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Transportation from Vienna, Austria to Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Hello! A friend and I are traveling to Europe this summer planning on doing 3-4 night in Prague, 2-3 night Vienna and then 8-9 nights in Croatia ending in Dubrovnik. Im wondering what is the best way to get from Vienna to Croatia. The northern most site we want to see in Croatia is the Plitvice Lakes and there doesn't seem to be much public transportation to that area from Austria.
Renting a car seems expensive so I am wondering what is the best way to get there? Should I take a flight to Split and then rent a car? Or train to Zagreb and rent a car? Open to other options.
For reference here is our tentative itinerary.

June 17 Travel from USA
June 18 Land in Prague
June 19 Prague, Czech Republic
June 20 Prague, Czech Republic
June 21 Prague, Czech Republic
June 22 Vienna
June 23 Vienna
June 24 Vienna
June 25 Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
June 26 Split, Croatia
June 27 Split, Croatia
June 28 Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
June 29 Hvar or Korcula, Croatia (islands)
June 30 Hvar or Korcula, Croatia (islands)
July 1 Dubrovnik, Croatia
July 2 Dubrovnik, Croatia
July 3 Dubrovnik, Croatia
July 4 Fly home

Posted by
22486 posts

There's a good bit of bus service between Zagreb and Plitvice. I think there's also some from Split, but I haven't traveled that leg. It won't necessarily be easy to get accurate bus schedules before your trip. In the Balkans I've found it safest to go by the bus station as soon as I get to a new town and check out options for moving to my next stop. Often the tourist office can help. (There used to be a T.O. at the bustling Zagreb bus station.) It concerned me that, often when I asked a Balkan tourist office about outbound buses, they picked up the phone and called the bus station rather than turning to their computers to get the information from the internet. I took that as a caution about depending on internet bus schedules for mission-critical situations.

I think it will cost more if you buy your bus ticket from the driver. I was told it would not, but I think I was charged more that the going rate. It is likely you'll be charged a fee (it was around US $1 in 2015) for each piece of luggage stored under the bus. It's not a scam.

Car-rental rates are still higher than they were pre-pandemic in most places discussed on this forum, but if you've been looking at rentals picked up in Austria and dropped off in Croatia, that would always be very pricey because of the international drop charge. It's worth checking on a rental picked up in a place like Zagreb and dropped in Split. That might be affordable.

The trick with Plitvice is that it gets utterly slammed during day-tripping hours to the point that the experience of being there is very seriously degraded. (I've been there three times, as early as the 1980s and as recently as 2015, and the difference was massive.) It's critical to spend a night near the park, which I see you have planned to do. Don't change that!

Dubrovnik is super small in comparison to Vienna (especially) and Prague. Unless you have plans to take it easy in the former and maybe visit some surrounding towns, I'd consider shifting one night away from Durbrovnik to one of the larger cities. (I haven't been to Vienna recently enough or long enough to have an opinion about which needs an extra night more, and in any case that depends on your personal style of sightseeing.)

Posted by
147 posts

Rent a car.

Do it from split and return it to split if need be, but imo a car is almost essential in plitvice. Not only to getting to and from the park, but also opening up opportunities for lodging around the park.

If you search plitvice on booking.com etc. there are amazing accommodations but almost all the negative reviews are about being too far from a bus stop, a park entrance, etc.

The time saved by having a car will be worth every penny.

Posted by
5224 posts

You don't need a car to get to Plitvice or stay there if you stay at one of the park hotels. But, given your tight schedule, renting a car from Zagreb or Split (or Zadar) is the only real practical way to do this if you stay there only a single night. Or find some sort of car service to get you to the park at least - maybe you can then take a public bus on after the one night on to Split. A car would sure be easier.

Or stay two nights at Plitvice - that would make public transportation more practical. Arrive late the first day, have a full day, leave earl after the second night by bus. The public bus stops right at each park entrance. It's an easy walk from there to the park hotels which are right at the park entrances. Might be more of a challenge if you have lots of luggage - again, having a rental car would make this a non-issue. I travel with carry-ons only. Although I've had a car whenever I've visited Plitvice, I would have managed OK from the bus stop to the park hotels with my bags.

June is near high season. Book early - Plitvice is going to be extremely crowded with tour groups by mid-morning. To have the best experience, Get into the park by 7am.

You might plan on going from Split to Hvar etc. then back to Split and off to Mostar from there, not the other way around.

Posted by
22486 posts

I agree a car would be convenient, but I'm not clear on why a bus wouldn't work. I made the mistake of day-tripping to Plitvice from Zagreb in 2015. My bus got me to the park around 10 AM (not nearly early enough, obviously). Unless there's something strange about the bus schedule (such as no afternoon buses), why couldn't Gary get a bus from Zagreb at noon or 1 PM, drop his bag at the park hotel where he's staying (I agree that there are few other practical options), see some of the park late that afternoon and the rest early the next morning? He'd be ready to grab a bus to Split no later than early afternoon. That's precisely the sort of schedule often recommended to folks who have a rental car.

(I admit I haven't tried to check the bus schedules. My guess is that if there's a problem it will be on the Plitvice-Split leg.)

Posted by
5224 posts

The problem with trying to take the bus is that Gary is going to have to first get from Zagreb airport to the Zagreb bus station...and wait for the next bus. Don't know the timing of the summer bus schedules, but seems likely Gary might waste hours of precious time in between when he could be in the park that first afternoon. And the second morning, he will likely have to cut his visit short to get back to catch the bus to Split. It's not impossible, just a bit rushed. I doubt he could get a flight that gets him into Zagreb early in the morning.

Could be he could take some sort of shuttle service to Plitvice directly from the airport but take the public bus the next day. That might be cheaper than a two day one-way car rental including gas, tolls, etc. Depends on the schedule for the bus on to Split.

Posted by
3946 posts

I'd suggest the train to Zagreb and then continue by bus or car. And to spend a bit of time in Zagreb on the way.

Posted by
98 posts

In 2018, we did a similar 17 or 18 day trip: Prague-Vienna-Zagreb-Plitvice-Split-Dubrovinik. We took a train from Prague to Vienna and the flix bus from Vienna to Zagreb, after looking at all travel options other than renting a car. Non-stop bus. Moderately scenic, 'til we arrived in Zagreb's socialist era 'burbs. I'd do that again without hesitation.

Zagreb was the start of a pre-tour "extension" to our Split to Dubrovnik guided bike tour that included islands of Brac, Hvar & Korcula. The tour company arranged for a rental car for us from Zagreb to Split, via Plitvice, Zadar, and Krka. I think driving that stretch via rental car was far and away the best option (and allowed us to make a nice stop in Trogir). Given your itinerary, it likely makes sense to take the car all the way to Dubrovnik and to select Korcula over Hvar. Hvar seems to involve a lot of back tracking, unless you decide to get rid of the car in Split.

If you go to Hvar without the car, I think you are likely to be in Stari Grad and, if you want to go the the town/city of Hvar, I am not sure how you would accomplish that.

FWIW, we quite enjoyed our first (and so far only) organized tour, via bike, from Split to Dubrovnik (6 days, 5 nights). My wife was initially reluctant due to the hills, but e-bikes were available (we're seniors) and we had a great time. Again FWIW, this was the bike tour we took: https://www.meridienten.com/en/category/guided-bike-tours/croatia-cycling-tour-the-dalmatian-coast-classic/ . They also offer less expensive "self-guided" tours. There are certainly other operators who offer similar trips.

Posted by
5224 posts

Fred, I was just in Hvar in October. The car ferries (passengers can ride too) go to Stari Grad. The passenger-only catamarans go to Hvar Town. There is daily bus service between Stari Grad and Hvar Town - less frequent in the off season.

Posted by
147 posts

Imo, handcuffing yourself by not having a car on Hvar is suchhhhh a missed opportunity. There are so many amazing places to see with a car.

Renting an ATV or moped from Hvar town is not an equivalent option. I’m a life long motorcycle rider and you couldn’t pay me to try and double someone like I saw some people doing there along those coastal roads on a quad.

The nicest beaches in Hvar town are still a decent walk to get to even if you’re located right in the centre of town.

Posted by
2589 posts

I'd do the train from Vienna to Ljubljana, and then do a bus from Ljub to PLJ.

Badger's suggestion of train to Zagreb is also do-able. Spending time in Zagreb is a good option, but the town is still recovering from the earthquake of several years ago, and a lot of stuff is closed. Once in Zagreb, the car rental is a good option.

There are two routes to PLJ - driving to Karlovac and going S on D1, vs staying on the highway to D52. Do not take the D1 S from Karlovac. We did this in 2011, and found the road to be small, with tight turns, and we had many locals passing us on "no passing" curves.

Posted by
5224 posts

Paul, look at the tight schedule he's got. He doesn't have time to take the train and bus - that's going to eat up his whole day. It's already going to be tight for him even if he flies into Zagreb.

Posted by
2589 posts

Andrew: I agree. Probably the most sensible is to fly from Vienna to Split, rent the car or bus to PLJ, and then return to Split.