When we made our plans to travel through the Balkans we had heard many tales about Albania, mostly how scary it was and how hard it was to travel around. That timetables don’t exist and unless you have a car or are a local then you are basically screwed! We were a little nervous when it came to travel in Albania naturally given what we had heard and also a little worried that we would just have to skip through the capital and be on our way, missing out on really seeing it. But after 11 amazing days in which we fell in love with the country we are here to say: It is completely possible on public transport, just try not to worry about time so much!
Any research you do on transport it Albania will be pointless lets face it! A few people told me later on that they actually avoided Albania because they couldn’t find any transport information or timetables online! Crazy! I mean, how did people go on backpacking before the internet!!! In many ways though this is what makes Albania so special, in most other countries it is a bit too easy and predictable getting around. You know in advance what time you will arrive and leave, where the buses go from and how long they take! Boring! In Albania you just have to go with the flow a little, let things just happen and leave a little bit more time to get anywhere…no matter how close you think it is!
There are several main methods of transport around Albania, probably even more than mentioned here if you fancy jumping in the back of a horse and cart. But these are the most common!
The furgon is pretty much unique to Albania, although there are several similar services ran in different countries like the Dolmus in Turkey and the mini buses in Moldova. Basically a furgon is an unlicensed mini bus that runs untimetabled routes from town to town, city to city. They usually don’t do long distance though and it is more of a local service, calling at tiny villages and even just single houses on the way from place to place.
The furgon is an expereince in itself, it is filled with local people getting on what could often be the only service of the day or one of maybe 2 or 3. They pile in and bring all sorts with them, chickens, hay bales, farming equipment, we’ve seen it all. Then you also get these old women who get off in literally the middle of nowhere with nothing, almost inexplicable really!
The furgon takes a rough route that can change at any time, but if the driver knows where you are going you will eventually get there. Emphasis on eventually! He will often take random stops to run errands, drive into villages way off course to drop people off and even drop people off at their front door. There will be a constant sound track of Albanian music blasting out and in the summer heat it can be stifling! But, it is a proper authentic experience and you will meet some characters along the way for sure as well as seeing rural Albanian life up close!
Furgons can be flagged down from the side of the road and you can stop literally anywhere, just let the driver know either by shouting or asking him when you get on if you are unsure. It is best to ask locals where the furgon will pass and roughly what time to expect it. But don’t make plans around it actually turning up at that time! You also pay when you get off and usually the price is really very cheap, but again, check before with a local so you have enough money!
As with anything in Albania these routes are not listed anywhere online, you will have to ask around. The best place is to go to one of the bus stations, usually a chaotic but some how organised affair, and someone will know. Albanians are the most helpful people ever and the guys in the bus station know everything there is to know about transport!
You might have thought that at least the city buses run on a time table…no, not even these do! They run whenever the bus gets full! So the best advice is to get on the one with the most people, even though often at home we would do the opposite!
Outside each bus there will often be a guy touting for business and trying to fill up the bus, they will continue to pack more and more people in before finally setting off. So sometimes you might be in for a wait. If you are getting the bus to catch a flight or so something very time specific then set off early or consider getting a taxi!
Many cities don’t have a central bus station for the local city buses but they set off around the main squares and main streets. Again, this information will be nowhere online, so which ever city you are in then just ask and people will help.
For Tirana the buses go from mostly around the main square and outside the museum. In Berat it is outside of the main church and Mosque. In Shkoder it is around the main roundabout.
You don’t need to buy a ticket before getting on the bus either. The guy touting for business will come round and sell tickets. They are usually at a set price regardless of how far you are going. Usually very very cheap, around about the 20 or 30 mark which is about 20p!
Long distance transport
When travelling from major city to major city in Albania you can get on the large coaches. There are sometimes Furgons available for these same journeys for less money but a longer ride so you just have to turn up and ask!
Most of the main bus stations in Albania are a little way out of the city centre and are absolute chaos! Buses and coaches everywhere with people shouting different city names from everywhere! At first glance it can be quite overwhelming and off putting, but it really couldn’t be easier!
The people here are really helpful and in our experience don’t go to rip you off but to help you. If you just turn up and go to any guy shouting out and ask where the bus is to your destination they will either point you or take you. Sometimes cities have more than one bus station too so they might tell you to head over to that one.
If you have plans to travel to another city or country the best thing you can do is either turn up and be prepared to maybe have to wait a little while (usually not the case if you are travelling within Albania). Or go the day before and ask what time roughly the buses are leaving the day after.
Again, time tables here are not really used, the bus waits until it is full and sets off more at an estimated time than anything else. But the drivers will usually know the day before when roughly then plan to set off the next day! The folks at your hostel might also have some idea too or at least send you off to the right bus station!
As with all types of transport in Albania you get on the bus and pay there as most stations don’t have an office or pretty much anything, they are often just a carpark with buses flying around you! A guy will come around and sell you tickets once you are on board. Again, we had no issue with being charged anything other than what we expected.
Even the long distance coaches can be flagged down to at the side of the road and also you can ask the driver to drop you literally anywhere along the route. So if you are heading to a town nearby to a major city it might be easier to mention it to your driver instead of getting more transport back. Sometimes they will even take a detour to drop you off!
Hitchhiking in Albania is a legitimate way of getting around! I mean, you see old women doing it all time,it really is the norm and quite easy to do!
I was a little reluctant to give it a go at first even though I had always wanted to. I wasn’t sure Albania was the place to try it but it is strange how perception changes once you visit somewhere. The name Albania before felt scary and aggressive, now when I say it I am filled with the images of friendliness and beauty!
There is no science to hitchhiking, it is just a game of chance. But make sure you position yourself in a safe place where you are not in a blind spot or on a corner and also where you can back off the road or get back to somewhere crowded if needs be. But also consider how visible you are too so you give your potential lift a chance to see you and way you up. Also get on the right road for your destination, its no good standing at the opposite end of town to where you want to get to! Maybe even walk passed the cross roads to where it point to your destination.
Also often when hitchhiking you will have to do a journey in several cars instead of just one, so knowing what towns are in the direction you want to head in can be helpful. Also leave yourself enough time and set off early as it can sometimes take a while to get a ride.
When you are in the car try to get to know the kind folks to picked you up. Not everyone in Albania speaks good English but they will give it a good go! Also, above all else make sure to listen to your instincts and if a lift doesn’t feel right then just let them go!
I often don’t advocate using taxis, especially when you are travelling! But the transport in Albania is unreliable at best and if you are on a timescale then they are the best option!
A word of advice though. If you plan on getting a taxi then ask your hostel or hotel how much it should cost first and agree that price with the taxi or get them to ring it for you and agree the price. Taxis in Albania are cheap though and certainly a better option than missing your flight!
Be flexible and don’t plan too much ahead. Getting around Albania on public transport is easily doable and we managed to get to some amazing places all over the country that way. But you do have to be patient, open minded and not too fussed about time. If you approach it in a relaxed and fun way then you will have a great time on the unique and chaotic Albanian transport system!! Good luck!
Have you every travelled through Albania on public transport?
If you want some more exciting transport in Albania, what about the amazing 3 hour ferry ride we took through a lake surrounded by mountains?
The 3 hour ferry ride through the mountains of Northern Albania that blew us away (and should be on everyones bucket list!)