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Slovenia/Croatia/Bosnia trip - itinerary help

I am in the midst of planning a trip for mid-June 2020 for our family of 4 (kids will be 19 and 21). I'm looking for feedback and suggestions on what I have so far. Also would love suggestions for activities in locations that have them, like kayaking or other active ideas. We will have a rental car for the entire trip.

6/16 arrive Zagreb 11:30 am. Explore as fatigue allows. Sleep Zagreb
6/17 drive to Ljubljana. Spend 2 nights.
6/19 drive to Lake Bled. Explore Lake Bled, Castle, Vintgar Gorge. Sleep Lake Bled
6/20 drive Julian Alps, Skocjan Caves. Arrive Rovijn, sleep Rovijn
(do we need to spend the night somewhere or is this all doable in one day? We could also cut out part or all of the Julian Alps.)
6/21 explore Rovijn, Motovun (maybe Pula or Groznjan). Drive to Plitvice maybe late entry to park. Sleep Plitvice
6/22 Early entrance into park, tour park. Drive to Split. Sleep Split.
6/23 Tour Split. Sleep Split
6/24 Boat to Hvar (this is our 25th anniversary, would love recs on accommodations and restaurants). Sleep Hvar
6/25 Sleep Hvar
6/26 Maybe to Korcula or Brac? Not sure about 2nd island, would like to relax a bit.
6/27 Drive to Mostar. Sleep Mostar
6/28 Drive to Dubrovnik. Sleep Dubrovnik
6/29 Explore Dubrovnik. Sleep Dubrovnik
6/30 Day trip to Kotor or ?
7/1 fly home

Posted by
568 posts

We recently returned from Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia, but we didn't go to all the places you are going to so I can't comment on everything. But I will say that you have 4 one-night stays, which I would find very stressful. But you know your travel style better than I do. On our recent trip, we had only one 1-night stay, and that was at Plitvice.

If you want to relax a bit, I would not go to a second island. We spent a day in Hvar Town and loved it. If you spend more time on Hvar, you can also rent a car to visit Stari Grad and more places on Hvar, and also have some relaxing beach time.

If you can, I would spend 2 nights in Zagreb. We really enjoyed Zagreb, which has many interesting museums, and the old town is very interesting to slowly wander through, and there is a fun and interesting morning market every day. Zagreb is very different from Ljubljana, Split, and Dubrovnik, so you will have a lot of diversity.

I recommend hiring Maja Benzon for a private tour of old town Split and Diocletian's Palace. She is recommended by Rick Steves, and we had an excellent 2-hour tour with her.

And I also recommend spending a day driving around the Bay of Kotor. We hired a private driver, and he made the day one of the best days of our trip. He gave us a lot of historical background on the places we visited (Budva, Kotor, and Perast). Perast was our favorite!

For Plitvice, I recommend staying at Plitvice Miric Inn. We loved it! Our room was spacious and clean, and the owners/staff were very friendly and helpful. The price included one of the best breakfast buffets I have ever had. And for an additional 20 euros, you can have dinner in their restaurant, which was one of the best dinners on our trip. The price included a salad, home-made chicken soup, your choice of entrée (we had fresh trout), and a platter of roasted/grilled vegetables, potatoes, and a few other sides. Also included was the best apple strudel I have had. The Inn is about a 5-minute drive from Entrance 2. I have heard that the hotels inside the park are very outdated, not very nice, and the food is of poor quality. There are very few restaurants near the park, so you are limited to where you can eat.

Posted by
350 posts

I can suggest a few things that we did that might interest your young adult kids. We spent 2 nights in Ljubljana and while we were there we did a bike tour of the town that was a lot of fun. There was still plenty of time to hike up to the castle the back way, have some nice meals and wander around town. We loved Ljubljana and did come back through and have lunch again after Kobarid before taking a train to Croatia to get another rental car.

We didn't spend the night in Bled, but got an early start and spent much of one day there, visiting the castle and taking the boat out to the church, and enjoying cake in a café.

We drove on in the mid-afternoon, enjoying lots of stops (photos, suspension bridges etc) on our way up into the alps and arrived to spend 2 nights in Kobarid. We used our full day to visit the excellent ww1 museum and then to take a white water rafting lesson in the afternoon - there are many adventure activities offered in the area. Afterwards, we hiked to the waterfall.

We spent 2 nights in Rovinj to have a leisurely day to visit the nearby towns. I don't think it would make sense to drive all the way to Rovinj for one night just to try to see Motovun on the way back inland to Plitvice. We left Rovinj in the morning to arrive at Plitvice (after a significant drive) in the early afternoon and spend several lovely uncrowded hours there. We then went back to the park the next morning, and as you propose, drove on to Split where we stayed 2 nights.

On our full day in Split, we took a bike tour that was fun, then visited the archeological museum. There were opportunities to take kayaking trips there too, but we wanted to do some history.

We skipped the islands on our trip, but after Driving to Dubrovnik and arriving around noon, we did a bike trip/wine tasting that afternoon and a kayaking trip on the morning of our full day there. This still allowed us enough time to see the Town. We did drive to spend one night in Mostar and it was a very full day of travel with stops along the way. We had time to see Mostar that afternoon and the next morning. A very quick visit. I'm not sure about getting a ferry from and island and then embarking on that drive.

We drove from Mostar to Kotor where we stayed 2 nights and climbed the wall three times (crazy, I know, but early morning view, late afternoon view, and one more for exercise) and we also took a boat from Kotor to the Island Church and Perast that was a very fun chunk of our full day. As I recall, there were other trips on offer where they had swimming etc...

Happy planning!

Posted by
133 posts

As we spent September there, I’ll make a few suggestions.
I’d concur with others on Zagreb, especially if you enjoy museums. Plenty to choose from and variety unlike the Balkan hot spots. But, considering how much you want to cover in 2 weeks, I’d probably move on. Ljubljana is lovely. Check the food reviews. There are lots of really good restaurants. Eat up, it gets boring later on in Croatia and Bosnia, unless you like grilled meat.

On 6/19, your plan is possible, but you’d be rushing things. Bled Castle is boring, but free if you have a restaurant reservation. The views from there are wonderful. The restaurant was good, pricy and popular. Make a reservation.

Your plan for the 20th is, in my view, unlikely to yield a satisfactory result. The Alps take a lot longer to drive than you’d think, and adding stops at the Russian Chapel, switchbacks for photos, bus traffic, and stopping to eat if you’re continuing on, you’d be lucky to make it as far as Kobarid, let alone all the way to Rovinj. Poor planning required us to push on to end the night in Piran, which is a charming little town. We thought the museum in Kobarid deserved more than the hour we were able to give it and still get to Piran at a reasonable hour. Cutting the Alps would be a shame, but you can’t do everything.

Rovinj is a pleasant little burg well-suited to just strolling and enjoying the slow life. But, you’re planning on spending any time in Rovinj, I think adding Motovun and maybe Pula and Groznjan expecting to get to Plitvice in time to get in the park and enjoy any of it is overly ambitious. Maybe it would be better to bypass Rovinj completely and take a hill-town route to Plitvice. We stayed at Hotel Jerezo. The room, although dated, was very comfortable and had a great view. Food in the restaurant was average. The buffet was decidedly less so. If I were doing it again, I’d stay off the property.

Are you sure you want to keep your car in Split, and then take it to one, or both, islands? I’d dump it on the way into town at the airport, visit Split, take the catamaran to the island(s) and pick up another car for getting to Mostar. We, too, had a tour booked with Maja Benzon. She canceled at the last minute and sent an inferior replacement. Since an island stay hit the chopping block, I can’t comment, although the views of Hvar and Korcula from the catamaran were pretty.

While driving to Mostar from Split, which, according to google maps, is about 2.5 hours, don’t be surprised if it takes at least an hour more. By the time you get back from the islands and drive there, it will be (late) afternoon, not conducive to much sight-seeing, although the herds of day-trippers are gone by around 3 pm, which will help.

Personally, I think Dubrovnik is highly overrated. It has an absolutely crushing number of tourists. Other than the wall and Mt. Srd, we found little of interest.

We enjoyed Montenegro and a day trip with a driver and guide from Miro & Sons, but from Dubrovnik it will be a long whole day between driving and a slowdown at the border crossing and coming back.

I know the temptation is to try to see everything. I’d try to eliminate the one-night stops. It’s stressful, eats up a lot of time, and doesn’t really give you time to enjoy where you are. Overall, I recommend the packing trick – lay out everything you want to take, then cut it in half. There’s a great line from a movie, “Sometimes more isn’t better; sometimes it’s just more.” I agree.

Posted by
16614 posts

My usual recommendation with respect to Rovinj is that you need 4 nights there. With a car, I guess 3 would be reasonable. For 1 night I just wouldn't bother.

Posted by
11 posts

Thank you everyone for your knowledge and suggestions. I am going to keep tweaking the itinerary. It's so tempting to try to do everything, but definitely don't want to feel too rushed and stressed about getting to the next location.

What is your experience with the day after arriving? Will we be zombies and maybe it would be best to stay in Zagreb for that day. Also, thinking we may not need to pick up the car until we are ready to leave for LJU?

Posted by
16614 posts

People's jetlag experiences vary wildly. When I was younger, by Day 2 I was usually just about back to normal. I'm now 68 and need longer to recover. However, I always start trips sleep-deprived and struggle to even doze on a plane. That definitely makes things worse.

I think you'll find you're reasonably productive on Day 2; even I do not write that day off, I just expect to crash early. If I had an option, I wouldn't pre-purchase an expensive tour for Day 2, but for most people that wouldn't be very risky.

Posted by
133 posts

By all means wait until you are ready to leave Zagreb before you pick up the car. You won't need it in Zagreb. It's small, and there's plenty of public transportation.

Posted by
432 posts

Been to several of the places on your itinerary (Ljubljana, Bled, Rovijn, Motovun, Groznjan) and enjoyed them all. IMO you're trying to do too much with at least nine different hotels in 15 nights. You'll spend more time driving, parking, checking in, etc. than enjoying the places you are visiting. I find it more fulfilling to spend a few days to get to know a place rather than simply checking the box that I've visited. Slovenia and Croatia were both great places to visit - you'll have fun!

Posted by
4063 posts

This itinerary is two trips, not one. Either do Slovenia and Northern Croatia or the lakes, Split, Islands and Dubrovnik. You need to decide.

I can add that 6/20 is crazy. That is actually 4 days worth of activity. Crossing the border between Slovenia and Croatia takes considerable time as well, so factor that in. Also, Lake Bled? Only a drive through the Julian Alps? There are so many better places to base yourself, such as Lake Bohnj, in my opinion.

Posted by
11 posts

Thanks everyone for your replies and suggestions. I met with someone at the Rick Steves agency, since we are local, and fine tuned the plan. Here's what we decided for those that are interested.
6/16 Arrive Zagreb, sleep Zagreb
6/17 pick up rental car, drive to Ljubljana. Sleep Ljubljana
6/18 Day in Ljubljana. Sleep Ljubljana
6/19 Drive to Lake Bled. Sleep Lake Bled
6/20 Lake Bled. Vintgar Gorge, Lake Bohinj, possible hike. Sleep Lake Bled
6/21 Drive to Skocjan Caves, then on to Lake Plitvice, possible late entry into park. Sleep Lake Plitvice
6/22 Early entrance to park. Drive to Split. Sleep Split
6/23 Day in Split. Sleep Split
6/24 Drive/car ferry to Korcula. Sleep Korcula
6/25 Korcula
6/26 Korcula
6/27 Drive to Mostar. Sleep Mostar
6/28 Drive to Dubrovnik. Sleep Dubrovnik
6/29 Dubrovnik
6/30 Dubrovnik, possible day trip
7/1 Fly home

Posted by
2905 posts

Thanks for sharing your final plan. I think you were wise to do a travel consultation.

Posted by
91 posts

Heidi, we just returned from a similar trip with our adult kids (30 & 33) and recommend that you consider the following since your driving and like hiking/kayaking to scenic areas.
Watch Rick Steves/Cameron Hewitt Slovenia/Croatia video
Consider round trip from/to Zagreb to save money on flights and rental car.
Drive directly from Zagreb to Lake Bled (take day trip to Ljubljana)
Pension Kaps as home base for 3 nights (Lake Bled, Vintgar gorge, Lake Bohinj, Slap Savica)
Allocate 1-2 days for Triglav National Park, Vršič Pass, Mangart Road, Soča River valley)
Stay in Bovec or Kobarid (WWI museum in Kobarid, Triglavski river park)
Drive down Soča river valley to Motovun -Fakin winery, truffles, eat at Konoba Mondo
Stay 1-2 nights in Rovinj, Croatia (kayaking, seafood, wine)
Drive from Rovinj to Plitvice Falls (Don’t miss Adriatic highway 66, eat at Restaurant Perun)
Stay in Plitvice Falls two nights and hike upper and lower falls - beautiful!
Drive through Croatian wine road (Plešivička Vinka Cesta) and eat lunch at Ivančic - beautiful!
Return to Zagreb for return flight.
I realize that this schedule cuts out Split, Korcula and Dubrovnik, but save for another trip...it’s too far.