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Suggestions: Greece-Albania-Bulgaria-Macedonia-Croatia trip

Folks:

We are planning a trip to the south end of the Balkans. My wife and I have been to Croatia multiple times, and will go there again on this trip. We plan on a 4 week trip mid-May to mid-June.

We'd like some general thoughts on Greece-Albania-Bulgaria-Macedonia. No, we are not going to do them all. Yes, we like 3-4 night stays.

So, Sofia? Tirana? Skopje? We are not tour oriented, but are not averse. Possibly the RS Bulgaria tour might be good - our Bulgarian is sub-par. Albania is attractive, because no one goes there. For a reason?

We've done a little of Serbia, a little of Montenegro, none of Kosova, a little of Romania, a lot of Croatia (business reasons now to return).

Amazingly, we have never done anything in Greece. So maybe Greece 101.

Suggestions?

Posted by
1249 posts

Take a look at some of the old posts especially on Albania, Montenegro which may give you some ideas. I know I had posted about a trip that we took about 10 years ago that maybe helpful.

Posted by
1026 posts

I've traveled pretty extensively in this region. I would say right off the bat Croatia should be off the table. It's too far away, and the plane links are not great, and ground links too slow. I would actually say the same about Albania. Its an ok country to visit but maybe on a different trip, especially since you seem to be indicating you will be back to Croatia, which is a more natural fit.

To me some country combos that might work would be Bulgaria, Romania and/or Greece. Macedonia could probably be added.

I put together a pretty extensive itinerary for 8 days in Bulgaria recently, it would be better as a bit longer though. And if you didn't want to move around so much, you could do the same itinerary but base out of Sofia, Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo, each of which has great side trips nearby. Although it would be a shame to not spend at least a night in the Rhodopi Mountains. There was also some great info in that thread about Romania as well, which is a great country too.

I would skip Skopje totally, possibly the entire country. Ohrid is a great town in Macedonia, but it's just so far from everywhere else that it makes it hard to incorporate in itineraries unless you have a car and a lot of time. Skopje is just IMO not worth the time. I think it would depend on how you approach Greece. If you rent a car and drive down it is possible to dog leg over to Ohrid and a few sites along the way, and then come down through NW Greece, there are a lot of parks and hikes in that area, and then maybe through Meteora on the way to Athens and then a more traditional Greek itinerary. There is also a lot to see in N Greece, but most people are not interested so I don't feel like selling it unless you have a strong interest. And especially since you haven't been to Greece, it may be better to see the "traditional" sites first. The only issue with this is returning the car to Bulgaria, I think it is like 9 hours between Athens and Sofia, there is a lot of driving there. So one strategy might be see Sofia and/or Romania, and then fly to Athens, which is easy as there are discount airlines between Sofia and Athens (maybe Bucharest too, haven't checked).

Posted by
16093 posts

Convenient public transport (or lack thereof) is a key part of combining any pair or few of these countries. Flying is usually fastest, of course. Otherwise, you'll often be dependent on buses run by various local operators. Rental cars cannot cross some of these borders (not without prior permission and insurance to do so; a few years back, AutoEurope could not find me a car to cross any borders between Greece-Albania-Bulgaria-Macedonia). Trains do not run frequently (or at all) across some of these borders.

I'm sure you already know that southern Croatia (Dubrovnik) is not served by rail. Albania has no rail lines to other countries and not much within. Greece has roughly one train per day on the line to Macedonia, one on the line to Bulgaria, and none to Albania or Turkey. See our train fare maps for various regions, and a few additional notes on the related rail info pages. The one- and two-country maps pretty well summarize any train lines that we expected to be of interest to tourists, and which actually had passenger service in 2018. If you see an obvious gap, it's not an oversight, it's a lack of train service.

My goal for the year is to sell at least one Balkan Rail Pass. ;-) Will it be to you?

As usual, DB provides the best way to research train schedules.

Rick Steves Tour of Bulgaria is excellent and also filling fast for 2019. If interested, then I suggest you either join a wait list now for the filled departures or sign up soon for an open departure. After the guide presents his slide show here in Edmonds on Jan. 26, there will be a flurry of interest.

On this 2018 forum thread other contributors have linked up some of Rick's Romania content from around this site.

Posted by
1249 posts

Check out Balkanology.com - it had useful travel information when I was doing this route many years ago. We traveled Dubrovnik - Kotor - Ulcinj - Tirana - Lake Ohrid - Skopje and onto Romania. Not sure how updated it is.

Posted by
2761 posts

We have been to Bulgaria while on a Black Sea cruise. Enjoyed our visit, but Greece outshines. Croatia is great, but a bit far from where you plan to go.

Athens deserves 3 days and perhaps more if you do day trips to Delphi, Corinth and Sounion.

The Greek Islands are best seen on a cruise. There are many nice cruises out of Venice that stop in Split and/or Dubrovnik, Croatia, then Corfu, Santorini, Mykonos, Crete and Athens.

Posted by
1026 posts

The reason RS doesn't even sell one of those a year is that trains are not really a great way to get around in the Balkans and Greece. I've noticed that many people who are used to the trains in W Europe seem to assume that since every single town in Germany and France is connected with trains, then trains must be the best way to get around here too, after all this is Europe. They're not. Not only will trains not get you where you need to go, and are terrible for cross-border travel, they are often slow, decrepit, and unreliable. Yes, you could use them sometimes, and in certain cases they are a good strategy for specific routes, or for novelty purposes (e.g. Septemvri–Dobrinishte narrow-gauge line in Bulgaria or the Sargan Eight in Mokra Gora Serbia/Bosnia), but typically buses are the way to go. Far, far better is renting a car. For example the itinerary I provided is not possible with trains, and buses would add to the times by days and still some sites you couldn't get to. This is another issue I have seen over and over - people used to W Europe who want to use the same strategy they use to travel there and expect all the cool things to be in towns (well we just went from Rome to Florence to Venice and saw so much!). That is the worst way to travel here, the towns have some stuff but the majority of cool things are the side trips. Then you get these disappointed posts from someone who went from capital to capital with maybe the second largest city too that are wondering why people visit these countries.

Posted by
1710 posts

Hello Paul. I put a low priority on being at Bulgaria and Macedonia. I think, if you desire to go to Greece, fly from the U.S.A. to Athens, and travel in GREECE, including a few islands at the Aegean Sea. The islands Naxos and Mykynos have airports. Then fly from Athens to Croatia. And Fly from Croatia to the U.S.A. (to your home). Having a good trip in Greece requires spending some time there.
Do not ride in any railroad train. Driving a car in Greece is dangerous. Many fatal crashes of cars at Greece.

Posted by
1026 posts

Driving a car in Greece is dangerous. Many fatal crashes of cars at
Greece.

Road fatalities per 100,000 vehicles, per year:

  • Greece: 12.6
  • USA: 12.9

Road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, per year:

  • Greece: 9.1
  • USA: 10.9