I’m planning a trip for this coming October. We will start in Venice and are interested in maybe a side trip to the Dolomites, moving on to Ljubljana and then just not sure. Some possibilities are Pula (love Roman ruins), Zagreb, plitvice lakes, Split, Karla park, and leaving out of Dubrovnik. I don’t know how to make these work or what to leave out. Any suggestions?
This looks like two trips to me: (northern destinations) Venice, Trieste on the way to Ljubljana, Istria and Zagreb as the first and the Dalmatian coast down to Dubrovnik as the second. But perhaps I say that because it's how I broke up two trips that I took to the region.
If planned as a single trip, I'd probably leave out Ljubljana and go to Venice, Trieste, duck into Croatia and rent a car to drive through Istria and down the Dalmatian coast to Dubrovnik. Leave the car there (check to make sure this doesn't incur an awful drop-off fee.) Take a short flight to Zagreb if you want to spend a few days there before flying out.
If there's an "awful drop-off fee" you could make your way to Zagreb and rent the car there before continuing through Croatia, but you'll have some back tracking.
For such an expansive itinerary, you are going to need several weeks. I spent approximately 4 weeks on 2 separate trips covering an itinerary that included many of your locations in Slovenia and Croatia, but didn't include Venice or the Dolomites. I drove on both trips, which allowed me to cover the areas much more efficiently than public transport.
We’re not set on anything yet, of course, but also I need to add that it’s my entire family: me and husband, 3 adult kids (and a significant other) and one teenager. 7 total. We thought maybe we could break up for a time and they do what they want and us do our thing, them rendezvous for a time again. I didn’t think the Dolomites would fit well, but it’s so pretty. Are Krka and Plitvice doable with the rest? Or should I pick just one and move on to another location?
How many nights do you plan to spend in Europe on this trip, not counting the night on the plane?
Picking up a car in one country and dropping it in another may incur a very high fee, so it will probably be best to plan single-country car rentals or a loop itinerary. A loop might be viable for part of your trip, such as Slovenia and northern Croatia.
There's not a lot of train service in Slovenia and Croatia, so if you don't have a car you'll probably need to do some travel by bus. I found the buses comfortable, and I appreciated not have to drag my suitcase onto trains and find an empty place to store it.
As of 2015 there was at last one summertime bus a day from Ljubljana to Rovinj in Istria. I wouldn't be surprised if the same bus goes on to Pula, but I don't know that the route operates during shoulder season. I didn't go to Pula (not being very interested in classical ruins) but did enjoy Rovinj (with a medieval stone historic center), Porec (more colorful) and tiny Vrsar. It's not so easy to see the interior of Istria without a private car, so I took advantage of a bus tour (Wednesdays only in 2015, and I don't know that it would run in October) called "Inland Istria". At the time of my trip there were departures from Rovinj, Porec and Pula.
There's both bus and train service between Ljubljana and Zagreb. I think buses may be more frequent. In Ljubljana the two stations are equally convenient. In Zagreb they look very close together on maps, but in the real word the bus station is at least an extra 10-minute walk from the center of town. There are trams and taxis readily available at the Zagreb bus station, though. Trams pass the train station; I don't know whether there's an established cab rank right at the train station. I doubt if there's much in the way of services available inside the train station, which is very lightly used; the bus station, on the other hand, is a hopping place.
There's bus service from Zagreb to Plitvice, and I think on to Split. However, during busy times (I don't know what it's like in early, mid- and late October) the park is a madhouse during day-tripping hours, so I always recommend that people spend one night there so they can see a lot of the park early in the morning before the day-trippers arrive (and perhaps a bit of it late in the day on the night before). It's possible that won't be necessary in October, but I'd be concerned about weekends if the weather is good, because it seemed to me that a lot of the people at the park in 2015 were Croatians.
I'd recommend checking 3 to 5 years' worth of actual, day-by-day, historical weather data for your destinations on the website timeanddate.com. If you don't want to spend much time on it, you could focus on Venice and Zagreb, because I think the Dalmatian Coast might be a bit milder. In my experience (purely anecdotal, and applicable only to 2015) the weather in the Balkans started turning somewhat rainy and fall-like in late September. It got progressively wetter until I departed from Zagreb just before the middle of October. Zagreb has a lot of very nice museums (especially if you like art), and Slovenia has quite a few as well, so there are some indoor attractions in those cities. I would not want to go to Plitvice during or immediately after heavy rains, because there's essentially no cover on the trails, and they could be slippery in places. For an October trip I'd have a back-up plan to substitute for Plitvice in case the weather forecast was bad.
Rome2rio.com will show transportation options, but don't trust its fares, travel times or frequencies. Keep drilling down to find the name of the company providing the transportation and go to its website for accurate information. See GoOpti.com for shuttle service.
The Dolomites are very nice, but you might consider spending a couple of days driving through the Julian Alps instead, making a loop from Ljubljana. That would make more logistical sense.
Note: I haven't checked October weather for either of those regions. After one trip that lasted into October I decided it wasn't for me, between the cool, damp weather and the shortening days. The weather would be less of a concern with rental vehicles, of course.
Based on what others have said on this forum (I've never rented a car in Europe or traveled in a group), a group of seven people may present rental-car challenges. As I understand it, in at least some countries you need a chauffeur's license for vehicles above a certain size, and a 7-passenger vehicle may very well have inadequate luggage space for 7 people. There's also the fact that leaving a vehicle parked with luggage visible inside it is not recommended.
I remember previous suggestions that large groups rent two smaller vehicles (probably at a lower total cost) rather than one large one.
First I will comment on the car. We were 6 people and rented the equivlent of a minivan (husband drove) in Croatia in 2018. The New roads make it an easy drive when on the Highway, but the cities and small towns are very hilly and the streets very narrow. Many times i had to close my eyes because I didn’t think he would be able to squeeze through the streets or parking garage entrances. parking was always an issue. Also, my husband is Croatian so he can read the signs which makes it much easier to drive around. But, I was very Happy when we returned the car in Split where we stayed 3 nights. We then took the ferry to Korcula for 2 nights, then another ferry and private driver to Dubrovnik. Timing of the ferry wasn’t convenient for us. From Dubrovnik we hired a private driver to Zagreb because cost and time wise it made sense rather then renting a car for one day. We were picked up right outside the Old Town at the Pile Gate at a time that worked for us, and dropped off in front of the hotel. We all caught up on some much needed sleep. You might want to rent a car and stop at Plitvice Lakes for the day or even one night on your way to Zagreb.
You can hydrofoil from Venice to Rovinj. You would have to see about renting the car there, when you leave. Pula is worth a stop for the Roman ruins. From there you can plan your itinerary down the coast. I wouldn’t recommend driving from Split to Dubrovnik. Take the bus.
I would save Slovenia and area for another trip. Trieste is ok but not worth going out of my way.
We have been to Croatia with a group of 6 or 7 adults five times in the past 10 years - different family members. The transportation varies depending on the cities/islands on the itinerary, time frame, and route (north to south or south to north). This is where your planning is crucial. We have rented cars, taken the bus, rode on ferries and hydrofoil, flew, and hired private drivers. I always figure out travel time duration, cost per person, scheduled times and place of departure and see what fits best. If the bus leaves at 11 am, takes 6 hours, plus Taxi or local bus to the station, and costs 20pp but i want to leave at 8 am and a private driver is 3 hours door-to-door for 35pp, I will take the driver. To me the extra $75 is worth the price. This is especially true with 4+ people, definately 6.
We will be going again in September, hopefully, with 4 family members, 6 adults total. This is a rough itinerary for about 3 weeks:
Meet in Dubrovnik for 6 nights. Rent a car for 2 days (one night) to visit Međugorje and Mostar. Keep B&B
One week Small ship cruise (38 passengers) up the coast from Dubrovnik to Opatija, stopping at a different city/Island each day.
Rent a car and stay in Rijeka (Taxi from Opatija) for 4 nights with day trips to Pula and Rovinj. Drive to Zagreb, return car, stay 3 nights. Private driver to airport. If you have any specific questions just PM me.
How many nights do you plan to spend in Europe on this trip, not counting the night on the plane?
Offering suggestions on what to include/exclude is difficult to impossible without knowing how much time is available.
This question posed by acraven needs to be answered, in order to get meaningful input.
Unless you want the trip to be a blur and assuming you don’t have 3+ weeks, you need to cut some destinations. A group of 7 plus luggage means hiring 2 cars, which will be costly with 2 one way drop fees. You may want to consider splitting the car hire to avoid this. Driving from Split to Dubrovnik is a nuisance as you have to take your car out of the EU, so it’s best to drop the car in Split and take the bus or boat to Dubrovnik.
The weather in Dalmatia (Plitvice down to Dubrovnik) can be very mixed once you get into October. I was on Hvar a few years ago and by the third week of September, many places were winding down as they closed at the end of the month for the winter. We left there 23 September and stopped at a coastal village on the mainland for morning coffee on the way back to Split airport. We only found 1 cafe open. The weather had turned colder and rainy 22 September and friends who stayed on for a further week said it rained the entire time. The same was true the following year.
Others may disagree, but I think a week is the absolute minimum time to cover Plitvice, Krka, Split, Trogir and Dubrovnik - 10 days would be more relaxed. Get to Plitvice early to avoid the queues. Even pre-Covid, the park was busy and with people avoiding indoor places, it’s likely to be just as busy.
If you haven’t been before, Venice would be rushed in less than 4 full days, plus if this is the start of the trip, add another for jet lag. I had a week here and could have managed with a day less. The food was disappointing. Ljubljana is pretty, but compact and can be seen in a couple of days. There’s plenty to see in Zagreb too and you could easily fill 4-5 days.
You are trying to cover a lot of ground - this would be 2 separate trips for me, so don’t under estimate how much time will be spent in transit. Example - Split to Dubrovnik is 6+ hours door to door.
Just a few comments on traveling with group of 7. We went to Greece with our three young adult children, my daughter’s husband, and my husband’s brother. Everything takes longer with a group so I would not try to move too often. We had 14 nights and stayed in four places-3 nights, 4 nights, 4 nights, and 3 nights. That worked very well. We rented cars on two islands and the mainland, returning when we went to Athens. We rented two cars for the seven of us. While technically a van can fit seven people, luggage is an issue, and maneuvering is a challenge. We were going to do the same for a covid cancelled trip to Italy for Umbria. In Italy, two cars was much cheaper than a van.
I'd want more than one day in Ljubljana. It's just such a pleasant place to be. You have the historic center with the river running through it, the castle, some museums (not up to the standard of those in Zagreb, I don't think), the food market, a weekend art/craft market, short boat rides on the river, the Plečnik architecture. And most folks seem to want to see Lake Bled, which is an easy day-trip by bus if you don't want to rent a car. For those with more time, other side trips are possible.
You would need at least three week for all on that list. A month would be better.
Another thought, October in Istria is truffle season, so you may want to look into that. We do need to know the time frame in order to advise on an itinerary.
Also, Did you want to stick to public transport, or are you open to driving in part of the trip? Because it is so costly to rent a car in one country and drop it in another, you might head to the Dolomites, then make your way to Croatia and rent a car there. Or, skip the Dolomites and see mountains in Croatia and Slovenia.