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16 Day Trip to Croatia & Slovenia

I'm in the beginning stages of planning a trip to Croatia and Slovenia with my 12 year old son and 14 year old daughter for late June and early July. We're hoping to make the entire trip 16 days (although we'll lose a day in travel on the way there). We're on a budget and are planning to use miles for our tickets so are looking at flying into Dubrovnik and home from Zagreb. We'll rent a car as we're leaving Dubrovnik and we'll keep it for the rest of the trip and return it in Zagreb. Our main focus in Dalmatia is Dubrovnik. We've done a ton of beach vacations (caribbean, mexico, etc.) and while I know the islands in Dalmatia are gorgeous, we're more interested in historical destinations (castles, old town, etc.) and other natural destinations (e.g. lakes, hiking, caves, etc.). The kids were also interested in possibly going into Trieste, Italy for a few days, so I have that as part of my itinerary so far. Here's what I'm thinking:

2 Nights in Dubrovnik

2 Nights in Split

2 Nights in Plitvice Lakes Area

3-4 Nights in Rovinj or Opatija (trying to decide on one as as a base for exploring Istria)

1-2 Nights in Trieste, Italy

1 Night in Postojna Slovenia (see caves and Postojna Castle)

2 Nights in Bled, Slovenia

1 Night in Zagreb

We're less interested in the islands and thinking about cutting out Split entirely to spend more time in Istria or Slovenia (or to add one day to Dubrovnik). We definitely want to see Plitvice lakes and I've thought about just doing one night there (staying overnight near an entrance and getting up early to explore the park before it's crowded). I'm also wondering if we shouldn't add in a destination in Bosnia or Montenegro and skip Italy. Any advice or thoughts?

Posted by
18854 posts

My first thought about Dubrovnik was that 2 nights would be plenty, because it is rather small. Then I realized that it's your first stop and you will likely be jet-lagged that first day. Two days could still be OK if you don't want to do a day-trip, but I do think Mostar would be a good idea. It would be more different from your other destinations than Trieste. Montenegro has many intriguing cities and beautiful countryside even aside from the gorgeous Bay of Kotor, but with only one day I think I'd lean toward Mostar.

If you want to drive out of Dubrovnik rather than picking up the car somewhere farther north, I think you need to clear it with your car-rental company since you cross a bit of Bosnia on your way up the coast. I don't know whether there would be any difficulties if you wanted to drive to Mostar rather than picking up a tour from Dubrovnik.

I enjoyed a multi-hour stopover in Zadar in 2015. Zadar's north of Split. It has a very picturesque historic district (not without tourists, but not very many Americans) and is worth at least a half-day. I didn't see it on the same trip as Dubrovnik, though, and the two may be a bit too similar.

I love Plitvice but I believe one night there is enough. Being there overnight for an early start is key, but at least one person has reported here that he enjoyed the park late in the afternoon after most of the day-trippers had departed, so if you arrive early, you might consider two visits. I don't know whether one admission ticket would be sufficient for that, however. In any case, the park is not so large that you'll need to spend the whole day there.

I've really only passed through Opatija, but my impression (which may not be accurate) was that it was sort of an old-line resort, a bit staid. Leafy streets, big hotels, that sort of thing. Rovinj has a different feel to it. It has very lively historic area full of stone buildings, which is a polite way of saying that it is very touristy. I liked it, though, and I think it may be better positioned for seeing the other top places in Istria than Opatija, though I haven't checked the driving times on ViaMichelin.com.

I'd want at least four nights in Istria (but I'm accustomed to the slower pace forced on people who don't have cars). In addition to Rovinj, which affords many hours of wandering, you have Porec (very different architecture in the historic area, also touristy) and Pula (Roman ruins, but I haven't been there) along the coast. I enjoyed a quick stop at the tiny hilltop town of Vrsar. The Istrian interior shouldn't be missed; it's quite different from the coast. I especially liked Motovun and Groznjan. There's a zip line at Pazin. I'm sure there's more, but I was limited to places accessible via public transportation.

I've heard that Piran in Slovenian Istria is nice. That might be a quick stop on the way to Trieste.

Since you'll have a car and Lake Bled is small, you'll probably have time to see Vintgar Gorge and/or a bit of Ljubljana. Both are definitely worthwhile. There's a castle in Ljubljana, not particularly quick to visit. There's also one at Lake Bled, which I did not see. If you decide to skip Trieste, Slovenia could use some extra time.

Posted by
4734 posts

Sorry, but I think that you are trying to cover far too much ground in your timescale in peak holiday season, particularly with your two children in tow. Bear in mind that it could be 40 degrees in the sun, so you won't want to spend so much time in the car.

Two nights somewhere is only a full day there. You need at least a full day for Dubrovnik and if you will be jetlagged, I would add another night before you take to the roads in a car.

If you don't stop, Split is a c 3.5 /4 hour drive, but you shouldn't just race up the coast. Explore Makarska or Omis.

Split needs one/two full days and nearby Trogir another day. These are both world heritage sites and worthy if a stop if you want to experience the history. Plitvice will be busy at that time of year, so it would be best to visit early or late in the day. Krka is also worth a visit.

Istria with its hill towns needs a week to do it justice. Then I would head to Zagreb and have two nights, one full day there before you fly out. Drop Italy and Slovenia. Even without these, it won't be a relaxing itinery.

You will have to incur a one way drop fee for the car. Getting cover for other countries will add to the cost.

Posted by
72 posts

Talking about late June, I will suggest visiting south islands: Hvar and Korcula. South Croatia is hot touristic spot in june july and August.

You can do only day trip or cut the Split as you need to save time for driving. Split in general will be to hot and busy.. Your best Car route: Dubrovnik - Ploce or Split where you will enter highway E65, E71 and D52. Towards Otocac, Vrhovine and Plitvice. In Otocac and Vrhovine you can also look for Airbnb local accommodation. On the way back from Otocac you drive to Senj and Rijeka. From rijeka you drive to Trieste and Slovenia.

Car you can rent at skyscanner. Option: airport pick up. No extra charge if you will leave car in Zagreb. PS don't skip paying parking tickets. Nowhere in city you can leave car for 5 minutes. When you book accommodation, look for free parking.

Have a good time!