Please sign in to post.

15 days Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, etc?

We are traveling in July with 18 and 14 year olds. We are debating between showing the kids Spain (my wife and I have been twice, the kids haven’t), or this trip. We know little about the region (mainly some of the history). Is this a trip that you need to do with a tour? Can it be done on your own? We prefer the latter. Anyone that has done both (Spain and this area) could comment on this? And, is 15 days a good amount of time for (part of) the region? We like history, we’d like a couple days at the beach, we like art, and don’t like to run from one place to the next just to say “we saw it all”. We prefer a few days here and there (if worth it), and try to return later. I know my questions are vague, so I apologize for that. Thanks!

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
1501 posts

I suggest you pick up a guidebook and do some research and then come back and ask more specific questions. Rick's Croatia/Slovenia book is ideal for a 15 day trip to this region and includes parts of Montenegro. Yes, you can certainly do it on your own - I did.

Posted by JS
Bay Area
2938 posts

I have been to Spain many times and croatia , slovenia etc 2 yrs ago on a guided tour.. i enjoyed our tour very much and think since the sights are so far from ea otherand we know so little of Croatias etc history a tour was a great idea. I would think it would be harder for your children to understand the Roman impact etc on croatia etc w/o a tour. Of course i love Spain and most eveyone knows fom history classes alot about it.
So to answer your question , and so there is something new and exciting for both u and children on vacation have u considered part Spain and part Portugal.
it would be an easy drive, lots of interesting historical sights and at a reasonable cost. Without knowing your specific interests a balance of history, art, museum ,beaches and blockbuster sights and food can be enjoyed with this combo. While I so enjoyed Croatia I think your children may be bored betw the distances betw sights in Croatia etc.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
7052 posts

I've spent substantial time in both areas, some of it as recently as 2015 and 2016. Both can be done by independent travelers. I go solo myself, and I do not rent cars in Europe. With a car you could be more efficient in your movements, but how important that is, will depend on what specific places you plan to visit.

Southern Spain can be miserably hot in July. Madrid is not as extreme but is also likely to be unpleasant. If you define "Spain" as the stretch of territory between Barcelona and Galicia, I'm voting "Yes". There are lots of interesting places along that stretch, most of them (not Zaragoza or the Cerdanya Valley!) are much cooler than central and southern Spain. Actually, there are so many good places to stop that 14 days would be very short, and I'd suggest that you not go all the way to the Atlantic. You could actually have a very nice, and varied, vacation in Catalunya alone.

Most areas of Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro will probably present temperatures considerably warmer than most of northern Spain and definitely as hot as southern Spain. I think it would be bearable, though not ideal. The territory to be covered would be an issue in you tried to get to all three countries. I think you'd either have to pick just a very few highlights or limit the territory covered to Slovenia and northern Croatia or central/southern Croatia and Montenegro. If you do the south, there would be an opportunity for a brief foray into Bosnia-Hercegovina.

There's no answer to "which is better" when it comes to the Balkans, and I'm certainly not going to try to compare northern Spain to the Balkans. I sort of feel as if there's more variety in the Slovenia+northern Croatia than in the southern half of that area, though Montenegro has some real beauty spots.

One thing that really aligns with your stated interests is the art museums in Zagreb (especially) and Ljubljana. Zagreb has a small but world-class museum of naïve art, the Mestrovic museum (sculpture), a traditional art museum, a decorative art museum, and the oddball but quite good (award-winning) Museum of Broken Relationships. It's also a handsome city with a bi-level historic district and sidewalk cafes. Ljubljana has a river running through the old town and has a totally different feel.

Outside those two cities, there's a great variety of other attractions not far away. In Slovenia you have Lake Bled, Vintgar Gorge, the Soca Valley (Julian Alps) and the Postojna and Skocjan Caves. There are other options I don't know enough about to vouch for.

In Croatia you have the very interesting Istrian Peninsula (though a small slice at the top is Slovenian, including the formerly Venetian Piran) with picturesque towns both coastal (Rovinj, Porec and tiny Vrsar) and inland (Motovun and Groznjan). There are some Roman ruins in Pula, though no one here seems enamored of that town (which I haven't seen). There was a zip line operating in Pazin as of 2015. A little way inland is the magnificent Plitvice Lakes National Park. It's one of my favorite places in Europe. For the park you must absolutely spend the night before your visit nearby and get a very early start. It gets way-beyond-unpleasantly crowded with day-trippers as the day goes on. It might be a bit helpful to visit the park Tuesday-Thursday, but the there is no substitute for spending the previous night in the area. The coastal town of Zadar is very attractive, and there's access to several islands from points along the northern coast. As you can imagine, this adds up to more than 14 days, but you get the idea.

I think there is considerable virtue in having a tour guide, but I like to determine how much time I spend at historical sights and museums. I think walking tours are available in both Zagreb and Ljubljana. I took a one-day bus tour of inland Istria (running only on Wednesday in 2015) so that I could see both Motovun and Groznjan. A rental car would be cheaper.

Posted by James E.
USA
7166 posts

Of Croatia I have only seen Dubrovnik and of Slovenia I have only seen Melania; both beautiful. I have made two trips to Montenegro and plan on a third, maybe this fall. As for temperatures I suspect it depends on where you are. The July averages for Zabljak are low of 51 to high of 76F. Pretty perfect and i suspect consistent with a lot of Slovenia and Croatia off the coast.

Our last trip was pretty 4 to 5 star and with guide, driver, Audi A6 and very nice hotels; it averaged something less than 250 euro a day. Or about the cost of a nice room in Western Europe. Fishing guides were extra.

Best of all stunning country from the sea to the mountains, good fishing, good people and few tourists.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
7052 posts

I was going to comment on how James E had been to a place in Slovenia I had never heard of, but now I get it. (Still in denial, I am.)

Posted by globulen OP
24 posts

Thank you so much for all your great info. Gives me a lot to get started and start planning!

Posted by Emily
Vienna, Austria
2543 posts

You cannot do all three countries in 15 days. Pick Croatia and one of the other two. My choice would be Slovenia . Of course you can do this on your own. We have two kids and go every year on our own and have a great time. We rent a car and rent a villa.

Posted by globulen OP
24 posts

Have you seen Rick’s “ideal” 15 day trip of Slovenia and Croatia? I know Andrew recommended it. Is that a bit “mad dash” or do you think it’s OK? Seems like you spend one day in one place, leave the next, arrive at next location, spends day, leave the next, and so on.
If it’s not worth staying longer at some of these, I understand. Otherwise, what would you trim out of his itinerary to add perhaps an additional day in one of the islands? Or add more days in one spot where you can do day trips?

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
1501 posts

FYI, I didn't recommend any Rick Steves itinerary; I recommended his book. Yes, he does tend to pace his itineraries pretty fast. There's nothing wrong with modifying them or slowing them down, lopping off one piece or another, etc.

However...if you seriously want to cover Croatia, Slovenia, and Montenegro in 15 days, how can you do it faster/better than Rick's recommended itineraries? If you can't, I think that shows you the fallacy of trying to do all of those places in such an incredibly short time.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
7052 posts

I think all of Rick's itineraries move too rapidly for someone not on a tour. But then, I like to stick around in one town for a minimum of 3 nights, preferably longer. I don't know whether I'm looking at the same itinerary you are, but I saw no opportunity for an art museum unless you carve out a chunk of time from the (basically) single day you have in Ljubljana. There's a castle in Ljubljana, which I think your children would want to see, and that takes considerable time. I'm not sure where you'd squeeze in two days of beach time; maybe part of a day on whichever island you chose.

At the very least, I'd want an extra day each in Ljubljana and Istria (and I don't do beaches). I'm on the record as liking Zagreb a lot, even for those who don't mention liking art in their initial posts. I'm pretty sure Zagreb is the best city on the Balkan Peninsula for art lovers. I don't know any place that is remotely close.

Posted by globulen OP
24 posts

Thanks again. We are looking at either Slovenia and Croatia or maybe just Croatia now, for 15 days. I’ll start researching more information and try to find an itinerary that suits us.

Posted by globulen OP
24 posts

Again, thanks for all the help. We will arrive on the 14, and depart on the 29th. That gives us fourteen and a half days.
I am not sure of how efficient this is, and I hope it's not too hectic. I would appreciate (again!) feedback as to where to add or reduce days, or change towns, or whether an extra overnight somewhere makes no sense. Flying from DC, so not sure if it's better or easier to arrive and depart from one city or another, so we are flexible about that. For the trip, I would prefer not to drive, but definitely can if better or needed. I'd consider bus, train, private driver too, since I get tired, but completely understand the appeal of stopping whenever we want, and the flexibility. This is my very tentative initial schedule:

Arrival (half day): Arrive in Ljubljana
Day 1: Ljubljana
Day 2: Lake Bled / vintgar gorge / etc. Day tour (e.g., Roundabout Tours)? (if yes, back to Ljubljana; if NO, continue towards...
Day 3: Julian Alps / Caves. Day tour? (If yes, back to Ljubljana; if NO, overnight where? and continue to...)

The idea above would be to use Ljubljana as a base to avoid changing hotels. Not sure if it's a good idea

Day 4: From Alps (or Ljubljana) to Plitvice (sleep at Plitvice)
Day 5: Plitvice (tour lakes)
Day 6: Plitvice to Split
Day 7: Split
Day 8: Split to Islands (Hvar, Korcula or other? Brac?)
Day 9: Island
Day 10: Island
Day 11: Island to Dubrovnik
Day 12: Dubrovnik
Day 13: Dubrovnik (side trip to Bay of Kotor or Mostar?)
Day 14: Dubrovnik
Day 15: Depart

Is this too hectic? I can see that trying to avoid a one night stay in Ljubljana makes me drive from Ljubljana to Plitvice, which is probably not a good idea. Then, what would you cut? Would you remain in Ljubljana on day 2 and on Day 3 drive to Rovinj (so Day 4 is Rovinj to Plitvice)? Or skip the Karst/Alps and go later to Plitvice? Is it a good idea to do 2 nights at Plitvice, or better to depart the same day we tour the lakes?
I am willing to skip some of the above and add one more day to the other places listed, to avoid running like crazy.
Thanks again for your patience!

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
7052 posts

Having a car for the Bled/Julian Alps area would be great, but then you'd want to spend at least one night away from Ljubljana. Two nights would probably be much better. I managed to do Bled, Vintgar Gorge and Bohinj by bus + taxi from my base in Ljubljana. I liked Ljubljana a lot; it was a very pleasant place to return to each evening. Just one day there and gone would have frustrated me. But I know I missed some lovely stuff by not getting into the Julian Alps.

If you decide not to take the time to do an Alpine loop of some sort and thus don't want a car, you may find taxis helpful. As of 2015 taxis in Slovenia were relatively inexpensive. And you have a group of 4, so I suspect the taxi option will be cheaper than a bus tour if there's a day when you don't go beyond Lake Bohinj. This is something you might discuss with the very helpful Ljubljana Tourist Office.

The public buses are fine but don't run super-frequently, and they don't stick perfectly to their schedules. I often saw a van-taxi hanging around the Bled bus station shortly before the bus was due in, trying to fill its seats for the trip back to Ljubljana at the price of 7 euros per head. Other taxis sometimes stopped by, to see whether folks wanted to speed up their trips to Vintgar Gorge or Lake Bohinj. If you're open to using a taxi from Bled to one of the outlying points, don't rush to buy your bus ticket if you arrive at the station early.

The caves are in sort of a different direction from the lakes and Alps. I think Postojna is a bit easier to reach by public transportation, but Skocjan can also be done, though some of the buses will leave you with a walk of about a mile or so. Either can definitely be managed as a day-trip from Ljubljana. Note: I am not guaranteeing the availability of buses on Sundays and holidays! That is something to be checked locally.

Renting a car in Slovenia and dropping it off in Croatia will probably be cost-prohibitive, but it doesn't hurt to explore the possibility by calling AutoEurope, Kemwel and Gemut. Getting to Plitvice reasonably directly from anywhere in Slovenia without a rental car? Good luck with that. I have a strong suspicion you'll need to go to Zagreb (very nice city, good bus and train links from Ljubljana) then take a bus from there. There is (probably infrequent) bus service from Ljubljana to Rovinj, but Istria is a 3-night destination for me and you still need to make a bus connection to get to Plitvice. Traveling via Zagreb should be quite a lot faster. I don't think you have time for Istria--at least not the way I would want to see it. It really needs a car, or you can stick around for the once-weekly "Inland Istria" bus tour (pretty costly for four people).

I'd check with the GoOpti shuttle company to see about a run from Ljubljana to Plitvice. It's about 140 miles so will not be cheap, but again, you are transporting four people and would be avoiding bus/train fares.

I love Plitvice, but I think you can see the park by mid-afternoon and move on to Split by bus that same day. You'll want to get a really early start to beat the day-trippers onto the walkways anyway, and I think you can cover the longest marked route in 6 hours or less if you pack a snack to eat on the go.

Three days for Dubrovnik with just one side-trip is fairly generous. Either Mostar or Kotor Bay would be a good destination. I have no current experience with Croatian islands.

I flew back to DC from Zagreb in 2015, with just one stop in Europe. I've never flown into or out of Ljubljana, Split, Dubrovnik or Venice.

Theoretically, you could fly into Zagreb and out of one of the other Croatian cities, which would allow you to use a Croatian car for at least a chunk of your trip, including all of Slovenia. But that's probably a lot more driving than you were considering, and I don't know how much of hassle the car would be in Ljubljana and Split.

Posted by globulen OP
24 posts

Looks like we will fly into and out of Zagreb. So when we get there, we'll transfer to Ljubljana for three nights and explore Bled, Alps, etc.
After that, if you had the choice, would you go from Ljubljana to Plitvice striaght, overnight and visit lakes in the morning then to Split in the afternono, so you could have two nights in Split, or....go from Ljubljana to Zagreb, overnight in Zagreb and then go to Plitvice, keeping one night in Split (after the lakes)?
We will still have three nights on the islands after Split.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
7052 posts

The key thing is to spend the night before your park visit near Plitvice so you can beat the day-trippers into the park. I like Zagreb more than Split, but one-night stops are tiring.

Posted by loisb
4 posts

Several years ago my husband, college age daughter, and myself used lake bled as a 2 day home base. We had a full, magical day driving thru the Julian Alps and for our return trip we loaded our car on a rail flatbed and took a shortcut back. I'm certain I read about this in one of Rick Steves books. Seeing this part of Slovenia was an incredible gift. Later on that same trip we spent an overnight in lubliana, it is a small city and easily seen in a short time. Because we had a car we stayed in a wonderful B and B out in the country.

Being from the US, I loved seeing the Slovenian countryside and meeting its people. We still often talk about that trip.