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Need Itinerary Advice

Hi - I am planning a trip to Slovenia and Croatia in June/July 2018 with my family of 5, including my husband and three daughters age 22, 20, and 16. This will be my older daughter's last trip with us as she is finishing up college.

About us - 4 of us love to travel, and 1 gets fairly overwhelmed sometimes, so I need to make sure and have a few down days in the trip. We are fine with big cities - but hate the crowds if we can avoid it - which I know can be difficult. I have not bought the plane tickets so can be flexible - but want to get those this week.

We will be flying to London for a few days to get over jet lag and visit friends, so can jet lag will not be an issue when we first arrive. I am trying hard to avoid change hotels too much - but will if it makes more sense.

  1. Fly to Ljubljana - stay night
  2. Ljubljana - day and night
  3. Day trip to Lake Bled - night in Ljubljana. Can we do the Julian Alps in this day too? Would it be worth it to stay one more day to do this? And if yes, is it better to do two nights in Ljubljan and two nights in Lake Bled?
  4. Drive to Skocjan caves and Lipica Farm on way to Piran - arrive night in Piran
  5. Piran day and night
  6. Should I go to Rovinj for two additional nights - or is this too repetitive to Piran?
  7. Drive to Plitvice (need to figure travel plan for this part still) and stay night in Plitvice
  8. Day at park early in the morning - drive to Split
  9. Split
  10. Split - day trip to possible Brac
  11. Split - day trip to Korcula or Hvar
  12. Leave Split to return home

Will I be kicking myself for not going to Dubrovnik? This was the whole reason for the initial trip, but after reading about how crowded it is with all the cruise ships, it got me nervous. Then I started reading about Slovenia, and was very intrigued - I can definitely spend more time there as well if anyone has any suggestions. We did a trip to Venice/Tuscany/Rome two years ago, and by far our favorite part was Tuscany. We loved Venice - but the amount of people was too much (and we even stayed from from the city center) so sort of want to learn from that trip. We do have the three daughters - so I can't make this a romantic countryside vacation completely - but a good balance.

Any help is very much appreciated!!

Posted by
6855 posts

Yes, you should visit Dubrovnik for short amount of time. Stay overnight to be there when less crowded.

Posted by
113 posts

Yes - I am thinking I have to leave out Piran or Rovinj in order to go to Dubroknik. I think my best bet is to go from Ljubljana to Zagrab, and then Zagrab to Plitvice. I am looking at the shortest route for this to cut out some time. Is it worth spending the night in Zagrab?

My other option is to go straight from Ljubljana to Split, and skip Plitvice - but that is a long, long day. I am a little concerned that even by getting to Plitvice at 7 or 8AM that it will still be ultra crowded. Does anyone have experience with this?

I like the idea of going to Kakr Park instead/in addition to - as it looks like we can swim at the waterfalls, which sounds like fun. Anyone here swim in those falls?

Posted by
19427 posts

I haven't been to Krka so can't compare it to Plitvice, which I love when it is not monstrously crowded, which it was by about 10 AM on a summer Friday in 2015. I consider Plitvice the top sight in Croatia as long as one can avoid overlapping too much with the daytrippers' hours. I traveled to the park from Zagreb (admittedly, probably not on the earliest bus), and no one who really dislikes crowds could have tolerated it.

I like Zagreb a great deal. It looks diferent from Ljubljana (no river in the center of the city) but has a very large, bi-level historic district. There are a lot of good museums, both traditional and quirky (one of the world's best naive art collections and the Museum of Broken Relationships, just about guaranteed to be a hit with your daughters).

If you were already going to be in or near southern Croatia, I'd agree that you shouldn't miss Dubrovnik. As it is, I don't think you necessarily should cut things from your draft itinerary to travel that far. Every trip is a matter of balancing what you want to see and what is practical.

Edited to add: I'd consider spending a night and part of the next day in Zagreb (2 nights would be better), leaving Zagreb in the afternoon to go to Plitvice the night before your park visit. In the unlikely event that you've seen all you want in Zagreb by the next morning, you could leave early for Plitvice. It has been reported here that by late afternoon the park is no longer swamped, so you could see part of the park that afternoon.

I haven't been to Piran recently enough to remember how different it might be from Rovinj, but for sure Porec and Rovinj are visually very different, and the interior towns of Groznjan and Motovun are different from the coastal towns, as in the countryside.

Posted by
113 posts

Thank you! I think for sure I will keep both Plitcive and Kakr.

I will have to take some time out somewhere because of our added days to London. The trip is already t about 14 days and I think that's enough. I wasn't even going to go to Slovenia when the planning started, but I feel we will be missing something if we do. It's the balance of the extra travel time to get around - something my family tells me all the time! :).

So maybe after the cave tours, we drive back to Ljubljana and take a train to Zagreb, and at least stay one night - if not two. I'll look into that.

What about safety at Plitvice? Do we just leave all our luggage in the car for the day? I would think that any hotel would hate to watch all that extra luggage each and every day if we check out early.

Posted by
4700 posts

I wasn't a big fan of Zagreb myself - but I loved Ljubljana. Some people love Zagreb, though. Others not so much. But I think most love Ljubljana. I certainly wouldn't add two days for Zagreb and skip Dubrovnik if that were the trade-off (though obviously Zagreb is more practical on the way to Plitvice). Don't skip Dubrovnik just because you fear crowds; it's much more quiet at night. You need not spend days and days there. Dubrovnik is really unique and special.

I loved Piran and Rovinj both. They are kind of similar but not exactly the same. But I think Rovinj makes more sense as a base for exploring Istrian hill towns (and perhaps Pula for its Roman ruins) than as a destination in itself. Rovinj is lovely but tiny - explored fairly quickly. The payoff of Rovinj is its charm. I'm not sure that alone is worth hours of driving out of your way.

The Julian Alps drive is a great experience, up the twisty road with a bunch of hairpin turns. There are some great viewpoints once you get all way up and some interesting sights along the way. I encountered a flock of sheep coming down as I was driving up!

Less well noted in the guidebooks is the beautiful scenic drive between the town of Skofja Loka and Bled, via the mountains and towns of Jamnik and Kropa (starting in say Ljubljana). This is one of my favorite things about Slovenia, plus the town of Skofja Loka itself is lovely and worth visiting.

Lake Bled is great, though it is a developed resort. (Lake Bohinj nearby is less developed and more "back to nature.") I didn't find the town of Bled all that interesting or charming, but it can make sense as a base for exploring the area. Otherwise, It's easy to day trip to Bled from Ljubljana, which I greatly prefer at night to the town of Bled.

Posted by
19427 posts

It is customary for hotels to store luggage after customers check out. That must be a very common request at Plitvice. If you end up in a tiny place or an Airbnb spot, it might be an issue, so you should check with the place before,it's too,late to cancel your reservation. I know nothing about the specific safety of the parking lots at the park, but the conventional wisdom is that parking lots at major tourist attractions are high-risk zones for break-ins.

Posted by
113 posts

Thanks! I will look up a few more places.

Fr the Julian Alps - is that a combined day with Lake Bled, or should we make that a completely separate day, going back and forth to Ljubljana? That's the trade off - staying a little out of town with more driving vs. packing and unpacking all the time. I 100% am interested in small little side trips, so will look into those as well. I just want to make sure we don't do TOO much driving since our three daughters will be in the back and it may not be too comfortable for long trips.

I really like the idea of Piran to relax a bit. It seems a little less romantic than Rovinj, but by skipping Rivinj I feel as if we might be missing out on some side trips. I have also heard the food in this area is amazing, and we are all foodies and my goal is to find great restaurants. They don't necessarily have to be fancy - I often like finding hidden gems.

I am very concerned about the travel time between Rovinj and Plitvice and if that is worth the effort, or just go Zagrab on the train.

Dubrovnik is definitely back in the picture....

Posted by
113 posts

Part 2 @ Andrew - I see you are a photographer! My husband is as well, and the trip will be stopping at a lot of places for pictures. If you have any special thoughts in that area, I would love to hear them. Thanks!

Posted by
4700 posts

The paid parking lots across the street from the park entrances have manned booths you use to exit, as I recall; I parked there for the day a few years ago, with all of my stuff in the trunk (nothing in view in the inside of the car through the windows). Yes, the thought of whether that was safe did occur to me, but once I got there it felt perfectly safe to me, especially knowing that random people can't just drive in and try to steal stuff then speed off unnoticed, with the attendant there. Sure, you never know - theft could happen, but I felt safe parking there. I certainly parked in much less safe places and took bigger risks.

The park hotel parking lots are free to enter for anyone, so technically they might be less safe. Of course, if you stayed at one of the hotels, just leave your bags with the front desk after you check out if that makes you feel better. But even that isn't entirely safe in every case; in some hotels, the "left luggage" area isn't exactly secure, kind of the honor system about picking the bags that belong to you. I have no idea what the Plitvice hotels offer for that. Personally, I'd feel safer having my luggage in the trunk in the lot in front of the hotel.

Posted by
4700 posts

Marie, your husband will not be disappointed with Slovenia or most of the places you list in Croatia! It's an amazingly picturesque area as you have probably noticed. Ljubljana itself is full of beautiful architecture - I've been there four times and still can't stop taking pictures whenever I visit. The city is all lit up at night too - looks amazing in pictures.

The drive I mention between Skofja Loka and Bled offers some great photo ops. The Jamnik church you'll see if you google is breathtaking set against the alps - I have one of my pics of that on my wall at home.

I stopped at the Lipica farm for a little while without taking one of the scheduled tours. You can just drive in to the farm and stop alongside of the road - for a moment. When I parked at the main area (considering a tour) someone who saw my fancy camera stopped me and asked if I had a press credential and I said no - i.e. don't take pictures, then. If that meant I wouldn't be allowed to take pictures on the tour, then I wasn't really interested in taking it, so I left.

You can't take pictures in the Skocjan caves, either, or at least you aren't supposed to. That was a disappointment. (I had my tripod and would have used it for sure.) Some people were sneaking them anyway on our tour. You have to join a tour to explore the caves.

Piran and Rovinj both offered up some beautiful shots.

Zagreb has a huge main square that I enjoyed shooting pictures in at night. There are some other interesting buildings in Zagreb as well, but it's just not the collection of architectural delights that Ljubljana is, with its numerous bridges etc.

If your husband uses a tripod for waterfall pictures (long exposures mean "misty" waterfalls, a nice effect), he'll definitely want to be in Plitvice at 7am when it opens, because a few hours after that, with so many people, not only is it hard to get shots without people in them, but it can also be hard to get a steady tripod shot without people walking on the wooden boardwalks and shaking the camera! I can't tell you how frustrating that was - but early in the morning it was pretty easy without many others in the park.

Not that you'll have time for a lot of stops, but if you want a stop on the way to Split, the town of Sibenik (south of Zadar, near Krka) is a lovely town, one I might have enjoyed spending a night in (more than Zadar where I did stay perhaps).

Dubrovnik is another town I found very photogenic. At night, the polished stone streets glisten in the light. It's magical. Walking the walls in the morning around the old offers endless photo opps into and around town. If you go to Dubrovnik, try to visit the Buza Bar at dusk - great place to take in the sunset! I hiked up above town to find a decent viewpoint down; you can even take the cable car up the mountain above town - a great viewpoint too, not an option for me on my first trip to Dubrovnik, because the cable car wasn't going then.

Posted by
113 posts

I have some more research to do! I like that almost as much as the trip itself. I will definitely be looking at the side lake trip.

The horses are not a must in my book at all. But definitely the caves. I could also do both caves and the castle if both caves are not too repetitive. I do know that one is much more touristy than the other. I am sure my husband will be ok without taking the cave pictures. He took pictures at caves near Haalstadtt several years ago and it's just hard to get the perfect perspective. I think we will just enjoy the tour.

He IS very much into architecture though, so this will all be up his alley. When we went to Venice a couple of years ago, the highlight of the entire trip was a photo tour with Marco Secci who also happens to do photo tours in Ljubljana, so we will try to connect once my dates are firm.

I am sure I will have more questions tomorrow. Thanks so much.

Posted by
37 posts

Hi Marie - My husband and I spent 3 weeks in Croatia, Bosnia, and Slovenia in May 2017. This was our itinerary and the number of (nights) in each place:

Dubrovnik (3)
Mostar (1)
Sarajevo (3)
Zagreb (3)
Plitvice (1)
Piran (2)
Lake Bled (3)
Ljubljana (4)

I agree with Andrew in regard to safety of belongings in the parking lots at Plitvice Parks. We arrived at the parks around 1pm and were able to cover half of the park. The next morning we arrived right after the parks open and covered the other half of the park...and the best part? we didn’t see any people for a full hour!! We loved Plitvice, and even though it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere it was one of the highlights of our trip. We spent the night at Miric Inn and can highly recommend it.

Piran was fantastic. Weather was sunny and mild so we spent all of our time outside, and the rest of the time eating! We really liked the food in Piran. My husband works in the food industry and we are both foodies so where and what we eat is always a priority :) I keep all our receipts and put them on a spreadsheet to track our expenses, so if you’d like to know where we ate at any of the above locations and the cost I’d be happy to share that info.

We were very happy with our decision to spend three nights in Lake Bled. We arrived around 5pm the first day as we were driving from Piran and had stopped at Skocjan Caves and Predjama Castle on the way. Our first full day was spent exploring Bled. There was an accordion festival in town (more than 500 accordion players!) so we really enjoyed being part of the festivities. On our second day we had booked a full-day hike in Triglav National Park with an alpine guide...another highlight of our trip.

As much as we loved Plitvice, Piran, and Bled, our favorite place was Sarajevo. It was gritty, culturally very different than anyplace we have ever visited, and filled with some of kindest and funniest people we have ever met. We will most definitely return to Sarajevo sometime in the future.

If you have any questions about any portion of our trip, just ask, I’d be happy to help.

Posted by
18 posts

@Leia - I would be very interested in your restaurant recommendations for Slovenia, Istria and others in Croatia.