8 Tips for Traveling in the Balkans

Before our recent trip to the Balkans, we had difficulty finding information about transportation and travel in general in this corner of the world.

Sure, there are reviews on TripAdvisor, but you have to know what you’re looking for, and we had no idea. So here is my attempt at a quick roundup of some tips about transportation, what to expect, and also which places to see and which to avoid.

Travel Tips for Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Greece

1. Learn the Cyrillic Alphabet

Surprisingly, many words in the Cyrillic Alphabet are spelled the same as in English, but you’d never be able to read them unless you could decode them.

Learning the Cyrillic Alphabet will help you do this, and I can help you learn it.

2. Rent a Car

We had heard that the infrastructure and driving were bad in this area and that renting a car was not advised, but honestly, I couldn’t disagree more.

We should have rented a car, especially since there were three of us and we could have split costs. Public transportation is NOT traveler-friendly in these parts. The pieces exist but don’t work together to create logical itineraries.

If you don’t rent a car, you’ll need to spend a lot of time figuring out travel logistics. 

PS: We love using Europcar when renting a car in Europe, as we have found them to be hassle-free and reliable in many countries.

Bus Florina to Kozani
Bus from Florina to Kozani

3. Allow Extra Time For Public Transportation

If you travel by public transport, don’t plan accommodations too far ahead, as you may not reach your final destinations in one day.

Related: Getting from Ohrid, Macedonia to Meteora, Greece

4. Download the Maps.me App

I recommend this for any trip (there is a free version), but I found it especially helpful in the Balkans. After you get the app, be sure to download the maps for the specific countries you will be visiting. Read more about how to use Maps.me.

5. Expect Lots of Second Hand Smoke

Everyone smokes, and they smoke everywhere. Nate actually developed a bit of a cough the entire time we were traveling through this area due to the smoke.

Macedonian Flag
The Macedonian flag flew high above the old fortress in Ohrid.

6. Macedonia is a Country, but This is Controversial to Some

It is the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). You can read about the controversy, but I will not get into it anymore here, nor will I approve of any political comments about it. This is simply a heads-up that you will hear about it as you travel between them. It has been an independent country since 1991 and is a member of the United Nations as FYROM.

7. Bring Emergency Money

And try not to get more of the local currency than you will use.

I always recommend bringing a stash of emergency cash (US dollars) on any trip, but you may use it here. These countries won’t let you use the neighboring countries’ currencies. They don’t get along well, so just don’t expect to be able to use or exchange foreign money in each country.

If you do end up with extra local currency at the end of your trip, you can most likely exchange it at your bank in the US for a much better rate than you could get overseas. I bank with Wells Fargo, and they let me exchange my leftover Bulgarian Leva after I returned.

8. Where to Stay, Where to Visit, Where to Avoid

Out of all the places we went on this trip, this is what I think about places to visit and avoid:

Top places to visit and stay:

Places to visit but not stay long:

  • Skopje, Macedonia
  • Delphi, Greece
  • Sofia, Bulgaria

Places to avoid:

  • Thessaloniki, Greece

For help with packing for the Balkans:

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