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Need help with itinerary for Slovenia

We're planning to visit for 8-10 days with our 2 teenage kids in mid-late July this year. I've read amazing things about the country. Here's the catch: we have Starwood points we can use which will obviously save us money. There are Starwood options in Ljubljana and Zagreb (if Croatia also makes sense). I don't want to be beholden to them if there are places we should stay overnight where there aren't major hotels. I just don't know when a day trip from Ljubljana is more than enough to get the "feel" for the place. And I don't know how much there is to explore in Ljubljana itself. And finally, I'm not sure how important it is to have a car to get around.

From what I've read, the places we should try to include are Lake Bled, Piran, the caves and Plitvice Lakes. Here are my questions:

  • Are the caves an easy day trip from Ljubljana? Seems like there are thousands of them. Are there one of two that stand out? Are those a full day's worth of activity or something to do before or after an excursion somewhere else?

  • Are Lake Bled and Piran easy day trips and enough to experience them? Would it be worth staying a night or two at either place? How would you prioritize between the two?

  • Seems like Plitvice is pretty far from Ljubljana so I thought maybe we would spend 2-3 nights in Zagreb and use that as a base. I think I read there are no overnight accommodations in that park. If that's correct, would you find a place to stay right by it or just do a day trip out of Zagreb? Is it even worth adding Zagreb to this trip? Is it a pretty unique experience vis a vis Ljubljana? Could it be used as a base to explore anything else worth seeing?

  • How much time would you budget for just exploring Ljubljana and Zagreb?

  • Should we plan on a rental car just for day excursions or also when we're in a city and just exploring that city (i.e. is it easy to walk around or take public transit in Ljubljana and Zagreb)? Is parking in the city expensive or a pain?

  • Anything I'm missing that should be added? Am I being too ambitious with our travel plans? I'm assuming visiting the coast of Croatia is out of the question with this much time so that would have to be for a future trip.

Sorry for all the questions. I want to figure this out quickly before it's too late. Thanks for all your help!!!

Posted by
23065 posts

Ljubljana and Zagreb are both delightful cities. Ljubljana seems to get more love here. Perhaps because it's smaller and there's a nice little river flowing through the historic district; that does seem to add something. Ljubljana also has a castle and some art museums. Zagreb has a large, bi-level historic district, an active café culture and lots of museums as well. The two are linked by bus and rail service. In 10 days you might be able to hit both. I'd like to have about 1-1/2 days in each, though I suppose one full day would do if you were willing to rush around. Ljubljana is walkable with a centrally-located hotel. Zagreb too, perhaps, but it also has an excellent tram system. I know nothing about parking.

Have you figured out how you're getting to that area and how you're leaving? In 2015 I got a decent connection back to my home airport, starting from Zagreb. I've never investigated flights into Ljubljana.

Ljubljana is a fine base for visiting Lake Bled. Buses run frequently. For four people, a taxi might be affordable.

With an early start you'd be able to add Vintgar Gorge or Lake Bohinj to your Lake Bled day trip. There's bus service to both of those places but a taxi would be more convenient. Lake Bohinj is farther from Lake Bled and would be costlier. The tourist office in Ljubljana is very helpful and can probably supply bus schedules.

The website of the Ljubljana bus station has a schedule-lookup function. It works in Chrome but not (for me) in an older version of Internet Explorer. It's not finding anything for Vintgar Gorge at the moment; perhaps those buses don't run in the winter.

The two most often visited cave systems in Slovenia are Postojna and Skocjan. Both are accessible by bus, though I think Postojna is a bit easier to reach. Postojna is a bit more touristy (colored lights, a little train, etc.); Skocjan is more natural and probably involves more walking. Just check the bus schedule ahead of time; either would be a nice day-trip from Ljubljana.

I didn't get to Piran, but it appears that buses are not very frequent and take 2-1/4 to 3 hours each way from the capital, so I'd say that's a bit beyond day-trip distance. You might disagree. Or you could rent a car, in which case you should research parking options online before you head to Piran. You normally have to find a place to ditch the car outside the historic district.

The Plitvice Lakes National Park is fabulous, and you're so close, I'd like for you to be able to see it. Although in theory Plitvice can be a day-trip from Zagreb (there's decent bus service), do not even think of tackling it that way. On a day-trip you get to the park the same time as everyone else (or later than the folks who drove from Zagreb or Split). You would not believe the crowds on the walkways. You must spend the night before your visit very near the park and head out early. There are hotels and guest houses in and near the park. You can find a bunch on

If you arrive by mid-afternoon or so, you can think about spending some time in the park in the late afternoon, after most of the day-trippers have left. The park sells two-day passes that are cheaper than two one-day passes. Take water and snacks into the park so you don't have to pop out to look for refreshments until you've seen all that you want to see.

You could either drive to the park or take the bus from Zagreb (or Karlovac). Just get there the night before your visit.

Having a car would be handy for some of the destinations. It would allow you to connect one of the caves to Piran to Plitvice. But there are two countries involved, and you'd almost certainly have to return the car to the same country where you picked it up, in order to avoid a very high drop charge. And be sure the car-rental company is OK with your taking the car across the border.