If you’re looking to save money while traveling around Central / Eastern Europe, then the logical choice for your transport are trains or busses. In this post I’m going to share with you some of the positives and negatives of bussing around this great part of the world based on my experience of catching over 20 busses in the last three months, and spending more than 100 hours sitting on these said busses.
Let’s start with the things you should know:
- Firstly, bus stations are very rarely named bus stations – this means locating them on Google Maps isn’t always easy but if you try the old fashioned way and ask someone most people will know what bus means.
- For example: Estonia – Bussijam (Boos-i-yum), Croatia – Autobusni Kolodvor, Hungary – Autóbuszállomás, Poland – Autobusowy, just to name a few.
- Don’t expect people/staff to speak english. If they do, its usually seat numbers, baggage fees,yes, no, ok and destinations. However sometimes you get lucky (Lux Express, Eurolines are pretty good).
- Don’t expect that just because you asked the driver if the bus you’re on stops at a particular destination that they will automatically presume that you want to get off at that destination.
- Don’t expect seat numbers to be applicable.
- Expect to pay to put your bag in the luggage compartment under the bus in the Balkans even though you’ve already paid $50 for your ticket, and you had better have the correct change!
- Don’t expect locals to let you sit next to them, they seem to think its their right to have a spare seat for their coat / handbag / nothing and get very upset if you need to take their precious personal space from them, even if there are no other seats available!
- Don’t expect to be able to use the on board toilet during a 4-6hr bus ride (Balkans), the driver will get mad because he has to clean, instead he’d prefer it if you’d use the lonely tuck stop he’s stopped at with a full urinal, inch of mysterious liquid on the floor and no toilet paper, hand towels, random hose plumbing system and no soap (picture below).
- If the driver says stopping for 10 mins, sometimes this means 10 mins (and you better be on that bus or it will leave without you) or it could mean 30mins. One trip I took from Zagreb to Split took 6 hrs, about 1.5hrs of that was spent on breaks as we waited for the bus driver to stop his socialising.
- Be prepared to jump into on coming traffic and grab you luggage out of the under compartment on the traffic side (Amalfi Coast, I know this isn’t Eastern Europe but was a bus experience I had to share)
- Don’t expect your overnight 12 hr bus to have any more comfortable seats / any extra room than a regular bus – its no sleeper train!
- On overnight busses, be prepared for loud speaker announcement at hourly intervals as the bus stops at multiple destinations.
- Don’t expect the aircon to be working.
- Sometimes platform 2 means platform 3. Sometimes the platforms are hard to work out altogether.
- Sometimes buying a train ticket means you’ll be catching a bus (Croatia)
- Sometimes there will be no sign other than a small a4 sheet of paper in the window & sometimes that says the wrong direction (Budapest-Vienna / Orange ways). Sometimes the sign for the bus stop is a small sticker on a stop sign near a random building (Orangeways).
- Sometimes they’ll check your ticket (along with your passport) other times they won’t check your ticket at all!
- Sometimes the seat in front of you will be broken and every time the guy sitting in it leans back he’ll smash your legs.
- Don’t expect stamps at border control, as far as the world is concerned, I was never in Bosnia. I never got a stamp entering or leaving the country. And they WILL just take your passport off you and off the bus into a little shed and bring it back an hour later.
- Keep an eye out for your destination (they not always announced / clear when you’re there).
However their are some good points to catching busses (after all I wouldn’t have kept catching them if it was ALL bad!)
Some of the most beautiful scenery can be seen as you wind your way through the mountains or along the coast (oh so windy), and you get to stop off at some really interesting rest stops that you don’t get to do on the train (just stay on to your destination). Below are some other benefits of international bus rides in Central & Eastern Europe.
- Busses are generally in good condition, are clean and have comfortable seats.
- The drivers, apart from being grumpy and speaking little english, are generally quit happy when you do the right thing (have correct change for baggage, do as they say, don’t be late, have your tickets / documents ready).
- Get on early – try and secure the back seat (lay down / stretch out / sleep). Busses are often full though and you may spend an entire trip sitting backwards next to a lovely old babushka!
- Baltics all have super fast wifi and power outlets – so you can watch movies / surf the next / do what you like for as many hours as you want!
- Cheapest doesn’t always mean worst, Polski bus in Poland was cheaper than another local bus company, way more comfortable with free wifi!
- Many of the bus stations arrive central to your destination city and your hotel / hostel will just be a short walk from the bus station.
- Many busses leave at convenient times / several intervals per day.
- Many Eastern European busses can’t be booked online, you just buy the ticket at the station before you get on.
- Busses are generally the cheapest option for travelling both domestically and internationally.
List of Bus Resources
Below are a list of websites & tools & companies I used to book, plan and research bus trips across all of Central / Eastern Europe and the companies that I used in each place. There are of course other bus lines, but these ones were all pretty good and made for some good experiences.
Baltics (Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania)
- Lux Express: www.luxexpress.eu/en
- Simple Express: www.simpleexpress.eu/
- Eurolines: www.eurolines.com/
- Orangeways: www.orangeways.com/en/
Bosnia / Serbia / Kosovo
- Autobusi: www.autobusi.hr/home/
- Eurolines: www.eurolines.com/
- Balkanviator: http://www.balkanviator.com/en/