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Can't decide on itinerary

I'm still struggling with this. Too many incredible options and too few days. The original plan was to just stay in Slovenia and visit some adjacent areas in Croatia (maybe Zagreb and Plitvice Lakes). Now I'm feeling like it would be crazy to travel all that distance from the States and not also see some coastal areas of Croatia (like Split and Dubrovnik). Here's a rough idea of what I'm thinking. I'd love input. The plan was to go in mid-July but I've been reading such horror stories of the cruise ship crowds in Dubrovnik during July/August than I'm wondering if we should either skip Dubrovnik and choose a different coastal city or do this trip the first week in June (not as good for us logistically but it's a possibility). Or I guess a third option is skip this coastal section of Croatia altogether if Slovenia has some coastal areas just as picturesque. You'll notice a lot of returning to Ljubljana in the beginning - we're trying to take advantage of points we have with Starwood which are only in the major cities. I'm assuming we'll be renting a car the entire time. If there are any day trips that would be much better as an overnight trip, that would be good to know. If we're trying to cram way too much in, that would also be good to know. Thanks for your help!!!

day 1: arrive Ljubljana airport late morning; rent car and head to Ljubljana; hang out in the city; maybe visit castle and just relax
day 2: visit 1 or 2 of the famous caves, return to Ljubljana
day 3: visit Bled for day, return to Ljubljana
day 4: visit Piran for day, return to Ljubljana
day 5: visit alps area, Vrsic pass, etc. for day, return to Ljubljana
day 6: return car, take train to Zagreb, rent car in Zagreb and drive to some place to stay the night next to Plitvice Lakes
day 7: spend day in Plitvice Lakes, then drive to Split late afternoon/early evening
day 8: spend day and night in Split
day 9: drive to Dubrovnik, hang out in city
day 10: spend another day and night in Dubrovnik
day 11: depart out of Dubrovnik

Posted by
25602 posts

I think Bled is totally workable as a day-trip from Ljubljana. I did it myself. With your own car and an early start, you might be able to go to Vintgar Gorge the same day. Alternatively, Lake Bohinj might be an option. The caves can also be visited easily in a day.

For some reason Piran feels like not such a good idea as a day-trip. ViaMichelin estimates the drive at 97 minutes, but folks here say those driving times tend to be optimistic. I think my major problem, though, is that I like Istria a lot and wish you had time to see more of it. But given that you apparently do not, perhaps returning to Ljubljana is not so terrible. It's a very, very nice city.

We need Dejan to comment on the loop through the mountains. I have serious doubts about that day. It appears to call for about 5 hours' worth of driving (plus stops and fudge factor, of course), and it takes you right past Bled again. I'd much prefer to see all those destinations in one single loop drive with a night away from Ljubljana.

Lodging in Slovenia is not terribly expensive, and you may come to feel that your vacation time is more valuable than the free hotel nights. I assume the Starwood points can be used some other time.

Before shifting your trip schedule, check online information about cruise ship port calls. You cannot assume that the days you'll hit Dubrovnik if you travel in June will be lighter than the July/August alternatives. They may be, or not.

Dubrovnik port schedule - June 2017

Dubrovnik port schedule - July 2017

Dubrovnik port schedule - August 2017

You have only nine full days for your trip; you'll be jetlagged on Day 1. I feel like you're trying to do an awful lot, stretching your itinerary from Ljubljana through the Julian Alps and Istria all the way to Dubrovnik. You've allowed no time at all to see Zagreb, which has a very nice, large, historic district. (And I bet there's a Starwood hotel there!)

To reduce your driving time, you might consider visiting Zadar instead of Dubrovnik. Zadar, also a handsome medieval city, is only about two hours from Plitvice Lakes National Park. However, I don't know what the return-flight possibilities are like from that area of Croatia. In addition, Zadar itself gets cruise ships, so it would be important to check its port schedule.

Another possibility would be to go no farther south than Plitvice Lakes National Park, spending the extra time in Istria and Zagreb.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you for the thoughtful reply. That's a really useful chart. As luck would have it, the 2 days in July we would be in Dubrovnikc (if we go there) either have no ships or very few passengers. The 2 days in June would be a lot heavier with passengers. So I guess July is actually better in that regard.

I have no problem getting accommodations for an extra night or two away from Ljubljana. I just don't know the best way to do it. I've read some people say to spend a night or two in Piran and others say you can see everything there (and "experience" it) in a few hours. Some same do Bled as a day trip. Others say stay overnight there. Alps could be really nice if there's a cute little town to stay. I'm open to suggestions.

Regarding Zagreb, my original plan was to stay 2-3 nights when we weren't going to be visiting coastal Croatia. But Dubrovnik looks so beautiful I felt we should see it. We don't have to if people think it's overrated. I see that Rick Steves recommends Dubrovnik as the sole itinerary for Slovenia/Croatia if you only had a few days which I interpret to mean that it's a "must see". From what I read, Zagreb didn't sound as unique as either Dubrovnik or Ljubljana.

As for flights back, the three best options are back out of Ljubljana (if we don't head down to coastal Croatia), Dubrovnik and Split.

One final note worth pointing out. We'll have our two teenagers with us. So the "romance" factor isn't quite as high as a priority. :-)

Posted by
25602 posts

I don't think Dubrovnik is over-rated, but I do find my enjoyment of atmospheric places somewhat affected by massive crowding. There is definitely a point at which I'd rather go to the #2 but much less touristy destination rather than the #1 mob scene. But it sounds like you'll be able to avoid the worst days in Dubrovnik, so it may not be too bad. (I've been there twice, but not since the tourism blitz started.)

I think Piran has a good-sized historic area. There seems to be a sharp divide between tourists who go to a place like Piran and are content to see a few sights highlighted in their guidebooks (perhaps the main square, the town hall and a church in the typical town) and others (like me) who feel the urge to walk every street in the historic district, which takes a surprising amount of time.

Zagreb has a Museum of Broken Relationships that your children might enjoy if they're older teenagers. It's also a very lively city with lots of young people in the cafes.

Edited to add: If you read back through the Slovenia forum you'll find other threads that discussed the Julian Alps. I know Dejan, at least, has given suggestions for that area.

It's not that I think one day is insufficient for Lake Bled on a quick trip like yours. It's just that your plan seems to me a bit like taking a day-trip from Washington DC to Baltimore, then turning around two days later and doing the same with Philadelphia (passing right by Baltimore in the process). The four hours spent driving back and forth on that same stretch of road seem a pity.

Posted by
470 posts

I know it doesn't play well with your Starwood points, but I would combine the day trip to Piran with the day trip to the Alps area. While the Piran day trip is doable, the Alps one is not, at least not at a pace that would enable you to see the main sights at ease. How about leaving Ljubljana in the morning on day 4, going to the Alps, crossing Vrsic Pass, making your way into the Soca Valley and then spending the night there or somewhere further south along the way, for example at a tourist farm for a completely different experience. From there, you simply continue to Piran for the day and then return to Ljubljana. If you are efficient, you could even squeeze in a visit of the caves before you return to Ljubljana, but probably not.

Regarding going to Dubrovnik - I understand your urge to see Dubrovnik, it is a wonderful town, but consider the following - Ljubljana to Dubrovnik is the same distance as Ljubljana to Rome, Prague or Zurich. You are covering a large distance to get there, is it worthwhile? Unless you know you won't be returning to Europe in the future, I would save southern Croatia for another trip. Combine it with a bit of Bosnia and Montenegro, as well as an island stay and you will have filled a two-week itinerary. On this trip, give yourself more time in Slovenia or Istria instead, or visit an island near Rijeka, such as Krk or Cres for the day.

By the way, I am guessing you will be staying at the Four Points in Ljubljana, it's the only Starwood property I am aware of. Note that the hotel is actually in a wooded area on the western edge of the city by the beltway. While it provides very easy access to the highway, it is not too convenient for visiting the city.

Posted by
7 posts

Yes, I'm aware that Four Points is a bit out of the city. I heard it's about 10 min. I guess it's one tradeoff we'll have to live with. [Question: Is it easy and economical to park for the day in the city (Ljub) or are we better off taking a taxi to/from hotel?] That said, I do think we're doing too many day trips from Ljub. Below is a revised itinerary with a couple options that still gets us to Dub. [Question: If we can stay in Dub when there are no cruise ships, are the crowds more reasonable? Or is it insanely crowded regardless of the ships? Is Isteria just as pretty (i.e. Rovinj) or is Dub really the crown jewel?] Sure, we'll be back in Europe some day but who knows when. And maybe next time we'll want to visit Greece or Scandinavia or Ireland. So I'm approaching this trip as if we may not be back... or at least for a long time.

I'd love to hear thoughts on this new plan:
Day 1: arrive Ljub mid day (spend night Ljub)
Day 2: spend day in Ljub (spend night Ljub)
Day 3: spend day in Lake Bled (spend night in Bled or drive to Bovec and spend night)
Day 4: spend day in Alps (spend night in Bovec)
Day 5: cave trip and back to Ljub (spend night in Ljub)
Day 6: return car, train to Zagreb, pick up new car, drive to Plit Lakes (spend night Plit Lakes)
Day 7: Plit Lakes (spend 2nd night at Plit Lakes or drive to Split and spend night)
Day 8: drive to Dub (spend night in Dub)
Day 9: spend day in Dub (spend night in Dub)
Day 10: spend day in Dub (spend night in Dub)
Day 11: depart

A variation on this which would include Piran is from days 3-5 as follows:
Day 3: cave trip and then drive to Piran and spend afternoon (spend night Piran)
Day 4: Lake Bled (spend night Lake Bled)
Day 5: Alps then back to Ljub (spend night Ljub)

Posted by
470 posts

It's better to take the taxi at €6 one-way than pay for parking, which costs around €1.5-2.5 per hour in the city centre parking garages. Street parking is cheaper, but is usually quite full and limited to 2 hours, so you would have to return every two hours to buy a new ticket, which is annoying.

Dubrovnik is always crowded in the summer, the cruise ship passengers only add to it. Istria is quite different to Dubrovnik, it's a much more rural and green setting than Dubrovnik's more arid surroundings. The real added value of Istria, much like Slovenia, lies in its countryside. The towns, such as Rovinj and Piran, although smaller and less impressive than Dubrovnik, are still very pretty.

How about this for your itinerary if you stick to Dubrovnik (changes in bold):
Day 1: arrive Ljub mid day (spend night Ljub)
Day 2: spend day in Ljub (spend night Ljub)
Day 3: spend day in Lake Bled and Vintgar Gorge or Lake Bohinj (spend night in Bled) - your kids will love a side visit to Vintgar or Bohinj
Day 4: spend day in Alps (spend night around Kobarid) - note that you could add an extra day here for activities, of which there are truly plenty in the Alps, such as adventure parks, ziplining, whitewater rafting, canyoning, hiking, etc. if the teenagers enjoy that sort of thing. In this case reduce a night in Dubrovnik and add it here
Day 5: spend morning in Skocjan Caves, afternoon in Piran and back to Ljub in the evening (spend night in Ljub)
Day 6: return car, train to Zagreb, pick up new car, drive to Plit Lakes (spend night Plit Lakes)
Day 7: Plit Lakes (drive to Split and spend night) - you don't have any time in Split or nearby Trogir. Another option is to add a day from Dubrovnik to here.
Day 8: drive to Dub (spend night in Dub)
Day 9: spend day in Dub (spend night in Dub)
Day 10: spend day in Dub (spend night in Dub) - as I mentioned, I would reduce a day in Dubrovnik, either by spending it in the Alps for activities or by adding it to Split.
Day 11: depart.

Posted by
25602 posts

I don't think Rovinj is particularly like Dubrovnik. Piran I'm fuzzy on since I was there so long ago (decades, not years). Zadar, which is north of Split, does remind me quite a bit of Dubrovnik, though I don't think you can walk on the wall and it does get plenty of tourists itself, just not nearly as many. I mention Zadar because it is geographically more convenient to your other stops than Dubrovnik is. But I know it's hard to contemplate skipping Dubrovnik. Sometimes you just have to go and see for yourself what the crowds are like. That will at least help you in making decisions for future trips when you're considering places like the Cinque Terre and Santorini.

Posted by
1160 posts

I agree with staying in Lake Bled. We loved Ljubljana, but we wanted to hike around the Lake Bled area so we stayed 2 nights for a good 3 days of the area.
We loved the Vintgar Gorge, Lake Bohinj, and biking the lake, as well as rowing the swan boats to the island in the middle of the Lake. Our hosts at Penzion Berc gave us more hikes to do which we loved. They also had free bikes for us to use and we were a minutes walk down to the lake.

Posted by
27 posts

Hey man,

You've got a car! You can drive and stay in different areas on the way without returning to Lju! You have wasted lots of time!
Just wonder, have you study the map yet?
or have you studied the itinerary of some travelling agent to get some ideas?

Just give you a skeleton of a normal slovenia - croatia itinerary. You may add or subtract to make your own one.

You need only one car. Get it from Lju and return it in Dbv.

day 1 Arrive LJU, have a city tour, stay in Lju
day 2 Get the car from Lju, drive to Bled, stay in Bled
day3 From Bled to Vingtar Gorge, than to Bohinj, stay in Bohinj
day 4 From Bohinj to divaca, enjoy the julian alps. Then visit Skojcan cave, stay in divaca
day 5 From divaca to Piran, stay in Piran
day 6 From Piran to Rovinj, stay in Rovinj
day 7 From Rovinj to Zagreb, city tour in zagreb, stay in zagreb
day 8 From zagreb to plitvice, stay in plitvice
day 9 Leave plitvice in the evening, stay in Zadar
day 10 From Zadar to split, stay in split
day 11 From split to dubronvnik, stay in dubronvik
day 12 Return the car in Dubronvik, stay in dubronvik
day 13 Airport bus to DBV airport, back home

Just let you to have some rough ideas on how to plan a tour using a car. It is more complicated to make a trip with public transport.

Posted by
27 posts

just read another passage that you may want to avoid charges from crossing the countries.
After visiting piran, you may return your car in koper. Then take a bus from koper to rovinj. It takes only 114 kunas ~ 15euros
very cheap. Then you can rent another one from rovinj and return in dbv