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Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro in 3 weeks

Hello travel community,
I am planning a 3 week trip to mainly Croatia, with Slovenia and Montenegro. I have an idea where I want to go, but I am getting overwhelmed with choosing exactly the right spots. I think I want to see too much, and i need help narrowing it down to abolute musts.
My idea is:

Fly to Zagreb, rent a car there and proceed to Ljubljana.

From Ljubljana to lake Bled
From lake Bled to Zagreb
From Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes
Plitvice lakes to Zadar
Sibenik-Trogir-Split (return rental in Split)
Dubrovnik stay at least 4-5 nights with trips to Montenegro, Kotor and Budva

I am skipping Rovinj and the villages around it (is it wise?)
I am also skipping the island of Vis and Brac (good or bad idea?)

any tips about car rental or trains is appreciated.
thank you

Posted by
2080 posts

Perhaps write it out day-by-day based on how long you wish to spend in each place. This looks like more than three weeks to me, but we all prefer a different pace.
Add what month the trip will occur.
Trains are extremely limited--only Zagreb to Ljubljana for this itinerary. Buses and boats are great for the rest. I would not drive upon arrival if arriving on an overnight flight.
You don'[t have time to add Istria.

Posted by
19375 posts

There is limited train service in Croatia and Montenegro, so your choice will often be between driving and taking a bus. I used the buses a lot and found them reliable, but you're stuck with their schedule and it can be difficult to be sure you have reliable schedule info without going to the local bus station and checking in person.

No matter what form of transportation you choose, I wouldn't stay in Dubrovnik so long and make multiple trips down into Montenegro; much as I'm not a fan of changing hotels often, I don't like going back and forth down the same highway, day after day. Lodgings will probably be a bit cheaper in Montenegro, too. In addition to Kotor and Budva, I liked Herceg-Novi (even closer to Dubrovnik) and the Turkish-feeling Ulcinj (beyond Budva, perhaps pushing it, time-wise). The interior former capital of Cetinje is interesting, too, but again you may not have time. Several others on the forum really like Perast, just up the coast from Kotor, but it was a bit too small and quiet for me; perhaps it would be different if one spent the night there. But if you're using buses, I suspect Kotor will work out the best since it seems to be more or less the bus hub along the coast.

If you decide to keep the car and drive to Montenegro, be sure you clear that with the car-rental agency; you should do the same with the little bit of Bosnia-Hercegovina you have to cross between Split and Dubrovnik. Neither should be an issue, but I think the international crossings have to be documented.

For what it's worth, Zagreb-Ljubljana-Bled-Zagreb can be easily managed by train/bus. A car would be advantageous if you wanted to do much exploring beyond Lake Bled, but it doesn't appear that you plan to do that.

I've never had the benefit of a car in Europe, much less in the specific area you'll be visiting, but I have been to most of your planned destinations, and I think you do have too much for 3 weeks. Exactly how many nights will you have on the ground? I think you might just about be able to do it if you left out Montenegro or if you left out Slovenia, though it depends on how much time you want to spend at each stop. (Any lying-on-the-beach time? I never allow for that.)

I enjoyed Istria a lot and think it's worth at least four nights (and considerably easier with a car). Since you clearly don't have time for that area this time, perhaps think about a future trip. What would combine well with Istria? Answer: Slovenia, Venice and other destinations in NE Italy. So I guess I'd be more likely to retain Montenegro and postpone Slovenia. Unless you have a burning desire to see Albania in the immediate future?

If you can't bear to dispense with Slovenia or Montenegro, you'll need to whack away at Croatia. I liked Zadar, but it's sort of a mini-Dubrovnik without the walkable wall, so you could skip it (heaven knows, almost all American tourists do). You could skip Krka, having seen Plitvice. Now you're down to how well you can make the island transportation work for you; that's something I haven't looked at in 20 or 30 years.

Ljubljana and Zagreb, incidentally, are both really nice cities. I think each is worth more than one full (non-jetlagged) day. Zagreb, in particular, has a lot of interesting museums. I'd suggest checking out the museum options there before deciding how many nights to spend in the city. I particularly recommend the small but excellent Museum of Naïve Art and the very entertaining Museum of Broken Relationships.

Posted by
8 posts

great suggestions! will be flying out of Dubrovnik. Zadar is on the way from plitvice to split, that's why its included in the itinerary. what would be recommended instead of zadar? Could i base myself in split and do day trips from there? or similarly, base myself in dubrovnik and do island day trips and montenegro from there as well?

Posted by
2903 posts

@scythian if you've been to Tirana, I would love to hear any recommendations you have for sights and eating. I'm going there on a group tour in Sept.

Posted by
19375 posts

Use ViaMichelin to take a look at driving times and Google for bus schedules before planning a lot of out-and-back day-trips. If driving, retrieving the car (quite possibly not parked near your lodgings), navigating to your destination and trying to find a parking place there will probably add a lot to the pure-driving time you find on ViaMichelin--not to mention the possibility that you'll get lost. If you take buses you have to allow time to get to and from the bus stations.

Any trip that involves a border-crossing has the potential for taking considerably longer than the mileage would suggest.

I do rather a lot of day-trips, but the time on the bus is much-needed downtime for me, because I take very long vacations and do not plan any down-days or "vacations within my vacations". For the typical traveler on a tight scheduled, day-trips that involve 3 or 4 hours on a bus don't make a lot of sense. There are nearly always nice things to see closer than that. And I don't take day-trips to places with a lot of indoor sights I want to see (museums, etc.), just to places where I expect to enjoy walking around for several hours.

I spent a night (but less than 24 hours) in Zadar, which was long enough to get a decent sense of the place. I wouldn't have wanted to rush through it in just an hour or two.

I'm not suggesting that there's a better or more convenient place than Zadar. I think you've done a good job of selecting highlight destinations. The thing is that highlight destinations are usually worth more than a quick stop, and you have a lot of them. fear you're going to end up with insufficient time to really absorb the atmosphere just about everywhere. But we each have a pace we're comfortable with, and my pace is definitely slower than average. For example, except in the very largest cities, I like to walk every single street in the historic district, and that takes time.

To me, one day-trip from Dubrovnik to Montenegro can make sense; multiple such trips do not. It's that back-and-forth repeatedly on the same highway business I mentioned before. Via Michelin estimates that Kotor is a 4 hr. 8 min. round-trip from Dubrovnik, and that does not include anything except time spent sitting behind the wheel and driving. Budva adds another hour, and I don't see any logic to trying to combine those two destinations in one day. I think it's far better to be able to relax and really enjoy one place rather than rushing through two.

I have no idea how practical it is to do day-trips to islands from Split or Dubrovnik. What time of year is your trip? I think there is a lot more island transportation during peak season. You should be able to get enough schedule information for preliminary planning by Googling. In general, just about any time a ferry is involved, you're talking about consider time in transit. Not only are such ships rather slow, you're going to spend a good bit of time at the ferry port, waiting for the ferry to depart. Obviously, a day-trip is a bit riskier than an overnight trip in that cancellation of a ferry or non-appearance of a bus can leave you far from the lodgings you've already paid for with little recovery time.

Posted by
8 posts

another good point. Travelling in July-August. I know, i know, but it's the only time i can go (i am a teacher). my traveling partner will kill me with the pace I have set up, so maybe if I were to eliminate some destinations in order to spend longer at a place, which ones would you recommend to take out or to budget more days in?

Posted by
2080 posts

Again, it is hard to visualize without a number of nights next to each place--only you can prioritize, but since the bulk of the trip will be in Croatia, an easy way might be to cut either Slovenia or Montenegro. When you imagine your trip, is it diminished if you don't visit Lake Bled, Kotor Bay?
To me, summer means the sea, but that need not be the case. I would, however, definitely want some longer stays in there somewhere.

Posted by
8 posts

initially it was supposed to be only Croatia, but when i started researching and heard so many good things about Slovenia and Montenegro, I thought, why not include them since they are so close.
I have decided to eliminate Hvar and stay on Korcula for 4 nights?

if i were to pick only one island to visit and extend my stay, which one should it be?

Posted by
19375 posts

I can't help about the islands (did Hvar 25 years ago and Rab maybe 35--not much help today). I do want to say that traveling midsummer does maximize transportation availability. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Believe me, we all understand itinerary creep. Sometimes the solution is to imagine that you are planning two trips. Figure out what you want to see and divide it up, in a geographically logical manner. I've been trying to get to Paris since 2017, and it's not going to happen this year, either.

It's too bad Europe has become so very crowded. It would be nice if you could leave part of your trip sort of unplanned and see how you feel about a quicker vs. slower pace. But these days, you might be frozen out of a place you want to see by finding nothing other than hostel beds and very expensive, poorly located hotels. The "wing it" approach works best if you have extra time (so you don't have to follow the most efficient route) and are driving (so you are not limited to lodgings convenient to public transportation).

I struggled in 2015 to extend my time in Rovinj (Istria) so I could take a once-a-week bus tour I hadn't known about in advance. I needed to be in Rovinj, and there was just nothing available; I ended up going to multiple little travel agencies to see whether they had any vacant private rooms (sobe) on their books. Ultimately, I found something, but it took several hours to do it. You'll definitely be a more efficient traveler if you've got your basic itinerary (hotels for each night and mode of inter-city transportation) laid out ahead of time.

Posted by
8 posts

What is the best way to visit Peljesac Peninsula and Ston? On a the way form where to where?

Posted by
19375 posts

Try the BusCroatia website. I'd guess there's some service at least to Ston from Dubrovnik and possibly also from Split.

For the rest of the peninsula, try looking for routes between Ston and Orebic, or even from Ston to Korcula in case there's a bus/ferry option. I have not traveled in that direction myself, but BusCroatia often pops up when one Googles Bus Split to Senj and the like.

Posted by
8 posts

Here is the itinerary day by day.

Day 1 Ljubjana pick up rental car

sleep in Ljubjana

Day 2 Lake Bled

sleep in Ljubljana

Day 3 Ljubljana-Zagreb private transfer. pick up rental car in Zagreb

sleep in Zagreb

Day 4 Zagreb-Plitvice lakes

sleep in Plitvice lakes

Day 5 Plitvice

sleep in Plitvice

Day 6 Plitvice-Zadar

sleep in Zadar

Day 7 Zadar-Krka-Sibenik

sleep in Sibenik

Day 8 Sibenik-Trogir-Split

sleep in Split

Day 9 Split

sleep in Split

Day 10 Split-Hvar Island by catamaran

sleep in Hvar (Amfora)

Day 11 Hvar

day 12 Hvar

Day 13 Hvar-Korcula

Day 14 Korcula

Day 15 Korcula-Dubrovnik

Day 16 Dubrovnik

Day 17 Dubrovnik - Mostar (?)

sleep in Dubrovnik

Day 18 Departure

Posted by
19375 posts

I'm not sure about your plans for the car while you're in Ljubljana. If you just want to go to Lake Bled, I wouldn't rent a car. You may incur substantial parking costs in Ljubljana, and there's decent bus service between that city and Lake Bled. When I was there in 2015, there was usually a taxi hanging out at the Bled bus station, trying to find 7(?) people wanting a faster trip back to Ljubljana and charging 7 euros per person. (I'm sure it would cost somewhat more now, and I saw no one trying the same entrepreneurial approach going in the other direction.)

Plitvice Lakes National Park is lovely, but I don't think you need two nights there. The middle of the day is a zoo on the marked walking trails. I imagine you can wander off the designated paths to get away from the hordes, and I'm sure it's still very pretty, but I have to assume that the marked trails take in a lot of the most dramatic scenery. Of course, you may be just looking for a very slow-paced day, in which case the schedule could work if you get away from the labeled routes.

Since you're driving yourself from Zagreb, you can time your arrival at Plitvice for 2 PM - 3 PM, allowing time to check in at your lodging and have a few late-afternoon hours in the park as the day-trippers are leaving. Then you'll have several more peaceful hours the next morning. I'd prefer to assign that second Plitvice night to either Zagreb or Ljubljana.

If you want to save some money, bus and train service are readily available from Ljubljana to Zagreb. I assume a private transfer will cost quite a lot.

Posted by
8 posts

i was told that taxi to lake bled would cost too much and was recommended to get a car. I also think that a car just for lake bled and maybe postojna caves is not necessary. Great idea about train from Ljubljana to zagreb!

Posted by
8 posts

i am fine skipping Zagreb, but it made sense with the timing of driving. would much rather see Rovinj and Istria, but don't want to spend too much driving in one day.