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1st Time Croatia - 3 weeks - Questions

Ok, this is my very 1st post to Rick Steves' forums; I just registered today. I am also planning a 1st time visit to Croatia. My itinerary is still quite fluid, but my wife and I plan to spend 3 weeks beginning around the 2nd week of September. I've done preliminary research and found that Slovenia, Montenegro, and Bosnia, also offer interesting destinations. I have the Rick Steves' Croatia and Slovinia book, and have reviewed the related videos on the website.

We would like to do this trip as a DIY and rent a car for most of the trip. At this point, I am considering flying into Zagreb (starting from California), and returning from Dubrovnik. My tentative plan would be to visit Zagreb for a day or so, and then drive to Ljubljana in Slovenia. After visiting there, we would continue to Lake Bled for one night, then drive through the Julian Alps, a visit to Skocjan Cave, ending in Piran.

From there, we would continue on back into Croatia and Isteria to visit Motovun, Rovinj and Pula.

The next destination would be Plitvice Lakes. I would try to arrive in the evening and get get an early start exploring the next day.

After that, we would work our way down to Zadar and Split, eventually making our way to DuBrovnik.

Along the way, we would like to visit 1 or 2 of the many islands, and are considering Korcula. Other islands (like Vis) also look interesting.

If we have time, we would consider visits to Mostar and Kotar.

Here are some additional parameters for our trip:

What we like most about European destinations is cultural experiences, visiting ancient ruins, cities a lot older than California (not hard to do), exploring pedestrian streets in old cites, outdoor cafes and people watching, and natural sites (alps, ocean, etc.).
We would like to stay in Sobe when possible.
We would like to be as flexible as possible in our itinerary, i.e. moving at our own pace faster or slower depending on how much we like the place we are visiting, weather, and crowded tourist conditions.
I am an amateur photographer, and going at a pace that allows for good photo ops is important.

Here are my questions (so far):

1) In September, can sobe accommodations be found on short notice, i.e. same day, or 1 to 2 days in advance while traveling?
2) Are there specific cities where accommodations must be reserved well in advance?
3) Should we consider turning in the car rental when we reach Split, or would it be more of a benefit to keep it until reaching Dubrovnik?

Any other advice is more than welcome.

Thanks in advance for you help.


Posted by
18876 posts

Although I did not hit all of your target destinations, I did pretty much what you're planning to do in 2015 from August 12 to August 29 (Slovenia/Croatia) and from September 29 to October 11 (Montenegro/Croatia), but without a rental car. Being tied to public transportation, I did not wait until my arrival to find a place to stay, and I would suggest that you not to do that, either.

It's so easy to go online the day before (or 2 or 3 days before if you're sure what day you'll get to your next stop and what it will be) and book something then. The depend-on-the-tourist-office thing was a pre-internet travel technique. With everyone else now using the internet, you risk having to choose from among the places no one else wants to stay--not just the people who beat you into town, but also the people who will arrive hours later but had the foresight to book ahead. Now, if you're willing to hop back in your car and keep driving, ending up not in the town you really wanted to stay in, or in an unattractive location too far out, it's not such a bad risk to take.

Another wrinkle is that most of your destinations are historic towns where you'll be hard-pressed to find parking near the tourist sector (typically pedestrianized). If you know where you're going to be staying a day or two ahead of time, you can try to find a solution to the parking conundrum (your host may be able to help if he speaks or can write English). Dealing with parking on the spur of the moment will not go so well, and if you end up staying--say--2 miles from the historic center of a small town, how are you going to get to the tourist sights if there's no place nearby to park your car? Little towns like Rovinj don't have public buses.

The one time I had a significant lodging problem on my trip was in Rovinj. On August 26 I found out about a one-day Inland Istria bus tour that I really wanted to take. At that point I needed to extend my stay in Rovinj by 2 or 3 days. The place I was staying was already booked. I went to several tourist agency-type places that had books of private rooms before I found one that would work for me (was within 1-1/2 miles of the historic center). As far as I could tell there was nothing special going on in Rovinj during that last part of my stay. September shouldn't be as tight as August, but I'd be concerned about Rovinj and would try to reserve early if you want to stay there. Porec is very pretty (and touristy); it may not be as tight as Rovinj. I don't know that there's anything in Motovun. Certainly there are hotels, etc., in Pula.

I stayed mostly in hotels during my trip but did end up in some informal accommodations in Zagreb, Zadar, Rovinj, and Kotor. Except for the previously-mentioned second spot in Rovinj, all my accommodations were arranged through I don't think it rents single rooms in people's houses, but it does rent efficiency-style places that are so located, and rooms in small B&B-style places that don't serve breakfast. It's likely that sobe not rented through booking websites would be somewhat cheaper, but honestly, if you take a look I think you'll find things available online are inexpensive enough that it's not a big deal.

There is one distinct negative to true sobe from my perspective: Smoking is considerably more prevalent in the Balkans than it is in the US. Rooms in hotels and B&Bs are usually non-smoking (perhaps legally required to be so, though I'm not sure), but you cannot tell the homeowner who has rented you a room that he cannot smoke in his own house. My second Rovinj lodging turned out to be a very nice efficiency on the top floor of a new house. Really lovely. Except the homeowner was a chain-smoker. It wasn't quite bad enough to give me a headache, thank heaven, but it was close.

Posted by
18876 posts

Thought of one other thing, with respect to looking for sobe:

I was extremely impressed with the English-language skills of the younger half of the population in the Balkans, but older folks in Croatia and Slovenia are more likely to speak Italian and/or perhaps German. I think you'll find the people renting sobe tend to be older. If you speak neither a Slavic language nor Italian nor German, communication may not be easy. (Perhaps if you have decent Spanish skills and the other person speaks Italian...) It won't be a problem to arrange a rental in person--you can write down dates and the room rate, but it may be a bit of a struggle to communicate about something like parking or where the nearest food market is.

I never know what sort of guidance to give on this subject, because I've dabbled in a lot of languages and have had decades of experience using travel-charades to communicate. A day or two later I often do not remember in what language a conversation was conducted. But I'm sure the chain-smoker in Rovinj and his wife spoke no English, and I don't think the considerably younger other Rovinj householder did, either.

Posted by
4744 posts

The previous poster has made some very valid points about parking.

In September, if you want very basic rooms, you should be able to find these, either by old ladies at the bus or rail stations in the bigger places or by people sitting outside their home with a small sign saying rooms on the busier coastal roads. The quality can vary and your hosts are likely to speak little or no English.

September is still a popular time for travelling for those that are not tied to August school holidays, so good places get booked up early. I wouldn't go to an island without having booked something and ditto Split or Dubrovnik, as you will waste too much time looking for accommodation.

The season in the islands falls off a cliff very suddenly. There are many campsites and most of these close at the end of September and therefore so do many restaurants and hotels. The restaurants have more outside than inside seating, (some are all outdoor seating), therefore when the weather turns, they close.

I was on Hvar in September and each day from c 15 September, the island got quieter and when I left on the 23rd, it was like a ghost town, with some places having already shut for the winter. We stopped at a small resort on the mainland for coffee en route back to the airport and only one place was still open!

You may want to drop your car on arrival in Split and consider taking the bus or catamaran to Dubrovnik, as you don't need a car in either city. If you drive to Dubrovnik, ensure that your car is insured to travel through Bosnia. I don't know what your passport situation is, as Bosnia isn't in the EU.

Check out Cavtat if you don't want to stay in Dubrovnik itself.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you Jennifer and acraven for your suggestions thus far; they have been quite helpful. Your comments have heightened my concerns regarding timely accommodation reservations and parking in some cities. I do plan to make reservations for Zagreb (beginning of trip) and Dubrovnik (end of trip) before leaving for Croatia. Because my tentative plan is to start the trip around Sept. 9th, and end in Dubrovnik around Sept. 30th, I am hoping that the "tourist impact" will diminish as the trip proceeds. I am also going to try and set tentative arrival dates for Rovinj, Split, and Korcula, so that I may also make reservations in advance (at least a few days before arrival).

As far as parking is concerned, that is definitely a problem at least in some locations. We do enjoy being in the city center and/or oldest part of the city. We also enjoy pedestrian streets and outdoor cafes. If we could find parking within a 2 mile radius of pedestrian areas, we wouldn't mind walking in. I need to do a lot more research on the problems presented by using car rental and how to mitigate them.

Although visiting the coastline will be one of the highlights of this trip, I'm still trying to decide on how many (1 or 2) and which islands we might try to visit. Thus far, Korcula is on the short list, and I've ruled out Hvar. I'm relying a lot on what I've read in the Rick Steves' book, and viewed on the website. Hvar sounds like it's more of a nightclub scene and higher priced. I'm still considering other islands such as Vis or Rab. I don't think I need to visit more than 2 islands. If anyone has advice on this, please reply.


Posted by
2074 posts

I don't think you will ever be sleeping in the car, but do note that if a small town has a festival or something going on, everything can be booked. I would certainly prebook for Dubrovnik, even in late September.
Do you use If you take a smartphone and download the app, you can peruse in advance and save some favorites. I think you can select places with parking included. The other tactic would be to head to a tourist office upon arrival in any town and ask them for assistance in booking.
I would want the car on an island, but not needed for just going from Split to Dubrovnik.

Posted by
7 posts

Thanks valadelphia, others have also suggested In the Rick Steves' book on Croatia and on his website, he recommends contacting a Sobe directly when a link or email address is available. Some of the booking websites take as much as a 15% commission. What I have decided to do is to research all accommodations in places I intend to spend the night well before my trip. I will use as well as contacting Sobe owners directly when possible to get as much info as I can. I will create lists of my preferences and decide how far in advance I need to make a reservation. I am hoping that some places can still be booked only a day or two in advance. I will definitely book Dubrovnik, Zagreb, Split, and whatever island I'm going to well in advance. Possibly Rovinj and Plitvice area as well. I am still hoping to retain some flexibility in the overall itinerary.

If anyone has any other suggestions, please respond. As this is my 1st visit to Croatia, I'm relying heavily on this website, books, and the internet to build a viable itinerary.

Thanks again to all,


Posted by
18876 posts

Since you do have some flexibility, it's worth checking online info about the dates cruise ships are due in port at Dubrovnik and Kotor. They get some really, really large ships, and the historic districts are swamped when that occurs. If you can manage a day in each place without a cruise ship present, you'll be way ahead of the game. It may be a bit too early to get accurate, comprehensive info for September, but keep this in mind as you progress through the planning process.

I was lucky enough to experience Kotor without a mega-ship in port for a day and a half. The next day a monster thing (looked like an apartment building) appeared. Huge difference: thousands of extra people in a rather small area.

Posted by
7 posts

Nice tip on cruise line schedules. Thank you acraven. I've checked 3 different sites:,, and The daily ship totals for Dubrovnik vary slightly between these sites, but they do give a good idea of what to expect in terms of cruise ship tourists. Sept. 29th and 30th look bad; possibly 5 or 6 ships in port. Thursday the 28th looks like only 2 ships, and Oct. 1st maybe only 1.

Thanks again,