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Croatia - Slovenia - Hungary - Romania *** Ambitious road trip looking for input

Two of us, active and not afraid of long drives (especially in scenic areas) arrive in Dubrovnik late September and don't leave until early October (15 days), and want to see as much of Eastern Europe in Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary and Romania as possible. Been to Budapest and NW-NE Hungary a few years ago, but the rest is new.

We enjoy exploring, nature, history, castles and ruins, some hiking, indulging on local cuisine, and learning from/engaging with the local people. We're not fans of nightlife, fancy, or big crowds.

We are renting a car in Dubrovnik and returning there before leaving (great deal). We are outlining itinerary that includes serious driving, which may be too ambitious, but we are OK with a sampler of these areas for this trip. Current thought is as follows (rough Google drive times listed):

1 -2 – Dubrovnik and Kotor (2:00) (day trip)

3-4 – Dubrovnik to Split (3:00), leave car in Split and ferry to Hvar (1:30)

5 – Hvar back to Split then to Plitvice Lakes (2:30)

6 – Plitvice Lakes to Rijeka (2:00) then to Rovinj via Rijeka (1:15)

7 – Rovinj to Predjama Castle, Postojna Cave, Park Skocjanske jame (2:00) then to Ljubljana

8-9 - Lake Bled (1:15) (Vintgar Gorge, Lake Bohinj)

10 – Lake Bled to Balaton (3:50), then Balaton to Budapest (1:20)

11-12 – Budapest to Brasov (Castle Bran, Castle Peles) (7:30)

13 - Brasov to Belgrade (7:00)

14 – Belgrade to Sarajevo (4:30)

15 - Sarajevo to Mostar (2:00) then Mostar to Dubrovik (2:15)

Crazy I know, especially the run to eastern Romania, but I feel that is where the most interesting sites are in that country. So, worth it? If not, what best to cut out? Suggested better alternatives?

Also, any tips on potentially driving through those multiple countries. Getting insurance (Allianz or like) and International Driving Permit. Are there other issues to be aware of driving through those countries? Besides tolls, I have seen reference to "stickers" or passes in certain countries?

And any tips on lodgings or other cultural peculiarities?

Will only knowing English be a significant problem along the way?

Can I expect to rely on VISA throughout, or will there be need for local currency? Euro in Croatia, Slovenia, but would need to switch to local currency in Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Bosnia......

ATT international plan appears to work in all those countries (I know that coverage can be spotty anywhere in the world).

Thanks in advance and I look forward to responses!

Posted by
964 posts

“Driving” is not on your list of interests or activities, but you are in fact doing an incredible amount of it instead of those things. You might be ok with this in theory, but it bears some examination. For instance, between 11-13 you’re driving for 14 hours and at the tail end of the trip to boot. That’s straight drive time, not slow exploration style right? There’s only one day you’re driving less than two hours, and it’s usually closer to four. You seem very confident and cognizant of all this and if so that’s great, different strokes and all that. To me, it feels a little at odds with your true goals.

If anything, I’d cut Budapest out. You’ve been there before. But yourselves another day or two elsewhere, and either break up those long stretches or make the stops worth the effort.

Posted by
1837 posts

Hi David, and welcome to the forum.

My first thought is that you are relying on Google maps to estimate drive times. I think in some cases you are underestimating drive times by as much as 25%, especially in cases where there are border crossings. (I gather you won't have to deal with that in September/October between Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary, but for Romania, Serbia, and Bosnia, you will.)

My much more significant criticism of this plan is that you will have so little time for places that deserve so much time. You may get the sampling you say you want, but "history, castles and ruins, some hiking, indulging on local cuisine, and learning from/engaging with the local people"? When exactly do you expect to have time to do any of this?

Still, as has already been said, if you know this is crazy and still want to do it, who am I to dissuade you?

I would just suggest one change: I think instead of Predjama Castle and Postojna Cave, I'd recommend this route:

https://maps.app.goo.gl/qK3VZzUE7PGKErjt5

Kobarid has a fabulous hike (https://www.kobariski-muzej.si/en/guided-tours/the-kobarid-historical-trail/), and the drive over Vršič Pass is spectacular. And it makes more sense to do Bled before Ljubljana if you are heading onward to Hungary.

Posted by
1667 posts

Well, I assume you know what I am going to say. I agree with the other posters. You will be spending a lot of time in your car. I recommend dropping Hungary and Romania, and spending 2 weeks in Croatia and Slovenia. Perhaps start in Slovenia in late September, and work your way south.

Posted by
4 posts

Thanks for confirming crazy! We are still working to modify our ambitious road trip, latest has us cutting it back a bit by flying from Budapest to Bucharest to spend three days in the area, then drive from Budapest back to Dubrovik to fly out:

1 – Arrive Dubrovnik (sleep in Dubrovnik)

2 – Dubrovnik (spend day) (sleep in Dubrovnik)

3 – Dubrovnik to Kotor (2:00) (day trip to Kotor) (sleep in Dubrovnik)

4 – Dubrovnik to Split (3:00) (leave car in Split) then ferry to Hvar (:50) (sleep in Hvar)

5 - Hvar

6 – Hvar ferry back to Split (:50) then to Plitvice Lakes (2:30) (sleep in Plitvice)

7 – Plitvice Lakes area in am then to Rijeka (2:00) then Rijeka to Rovinj (1:15) (sleep in Rovinj)

8 – Rovinj to Skocjan Caves (1:30), open 10am, spend 90 minutes at caves, Skocjan Caves to Postojna Cave & Predjama Castle (:30) spend 1-6pm , Predjama Castle to Kobarid (1:40) (sleep in Kobarid)

9 – Kobarid to Lake Bled (Vintgar Gorge, 60 minutes) (2:00) (Bled Castle, 90 min) then to Ljubljana (:40) (sleep in Ljubljana)

10 – Spend morning in Ljubljana, then to Balaton (3:50) and Budapest (1:20) (sleep in Budapest)

11 – Budapest flight to Bucharest (9:15-12 noon) (1:50) (sleep in Bucharest)

12 – Bucharest to Brasov (Castle Bran, Castle Peles) (2:30) (sleep in Brasov)

13 – Brasov to Ramnicu (Transylvania Alps) (3:00) (sleep in Ramnicu)

14 – Ramnicu to Bucharest (2:30) Flight back to Budapest (17:00 – 18:00) (sleep in Budapest)

15 – Budapest to Sarajevo (6:30) (sleep in Sarajevo)

16 – Sarajevo to Mostar (2:00) then to Dubrovik (2:15)

That cut out about 12 hours driving, which makes a lot more sense.

I'd appreciate any input on my other questions, especially regarding travel in Romania because Rick Steves does not talk much on that.

  1. Any tips on potentially driving through those multiple countries. Getting insurance (Allianz or like) and International Driving Permit. Are there other issues to be aware of driving through those countries? Will border crossing Hungary to Bosnia to Croatia be an issue? Besides tolls, I have seen reference to "stickers" or passes in certain countries?

  2. And any tips on lodgings or other cultural peculiarities?

  3. Will only knowing English be a significant problem along the way?

  4. Can I expect to rely on VISA throughout, or will there be need for local currency? Euro in Croatia, Slovenia, but would need to switch to local currency in Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Bosnia......

Thank you!!

Posted by
1837 posts

You've now created a new problem: you're dropping your rental car in a different country. This involves a significant upcharge. Be sure you research rental rates for picking up your car in Croatia and dropping it off in Hungary.

I actually think your itinerary has gotten a little crazier.

There's no point in driving to Rovinj to sleep there one night and leave. (Sorry, I know that was already in your itinerary, but it just dawned on me now.)

Day 8 is the craziest day of all! No reason to do both caves. Pick one. And you're not planning to spend any time in Kobarid other than to sleep?

One hour for Vintgar Gorge is almost certainly not enough. I'd allow 2 hours. And you're going to Bled just to visit the castle? What about walking around the lake or visiting Bled Island?

As I said before: crazy. I hope you will post a trip report and let us all know if you actually enjoyed this trip.

Posted by
4 posts

Many thanks for your second response!

Actually, rental car is cheap, so we are just parking it for three days in Budapest while we travel in Romania, then pick it back up for the drive to Dubrovik. So in the end, round trip Dubrovik to Dubrovik plus cheap car in Romania ($85 for three days).

Our thought is Rovinj is a good place to sleep relatively close to an early start on the caves and Predjama Castle the next day. Is there much to see in Rovinj, or better stay the night closer to caves/castle? We debated one or the other caves, but after reading about both thought it would be nice to try both and according to time estimates seemed to be possible.

I really liked your suggestion to go via Kobarid then Vintgar Gorge to get to Lake Bled. We have an extra day we thought about using on Hvar, but you think better to spend around Kobarid? Yes, looks like about 2 hours from Kobarid to Vintgar. If spend two hours there, just 30 minutes to Lake Bled. With a reasonably early start, could be to Lake Bled by early pm. Time to spend the afternoon at castle, island and some sightseeing, before heading short drive to Ljubljana late?

A number of years ago we did a similar trip through Europe: 16 days from Amsterdam-Berlin-Rhine-Rothenburg-Hohenschwangau-Gimmelwald-Cinque Terra-Paris. Saw TONS and made great memories with just short stops along the way, and loved it. Similar crazy trip from north tip of north island of NZ to south tip of south island years later. Again, not for everyone, but a sampler of vignettes sure gives a great overview of the world!

Thanks for your input!

Posted by
1837 posts

Honestly, my opinion isn't really relevant, because this is your trip, not mine, and while I'd never want to do a trip like this, you have done this kind of travel before and are good with it.

That said, I'll weigh in on Istria. Rovinj is probably the nicest town in Istria, and it's worth a full day to see it. But since you are probably not getting there until evening and leaving early the next morning, I'd recommend staying further north. Maybe Motovun or Piran (in Slovenia)?

And based on the things you say you enjoy in your original post, you're not likely to find most of them on Hvar. I loved Hvar, but exploring, nature, history, and hiking are going to be better around Kobarid.

Posted by
3073 posts

I've been to a lot of these places. I'd say too many, but that's just me. English is not a problem in any tourist place these days. Be polite, but English is the lingua Franca of the age. You will need local currency as you say, but since you are staying for short stops, I'm not sure how much.

It's true that car trips are easier than train in that you get in the car and go. But where will you park? Parking is not an easy thing in a lot of old towns. I drove into Split once, and turned into the old lanes, and was terrified - so small. Cars were triple-parked in the old city (not the palace but nearby).

Couple quick points:

14 – Ramnicu to Bucharest (2:30) Flight back to Budapest (17:00 – 18:00) (sleep in Budapest)

15 – Budapest to Sarajevo (6:30) (sleep in Sarajevo)

16 – Sarajevo to Mostar (2:00) then to Dubrovik (2:15)

Sarajevo is a city with a lot of history. We spent 3 days there in 2015, and could have spent 1-2 more.

I have other comments, but clearly we have different ideas of the best travel approach.

Posted by
18843 posts

The list is fine, but why don't you start in Slovenia and work south, then east. Then after Brasov if you want to go to Budapest, fine and it's a good ending stop.

But to be honest the car is not going to be cheap.

Posted by
18843 posts

The list is fine, but why don't you start in Slovenia and work south, then east. Then after Brasov if you want to go to Budapest, fine and it's a good ending stop.

But to be honest the car is not going to be cheap. But return to Slovenia, after Budaprst and there is no back tracking.

Posted by
4352 posts

Ok, I am going to just try to offer some useful tips, which you may have already thought of since you have done this sort of trip before.

Day 3: you have only factored in time for a one-way drive and no time for border crossings. Still plenty of people pop into Kotor as a day trip. Have you compared cost for just taking a day trip with a driver so you can see the scenery versus the cost of waiting to get your car in Split? Without this day of driving, you could ferry Dubrovnik to Hvar and the following day Hvar to Split, then pick up a rental and drive to Plitvice. Saves 3 days of rental cost.

I know this would have you rent in Split and return in Dubrovnik but the cost for that when it’s the same country often isn’t hugely significant. It also avoids having to find a place in both Dubrovnik and Split to park. Ferry costs will most likely be cheaper than just the gas and parking alone.

Day 7: Why not skip Rovinj and drive to where you want to be the following morning? I am sure there are places to stay near Skocjan Caves. It’s even possible you could visit in the afternoon, making Day 8 easier. If you take the slower coastal road, you could still make a quick stop in Rijeka.

Day 9: Skip Bled Castle. The boat ride to the island will take longer than you are allowing but it (for me) was far more interesting and beautiful.

Day 10: Using your timings (and morning in Ljubljana), you reach Budapest no earlier than 6pm without a stop in Lake Balaton. So realistically more like 8pm before you could be in the city center for dinner, followed by bed since you will have to be at the airport by 7:30.

Why not fly to and from Bucharest from Ljubljana instead? The estimated driving time from Ljubljana to Sarajevo is about the same as from Budapest.

Other thoughts:

  1. Find your parking places ahead of time. In most of these places it’s hard to “wing it”.
  2. I have driven a Croatian rental into both Slovenia and Bosnia. You just have to let the rental company know ahead so they can have the appropriate paperwork ready for you. You will need it at least at the Bosnian border.
  3. Slovenia requires a vignette that can be bought online. I believe Hungary requires one as well, but I have not driven there.
  4. I might die if I tried to drive in Sarajevo. Pick your place to stay VERY carefully. I have driven in Mostar, Dubrovnik, and Split (including that city center area Paul mentions) and some Sarajevo streets top it all.
  5. Look at Mr. É’s thoughts about re-ordering your trip if you aren’t already tied into airfare.
  6. I have used Airalo data plans in Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Hungary, in case you want to save on ATT costs on some days (and in case your phone is unlocked). Bosnia is not covered in the regional Europe plan, but there is an inexpensive plan for only Bosnia. Download offline Google Maps for all your destinations, just in case. (It also saves data. lol.)
  7. English should be fine - although I can’t speak for Romania since I haven’t been there yet.
  8. Your Visa should be fine in most places, but ask before ordering. Ha! Again, I can’t speak for Romania.
  9. Lodging has gotten lost here under the magnitude of this kind of a driving trip. You’ll be better off asking that as separate threads by country, once you are firmly settled on your itinerary.
Posted by
4352 posts

Mr. É, you say that but you haven’t ridden with me…. Ha! I guess I could start a second career
So far no wrecks and no tickets, although I am expecting something like a parking ticket from Ireland….. Oh, wait - 2 parking tickets in Croatia. I forgot.

Speaking of - this was a very useful app/site to pay for parking (and tickets).
https://www.bmove.com/#countries

Posted by
5450 posts

Day 8 - The caves will take more than 90 minutes as you have to take a timed guided tour.

Posted by
18843 posts

Mr. É, you say that but you haven’t ridden with me….

No comment.

I have a friend visiting Portugal and did so with no planning. They decided to go for a cross country drive and ended up going the cheaper option and flying to Paris. I admire people who take driving tours in Europe. For me it would be another form of stress and stress is what I travel to avoid. And the parking costs, toll costs, gas costs, drop off charge cost (or making grand circles that they otherwise wouldnt have done, and dealing with unfamiliar laws and .... and .... Like i said, I admire those that dust it off and do it.

Posted by
4 posts

Thanks SO much for all of this input, very helpful. Special shoutout to TexasTravelMom for diving into the specifics.(Son lives in Fulshear so TX has a special place in my heart!)

I was afraid about board crossing time. A few years ago, I drove throughout Hungary then west to Stuttgart without issue, but am less certain about driving in Romania and then from Budapest to Sarajevo and Mostar (and even from Dubrovnik to Kotor).

Day 3: I've been debating whether to drive or ferry to Hvar (or other nearby island, still debating between Hvar, Korcula and Brac). Not much price difference (less than $50) to pick up car in Split and drop at the end in Dubrovnik versus RT to Dubronik. Looks like 3.5 hrs for ferry ride Dubrovnik to Hvar is about the same as the drive Dubrovnik to Split, and saves 1 hr ferry ride to island and parking issues. Only thought is whether better to have a car for a day trip to Kotor, although can rent one just for a day cheap ($40) if we want to do that. Rental cost for the entire 15 days is about $400, so saving 3 days rental does very little and is offset by returning different place.

Is Dubrovnik worth a day in the city just by itself? If not, may be able to leave earlier and push more time later north.

Anyone had experience scuba diving in or around Hvar or neighboring islands? And would you rent scooters or car to get around for a day or use other transportation?

Day 7: Great thought about heading directly for a place near Skocjan Caves after Plitvice. Read good things about Rovinj and along the coast on the peninsula; would we miss not at least driving along that route?

Day 9: I love my castles, so skipping Castle Bled may be a big ask. If we get to Lake Bled area by noon or 1, reasonable to get in both and make it to Ljubljana late?

Day 10: Looked hard at Ljubljana to Bucharest, but factors weighed against it. First, no direct flights to Bucharest, so shortest RT added 4-5 hrs over direct flights from Budapest, which was about the trip time to Budapest. Second, been to Budapest and really wanted to see it again even if briefly; view from Buda Castle overlooking Danube at night is spectacular! Third, never made it to Lake Balaton, and thought a drive by with perhaps a short stop would be nice. As you note, driving times are about the same to Sarajevo. So figured all total, including added non-direct flight times from Ljubljana, made the difference.

Great idea about parking in advance, will do once schedule is ironed out. Thanks for the note about vignettes. I'm planning on getting and International Driving Permit just to be safe. And will check with rental car companies.

Would love to hear from anyone about Romania. Rick Steves does not have much to say about that, although watched his short video on the country. Thinking now of modifying plans to include both Brasov and Sighisoara (including stops at Peles Castle and Castle Bran). Then a long day from Sighisoara to Bucharest via the "famous" Transylvania Alps route between Boita - Defileul Oltului - Cozia - Ramnicu Valcea.

Thanks everyone!

Posted by
4352 posts

would we miss not at least driving along that route?

Of course you would. But you are also missing all the places on alternate routes. You unfortunately can’t do or see it all, no matter how hard you try.

view from Buda Castle overlooking Danube at night is spectacular

Perhaps find a place to stay near the one sight you want most - you won’t have time to move around. Where you leave your car will be the big question.

no direct flights to Bucharest, so shortest RT added 4-5 hrs over direct flights from Budapest,

The idea isn’t saving time over a flight from Budapest, it’s saving time over a full day of driving to Budapest, PLUS a direct flight. The whole flight from Ljubljana is 4.5 to 5 hrs, including the layover. Spend that extra night somewhere else that you need more time for.

Would love to hear from anyone about Romania

Do a search and look at the Romania forum. There have been some fairly recent travelers.

I also have to add, just to be clear (both for you and for anyone in the future who comes across this thread), I like to rent a car and drive where it makes sense. And I do. And I want to be helpful. But no one should think I would ever undertake a trip like this.