Many have asked me before so here it
is: A guide to finding your way from places to places in the Western Balkans. Or how to find buses, trains and carpooling in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Slovenia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania when you don’t want to drive by yourself (like me).
There is no reliable website to buy tickets online and check the schedule for the whole region. Some pretend they do but I have found them highly outdated and unreliable. I have heard from travellers in hostels that Rome2Rio works at least in Croatia, but the most reliable way will always to get to the source, meaning the local bus station.
The hassle of finding the bus and train schedules should not deter you from travelling that way, though. You might not have the freedom of driving whenever and wherever you want but you can actually catch some sleep, look through the window as much as you want to enjoy the scenery, catch up on emails, readings and postcard writings… And you are doing something to mitigate your impact on the environment!
Things I have learnt while travelling through the Balkans
- You will find your way. The itinerary might seem odd at times, the time needed flabbergasting and unforeseen events on the road might worry you. But fear not: you will get there. More often than not, you will be on time or even early.
- Asking is the solution. There will always be a kind soul nearby to answer your questions and help you. It could be a taxi driver in Kotor who is unable to drive you all the way to your accommodations because of work on the road but who will call your host to come and meet you on the way. It could be a bus driver in Skopje who noticed your foreign passport and wakes you up in the middle of the night because you need to take another bus and carries your bag all the way to your seat in the other bus. Or it could simply be an old lady going to visit her family and feeding you chocolate for two hours. You have nothing to lose asking the driver or another passenger to check that you are about to board the right bus.
- Layers. Heating and A/C are not a reliable thing in buses. The temperature can depend on the driver who might want it very cold or very hot. Or it just won’t work properly. So you want to be able to take off or add a layer or two, no matter what time of the year, or have a cover with you.
- The bus over the train. As a general rule, it is better to use buses than trains to go around. A French guy who lives in Ljubljana, Slovenia, told me recently that it takes more time now to go by train from Ljubljana to Budapest than 100 years ago. The railways in the region are mostly outdated. Also, let’s not forget that it is a mountainous region, so it’s not the easiest geography for installing rail tracks. That being said, there are exceptions and I will mention some of them below.
How to get around in Serbia
There are buses going pretty much everywhere in Serbia. Quality of the service varies depending on companies and even simply your luck. Some buses are very old, bought from French or German companies when they renew their equipment. Some are very comfortable, luxurious even. Just keep your fingers crossed and bring a travel pillow.
The Belgrade’s bus station website is pretty basic but it’s 100% reliable for the departure time from Belgrade. You can only use it to find the schedule as you have to buy your ticket in person at the station.
Note that the main train station in the centre of Belgrade was moved, and not for a better place!
You can also take the train if you are going north, for instance to Novi Sad, Sremski Karlovci, Subotica and Budapest. It’s probably not going to be faster but it’s more comfortable and usually slightly cheaper. The quality of the train is also very random.
The website of the Serbian railway will give you the schedule from and to any train station in Serbia. It is reliable. Do pay attention however as some parts of your journey might be by bus due to work on the tracks. Also, there are several train stations in Belgrade so if you don’t find your train starting from Beograd Centar (which is no longer located in the centre!), try another one.
How to get around in Kosovo and Albania
Gjirafa is the local master key when it comes to bus schedule in Kosovo, Albania and even for Macedonia (especially for the Albanian-populated areas).
It’s only in Albanian, but it’s simple to use and you can always google the pieces of information written on the results if you have a doubt. The tricky part is that you have to use the Albanian name for the cities so check it out in advance. And pay attention to the place of departure.
It is extremely reliable (I use it all the time and it has never failed me!). However for instance in Albania, they use minibuses between cities and those usually leave when they are full (enough). So be flexible and be there in advance if it’s the last one to be sure to get a seat.
How to get around in Bosnia
Big news! There are amazing trains in Bosnia and here is where to get their schedules. They are beautiful, new, clean, with wifi and plugs to charge your things. I highly recommend them between Sarajevo and Mostar (going through Konjic) and between Sarajevo and Banja Luka. The views are pretty spectacular despite the hundreds of tunnels you pass through. The downside is there aren’t that many trains so depending on your schedule you might have to take the bus anyway.
This is the website for the bus station in the centre of Sarajevo. You can use it for other cities as well. There is another bus station called “Istocno Sarajevo” (Eastern Sarajevo) or “Lukavica” located in the Serbian part of Sarajevo. It’s quite far but not that expensive by taxi (10-15 BAM, or 5-7€) or you can also use the tram or trolley to get to and from there. Keep this one in mind when you travel to or from Belgrade as there are several buses going only to Istocno Sarajevo and only one per day going downtown. The online schedule that I have found for this one is not so reliable so have someone call beforehand to check.
How to get around in Croatia
The company Arriva also covers most of the coast and some of the cities inland.
How to get around in Montenegro
This was quite a nice surprise. There is a very modern website for all the buses to and from Montenegro, it is also in English and you can buy your ticket directly online in most cases. Perfectly mobile friendly. So sit and enjoy the view!
How to get around in Slovenia
Bad surprise. Trains are old and slow. Buses between cities are few and take sometimes hours more than by car. You will quickly realize that everybody in Slovenia uses their cars. But do not worry, you will still quite easily get around when visiting Ljubljana’s Christmas market or simply enjoying the winter season in the capital city. there is a website for buses and one for trains to and from Ljubljana. If you want to go to see some of Slovenia’s spectacular views like in Vintgar, Bohinj and Bled, there are many buses all year long.
People are also using a lot prevoz.org for carpooling due to the lack of intercity buses.
How to get around in Macedonia
The country is well covered by buses. You can use Gjirafa, especially for the Albanian-populated areas (like Struga near Ohrid, Tetovo and Kumanovo). The website of Skopje’s bus station is 100% reliable.
For Ohrid, the Unesco-protected historical city, check the website of the company Galeb, but there are others. Ask when you get there as tickets are bought in different places depending on the company.
Other ways to get around
Hitchhiking is not unheard of in the region. Several of my friends have done it successfully and without big troubles. The hardest part is always to get out of the city. Also, you will find that quite usual for people to hitchhike between small isolated cities or villages. Long-distance hitchhiking is less common. Be smart if you choose to travel that way.
Carpooling is also popular. Blablacar exists in the region, you might simply have to add the right domain at the end (like blablacar.rs for Serbia). People use Facebook a lot for this as well with groups like “Trazim –
Let me know if I have forgotten or missed something!