How to travel through the Balkans by bus

skopje-statue-wonderland

Let’s go!

Last month I wrote a dedicated guide to Albania on the same topic, because bus travel in Albania deserves a post all of its own. This month is a quick guide to the rest of my bus route through the Balkans.

How to ask for the bus station – English transliteration
Bulgarian avtogara
Macedonian avtobuska staneetza
Albanian stacion autobusi
Bosnian autobuska staneetza
Serbian autobuska staneetza
Croatian autobusna staneetza

 

In every country (other than Albania) once you’ve got “bus station” under your belt, you’re ready to go. Do your homework to check on times, carriers, and prices in advance. You can do this most simply in Google Maps using the directions tab: you won’t get detailed advice, but you will get an initial idea of routes and times.

For more detail, the site BalkanViator is often top of a quick bus search, but for me they were always the most expensive and least helpful website to check. Instead, travel forums such as Virtualtourist and Tripadvisor often offer the most up-to-date and reliable information from travellers who have recently gone before.

However, for many places in this part of the world, online information is scant, out-of-date, or difficult to find. The absolute best way to find the information is to ask around at the bus station.

In the bus station

On my journey, I encountered two main types of bus station. In Bulgaria and Macedonia, each bus station hosts sales windows from the many different bus companies who use the station. You need to know which carrier you want to use depending on the time you want to travel or the price you want to pay, and go to that window for your ticket. In Sofia there is extra confusion as there are two bus station buildings next to each other. The international buses to Skopje are based in the one which looks like a row of small shops around a car park, not in the large building which looks like a bus station! The one you want is labelled on Google Maps as ‘Bus and coach station Traffik Market.’

In Skopje, the sales windows are different, but the handy ‘Information’ desk attendant can tell you exactly which window to go to for your ticket in flawless English.

In Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia there were many carriers, but a central ticket desk, making things much easier. You will need to take note of the carrier you are booked on, which will be printed on the ticket. The bus stand (variations on the word “peron” in most countries here) is also usually printed on the ticket, so if you’re a jumpy traveller like me you can have a high degree of trust that, even if the bus is very late, if you’re at the right stand and keeping your eyes peeled for the right bus company, you will get on the right bus.

One last thing to remember is a bit of extra change for your baggage. Anything that goes in the lockers under the bus attracts a carrying fee, usually the equivalent of around 1 euro ($1.15-ish) in local currency. If you’re about to cross a border and getting rid of your change, check how much it will be when you buy your ticket so you can keep the right amount aside. It’s a pain to have to break a note – which you can exchange – for coins (which you can’t) just to get your suitcase on the bus!

Journey breakdown

Sofia, Bulgaria to Skopje, Macedonia. Head for the bus and coach station next to the train station. Ask for ‘avtogara Serdika’. Look for the Matpu office for a bus at a reasonable time for a reasonable price (32 Bulgarian Lev / around $18, departure at 9am as of June 2016) with a decent mid-way stop. The journey is five hours including a comfort stop on the way and the border crossing, which was quick and hassle-free.

St John Kaneo - Ohrid

St John Kaneo – Ohrid

Skopje to Ohrid, Macedonia. Travelling in the ‘shoulder season’ in mid-June, it wasn’t necessary to book tickets in advance. Buses ran approximately once an hour from the main bus station (located under the railway station). In high season, the warning is to book well in advance.

I took an aircon-free minibus for 400 denars (just over $7). The journey was cramped and hot, but short at 3 1/2 hours. The bus terminates at the bus station in Ohrid, but will let you get off on the main road through town.

Into, around, and out from Albania. See the Albania post, and plan on a lot of confusion.

Budva, Montenegro to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Budva - bus station zoo

Budva – bus station zoo

The bus station at Budva is small but very efficient. It also has an amazing mini-zoo café hosting deer, black swans, albino peacocks, and goats, so a late night bus is an opportunity to hang out at the farm!

I took a direct bus at 22:10 and arrived at Sarajevo’s east bus station (Istočno Sarajevo bus station) after 6am. There is one other option and it leaves at 8am. The ticket cost 23 euro ($25), plus a euro for baggage. The journey is slow because of some torturous twists in the narrow, hilly roads near the border, which I think we crossed at around 2am.

Once in Sarajevo, you can get a trolley bus to the centre of the city about 500m from the bus station, about a 45 minute journey. If, like me, you arrive in the early hours with no Bosnian Convertible Marks (BAM), there is an ATM at a small mall which is also about 500m from the bus station, but sadly in the opposite direction from the trolley bus stop.

Sarajevo to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Spires and Minarets of Sarajevo

Spires and Minarets of Sarajevo

This bus goes from Sarajevo’s main bus station, closer to the centre of town. The #3 tram from Baščaršija goes directly to the bus station in around 30 minutes.

I went for the 12:30 departure, arriving Mostar at 3pm. I turned up twenty minutes early and bought my ticket at the desk with no problems. Alternatively, you could try the Get by Bus site which has details for a number of routes in the region. The ticket was 10 euro ($11.25), or around 20 BAM, plus 2 marks for luggage. And the journey was one of the most stunningly beautiful trips of the whole holiday.

Mostar East bus station is on the quiet side of town, but only a short walk from the famous bridge and a number of guesthouses.

Mostar bridge

Yep – he’s really going to jump

Mostar to Trebinje, Bosnia and Herzegovina

If you want to visit Dubrovnik, but you can’t afford the prices, Trebinje is only an hour’s bus ride away – including border crossing. It’s a natural stopover point on the way to Croatia as it’s a beautiful, historic town in its own right. It’s also close to Herceg Novi and Kotor in Montenegro, so it’s a great base for exploring some truly beautiful but terribly expensive places.

There’s a minibus which runs from Mostar at 2pm, arriving around 5.30pm, which I only discovered by asking at the counter. It wasn’t busy. The ticket cost around 10 euro / 20 BAM ($11.25), plus luggage fee.

In Trebinje, the brand new bus station is in the south of the town. It’s small, but very clean and efficient with all mod-cons. As it’s a small town you’re only a kilometre at most from the Old Town and some good accommodation options.

Trebinje, BiH to Dubrovnik, Croatia

Possibly due to being there just before peak season (end of June), there was only one bus a day from Trebinje to Dubrovnik, at 10am. Despite the shiny ticket counter in the bus station, you can only buy your ticket from the bus driver for this route, so get there early and get in line; it’s a busy service.

The ticket cost 10 euro (c. $11.25) plus a euro for luggage. The journey took just under an hour, including a super swift border crossing into Croatia, and the bus stopped at the main bus station which is by the main port, not close to the old town.

There is a city bus stop right outside the station and frequent buses which will take you to the heart of the city.

City walls of Dubrovnik

City walls of Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik to Split, Croatia

From the same main bus station at Dubrovnik port, there are buses to Split almost hourly throughout the day. The journey is around 4.5 hours, and if you take a bus that follows the coast road (recommended), it is jaw-droppingly spectacular. This is definitely a journey to take during daylight hours.

A ticket costs between 100 and 130 HRK (15 – 20 USD) depending on the time of day you travel and the bus company you choose. For all the journeys I took in Croatia there was reliable information online, so check out what’s best for you. Bus Croatia has a full timetable, as do Autotrans. The latter is slightly cheaper.

The sun sets on Diocletian's palace

The sun sets on Diocletian’s palace

Important note: This journey goes through Bosnia & Herzegovina’s coastal outlet, so you must keep your passport handy! There’s a comfort break in Neum so it’s a good opportunity to use up any remaining change in marks. Be warned – if you pay for stuff in euros or kuna, it is much more expensive!

Arriving in Split, the bus station is by the old city and the port, so it is handy for transport to the whole city. Walk out of the bus station to the main road and there’s an intersection where a number of buses stop. Alternatively, if you’re hopping straight off to an island, you can cross the bus station to the ferry terminals directly.

Split to Zadar, Croatia

Again, there are departures roughly every hour throughout the day from Split’s main bus station. It’s another spectacular journey and takes 2.5 – 3 hours. It is a busy route, so if you’re set on a particular time, buy your ticket in advance, just to be safe.

Ticket prices vary but are around 11 euro (85 kuna / $12) plus between 7 and 10 kuna ($1 – $1.50) for baggage. Buses arrive at the main bus station in Zadar which is about 1.5km from the old town and a very pleasant walk.

Zadar to Zagreb, Croatia

Buses to Zagreb run every half hour and there’s no need to book in advance. We turned up at the Zadar bus station and jumped on a bus with only four other passengers. Tickets cost between 85 and 120 kuna ($11-18), depending on bus company and time of day, and there is a lot of information online to help you decide. Bus Croatia, Autotrans, and Vollo are the most useful.

The journey is long but fast at about 3.5 hours, including a comfort break at a well-stocked service station.

Central Zagreb to Zagreb airport

There’s a great shuttle bus service to the airport from the main bus station in Zagreb. The bus runs every half hour, costs 30 kuna (plus 3 kuna for baggage, c. $4.90 total) and arrives at the airport in 30 minutes.

The Links

Get by Bus – useful for bus travel in Bosnia & Herzegovina: https://getbybus.com/en

Bus Croatia – for travel within and around Croatia: http://www.buscroatia.com/

Autotrans – cheaper but still good quality Croatia buses: https://www.autotrans.hr/en-us/home

Vollo – shows a range of companies, prices, and travel times: https://vollo.net/

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. rANG bIRANGE
    Sep 16, 2016 @ 10:59:16

    Beautiful pics

    Like

    Reply

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