Skopje to Tirana by bus.
After the recent excellent Euromeet 2011 organised wonderfully by Valentina I needed to travel to Tirana in Albania to get my flight home. An internet search produced a lot of conflicting information that was either undated, out of date or just plain wrong so I intend to provide a step by step guide which was current as of 5th June 2011. Obviously, travel information is usually out of date as soon as it is written so check to see if there is anything more recent as the usefulness of this decays.
Firstly, a bit of mythbusting. I had heard talk of a daytime bus, which I would have preferred but it simply does not exist. There is one bus per day, it departs at 1900 hours and this is how to get it.
I decided to get my ticket early although it would have been possible to turn up a short time before as the bus was nearly empty. Go to the the bus station, which is on Bulavar Kusman Josefovski Pitu and is actually under the main train station. Both are signposted and a taxi will take you there although if you wish to walk and / or save a few dinari it is only about a twenty minute stroll from the centre. From the centre, keep the river on your left, walk past the large Vero shopping centre and you will come to where the railway crosses over the road. It is just on the right and I have included a photo to help you.
When you enter, there are a number of different ticket booths and you need to go to the last one on the left which says Eurolines in Roman script. I went in and spoke to the two helpful ladies both of whom spoke reasonable English. I purchased my ticket easily in local currency although it was quoted in Euros. Be aware that you need to produce your passport to purchase a ticket, I think it is something to do with speeding up the somewhat notorious Albanian border procedure.
One thing to note is the difficulty in obtaining Albanian currency. I tried at the bureau de change in the bus staion but they couldn't help even after making a couple of 'phone calls on my behalf. I asked was there a bureau at the border and the lady couldn't help. In the event there was not but don't panic, you can use Euros until you get to Tirana.
All the perceived wisdom is that the bus departs from stand #1 although they told me it would leave from #3 which it duly did. They did, however, tell me the bus would have the Eurolines livery although, as you can see, it didn't.
The bus left on time with myself and one other lady on it. It was comfortable and had a toilet onboard although I did not use it so cannot vouch for it's cleanliness or otherwise. I took my favouerd seat which is the back seat in the middle. That way I can stretch my rather tall frame out a bit. As it happened, I managed to get a bit of sleep stretched out over all five seats.
The journey could probably be achieved a lot quicker but they tend to stop every couple of hours, always at a restaurant so you can stock up on food or snacks as well as attending the call of nature. All the places we stopped seemed to be clean. tidy and pleasant enough.
In the dead of night, our assistant / ticket collector disappeared into a small building and appeared to be conducting some sort of official business. This was explained a short time later when we approached the border. The assistant took our pasports and got them checked for us (we did not leave the bus). Then he gave them back, we drove a couple of hundred yards and he took them again at the Albanian side. No, I don't understand why either. Anyway, a few minutes later I had my passport back with my long-coveted Albania stamp. All completely painless. There is supposedly an entry tax of about one Euro but we didn't have to pay at the border, I think it is inbuilt in the ticket price.
After a few more stops we arrived in Tirana at about 0430 in the morning. Tirana does not have a bus station and you are dumped in a carpark not too far from the centre. There I was in the middle of the night in the strange capital of a new country with not a word of Albanian nor a penny piece of the local currency. Still, I like an adventure and this is what you may care to do if you find yourself there. If you look from the carpark, there is a main road in front and a wide boulevard going away frm you. This leads to the main square. Go down there a couple of hundred yards and there is a cafe / bar just beside the casino. Both are open 24 hours a day. The staff in the cafe were friendly, spoke a little English and, most improtantly, accepted Euros. I spent a very pleasant couple of hours there until the town started to come alive and I bade a fond farewell and moved on.
This then is how to get from Skopje to Tirana by bus and it is not as scary as some might have you believe.
I shall unashamedly crosspost this in my Skopje page.
- Budget Travel
- Road Trip
Easy to arrive, harder to leave
We came to Tirana from Ohrid in Macedonia. Getting to the capital is relatively straightforward - all roads seem to lead there, though bumpily.
Our journey was in 2006, so things may be different by now.
The first stop on the way is Pogradec, over the Albanian border. Our taxi driver (25 euro), took us to the border, where we were 'bartered' to an Albanian taxi, who drove us the rest of the way into Pogradec. This was our first experience of the wall to wall defensive potholes! The stretch of road into Pogradec rivalled that on the infamous road from Fort Dauphin to Berenty in Madagascar. Though much shorter. We managed a short wander while waiting 15 mins for the furgon to Tirana (3hrs, via Elbasan). This road is far superior, having been improved by the EU. Scenery, both on the lake and through the mountains is spectacular. The one hour trip between Elbasan and Tirana even more so, up a twisting road via many hairpins, and then along a precipitous ridge whith views every side. Heavy traffic in Tirana, but we were dropped off in Skenderbeg Square, where we were assisted in finding accommodation by a kind old fellow who must have thought we looked a little lost! We had asked him where to fins the Nobel Hotel, and indeed, this was exactly the establishment he had thought to recommend. Such serendipity!
Leaving wasn't so straightforward. We were heading for Kotor in Montenegro. As we'd been dropped in the centre, we had not seen the bus station, and missed the opportunity to seek information. We knew there would be no direct buses to Podgorica, and we'd heard of a bus which went from Skhodra to Uncinj and on up the coast of Macedonia, but could not get confirmation of timings.We'd enquired with travel agents about taxis.
Enter Gazmen Cena, a man with a plan, who just happened to have a very fine Mercedes and might be persuaded to head in the direction of the Montenegro border for the right price. The price began at 100 euro, but we negotiated 8500 lek in the end (about 65 euro in those days). And indeed Gazman was true to his word and was (by Albanian standards) a cautious driver. Though the black Mercedes has indeed seen better days (speedometer not functioning, and only 2 windows wound down), it got us to the border in just over 2 hours - about half of the time it would have taken by furgon. Taxi to Podgorica was another 15 euro, where we cought a bus to Kotor.
- Road Trip
Forget all you've read about Tirana's chaotic and dirty airport: it's all new. There was no scramble of people trying to get visas, there was an ATM waiting for me to grab currency from, and a nice, bright, clean (albeit small) airport to greet visitors.
The taxi drivers at Tirana airport have a bad reputation for harassing (in a friendly smiling way) newly arrived passengers. The new airport hasn't changed this. If you walk out of the doors to the left, you will immediately see the line of official yellow taxis just past the cafe on your left. Go here and you are guaranteed a fair rate of 25 euros.
You can get less with the unofficial guys who pounce on you as you exit, but there's always a risk with such people. They are persistent, and they will follow you all the way to the taxi rank. I found a good strategy was to sit down at the cafe and drink a slow coffee. They soon lost interest and I was free to take whatever cab I chose.
Apart from taxis, there is allegedly a 24 hour bus that runs every hour between the airport and the National History Museum. It costs 200 lek (about 1.6 euros), according to the official web site. The LP guide said it was for airport staff only, but it didn't prove the most reliable guide I've ever used.
Bus to Macedonia
If you want to buy a ticket to Macedonia, it costs 10 euros one way, and you can buy it from the Pollogu Tourist office at the top of Zogu boulevard, near the train station. Just as described in the LP guide, it's on the left as you walk towards the station, in between a kids clothes store and a Jewellers. You have to ring a bell. The bus leaves from the dusty square next to the train station. Just look for the Polet bus with Struga written on it.
I had to add this extra tip due to lack of text space...
Some of Albania's roads are so bad, and the buses so old and clapped out, that legend has it that they struggle to wash out the stench of the travel sick after each journey. It's worth considering that when you choose what you travel in and where you travel to. On the bus I took, it was an international journey on an air conditioned bus owned by a company in Macedonia. It was a bit old, it showed nothing but videos of Albanian folk dancing the entire six hour journey to Struga, it had no toilet, but it was perfectly comfortable. And the views were great.
As the crow flies, Struga is about 45 miles from Tirana. That means we travelled at an average of 7.5 miles per hour. That's even slower than the train. Anyone wondering how a bus could travel that slowly has never been to Albania. It's not that the bus was slow, in fact some times it seemed to be going dangerously fast for its squeaky wheels. No, the reason it took so long was the bizarre route it took, the care free attitude of the driver, and, of course, customs at the Macedonian border.
Instead of driving directly to Macedonia, we first went in the completely opposite direction. Soon we recognised that we were going towards Durres. Fearing I was on the wrong bus, I tried to ask another passenger. She smiled and showed me pictures of what must have been her husband and children, all dressed in traditional folk costumes. The driver pulled up for a while, we guessed he was asking directions.
After a while it stopped driving towards Durres, and turned around. It made sense now: he'd got lost, asked for directions, and was now going the right way. But no. He pulled up and got himself a spare tyre. Then he was back on the wrong road to Durres again. Which just happened to be one of the many stops on the way to Macedonia. I guess the only decent road out of Tirana goes to Durres, just like the train.
Tirana's train station is a small, quiet and dusty affair. It stands out as an island of calm on the busy and dusty Tirana street, next door to the chaos of activity at the bus station. There were no queues for the three ticket desks, and the one bored lady was pleased to see some strangers brighten her day with their struggles to explain that yes, they really did want to travel on an Albanian train.
There are only a few trains every day, and they only go to one place: Durres. That's where the hub of Albania's tiny railway network is, rather than the capital Tirana. The cost of tickets is incredibly low: less than a euro for a return trip to Durres. You will get what you pay for, though. The Czech diesels are slow, the Austrian carriages range in quality from dirty to dishevelled, and the track is bumpy and grassy.
In all, it's a slow but pleasant hour train journey to Durres, and you'll get to enjoy some of Albania's magnificent countryside from the windows of the carriage. You'll also get to see lots of trash, concrete bunkers, and half built houses, but it's all part of the experience.
Check out their website for timetables. Don't take any notice of the superfast train in the pictures they show. The only train on Albania's tracks these days is the old green monster in my photos!
Informal Minivan Bus (Furgon) Stations
Many people are used to having transportation links all converge on one spot - a central bus station, a central train station. Such people will find transportation in Tirana quite surprising, since there is no central spot where all transportation links meet. Each destination out of town is served by buses and mini-buses (furgon) which leave from a different spot. You have to ask around to find where that spot might be, and how to get there. When you think that Albania used to be one of the most extreme Communist countries, and that the Communists were all about strict control, the fact that the transportation depots are spread all over town may be seen as a refreshing sign of individuality.
Don't expect to see many signs directing you to a departure depot. In fact, don't expect any signs directing you there, or even a sign at the depot itself, or on the window of the minivan that will take you to your destination. A sign on the minivan window may be placed by the driver, or may be simply considered unnecessary.
Attached is a photo of the minivan depot of minivans from Tirana to Kruje, a major tourist site with a castle about an hour out of town. At the back side of the center of the square you may notice a blue minivan. This is the minivan to Kruje.
It is a good idea to verify the price of the minivan ride by asking fellow passengers how much it costs, as you sit and wait for the minivan to fill with passengers. This way there will be no surprises when pay time comes at the end of the ride. Many people in Albania, especially the young, speak English.
- Budget Travel
- Road Trip
Lovely building, awful place.
I arrived in very good time at Tirana Airport which is officially called Mother Theresa but also known more historically as Rinas and was initially impressed by the wonderful modern building. I was certainly too early for my checkin so I decided I would have a drink whilst I waited.
This was the first unpleasant experience. I ordered a beer and enquired would Euros be acceptable as I had no local currency, to be assured this was no problem. I realise airports are always expensive but I was charged five Euros for a beer which is at least three times what I had paid right in the centre of the city and no bill (check) to go with it. Basically, the waiter ripped me off but I was too tired to argue.
At two hours before flight time (normal check-in) I went to the indicated check-in desk to be told it was not open. About five minuted later I noticed a large group of people obviously checking in although the board (in English) still indicated I had to wait. I queued up and was checked in. In fairness, the lady was friendly and offered me an exit seat on the plane as I am quite tall.
I went back outside and spent an interesting time watching the taxi touts harrassing arriving passengers in a number of languages, predominantly English. I have included a photo and I suggest you avoid them.
When the time came to check in, I was subjected to quite the most rigorous security check I have ever had. It was unbelievable. I have never been asked to remove my watch before. After having gone through my wallet thoroughly, the security man insisted on putting it back through the scanner, along with my small plastic comb which he had similarly manually inspected. I am all in favour of aviation security but this was just ridiculous.
Having negotiated the security, I went to departures. First good news, there is an outside smoking area. It is just through the cafe on the left as you look towards the runway, should you want it.
The security theme continues in duty-free where they sealed my purchases in a bag so securely I had to take to it with scissors on my return home.
The flight was shown as being on time. At about 20 minutes before, it was clear this was not going to happen as the inbound was not on any stand that I could see. It flies in and we are still informed it will be on time. Not a chance. I believe it was still shown as on time when we boarded about half an hour late.
It is a beautiful building but they really want to sort out the organisation.
I must admit I had heard a few horror stories about taxi drivers in Albania and, on general principle, I am alway suspicious of them in places where I am obviously a visitor. To set the scene, I had been on a bus from Skopje (Macedonia) all night, desprerately trying to keep awake and had to be at the airport for a 1430 flight.
I was having my umpteenth coffee in a nice little cafe on the main square in my attempt to induce insomnia and spoke to the friendly waiter about the situation. I had read that the fare should be about 17 Euros, so I said I would pay twenty. OK, a little over the odds but I just wanted to get there and I thought a pre-arranged price was better than haggling over a dodgy or non existent meter. No problem at all. My new best friend the waiter told me all was well and his mate across the road would be happy to oblige. He duly appeared, took my bag for me (unusual for taximen), we went to his car, negotiated the slightly lunatic traffic and arrived in good order. Job done. My suggestion is to know what the fare should be roughly and negotiate on that rather than a meter.
I have to say Tirana airport was a pleasure both arriveing and departing. Straight through customs, out the door, turn left and straight on to the airport bus, on the hour every hour during the day and into Tirana (Skanderbeg Square) in thirty minutes 250Lek. Comeing back it leaves from the same place on the hour. Airport effiency in my experience was first rate and check in was easy enough even the €10 entry or departure tax has been abolished. good range of facilities in departures and smoking is allowed in the outside bar area (which is virtually on the runway). All brand spanking new. Best airport ive used in the region, probably one of the best ive used in Europe.
Arrivals of Buses from Saranda to Tirana
The buses from Saranda will arrive next to Kombinat( until 2 years ago it was like that). There you will have to take the city buses of Tirana.
Careful in the bus especially in the line Kombinat-Kinostudio.
Good luck with your appointement at the Uk Embassy!
- Road Trip
There is a Coach that lives from Tirana Center next to the big Hotel of 15 floor.
In Albanian you say "15 kateshi".
They live Tirana at 3 pm and arrive to Prishtina around 1 am. You can get the ticket at the agency that is next to the hotel and the Coach departure.
Have an nice trip!
- Budget Travel
- Road Trip
I can only give you an answer for Ulcin-Shkodra et Shkodra-Tirana.
There are minibuses 2 times an day at least from Ulcin-Shkodra around 5-6 euros.
And for Shkodra-Tirana there are an lot minibuses and an few buses daily.
The minibus is around 4 euros and the bus an bit cheaper.
The minibuses are at the entrance of Shkodra and the buses are near the Theater.
Have an nice travel!
- School Holidays
- Budget Travel
The airport is officially called ' Mother Teresa International Airport Tirana', but it's also known locally as 'Rinas Airport', the name of a nearby village.
The airport is situated 17km from Tirana. I travelled to & from the airport by taxi, arranged by my hotel. The fare was 3000 lek & it took about 20 minutes each time. I gather that there is an airport bus that goes between the airport & the National Historical Museum. I didn't see it, but I did see signs at the airport for it.
It's a small, clean, spacious modern airport. Check in was quick & easy. Once in departures, there's a bar & shops. Arrival is quick & easy too, immigration & visa purchase doesn't take long. In the baggage collection area there is a bureaux de change, ideal to get some money while you wait for your luggage to arrive.
Tirana doesn't have a bus station, what it does have is a piece of land next to the railway station where buses & minibuses depart & arrive.
When I visited it, there were numerous buses with their destinations on signs in the bus windscreen. The drivers were stood about shouting out the destinations of their bus. I'm not sure if they ran to a timetable, they seemed to set off when they were full. The desinations I could make out were those of major Albanian cities.
On the main boulevard Zogu i Pare there are many travel agencies offering coach travel to the nearby countries. The coaches seemed to depart from there.
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