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2 Week Balkan Adventure

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Hi everyone. I am new here but have been checking out some of the other threads and can see that this is a fantastic and very helpful community. I have already taken some of your advice into account when booking the flights for my upcoming trip - so thank you. I am now trying to fill in the plans for all of the portion in between the flights and I'm hoping for some expert advice. Thanks in advance!

Some background on me and how I like to travel: I am 29 your old Canadian living in the Netherlands completing my master's degree. I have traveled fairly extensively on my own in the past, although this part of Europe will be totally new to me. I tend to like to fit in a lot in a short time when I travel, but do my best to balance it out with some relaxation and making sure it's not so busy that I'm not just rushing from one spot to the next (still working on that balance!). I also am on somewhat of a student budget, but being a bit older than your average student, I do like to splurge on nice meals sometimes and also nice(r) accomodation occaisionally, especially after too many nights in a row hostels with 19-23 year olds (unlike them, I'm also NOT just looking to party). I'm not really big on museums, mostly I like to explore places on foot, see the historical buildings and take in the overall feel of a city rather than go through gallery after gallery. But depending on what it is I sometimes do take in the famed attractions.

The trip: I have booked a flight into Podgorica on August 27th and out of Ljubjiana on Sept. 11th. I would like to rent a car for at least some of the trip to have the freedom to get off the beaten path and explore smaller villages, etc. that is difficult when using trains and buses. Particularly I've heard it's necessary for exploring the Istria area.

So what I am thinking at the moment is:
- Arrive in Podgorica and explore the city and surrounding areas (Kotor, Budva?).
- Head north to Dubrovnik (possibly pick up a car here?) and see the city.
- Head inland and explore Mostar and Sarajevo.
- Come back to the coast to Split, Trogir and one or more islands (Bol, Hvar?).
- Then carry on to Zadar.
- From there I'm not sure what the next stop should be - I'd like to explore Istria fairly extensively, so maybe should head straight there. Pula and Rovinj have been recommended.
- Then cross into Slovenia to Piran and Koper.
- Finally I'll head inland to Ljubljiana and would also like to see Lake Bled and/or Bohinj and the Soca Valley area before flying out.

So my main questions are, what is the best way to split up the time I have to cover those places (more time here, less time there, etc.)? Are there any glaring holes in my itinerary that should be added? Have I included something that isn't particularly worth it and should skip? Also, I thought about trying to get to Prishtina and maybe even over to Serbia but thought it would be too much - do you agree?

I realize it is a lot (but that is sort of my style), but if it seems completely ludicris that would be good to know. Thanks so much in advance for your assistance. I look forward to all your feedback and suggestions. Cheers, Natalie

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    I would start by making a more detailed itinerary. Write down all of the towns where you'll want to say, sequentially, and guess at first how many days you'd like to spend in each. Then hop on Google Maps and type them all in and see the driving distances from place to place. See how realistic daily drives will be. This is how I planned my last trip to Croatia and Bosnia, anyway.

    You'll also want to throw in public transit connections from Montenegro to Dubrovnik and Croatia to Slovenia, unless you expect to pay a steep drop-off charge in Ljubljana when returning your car. Usually there's a big extra fee to drop off a car in a different country than you rented it in.`But picking it up in Dubrovnik and dropping it in Rovinj or Rijeka one way should not incur an extra fee. Maybe with the limited time you have it does make sense to pay the fee - but you need to do car quotes and figure out the costs, especially if you are on a "student budget."

    And I would do this all post haste: you are pretty late in booking things. August is high season in Croatia, and early September can be fairly busy too as I understand it. When I visited in May I didn't book almost anything in advance because things were still pretty slow, but I'm not sure you have that luxury at a busy time of year. Once you have picked a rough itinerary, you can start checking lodging prices in various towns on the dates you expect to be there and see how booked up they are already. Maybe in early September you'll be OK, not sure.

    Without this detailed itinerary to evaluate, I can say for sure whether your proposed destinations are too many or not for the time you have - but I suspect you do have too much dialed in. I did drive pretty much all of this in May myself over two weeks and did it pretty fast myself, but I had been to Croatia before so I was able to skip some places the second time or stay there only briefly and not feel like I was missing out.

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    I would put Plitvice Lakes National Park on your busy itinerary if you can (even if you have to kick something else off) - it's almost a must-see. If you really can't fit it in, consider a stop at Krka National Park, if only because it's basically on your way from Split to Zadar right off the A1. Krka isn't a substitute for Plitvice in my view but still has an amazing waterfall, Skradinski Buk.

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    I agree with Andrew that (a) it's time to lay out as detailed a plan as you can at this point and (b) do consider a night in the Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is IMO the single most magnificent site in an area filled with glorious things!

    I would add that in light of your description of your travel style, I think you are being extremely ambitious with this plan. FWIW, it took me close to a month to cover a similar range of places, and I wasn't looking to relax! I recommend that you get some good guidebooks (always a worth investment, IME, but you could also spend some time with a few in your local library), identify the things you most want to see in each location, decide how much time you'll want in each place in light of that information (including opening and closing times), and mark them on a calendar. Then pencil in your transportation, add some time on either side (for getting to/from your lodging, checking in/out, packing/unpacking, getting oriented, etc.). Then see how things fit together. You might end up deciding to cut a destination or two, and honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if you cut your wish list for this trip in half.

    Much of this area can be visited conveniently by public transportation if you want. Some areas, like Istria, can be a bit more challenging to see by public transportation, at least if you want to see some of the hill towns, but it can be done if you leave enough time for the connections.

    Welcome to Fodor's!

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    Just came back from Budva, three notables.

    1 It is quite a lot cheaper than Croatia.
    2 Budva is one big building site, the head of planning is in prison for allegedly taking bribes!
    3 There is a good old fashioned Taxi war going on and tourists are being caught up in it.

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    Hi everyone, thanks for your fantastic and detailed replies. I will take all your suggetions into account as I make my plans.

    @Andrew - the method you suggest for planning is exactly what I had in mind. And I agree I have left this rather late. Unfortunately I am trying to finish my Master's thesis at the saem time so I haven't been able to give this the time I would normally, or would like to. But I will keep chipping away. Once I have some more details mapped out I'll post my proposed itinerary and see what everyone thinks

    @ Andrew and @kja - thanks for the tips on the Plitvice Lakes, I head read about it and then forgotten. I will add that in.

    @meuniere - thanks for the heads up about Budva - I like the sounds of cheap, but aside from that it doesn't sound particularly spectacular. I may skip that one, since as others have pointed out I am a big ambitious in my plans.

    Thanks again everyone. Update coming soon!

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    Okay, so quick update in accordance to your suggestions. Would love some feedback on this itinerary before I confirm my car reservation and book more accomodations:

    Day 1 - arrive Podgorica airport, 4pm - airport pickup by the hostel (already booked). Explore the city, spend the night.

    Day 2/3 - Bus to Kotor, explore the city/surrounding area, spend 2 nights

    Day 4 - Bus to Dubrovnik, explore the city, spend 1 night.

    Day 5 - pick up a car in Dubrovnik, drive to Mostar, explore, continue to Sarajevo, spend the night.

    Day 6/7 - Drive to Split, explore, continue to Trogir - spend 2 nights

    Day 8/9 - Drive to Zadar, explore, continue on to Plitvice Lakes, spend 2 nights

    Day 10/11 - Drive to Pula or Rovinj - 2 nights in the Istria area (either in one spot, or separate locations)

    Day 12 - Drive to Piran/Koper, explore the area, spend the night

    Day 13 - Drive back to Rijeka to return the car in Croatia (saves 225e), bus to Ljubljana, spend the night

    Day 14 - Bus (or rent another car) to Lake Bled, spend the night

    Day 15 - return to Ljubjana, explore, spend the night

    Day 16 - transit to the Ljubjana airport to fly out in the evening

    I have a quote for the car for this itinerary which I can manage. And I have mapped this out on google maps and each day's driving is a comfortable 2-2.5hrs, with the exception of 2 long days (going to Mostar/Sarajevo and then Sarajevo to Split) which are more like 4.5-5hrs.

    Would love to know if you think that there is any shifting I should do with the timing in each location, or if you would drop one spot in particular to gain more time somewhere else. Thanks in advance! Cheers.

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    Day 5, I would not bother with the car--you don't have much time to explore anyway, and there are ample bus connections from Dbv to Mostar to Sarajevo. If you had time to explore this region of Herzegovina, then I would say rent a car.
    You do need a car for Istrian hill towns, but I would consider dropping the Slovenian coastal towns so you would have time to see some of Istria.
    I know solo travel is a different beast and you explained your travel style quite well, which is appreciated, but this seems pretty rushed to me.

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    If you take the bus from Podgorica to Kotor, try to make sure you take a bus through the mountains (via Cetinje and Njeguši) instead of via Budva along the coast. The views coming down the mountain into Kotor after Njeguši are breathtaking.

    You have two nights in Kotor but only one in Dubrovnik? Kotor itself is tiny. If you think you have things you want to do/see there without a car that will occupy your time, that's fine, but Dubrovnik is bigger and offers more to see. (It's also more touristy, though Kotor gets invaded by tour group tourists, too, in the mornings). I personally didn't find the town of Kotor itself that amazing, but the walk above it (the walls) is very worth doing. The real highlight of the area for me was the Bay of Kotor - amazing.

    You can check the bus schedules, but I think you may wind up wasting time on a bus vs. driving, with your very tight travel schedule.

    Zadar is worth the stop. So is Sibenik between Trogir and Zadar - lovely little town, glad I stopped.

    You don't need two nights in Plitvice. It's an amazing park, but most people can see it in a good 5-6 hours or so. And there isn't much of a town - there's a pizza place but otherwise few places to eat meal (there are a few places in the park itself.) I would spend the night, see the park first thing in the morning, then head out by mid to late afternoon for Istria.

    I loved Rovinj and spent a few nights there. I day tripped to Pula and was not especially impressed - would definitely stay in Rovinj instead.

    Consider dropping the car in Istria (Rovinj?), then bus up to Koper, spend the night, then bus/train up to Ljubljana. I loved Piran when I stayed a few years ago - never got to Koper. There are local buses between Koper and Piran only (or a taxi), but Koper is right on the main transit line between Croatia and Ljubljana.

    I had a car in Slovenia, but with the short time you have, you should be able to avoid one - just take a bus up to Bled for the day. If you do drop the car in Rijeka, there's good train service from there up to Ljubljana, 2X a day.

    I rented my last car in Croatia from a company called Oryx - booked via EconomyCarRentals. You'd be able to do a one way rental from Dubrovnik and drop it in Rovinj or Rijeka - they have offices in all of these places.

    I'd ALMOST consider going directly from Podgorica to Dubrovnik and backtracking to Kotor with the car. There are car rental offices (including Oryx) at Dubrovnik airport, which is south of Dubrovnik right off the main road to Kotor. (I had to stop at the Oryx office at Dubrovnik Airport on the way to Kotor, so I know exactly where it is.) So if you picked up your car there, it isn't as much of a backtrack because you wouldn't be busing all the way up to Dubrovnik proper. Having a car to stop along the Bay of Kotor would be nice. But you'd have to park the car in Dubrovnik and in Kotor when spending the night. I parked in Kotor at a little B&B about a 10 min walk south of town, and in Dubrovnik I stayed in Lapad and bused into Dubrovnik (most people would want to stay in/near the Old Town). But you are going at the end of high season, so this all might complicate your lodgings and car rental - I had an easier time doing it all in May when things were slower.

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    I agree with yorkshire – consider using public transportation as much as you can! IMO, having a car many of these places could be an impediment, rather than an advantage. And it is MUCH harder, IME, to savor the scenery when driving, and some of the scenery you will encounter is truly spectacular.

    I also agree with yorkshire’s recommendation to drop the Slovenian coast towns (or more!) to make more time, whether for Istria or elsewhere. As Andrew notes, one night is VERY little for Dubrovnik. I thought Mostar much more enchanting after daytrippers left and heartily recommend an overnight there. Just a single overnight in Sarajevo is really pushing it IMO – I gave it 2.5 days and really wish I’d given it more – and right now, you have a LONG drive from Dubrovnik through Mostar to Sarajevo, and then a LONG drive from Sarajevo to Split, so you really don’t have any time in Sarajevo itself. Split and Trogir easiy merit more than the day+ that you are giving them. Istria easily merits more than 2 nights. And you are skipping some places that many people consider core to their time in Croatia, including the islands.

    Honestly, this trip is WAY more rushed than I would like, and I travel solo and hard and with no expectation of relaxing anytime except over dinner. In contrast, you say you want to make sure “it's not so busy that [you’re] not just rushing from one spot to the next.” With the possible exceptions of Kotor and the Plitvice Lakes (also noted by Andrew), where you have at best an extra 1/2 day, you have really packed this trip. Have you plotted your plan out on a calendar yet? Considered sunrise / sunset times? Taken opening and closing hours into consideration?

    BTW, Ljubljana’s airport is half-way between Bled and Ljubljana, so I wouldn’t bother returning there for a flight – spend a night or two in Ljubljana, to on the Bled, go directly from there to the airport. Or go straight to Bled first.

    Good luck!

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