Ask Lonely Planet: Greece to Croatia - plans up in the air

Cavtat, Croatia. Photo / Supplied
Cavtat, Croatia. Photo / Supplied

A friend and I are planning to do our first trip to Europe in April and are just finalising the finer details of our plan. We are however having a bit of trouble finding a smooth way of getting from Greece to Croatia as there are no direct flights and have been advised to try and avoid Albania. Is there an experienced traveller's tip on how to do this part of our journey?
- Erin and Sara

Alexis Averbuck, co-author of Lonely Planet's Western Europe Travel Guide, writes:

The trip from Greece to Croatia seems seductively easy if you glance at a map ... they are almost neighbours after all. What's to stop you from perusing the Acropolis one day and strolling the cafes of Zagreb the next? Reality. The countries could be a world away, the transport is so convoluted.

At the moment there are, indeed, no direct flights between Greece and Croatia, though a new route is rumoured on Croatia Airlines.

Flying used to be exorbitant - €500 ($956) and up. Your saving grace may be the recent onslaught of European cheap airlines. If your interest is solely in getting to Croatia, and not in visiting the intermediate countries, then I say straight out, save yourself considerable exhaustion (26 hours transit), aggravation (delays) and cost (train, bus or ferry fares plus the cost of eating or laying over en route), and book with an airline like Germanwings. Booking in advance and with flexibility in your scheduling, you can fly for as little as €50 from Athens to Cologne-Bonn and €40 from Cologne-Bonn to Zagreb.

If you opt to stick to the ground or sea, there are myriad combinations, all requiring multiple trains, boats or buses. There are no direct trains. Assuming, as you wrote, that you are avoiding Albania, take a 14-hour train ride from Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, via Skopje, FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) to Belgrade, Serbia (serbianrailways.com). Follow that with a seven-hour train trip to Zagreb (hznet.hr). Including transfer times, this should take about 26 hours. Check international train schedules at bahn.co.uk.

Once you go by rail to Skopje or Belgrade, you can opt for a bus to Zagreb (there are not many buses from Thessaloniki to Skopje). If you are a non-EU citizen, check carefully about visa requirements for entering FYROM. Other bus/train variations, requiring multiple transfers, take you from Belgrade to Montenegro and then north to Dubrovnik. Check Serbian buses at bas.co.rs and Croatian buses at akz.hr.

Finally, you can take to the sea. Ferries (ferries.gr) run from Patras in the Peloponnese via Igoumenitsa (near Corfu) and west to Bari, Italy (15 hours). From Bari, Jadrolinija's ferry goes to Dubrovnik (nine hours). You'll probably need to spend the day in Bari waiting for your connecting boat. Ancona and Brindisi are other ferry points in Italy.

You can also cobble together your own combo of ferry and flight or train and flight.

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