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Northern Croatia, Slovenia, Budapest - 16 Nights

We are a family of four (two young adult children). We would like to visit in late May/early June for about 16 days.

We love combining cities with quieter countryside places - for example: we have been to Tuscany and Rome; Provence and Paris; the Cotswolds and London; Barcelona and the Andalusian countryside. We rent a car for the countryside parts, and those parts of our trips usually end up being our favorite.

We realize that Budapest is a bit of an outlier, but our children would really prefer to experience a big city. We wouldn't mind either.

We prefer to avoid one-night stays. Two nights are much easier! Three are our favorite.

Since we live in a tropical climate and near the beach, beaches and the southern Croatian coast are not our priority.

We will be departing from and returning to Miami. We’ll probably do open-jaw.

Based on that long and lengthy start, and hopefully you’re still with me, here’s our crazy plan so far. We would love to hear your thoughts, comments, suggestions, etc. I would also love to hear feedback on the number of nights in each place. We will do day and side trips from most places, at least where possible.,

We are thinking of flying into Zadar, renting a car, and driving to Plitvice National Park.
After a few days, we will continue our drive onto Ljubljana and stay there for a few days.
We will then take a side trip to Lake Bled and maybe even the Julijske Alps.
From there we will drive directly to Budapest.

Please let us know if this is a good or bad idea and why.

The reason we thought of travelling by car is because flights are not direct from any of those places and trains take too long (or are not available) to get to the next destination.

We are aware of the high rental fees when dropping off in a country different from the one you started in. Any insight on how to avoid these costs would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you all so much.

Posted by
1415 posts

I'm not normally one to balk at driving in Europe. I've done it many times, including some of the places you mention in Croatia and Slovenia. But the drive from Lake Bled to Budapest is a long one. You mention you aren't flying because there are not direct flights.

What if you drive up to Lake Bled as planned, then return to Zagreb and drop the car there. Spend a few days then fly (2.5 hours) to Budapest.

The time difference - by the time you get to the airport, etc - may be minimal. But you could research to see if this will reduce drop-off fees. When I rented a car in Dubrovnik and returned in Zagreb, the drop-off fees were nominal, if any. Those possible savings could be put towards the flights from Zagreb to Budapest.

Edit: I realised after I wrote this that the flight has 1 stop, which you wish to avoid. I wasn't able to find a nonstop either.

Posted by
10862 posts

I would start in the north and work my way south. In Dubrovnik hire a guide to take you to Budva (cheaper than a drop charge on a rental, a lot cheaper). After a day or two in Budva you can fly non-stop to Budapest from Podgorica for about $100 a ticket. 4 plane tickets and the transfer to Budva will cost you about the same as the drop charge on the car.

Or start in Budapest and run it in reverse....

Posted by
3112 posts

Unless you plan to spend time in Zadar, it might be easier and cheaper to fly into Zagreb. Rent a car there, do your Plitvice and Slovenia circle, return the car in Zagreb and take a train to Budapest. There's no need for a car in Budapest; public transit is great. I've driven Lubljana to Plitvice and it's not a bad drive at all, athough Doug is correct that there aren't any interesting stops along the way. Keep in mind that whatever you decide, you'll need to make sure you have a vignette before driving on Slovenian expressways as the fines for not having one are very stiff.

Posted by
183 posts

Thank you to everyone for all your helpful replies. The one difficult part of the entire trip is from Zagreb to Budapest. If you take a plane, it takes 2:30 hours, with a stop in Vienna, not to mention the cost is high. The trip by train will take over six hours. The bus ride is over five hours. It seems to me that the most convenient and affordable way (despite the cross-border rental charges) to get from Zagreb to Budapest is by driving a car. The driving time is 3:30 hours and the cost is not so bad considering there are four of us. What do you guys think?

Posted by
10862 posts

That's why I suggested starting in the north and heading south. Podgorica (near Budva) to Budapest is under $100, non stop and 1.5 hours, and I love Montenegro.

Posted by
183 posts

Once again, thank you everyone.

James, thank you also. Although I love the idea of Montenegro, the rest of the family is not that keen. If you have the time, would you mind sharing why you love it? Maybe I'll be able to convince them. :-)

As of now, we're a bit flummoxed and overwhelmed with our itinerary. We hope that we can get it together soon.

Posted by
10862 posts

Functionally, Podgorica is the best way to get from Croatia to Budapest, so on that account a trip into Montenegro pays off. As far as Montenegro as a destination... I will send you what I have. Watch your PM's.

Posted by
183 posts

James, thank you again! Those pictures that you sent me look lovely. I'm not sure if I can convince the family, but I will try!

Posted by
10862 posts

I wasnt suggesting much of a change. You have on your list

Plitvice National Park
Lake Bled

If you begin in Ljubljana then they line up nicely with a flight from Podgorica to Budapest at the end.

The stretch from Zadar to Dubrovnik is about 4 hours.... So thats a bit of a stretch if you dont split it over two days with a stop maybe in Split. So thats a bunch for 16 days, no 12 days cause you need at least 4 in Budapest.

Ive never been to either Lake Bled or Plitvice Lakes. I have seen photos of both and because of the limited land size they make Dubrovnik look uncrowded. So maybe its a good time to see Croatia because I would bet it only going to get worse. Also a good time to see places like Montenegro, Albania and Bulgaria before the tourist arrive.

What ever you choose, it will be a great trip,

Posted by
183 posts

James, thank you so much again. Thank you also for the link to the map.

After much consulting with the family, our itinerary has changed a bit. I think I'm going to have to start a new thread.