest. The drive is straight forward enough – depending on how much you enjoy highway driving.

The cost in fuel and road tolls puts driving at the most expensive option, plus you’ll most likely have to pay for parking in Budapest too. On top of this, driving means you can’t enjoy the scenery much, or do anything else. So for me, although driving is the fastest option, it’s also the least enjoyable, the least green and the most expensive.

Best for: Speed. If you want the fastest method – driving is best.

Bus from Ljubljana to Budapest

Price: €15

Duration: 6 hours

Flixbus runs a good service between Ljubljana and Budapest. I was generally impressed with the experience; it arrived early, left on time and was clean, modern, had USB and two-pin charging points for each seat, as well as wifi (though I didn’t use it).

When I travelled, (a Wednesday afternoon) the bus was not busy, so everyone had two seats to themselves. The bus stops at a couple of points along the way to pick up/drop off passengers, and also at some service stations for the driver and passengers to have a break.

Overall, the entire process, from booking to boarding to riding with Flixbus was easy, hassle free, and though I normally would not relish sitting on a bus for 6 hours, with a few podcasts to listen to I actually enjoyed it and would take Flixbus again for a journey of this length.

Best For: a good compromise between journey duration, speed, cost and comfort.

Train from Ljubljana to Budapest

Cost: €15

Duration: 8 hours

Once a day there’s a train from Ljubljana to Budapest. The carriages are a mixture of the old-school compartment style, and the more modern seating arrangement. I chose to sit in a compartment, and had it all to myself for the vast majority of the journey.

The downsides of the train are that it’s the longest of the three options by a considerable two hours. In total, the journey takes eight hours because the train is just so slow. No highspeed rail on this line.

The train experience is however, relaxing, with pleasant, rural scenery along the way. It’s more interesting than the highway as you get to rumble right through the wild west of Hungary; flatlands, farmland, marshes and woodland and sparsely populated, one-cow-town stations.

Crossing the border into Slovenia, and the landscape becomes more mountainous, as you follow rivers and snake through valleys. Compared to driving in either the bus or car, the journey is more scenic and you get a good lay of the land.

For the train – you’ll need to prepare though. There’s no dining car so bring you own food and drinks, (and entertainment) but as long as resign yourself to the fact that you’re on a train for eight hours, you can use that time to enjoy the journey.

The train is more comfortable than car or bus, as you have more space, a nice view, and can get up and walk around. The downside is that, in the older style compartments at least, it’s a little noisy at times with all those old parts bumping and rattling around.

A Hungarian train

How to Book Tickets? I do not advise you to use services like Trainline. When I checked it didn’t even have the full list of train options and for the options it did have, it was charging more than 3 times what I paid. Instead, just go to any station – either in Ljubljana or Budapest – and book your ticket there, a few days in advance. Mine cost just €15 one way.

Best for: scenery and space.

Conclusion

So – bus, car or train, between Budapest and Ljubljana?

I’m likely to return to Budapest in future – so having tried out all three transport options – which would I choose next time?

Well, depending on the day and time I needed to travel, I’d most likely go for the Flixbus again. It’s the best compromise I think; more comfortable, cheaper and more relaxing than a car, but not too much slower, yet it’s still about 2 hours faster than the train.

The train is fun for the scenic experience and for comfort as you have loads of space, and if you are in a couple or group I would recommend the train at least once for the experience, as it feels like the most adventurous option. But beware, it’s a long day.

Finally, I would recommend Rome2Rio as a useful site for planning trips because it allows you to compare all the various transport types, side by side.

Cycling in Ljubljana: the bike-friendly city

When I first visited Ljubljana, back in the late noughties, one of the things that struck me were the number of people on bikes.

Everywhere I went, I saw cyclists weaving through town. Never rushed, the pace of the Slovene two-wheeler was leisurely. Bells pinged as basket-equipped bikes cruised past carrying shopping, books and bags.

Students rode around on rattling old Rogs, Slovenia’s very own classic bicycle brand, (which has recently made a comeback). Women in summer dresses and heels glided by with an air of elegance. No Lycra or helmets here.

A classic Rog bike – made and ridden in Ljubljana, Slovenia

It was a welcome sight to see so many bikes, and now that I’m living here, I too have taken to being a two-wheeler for almost all of my city commuting. Because when it comes to cycling in the city, Ljubljana has clearly tired to create an environment that encourages cycling – and it has worked.

So why is Ljubljana a good place to get around by bike? Well, I think there are four factors that have made it such a bike-friendly city.

1. Bike lanes: they’re everywhere

Coming from Edinburgh, where there are a few isolated bike paths, but getting from A to B almost always requires predominately braving traffic, Ljubljana has an amazing bike path network. I can cycle to almost anywhere in the city, on a bike-only lane. I can (and do) even cycle to the out-of-town shopping centre (BTC), entirely via cycle paths.

Even better, most of the time these are completely separate from the road, either on a raised pavement, or completely segregated from the pavement or road.

Almost all traffic lights have a green bike, alongside the green man, and bike travel has been properly integrated alongside pedestrian and car travel.

2. The terrain: Ljubljana is flat

Within the city limits, there are few hills, so you can get to almost anywhere without going up or down hill. In part, this has probably aided he construction of the cycle network, and it certainly means that old, heavy, or single-gear bikes, can still cruise along and get you from A to B, without having to slog up any hills.

3. The weather: Slovenia has a nice climate

The amount of warm and generally dry weather in Slovenia (compared to the UK!) means that the times I can make a journey by bike is vastly greater than in Edinburgh, because most of the time it’s not raining.

Visitor Colin takes advantage of the bike-friendly weather

4. Bickelj: shared bike scheme

Shared bikes are now very common in many cities of the world, and Ljubljana’s offering – Bicikelj – adds another spoke to the biker’s wheel. Costing just €3 per year – as long as you return it within the hour – it’s essentially free bike hire.

They only have one gear and are heavy, but they are solid city bikes, with a basket, lights, mudguards and a bell.

You need to register with a credit card, so it’s not quite so easy for the casual tourist (though not impossible) but for residents it’s great.

On dry days, I’ll take my own bike, which is faster and more comfortable than the single-gear, tank-like bicikeljs. But if it’s wet on the ground, or rain is predicted, I’ll jump on a bicikelj to save my own steed from rust. It’s also great if you just want to go one way, and take a bus back.

These four factors have combined to create a bike-friendly Ljubljana. Indeed bikes can often be the fastest form of transport in the city. Certainly, during busier traffic times, bikes can outrun cars, and most of the time, they are faster than the buses (I know this as the bike route into town runs alongside the bus route, and I normally beat it).

So, if you’re lucky enough to live in Ljubljana, ditch the car, skip the crowded bus, and get a bike. Healthier, greener, ‘funner’ and free.

Črno Zrno: Reasons Why I Live in Slovenia A-Ž

Č is for Črno Zrno

Today we reach the first exotic letter of the Slovenian alphabet; the letter Č. Pronounced “ch”, like “ch” in “church”, there were a few contenders for Č.

I am a fan of Čevapčiči – the Balkan dish of grilled, minced meat shaped into sausages (but without a sausage skin).

Čebela (bee) would also have been a worthy choice; Slovenia is bee mad, and you see hives (called ‘bee houses’) painted bright colours or with traditional folk art, all over the country. But rather than those more obvious choices, I am instead going for Črno Zrno, Ljubljana’s most interesting coffee bar.

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Črno Zrno (pic: Črno Zrno)

Črno Zrno translates as ‘Black Bean’. I first became aware of Črno Zrno from Noah Charney, an American who has settled here and is a long time Slovenophile and prolific author (check out his excellent book: Slovenology). Situated in the old town, on a cobbled street that curls up and around the castle, Črno Zrno is the creation of the Colombian, Alexander Niño Ruiz.

I describe Alex as a coffee scientist. He carefully weighs out his ingredients using an electronic scale and uses glassware that could come from a lab. He imports beans from his native country, then has them roasted in Slovenia to create his own, unique flavours which he loves to share with his customers.

Alex keeps his menu simple but is constantly experimenting with blends and brews. My personal favourite is his delicious cold brew which he serves in wine glasses, but you can also get ‘pour over’ coffee as well as espressos.

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My personal fave: cold brew (pic: Črno Zrno)

His coffee is okusno (delicious) but it’s not just the beans that keep people coming back to Črno Zrno; it’s Alex himself and the very space he has created. An architect by trade, he has turned what could almost be just a passageway, into a stylish and welcoming place. The vaulted ceiling and colourful tiles draw you in to his stage, where he performs his coffee making ‘displays’.

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Črno Zrno sits on a cobbled street in Ljubljana’s old town

He enthusiastically explains where each coffee is grown, referring to a map of his homeland that sits on the wall, allowing him to educate his customers on the geographical diversity of Colombia and the characteristics each region imparts on the flavour of the beans. Alex has visions of how he will evolve his business; he already sells his own bagged beans and various coffee-making hardware. He’s done coffee pairing with local resturants, and there are more ideas to follow, he says.

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Alexander Niño Ruiz – Colombian coffee scientist and creator of Črno Zrno – Ljubljana’s most interesting coffee bar (pic: Črno Zrno)

There’s something about Alex’s warm personality and Latino cheek that draws a certain patron. A meeting place for both the exotic expats of Ljubljana and homegrown locals alike, it’s so small that you inevitably end up talking to whoever else is there. And this, combined with Alex’s knowledge and passion for the coffee he serves, makes Črno Zrno a very regular stop for me.

When I first arrived in Ljubljana, I was looking for somewhere friendly and homely. A place where I might meet an interesting mix of people and enjoy something delicious and unique. I found all those things at Črno Zrno.

Don’t be fooled by its petite nature. Physically it may be small but Črno Zrno punches well above its weight and is a huge asset to Ljubljana’s coffee and social scene, and somewhere I will keep going back to, again and again.