I love the Balkans, it’s one of my favourite regions in the world. It’s authentic, unique and rich in culture. However, one of the downsides of this beautiful region is for sure the lack of public transports and intercity connections. Travelling by bus or by non-existing train is very time consuming and tiring. But is not impossible to get where you want to, so here’s how I travelled from Podgorica to Tirana by bus.
Bosnia and Serbia seem to be okay. However, Montenegro and Albania are the worst. Public transport is not as easy to use (apart from taxis). Firstly, there is no single train line running from Podgorica to Tirana. So it’s only possible to take the bus.
Podgorica is well connected by air. I travelled there either from London or Belgrade with Ryanair and Air Serbia. On the ground, only 28km East of Podgorica, there’s Albania. The distance is so small. Honestly, I could walk it in one full day! However, taking buses takes as well one full day.
From Podgorica to Ulcinj
From Podgorica Bus Station, I took a 9.50 am bus departing to Ulcinj, a beach resort south east of Montenegro. The drive took around 2 hours. It was slow but spectacular. The views on the way are just magical, I enjoyed it so much!
From Ulcijn to the Albanian border
On arrival to Ulcinj Bus Station, I was happy to find free wifi and a small café. I stayed there waiting for my connection to Shkoder, in Albania. My original plan was to go out and discover Ulcinj. However, the bus station is not in the city centre so it was not worth missing one of the few connections to Shkoder.
At 12.30pm, the bus departs from Ulcinj to Shkoder.
The driver collects all passports and IDs for the border. On the way, I could already feel the change. I was still in Montenegro but I noticed that it felt more Albanian, with the appearance of many mosques. The reason is that Ulcinj is an Albanian town within Montenegro. So it makes much more sense that it looked more Albanian than Serb.
Border Control in Albania
The border control looks at the same time strict but also easy going. The driver takes all passports to the officer while passengers wait inside the bus. I was sharing my journey with a couple, an old man and two other younger men. They all had Albanian passports. I was the only foreigner, so I had all of them smiling at me or simply saying welcome.
We altogether waited for 30 minutes to get back our passports and be on the way again. It was in December so I think it’s the reason it was so quick. However, border controls can take far longer during high season.
From the border control to Shkoder
The ride took an extra 45 minutes to arrive to Shkoder. It is the second biggest city in Albania. On arrival, the bus drops in front of Ebu Beker Mosque. And while going out of the bus, I was confronted with a huge status of what only appears to be an ex Albanian ruler. It was my first contact with Albania. I then enjoy few hours walking around Shkoder and having my first Albanian meal at one of the local restaurants before continuing to Tirana.
From Shkoder to Tirana
Unlike in Montenegro, it appears that there are no bus stations in Albania. Buses drop passengers anywhere and pick them up anywhere. However, there are some known spots to catch a bus. In Shkoder, buses are parked right near Ebu Beker Mosque and the roundabout near. They go to different destinations. Usually drivers would shout the name of their destination to grab attention or asking them directly is helpful. I asked some guys around who gladly directed me to buses going to Tirana.
It costs around 4 euros. But the way is really long. It took around 3 hours to get to Tirana.
Since Tirana is a big city, buses have several stops. I assumed that the last stop would be the most central, however, it’s not true. I asked few locals on the bus who advised me to stop when they stop as it was the same place they were going. I did that and then walked around 10 minutes to Skandarberg Square.
Summary: Podgorica to Tirana
Podgorica and Tirana are only 150 km apart but yet, I had to take 3 buses and spend around 7 hours travelling. Crossing the border between Montenegro and Albania is no piece of cake. The first bus from Podgorica left at 9.50 am and I only made it to Tirana at 7 pm. That was long but totally worth it. Don’t let the lack of connections and public transports put you off, go and visit the Balkans. These transportation adventures were really rich experiences as well as I got to connect with locals and live their daily struggles with public transport. But yet, they had a smile, they were friendly and they welcomed me warmly, whether they were Serb or Albanian.