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Need help for Croatia/Slovenia itinerary

I'm working on a trip for next spring for me (solo, female, not terribly young), to Croatia/Slovenia. I always research and plan my trips thoroughly and pretty well, but I think I have too many locations for 18 nights. I really don't like 1 and 2-night stays, but this trip has a shortage of large cities to spend longer time in. Also, intercity transportation seems rather sparse in this part of the world, so I'm driving a little more than I'd like.

Here's the itinerary I have -- any way to make this more efficient? All suggestions welcome. Also, this is based on Rick's book, so if anyone knows of fantastic replacements or additions that I don't know about,, please let me know. I love art, churches. museums, architecture, walking tours, shopping if it's good, and relaxing people-watching. Not much I don't like. Mostly a city-girl, walker definitely not a hiker, but I do love beautiful scenery (so Lake Bled and Plitvice seem not to be missed).

Thank you!!

1,2 Fly into Zagrab (2 nights Zagreb);

3, 4, 5, Bus to Ljubliana (3 nights Ljubliana);

6, 7, rent Ljubliana car early - drive to Bled, Postojna Caves, Piran, then Koper, return Slovenian car, in time for 18:34 bus Koper to Rovinj (2 nights Rovinj); (not doing Julian Alps on purpose)
8, rent Croatian car in Rovinj -- drive Pula, Porec, Motovun, Opatijia, to Plitvice (1 night Plitvice)

9, 10, hike Plitvice, drive to Split - return car (2 nights Split)

11, 12 ferry to Korcula (can't do Hvar day visit because of shoulder season ferry limitations) (2 nights Korcula)

13, 14, 15, 16, ferry to Dubrovnik (4 nights Dubrovnik) (maybe incl day trip to Kotor);

17, 18 rent car, drive to Mostar (2 nights Mostar);

drive to Split, return car, fly away.

Posted by JS
Bay Area
3115 posts

Have u considered taking a guided tour? Croatia is not an easy place. To drive, Park and keep your car rental safe.
I am usually an independent traveler but i was very pleased i took a complete tour. They also include Mostar , Montenegro .
Ck it out ie. Gate One tours even includes an island visit.

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
2968 posts

What time of year?

Even though you don't want/need a car in Ljubljana itself, I'd probably rent the car as you leave Zagreb and keep the car in Slovenia and drive it to Rovinj - that avoids the hassle of trying to rush to catch that bus in Koper. Given that multi-day stays tend to be cheaper than single day car rentals anyway, the extra cost of parking + renting the car for three extra days in Ljubljana might not add up to that much more. One-way car rentals don't incur drop fees in my experience if you return the car in the same country and rent for a minimum of about four days.

Just make sure you buy a vignette driving pass for driving on Slovenia's highways before or very soon after you cross the border into Slovenia!

Plus, if you do that, you won't have that one long mad dash drive between Ljubljana - Bled - Koper and on to Rovinj (wow!). You can instead do a leisurely day trip to Bled from Ljubljana with your car. You don't actually need a car to get to Bled, but I prefer it, so you can do a pretty scenic drive between Skofja Loka and Bled (via Jamnik and Kropa), plus stop in Skofja Loka for a few hours.

I also wouldn't try to do all of Istria in one day - the day you have planned from Rovinj via Pula and Opatija and the hill towns sounds impossible. Again, having and keeping the car means you can split up your day trips over several days.

After Plitvice, I'd probably drive on to Mostar, drop the car in Dubrovnik, then head back north by bus or catamaran to Korcula and then on to Split. That way you won't divide up your time in Split - you end there and can fly out after your time there, instead of visiting earlier than returning to fly out. This is roughly how I did my first trip a few years ago. I did stop for a night between Plitvice and Mostar in the Croatian coastal town of Baska Voda (nice town, not particularly memorable). Doing it again now to split up the drive between Plitvice and Mostar, I'd probably stop in the town of Sibenik (north of Split) which I visited a few years later and loved. If you love churches, I'd stop in Sibenik at least for a few hours on the drive south if you don't spend a night there.

Mostar is a fairly small town. Unless you have specific interests there beyond those of the usual tourist, I'd probably cut that to a single night and use the other night elsewhere. Mostar is a touristy town that gets a lot of day traffic but is more peaceful at night.

I assume you want/need to fly out of Split at the end? If you can fly out of Dubrovnik instead, you could stop in Split on the way south, then Mostar, then Plitvice (ferry Ploce to Trpanjg, then short one Orebić to Korcula town - see a Google map), then drive down to Dubrovnik and drop car, end there and fly out.

Four nights in Dubrovnik is lot for what is a fairly small town (it is unique and lovely), unless you are doing a lot of day trips planned. Dubrovnik gets mobbed during the days with cruise ship tourists - much more peaceful and lovely at night. You can try to predict when cruise ships are in town - there's a website that has a schedule of ships in port. (Heard of it anyway.)

You could do this trip mostly or entirely by bus if you really prefer, but it is a lot more hassle in my opinion. Both Slovenia and Croatia have decent bus systems. I have read of plenty of people doing it and visiting pretty much all of the destinations you plan visit by bus and ferry. Still, I've found driving in both Slovenia and Croatia to be easy and affordable.

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
2968 posts

I would respectfully disagree with JS about driving/parking in Croatia - I found driving there very easy and safe. I've visited twice and drove into Montenegro and through Bosnia as well.

Posted by Lane
Seattle, WA, USA
1054 posts

To start with, I would not be very happy to spend so much time picking up and dropping off rental cars. I would just pick up the car in Zagreb and return it at the end of the trip (or a few days earlier, since you won't need it in Korcula or Dubrovnik).

Istria is lovely, but as a self-described city-girl, I would propose you instead visit Sarajevo. I'd recommend something like this (numbers represent nights where you sleep):

1,2,3 Zagreb
4,5,6 Ljubljana with day-trip to Bled
7 Plitvice
8, 9, 10, 11 Sarajevo
12 Mostar
13 Split or Trogir (drop car)
14, 15 Korcula
16, 17, 18 Dubrovnik (day trip to Kotor if desired)

Normally I recommend visiting Plitvice first thing in the morning, but since you're going to be there in shoulder season, it shouldn't be so crowded, so I suggest driving from Ljubljana to Plitvice and visiting the park that afternoon, then getting an early start for Sarajevo the next morning.

You can adjust this by a day here and there, and I am assuming you can just as well fly home from Dubrovnik as from Split.

There are a lot of other ways you could do this, and your itinerary isn't bad. I'm just offering you an alternative to consider. Whatever you decide, you will love your time in Slovenia and Croatia (and Bosnia). They are beautiful countries!

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
9383 posts

I have no quibbles with the earlier comments; they're all worth considering. I agree that you really haven't allowed enough time for Istria. I'd either extend the trip (always my top choice), move a day from Dubrovnik to Istria, or drop Istria in favor of an area where the time can be better used, which might be Sarajevo or a more extensive visit to Montenegro. An extra day in Zagreb would also be useful; it's a very, very nice city with lots of good museums.

I traveled to Slovenia and Croatia most recently during the summer of 2015, depending totally on public transportation. However, I didn't visit any islands on that trip, so I didn't have to coordinate bus and ferry schedules. I also had a flexible schedule and could allow more time at each stop.

Just in case you find yourself in Istria without a car: It took a lot of pavement-pounding, but I found a once-a-week bus tour of inland Istria that I really enjoyed. It was operating on Wednesdays in 2015. I booked it at a Rovinj travel agency earlier in the week (had to extend my stay to make it work), so I'm not sure, but it may have been the tour offered by Atlas. It was the only way a person without a car could get to Motovun and Groznjan on the same day. I enjoyed the tour a lot, though the final stop at a winery meant nothing to me.

With a car I can recommend a short stop in Vrsar, a village between Rovinj and Porec.

I found my best window shopping in Zagreb (or course), Rovinj, Zadar and Kotor. Had been to Dubrovnik and Split twice previously and did not go there in 2015.

Posted by Jennifer
Tunbridge Wells
2180 posts

Your trip is quite rushed, as you are trying to squeeze lots of places into your itinerary. I would just rent one car in Croatia and take it into Slovenia and back.

Driving in Croatia is easy compared to almost anywhere in Europe that I have driven. The drivers are not aggressive and the traffic is relatively light.

I would scale back Slovenia to 3 nights, allowing a full day for the compact Ljubljana and another day for Lake Bled.

Istria is a beautiful area, but I would find the one day that you have allocated there to be frustrating, so I would add more time here or drop it.

Driving to Dubrovnik then heading to Korcula and Split makes sense on the map, but the ferry transport to Korcula and then Split runs in the afternoon/evening, which isn't ideal.

I would allow at least a full day for Split and another for nearby Trogir.

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
2968 posts

Jennifer:

Driving to Dubrovnik then heading to Korcula and Split makes sense on the map, but the ferry transport to Korcula and then Split runs in the afternoon/evening, which isn't ideal.

I recommended dropping the car in Dubrovnik then heading to Korcula and Split by bus and/or catamaran. There's daily catamaran service that leaves Korcula Town for Split at the crack of dawn. When I visited in 2009, the bus from Dubrovnik to Korcula left Dubrovnik in the afternoon so not ideal, making two nights in Korcula pretty short, but that would be enough time to visit the town at least and get a basic feel for the island. Could be there's catamaran service from Dubrovnik to Korcula that arrives earlier in the day - I haven't checked.

Posted by Paul
Sioux Falls, SD, USA
1002 posts

Croatia is a very easy country to drive in. However, the one issue is the roads to Plitvice. You can go on the backroads, or on the freeway, with the turnoff to Plitvice Lakes. Strongly suggest the freeway for the main part of the trip - the locals are crazy, and regard the tourist drivers as impediments to pass on blind curves. Amazing. But the rest of the country is fine for driving - roads are in great shape, no problems.

Posted by Frank
Wilmington, DE
2113 posts

You may be able to rent a car in Croatia, drive it into Slovenia and return it in Croatia. I did the opposite with no issues, so check. I agree with others who say driving in Croatia is easy. If you follow your original itiniary, consider taking the bus from Dubrovnik to Mostar and from Mostar to Split rather than renting a car. I did that and it was easy, but buy your Mostar to Dubrovnik bus ticket upon arrival in Mostar or run the risk of the bus being sold out. Jadrolinija catamaran from Split to Korcula runs late afternoon in the spring but is subject to weather. Also ferries from Korcula to Dubrovnik are seasonal (i.e. not daily in spring), but there's probably a bus connection if ferries aren't running that day.