8 Capitals, 8 Countries, 80 Euros..
8 Capitals, 8 Countries, 80 Euros..
If you thought cheap travel was limited to Asia, think again. It’s entirely possible to travel around South East Europe on a shoestring budget. Visit eight capitals in eight countries for less than eighty Euros. For the ultra Scrooge, you can even save on accommodation by taking a night train for part of the journey. From established, elegant cities like Budapest and Belgrade to the newest capital in Europe ; Pristina… This page tells you everything you need to know to make the journey happen.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Step 1 – Ljubljana to Zagreb – €10
After spending some time in the chocolate box capital of Slovenia, catch the €10 coach to Zagreb operated by Volanbusz. The service operates on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Buses depart from Ljubljana bus station at 14.20 on all departure days, arriving in Zagreb around 17.00. Volanbusz is the Hungarian branch of Eurolines, so the buses are generally clean, tidy and modern. Bookings can be made online here, or at Ljubljana bus station. Its a good idea to buy the tickets in advance as the line is popular.
Step 2 – Zagreb to Budapest – €13
To travel from Croatia’s capital to Budapest, Volanbusz is again the cheapest way – a one way ticket costs €13. A couple of days actually works out as a good amount of time to see the city before continuing the journey. The bus departure days remain the same – Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.The departure time is 17.15 from Zagreb bus station, arriving in Budapest Nepliget station at 22.15. You can then jump on the nearby underground Metro system to take you to the heart of Budapest. One of the finest cities in the world, if there is time in your schedule, allow at least three days to experience some of its many attractions.
Step 3 – Budapest to Belgrade – €15
One of the best value train journeys in Europe takes you into the heart of the former Yugoslavia. Run by Serbian railways, the ‘Budapest to Belgrade Special’ costs only €15 in a second class seat for an eight hour journey, passing through Hungary, Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia en route. For the shoestring traveller, its even possible to take the night train to save on accommodation. The no 343 day train leaves Budapest Keleti at 10.05, arriving in Belgrade at 18.02. The night train is no 341 and departs Budapest Keleti at 22.25, arriving at 06.32 the following morning. Tickets need to be bought from the counter at the station. Whilst not ultramodern, the trains are comfortable and clean enough, although on the night train, the large number of border crossings is likely to limit any sleep to just a few hours at best. On exiting Belgrade train station, the Cyrillic language signs may prove problematic. Check out the before you leave page for good travel app suggestions.
Step 4 – Belgrade to Nis – €7/8
The Serbian railway system is usually reliable and tends to undercut bus travel by a few Euros… so its back on the rails for the journey to Nis in the south of the country. There are a few trains each day, but the fastest and most convenient is the no 337 leaving Belgrade at 07.45 and getting to Nis at 11.57…costing €8. A slower train (no 2905) departs Belgrade at 15.30 and arrives in Nis at 21.00. This train is slightly cheaper at €7. Nis is not often found on the pages of many travel books, but it has a decent amount to offer ; check out the Nis page for more info. It also has some of the best rated hostels in the whole of the Balkans.
Step 5 – Nis to Sofia – €12
Nis is a crossroads for travel between a number of countries in the region, so it’s easy to head in a few directions depending on choice. It’s also the point where you begin to travel deeper – leaving behind the more traditional European capitals to experience cities in a state of change. Sofia is only 3 hours away by bus and costs €12 with the Bulgarian ‘Matpu’ company. Buses leave each day from Nis bus station at 16.00. Sofia is one of Europe’s oldest cities, and although communism didn’t help its image, there is still plenty of history if you look for it.
Step 6 – Sofia to Skopje – €17
From Sofia, there are a few companies making the trip to Macedonia. All charge roughly the same amount. Matpu have buses departing daily at 09.30, 16.00, and 19.00…. The journey time is usually just under 5 hours. Skopje is in the middle of its transition and is quite small ; most of Macedonia’s gems lie outside the capital…but it still makes a good base to explore them. The Matka Canyon is well worth the short bus journey. Skopje itself has some good value hostels and hotels.
Step 7 – Skopje to Pristina – €5.5
Most of Macedonia’s international transport connections are from Skopje, so getting to Pristina is easy ; buses leave the main station on an almost hourly basis. ‘Albus’ and ‘Moto’ are just two of the companies making the 2 – 3 hour journey. Prices are similar on all buses and can be bought from the station ticket counter. Europe’s newest capital is raw travel at its best. Friendly people and the beginnings of a more modern city are beginning to add to the history of Kosovo. It’s a great time to be a part of the transition.
Step 8 – Pristina to Tirana – €10
The last part of the journey ends in the Albanian capital Tirana. On the way, there are magnificent views of the surrounding moutains as you drive on the newly constructed highway between the cities. The bus is operated by Sharr Travel and leaves Pristina bus station early in the morning at 06.30. On arriving in Tirana, you will be greeted by a loud, colourful city where the links with Kosovo are obvious. Read the Tirana page on how to make the most of this crazy place…then maybe head to the coast for a well deserved rest!
Anything from 3 weeks plus is a good idea to complete this trip. With many of the bigger capitals such as Budapest and Belgrade, you can easily stay longer than anticipated… Whilst even in the smaller, less fashionable cities, time passes quickly. When travelling deep – travel slow….fleeting glimpses and pressured travel can ruin any trip.
All the countries visited have various currencies – check out the country guides for more details. Its possible to use cash machines and change money in every country, so you should never need to have problems. Our before you leave page has suggestions and advice on money, free apps and the best ways to phone home.