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Croatia & Budapest itinerary review request

My husband and I (early 50's) are planning a trip in mid-May 2023 to Croatia for our 25th wedding anniversary with a stopover in Budapest on the way back home to the US. We're considering the itinerary below and would very much appreciate any advice from those who are familiar with the locations, distances, etc. We enjoy seeing notable sights, but don't tend to linger in museums, churches. Crowds will be endured as needed, but hopefully not too many yet since we understand it to be shoulder season. We want enough time for an easy-going pace but are a bit limited on time due to days away from work. Hope to see the beauty, eat the food, drink the wine, and soak up the Croatian culture. We want to feel that we've "been there" even if we don't get to see everywhere and everything that is wonderful about this country.

Day 1- US (Dallas, Texas) to Dubrovnik (we always try for overnight flights)
Day 2- Dubrovnik sightseeing
Day 3-Dubrovnik sightseeing until 4pm catamaran to Korcula.
Day 4 (& 5?) - Korcula sightseeing
Day 5 - Korcula to Hvar on catamaran for sightseeing (how long should we plan for?) and then catamaran to Split for sleeping
Day 6-Split sightseeing (is one day enough?)
Day 7-Split to Zagrab in morning via Croatia Airlines then rent a car at the airport to drive the 2 hours south to Plitvice Lakes for late afternoon hike and stay the night. Since we'll have a car, thinking about staying near, but outside the park.
Day 8- Plitvice Lakes morning hike, drive back to Zagrab to return car and fly to Budapest
Days 9-11 in Budapest

Thank you in advance for your advice!

Posted by
5687 posts

You don't need to fly to Zagreb. It's going to take less time to rent the car in Split and drive from there to Plitvice Lakes. Drop the car in Zagreb as a one-way rental. Sometimes there's a drop fee for one-way when you rent for a shorter time, but it would still seem worth to vs. the saved expense of the flight to Zagreb.

Consider staying at one of the overpriced park hotels. They are very convenient for a short stay and let you re-enter the park for a second day on the same ticket as the previous day. The hotels are right in the park and have parking lots, and you can walk from your room right to the park entrance.

Posted by
17787 posts

Sure, that will work, but if you want to avoid the issues involved with a car, call Dijana and let her arrange the transportation. Doubt it will cost significantly more.

Dijana Krkotic, Executive director
Doclea Travel and Tours
Address: Bulevar Sv. Petra
Cetinjskog br. 79
81 000 Podgorica
Phone: +382 20 675 197, Mob: +382 69 277 749

I don’t think there are any non-stop flights from Zagreb to Budapest. If I am right, and if you want to rearrange your trip from north to south you might be able to fly non-stop out of Podgorica (but might only be on Tuesday and Saturday if that works). Something like this: No flights, all by guide (Dijana or ??).

Four hours in Split was enough for me; the same a Plitvice.... but that's just me.

Posted by
27017 posts

I'm not sure Day 5 is viable. Will there be catamarans between Korcula and Hvar in May, and will there be one at a time useful to you? A quick check online didn't turn up anything, but I could easily be wrong about this. Even if the transportation does exist, I'd be more inclined to spend a bit more time on Korcula rather than trying to divvy up two days between two different islands. It doesn't sound like you plan to rent a car, so you'd be dependent on buses or taxis if you want to see more of the islands than the port towns; that could slow you down quite a bit.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you for your prompt responses! It's not a problem to rent a car, I was just thinking that the distance between Split and Plitvice was about 5 hours. Perhaps I remembered that incorrectly. Great to know about the second day entrance fee being covered and how easy it is to access the park from the accommodations. It sounds like that would definitely remove some complexity.

I had not considered that there may not be a catamaran or ferry from Korcula to Hvar in May. Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I will have to take that into consideration and see if I can confirm the transportation schedule for that time of year. If we were to skip Hvar, would we be able to go directly to Split from Korcula via catamaran/ferry or would we need to hire a driver/rent a car? How much are "missing" by not experiencing Hvar?

Thank you for the contact information for Dijana. I'll take a look at it.

Really, really appreciate this!

Posted by
17787 posts

Its just that you have six days on the ground and you are dealing with rental cars, flights, taxis and catamarans. All doable, but with some local guidance and assistance maybe more enjoyable.

And on the long drives, there are always places in-between worth the visit; if you know about them.

Posted by
5687 posts

p_grimwood many people choose Korcula or Hvar, not both on a short trip And on my first trip to Croatia in 2009, I chose Korcula. I spent a few nights there, then took a catarmaran (at the crack of dawn!) from Korcula Town to Split. The catamaran stopped in Hvar Town. Of course, this was years ago (October).

Checking Jadrolinija's website now, I see there is daily catamaran service from Korcula Town to Hvar Town (and on to Split) at 10:30am. I'd be surprised if there is no service in May. You may have more schedule options by then. There should be plenty of daily catamarans on from Hvar to Split the rest of the day.

I was just back in the area last month and finally got to visit Hvar Town. In 2009 I chose Korcula because I thought it would be more to my tastes, and this turned out to be true. Hvar Town is beautiful, but it was a bit upscale to my tastes. (I later went to Vis which was my favorite of all the the islands.) Still, Hvar Town is worth a brief visit. (Expect to pay $$ to store your luggage somewhere.) There's a nice little hike up to an old fortress above town, which offers breathtaking views down on the town and the little islands nearby. Otherwise, you can read up on Hvar Town to decide if it's something you really want to see much of. But I'd guess 3-4 hours is plenty of time to get a gist for the place if you can have just a brief stop. The view from the fortress is worth seeing I'd say.

But, some people really love Hvar. Just a personal preference thing, really.

One other car rental option (if you skip Hvar) might be renting a car in Dubrovnik (as you leave) and drive to Korcula via the Orebic ferry. From the town of Vela Luka on the other side of the island from Korcula Town there's a car ferry on to Split. I'm not saying I think this is a great option, just an option. I never actually drove in Split proper, and you do not need a car there. Driving there looks a bit stressful. But if you could plan on driving to a parking spot for one night in Split and moving on the next morning, you don't need to drive in town at all. This would save you the need to pick up a car upon departure and get a good early start on to Plitvice. And the cost of a longer rental may not be much more than the cost of a short rental, once you figure in the cost of a one-way drop fee (for a short rental - prices may vary).

Posted by
4015 posts

I agree with Andrew to drop one of the islands. I had lots more time than you, went to both, and Korcula is my favorite of the two as well.

How about if you ferry on to Split from Korcula,
spend one night,
rent your car from there (airport could be good if you can time a return with a flight) and
drive to and from Plitvice from Split,
spending one night in the park. It was a 3 hr drive for me September, 2021.
Then return the car to Split and fly from Split to Budapest. While there is not a nonstop, there were plenty of options - depending upon what day of the week it will be.

So that would be:
Nights 1-2: Dubrovnik, with most of day 3 also (1 1/2 days plus jet lagged arrival day)
Nights 3 & 4: Korcula (1 full day)
Night 5: Split (1/2 day)
Night 6: Plitvice (afternoon in the park)
Night 7: depends. You could spend the morning in the park, drive back to Split and spend the night. Or you could drive back in the morning and catch an afternoon/evening flight on to Budapest.
Nights 8-11: Budapest (most of the day of Night 8 you are traveling) 3 full days.
And I assume fly out the following day.

Look at it carefully, as mornings, afternoons, evenings marking your travel time. Then you can see what you want to do with Night 7.

Just a thought.

Mister E’s suggestion of a guide & driver also works, if you prefer that route. I just happen to prefer doing it myself when it is feasible.

Posted by
4 posts

This is all really very helpful! I was leaning toward more time on Korcula rather than spending it on Hvar, so thank you for giving me reason to solidify that decision. I was just afraid of missing out since we rarely go to the same destination twice with so many places in the world we want to experience. I was planning on flying from Split to Zagreb to get to Plitvice because I thought it was much further than a 3-hour drive. We like to be in control of our own schedule if we can and it is appealing to be able to see the countryside and stop whenever we please. I did look at the flight times from Split to Budapest and there are several as you suggested. I think what is giving us the most pause now is the extraordinarily high airfare prices to everywhere! You seem to pay the same for a 4-hour flight as a 14-hour flight! Still going to work on planning for this trip regardless of when we end up taking it. Thank you all so much!

Posted by
5687 posts

FYI, you could also take the train from Zagreb to Budapest. Disclaimer: haven't done it. Looks like it's about a six hour ride but direct (on current schedule, departs in the afternoon). If you're worried about the cost, this would certainly be cheap. Probably a direct bus is an option also.

I don't really see the the point of driving from Split to Plitvice and then returning to Split instead of Zagreb...unless flying out of Split to Budapest is just cheaper/faster/better or something. Obviously Zagreb is closer to Plitvice. You could skip Zagreb itself though if you wanted to drive from Plitvice directly to the airport in Zagreb, though, depending on the timing. It's an easy drive.

Posted by
4015 posts

Again, Andrew is right. If you are considering flying, then check flight prices and times comparing Split and Zagreb to make your decision on that leg!

Posted by
4 posts

Again...great suggestions!! You all make me very glad I took the time to ask this forum for insight. Thank you!

Posted by
3043 posts

I've done the train from Budapest to Pecs and then from Pecs to Zagreb via Osijek. There are several routes for the train. It was a nice trip, and you see the Hungarian and Croatian country.

We also did a lot with Flixbus in Croatia. Consider Flixbus to Plitvice, and then bus again to Zagreb. Flixbus was on-time, clean, quite new, and comfortable. Zagreb to Zadar was $12.

We've been to Zagreb 4 times. I love it. It's a small town, with a quirky vibe. The Croatian Naive Art Museum (basically folk art on glass) is small but worth your time. There are other museums too. I wish I could be in Zagreb TOMORROW for the Croatia - Brazil game - place will be crazy.

Posted by
5365 posts

As others have shared, Plitvice Lakes are about 2.5 hours drive north from Split, about halfway between Split and Zagreb. It makes no sense to fly from Split to Zagreb and then drive 2.5 hours (back towards Split) to the lakes. Just rent a car in Split and drive to the lakes and then drive the next day to Zagreb.

It also makes no sense to fly from Zagreb to Budapest when you can take a train. That said, if this was my itinerary, I would use all of my time between Dubrovnik and Split and save the lakes, Zagreb and Budapest for another time. Or start in Budapest, take the train to Zagreb where you rent a care, stopping at the lakes on the way to Split. Visit Split and then explore Trogir, Brac and Hvar, flying back home from Split and saving Korcula and Dubrovnik for another time.