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9 Day Itinerary - Help Needed/Appreciated!!

Hi, My husband and I are planning to visit the Balkans in early September for about 9 days and I am completely at a loss for setting up an itinerary. Neither one of us has ever been to any Balkan country, nor have we ever driven in a foreign country. We like historical cities, but also love quiet, relaxing nature-filled areas with good hiking - we are hoping for a mix of these on the trip. I have been considering the below options for possible stops on our trip, but am not sure which are worth visiting and for how long. Also, is it best/easiest to just rent a car where we start and drive to all of these places and drop it off wherever we finish (not sure how difficult border crossings are)?

These were places we were considering - any advice on what's worth seeing and for how long is appreciated!!
1. Dubrovnik (we'd like to avoid crowded places - we live in New York City and get enough of that - so not sure we'd want to stop here)
2. Kotor, Montenegro & Lovcen National Park
3. Mostar, Bosnia (maybe just a stop along a longer drive?)
4. Sarajevo, Bosnia (2 days?)
5. Sutjeska National Park, Bosnia
6. Ljubljana, Slovenia (2 days? - the drive from Sarajevo is about 6 hours... is it a bad drive? should we fly?)
7. Lake Bled, Slovenia & Triglav National Park (1 full day for the park?)
8. Trieste, Italy
9. Anything else/better?

Posted by
105 posts

For your personal safety and enjoyment of Bosnia, let others do any driving. Bus from Dubrovnik to Mostar, Mostar to Sarajevo. You may not have much time for either Montenegro or Slovenia at each end - a day trip to Montenegro from Dubrovnik is feasible. On a tour bus. Bosnia is not a safe place for novice drivers and the distances are deceptive - Sarajevo is much further than six hours from Ljubljana and much of the road in Bosnia is rough. You can drive in Croatia or Slovenia on toll roads or main roads, but renting a car to cross borders gets expensive. If you can, fly Sarajevo to Zagreb then on to Ljubljana by air as well. Check the Croatia Airlines site. A shuttle bus to Trieste airport from Lj will save border delays and car return costs. Two days in Sarajevo and an overnight in Mostar are well worth it. On foot. With a guide if possible.
There is no comparison with N.American road or any other conditions in Bosnia at present, and wise travellers do not need a rental car to be stolen. In recent years companies like Flixbus and DB Bus have set up long distance express bus lines -worth exploring. Croatian bus lines are listed on the Croatia Bus website. The bus gives you amazing views no rental car can match. And no stress.

Posted by
13300 posts

I haven't been to Bosnia-Hercevovina recently, but certainly Mostar and Sarajevo are worth visiting. They will be manageable by bus, though you need to research schedules to calibrate your exectations as to how much ground you will be able to cover.

If you rent a car in one country and drop it off in another, there will almost certainly be an extremely high international drop charge--many hundreds of dollars or more.

I traveled a good bit in Montenegro in 2015, using public buses. I couldn't get to the national parks without a car, and they are said to be beautiful, so that might be a good place to rent for a few days. Even outside the parks there is some gorgeous scenery. Towns I liked included Kotor on a day with no monster ship in port (check online), Budva, Herceg-Novi, Ulcinj and Cetinje. Skip the capital, Podgorica, if you can.

Even with a car I think your plans are way too agressive for a short trip. I believe you need to choose between Montenegro/B-H and Slovenia, and I suspect that even skipping Slovenia will not be enough if you are committed to flights into Dubrovnik and out of Trieste. (Are you?)

Posted by
4316 posts

Driving in Bosnia is easy. However, you are trying to cover an enormous amount of area in nine days. I highly suggest you pare down your list.

  1. Dubrovnik, Montenegro, Mostar, Sarajevo, Plitvice Lakes, Zagreb (Pick up car in Dubrovnik, drop off in Zagreb for a one-way rental within Croatia.) Fly into Dubrovnik out of Zagreb (or vice-versa)

So you might do:

Dubrovnik (2 nights)
Pick up the car
Montenegro (2 nights)
Mostar (1 night)
Sarajevo (2 nights)
Day stop in Jajce
Plitvice Lakes National Park (1 night)
Zagreb (1 night)

That's nine nights - not sure how many nights/days you really have in country.

Dubrovnik is very worth seeing. Unfortunately, it gets very crowded during the day with cruise ship tourists. At night, it is much quieter. So I would find something to do to get out of town during the day (you would have only one full day anyway) - an excursion or something - to avoid the crowds.

Plitvice is an amazing park that should not be missed if you are nearby. You would want to enter the park when it opens at 7am, however, because by 10am it will get pretty crowded with tour groups. You can get the gist of the park in 6-7 hours, so the first half would be pretty uncrowded if you get there when the park opens.

  1. Slovenia + Trieste

Fly into Venice and take a shuttle (you could rent a car)
Ljubljana (2 nights)
(rent a car here if you didn't rent one in Venice)
Lake Bled or Lake Bohinj (3 nights) - explore nearby, Triglav, etc.
Drive the "Julian Alps" loop up through the mountains into the Soca Valley
Kobarid (1 night)
Piran (beautiful seaside town) 2 nights
(drop car car near Piran if you rented one in Ljubljana)
Venice or Trieste (1 night) - if you don't have an early flight, you could start in Trieste or even Piran.

Again - nine nights.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you all so much for the help. I didn't realize Slovenia isn't as "Balkan" as some of the other countries. I had just heard it was so beautiful!

Based on your feedback, I'm now thinking of two possible itineraries:

  1. fly into Sarajevo and spend a few days --> bus to Sutjeska National Park for 2 nights --> bus back to Sarajevo and fly to Ljubljana and rent a car --> Lake Bled for 2 nights --> Triglav National Park --> back to Ljubljana for 2/3 nights --> fly home from Ljubljana

  2. Nix Slovenia altogether and do Bosnia (Sarajevo & Sutjeska) and then fly to some other country yet to be determined (preferably one that's safe to rent a car and drive around on our own). Maybe the 2nd country could be Montenegro (Kotor, Lovcen & Durmitor - drive ourselves), Macedonia (Lake Ohrid & something else?), Serbia (Belgrade & Djerdap National Park), Romania (Bucharest or Transylvania)..

As you can see, aside from Bosnia, I don't really have a strong draw to any city/country because they all look so beautiful. Any country with an interesting city and some nature nearby is what we're hoping for!

Also, any advice on flying into Sarajevo?

Posted by
3 posts

@tyrker Thank you for all the great advice!

Just one last question about transportation - it's safe to rent a car in Sarajevo and drive around Bosnia? The first response to my original post made me nervous about driving myself in Bosnia.

Also, the main reason we thought we'd fly to a second place was to avoid having to drive the car back to the first country to save on time - if we did Bosnia & Montenegro, we'd have to drive back to Sarajevo to fly home (I think?).

Posted by
11 posts

Sarajevo is a smaller, older airport and is about 30 minutes outside of the city. Limited public bus and taxi was about $15-20 each way. We had difficulty with our flight being cancelled (Sarajevo to Budapest) so just check schedules carefully. When in Mostar we met a retired couple who were driving slowly through BiH going flyfishing and hiking -they were loving it. We took the bus & train. We also really enjoyed Slovenia - less crowds and lots of nature and easy driving on rural roads.

Posted by
649 posts

Just returned from a trip Paris, Zurich, Venice, thorough Slovenia to Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia.

We rented a car in Zagreb and drove down the coast to Montenegro. You might want to take a look at my report posts on Zagreb, Montenegro and Bosnia.

How are you getting to Dubrovnik? EasyJet has a flight from Paris/Dubrovnik for $35. (2 hr flight.)

The roads in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro are just as good as the roads in the states.
If you fly into Dubrovnik you might want to take a cab/bus to Montenegro. It's about 45 minutes. I would suggest renting a car in Montenegro and making Montenegro your base.

Things you should know about car rental. If you rent the car in Croatia/Dubrovnik and drive to Montenegro you will have to pay "crossing the boarder in a rental car" tax. If you rent in Montenegro you don't have to. (We rented the car is Zagreb and had to pay over $100 for the tax.

Insurance - Do not buy insurance in advance. Your American or credit card insurance is not valid. We a $150 for the insurance when we booked the car in the states and they would not give us the car. (This is NOT a scam.) We had to buy insurance again when we picked-up the car. (We got our money back with an apology,) They have two options for insurance go for the higher price everything is covered option. About $200 and much better coverage. If anything happens to the car you are fully covered.

English is spoken everywhere.
Crime/scams/beggars - Almost none. Saw one beggar. Young kids were out until midnight.

So now you are Montenegro. We stayed in Herceg Novi you should be able to find a nice 1 bdrm private apartment for $50/ night. We paid $35 and were a block from the water.

If you want to see Dubrovnik, it's about a 45 min drive.
Bosnia, Trebinje - 45 min/1 hr drive. Well worth visiting. Go to the old town and the walled city and the church on the hill.
Kotor and Tivat about an hour. Tivat is where the billionaires are docking their James Bond mega yachts, Worth walking around and prices are very affordable.
Budva and Sveti Stefan about 2 hours.
Boat ride to swim in the Blue Cave and submarine base 45 min/hr. Well worth visiting and/or swimming in the cave.
Albania - 3 hrs.
Tara, Europe's Grand Canyon 2.5 hrs. Destination for our next trip.

Dubrovnik, Kotor and Budva are all walled cities and there are many more. Dubrovnik is very good, but it can be crowded like Disneyland. And when the cruise ships arrive.... Kotor is good, smaller and you can hike to the top of the mountain. Once you see couple of walled cities they are all alike.
You might want to consider Split, Zadar and Zagreb.

Hiking - Don't miss Plitvice. Rick has a video and I just posted an in-depth report. Wonderful place to hike. (Enter at No2.) We spent stayed for 6 hours.

Pula - Wasn't on our agenda, but came highly recommend.

The mountains in Montenegro, Bosnia and Croatia are just stunningly beautiful.

Hope this helps. PM me if you have any questions.

Have a wonderful trip and happy travels.

Posted by
1530 posts

Doug.Spindler says "English is spoken everywhere". That's not as true in the Balkans as in Western Europe. There are parts of the Balkans where no English is spoken - small villages not in the tourist areas. In Western Europe, most under 30 speak some English. This is less true in the Former Yugoslavia.

Posted by
9192 posts

Dubrovnik (we'd like to avoid crowded places - we live in New York
City and get enough of that - so not sure we'd want to stop here)

Dubrovnik really is worth it for two nights (leave early after the second night and you net out a day and a half in Dubrovnik). But yes, its a bit like Disneyland.

Kotor, Montenegro & Lovcen National Park

I'm not a big fan of Kotor, especially after having seen Dubrovnik. I think the time is better spent in Perast and Budva and further down the coast. Or inland in the mountains. I use every trip as an excuse to do some fishing and Montenegro was perfect. First off the coast and then fly fishing in the mountains. Beautiful country. Two visits so far and many more to come. Much fewer tourist and just stunning country and interesting culture along the coast and inland.

Posted by
1530 posts

In particular, in Montenegro, there is a huge honey industry. When we drove through the country from Kotor to Podgorica to catch a flight, it seemed like there were farm stands every other mile with lots of jars of honey.

Posted by
9192 posts

And prosciutto. Some great little curing houses you can walk and see it hanging. Otherwise, food is not one of the most impressive attributes of Montenegro... except fish along the coast.

Posted by
1530 posts

As to Slovenia, it is the least "Balkan" of all the FRY (former republic of Yugoslavia) states. It is the crossroads of Austria, Croatia, and Italy, and has the best features of all three.

Posted by
688 posts

Hi, Cheryl, What a wonderful trip you have planned! I did a solo, public-transportation-plus-one-driver, two-week trip in 2018, which included Split, Dubrovnik, Mostar, Sarajevo, Ljubljana and Lake Bled. There may be some useful info for you in my (be forewarned: very lengthy!) trip report, link here:
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/trip-report-solo-trip-to-croatia-bosnia-slovenia-part-1-split-croatia
CORRECTION: Next, if you decide to go directly from Sarajevo to Ljubljana, I took a direct, one-hour flight from Sarajevo to Ljub on ADRIA Airlines (not Croatia Airlines), for approx. $100 US. I took a taxi to the Sarajevo airport (arranged by my hotel) and arranged a GoOpti from the Ljub airport to my b&b there.
Another thought: if you decide to stick with public transportation, you might want to explore hiring a private driver for a day or two, in Bosnia. Ermin Elezovic, elezovicermin@gmail.com is a wonderful driver and guide, based in Mostar. I hired him to do a day trip/transfer from Mostar to Sarajevo and it was a fabulous, amazing day (much more about this day in my trip report, above link.) Ermin is recommended by RS and his contact info is also in the RS "Croatia/Slovenia" book in the chapter about Bosnia Herzegovina. And while I'm at it, Ermin's wife, Alma Elezovic, does private guided walking tours of Mostar, and she is wonderful! Her contact info is also in RS's Croatia/Slovenia book.