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Northern Croatia--How to divide time/logistics help

Hi! My wife and I are flying in to Zagreb on a Saturday evening in early May for a 2 week Central Europe trip. The main attraction for us is Slovenia, but we will have up to 5 nights to spend in Croatia. We want to see Zagreb, so we will spend the first 2 nights there. Then, we will rent a car (eventually dropping it off in Ljubljana), but are having trouble figuring out what to do after that. We'd like to see Plitvice (I would love to photograph the falls) and Istria, perhaps staying in Rovinj for 3 nights (Rick suggests home-basing in a single place in Istria). We really hate crowds, but it seems like it will be impossible to avoid them in Plivitce if we stop on the way from Zagreb to Istria since it takes 3 hrs from Plitvice to Rovinj.

Is this a reasonable plan? We would like to drive around Istria and see the hill towns, but I heard parking in Rovinj is a hassle if we stay in the old town. Are there any other good options in Istria that we should be considering? Is 3 nights in Istria too much if we only have 5 nights in Slovenia? We consider ourselves adventurous, rugged travelers, so no resort towns for us, but we are game for anything else!

When we are done with Istria, we head straight for Skocjan caves and on to whatever Tourist Farm we find in Slovenia. Thanks for reading!

Posted by
1458 posts

A couple of issues. Do you plan on getting a car in Zagreb, Croatia and returning it to Ljubljana, Slovenia? There is usually an exorbitant fee for dropping a car off in a different country. If there is a large fee in your case, you could drop the car in Rovinj and take the bus to a town (Piran or Koper seem to be on the way to Skocjan) in Slovenia to pick up a car there for the rest of your trip. We took the bus from Ljubljana to Rovinj and found it enjoyable

We did not go to Zagreb so can't comment on your plan to stop at Plitvice on the way to Rovinj. Looking at google maps it takes 2 hours from Zagreb to Plitvice. When we were at Plitvice the lower paths were closed due to high water and we still spent 5 hours at the park. We are in your early 70s but still walk at a good pace and, of course, if you want to actually see the sights you don't want to rush through. From Plitvice it's 3 hours to Rovinj. If you get up early it will be a long day but you should be able to do it.

Three nights is not too much for Istria. It really depends on which towns you want to visit. We spent 4 nights there and took 2 day trips. One day we visited Bale, Pula and Fazana and the next day we visited Groznjan, Zavrsje, Oprtalj, and Motovun. We spent 1.5 days enjoying Rovinj. There were other towns we would have liked to visit but just didn't have the time. We used to get our hotel in Rovinj. It was actually a studio near the old town and it had a parking place, which was very convenient. If you check on or other hotel search site you may find a room or apartment that offers parking.

There is so much to see in Croatia but you have a short amount of time and it's probably wise to spend it in a smaller area and to really enjoy what you are seeing rather than rushing and not really enjoying your experience. But, to add to your dilemma, if you leave Plitvice early, a short detour on your way to Rovinj will take you to the town of Rastoke, a beautiful village built over waterfalls. You can google it to see some pictures. You can spend less than an hour to see these sights.

Both Croatia and Slovenia are beautiful countries; it's almost hard to go wrong in choosing. Have a great time!

Posted by
37 posts

Thank you very much Carol, that was tremendously helpful. Though the fee to drop off in Budapest was prohibitively high, the fee to drop off in Ljubljana didn't seem too bad (though it doubles the daily price of the car, it's still pretty cheap!).

Based on your recommendations, we might consider spending a night at one of the Plitvice hotels in order to drive more slowly around Istria on our way to Rovinj and make sure we are not rushed at the lakes, as it seems they are more expansive than I realized. Thanks again for the tips. I do feel much better about our decision to focus only on Zagreb and Istria (via Plitvice) on our swoop through Croatia.

Posted by
1458 posts

We spent a total of 27 nights in the area, 16 in Croatia, 5 in Slovenia, and 3 each in Bosnia and Herzegovena and Montenegro. There were still places we wanted to visit but didn't have time because we didn't want to rush through. The problem is to cut out sights and be happy with where you do go. We had a great time and enjoyed every place we visited. The scenery and towns are beautiful, the food is delicious, the people are friendly and just great. Hope you have a great time!

Posted by
1667 posts

I agree with Carol. I'll just add that I stayed three nights in Rovinj last May in the old town. At the gate they give you a pass good for about an hour so you can drive into the old town and drop your luggage at the place where you're staying. Then you have to park in a pay lot outside the gate. It wasn't too big of a hassle, and staying inside the old town was really lovely. I stayed at Porta Antica, which is actually a number of different rooms in different locations; you can check out their web site and see the options. They were very nice and it's a great location. I had Apartment #3, which was very spacious and had a great view of the harbor. At the end of my time there, I walked with my luggage back to the car (rather than getting the car and bringing it back in to the old town), and it wasn't too bad of a walk.