- Expect delays crossing borders heading towards the coast in summer.
- Since Kosovo's independence is not recognised by Serbia, if you enter Kosovo via Albania, Macedonia or Montenegro, officials at the Serbian border will deem that you entered Serbia illegally and you will not be let in. You'll need to exit Kosovo to a third country and then enter Serbia from there. If you entered Kosovo from Serbia, there's no problem returning to Serbia.
Major Balkan cities are connected by regular flights to other cities in the region. Only Croatia offers domestic flights, though there is rarely a need to fly internally unless you are in a rush.
Airlines in the Western Balkans
- Adria Airways Flies from Ljubljana to Podgorica, Pristina, Sarajevo, Skopje and Tirana.
- Air Serbia (www.airserbia.com) Flies from Belgrade to Banja Luka, Ljubljana, Podgorica, Sarajevo, Skopje, Tirana, Tivat and Zagreb.
- Croatia Airlines Flies from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, Mostar, Pula, Sarajevo, Skopje, Split and Zadar; and between Zadar and Pula.
- Montenegro Airlines (www.montenegroairlines.com) Flies from Podgorica to Belgrade and Ljubljana; and from Tivat to Belgrade.
- Trade Air Flights from Osijek to Zagreb, Pula and Rijeka; from Rijeka to Split and Dubrovnik; and from Split to Pula and Dubrovnik.
The cycling experience varies greatly across the region – from Slovenia, where it's a popular way to get around, to Albania, where you can expect lousy road conditions and some abysmal driving from fellow road users. However, the scenery is universally spectacular.
- Bike lanes only exist in some of the major cities.
- Don’t expect drivers to be considerate; wherever possible, try to get off the main roads.
- The wearing of helmets is compulsory for children in Croatia and Slovenia.
- Much of the terrain is very mountainous; be equipped with sufficiently detailed maps and keep your eye on the contours.
- Outside of major cities and tourist towns, bike hire and repair can be hard to find. Specialised parts are hard to come by, so come prepared.
- Invest in a sturdy bike lock and use it.
Croatia has an extensive ferry network, with hubs in Dubrovnik, Split (the main port), Šibenik, Zadar and Rijeka. Water taxis are common in touristy parts of Croatia and Montenegro.
In general, bus services in the Western Balkans are excellent and relatively inexpensive. In most cases, they're a better option than the trains.
- There are often competing companies handling each route, so prices can vary substantially.
- Luggage stowed in the baggage compartment under the bus costs extra.
- At large stations, bus tickets must be purchased at the office, not from drivers.
- Book ahead to be sure of a seat, especially in summer.
- Take care not to be left behind at meal or rest stops, which usually occur about every two hours.
- Frequency on some routes drops drastically at weekends; some services cease altogether on Sundays.
- Useful websites offering schedules and bookings include www.busticket4.me, www.vollo.net and www.getbybus.com.
- In Albania, buses compete with privately run minibuses known as furgon. They leave when full, and you pay when you’re on board. They will stop frequently to let passengers on and off. Furgons often have very limited space for luggage.
Car & Motorcycle
Independent travel by car or motorcycle is an ideal way to discover the region; some of the drives are extraordinary. However, cars can also be a liability in cities that can have baffling one-way systems, incomprehensible parking systems and narrow lanes that may be only fractionally wider than the curvature of your car. Theft from vehicles can also be a problem. Traffic police are everywhere, so stick to speed limits.
In deciding whether you want to drive around the region, remember to factor in the escalated costs not only for petrol but also entry fees, ferry fees, road tolls and taxes, and secured parking at some hotels.
Always have vehicle registration documents and personal identification with you when you drive. Every vehicle crossing an international border should display a sticker showing the country of registration.
Whatever driving licence you have will likely be recognised in most countries of the region. However, it is wise to obtain an International Driving Permit from your local motoring organisation anyway; it doesn’t cost much and minimises the risk of hassle.
Fuel & Spare Parts
Fuel costs vary enormously from country to country. Unleaded petrol (95 or 98 octane) and diesel are widely available. Accessing spare parts generally won’t be a problem.
Car hire in the Western Balkans is as straightforward as anywhere else.
- The big international companies offer reliable service and well-maintained vehicles. A key advantage of international companies is that they often allow you to collect a car in one place and return it in another.
- Local companies will usually offer lower prices, but ask around so as only to use those with a good reputation – see the local agencies listed for each country or try asking at your hotel.
- Pre-booked rates are generally lower than walk-in rates, but don’t expect car hire to be cheaper than it is in Western Europe; it can actually cost 20% to 40% more.
- Always bear in mind that some companies won’t let you take rental cars to some countries; discuss your intended route thoroughly before you take the keys.
- It is not recommended to drive rental cars from Serbia into Kosovo or vice versa. In other countries, acts of vandalism based on the plates of wartime adversaries (or football rivals) do occasionally happen but are increasingly rare. If you're worried, Slovenian, Bosnian and Macedonian plates are the least problematic across the region.
Key international hire companies include:
Third-party motor insurance is compulsory in EU countries; check requirements for specific non-EU countries with your insurer.
In some countries you will need an International Insurance certificate, known as a Green Card. Get your insurer to issue you with one (which may cost extra). This is a certificate that confirms that your insurance policy meets the legal requirements of the countries in which it is required. Check whether it lists all the countries you plan to drive in. If it doesn’t cover everywhere you plan to go, you may need separate third-party cover at the border of the country in question.
Some insurers will need statements of accident. Do not sign an accident statement you cannot understand; insist on a translation and only sign it when you agree with it.
Road Rules & Safety
Make sure you brush up on road rules that apply wherever you are going. For instance, some countries require reflective vests and warning triangles to be in the car at all times, which you must use when parking on a highway or in an emergency. Others require a fire extinguisher and first-aid kit, or spare bulb kits to be on board as well. Lights may be required to be on even during the day. In short, do your research before you start your engine. A recommended place to start is the Automobile Association (www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/overseas/countrybycountry.html), whose website provides useful country-specific information.
Standard international road rules apply, but you should also keep the following in mind:
- Traffic police generally issue fines on the spot. Always ask for a receipt.
- Drink-driving is a serious offence; limits vary from 0% (Albania) to 0.05% (Slovenia).
- Children under 12 and drunk people aren’t allowed in the front seat in most countries.
- Driving at night can be particularly hazardous in rural areas where unlit roads can wind into the darkness off a cliff, and where horse-drawn carts and livestock can appear suddenly in front of you.
- In the event of an accident, you are supposed to notify the police and file an insurance claim.
- If you are bringing in a vehicle that already has significant body damage, point it out to customs on arrival in the country and have it noted down somewhere. Damaged vehicles may only be able to leave with police permission.
- Remember that some minor roads may be closed in winter months. Make sure you have necessary equipment for extreme weather conditions, including snow chains.
There are tolls on some motorways in Bosnia and Hercegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. In most cases, the first set of booths you come across when you enter a motorway dispenses tickets; you need to present this at the booths when you leave the motorway, where it's used to calculate the applicable toll. In Slovenia, however, you must display a vinjeta (road-toll sticker) on the windscreen; local rental car companies provide these.
Hitching is never entirely safe, and we don’t recommend it. Travellers who hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. That said, hitching isn't uncommon in the states of the former Yugoslavia but is perhaps more so in Albania.
The region's major cities all have extensive bus networks, which are sometimes joined by trams, trains and trolleybuses.
The mountainous terrain that covers much of the region has meant that the lines that do exist often traverse some of the most scenic parts. However, the trains are usually a slower, less frequent and more expensive option than the buses. Slovenia's network is the most advanced, and the trains are more comfortable than the buses; that's not the case elsewhere. Trains are generally safe, but some petty crime does occur from time to time.
Baggage Bringing luggage is free on trains; most stations have left-luggage services.
Classes Domestic trains are either ‘express’ or ‘passenger’ (local). Prices quoted by Lonely Planet are for unreserved, 2nd-class seating. Express trains have 1st- and 2nd-class cars; they are more expensive than passenger trains and a reservation is advisable.
Direct services include:
- Ljubljana to Rijeka and Pula;
- Ljubljana to Zagreb and Belgrade;
- Maribor to Zagreb;
- Belgrade to Podgorica and Bar;
- Belgrade to Skopje;
- Pristina to Skopje.
Further information about routes, schedules and prices can be found at:
- www.zfbh.ba (Bosnia and Hercegovina)
- www.hzpp.hr (Croatia)
- www.zpcg.me (Montenegro)
- www.serbianrailways.com (Serbia)
- www.slo-zeleznice.si (Slovenia)