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Best of Eastern Europe Extension Ideas

Hi Everyone,
We are looking forward to the RS Best of Eastern Europe Tour in June 2023. The tour ends on a Sunday morning (final breakfast), and we are flying home from Ljubljana two days later on Tuesday (mid day departure). The cheaper flight price on Tuesday made it possible for us to add these extra days to the trip. Now we are wondering what to do with our extra time, and looking for feedback from those who have taken the tour and/or have experience in the area. The last hotel is in Lake Bled, so we are also deciding whether to add the extra nights there at that accommodation, or go elsewhere. So we would be looking to fill Sunday and Monday, and plan to stay somewhere with convenient connections to the Ljubljana airport Monday night. Not opposed to leaving Lake Bled Saturday night, although we'd miss the final tour dinner, if it makes good travel sense.

The first option would be spend Sunday and Monday in Ljubljana, but we will have already been there as part of the tour, at least for part of a day. From reading the RS guidebook, it seems like a low-key place that doesn't have a ton of sights (although it does sound very charming). A recent RS Radio Show I heard seemed to concur with that view. So maybe the time spent during the tour there would be sufficient. I'm a little worried we might get bored/antsy if there's not much to do (we tend towards very busy traveling). We like museums, but for limited amounts of time.

A second thing we've considered (being two music teachers), is to take a trip to Salzburg to see some of the Mozart sights, and maybe do a 'Sound of Music' tour. We will have spent a couple days in Vienna, before the tour starts, but won't have time to work in Salzburg at that time, and initially thought we'd skip Salzburg. It looks like Salzburg is about 4 hours by train from Ljubljana, but it seems like it would be a faster trip by rental car? What is it like to drive in Salzburg, and is that advisable as American travelers? I've heard it can be frustrating to drive in unfamiliar European cities. I'm thinking an overnight stay would be necessary for Salzburg?

Third, we've seen that there are some National Park type areas near Ljubljana (such as Triglav NP, Vintgar Gorge), which might be a nice experience. We enjoy the national parks at home in the US and like to hike and look at nice scenery. I've seen some day trips by bus from Ljubljana, but it seems like we could also consider renting a car (we've never rented a car in Europe, but aren't opposed to the idea). Are there day tour companies anyone would recommend? I noticed the RS guidebook also describes a Julian Alps driving trip that looks interesting.

So, any feedback on the feasibility of any of these ideas? Mostly we want to maximize our time and take the opportunity to see what we can, since we may not return that that part of Europe for a while.

Thanks in advance:)

Posted by
6635 posts

I haven't been to Slovenia but I have been on several RS tours, and I can assure you that you'll be TIRED that Sunday morning and ready to slow down your sightseeing pace. A four-hour train ride to Salzburg, returning the next day, seems like a bad idea, and driving it seems worse. Salzburg is a fine destination, especially for music lovers, but to me it would be "a bridge too far" on your timetable.

I suggest that you spend that Sunday and Monday enjoying Lake Bled, Ljubljana, and/or exploring by rental car some of the nearby scenic areas you describe. Auto Europe provides a good service which many of us have used over the years. You may be able to rent in one place and drop off elsewhere in the same country. But dropping off in a different country can expose you to big additional charges.

Posted by
693 posts

Ljubljana is well worth a two day visit! We took the BOEE tour in 2018, and our visit there only whetted our appetite to return. Look through the Rick Steves archives and you’ll find a great article by Cameron Hewitt about why it’s one of his favorite European cities. I’d strongly encourage you to spend time there rather than making a whirlwind visit to Salzburg, for a couple of reasons. First, you’ll spend a lot of time traveling for a very short visit to Salzburg….you may be able to check it off a bucket list, but you won’t be able to really get to know the city. Second, the BOEE tour covers a lot of ground. I loved the tour, but in an ideal world I would have loved several more days in Krakow and several more in Budapest. Don’t compound this by spending less than enough time somewhere else. Also, you will probably be exhausted from the pace of the BOEE tour. At the end of our tour we went to Venice for 5 days, and it was lovely just wandering and eating and relaxing with nowhere to go and no schedule to follow. Finally, you may not easily have another chance to visit Ljubljana. It’s truly a gem and I suspect when you visit on the tour you’ll be very eager to return to see more!

Posted by
27369 posts

I don't think you'd be bored in Ljubljana, especially (as already mentioned) when you're winding down from a high-energy tour. The tour seems to spend just a few hours there, and I'd always recommend multiple nights.
However, there are other options:

  • Vintgar Gorge is accessible by bus from Bled; it's less than five miles--much closer than heading out from Ljubljana. A taxi might well be affordable. Taxi rates in Slovenia were surprisingly reasonable at the time of my 2015 visit. You store your bags at your Bled hotel Sunday morning, visit the gorge, then pick up the bags and take the bus (or a taxi) to Ljubljana for the rest of the time prior to departure.

  • The Skocjan (more natural) and Postojna (more touristy) caves are interesting. Either can be visited from Ljublana by public transportation, but a rented car would be more efficient. I think this would be manageable on Sunday, leaving you Monday for independent exploration of Ljubljana.

  • Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, is a handsome city with a large historic district and some interesting museums (though it has been reported here that many are still closed due to earthquake damage). Zagreb's about 2-1/2 hours from Ljubljana by bus or train. If going to Zagreb, you'd really be smart to spend Sunday night there rather than just taking a day trip. Because of the size of the Old Town, I think going to Zagreb would require more energy than the other possibilities I've listed.

I would not stay in Bled unless I wanted to visit both Vintgar Gorge and Lake Bohinj or some other rural destination in that area and couldn't cover everything on Sunday and still get to Ljubljana that evening. Ljubljana is a lovely city and you need to be there Monday night. To me it makes sense to spend both your extra nights in Ljubljana. Lake Bled is cute, but it is very small. I wouldn't want to spend any extra nights in Bled unless it was geographically necessary for my sightseeing plans. Ljubljana as a lot more to offer than Bled.

Posted by
382 posts

From Lake Bled, it is a short trip to Vintgar Gorge, as was mentioned; you could easily do that and return to Ljubljana later the same day. If I had had an extra day when I was in Lake Bled, I would have gone to Lake Bohinj. Piran is a sea coast town with a medieval center about 2 hours by bus from Llubljana (and quicker by car)..

Posted by
229 posts

Thanks for the feedback and suggestions!
It does seem like a better use of our limited time to stay in the Ljubljana vicinity rather than making the trip to Salzburg.

Also thanks Periscope, for the suggestion of Trieste. That wasn’t on my radar at all and I’m going to do some research. A quick Google search resulted in some nice looking photos:)

Posted by
381 posts

Acraven made excellent suggestions. Hiking the gorge would be a nature break from all the cities. Heading to Ljubljana in the afternoon would give you the right amount of time there. We thought Zagreb was a more interesting town, but you really don’t have enough time to enjoy it with a flight home Monday night. The Eastern Europe tour was a great overview of a part of Europe overlooked by many. In Budapest, I recommend going to the Szechenyl baths on your free afternoon. This bath is a truly local experience. Include a short back massage to finish this relaxing bath.

Posted by
335 posts

I was just there. Stay in Ljubljana. The city is magnificent. You will only be there a few hours on BOEE. I was so impressed with the city I left the tour to hang out at the market and walk a few streets on our own. Ljubljana is a city we would go back to. The cafe scene by the river is wonderful. The market is wonderful. I think zipping up to Salzburg would create stress and additional layers of complexity. Enjoy unwinding in Ljubljana. It appears that you’ve made that decision. I’m only validating it!

Posted by
106 posts

I would do as advised by others. You will be tired (I've done that tour and loved it). I would stay in Bled for Vintgar gorge as it is beautiful and a nice excursion. Then go to Ljubljana. It is a charming city, easy to explore on foot and the cafes and restaurants along the river are lovely to sit at and enjoy. I don't think you will be bored there at all in the relatively short time you have between the end of the tour and your return flight.

Posted by
229 posts

Thanks for the additional feedback! Good to hear the experiences of others who’ve taken the BOEE Tour!