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Croatian Itinerary – how long for northern half?

Planning for July 2019, my husband and self, second trip to Croatia. First trip we did Dubrovnik, Korcula, Split, and Trogir. This trip we want to do the northern half. We are starting with about a week in Italy, and after Croatia we will do about a week in France. First draft of itinerary is:

Day 1 – ferry from Venice to Rovinj, arrives 9 pm
Day 2 – Rovinj
Day 3 – day trip to Pula by bus (1¼ hr each way) / sleep in Rovinj
Day 4 – day trip to Porec by bus or ferry (less than 1 hour each way) / sleep in Rovinj
Day 5 – pick up rental car, drive to Motovun and Groznian / ? sleep in Rovinj or Motovun
Day 6 – drive to Labin (is it worth it?)
Day 7 – drive to Plitvice (3 ½ hr from Labin, ½ further from other towns) / sleep in Plitvice
Day 8 – morning in Plitvice, drive to Zadar (less than 2 hours) drop car / sleep in Zadar
Day 9 – mid day bus to Sibenik (1½ hour ride) / sleep in Sibenik
Day 10 – mid day bus to Split (1½ hour ride) / sleep in Split
Day 11 – ferry to Hvar / base in Stari Grad
Day 12 – day trip to Hvar town / sleep in Stari Grad
Day 13 – ferry back to Split / sleep in Split
Day 14 – day trip to Brac / sleep in Split
Day 15 – fly from Split to France (flight at 11:20 am)

Questions
Is it better to spend night in Motovun or Groznian or go back to Rovinj? It would mean one less hotel (and we have a lot of one nighters) but we’d need to find parking in Rovinj.

Is Labin worth it? Anyone been there, can’t find a lot of info on it. Better to put that night elsewhere and if so where?

Most of what I’ve read says to arrive at Plitvice Lakes mid to late afternoon, overnight and go back into the park in the morning till it gets really crowded and then leave. And that about 24 hours is enough? Agree?

Zadar and Sibenik both look interesting but not really ‘worth’ much more than 24 hours. Is an afternoon, evening and morning enough in each?

Originally wanted to go directly from Hvar to Brac and spend the night but looks much easier to just to back to Split and then do Brac as a day trip? On Hvar I want to see Stari Grad and Hvar town itself (but don’t feel the need to spend the night in Hvar town). On Brac I’m most interested in the town of Pucisca but Supetar looks interesting as well, I know that’s where the ferries land.

Thoughts and suggestions? It’s possible for us to add two more nights if we need to.

Posted by
4078 posts

We go to Istria every Easter and know it very well. I don't think you appreciate how small of an area it really is. Find one base and stay there - no need for a night in Labin (ok, not terrific) or Motovun/Grožnjan. Changing hotels wastes time. I'd also highly recommend you rent a car upon arrival in Istria and use it to visit Pula (not really great in my opinion, kinda dirty and too big) and Porec. Don't do the bus, please. While you are in Pula, do yourself a favor and spend the afternoon on the Kamenjac Peninsula with a drink at the Safari Bar. When visiting Porec, do yourself a favor and also visit Novigrad, Vrsar or Fazana - all lovely little towns. We really like many of the interior towns as well - Hum, the ruins of Dvigrad, Sveti Peter, for example. Skip Labin, just drive from Rovinj to the lakes. We loved Sibenik and Zadar, but there is no need to spend the night in both. Pick one, spend two nights there and spend an afternoon in the one you don't pick. Don't do Brac and Hvar. Too much running around. We love Brac. Had a rental car, rented a house and went all over the island, making day trips to Split. So consider going from Zadar/Sibenik to Brac for sleeping and take the boat into Split for one or two afternoons/evenings.

Posted by
16834 posts

Emily has much more experience in that area than I do, so I'll just a add a few comments:

My bus to Porec stopped in Vrsar, so you could tentatively plan to stop off there on your way back to Rovinj if you have time. Vrsar is tiny, but there's an uphill walk from the bus stop. It was extremely quiet the day I visited, so a nice contrast to the very pretty but very touristy Porec.

I didn't have a car, but my impression was that parking in Rovinj could be quite a challenge. Make plans for that well ahead of time, however many days you will have a car.

Your plans for Plitvice are fine. I found the time estimates for the signposted routes were very conservative. I think you could probably do the longest of the posted walks in 5 or 6 hours. That wouldn't take you along every possible trail, but you don't need to do that to really enjoy the park.

Any time you can eliminate a one-night stop, it's a good thing.

I haven't been to Sibenik, but I think an evening and a morning in Zadar will be OK. You could spend more time there if you like to window show or just wander, and I found it a very nice environment, but I don't believe you are going to feel seriously deprived.

Posted by
5019 posts

Just to add/reinforce a few points...

You're going to rent a car anyway (wise choice IMHO) but why take buses for a few days first? Why not just pick up the car on the morning of Day 3? It'll certainly make the next few days better by letting you skip the constraints and hassles of depending on the bus. Likewise, why dump the car in Zadar, before you need to? Keep the car until you're done getting around the mainland cities (including Sibenik) - drop it in Split.

Zadar and Sibenik are nice, but not spectacular - a few hours in each was enough for us; I'd certainly not spend a whole night in each. If you have a car, you can easily do a short stop in either/both and be more efficient

The town of Pula may be a dump, but the amphitheater there is spectacular - we actually enjoyed it more than the Coliseum in Rome. It's smaller, but well preserved, and best of all, unlike the Coliseum in Rome, every square inch of it is not completely covered with a mass of tourists - we had it pretty much to ourselves, and that makes all the difference. Allow at least a couple hours, more if you like old Roman stuff, and definitely don't miss it.

Posted by
4689 posts

I didn't care for Pula either. I'd seen my share of Roman ruins in Italy.

Your Plitvice plan sounds fine - is in fact what I did on my first visit. You're right, you really don't need a ton of time to get the gist of it. It is going to be really, really crowded in July. The park opens at 7am. Get up early and in when it opens to avoid the crowds.

I loved Sibenik but spent only a few hours there. It's easy to drive there, so I would skip the bus too as mentioned above.

You might consider visiting Krka National Park near Sibenik if you feel like another park. It's not just "another Plitvice." Krka has a huge, magnificent cascading waterfall called Skradinski Buk that is much larger than any one waterfall at Plitvice. You can park at the town of Skradin and just take a boat (hourly I think) up the river to the falls, walk up and around it, then take the boat back to Skradin. (You can even swim below the falls, something you can't do at Plitvice.) There is more to Krka than just Skradinski Buk (I didn't see the rest), but it is more spread out than Plitvice is.

Posted by
150 posts

Poreč Is my town, not as beautiful as Rovinj but well worth a visit. Saying Pula is a dump is an insult to Croatia and our people. The only people who make these stupid comments are people who visit places for a short time and think they know all.

Posted by
643 posts

Thanks for the replies.

Why do you say don't take the bus to Porec. I'm convinced that it's best to base in Rovinj the whole time on the Istrian Peninsula and do the hilltowns as day trips but we usually prefer to take public transportation when possible. So not having to pay for and park the car those extra days seems like a good idea - unless there is a reason why the buses are not good in that area. If we skip Labin should we do Motovun/Grožnjan on one day or split them up to two days? We'll look into Vrsar.

I have the same question about buses vs parking for the Zadar Sibenik portion. Anyone try to take buses in between those towns (and Split) and find it not a good idea? How is the driving and parking in Zadar?

I do like the idea of going straight to one of the islands instead of a one nighter in Split. I looked at the timetables a little closer and it does look possible. But I don't see a ferry between Supetar and Stari Grad. Anyone know if there is one. Looks like it would involve buses from Stari Grad to Hvar town and between Supetar and Bol in order to ferry directly between the islands. But it does look very possible to to straight to Stari Grad upon arrival in Split so that eliminates one night.

Posted by
4689 posts

I think the point about the buses was, if you are going to rent a car anyway, why not use it and save time? Why would you leave the rental car parked in Zadar and take the bus to Sibenik? It won't cost much more to rent the car or park it an extra few days in Rovinj. There may be reasons you'll want to juggle your days here and there (due to weather? due to something being unexpectedly open one day but not the day you'd originally planned?) Having the car the whole time gives you that flexibility. The benefit of taking public transportation is not needing to rent a car at all, even though it costs you more time. Renting a car AND taking the bus seems like the worst of both worlds.

I agree with your idea of basing in Rovinj the whole time in Istria and doing day trips to hill towns; that's what I did. I loved Rovinj - very small but charming and fun to come back to at night.

Posted by
643 posts

Andrew - my plan wasn't to rent a car and still use a bus during the rental period. I agree that would make no sense. I was thinking that I would drop the car upon arrival in Zadar and the following day use the bus to get to Sibinek and then the next day to Split. I thought that would save both the extra cost of car rental days plus the cost of parking in both Zadar and Sibinek (not to mention possibly the stress of driving). However, it looks like it's actually cheaper to keep the car an extra two days and drop in Split so now that's not an issue. Did you drive into Zadar and Sibinek? Easy or no?

I'm finding car rental prices quite high. I checked both Auto Europe and Kemwell and for the least expensive car but with no deductible insurance, it's €500 for the 4 day rental to Zadar or €450 for 6 days and drop in Split. In both cases the drop off is the airport, which is not what we want but not that big a deal.

Posted by
4689 posts

Isabel, driving in Sibenik was easy. I visited on a Sunday and found free street parking (metered but free on Sunday) and just walked around town for a few hours.

Zadar is a little more challenging but doable. I visited in May, normally not very busy, but it happened to be a Saturday night before some big "running race" event the next day, so the town was packed. The old town is kind of an island, and some of it is off limits to cars. It wasn't stressful (unlike driving in Dubrovnik), but some driving around in circles was required. Fortunately, the old town just isn't very big.

I stayed in the old town of Zadar (and would again, if you can) and was lucky to find a place last minute in a good spot. Parking in the old town might normally have been a challenge, but the apartment manager (a small place) told me she would give me her spot where her car was parked, because free parking was otherwise non-existent. Yet somehow, right when I arrived, there was a free space right next to her car.

July is high season in Croatia, so I'm not surprised rental car prices are so high. In May a few years ago, I rented a car for about $12/day for two weeks. Have you checked EconomyCarRentals? That's the site I used to book my car. You might also keep checking back. Prices do fluctuate.

Returning a car at the Split airport wouldn't be ideal, I agree, but there are bus options into town. Not only is there a local bus, but there's a "Croatia Airlines" bus intended for their airline's passengers, but anyone can ride it if they pay for a ticket. I had to go out to Split airport (no rental car) to fix a flight issue and wound up taking that bus. About a 30-40 minute ride into town as I recall.

Posted by
4078 posts

I recommended the rental car over the bus because Croatia is all about unexpected discoveries! You are going to rural areas where, trust me, you won’t want to be tied to a bus schedule. Buses will take twice or three times as long as a car. You will waste a lot of time. Parking and driving in Croatia - easy and not expensive and the roads are excellent! You won’t struggle with parking. Look at kayak for better rental rates.

Posted by
150 posts

I like bus option for days to see Poreč and Pula, both easily reached in less than an hour. From Pula bus station, take local bus to Premantura, pick up advance hire bikes and enjoy beautiful Kamenjak nature park. Afterwards back to Pula to explore a town with loads of history.
No need to stay overnight at inland towns and Labin not worth the detour. Have a look at www.vetura-rentacar.com they are local and reputable.

Posted by
1453 posts

Cro on the Go, I agree with you, Pula is not a dump and the Colesseum is just as impressive. Some people at work saw my pictures and asked if I was in Rome. Just rent the audio tour and walk around, no hordes of people and no restrictions on where you can wander. You can go underneath for a quick visit and they have a great museum shop. PS my husband was stationed there in the late 70’s when he was in the navy, sure brings back memories.

Posted by
643 posts

Taking all the suggestions into account I'm now considering taking one night from Istria (will base in Rovinj the whole time and do day trips to Porec, Pula, (maybe the other coastal towns mentioned) and Motovun/Groznian - so total of 5 or 6 nights. I would add the extra night to either the Zadar/Sibenik time (do Krka Falls?) or the Hvar/Brac time. Where would put the extra night - Istra, Krka or Hvar/Brac?

The other thing I'm finding is that both AutoEurope and Kemwell say they can't do a car drop off at Split port or rail, only airport. That's gonna add at least an hour or more. In which case I guess we'd stay with dropping off the car in Zadar (also airport but looks quicker and less complicated) even though it's more expensive. "Economy car rentals.com" does seem to have a Split ferry drop off, but no Rovinj pick up, would have to pick up in Pula. Plus I don' know that company so not sure it's as reliable as AutoEurope/Kemwell. Thoughts?

Posted by
4689 posts

Hmm. I tried making a reservation just now with EconomyCarRentals for July, with pick-up at the Rovinj "city office" and return at the port in Split, and I was able to get a car (albeit not cheap - yes, car rentals in July are not cheap!). It would be with Oryx, the company I rented with a few years ago (also using EconomyCarRentals). I actually picked up my car in Rijeka (took the train down from Ljubljana) and drove immediately to Rovinj. While I was staying there, I walked into town and walked past the Oryx office on the way. So I know where that one is - not the one in Split, though.

Oryx was OK. I damaged the car in the middle of my rental period and had to swap it in Dubrovnik for another car. I thought I was covered for the damage via my Amex card's "premium rental car coverage," but they were unable to communicate with Oryx...or didn't really try, so they never paid my claim. Still not sure whose fault that was, but I was able to communicate with Oryx - they responded to my emails. Next time I'd probably pay extra for the full CDW insurance.

EconomyCarRentals was fine. I had to change/cancel/rebook my reservation a few times. They don't pre-charge your credit card for the full amount ahead of time (at least they didn't a few years ago), unlike Auto Europe; they take a "deposit" up front (which is probably their commission) and you pay the rest with the actual car company when you rent with them. ECR's part of the deal was fine; the car was ready when I arrived in Rijeka, Oryx handled the swap of cars in Dubrovnik OK. There was a very long line at the airport counter in Zagreb to return it - probably my biggest complaint about Oryx, other than the insurance/CDW issue, which, as I said, may not really have been their fault.

Posted by
4078 posts

We always rent from Sixt. They have an office in Rovinj and an office in downtown Split.

Posted by
150 posts

Will you ignore the local company I suggest Isabel? I can assure you that I have no connection with them.

Posted by
643 posts

Thanks, I did check both Sixt and vetura. Their prices are all similar to AutoEurope/Kemwell/economycarrentals Except vetura doesn't seem to have a Split drop off. But at least now I know the various possibilities for PU and Drop off and the approximate price we'll have to pay. So I'll nail down the itinerary and book the airfare (which has already gone up since I started planning this a couple months ago) and worry about the car later. Thanks again.

Posted by
16834 posts

I have never rented a car in Europe, so I'm in no position to say anything about Croatian rental rates. However, I'd be very surprised if car rental rates do not vary with supply and demand. I'm not saying you have to rush to make a reservation this week, but I would nail down a flexible one as soon as practical and check from time to time to see whether the rate can be improved upon. I do that for US rentals and have occasionally saved $100 or more.

Posted by
4689 posts

All of the sites mentioned above offer a refund up to a few days before picking up the car, I believe. (Sixt too as long as you opt not to pay in advance to save a tiny bit of money.) So, I too would probably book the best car option immediately and check back in a month or two and see if the prices have gone down.