We have been meaning to visit the Balkans for quite some time but have been distracted by lands afar. But this year, we ventured out to the first group of countries in this region that we had circled off – Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania.
Only knowing the troubles that the countries had suffered in the past through news reports when we were kids, we knew there was a lot to learn.
This is how we did it.
We always book holidays a year in advance so to get the cheapest holiday, which means our money goes further.
Work out how many days you want in each place and how many transfer days you will need to get from place to place.
Decide which day would be best to leave on but keep this very loose as it could all change on which airlines fly where and when.
Take transfer days into account
The Balkans is quite inaccessible from the UK, so after a quick search on Skyscanner we realised that the flight from London would have to be on a Saturday morning and into Skopje, Macedonia.
Then we needed a ‘bookend’ transfer day ie, getting home. Kosovo and Montenegro were no good so it had to be Tirana, Albania. Luckily, there was an evening flight, which was perfect.
Choose your best means of transport
Now with the bookend transfer days in place, we checked for the internal transfer days from place to place. Ours were Skopje – Pristina, Pristina – Podgorica and Podgorica – Tirana. We then looked into the best form of transport – bus, trains, planes or car rentals.
Buses in this region are tricky and with little to no information. The bus from Skopje – Pristina was the first we looked into and as expected it was pay the driver. This is a bit unsettling with a tight schedule as one missed connection and there is a domino effect.
The Podgorica – Tirana was easier with Balkan Viator providing a click and pay service. Guaranteed seats and peace of mind.
The Pristina – Podgorica was the sticking point. There was no bus that went between the two. With further research, we found there was a route from Peja to Podgorica at 10am.
Peja is 1.30hrs away from Pristina and so we had to decide whether to go in the morning and change to the 10am bus or stay in Peja for a night.
With a night in Peja pencilled in and a bus every 20mins from Pristina, we were ready to go with booking the flights at either end of the trip.
Bookings.com provide the most flexible method of hotel booking. Their option of pay when stay means you can cancel right up to booking (normally on the day of the reservation) with no extra cost. Beware, if you go over this booking date, you will have to pay the full price.
With flights and buses booked and hotels reserved, we were ready to go.
With a long and varied history and a bright future, the Balkans are one of the world’s most exciting tourist destinations.
With its quaint villages and growing cities, numerous ethnic groups and fabulous coastline, it makes this relatively untouched region a must.
- Do you need a visa for the Balkans?
It depends on your passport but mostly no. Slovenia, Bulgaria, Croatia and Greece are all part of the European Union and can be entered with a Schengen Zone visa. As long as your passport has 6 months left then you should be fine.
- Border crossings
The border crossings we encountered on this trip, and on our travels, have all been as expected. The country you’re leaving will take your passport for about 15mins and then hand it back with a fresh new stamp.
You’ll then drive to the country you are entering and hand it over again. 15mins later, you will be on your way. This is the general experience we have had, but this may be different for different passport holders.
- Best time to travel?
The summer months are always the best for most countries. The more light in the day, the more activities and sights you can see. But due to work holiday days and other trips we had planned, we visited in the March, luckily, we love the cold! If you like places quiet and don’t mind not having a blue sky every day, March to October is great.
- Read up on the border crossings and passport requirements before you take your trip
- Using your mobile can be expensive. One way to reduce this is buying a sim card for each country
- Download google maps’ offline maps of the areas you are going to