The Brotherhood and Unity Highway (Croatian: Autocesta "Bratstvo i jedinstvo"; Macedonian: Автопат „Братство и единство“; Slovene: Cesta bratstva in enotnosti or Avtocesta bratstva in enotnosti, Serbian: Autoput "Bratstvo i jedinstvo", Аутопут "Братство и јединство") – and generally referred to just as "the Autoput" by non-Yugoslavs driving on it – is a highway stretching the length of former Yugoslavia from the border with Austria in the north to the border with Greece in the south. While Yugoslavia has ceased to exist as a country, the road doesn't carry the same number all the way and its Yugoslavian-era name has fallen out of use, the road still exists as a major thoroughfare through four countries and their capital cities – much improved since the Yugoslavian era.
The highway project was initiated by the long-time Yugoslavian leader Josip Broz Tito to improve road transport and unify the country according to the Communist Party motto "Brotherhood and Unity" which would also become the name for the highway. The road had a length of 1,182 km (734 mi) and work was begun in 1947. It was built in parts, and was intended to become a divided highway/motorway throughout but come 1991 and the beginning of the Yugoslavian wars only half of it was built to that standard (the rest as two-lane undivided highway). Unsurprisingly the highway was numbered 1 in the Yugoslavian road network, today the routing is made up of highways A2 in Slovenia, A3 in Croatia, A3 and A1 in Serbia, and A1 in North Macedonia. In addition, since 1975 the whole road is part of the European highway network, and signposted as E61 from the Austrian border to Ljubljana, as E70 to Belgrade, and as E75 to the Greek border.
History and myth
During the Cold War the road indeed became an important route, perhaps even the route between Western and Southeastern Europe, for example for so called "guest workers" travelling between West Germany and Turkey, which made this road (simply referred to as "The Autoput") a part of the Gastarbeiterroute. As there was plenty of traffic and it was common to drive long distances with little sleep, accidents were common and it earned a reputation as one of the most dangerous roads in Europe. The cars of both locals and visitors were often not up to the latest standards and - especially those of so called guest workers - overloaded with all sorts of things that were carried from the old home to the new or vice versa. Some cars also ended up having the Autoput as the last dive they'd ever take - either intentionally as barely roadworthy cars were transferred that way to take it apart at the destination to use the salvageable parts and scrap the rest or in an unplanned fashion as accidents, the strain of a long distance drive, or poor maintenance gave an aging car its coup de grâce. The road became legendary for its abysmal quality (which certainly grew in the telling) and the sheer never-ending drives experienced by a generation on the back seats who, when they got old enough to drive themselves, avoided (former) Yugoslavia due to the wars and later preferred flying as low cost airlines had made air travel the cheaper option unless one overloads the car with all sorts of things to bring from Germany to Turkey or the other way round. As such, the generation which got to know "The Autoput" only from the warped perspective of a child have never had the opportunity to experience the real thing in the 21st century, keeping the myth alive even if it is now much divorced from reality.
In addition to its roles as a domestic and transit route, the Autoput also serves and served as an important route for the Yugoslav diaspora, which was already sizable in Austria (due to Austria Hungary ruling over parts of the area for centuries) and only grew with the Yugoslav Wars. In addition, from the Tito-Stalin split of 1949 to the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the subsequent breakup of Yugoslavia, Yugoslavia, particularly its coast (i.e. mostly current-day Croatia) was comparatively accessible from both sides of the "Iron Curtain" and due to relatively affordable prices it was popular with holidaymakers from Germany, Austria and to some extent Italy. Naturally, the Autoput was the route of choice for the majority of those visitors, too, as flying was still far less common especially for budget-conscious sun-seekers.
The Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s broke up the country, and did the same to sections of the highway. Now the damage has long been repaired and in 2019 the last section in Serbia was upgraded to four-lane divided highway. While the road is thus up to global standards of what one would expect of a highway, the myth has somewhat diminished and with it possibly part of the romance. But if you're into that sort of thing, you're of course always free to use roads built to a lesser standard which exist throughout the region and will give you a more "rugged" feel - potholes, serpentines and sometimes unsafe road conditions included.
- See also: Driving in Europe
The road is a toll road throughout. In Slovenia you pay for a "vignette", a pass valid for a week, a month or a year and you can drive as much as you like on Slovenian motorways during the time it's valid. In the other countries there are toll booths and you pay for the distance you drive.
Along the road you will always be close to populated areas, and it doesn't take much effort to find places to eat, sleep and fill up.
Slovenia and Croatia are, like Austria and Greece, part of the European Union, Schengen area and Eurozone. Kosovo (a short sidetrip away) uses the euro as its currency. The other countries have their own currencies, border formalities, visa and other requirements. For example, to drive into Serbia and North Macedonia, you need a vehicle document known as a "green card" showing you have a valid traffic insurance. To drive in Kosovo, you have to buy a national traffic insurance at the border. While the border crossings are relatively painless by global standards, they are for the most part not the "you barely notice you're in a new country now" of the rest of Europe and especially if a member of your party is traveling on an "exotic" passport, it is useful to read up on current visa regulations and whether you'll need a multiple entry Schengen visa if you plan to head back to the Schengen Zone afterwards. The famously petty at times foreign relations between Balkan countries do sometimes affect travel, but the case that tends to flare up most often (Serbia/Kosovo) isn't directly on this route. Still, read up on it before your trip, lest you find yourself at a closed border due to some diplomatic incident you don't care to understand or opine on other than that it negatively impacts people who are definitely innocent in the whole matter.
If you plan to make the trip in a rental car, check with the rental company beforehand if they allow you to take the vehicle across borders. Sometimes it's easier to rent a car in country A and take it to country B, so if you intend to do the trip by car in only one direction, check that early when making plans.
The countries have a developed bus network, so you can travel the itinerary without driving. See Bus travel in former Yugoslavia for details, links to major bus companies and stations.
Distances in this itinerary are given in kilometres from north to south, and to the first motorway exit serving the city in the marker (when coming from the north).
The Slovenian section is 174.5 km long and follows highway A2. It begins at the 7.864 km long Karawanks tunnel connecting to the Austrian highway A11. Like all of the itinerary the Slovenian section is tolled, but this toll is paid by purchasing a vignette which you can do online or at vending points in Slovenia or border countries and if you haven't done it yet, do so at the border. It's not a windscreen sticker any longer but a virtual vignette connected to your car's license plate.
The motorway has barely emerged out of the tunnel before it crosses a branch of the Sava river, a river that will follow the highway until Belgrade, though at some places tens of kilometres away from the road. Like Austria, Slovenia is also part of the EU and Schengen area so the border crossing isn't much notable and the landscape is still clearly Alpine. Not far away is the first city, 1 Jesenice (7 km) – a town with a long tradition in mining and metal industry.
After Jesenice Sava is crossed again, and then comes the exit Lesce where a road goes to Bled, and after that 2 Radovljica (24 km), an old historical town with an agriculture museum. At the other side of Sava, and a bit south is 3 Srednja Dobrava (exit Brezje, 28 km), a village with nice views of the mountains, close to Bled, Radovljica and Kropa.
Next up is a somewhat bigger city, 4 Kranj (39 km), the historical capital of Carniola set on the Kokra river flowing through a deep canyon and famous for the Khislstein Castle. Outside Kranj, the road passes next to Ljubljana airport. An interesting fact is that this highway will pass next to the airports of all four national capitals along it. By now the landscape has become notably flatter but there are still mountains further away on all sides.
At the outskirts of the Slovenian capital, the road crosses Sava once more. 5 Ljubljana (exit Šentvid, 65 km), the picturesque pint-sized capital, is passed on the western and southern side but the city is definitely worth a stop. The hilly city is known for its castle and the iconic bridges over the Ljubljanica river, and seven works in by architect Jože Plečnik are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Leaving the Ljubljana beltway, the highway goes southeast among forested hills and the next notable town is 6 Grosuplje (85 km), a town with some pre-historical sites. After Grosuplje the highway splits into two roads; the lanes going towards Croatia go on the southern side of a group of hills and downhill, whereas the lanes towards Ljubljana take a more northern route and goes uphill. A bit onwards you can exit the highway for a sidetrip to 7 Stična (exit Ivančna Gorica, 98 km), a village known for its 12th century monastery which is the oldest in Slovenia.
The following town too, 8 Novo Mesto (128 km), is a bit off the highway. The highlight in this town is the Otočec Castle now serving as a hotel. It's next to the Krka river (a tributary to Sava), which also flows next to the highway for a little bit after Novo Mesto exit. Then the last Slovenian city along the road is 9 Brežice (170 km) - this town also has a castle but is more famous for its pink water tower.
At Brežice, Krka flows into Sava just next to the highway, and will flow along it (next to it to 1 km away) to the border. The Obrežje – Bregana border crossing into Croatia is 180 km from the northern end of the itinerary. Interestingly there is also a hamlet known as Jesenice nearby, at the other end of the Slovenian section.
The Croatian section follows the A3 highway and has a length of 306.5 km. Croatia finally joined the Schengen Area on New Year's Day 2023 so the border crossing should be pretty straightforward. Right after the border there will be a toll plaza, from now on tolls will be paid at plazas along the road and at exits.
The following city is a bigger one, 10 Zagreb (exit Jankomir, 195 km) – the Croatian capital with a Medieval old town and lots of other attractions. At the Jankomir exit you can drive straight ahead to cross the Sava and drive into Zagreb, or take the bypass south of the city. The route through the city is a wide avenue which will come out at the eastern end of Zagreb and merge with the Brotherhood and Unity Highway again. If you've driven the bypass you will have passed the city's airport at a close distance and crossed the Sava, and from here the highway will for the first time go north of the river.
Heading southwest, Sava is again flowing further away from the highway and the landscape has become considerably flatter. Around halfway between Zagreb and Ivanić Grad there's a toll plaza again. 11 Ivanić Grad (245 km) is a town best known for the Naftalan spa resort. Then comes 12 Kutina (286 km), a gateway to the Lonjsko Polje wetlands, this industrial town also features a fortified church, Medieval ruins and wineries nearby.
The wetlands are bordered by the highway to the north and Sava to the south, a few kilometres away. From here on, Sava forms the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. So while the highway doesn't go through that country, it's just a short sidetrip away. Next comes 13 Slavonski Brod (391 km), famous for its 18th century Austrian fort. From here Bosnia and Herzegovina is just across the river and there is even another city, Brod, on the other side of the border bridge.
14 Županja (454 km) is likewise next to the border. From here, Sava takes a more southern direction, and the highway continues through the fields to two stops - first a toll plaza, and then the Bajakovo-Batrovci border crossing into Serbia, 487 km from the northern end of the itinerary.
The Serbian section goes along two highways, A3 for 92.5 km to Belgrade and the A1 for 364 km to the border with North Macedonia. After border and customs controls comes the first Serbian toll plaza. In Serbian both the Cyrillic and Latin alphabet are used, so you will see names on road signs in two scripts.
Next up is 15 Sremska Mitrovica (531 km), once bearing the name Sirmium and serving as one of the capitals of the Roman Empire. As such Roman sites have been excavated all around town, and other attractions in the city include churches of different denominations. Sremska Mitrovica is at the Sava. At Šimanovci there's a toll plaza, and you're approaching the biggest city along the highway, located about halfway from both ends - Belgrade.
At the western outskirts of Belgrade, at exit 9/23 Dobanovci (581 km), the highway crosses the A1 which becomes a beltway going around Belgrade but this itinerary will take you right through the city. The highway then passes Belgrade's airport and in the city it crosses Sava for the last time – a little north from here Sava will flow into Danube. 16 Belgrade (Beograd/Београд) (exit Mostar, 599 km) — the capital of Serbia and the former Yugoslavia and the most populous city along the route (about equidistant from the ends). Unsurprisingly there are many attractions – historical sites, museums, parks, events, and places to eat, drink and shop.
At the southern outskirts of Belgrade, at exit 24/28 Bubanj Potok (612 km) the Brotherhood and Unity Highway will join with the beltway mentioned before and continue along the A1. After exit 30 there's a toll plaza again. Two mid-sized cities, not at the road but 10-20 km or so away, can be reached from exits 35 and 36 (658 and 659 km, practically next to each other): 17 Smederevo, capital of Medieval Serbia at the Danube, and 18 Požarevac , and further away the Roman archaeological site Viminacium.
19 Velika Plana (688 km), on the other hand is right next to the highway and is an industrial city since the 19th century and with a monastery built of dark wood. Going southwards through fields in the middle of Serbia, the next city is 20 Jagodina (732 km), another industrial city with a zoo, the Aqua Park water park and many cultural institutions.
Having passed Jagodina, the road crosses the Great Morava, a tributary to Danube that has ran in parallel to the road since Pozaravec (a few kilometres to the east). Then comes the country's third largest city, 21 Niš (827 km), once an important crossroads between Central Europe and the Middle East. The city has historical sites from both Roman times and the 20th century including the WWI Serbian parliament site where the Niš Declaration to create a Yugoslavian state was given in 1915. From here the motorway A4 veers off east to Bulgaria and its capital Sofia, which can make for a longer sidetrip.
The Brotherhood and Unity Highway on the other hand goes south, and having left Niš there's a toll plaza at Doljevac. There are some mountains in the horizon again. Next comes 22 Leskovac (860 km) described as the capital of Serbian cuisine and home to the yearly Roštiljijada barbecue festival. After Leskovac the road follows the Juzhna Morava River valley and the terrain has become rather mountainous.
Next up is 23 Vranje (934 km), famous for the ruined Medieval fortress Markovo Kale. Towards the end of the Serbian section, the border to Kosovo is less than 10 km away so you can make a visit there too. Be aware that Serbia doesn't recognize Kosovo as an independent state and you may run into trouble if you try to get to Serbia through Kosovo (mostly a problem if you travel from south to north). Read more at Kosovo#Get in.
At Preševo, before the exit to that village, is the last Serbian toll plaza, and from there it's still about 10 km to the border. The Preševo-Tabanovce border crossing into North Macedonia is 983 km from the northern end of the itinerary.
The Macedonian section is 173 km long and follows the A1 highway. Like in Serbia, here too the names of cities are written both in Cyrillic and Latin letters. The mountains are again in the horizon, rather than next to the road. It's not far to the first Macedonian city, 24 Kumanovo (Куманово) (987 km), a city with many religious buildings. After Kumanovo comes the first toll plaza in this country.
Next up is the last national capital along the highway - or in this case about 15 km west of it. 25 Skopje (Скопје) (exit Miladinovci, 1015 km) — the capital; a truly multicultural city with just about any ethnicity in Balkans present, and almost innumerable sights from Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and modern times. Staying along the highway instead you will pass right next to Skopje airport.
South of Skopje, there are mountains ahead once again. After the hamlet of Katlanovo, the highway splits into two with the lanes going towards Greece go on the western side of a set of mountains, and the lanes towards Skopje go on the eastern side. The former follows the Pcinja river, which flows into Vardar which in turn follows the highway. Just like the section south of Ljubljana, there are mountains and vegetation next to the road and it takes the character of a motor racing track. This section is longer, though, continuing to 26 Veles (Велес) (1050 km). This is a town on the valley of Vardar River with a rich cultural heritage and centuries-old churches.
At Vinichani there will be a toll plaza, after which you'll reach 1 Stobi (Стоби) (1078 km), the most famous archaeological site in the country. Stobi has some well-preserved ruins from both pre-Roman (Paeonian and Ancient Macedonian) and Roman periods. At this point the landscape is a bit flatter again but the Vardar river still flows along the highway and will do so until the border and indeed all the way to the sea just west of Thessaloniki in Greece.
Then comes the town of 27 Negotino (Неготино) (1092 km) with some of the best wine and rakija in the country. Further southeast is 28 Demir Kapija (Демир Капија) (1105 km) — home to former royal wineries, ancient ruins, and hub for surrounding mountains which offer a wide range of outdoor sports, and last but not the least mighty "Iron Gate" Canyon.
About 10 km before Gevgelja there's a toll plaza, the southernmost. 29 Gevgelija (Гевгелија) (1151 km) is right at the Greek border and there are hot springs outside town as well as a former hamam housing a gallery and some beautiful churches.
Then the highway arrives at its southern end, the Bogorodica-Evzoni border crossing into Greece, 1156 km from the northern end of the itinerary.
- Thessaloniki is the obvious choice for going next if you've ended the trip at the southern end. From there you can explore the rest of Greece or head to Istanbul.
- In the northern end, cross the Karawanks tunnel to Austria. Villach is the nearest major city and Central Europe is ahead of you.
- In July — the protagonists of this 2000 German road film follow the route taken by German-Turks on their way to Turkey after the Iron Curtain fell and travelling along the Autoput became infeasible due to the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s.