How to get from Greece to Serbia

I'm beginning to panic. I'm going to Nis, Serbia for a mission's trip in a month, and tickets are already purchased for myself and 2 travel companions. I bought tickets to Athens, because they were much cheaper than flying into Belgrade and I thought we could vacation at the end of the trip. Then I discovered the train isn't running OUT of Greece. Long story short, I bought plane tickets from Athens to Thessaloniki, and was planning to rent a car from there and drive up to Nis. But the car rental company charges a crazy fee for taking the car into another country (total cost for 5 days is $800.) Is there another alternative? I looked into taking a bus, but buses to Serbia only run on Wed. and Sat., and we need to get there on a Monday. I wondered about taking a bus to Bulgaria, because that one runs every day, but then I'm having trouble finding a bus or train that goes from Sofia to Nis. Are there taxi cabs that go that far? Any help is appreciated!

Posted by Neil
Whittington
581 posts

What is the difficulty or why are you unable to go by bus two or five days early from Thessaloniki?

Posted by delisa
washington
6 posts

Sorry, I should have explained that better. We are holding a seminar in Nis, Serbia Tuesday through Friday and need to arrive on Monday to prepare for it. We fly in to Athens on Saturday, then fly from Athens to Thessaloniki on Sunday. The original plan was then to rent a car and drive the rest of the way to Serbia. I just didn't read the fine print before booking the airline tickets. We also fly back out of Thessaloniki for Athens on Sunday, so returning there might be an issue, too. Any help is greatly appreciated! I am to the point of trying to find a local to pay to drive us there, but don't know how safe that would be for three women.

Posted by Arnold
Denver, CO, USA
1000 posts

You need to do some searches and you will be able to find a way - google is your friend. A quick look at the map shows that Skopje seems to be the logical connection point. A google search indicates that a bus between Thessaloniki and Skopje will take about 4.5 hours. (http://www.europebyrail.eu/by-bus-from-skopje-to-thessaloniki). It looks like there are lots of daily buses on the Skopje to Belgrade run and google searches seem to indicate that the run to Nis should be about 3.5 hours.
Check out the following: http://www.whereismacedonia.org/en/about-macedonia/transport-in-macedonia/229-galeb-ohrid-bus-company http://www.skopje.com.mk/angliski/megju.asp Looks like this company has daily buses from Thessaloniki to Skopje that leaves at 5:30 PM. If you get this on Sunday, overnight in Skopje, and then continue onto Nis on Monday should work. If you follow the link it indicates a travel time of 3.5-4 hrs to get to Skopje and the cost is 20 euros. http://www.simeonidistours.gr/tours/showcat.php?Cat_ID=15 Good luck.

Posted by Arnold
Denver, CO, USA
1000 posts

I realized in rereading my notes that I had forgotten to provide you with the link to the bus schedule I had found. Here it is. http://ktelmacedonia.gr/en/routes/list/tid=42#routes It is unfortunate that you booked the hotel in Thessaloniki - unless something else comes up - I think you should use the hotel till midnight and then take the night bus to Sofia. You can rest up in Nis. The alternative is to forgo the prebooked hotel, catch the day bus to Sofia, pay for another hotel there and then go to Nis on Monday. Or pay for an expensive taxi service.

Posted by delisa
washington
6 posts

Thanks for your help again! It is discouraging to learn these things about Greece when I was prepared to love it! I hadn't thought so much about the history of wars between them causing a lack of border trust, but that makes sense. I researched the airline option again, but don't think I'm willing to spend almost $800. for it, unless we are desperate. It would originally have been $400. more. Live and learn though. I also revisited the car rental option, and found it to not be an option at all. When I looked before, some of them said you couldn't cross the border at all, but there were some who allowed it, but with heavy penalties. After looking at 4 sites that spell out NO crossing, I quit looking. Does anyone know how full the buses really are? Because I'm thinking your suggestion of staying in the hotel and resting before leaving at 1:30 a.m. and just hoping to sleep on the bus and catching up once we hit Nis might be a good option, since we can't get out of the room anyway. I guess I am wondering if it would be risky to NOT buy tickets before we leave home so that we can see when we get there if the 8 a.m. ticket to Sofia that I can see on the website might actually be available. If it is, I prefer to do that. But I don't want to get there and not have anything...

Posted by delisa
washington
6 posts

Thanks for your help! I've spent 4 solid days researching different websites and schedules, ranging from going through Skopje or through Sofia. It looked like the best scenario with our limited time was to go through Sofia, but when I tried calling the bus line, I was told that they didn't have an 8 a.m. departure from Thessaloniki - which is what was showing on the website. They only have night buses. That isn't going to work. I'm wondering if there is a travel agent IN Greece who deals regularly with these issues that I could work with to get tickets arranged for us? I just don't want to get there and find out there might have been an easier way that I wasn't able to find, or that the tickets I thought I had won't work. Any recommendations? Thanks!

Posted by Arnold
Denver, CO, USA
1000 posts

Is the Skopje route not an option? What time does your flight get into Thessaloniki? Is the 5:30 pm bus to Skopje not operating? You haven't explained why this option won't work? If you get to Sofia, what are the options to get to Nis? Are there regular buses? Did you ask the travel agency which night buses are operating? or what day time options they have?

Posted by Arnold
Denver, CO, USA
1000 posts

A little further digging shows that this company (Ktel) has a bus operating from Thessaloniki that departs at 3:30 PM everyday and arrives in Sofia at 8:30 PM. Not sure if this is the company you checked with or someone else. Also, you haven't specified when you get into Thessaloniki and if you have any constraints with catching the bus the same day. Are you trying to do the entire journey in one day? Are you not open to breaking this up into two segments and overnighting somewhere? Hard to make further suggestions without knowing your constraints.

Posted by delisa
washington
6 posts

Sorry, I should have explained my restraints better. We arrive in Thessaloniki Sunday at 9:30 a.m. I have already booked a non-refundable hotel for that night in Thessaloniki, although, if our best option is elsewhere, I'm willing to eat the cost of that. We need to be in Nis sometime before late evening on Monday, the 26th. Then we need to be back in Thessaloniki on Saturday night, because we are flying out from Thessaloniki Sunday morning. I was able to locate another bus that goes from Sofia to Nis and back that leaves at 4 p.m. If the websites had been correct, we should have been able to leave Thessaloniki at 8 a.m. have a couple of hours to kill in Sofia, then leave at 4 and arrive in Nis by 7 p.m. - all in one day. Now I am nervous about all of the website schedules, since I've been told at least two of them are not right. This is the one that looks like there is an 8 a.m. departure: http://mttsofia.com/schedule-en.php?cat=23&lang=en This is the one that covers Sofia to Nis
http://www.bgrazpisanie.com/en I think we may leave Thess. on Sunday, spend the night in Sofia, and take the morning bus to Nis. Buying tickets in advance seems safer, but not if they change the schedule so much! And I can't see how to actually purchase in advance from any of the sites. Thanks again for your help!

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2372 posts

I'm afraid you have discovered two things about Greece (and that part of the world): 1 - The Greek bus system and scheduling is nothing like that of, say, German trains. Busses are not always timely and while you can generally figure out a way to get from point A to point B, if you need to get to point C you'll have to figure that out once you arrive at point B. 2 - Greece is not well connected via public transit to the rest of the Balkan region. And the Balkan region is not all that well interconnected. It doesn't help that much of it was at war with each other 20 years ago. A few thoughts - You said the car rental company charges way too much to drive into Serbia. Have you checked more than one? Have you checked local rental agencies (not affiliated with the international agencies)? The Greece travel guru Matt Barrett (be sure to check out his website) lists Fantasy Car Rental as a reliable local agency in Thessaloniki. http://www.fantasytravelofgreece.com/extras/rent-a-car-greece/car-rental.html Have you looked into flights from Thessaloniki to Nis or Belgrade? I realize it will be more expensive and probably about what you would have paid to have flown into Belgrade directly from the US, but it might come down to that or missing your schedule. PS - If a car rental does work out, you MUST have the International Drivers Permit. You won't be able to rent the car without it. And get the full CDW coverage - that's not an area of Europe you want to be taking chances with your own insurance or CC coverage.

Posted by Charlene
Centennial, CO, US
905 posts

Delisa, there is a recommended travel agency in Athens called Fantasy Travel. Perhaps you could contact them for help. If that doesn't work, given the inaccuracy of websites and the changeability of bus schedules, I personally would wait til arriving in Thessaloniki before purchasing tickets. I'd go right to the bus station and see what is available, and use that to guide your decisions about hotel rooms. When you arrive at your next stop, find your options for the final leg. And when you arrive there, make your arrangements for the return journey. I'm sorry you're having so much trouble. This is an amazing part of the world, and I think that you will love it, once you have your transportation issues worked out.

Posted by T.
Seattle, WA, US
154 posts

One of the Greek local guides that Rick recommends in his guidebook lives in Thessaloniki. Maybe she can help you figure this out. According to the guidebook, her name is Anastasia Gaitanou, tel. +30-694-446-3109, anastasia2570@yahoo.com. Otherwise, call a Greek travel agency like Fantasy Travel as the previous posters have suggested. Don't try to do it on your own--information on Greek websites can be out of date.