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Slovenia car rental

Full disclosure: I've never crossed an international border with a rental car. I'd like to rent a car in Ljubljana, drive to Trieste, Koper, Rovinj, and/or Pula before returning the car back to Ljubljana a day or two later. From what I can tell, it doesn't appear it would be any trouble to cross the Italian border before returning my car back to Slovenia. Are there only headaches and big fees from rental companies if you do one way rentals? Or will the Croatian border control folks not be happy dealing with an American driving a Slovenian rental car?

And no thank you to any "why-don't-you-take-the-bus" suggestions.

Posted by
4700 posts

I don't think you will have any trouble. I have rented cars in Slovenia and Croatia a few times but never actually crossed the Slovenian/Croatian border. There are border controls between Slovenia and Croatia, and you need to make sure you cross at a crossing where non-EU drivers are allows to cross. (On minor roads crossing the border, you might be turned away.) There are no border controls between Italy and Slovenia (though the police seem to stop busses crossing between on the highways sometimes; they stopped my bus between Ljubljana and Trieste last May for about 20 minutes while checking American passports). A few years ago, I got slightly lost driving near the Italian border and crossed into Italy a few times - in fact, I was in a traffic circle on the boarder, and I think as I drove through the circle a few times I drove from Slovenia to Italy to Slovenia to Italy...all in the same circle!

An American driving a rental car should not raise any eyebrows. I've crossed the borders between Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro numerous times in rental cars. The US passport usually merits little more than a quick glance. It is important to make sure ahead of time that you have a valid insurance card to cross borders, meaning you've arranged for driving across a border ahead of time. (Assume your car has a GPS built into it so the car company knows when you cross a border.) Contact the rental car company and find out what fees if any there are to drive the car out of Slovenia. Sometimes the fee is listed on their website. I've emailed car companies over there a few times and usually receive a response in English.

I assume you still need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive a car in Slovenia, in addition to your US driver's license. I have read conflicting info about this, but to be on the safe side (in case stopped by the police) I just pick one up at AAA before leaving the states - about $20 USD, valid for a year.

Last year I rented in Ljubljana from Avantcar (just for one day to drive around locally). I'd rent from them again. I've used Sixt in the past - they are OK too, perhaps a tad more expensive. Understand the costs before you get to the rental counter i.e. cost of comprehensive/collision insurance (liability is always included). Either expect to pay for extra coverage or figure out if you want to try to use a credit card's rental car coverage or something (I'd never do that again probably, after one awful experience with Amex a few years ago in Croatia). You can get pretty good deals with brokers like EconomyCarRentals (used them once a few years ago) and sometimes they offer cheaper insurance too.

Posted by
4409 posts

Border guards will not even care whether your car is rented or not and they will not care about your nationality. I have crossed the Croatia/Slovenia border (in multiple places) more times than I can count in a rental car traveling from Austria to Croatia. Just make sure you inform your car rental agency where you plan to take the car as there may be additional fees. There is no border between Italy and Slovenia, you just drive across the border, like driving from Pennsylvania to Ohio.

Posted by
19519 posts

When heading to Istria, a car is definitely better than a bus. I think you may be underestimating the driving time, but as long as you turn around soon enough, you'll be OK.

You didn't mention what time of year you'll be making the trip. I believe there are occasionally back-ups at hot-spots heading to (and possibly from?) beaches. It would be good to have local information on that (paging Dejan).

I haven't been to Pula, but posters here have indicated that really the Roman ruins (perhaps not outstanding?) are the only reason to go there. I'm not sure how close you can get to the pedestrianized medieval center of Rovinj with a car, but it is definitely picturesque. Porec looks very different but is also worth a stop. Not sure about the car situation there, either. In the interior, Motovun and Groznjan are worthwhile. Perhaps you'll find yourself near one or the other.

Posted by
37 posts

Well, since I have everyone here, what are your opinions on where to go in that area? My parameters are that I don't do museums or shop for souvenirs, I avoid tourist magnets, and much prefer people-watching and taking in everyday life in locales. I'd imagine I'm looking at a two day/one night plan.

Posted by
19519 posts

I haven't been to Trieste, but by all accounts it is a handsome, historic city without a heavy tourist load. I think it may appeal to you (as it would to me).

It will be difficult to find an historic, picturesque coastal town along the Adriatic that isn't touristy. Rovinj and Porec were chock-full of tourists during my 2015 visit. There's a small hilltop town between them where I felt like the only tourist, called Vrsar. The inland towns I mentioned (Groznjan and Motovun) are not on the coast and thus not inundated. As of 2015 there was a once-a-week bus tour into that area on Wednesdays, so you might run into a gaggle of tourists that day.

I have a vague recollection that someone commented here about preferring Piran to Koper, but I could be wrong. Same situation as in Croatia, though: Don't expect to be the only foreigner in town.

To me (not a beach-goer), Istria is about cute little towns (some medieval) and pretty countryside. If that doesn't sound interesting, I wonder if you wouldn't be better off driving a loop into the Julian Alps. Certainly there will be other tourists there (perhaps mostly Austrian and Italian), but probably not like you'll find on the coast. I haven't traveled beyond Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj myself, but you'll find some earlier threads in the Slovenia forum on the subject.

Posted by
37 posts

This is more about checking off seeing the Adriatic and its coast in one capacity or another...it's not really the focal point of my trip. Koper is appealing in that the train runs directly there from Ljubljana, which is how we're doing almost all of our travel. If all things are equal, I'd probably prefer to go there. But if there's a real difference in going to Trieste as you're saying or elsewhere, then we'll take that possibility more seriously.

Posted by
4700 posts

I wasn't a big fan of Trieste. I spent a night there. I'm glad I did, because I skipped it a few years ago and always wondered what it was like. Yes, it's an interesting town but still feels like a "big, noisy Italian city" in many ways (even though it has deeper Austrian roots than Italian). The huge main square is really cool. I did an easy hike on the Strada Vicentina (less about "hiking" which is not hard but more about the views). Otherwise, I didn't find it particularly charming or compelling as a place to spend time. I wouldn't regret never visiting again.

(You can find my pictures from last May by visiting my Portland Bridges website listed in my profile and searching for "trieste." It is pretty when all lit up at night.)

Ljubljana on the other hand is one of my favorite cities in Europe. It's pretty small for a city but has beautiful architecture and a lot of charm - a very walkable, vibrant town with big pedestrian areas. There's even a cute castle up on top of the hill overlooking the town. It's gotten more touristy since I first visited in 2009, but compared to say Venice or Dubrovnik it's not touristy at all.

The Rick Steves Croatia/Slovenia book probably gives you all you need to know about the area on a short visit. On my first real trip to Slovenia, I visited Ljubljana, then rented a car and drove to Lake Bled. On the way to Bled I detoured to the cute town of Skofja Loka (worth a few hours to stop), then drove the scenic detour up the mountain via Jamnik and Kropa - breathtaking scenery in places, a lovely drive. I explored Bled and nearby Lake Bohinj for a few days, then drove the Julian Alps Loop (described well in Rick's book) over the twisty road over the Vrsic Pass and down into the Soca Valley. I spent a night in the little town of Kobarid mostly for the World War I museum (which I assume would hold little interest to you) then returned the car in Piran, a lovely town on Slovenia's tiny coastline.

On a later trip, I explored Croatian Istria: Rovinj, Pula, and a few hill towns. I absolutely loved Rovinj - similar to Piran with its Venetian bell tower on the hill, but it's small. Rovinj is touristy and small. Pula is much bigger, more of a "working town" so less touristy but less charming. I wasn't really impressed with Pula. The arena is well preserved, but I'd seen the coliseum in Rome and the other ruins in Pula similarly didn't do much for me. The hill towns were more interesting - Gronjan was my favorite, Motovun is nice but more touristy. They take some time to get to though.

If I could have skipped Pula, I wouldn't have minded. The hill towns I liked better.

If you really have only a few days, personally I'd stick to Slovenia: Ljubljana, near Bled, and maybe Piran. If "a few days" means two or three, that's barely enough time to do justice to those places.

Posted by
4700 posts

Will, I thought you were going to rent a car not take the train to Koper? Now I'm confused. Renting a car is easy and probably cheap in the area. I love trains, but train service in Slovenia is pretty limited. I managed to sneak in a train trip between Ljubljana and Rijeka once (to begin a longer trip in Croatia), and last year I took the train from Ljubljana to Bled for the day even though most people would take the bus. Otherwise, driving is more practical.

Posted by
37 posts

I should have clarified...if Koper's our destination, it will most likely be via train. I think for any other cities we'd take a car. I'll explore some info on some of the smaller towns in the hills too, since I like the sounds of that. Yes, Ljubljana will be a longer stay for us, and one of the main destinations of our trip. I'm interested in Lake Bled, but need to figure out the logistics, and see if they're conducive to the overall schedule I have in mind. Avoiding car travel (and bus travel too) is a major goal, but I'm willing to concede if it's worth it....

Posted by
4700 posts

I'd say Slovenia isn't a great place to try to avoid car travel, unless you don't mind buses. Trains just don't get you everywhere like they do in Italy or much of western Europe. I'm planning a trip to Bulgaria for this spring, and I plan to do almost all of it by train, because it looks doable and because I love trains. I did two weeks in Germany that way too. Slovenia isn't the same. It's doable if you do more buses - but I dislike long bus rides. Plus, driving in Slovenia is easy, fun, and cheap, and you'll see more scenic drives you can't see by train or bus.

I have a picture of Jamnik, Slovenia from the scenic drive between Bled and Skofja Loka on my wall at home - just something I would never had even seen without renting a car.

Posted by
37 posts

I understand. We found previously that we were able to cover more ground on trains since the experience was more refreshing than driving, of course...giving up some independence in our routes is the trade off. Seriously, it's a good problem to have. I'll check out your Trieste pics later. Thanks!

Posted by
19519 posts

If the only thing you have time for in the area around Ljubljana is Lake Bled, a taxi might not be cost-prohibitive. As of 2015 I was surprised at the comparatively low taxi fares in Slovenia (whereas restaurant costs were not that different from points west).

Andrew, about those Bulgarian trains: I hope it works out for you. Those things get taken out of service--I assume for track work--at times, and for extended periods. I met a small GAP tour group on the train from Bucharest to Veliko Trnovo. It was a Balkan tour by rail. Except that's not exactly the way it was playing out. They'd already had one overnight bus ride (perhaps in Romania) and were facing another long trip by bus, somewhere in Bulgaria. At least they knew far enough ahead of time for the guide to make alternative arrangements. I was impressed by how philosophically they were all taking the change in plans.

I suggest researching bus schedules so you'll have back-up plans.

Posted by
4409 posts

Trieste and Koper are not the gems in this area and I wouldn't spend time in either of them. Rent a car in Ljubljana and go to Piran, if your objective is to see the Adriatic. Stay in the very center of Piran. It is an absolutely lovely town to just relax for a day or two. Great food, history, the bluest water I've ever seen. Alternatively, drive down to Croatian Istria and stay a night or two in one place. We always rent a villa in the interior and make the 20 minute drive to Rovinj, Porec, etc. I should note that there are many coastal villages that are absolutely charming and devoid of tourists, but these are my special secrets and I'm not sharing them here. If you really want to soak up the coast, however, I can highly recommend spending the day at Kamenjak Peninsula, heading straight to the Safari Bar. Nice walking trails in this National Park hugging the beaches where you can find a secret cove. Pula is ok, but my least favorite of the major Istrian towns.