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Driving Questions: Zagreb to Plitvice? From Dubrovnik to Kotor?

We are planning our first trip to Croatia Sept. 22-30. Our plan is to spend 3 days in Zagreb with a day trip to Plitvice Lakes but everything I've read suggests an overnight at the park... what about driving there so we'd have more control over our time?

We are flying to Dubrovnik on the 25th and had hoped to visit Montenegro as a day trip. Any thoughts on driving ourselves or is a guide necessary?

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
2984 posts

Bonnie, I've found driving on Croatia and Montenegro (and Bosnia) very easy. Zagreb to Plitvice is a piece of cake, unless you are from one of the countries where you drive on the other side of the road like the UK, etc. End of September isn't high season anymore, so you shouldn't have much traffic. But yes, I would definitely overnight at Plitvice, even in September, if you can. But this makes sense only if you plan to get up early enough to enter the park at 7am-ish when it opens. If you are not an early riser and can't get up that early, then you will probably not beat the crowds anyway...so you might as well just day trip from Zagreb anyway.

If you stay at one of the overpriced but convenient park hotels, one benefit is that they can stamp your park ticket from the day before so you can enter the park a second day without paying again. But the park is so popular now that I hear these hotels sell out early; if you will visit this coming September 2018, it may be too late to get a reservation at one of the park hotels. Should be plenty of Sobe (B&B's) near the park, though.

In 2015, I drove from Dubrovnik to Kotor (spent one night there). I used the alternate "Konfin" border crossing to avoid possible backups at the border; the Konfin crossing can't handle tour buses, so you shouldn't have any delay there, though it is a bit of a detour. I had only one car in front of me, but I had to wait five minutes for the guard to make a phone call before he talked to me.

Otherwise, driving along the Bay of Kotor offers breathtaking scenery. I am glad I drove so I could stop and take pictures in numerous places (including a stop at the town of Perast, highly recommended). I found no need for a guide at all. However, for me, the highlight of all of this was the Bay of Kotor and the views, not the visit to Kotor itself. It was a nice town (walk up the "walls" above, for breathtaking views down on the bay, worth the steep climb), but not as amazing as say Dubrovnik in my view. So I wouldn't think of it as "trip to Kotor to see Kotor." This is a case where the journey is the destination.

Just make sure you rent a car that allows leaving the EU (Croatia is in the EU; Montenegro isn't even though, curiously, Montenegro uses the Euro as its currency but Croatia doesn't). You need an insurance card for the car, and that probably will add something to the cost. Not every rental car comes automatically with the right insurance card, so ask for it ahead of time!

Another amazing drive was from Kotor up through the mountains to the town of Cetinje (there's a round-about faster route not through the mountains; not scenic, which would defeat the purpose). The twisty, scenic route has many switchbacks which might frighten you, but I had no trouble driving it. I just took it easy. I stopped numerous times for pictures down. I wouldn't try to squeeze in this drive though if you are doing Montenegro only as a day trip, in late September when the days are getting shorter. Just stick to Kotor and the bay below.

Posted by Steve
Washington, DC, USA
2 posts

We just did both of these drives within the past week, and I agree with the previous poster on both counts. Zagreb to Plitvice is an extremely easy drive (and takes you right past a great bakery (Pekara Monika) right outside of Karlovac). We left Zagreb around 1pm to time it so we'd get the after-4pm cheaper admission price... we're not huge hikers, so RS's suggested tour was perfect, and took us about 3.5 hours. (Of course, in September the price is the same all day, and the crowds should be lighter as well, so not as much of a consideration.) We stayed about 30 minutes north of the park in Slunj (at Rooms Garden), and it was an excellent choice. We didn't want to drive all the way back that night, but knew we didn't need to think about two days hiking.

Driving to Montenegro from Cavtat (about 10 miles south of Dubrovnik) was also extremely easy. The RS detour was life-saving in August - we had no line at all on the way back into Croatia while the Croatian web cams were still showing huge lines at the main border. There was a still a 15-minute or so line to get into Montenegro earlier in the day, but not bad at all. We were pretty leisurely driving around the Bay of Kotor, stopping at a couple of beaches (including at Perast), so we didn't get into Kotor until the early evening, so we couldn't do the drive up to Cetinje that I had been hoping to do, but it's so gorgeous driving around the Bay that it was a totally worthwhile trade. Everything seems a lot shorter than it looks on the map, too.

Posted by valadelphia
569 posts

Since you already have flights to Dubrovnik, it makes sense to drive.
No guide needed for Montenegro. The drive around the bay is one of the highlights, so I would do it independently.

Posted by Little lulu OP
Newport Beach
14 posts

WOW! All of these responses are terrific. They are so detailed and current, it gives us a great deal of confidence. This is my first post on RS forum and I'm blown away by how thoughtful the replies are...what a great community!

Andrew H, thank you for your especially comprehensive suggestions. The car insurance bit is extremely valuable.

In case we opt not to spend the night at Plitvice Park...(not fond of single night stays,) I've found a bus that leaves Zagreb at 5:45 am arriving at 8:10 am, departing for Zagreb at 5:18 pm and arriving at 7:50 with the APV bus company...is anyone familiar with this service?

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
2984 posts

I am not familiar with the bus service. If you find it easier to get up early enough to catch a bus at 5:45 (meaning, you need to wake up at 4:30?) than to change hotels, maybe that's a good option for you. I'd consider buying your tickets online anyway (I think you can now), just to save you a few minutes after you get off the bus. There may not be a big line in September...but others on the bus might get in line in front of you.

Staying over in Zagreb instead does offer one advantage: you can choose your day to visit based on the weather. If it's going to be sunny one day but rainy the next, shift your plans and do your day trip on the sunny day. Obviously, you can't shift your plans easily or at all if you've locked in a night down at Plitvice.

Hiring a guide for a visit to Kotor would be a luxury vs. renting a car and doing it yourself, but if the guide is able to spend the whole day and stop at your leisure here and there, it might be worth it. That way, you don't have to fuss with parking the car in Kotor - maybe the guide could drop you there for a few hours and come back after you've had lunch or something. I'd still do it myself, but I can see how a guide might work for some people. Wouldn't do it by public bus, though, for reasons mentioned above.