How to Rent a Car for an Incredible Balkans Road Trip

1. Best Rental Car Company for a Balkans Road Trip
2. How to Cross Borders in the Balkans with a Rental Car
3. What is a Vignette?
4. Toll Roads in the Balkans
5. Winter Driving in the Balkans
6. Where to Park in Balkans Cities
7. What is the Cost of Petrol/Gas in the Balkans?
8. How Much Does it Cost to Rent a Car in the Balkans?

What an adventure. My recent road trip around the Balkans for 39 days in a hire car was one of my best yet! Lots of things to see and do, reasonable roads and not a single hassle when it came to crossing borders or the reliability of the car itself. Here’s how it went down.

I picked up the car in Sofia, Bulgaria and drove through Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia and Romania and returned the car back to Sofia.Balkans Roadtrip RouteThere were reasons for where I picked the car up from, where I dropped it off and the route I took which I’ll explain later on. Some of the things I want to talk about are the vignette, border crossings, driving on snow and ice, insurance, tolls, where to park in cities and much much more. Needless to say, it was a totally new experience for me and there was lots to learn.

Best Rental Car Company for a Balkans Road Trip

The main issue when choosing a rental company is making sure that you are allowed to take the car to all the countries you want to visit. Most rental car companies don’t allow this and many others don’t allow you to visit some specific countries. You can check all the major rental car companies yourself or you can take it from me — Val & Kar in Sofia are the best company to use based on them allowing you take the car anywhere, the quality of the cars they hire and the customer service.Aerial Shot of Lake Bled SloveniaEven though you might be allowed to take your rental car into a particular country, you also need to make sure that your rental car company takes care of all the appropriate documents such as insurance. Val & Kar do take care of these documents and I cannot talk highly enough of them.

Better still, they are able to offer special deals to you if you contact them directly by email.

How to Cross Borders in the Balkans with a Rental Car

Crossing borders is the thing that most people get worried about when they’re hiring a car. But it’s something that you really don’t need to worry about if you have a rental car company who has sorted everything out in advance. Val & Kar gave me a little booklet with all the car’s papers in it before departing and at every border crossing, I simply handed this booklet to the border officer with my passport and it was processed within about 5 minutes.Documents Required For Balkans Road Trip And Car RentalThere was an exception to this — when entering Kosovo, you need to pay additional insurance which from memory was €15 for a week. The way to do this is to arrive at the Kosovo border, present your documents and the officer will tell you to walk back about 100m to the small hut where you can buy insurance. Return to the window, show the officer and you will be on your way.Border Insurance For Kosovo

What is a Vignette?

I had no idea what a vignette was until I was already in the 8th country of my trip even though I’d seen signs with the word “VIGNETTE” before in Bulgaria. In short, a vignette is a method of paying for toll roads. In many countries outside of the balkans you can buy little tags which attach to your windscreen which beep when you pass a toll barrier. In the Balkans, they either use a vignette or you pay cash.Vignette In SloveniaWith Val & Kar, the vignette for Bulgaria is already attached to the car so you don’t need to buy one separately. But when you enter Slovenia, you do need to a vignette. And because when you enter Slovenia you might be on a motorway, you’re going to need to stop soon after entering to buy a vignette. A word of warning though… IT IS NOT CLEAR FROM THE SIGNS THAT YOU NEED A VIGNETTE.

When I reached the first toll barrier, there was no place to pay cash but it was definitely a toll barrier. It was at this point that I knew I needed to figure out how to pay. So I had my wife google it and the results all started talking about the vignette. And then it became clear that you need to pull off at the nearest petrol station/rest area and purchase the vignette. The process is very easy and you just attach it to your windscreen. These vignettes are available for different periods of time and cost different amounts. Just tell the  person serving you the length of time you will be in Slovenia and they will sell you the appropriate vignette.

I also had to purchase something like this when I entered Romania from memory. Or was that insurance? I don’t know. But I wasn’t allowed to enter the country without paying!Castle In HunedoaraWhatever the case, if there is a sign saying something like Vignette, make sure you google the rules for the particular country you’re in or you could be in for a rude shock when you try to exit the country (ie they will issue you a fine).

Toll Roads in the Balkans

There aren’t a lot of toll roads in the Balkans, but there are enough that you’re going to need to figure out how to operate them. Each country has a different system — some charging you one fee based on the distance you travelled, some charging you a flat fee every 10km or so at a physical booth and then there’s the vignette system described above.Hire Car On Snow In MontenegroPayment is always in the local currency, but some countries allow you to pay in Euros at a poor exchange rate. Some also allow you to pay via credit card which is the easiest method.

The most expensive toll road was in Croatia — €25 from memory for one of my trips! It’s expensive, but the alternative is a slow road.

The more modern the country, the more likely you are to encounter a toll road, so you’ll see plenty in Croatia and very few in Albania. This impacts dramatically how fast you will travel from place to place — Albania extremely slow, Croatia really fast.Aerial Shot Balkans Road in Winter

Winter Driving in the Balkans

Winter in the Balkans can be brutally cold. We travelled between mid-November and late December, so we didn’t get the coldest part of the winter. But it was still very cold in some places and this needs to be taken into consideration when choosing a car hire company. Cars require winter tyres in winter with the dates of the this requirement taking effect differing between countries. Make sure you specify that you need to have your car winterised if you think you’ll be driving in cold conditions.Road Covered In Ice On Balkans Road TripThe coldest I experienced driving in the Balkans was -11ºC on the ice in the mountains of Montenegro. The car handled the road beautifully and it was only slippery in a few locations. Most of the time I was doing around 60km/h. Not being experienced with driving in snow and ice, I feared the snow. But as it turned out, I drove through a lot of snow during this trip including uphill sections where you had to spin the wheels all the way up the hill to get to the top.Rental Car Covered In SnowThe worst snow we encountered was about 30-40cm which fell in about 24 hours in Belgrade. Needless to say, it took a good half an hour to clear the roof and dig the car out without a shovel. So if I can drive in the snow and ice, so can you. Don’t be scared if you’re an inexperienced snow driver — just make sure you have that car winterised before departure, keep an eye on the weather forecasts and take it slow.

Where to Park in Balkans Cities

This was one of my main worries prior to embarking on this road trip. Where an earth was I going to park in a big city like Belgrade or a tourist town like Dubrovnik? And it’s a valid question because parking regulations in this part of the world can be quite strict.

The first point to note is that I did this trip in winter which is also the low season. There was almost no tourist traffic. Your luck will vary depending on the season you travel in.Icy Cobblestone Road In BalkansStill, parking was a pain in some cities and this is how I handled it. I used for almost all of my accommodation in the Balkans and I selected the accommodation based on location and whether they had free parking or not. This was more difficult than it should be because there is no “free parking” filter on — just a “parking” filter.

So first of all I would make sure there was parking available and then I would check each individual listing to see if the word “free” was specified anywhere. I would also search for the word “parking” in the comments to see what other guests had said about the parking situation. I never paid for overnight parking, but it did mean I stayed maybe a kilometre or 2 from the centre of the cities. No problem, I like walking.

Here are all the cities where I think it’s absolutely necessary to worry about parking and where I ended up staying — maybe you can stay there too because you now know it has a good parking situation!


Plovdiv – $43/night

Veliko Tarnovo – €31/night


Skopje – €23/night (awesome apartment + great parking situation!)

Lake Ohrid – €16/night


Girokaster – €15/night

Schkoder – €22/night


Kotor – $32/night (central, great apartment)

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Sarajevo – €21/night

Mostar – €20/night


Dubrovnik – €55/night (amazing!)

Zadar – €30/night

Zagreb – €32/night


Ljubljana – $64/night


Subotica – €15/night

Belgrade – €24/night


Brasov – $37/night

Bucharest – €25/night (parking in a no parking zone, no problem)

What is the Cost of Petrol/Gas in the Balkans?

While the cost of petrol varies from country to country, I paid between $1.15 and $1.45 per litre or about $4.60 to $5.80 per gallon. I was also told I needed to use 95 RON fuel. Usually this was paid for with credit card, but some petrol stations accepted cash only! Best to have some spare cash when you’re ready to fuel up.Snowy Weather In Balkans

How Much Does it Cost to Rent a Car in the Balkans?

The company you use is really going to determine how much you pay for you rental car, but a number of other factors are important as well. How old are the cars the company uses, what season are you renting the car in and what insurances are included.

I don’t usually get the added insurance that is sold with rental cars because I don’t think it’s worth it, but I got a good deal with Val & Kar where they added the insurance into the rental price for free.Castle In RomaniaFor 39 days of hire, I paid €939 which included Winter Services Fees, Roadside Assistance, out of hours drop off at Sofia Airport and Super Cover Insurance + Theft Coverage. I thought it was a good deal for the sort of trip I was going on. I did find a cheaper company than this, but the cars seemed old and I heard some bad stories. So I went with Val & Kar and I am glad I did. Everything was perfect.

What are you Waiting For?

As you can see, while there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed before renting a car for a Balkans road trip, these issues aren’t too difficult to resolve. What’s more, you’ll be one of very few people who get around the region this way meaning you’ll have a much less touristy experience and have the flexibility to go where you want, when you want.

We highly recommend hiring a car in the Balkans! So what are you waiting for?


Kudu Ngopi, Bandung: Great Coffee, Slow Internet

Kudu Ngopi is a small tempat ngopi in Bandung which serves up great speciality coffee from a small La Marzocco.

The coffee here is really good and definitely in line with what I expect these days in Bandung. Strong, silky smooth and definitely gives you a jolt of caffeine.Coffee At Kudu NgopiThey also do some good here, but it’s a pretty comprehensive menu of simple foods which are good for either a snack or full meal. They’re not going to win any restaurant awards here, but I’m sure the food will fill a hole nonetheless.Kudu Ngopi BandungThe fitout is pretty simple and they do a good job with the limited space they have. A bunch of couches, stools and chairs all clustered together give the place an intimate vibe, but I could imagine it getting quite noisy when it’s full.

WiFi here is bad. So bad that you may not even be able to use it. When I was here it was running at 0.13mbps down and 0.27mbps up which is basically unusable unless you are absolute desperate. With that in mind, don’t come here to work until they get a better internet connection.Cute Cat At Kudu NgopiAll in all a good cafe serving delicious coffee at a good price.

Kudu Ngopi
Graha Manggala Siliwangi, Jalan Aceh 66B, Bandung
Instagram: @kudu_ngopi
Opening Hours: 11:00 – 23:00
WiFi: 0.13down/0.27up
Cappuccino: Rp25.000
No added tax!


Warung Kopi Limarasa, Bandung: Bad Coffee, Good Banana Bread, Needs Improvement

In a city that has hundreds of great coffee shops, it’s imperative that if you’re opening a coffee shop you get the coffee right. It has to be world standard.

And right off the bat, a Warung Kopi Limarasa disappoints. My cappuccino was one dimensional, served in a kopitiam style cup and lacked depth. With a good coffee machine out the front, I had expected much better.Upstairs Warung Kopi LimarasaI arrived here at just after 8 and there weren’t any other customers. So the staff were playing up a bit and shouting and laughing with each other in a playful, yet unprofessional way. It irked me.

I had a slice of banana bread which was very good, but I didn’t get a chance to try any of the heavy meals as we were told they weren’t available (probably because it was too early).Coffee And Banana Bread At Warung Kopi LimarasaWifi clocks in at 16mbps down and 3mbps up. I can imagine this slows to a crawl in a full cafe, so you’ll have to make up your own mind as to whether you want to work here. But with so many great cafes in Bandung, I suggest having a look somewhere else first before deciding to set up a laptop here.Warung Kopi Limarasa BandungFor me, this is a disappointing coffee shop when compared to Bandung coffee shop standard in 2018. One saving grace is that it’s on the cheap side at Rp20.000 for a cappuccino.

Warung Kopi Limarasa
Jalan Braga 36, Bandung
(022) 2053 2339
Instagram: @warungkopi_limarasa
Opening Hours: 09:00 – 23:00, Fri & Sat until midnight
WiFi: 16down/3up
Cappuccino: Rp20.000
Lemon Tea Sereh: Rp17.000
* Add 10% tax to all prices


Buih Kopi, Bandung: Delicious Iced Coffee, Bad Cappuccino

I’ve seen the name of this cafe around a bit recently and decided to stop by and see what the fuss is about.

And I’m still wondering what all the fuss is about. I had a cappuccino and the milk was boiled… it was so hot that it was undrinkable for about 15 minutes. Needless to say, it wasn’t a good coffee.Buih Kopi Bandung FrontSusan had an iced coffee buih and that tasted quite good and perhaps that is what the fuss is about. Or perhaps people love the prices here because it is very cheap. In fact, it’s one of the cheapest cappuccinos made with a real espresso machine in the whole of Bandung.Buih Kopi Bandung CoffeeThe fitout here is odd. Lots of soft chairs, but also a large concrete bench with no pillows which make it impractical for spending much time on.

WiFi here is quite fast at 15mbps down and 8mbps up and there are electricity sockets dotted around the place. If you need a cheap place to work, this is a good one if you can get a soft seat.Buih Kopi Bandung InteriorAll in all a decent cheap coffee shop, but the cappuccino needs work. Stick with the iced coffee.

Buih Kopi
Jalan Trunojoyo 40, Bandung
Instagram: @buihkopi
Opening Hours: 07:00 – 22:00
WiFi: 15down/8up
Cappuccino: Rp15.152
Iced Coffee Buih: Rp15.152
* Add 15.5% to all prices


Wheels Coffee Roaster, Bandung: Coffee Shop for Serious Coffee Lovers

Sometimes when in Bandung it’s difficult to know if a coffee is serious about before actually visiting it. You can judge by the name, by Instagram… or anything for that matter! But after stepping inside Wheels Coffee Roaster on Jalan Eyckman, we immediately knew we were dealing with serious coffee people.

The shop is stylish without trying to be the next big thing in design. We like that because it means it’s not setting itself up as a one hit wonder. It’s here for the long haul.Wheels Coffee Serious About CoffeeThis coffee shop only serves coffee. No tea. No food. It’s for serious coffee lovers and those wanting to learn more about coffee.Coffee At Wheels Coffee BandungThe coffee here is strong. I ordered a magic and a magic is supposed to be a double ristretto in a small cup. And that’s exactly what I received. Sometimes you don’t get that in Bandung for some reason. For those wanting a less strong coffee, I can recommend the iced latte which had a light caramely flavour to it.Wheels Coffee Roasters Inside BandungInternet here is isn’t going to win any speed awards at 6.5mbps down and 3.5mbps up, but it’s fast enough for general web browsing, YouTube viewing and emails. There are a few good places to open your laptop and I’d be happy to spend a couple of hours here working.Wheels Coffee BandungWheels Coffee Roaster is a fantastic new addition to the Bandung coffee scene and one we hope lasts much longer.

Wheels Coffee Roaster
Jalan Prof Eyckman 32, Bandung
Instagram: @wheelscoffeeroasters
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 10:00 – 17:00
WiFi: 6.5down/3.5up
Magic: Rp33.000
Iced Latte: Rp33.000


Kopi Toko Djawa, Bandung: Fantastic Iced Coffee on Jalan Braga

The coffee scene in Bandung is so so odd. Having the best coffee or best fitout means almost nothing. You don’t have to be the best to be the busiest and Kopi Toko Djawa is a case in point.

The coffee here is below Bandung standard. I had the cappuccino and it was ok, but nothing like what you expect in Bandung these days. Susan’s es kopi toko djawa was refreshing and is actually what everyone is coming here for.Coffee Shop Kopi Toko Djawa BandungIced coffee with palm sugar is their specialty and people absolutely love it. And I have to agree that an iced coffee with palm sugar is 10x better than with regular white sugar.Iced Coffee Toko DjawaThe fitout here is basic and anywhere else in Bandung I’d be slamming it. But it works here because of the constant stream of customers coming and going.Busiest Coffee Shop In BandungThere’s no wifi here so don’t plan to come here and set up a laptop. It’s not that sort of place.Kopi Toko Djawa Coffee Shop BandungAnd with that, we have to ask ourselves why Kopi Toko Djawa has so many customers and better coffee shops have hardly any. If you’re in Braga, come here for an iced coffee. It’s good and cheap. But please, also make an effort to visit one of Bandung’s other coffee shops which in my opinion are even better.

Kopi Toko Djawa
Jalan Braga 79, Bandung
Instagram: @kopitokodjawa
Opening Hours: 10:00 – 22:00
Cappuccino: Rp22.000
Iced Coffee: Rp20.000
* No added tax (yes!)


Wake Cup Coffee, Bandung: Perfect Spot to Wait for a Train

We didn’t know what to expect before entering this coffee shop as it’s in a location that doesn’t really have any other coffee shops. Right across from the station, I assumed that it might be unpopular because of the traffic situation out the front.

But I was wrong. At 8am when we arrived, the cafe was already pumping with a decent crowd who had popped in for arisan, to read a book, to do some business on the laptop. It was a wide variety of people who found this place to be suitable.Wake Cup Bandung Coffee ShopThe coffee here is not that good and quite far below the Bandung standard. That’s disappointing as everything else about the cafe is great.Coffee At Wake Cup BandungThe fitout is modern, fresh and comfortable with a variety of different areas to hang out in. We especially like the seats next to the window and those upstairs.Wake Cup Coffeeshop BandungThere’s a selection of cakes and pastries available as well as a full menu of proper meals. I didn’t try any of those, but I assume they’ll conform to Bandung cafe standards…. which is not too great.Interior Wake Cup BandungA decent coffee shop, especially if you’re waiting for a train or have some time to kill before checking into your hotel. Also a decent place to work, but the wifi is a little slow at 9mbps down and 2 mbps up.

Wake Cup Coffee
Jalan Kebon Kawung 16, Bandung
(0878) 2584 1806
Instagram: @wakecupbandung
Opening Hours: 08:00 – 22:00
WiFi: 9down/2up

Cappuccino: Rp32.000
Roasted Corn Latte: Rp38.000
* Add 12.2% to all prices


Hi, Brew! Coffee, Bandung: One of the Cafes for Working in Bandung

New for 2018, Hi, Brew! Coffee has one of the strangest names of a coffee shop in the whole of Bandung and that’s saying something because Bandung does have some weirdly named coffee shops.

The interior of this coffee shop is modern, stylish and exudes a feeling of quality. Many cafes furnish their interiors with cheap tables and chairs but Hi Brew has elected to go for more expensive furniture. I love that.Interior Hi Brew Coffee BandungThe indoor area is air conditioned, but there is also a two storey area out the back which is perfect for smoking and nongkronging. Both the inside and outside areas are suitable for working and we saw a lot of people setting their laptops up here.Outdoor Hi Brew Coffee BandungWhich brings us to WiFi. It’s pretty good, but a long way from the best in Bandung with 31mbps down and 6mbps up when we tested it. Definitely good enough for most uses, but a little sluggish when a few people do data intensive things.Coffee At Hi Brew BandungThe coffee here is excellent and I appreciate the funky cup it’s served in. They also do food here, but we haven’t tried it yet.Upper Floor Outdoor Hi Brew BandungThis is a great place for coffee, opening your laptop and hanging out with friends. Comfy, stylish and practical.

Hi, Brew! Coffee
Jalan Boscha 43, Bandung
(022) 203 3909
Instagram: @hi.brewcoffee
Opening Hours: 08:00 – 22:00
Cappuccino: Rp27.000
Iced Matcha Latte: Rp29.000
* Add 15.5% tax to all prices


The Potting Shed, Bandung: Well-designed Cafe with Good Coffee and Food

We first visited Oliver’s Hostelery quite a few years ago and loved the design of the place. A few years down the track and they’ve changed the name to The House Tour Hotel and opened a cafe in the foyer called The Potting Shed.

The Potting Shed was extremely busy when we visited midweek. It was kind of surprising really as Oliver’s was always so quiet. They’ve renovated the foyer slightly since Oliver’s time and added a glass house. And it’s this glass house that seems to be trending on Instagram these. And we honestly don’t know what all the fuss is about.Glass House Potting Shed BandungThe cappuccino I had here was small but tasty and came in a beautiful handmade cup. The food was also quite good and much better than average Bandung cafe food. That’s not to say it’s perfect, but it’s quite good.Coffee At The Potting Shed BandungThe rawon pasta was tasty, contained a couple of chunks of fish and was better than expected.Rawon Pasta At The Potting Shed BandungThe omelette could have been a disaster, but with the addition of a bit of smashed avocado and some salsa type stuff, it was delicious.Omelette At The Potting Shed BandungThe fit out here is quite good, but we’re surprised people are swooning over it all of a sudden. It’s always been good.Inside The Potting Shed BandungThe WiFi was quite slow when visited clocking in at 2mbps down and 2mbps up. So it’s not really a place to come and work. And besides, you’ll be distracted by all the people trying to get photos of their girlfriends in the glasshouse.Side Area The Potting Shed BandungA well-designed place for decent food and coffee. Worth a visit.

The Potting Shed
Jalan Panumbang Jaya 5, Bandung
(0811) 995 0800
Instagram: @thehousetourhotel
Opening Hours: 08:00 – 22:00
Cappuccino: Rp30.000
Iced Lemon Tea: Rp30.000
Omelette: Rp42.500
Rawon Pasta: Rp48.500
* No added tax!


Dreezel Coffee, Bandung: Classic Hangout Spot for Smoking and Drinking Coffee

This is a classic nongkrong coffee shop in Bandung which is outdoors, perfect for smoking and drinking coffee.

The crowds here are a little edgier than many coffee shops in Bandung and the prices are lower too. The cheapest coffee is only Rp12.000 with a single origin manual brew only costing Rp25.000.Coffee At Dreezel Coffee Bandung It’s a rough and ready place, but that’s kind of what makes this place so popular. Seats are small stools and old drums and the tables are tiny. You’re not coming here to work. Just to nongkrong, drink coffee and smoke. Oh yeah, no elites allowed.Hangout Spot Dreezel CoffeeI’m not a big fan of this type of coffee shop, but if you like this sort of scene, you’re going to love Dreezel. And by the way, the coffee was pretty good too. (PS my coffee took about 25 minutes to come out)Dreezel Coffee Shop Bandung

Dreezel Coffee
Jalan Cisangkuy 56, Bandung
Instagram: @dreezelcoffee
Opening Hours: 08:00 – 21:00
WiFi: No wifi

5oz espresso coffee: Rp17.000