North Macedonia and Greece share a long land border – but it’s not as easy as you might think to travel between the two countries. This is the definitive guide to travelling from Bitola to Thessaloniki by taxi and train.
We spent 6 months travelling around the Balkans on buses and trains – and not once did we have an issue moving within or between countries using public transport.
When it came time for us to travel from North Macedonia to Greece, however, we realised it would require some forward planning.
The sensible way to travel between the two countries is by taking a direct bus from Skopje to Thessaloniki. However, if you find yourself in the south (in Ohrid or Krushevo, for example) and you don’t want to double back, Bitola is the logical gateway to Greece.
A direct bus route from Bitola, North Macedonia’s third-largest city, to Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, makes sense. After all, Bitola is just 20 km from the Greek border and many families (including the folks we stayed with in Bitola) have family on both sides.
Despite this, there is no obvious way to travel between Bitola and Thessaloniki.
As I write this, a Bitola to Thessaloniki train line is now under construction. But it’s not clear when that will be finished. For now, the best way to travel from Bitola to Thessaloniki is to transit through Florina, the first city on the Greek side of the border, using a combination of taxi and train.
Travelling from Bitola to Thessaloniki via Florina took us approximately 3.5 hours and cost 35 Euros for two people.
This post offers a detailed breakdown of the journey from Bitola to Thessaloniki, including tips for a smooth transfer.
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Bitola to Thessaloniki: Overview
- Despite recent political tensions between the two states, the border between North Macedonia and Greece is open and there is no issue with crossing (this applies to both tourists and locals)
- There is no direct bus or train from Bitola to Thessaloniki (or anywhere else in Greece)
- Greece is one hour ahead of North Macedonia – keep this is mind when planning your journey
- Cars crossing the border into Greece need an insurance green card – not all taxis have one
- Remember to have some Euros on you to purchase train tickets in Florina (for obvious reasons, North Macedonian currency isn’t accepted in Greece)
- From 2021, North Macedonian passport holders will need a visa to enter Greece, which may further limit your options when looking for a driver to take you across the border
How to get from Bitola to Thessaloniki
Taxi from Bitola to Florina
The distance between Bitola and Florina is 30 km and the drive takes approximately 30 minutes without traffic (including the border crossing). The road between the two cities is relatively new and well-maintained. When we made the trip on a Monday morning in late May, the highway was completely empty.
I would love to share my tips for hiring a taxi in Bitola, but we were able to skip this step by organising a transfer to Florina through our guesthouse. After we asked about it, we were under the impression our host had booked a taxi for us – but on the day, our driver turned out to be our host’s elderly father.
If you can organise a car to Florina through your accommodation in Bitola, I highly recommend doing so. It will save you having to negotiate prices and spare you any border issues (more details above).
We were quoted 15 Euros for the transfer – far less than a regular taxi. (In the end, we ended up leaving a tip and paying 20 Euros.) I highly recommend staying at El Greco in Bitola and organising your Florina transfer through them.
If you aren’t overnighting in Bitola or you’re unable to organise a transfer through your accommodation, you will need to take a regular taxi from Bitola to Florina. This will set you back anywhere between 30 and 50 Euros depending on your negotiating skills.
Because of vehicle insurance requirements, not all North Macedonian taxis are permitted to cross the border into Greece. Furthermore, not all taxi drivers will be keen on the idea of taking you. I suggest starting your search at the Bitola bus station, where you’re more likely to find drivers who do the trip regularly.
Alternatively, you could take a taxi to the border at Niki and cross into Greece by foot. We didn’t see any taxis waiting on the Greek side, so finding onward transportation might be tricky. If you’re staying in Florina, an onward transfer is something you might be able to tee up with your Greek hosts.
We left Bitola at 8.10am and arrived at the train station in Florina at 9.40am (remember Greece is an hour ahead of Macedonia).
Can you hitchhike from Bitola to Thessaloniki?
It may be possible to hitch a ride to the border or all the way from Bitola to Florina. However, the road is quiet, and the absence of taxis at the border leads me to think it’s not the easiest route to hitch.
Crossing the border at Niki
The North Macedonia – Greece border crossing at Niki is usually very quiet (helped by the fact that no buses cross here). I’m not sure of the exact opening hours, but it will definitely be operating ahead of the first train to Thessaloniki, which departs Florina at 6.55am Greece time.
When planning this journey, we were mindful of recent tensions between the two countries. However, we saw no evidence of this. A man we met in Tetovo told us that relations had improved in recent months (since the name change) and that it was now easier than ever to cross the border into Greece in a car with Macedonian numberplates.
Our driver on the day was Greek by birth and travelling on an EU passport. I’m not sure what influence (if any) this had on the ease of our journey.
The border at Niki is a straightforward stay-in-your-car, drive-through affair. On the North Macedonian side, we presented our three passports and our driver flashed his green card for the car.
On the Greece side, our driver got out of the car to present our passports at a kisosk window. We weren’t asked any questions about the nature of our visit to Greece, insurance, accommodation or anything else. In fact, we never even saw the immigration agent.
As Australians, we don’t require a visa to visit Greece or North Macedonia. The border crossing might take a little more time if you do. We were through immigration in a matter of minutes.
Train from Florina to Thessaloniki
It’s all highway through to Florina, a town 17 km (about 10 minutes’ drive) from the border. When we arrived at Florina’s small railway station, we went straight inside and bought tickets for the next train to Thessaloniki.
There is also a luggage storage office outside the main station building, although we didn’t need to use it. If you have time to kill in Florina, it might come in handy. There are English-speaking staff at the railway station who can help you out.
There are only three trains between Florina and Thessaloniki, so you’ll want to plan your departure from Bitola accordingly. We made it to the station with 10 minutes to spare – perfect timing.
The journey from Florina to Thessaloniki takes 2 hours and 40 minutes. Second class tickets cost 10 Euro for an adult and 5 Euro for a child. You must pay for the tickets in Euros, so make sure you have some cash on you.
The train times below are correct as of June 2019.
Florina to Thessaloniki:
|Train #82||Train #84||Train #86|
|Departs 6.55am||Departs 10.20am||Departs 4.09pm|
|Arrives 9.35am||Arrives 1.06pm||Arrives 6.47pm|
Thessaloniki to Florina:
|Train #81||Train #83||Train #85|
|Departs 6.46am||Departs 1.21pm||Departs 7.15pm|
|Arrives 9.24am||Arrives 3.58pm||Arrives 9.52pm|
I encourage you to double check the train schedule on the Greece railways website before you travel.
On the train
We caught the 10.20am train, which is the most convenient if you’re coming from Bitola the same morning. The train pulled into the station at 10am (about 6 minutes late according to the schedule) and departed Florina at 10.20am on the dot.
Greek trains are comfortable and clean enough, with open-plan seating. Note that these are city trains, so there is no WIFI or dining cart on board.
The Florina train makes three brief stops on its way south-east to Thessaloniki. The first part of the journey is fairly unspectacular, as the train winds through fields and vineyards. About 30 minutes in, you’ll see a nice lake on the right. Ten minutes later, the landscape turns to rolling hills.
Bus from Florina to Thessaloniki or Athens
If the train times don’t line up for you, it’s also possible to catch a bus from Florina to Thessaloniki (or all the way Athens). Note that the bus is slightly more expensive and takes a little bit longer, so travelling by train is preferable.
Florina bus station is 700m east of the railway station. There are 8 daily buses to Thessaloniki (3 hours; 15 Euros) plus one daily bus to Athens (9 hours; 50 Euros).
Arrival in Thessaloniki
Trains from Florina terminate at Thessaloniki’s main railway station. There are automated luggage storage lockers on the left-hand hallway as you move towards the main exit. Cafes, grocery shops and free WIFI can all be found in the front part of the station building.
Thessaloniki train station isn’t all that far away from the city. City buses are frequent and reliable – but unfortunately they don’t work on Google Maps. There is an app you can download, or you can check routes in advance.
To get to the waterfront and city centre from the train station, you’ll need to catch bus #. It leaves from the bus terminal outside the railway station (on the far right as you exit) every 15 minutes. Stands are clearly signposted – the one you want is located around the corner.
Before you board, first buy a single paper ticket from the person inside the cash stand (1 Euro per ticket) then validate it on the bus.
Where to stay in Thessaloniki
Because we were arriving and leaving by train, we chose to spend our three nights in Thessaloniki in an Airbnb walking distance from the railway station. Stratos and Olie’s place is awesome – huge, light-filled, and extremely good value for money (follow this link to claim a discount off your first Airbnb booking).
If the apartment isn’t available, Capsis Hotel is a solid choice.
Where to stay in Bitola
Bitola itself is a pleasant little city with some fantastic Roman ruins nearby. I highly recommend spending at least a night here, even if it’s just as a stopover between Macedonia and Greece.
We spent our two nights in Bitola at Hotel El Greco, a family run guesthouse on Bitola’s main pedestrian street. It’s comfortable and clean, and staff are extremely helpful, including with organising onward transportation into Greece.
Have you travelled from Bitola to Thessaloniki recently? If you have any tips for future travellers or questions about the journey, please leave me a note in the comments below.