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Croatia/Slovenia with kids - itinerary help & best Istria location?

Hello! I am currently planning a 2 week family trip to Croatia/Slovenia for late May/early June. My husband and I are in our mid-thirties and we have three kids - they will be 10, 7, and 3. We are interested in exploring the area by balancing the adults’ and kids’ interests! This usually means a morning activity, a late afternoon break/nap, and then an evening activity. With that said, we can certainly push through on some of the days we are traveling further. We are not museum/art people but prefer more hands-on experiences. We don’t need our schedule to be planned every hour of the day (and downtime is good!) but I like a general outline.

Here is what I’ve roughly sketched out. I am looking at 4 nights in Split, 1 night in Plitvice (seeing the park in the PM then early AM the next day), 4 nights in Istria (Rovinj), and 5 nights in Lake Bled (maybe spending the last night closer to the airport). We plan to pick up a rental car at the end of our time in Split and drop it off in Ljubliana; I realize the rental car will charge a hefty fee for different drop offs but convenience and the ability to get around more easily with three kids is important for us!

One big question I have is where to stay in Istria…Rovinj seems to be the favorite but if I stay in Pula it looks like it would shave time off of the Kamenjak day (and the trip to Motovun would still be pretty comparable to get too). Thoughts? Is there another place I should look at?

I appreciate any and all feedback you might have! Thanks so much!

M - 5-22 - Day 0 - Arrive in Split in PM

Tu - 5-23 - Day 1 - Split - explore city

W - 5-24 - Day 2 - Split - beach; Marjan Park

Th - 5-25 - Day 3 - Split - Hvar

Fr - 5-26 - Day 4 - Pick up car; drive from Split to Plitvice (any great destination to stop?) - explore Plitvice National Park in PM

Sa - 5-27 - Day 5 - explore Plitvice in AM; drive from Plitvice to Rovinj

Su- 5-28 - Day 6 - Rovinj - Kamenjak, cliff jumping, safari bar

M - 5-29 - Day 7 - Rovinj - Motovun - explore city plus truffle hunting/lunch; any other hill towns to see?

Tu - 5-30 - Day 8 - Rovinj - Pula

W - 5-31 - Day 9 - Drive from Rovinj to Lake Bled - stop for Skocjan Caves tour

Th - 6-1 - Day 10 - Lake Bled - Vrsic Pass

Fr - 6-2 - Day 11 - Lake Bled - Ljubljana, market

Sa - 6-3 - Day 12 - Lake Bled - Vintnar Gorge; Triglav National Park

Su - 6-4 - Day 13 - Lake Bled - Lake Bohinj area?

M - 6-5 - Day 14 - Depart SLU @ 6:45 AM

Posted by
5140 posts

Hi Victoria. There's another national park, Krka national park, on the way north from Split to Plitvice. It's different from Plitvice, which is a coherent hiking experience hiking around two big lakes and past dozens of little water falls. Krka is more split up, and you could see just the highlight, the huge cascading Skradinski Buk waterfall, which is accessible by boat from the town of Skradin. Maybe that's more time than you'd want to invest as a "stop." Another option is the lovely town of Sibenik, a seaside town which is easy to access by car if you just want a "stop."

Rovinj is a charming little Venetian tourist town and fishing village. Pula is a big sprawling port town with some Roman ruins (I found Pula easy enough to drive in - unlike other Croatian towns like Dubrovnik which have felt a bit stressful.). There are pros and cons to basing in each place. You don't need a lot of time to explore Rovinj, but it's a great base to come back to at night. You probably don't need an entire day to explore Pula either (depends how many Roman ruins you want to see, etc.) even though Pula is bigger. Most likely Rovinj is the kind of town you'll be raving about after you get home, not Pula, but that doesn't mean you need a lot of time in Rovinj. If I were doing it again, I'd base in Rovinj again most likely.

Bled is a very convenient town for visiting the lake and exploring things nearby, and the town is very pleasant...but not especially charming. Ljubljana on the other hand is almost like a fairy tale town with a cute little river, quaint little bridges crossing them, and a castle up on the hill. It's one of my favorite cities in Europe, and for me it would seem a shame not to spend a few nights there. I guess with kids in tow you might not find Ljubljana quite as practical, and it has large pedestrian-only areas that make driving more challenging (in Bled, you can pull up to your lodging directly most likely.)

Bled is not far from the Ljubljana airport if you look on a map, so there should be no problem staying there the final night. Just depart 15 minutes earlier.

Have you already booked plane tickets? If not, Zagreb as a departure point might work better. Ljubljana's airport is pretty small and has limited flight connections. I would at least consider unless your plane tickets are already booked. (And dropping the car in Zagreb would avoid the big one-way drop fee.)

Posted by
16 posts

We took a trip similar to this last summer. We stayed in Rovinj and really enjoyed swimming in the Adriatic and biking along the coast. It was a good home base for us in Istria. When we were in Slovenia we stayed near Lake Bohinj and we loved it. I wish we could have stayed longer. It's family friendly with lots of opportunities for walking/hiking, boating and eating gelato. It was about 30 minutes from Lake Bled and an hour from the airport.

Posted by
5140 posts

Lake Bohinj is beautiful. The difference between Bled and Bohinj is that Bohinj is more "back to nature" and less developed (and the lake is a lot bigger than the one at Bled). Bled is a developed resort with more restaurants, stores, etc. One isn't better than the other - people all have different preferences.

Posted by
2284 posts

Only 2 comments. I am with Andrew that it might be worthwhile to check flights from Zagreb. It’s not far from Ljubljana and would let you return the car back in Croatia without a huge detour.

And while you may choose to spend a day on Hvar, keep your eye out for other all day trips like one to the Blue Cave, if budget allows (definitely costs more than the ferry).

Last year I stayed at an interesting (and very nice) “mobile home park” right outside Rovinj - 2 & 3 bedroom units available, beach and swimming pools. Easy with a car and different than any other place I stayed! Message me if you want more info. :)

Posted by
14210 posts

1 Calculate the cost of the car including the drop off in Slovenia.

2 Dont forget the cost of parking it each night (not knowing, I would budget $25 a night) and the $6 a gallon gas (maybe 10 gallons for what you show).

3 Oh and the toll roads, not knowing I would start with a $40 budget (probably high)

4 So $250 to park and maybe $100 in tolls and gas = $350 + rental of maybe $800 = $1150.00 for a starting budget until you do some more research.

5 Hard to beat being in control, but if the price is pushing any boundaries, I may have another suggestion.

Posted by
5140 posts

Victoria, don't forget to buy a Vignette driving sticker for your Croatian rental car before driving into Slovenia! Otherwise, you will risk a steep fine if caught driving on Slovenian highways without one. Slovenian rental cars usually (always?) include Vignette but Croatian cars do not. (Croatia uses a regular tolling system for their highways, while Slovenia uses a driving pass/sticker, the Vignette.)

Speaking of which...one other idea you might consider with the car is dropping the Croatian car in say Rijeka and taking the direct train to Ljubljana, then renting another car there. This would avoid the one-way drop charge at the expensive of a train ride for five people, and likely you'd want to spend that first night in Slovenia in Ljubljana, (Otherwise... you could rent a car right at the train station in Ljubljana and return at the airport when you leave.) There are direct trains from Rijeka to Ljubljana twice a day, at 11:50 and 20:50 and take about three hours.

Posted by
2778 posts

I would definitely drop Motovun from your itinerary. Not much to see and very steep climb. We were so disappointed with our day trip there last September. Take the kids to istralandia.hr instead. It is a water park the kids might enjoy, it will certainly be hot enough in June. Also, check out Family Hotel Amarin at maistra.com. It is a resort in Rovinj and looks fun, haven’t stayed as our kids are grown.

Posted by
2 posts

Thanks everyone for your insight and suggestions!

I got an amazing deal on the flights out of Ljubljana so that piece is relatively set in stone. (For those interested, I booked with AF miles - less than 12.5k MRs per person.) Because our flights have all been booked with miles, spending extra on the car hire is ok. It seems a one-way fee is only 130-150E for many companies so I think it's doable. I used CarJet which pulled up an option from autoUnion for around 420 Euros. Is this too good to be true? Has anyone used autoUnion before?

@AndrewH. - I appreciate your detailed responses! I've looked at Krka and it certainly looks more convenient but everyone seems to feel that Plitvice is a "not to be missed" attraction if near the area. I will look into it further! Thanks for the Sibenik recommendation - it wasn't initially on my radar but it looks beautiful! I will also add that to my research list. I love knowing of good places to stop along the way! Rovinj certainly seems like the favorite Istrian city to base oneself in. I initially thought about basing our Slovenia portion in Ljubljana but I think the kids would like the contrast of the countryside and the ease of access to light hiking and nature in the Bled area. Ljubljana does sound magical though! And thanks for the reminder on the vignette, I need to add a note to myself to remember! If it was just me and my husband, I would definitely look at a train to save some money but with the family (and specifically the 3 year old), efficiency. is very important!

@bookgirl - thanks for your personal experiences! It sounds like you are another to recommend basing in Rovinj! I would be very interested in staying in the Lake Bohinj area but it feels a bit far out to get to Ljubljana for a day trip and then mostly would add extra time to the early morning wakeup when we depart. I will play around more with Google Maps and check out Air B&Bs in the area.

@TexasTravelmom - funny enough, Zagreb also had some great points deals but Ljubljana was a bit cheaper so I booked them! Thanks for the reminder about the Blue Cave. I had originally had it on my list but then worried the distance and speed was too much for a 3 year old. I will look into it again to gauge it's family friendliness! I am very interested in hearing more about the mobile park home outside of Rovinj. I looked at one outside of Pula called Campsite Piccolo but looks to be booked. I will message you!

@Mister E - yikes, driving is certainly going to be quite pricey! I am happy to hear your other suggestion!

@Barbara - I was most excited about booking a truffle hunting experience/lunch in Motovun. It's helpful to hear your experience. You are right, I should definitely add a water park to the itinerary. It's always important to make sure they have a fun time mixed in with the dryer sightseeing. I will look into Family Hotel Amarin!

Has anyone else done Motovun? Is a truffle hunting experience fun?

Thanks for all your thoughts - please keep them coming! :)

Posted by
26 posts

For kids and adults, I would suggest adding Postojna caves and the castle nearby. Maybe reduce a day at Lake Bled.

Posted by
2778 posts

I’m hoping you do a trip report because my daughter just asked us about going to Croatia with her family for the summer of 2024. She has 2 boys who will be 8 and 10 by then. Aside from visiting family we will be looking for things to do with them.

Posted by
21996 posts

As of 2015 I observed a zip line in Istria; I think it was in or near Pazin, the administrative center.