Trains to/from Skopje, Skopje
The Macedonian rail network radiates from Skopje with all services departing and terminating from here. The station was built in the 1970’s (replacing the former station destroyed in the 1963 earthquake) as part of the city’s combined “Transportation Centre” and so shares its site with the main bus station.
This is easy to find, being located about a kilometre southwest from the city centre, and the elevated platforms, with their fuselage-like superstructure, make it instantly recognisable.
Finding the entrance however is a different matter. It seems the building was originally designed so that both the bus station and the train station were inter-connected. At the time of my visit however the connecting doors were blocked off and in order to get to the ticket office I had to go out of the bus station part and loop round into the underpass where the station entrance is tucked away without any easily recognisable signage.
Having found it though the ticket staff are very helpful and speak a little English and the ticket prices are very cheap - just over 200 den for the four hour journey to Bitola.
With ten tracks the station was obviously intended as a major international interchange but there are in fact only a couple of dozen (if that) daily departures with the main line being that from Skopje to Bitola via Prilep.
The trains themselves are a little dated but perfectly safe and comfortable, although boarding can be a bit of a scrummage. Those in the know and if not overly laden with luggage, board from the trackside, which involves a bit of a clamber, rather than from the platforms themselves.
For the 2010/2011 timetable click HERE otherwise try the link below (not working at the time of writing).
After I arrived in Macedonia, I took the train to Bitola. The trainstation/trains are in poor conditions. We Western people will say that, but the locals too. Because there is hardly any money to fix it, it will stay this way for the next couple of years.
The train ride itself was interesting as well. Between Skopje and Bitola there are many stops. Even in the middle of nowhere there will be a stop, no platform at all. Here are the stops during the ride:
A oneway ticket from Skopje to Bitola will cost MDK 210.
For going to/from Thessaloniki, stick to the train. It is a bit slower but it's cheaper, and the private bus service from a tour company at the Skopje bus station is a total rip-off. I had used it and have stopped. They pack you in like sardines in a minibus and are rude and charge you additional for each bag you carry. The final straw came when I was pickpocketed in Thessaloniki and even though they had a record of my ticket purchase and knew me from several trips, they refused to issue me a new ticket and I was stranded. Rude, abrasive, officious and petty. My advice -- take the train.
Skopje has a limited train service, and it runs from its sad and dishevelled "modern" train station. When you see pictures of Skopje's fine old train station before it was destroyed, the dark, miserable, shambolic corridors of its new one are a real shame. Still, tickets are cheap, and the railway does offer some interesting connections, for example you can take the UN run train to Pristina. See Kosovo tip for information on how to get to Pristina.
Local destinations include Bitola and Kocani (of Kocani Orkestar fame). International departures include Pristina in UN Mission in Kosovo (about 3 hours) and Thesalonika (about 4 hours).
One of the most frustrating things about Skopje is getting there. Air service is very limited, and information available on the Internet about trains and buses from Greece (our point of origin) is hard to find, limited, and contradictory. Even at the main train station in Athens my efforts to buy a ticket or even get information about the train to Skopje were rejected by unhelpful and surly staff, who insisted that the information was available only in Thessaloniki. We finally settled on simply taking an early morning train to the Thessaloniki train station, a thoroughly unpleasant place in a thoroughly unpleasant neighborhood. On arrival, we discovered that the service had been cut from the two trains a day listed on most web pages (albeit with differing departure times) to one a day. At the time of our travel (March, 2008), this train was leaving Thessaloniki for Skopje in the late afternoon and continuing on to Belgrade, while the return train left Skopje in the morning, but I'm sure this is subject to change on a moment's notice. The Skopje train station is also unappealing, but this is more understandable in view of the country's recent history. The train itself is an Eastern European relic, but it was reasonably clean and pleasant. and moved along at a reasonable speed, and parts of the trip are quite scenic. Expect long delays at the border crossing, but there were no hassles. There is no food available on the train.
The service is not top class but the route is spectacular, from Greece to Skopje (regular morning trains, 8 am. from Thess@, also afternoon trains on summertime).