Trying to work out a fast-paced trip through Slovenia and Croatia. Ljubljana and Dubrovnik are not the best value airports due to their small size, and the extra fee to drop off a rental car from Slovenia to Croatia is about $500-650 in my searches. I keep noticing Zagreb as an alternate airport for about $500 less per person. I'm surprised that I don't see much talk about flying into Zagreb for these reasons. I am considering flying in/out of Zagreb instead, and keeping the car for the duration of the trip. We'd save about $2000 for a family of 3 to do this (originally I thought we would also save $300 by driving ourselves to Mostar instead of taking a guided day trip, but that would be a wash once you add in the cost of keeping the car for all the extra days plus gas). The only sacrifices would be the 2hr drive to Bled on arrival day (jet lag is a killer, my husband will be driving) and wasting our last full day on a 6hr drive from Mostar to Zagreb airport (I wasn't planning on spending any time in Zagreb). But time is money so it all has to make sense. I'm wondering, will taking a car to Hvar/Korcula and then keeping it in Dubrovnik be a pain? I worry taking it to the islands and Dubrovnik would be stressful with the ferries and crowds, plus trying to arrange parking (car ferries and parking also come with a cost). An alternative is to split the difference (no pun intended!), flying into Zagreb and dropping the car off in Split, then flying out of Dubrovnik and taking guided tours for day trips to Mostar or Kotor, but the savings are not as substantial.
No matter where you pick up the rental car, you might want to read the rental company's terms and conditions before the reservation is made.
I once was looking at terms and noticed that one car rental company didn't allow their German cars to even go into Croatia. For what reason I have no idea. There may or may not be an issue with rental cars on the Eastern side of the Adriatic.
I think I'm following the itinerary you're mapping out. I've twice rented cars in Croatia and here's my feedback.
Yes, I found that round-trip to/from Zagreb was far cheaper than arriving in Zagreb and leaving from Ljubljana, especially taking the costs of the rental car into account. Although (at the time of my trip, several years back) drop-off fees were inconsequential.
But I only had a short drive from Ljubljana back to Zagreb before my flight. I wouldn't want a 6 hour drive on flight day; I like being relatively close to the airport the night before I fly. But maybe your itinerary doesn't allow that.
On the trip when I flew into Dubrovnik and out of Zagreb, I rented the car as I was leaving Dubrovnik. For my itinerary, there was no point in having it while I was in Dubrovnik. I would have been paying for days for it to sit there.
But, rentals are often cheaper for longer periods, which may be what you're referring to when you say the savings aren't as substantial.
As much as I'm perfectly willing to drive in Europe, I still try to minimize the need to do so and that would be the factor that I'd be weighing at each decision point. But if cost is your key criteria (and your husband is happy to drive) you may make different decisions.
I'd need to see your itinerary and dates to know whether into/out of Zagreb makes sense. Maybe it does for you. I've been to Croatia three times. Flying out of Zagreb (with a stop in Amsterdam for a few days) worked once.
Flying into or out of Venice has worked better for me personally, Venice makes a decent gateway to start/end a trip to Slovenia. There are direct buses from Venice Marco Polo to Ljubljana or vice versa, but you can also use a shuttle service called GoOpti to get in between. If you want to drive in Slovenia, you could rent a car just there and drop it in Slovenia before taking the train on to Zagreb or Rijeka where you would rent another car.
I can't comment on having a car in Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and/or Bosnia and Hercegovina, because I used trains and buses.
I suggest verifying that the rental company allows its cars to be taken on ferries and into all the countries you plan to visit, if you haven't already done so.
Zagreb has a very attractive, bi-level historic center and is very much worth seeing. However, your original trip, as described, covers a lot of ground, and I wonder whether transiting Zagreb twice is really going to cramp the rest of the trip.
Ljubljana is a quicker drive from Zagreb than Bled is. Bled is cute but tiny; you can walk all the way around the lake in about 2 hours; it's less than 4 miles. If you don't plan to press on into the Julian Alps, it's easy to treat Bled as a day trip from Ljubljana even without a car.
We need your itinerary to offer help--just list it by day.
There are considerable tradeoffs with visiting islands with a car on a short trip. There are many more car-free catamarans available than car ferries. You have to queue for car ferries in summer and there can be lines.
Driving that far on arrival would be ill advised.
Thanks for the tip on checking into the car company policies on driving into another country. I knew that was a thing in the past, but I haven't noticed any buzz about that in the threads I have read lately, so it slipped my mind. Also thanks for the feedback that there are far fewer car ferries than catamarans.
My original plan was:
Fly into LJU, pick up car, drive 40min to Bled, or 30min to Ljubljana
Julian Alps and Soca Valley
Drop car in Split, ferry to Hvar
Possible stop in Korcula on our way to Dubrovnik
Day trip to Mostar, possibly also Kotor
Fly out from Dubrovnik
Fly into ZAG, pick up car, drive 2h to Bled, or 1.5h to Ljubljana
Julian Alps and Soca Valley
Car ferry from Split to Hvar
Possible stop in Korcula on our way to Dubrovnik - is this even possible with a car?
Drive to Mostar
Drive 6hrs to Zagreb last full day, a few hours to see Zagreb in late afternoon/evening (no trip to Kotor)
Fly out from ZAG
We still need to know how many days to evaluate these plans.
In original plan, a 40 minute drive is less of a concern than a two hour one. BUT, picking up the car in Slovenia and dropping the car in Croatia is going to cost you. Had you priced that out? Zagreb and Ljubljana are well linked by train and bus.
For car ferry schedules, see the Jadrolinija website. You can travel from Split to Dubrovnik via islands by car ferry, it is just more complicated with a tight timeline. This map shows you the routes :
I would probably fly from Dubrovnik back to Zagreb if you go this route. A long drive on the last day is a drag!
Lufthansa flies into Zagreb to/from Frankfurt. & to/from Frankfurt to anywhere. They also fly from Dubrovnik with stop in Zagreb. We rented car from Uni-Rent (a Croatian firm) after visiting Zagreb, drove Ljub, Bled, over the Alps to Kobarid, a night near Skocjan Caves. Then thru Piran to Rovinj, Plitvice, then down the Croatian coast. Took short ferry ride to Hvar Island and drove to Hvar town and back. On to Dub where dropped car.. Flew out of Dub. Flights were actually Croatia Air (now buddies? with Lufthansa).
Thanks everyone, I didn't post the specific trip details because I wasn't asking for a trip critique in this post (will do another for that), just trying to figure out if flying in/out of Zagreb and keeping the car the whole trip would make sense or not. My feeling was that the car would be a hassle in the islands/Dubrovnik. I can't ignore this possible option, as the airfare is the biggest variable in the trip budget. I had another thought - we could rent a car in Zagreb, drop off that car in Split, then pick up a second car in Dubrovnik for the Mostar to Zagreb portion. We'd be paying one-way drop off fees twice (estimate $85 and $53), but still cheaper than dropping off in a different country ($500-650). Assuming the contracts allow the car to go into the other countries, of course.
valadelphia - yes, I did price it out, that was part of the point of my post. The extra fee to drop off a car from Slovenia to Croatia is something like $500-650 (for perspective, the car rental itself was only $259). That combined with the cheaper flights into/out of Zagreb was what prompted my post. Thanks for the tip about the long queues and fewer options for car ferries, that is the kind of info I was hoping to get here that I may have missed in my research (I had!). This makes me not want the car! I am concerned about driving on arrival day. We have always avoided that in the past. Two hours seemed to be an upper limit that I could at least consider. If we were to do this, I would not hesitate to change plans on the fly and get a hotel in Zagreb (or on the road somewhere) if he did not feel safe driving, you can't put a price on safety.
Thanks again everyone for your feedback. It is always helpful to hear others' experiences/reasonings to help us optimize our own plans.
I haven't rented a car in Croatia since 2015, but at the time, some companies charged one-way drop fees only for short rentals. (Check with different companies too.) Longer rentals seemed cheaper overall per-day too. I suppose there's a chance it's cheaper to park the car in Split or something while you take a catamaran to the islands and come back for it. Maybe. Or just deal with the car on the islands - it does offer some benefits for sure.
There are plenty of car ferries to the islands, but it does require more planning and time to take them. (And make sure you are allowed to take your rental car on the ferry.) I have never driven on one of the car ferries, but I was just in Croatia again in October and spent a few days island hopping to islands from Split. I didn't have a car this trip, but I took several Jadrolinija car ferries as a passenger. There are car ferries from Split to Stari Grad in Hvar and to Vela Luka in Korcula (across the island from Korcula Town). From Korcula Town, you can take the short car ferry to Orebic and drive down to Dubrovnik or another ferry to Ploce and on to Mostar. (I have driven to Mostar but not from Korcula Town.) But, yeah, it could make sense just two separate car rentals.
You could fly into Zagreb and take the bus or train (or GoOpti shuttle) directly to Ljubljana to start your trip. That would eliminate the need to drive on the first day. Depending on your agenda in Slovenia, you could do it without a car. It's easier not to have a car in Ljubljana proper anyway. You can take the bus to Bled. But having a car at least for a day in Slovenia is kind of nice (you could do ANOTHER short rental there I guess - I did a single day car rental there once). From Ljubljana, you could take the bus or train back to Zagreb or down to Rijeka and rent the Croatian car there. Not saying this is the best way, only to consider it as an option. If you have an ambitious agenda in Slovenia, maybe it's best just to get the car in Zagreb to start as planned. (Be sure to get a vignette driving pass to drive in Slovenia, if you rent the car in Croatia!)
There is a car ferry from Drvnik (mainland) to Sucuraj (Hvar Island), about a half hour trip. The island road from Sucuraj to Stari Grad is narrow, windy and scenic but doable. Better road on to Hvar Town. Google the "Drvnik Ferry" or go to www.hvarinfo.com/travel-to-island-hvar/. You don't need a car in Hvar Town except to maybe drive up to the hilltop fort. We rented from Uni-Rent in 2013. They allowed travel into Slovenia and, I think Bosnia and Montenegro. Didn't ask about the Hvar small ferry & they didn't say. Ljub has a couple of underground parking garages near Preseren Square. (We stayed in Hotel Emonec near the square and they provided a parking coupon.) Parking near Dub is difficult but not so bad a bit farther away. Maybe drop car in Dub and fly to Zagreb & beyond.
I noticed flights to Split opened up for the same price as to Zagreb (significantly lower than Ljubljana and Dubrovnik). We could fly into Zagreb, then leave out of Split. We could do a day trip to Mostar, leaving from Dubrovnik early in the morning and returning to Split late, then fly out in the morning. Then we wouldn't have to waste a day driving back to Zagreb.
Then maybe you could do:
Zagerb - pick up car
Dubrovnik - drop car
Catamaran or bus back to Korcula
Catamaran to Hvar (or Catamaran to Split, day trip back to Hvar later from Split)
Catamaran to Split
Fly out from Split.
If you could do it backwards - fly into Split, out of Zagreb - you wouldn't need to drive for a few days so no worry about driving jet-lagged.
Hello! I've only been to Slovenia and Croatia once, but here's my two cents. I've found renting cars and riving in Europe to be more of a hassle then they are worth. The only time it was worth it was in Ireland. As for Slovenia and Croatia, in general, everyone seems to get around by bus and trains. The trains really work best to go from big city to big city, but they make stops along the way that might work for your itinerary. Buses are extremely cheap and they seem to run everywhere, especially the smaller towns that don't have train service. When you compare a bus versus a car, you're still sitting for a couple of hours, but you're not the one driving, especially in traffic. Usually, trips over 2, to maybe 3 hours, they always stop and let everyone stretch their legs for a couple of minutes. Every bus I went on had a bathroom too. So, I guess you need to decide if you really want the headache of a rental car when buses, and trains can get you to pretty much anywhere you want to go. Before I forget, you also have the option of Uber and other driving sites. They have really taken off in Europe, especially the cities. Good luck!