So this Balkans road trip itinerary is one that I carefully planned out and actually did myself along with some close friends, so not only do I think is it reliable and doable – I KNOW!
I expertly crafted this Balkan travel itinerary according to my group’s pace and needs, using my four years worth of knowledge from the Balkans and a wee bit of research. It was at least my second (or 30th – no joke!) time in most of these places, and I know them well enough to lead an actual tour around them, let alone a virtual one.
This Balkans road trip includes Croatian islands at the beginning, after which you will rent a car (because you don’t need one for the islands, and who wants to waste money?! Not us!) and drive for the rest. You’ll then visit some Croatian National parks, Istria (northern Croatia), Slovenia, Bosnia + Herzegovina, and Montenegro. These countries comprise the Western Balkans – one day I’ll make a longer itinerary including all the other incredible Balkan countries as well.
Specifically, this Balkan Travel Itinerary Includes:
Dubrovnik – Elaphite Islands – Korcula – Hvar – Split – Zadar – Plitvice Lakes National Park – Pula – Motovun (Istria) – Ljubljana – Lake Bled/Lake Bohinj (Slovenia) – Makarska – Mostar – Blagaj Spring – Kravice Waterfalls – Pocitelj Castle (Bosnia + Herzegovina) – Kotor – Montenegro Road Trip (Ostrog Monastery, Podgorica, Lovcen National Park, Skadar Lake National Park, Sveti Stefan) – Budva – Dubrovnik.
I‘ll let you know where there are options to visit other places if you have more time. This Balkans itinerary as it is written lasts just under 3 weeks, but it’s designed so you can go at your own pace using the route I have outlined. There are only 18 specific days below, so pick your favorite place(s) and add extra days in here and there to suit your needs (or go super fast like we did and do it in 17-18). Choose your own adventure!
As with most of my itineraries, this Balkans road trip is for those of you who like a bit of adventure and aren’t afraid to move at a fast pace to allow you to experience more. You can always add more days wherever you like; I recommend to take this itinerary as a guide and go at a slower pace if you aren’t a fast travel type person (even a month or more if you like).
But, what I am giving you here is the exact Balkans road trip itinerary that I did myself in September 2018, with extra recommendations if you have more time.
PIN THIS Balkans Road Trip guide to your Pinterest boards! It’s VERY long.
When is the Best Time to Visit the Balkans?
This is a tough question depending on where you want to go, but I will almost ALWAYS tell you May/June or September/October. July and August (and late June really) are ‘peak season’ in the Balkans (especially coastal Croatia) and some places are so overrun with people you’ll wish you just stayed home.
Places like Dubrovnik are especially crowded, with cruise ship passengers taking over the entire old town when they descend upon the poor unsuspecting thing like a cheetah pouncing on its prey.
But First, If You Want More Info in Specific Places…
Did you know I used to be a tour guide in Croatia? When I had that job I was able to familiarize myself a LOT with the country and those that surround it. You can read my Tour Guide’s Super Guide to All of Croatia or my specific guides below (most of which are outlined again in this EXTREMELY comprehensive itinerary).
- Tour Guide’s Guide to Vis
- Montenegro Travel Guide + Road Trip Itinerary
- Top 15 Music Festivals in Croatia
- Slovenia Travel Guide: Ljubljana, Bled, and Bohinj
- Tour Guide’s Guide to Split
- Must-See Day Trips from Split
- Must-See Day Trips from Dubrovnik
- Tour Guide’s Guide to Dubrovnik
- Tour Guide’s Guide to Hvar
- Travel Guide to Mostar, Bosnia + Herzegovina
Dubrovnik from up on the mountain
Balkan Itinerary Day 0: Arrive in Dubrovnik
Your Balkans road trip itinerary conveniently begins and ends in Dubrovnik – you’re welcome 😉 Dubrovnik is one of the most famous cities in Europe and pretty much like a fairytale in real life. It’s a walled medieval town right on the Adriatic, with tons of beautiful streets and alleyways to explore, places to swim, and history to learn.
Getting to Dubrovnik
I can assume for the sake of this Balkan itinerary that you will be flying into Dubrovnik (the itinerary world best this way, but you can bus in too or begin at any point because it’s a loop). I always use Skyscanner to compare fares from all flight providers to find the best deals. The busses in Croatia are also very reliable.
Make sure you read my in-depth Things to Do in Dubrovnik Travel Guide below for all the nitty-gritty on this awesome place. But for now, planning the day!
Where to Stay in Dubrovnik
I would always recommend to stay inside the old town walls in Dubrovnik, so you don’t have to worry about traveling to get in on the action. There are also some really nice resorts that are quite removed. If you’re doing Airbnb, definitely get one inside the walls. Here are my best options for all budgets:
- Airbnb – There are TONS of awesome airbnb’s in Dubrovnik. We stayed in this one and loved it (there were 5 of us). There are tons of options, small and large, often overlooking the old town. Just make sure to book early.
- Hostels – Villa Angelina is a great on in old town (I stayed there years ago). City Walls Hostel is right near the cliff jumping bar.
- Hotels – Some amazing Dubrovnik resorts are Rixos Libertas (a few coves over from the main town but really lovely), and The Hilton (just outside the main gate of old town and really nice, gym and pool etc).
What to Do in Dubrovnik
Today you will fly in and get yourself situated; that’s pretty much it! Depending on what time your flight gets in you may have more or less time to explore. We got in quite late, and spent the evening wandering through the beautifully lit streets and eating a delicious meal at Veritas, one of my favorite restaurants I’ve been to dozens of times.
It’s in a main square of old town, and has some great options of classic Croatian food to introduce you to the cuisine. Try the ‘kiss of Dubrovnik,’ the Gunduluc Steak, the seafood platter, or the chicken a la bocar. 🙂
If you are in Dubrovnik on a weekend (which we were for the first night), make sure to check out the famous club Revelin. It’s inside the fortress walls of old town and is really incredible, decked out with amazing (loud) speakers, dancers, aerialists, and more. Just know that it gets good around 2am (but you can get free entry before about midnight with a voucher people give out all night in old town). You’re in Europe now – things go quite late!
Where to Eat in Dubrovnik:
- Veritas – classic Croatian Food
- Bona Fide – a Mexican/Italian restaurant for something different
- Lady Pipi – classic Croatian food with a view
- Alleyway Restaurants – there are tons of restaurants with tables in the narrow streets of old town. Many of these will serve classic Croatian food and seafood in a lovely atmosphere.
View from walking the city walls
Balkan Itinerary Day 1: Dubrovnik – Old Town
Rise and shine, it’s time for your first full day! Today you’ll do all the best things to do in Dubrovnik old town and surrounding areas – best done in order. There are loads of spots to check out so make sure you give yourself time to do it all (aka get going in the morning)!
Overlooking the City
- Cable Car/Mt Srd – What better way to start your day than overlooking the whole city? One of the best things to do in Dubrovnik is to ride the cable car up to the top of the mountain overlooking the city. To get to the cable car, walk out the Ploce gate of old town and simply follow signs (you can also hike up if you are daring enough – there’s a trail). You can get a round trip ticket, or you can also do a car tour from many Croatian guides who hang out near the cable car port and will tell you history and take you to a few different places. At the top, you can do a buggy safari or visit a museum/restaurant (below).
- Tours: You can book the cable car with a buggy safari (which are quite popular) or together with a Dubrovnik walking tour.
- Museum of the Croatian War for Independence – At the top of the cable car hill, you’ll find a museum dedicated to the Croatian War for Independence, which happened a mere 26-27 years ago in 1991-2. You will come upon lots of recent history in this Balkans itinerary, so it will be good to familiarize yourself with the turbulent history right off the bat. Tickets are about 30kn and the experience is eye-opening.
- Panorama Bar/Restaurant – Grab a coffee, meal, or cocktail at the Panorama bar overlooking the cable car and city before you go back down. It might be one of the best views ever!
- Rector’s Palace Museums – ethnographic, maritime, and archeological museums in the same building
- Sponza Palace – Art exhibits and Memorial Room for the defenders of Dubrovnik
- War Photo Museum – photos from the Croatian and other wars
- Marin Drzic house – home of a famous Croatian poet
- Or, just grab a 5 Euro street mojito on the main street 😉
Final Old Town Adventures
- Swim at the Buza (cliff) Bars – If it gets quite hot mid-day, it would be silly not to have a dip in the crystal blue Adriatic waters. The best place to do this is right off the walls of the town. There are two cliff bars (called buza bars) that you can find on the western edge of the old town. The entrances may be a bit hard to find, but it will be so worth it! One of the bars has steps into the water and the other is popular for jumping from high cliffs into the deep water.
- Walk the Walls of Old Town – When it gets a bit later (maybe a few hours before sunset, just make sure to check the opening times) it’ll be time to walk the old town walls of Dubrovnik. You can get tickets to the walls just inside the main Pile gate (see my Dubrovnik post for more preliminary info) and there are two entrances to the walls. People walk them in a counter clockwise direction. Make sure to give yourself at least an hour (preferably two) and to bring your camera!
At Night: Since you tried Veritas last night, you can now check out one of my other favorites: Bona Fide Mexican cafe. If you’re from California/Mexico you may not enjoy this Mexican food as much, but if you have been traveling and could use a Mexican fix, this food is really good. If you’d like something local again, head to Lady Pipi (go early because there may be a line!) or sit down to a romantic alleyway meal anywhere in old town.
Dubrovnik from the fortress opposite the walled town
Balkan Itinerary Day 2: Dubrovnik – Day Tours
After checking out the city yesterday, today it’s time to see why people from all over the world flock to swim in the waters of the Adriatic. Today jump on a boat tour of the Elaphite islands, which are gorgeous islands just outside the city’s port. You will be able to explore tiny island towns, swim in crystal clear waters, and maybe explore even more beaches and caves. If you have time, you can also go sea kayaking, Game of Thrones’ing, or more.
Note: You’ll want to buy online/ pick up ferry tickets to get Korcula tomorrow, today. You can purchase them in advance online or get them from a store called Travel Corner in port Gruž. Today, it’s a good idea to get them if/when you leave for your Elaphite islands tour from port Gruž, which is where the ferries leave from.
Elaphite Islands Tours
There are two different kinds of Elaphite islands tours, choose which sounds best to you:
- Big Boat Tour – The ‘galleon’ tour will take you to the three islands (Šipan, Koločep, Lopud) and will drop you in the towns on each island. You’ll have free time in each little town to eat, swim, or explore.
- Speedboat Tour– The speedboat tour is an adventurous Elaphite islands tour, and will take you swimming through a blue cave, exploring and swimming through other island caves, swimming to a sandy beach, and more. Choose which one is best for you and click the bold letters to book.
When You get Back:
- Sea Kayaking: This is one of the most popular things to do in Dubrovnik. Sea Kayaking Tours go from the old town, to a cave/beach down the coast, around some spots on Lokrum island, and back. It’s hard but beautiful and it includes lunch.
- Game of Thrones Tour:Dubrovnik was one of the main filming locations for Game of Thrones, and you can see lots of filming sites like King’s Landing and the Shame Steps on a GoT tour. You can also see some filming sites from the recent Star Wars movie.
Dinner: Today grab some takeaway after a long dayor choose from the recommended restaurants above.
If you aren’t too tired, there’s a lovely town called Cavtat about 30 mins south of Dubrovnik. They call it ‘Dubrovnik’s Monaco’ and it has some fancy resorts, nice restaurants, and beautiful shopping. You can get there by bus route 10 or by ferry boat from the old port in town.
Balkan Itinerary Day 3: Dubrovnik to Korčula
Before you leave Dubrovnik: Get ready to check out, and spend your morning in Dubrovnik catching up on any activities you missed, exploring Lokrum Island, or relaxing on Banje Beach.
Getting from Dubrovnik to Korčula
You’ll take the ferry from Dubrovnik to Korčula (korch-uh-luh). Grab ferry tickets online or the day before you go while in port Gruz. We took the 4pm ferry which worked well. There’s also a very early one and a late one, maybe more dependent on the time of year.
Where to Stay in Korčula
I would recommend staying in or close to the old town since you won’t have much time here.
Airbnb – There aren’t as many airbnb’s in Korčula, especially for bigger groups, but there are options if you book early. We stayed in this one and had a great experience (with 5 of us).
Hostel – Hostel Korčula is the most well-rated and central
Hotel – Hotel Korčula is central with a great view
What to Do in Korcula
Korčula is called a ‘mini Dubrovnik’ because it is similarly an old walled town on the water. It’s quite small, so this afternoon and tomorrow morning should be enough to explore. They say that Korcula is the birth place of Marco Polo, and you can visit the Marco Polo house (where he is rumored to have been born), a Marco Polo museum, and tons of Marco Polo gift shops. If you’d like more back story and info about Korcula and a complete guide, check my Tour Guide’s Super Guide to Korcula linked below.
- Once you arrive, drop your bags and get ready to explore! I recommend today that you check out a cocktail bar called Massimo’s, which is a repurposed 14th century fortress where you climb up a ladder to get to the roof. It usually opens at 5.
- For sunset, climb the Bell tower in the main square of St Marko. It costs about 30kn, and is a one-way spiral staircase up the tower that has traffic lights to dictate when to go up and when to wait for people to come down! It’s the best view of the city and a great sunset spot.
- At some point, make sure to check out the hilariously interesting Marco Polo museum. It’s right outside the old town walls, and is comprised of a few different rooms with elaborate scenes/mannequins laid out to tell the story of a different part of Marco’s life/adventure. It usually closes late (9pm) so going after dinner today is not out of the question (that’s what we did).
Where to Eat in Korčula
Dinner in Korčula will fall sometime between the visiting the bell tower and the museum, or any time you get hungry! There are a few options:
Kavana No. 1: This is probably the best place to eat in the city, and has an amazing view whether it is light out or not. It’s a bit of a climb to get to, but this restaurant is up on a hill overlooking the old town. If you want to try something authentic, order the meat peka (meat slow-cooked on hot coals under a bell). It’s absolutely delish. You might have to pre-order it if you have a few people though, since it takes a few hours of preparation. Just call in the afternoon.
Tramonto: This is also another amazing sunset view, with a terrace facing west. You can grab cocktails here if you have time before dinner (it’s the second best sunset view), or they have some amazing dishes (the beefsteak Tramonto is one of my favorites).
Optional: If You Have More Time:
Stay another/a few more days and spend some time wind surfing, relaxing on the shore, or exploring other places around the island such as Lumbarda.
Check if there is a ‘Moreška’ dance during your stay. This is a traditional sword dance that reenacts a battle that the Korculans had with the Ottoman turks in the medieval times. It’s a huge part of Korcula culture and a spectacle to see.
Balkan Itinerary Day 4: Korčula to Hvar
Before you leave: Korčula: Today you’ll wake up in Korčula and take the time to go have breakfast on the eastern shore of town, where there are loads of restaurants in the shade of trees overlooking the water. Next, walk up the (western -the direction of the sunset last night!) coast away from town – this is the best place to swim.
You’ll pass by some rickety wooded docks shaded by palm trees along the road. Eventually you’ll come upon a pebbly beach where you can lay out and have a swim in the crystal clear water while gazing at a perfect view of the old walled town.
Getting from Korcula to Hvar
You’ll take another ferry today, from the same place, to Hvar. I recommend the 1pm ferry so you have a morning in Korcula to swim. The ferry takes about an hour.
Where to Stay in Hvar
Hostel: White Rabbit Hostel
What to Do in Hvar
Hvar is another stunning island known for its nightlife. There will be options for both history and partying today, and enjoying Hvar’s great food. I also have a super-guide to Hvar, so if you’d like more in-depth info click below.
- Spanjola Fortress – Once you enjoy the scenic ferry ride, arrive in Hvar, and drop your bags (might also be a good idea to grab your Split ferry tickets if you don’t have them already), it’s time to check out another fortress. The walk to Spanjola is about 15 mins from the town, and is one of the best views in Croatia. Pay about 30-40kn to enter the fortress and revel in the views and interesting information to learn about this site, which was built in the 1550’s.
- Adriana Rooftop Bar – Ok guys, this is my secret spot that I would never tell my tour groups about. Don’t tell! There’s a lovely bar on the top story of hotel Adriana, right in the port. It’s a great place to relax and have a coffee or cocktail before heading to Hula Hula.
- Shopping + Markets – There are also lots of markets in town that sell souvenirs, jewelry, and lots of lavender, which is grown on the island. Get yourself some lavender oil/scent/soap for an authentic souvenir.
- Hula Hula Beach Cocktail Bar – Hula Hula is one of the best bars in Croatia. It’s the perfect place to go a few hours before sunset, and will get crazier as the sun nears the horizon. It’s a cocktail bar that you can swim at, right on the water. They have blended strawberry daiquiris, pina coladas, and peach margaritas on tap, so enjoy a few of these (or cut right to the chase and get the 1L version!) before jumping into the sea and enjoying the music.
Where to Eat in Hvar
After Hula Hula, choose from one of my recommendations below/in my Hvar Super Guide for dinner. Hvar has AMAZING food so it would be good to choose wisely or spend a few more days.
Spice Thai Food/Burgers in the Main Square: If you want something a bit different, there’s a fantastic burger place right next to a Thai restaurant in the main square of Hvar town. They’re both owned by the same person and are both very reliable.
Black Pepper: Black Pepper is a beautiful restaurant in an alleyway of Hvar that focuses on modern and creative twists on classic Croatian dishes. You can’t go wrong here!
Dalmatino: Dalmatino is also right in the stone alleys of the town and is known for being one of the bet restaurants in town, with more traditional dishes and also different flavors of Croatian rakija to sample with your meal.
At Night: Hvar is known for having the best nightlife in southern Croatia. If there’s a place to have a night out, this would be it (along with Dubrovnik). After dinner I recommend getting ready and hitting up a few bars around 8-9pm, if that’s your thing. If not, relax with a drink in the square or along the harbor and watch the night come to life!
- Kiva Bar is infamous in Hvar. It gets really crowded around 9 so make sure to get in early! Expect delicious cocktails in some small crowded rooms in an alley, ‘tequila boom boom’s’ going around (thank me later), and all the possible singalong songs.
- Sidro Bar – home of the best espresso martini I’ve ever had. No joke. Also some fun singalongs and other great cocktails, but outdoors on a patio.
- Carpe Diem: this is a famous club on an island. There are free water taxis that go back and forth to an island off Hvar’s coast all night every night, and it’s one of the most unique clubs in Europe.
If You Have More Time:
Rent a car/vespa scooters and explore the island, rent a boat to explore the surrounding Pakleni islands, have a beach day, or take a 30 minute bus to explore to oldest town in Croatia, Stari Grad, and taste some Hvar wine.
Balkan Itinerary Day 5: Hvar to Split
Before you go: Today you’ll wake up and spend a morning in Hvar before heading to Split. Either relax before your ferry (I recommend the 1pm) or head down to one of a few small beaches to have a morning dip. Leisurely get your stuff together, have lunch if you desire (Vita Health Food Bar has good coffees), and head to the early afternoon ferry.
Getting from Hvar to Split
You’ll take your last ferry today, from the same place the previous one dropped you off. I recommend the 1pm Split ferry to have a last swim in Hvar before you go. The ferry takes about an hour.
Where to Stay in Split
What to Do in Split
Split is the capital of the Croatian coast. Although a large city, Split’s center is quite small, relaxed, and full of history. I also have a specific guide to Split if you are interested about reading about things to do in Split in more depth.
- Split Old Town – Once you get situated in Split, it’s time to explore the old town. But This isn’t just any old town; its actually a town built out of an ancient Roman emperor’s (Diocletian’s) palace, which was built in 305AD. The city center is in the shape of a square because its been built from this old palace, and nowadays the alleyways of town are shops, restaurants, bars, gelaterias, and more.
- Cellars: These are the cellars underneath the palace which still retain their original form from a few thousand years ago. You can explore them and learn about their history.
- Peristyle: The main square, where the emperor used to address his people.
- Bell Tower: Built much later in the 1700’s, but with an amazing view over town (climb up for 30ish kuna).
- Vestibule: Often has an acapella group singing inside because of amazing acoustics
- Museums: Split City Museum, Ethnographic Museum, Museum of Fine Art
- Gelato: there are lots of good places in town
- Takeaway pizza/pastry: Croatia and especially Split is known for its cheap takeaway food
- Marjan Hill/Bell Tower – After exploring around old town, walk up Marjan Hill for a great view overlooking the city. If you still have time before sunset, climb the bell tower too!
Where to Eat in Split:
Visit my Split guide for more in-depth info. For sit-down places, I recommend Fife (cheap, quick, traditional food), Bokeria (fancy food and wine), or Diocletian’s Wine House (lovely atmosphere and wine selection).
Another option would be to get takeaway food/drinks and sit in the peristyle, which has live music most nights. You can get takeaway snacks from bakeries like Bobis for very cheap, or Toto Burger has great burgers, Mama Burger has burgers and wraps, and M Cafe has lots of takeaway meals. There are a few grocery stores in town where you can get a bottle of wine and cups to drink on the steps of the square as you eat.
At Night: I assume you’re very tired, so you might want to spend this night in! If not, Gaga Bar has great cocktails, and Charlie’s Bar is a great backpacker bar. Clubs include Bacvice Beach Club, Vanilla, Inbox, and Centar. I highly prefer a night out in Hvar though!
If You Have More Time:
If you want to stay longer in Split, you can spend time either doing day trips from Split or relaxing on the beach. You can visit the blue cave of Vis, visit Krka National Park, or more as day trips from Split below that are not included in this Balkans Itinerary.
Balkan Itinerary Day 6: Split to Zadar
Today you’ll be soaking up your last moments in Split. In the morning, I recommend my favorite breakfast at Braserie on 7, which is an outdoor restaurant on the main Riva. They have an absolutely delicious special iced coffee, and a two tier sweet+savory breakfast that comes with a savory omelette and sweet french toast.
Pick up your rental car around 11am-noon, and head north to begin the true Balkans road trip. Check out some tips for driving in the Balkans if you like.
Getting to Zadar from Split:
You’ll need to figure out in advance which day you’ll be leaving from Split, and reserve a rental car. Make sure that the company you rent from allows border crossing.We found that the cheapest Balkans car rental is from Sixt, which has an office near the Old Town in Split (and allows your to cross country borders). Set your destination in Zadar and get on the road!
Quick Tips for Driving in the Balkans
Traffic laws in the Balkans are not too difficult too grasp. They drive on the right side of the road and have similar streets and freeways to the rest of Europe. Some roads may be narrow. Make sure you have a navigation system (even if offline Google Maps) to guide you on your way, as signs will obviously be in Croatian.
Where to Stay in Zadar:
Airbnb: We stayed at Apartment Blue Sun Aurora – right in the middle of town.
Hostel: Downtown Boutique Hostel
Hotel: Bastion Heritage Hotel
What to Do in Zadar
The first stop is Zadar, a historical ancient Roman town a few hours up the coast.
- Old Town – Zadar has another incredible old town centered around some ancient Roman ruins – they aren’t as well-preserved as Split, however! You can check out the Roman Forum (in the center) and learn a bit about it, wander through many shops and alleyways, walk on the old town walls, and try some delicious takeaway food and pastry.
- Museums – After exploring the Old Town, there are a few museums that may be of interest. We visited the Museum of Illusions, which was light hearted, trippy, and fun. It’s also next to a Museum of Ancient Glass if you’re into that kind of thing.
- Sea Organ – After walking around and visiting the museums, grab a drink from a market and head to Zadar’s most famous attraction, the Sea Organ. Located on the brim of the old town, the sea organ was constructed so that whenever the waves from the sea hit different sized openings in a platform over the water, they play different notes. Find a place to sit near the sound, crack open a drink (you can have alcohol in public here), and enjoy a perfect view of the sunset over distant islands.
- Waterfront/Markets – After the sunset, meander along the waterfront towards the restaurant of your choice. Take your time and stop to check out artisans selling goods along the path, food vendors, and also lost of small market stalls in town.
Where to Eat in Zadar
For a sit-down meal, try Bruschetta (delicious higher-end restaurant) or Restaurant Kastel. Or, grab takeaway and sit in the lively main square near the forum. There are tons of great gelato places as well, which will be begging you to buy them and eat in the square also.
At Night: There are lots of cocktail bars and an outdoor club or two in Zadar. Check out Ledana for an outdoor patio club if you like. You have an early morning tomorrow, so choose wisely!
If you have more time:
Plitvice Lakes National Park + Pula Arena
Balkans Road Trip Day 7: Zadar to Plitvice Lakes to Istria
Before you leave: Today is a big day! You’ll want to have breakfast in the accommodation and head back to the car quite early – by 8 or 9am. It will take 1.5 to 2 hours to drive to Croatia’s most famous National Park, Plitvice Lakes, from which you will drive to Istria.
Plitvice Lakes is a beautiful green national park full of emerald lakes and prolific waterfalls. There are tons of trails surrounding it. Don’t underestimate it’s size, though – it’s very big and you’ll have to move fast to see it all
Getting to/What to Do in Plitvice Lakes
Have your navigation direct you to one of the two main entrances to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Now, you will spend the next few hours exploring one of Croatia’s most beautiful and famous national parks, spotting fish in clear blue water, and marveling at waterfalls.
One part of the park has larger lakes and taller waterfalls, whereas the other part has tons of smaller waterfalls above each other. Once you enter, the best advice I can give is to walk counter-clockwise, which is going to be the opposite way as most people. Check out these tips for visiting Plitvice lakes for an in-depth look!
I recommend taking the long ferry boat that connects two sides of the park to each other (see map). The line may be long, but it’ll save you lots of energy! Follow the map route for the best self-guided views in Plitvice Lakes National Park, bring your camera, and prepare for a bit of walking!
Getting to/What to Do in Pula
You’ll want to shoot to be back at the car by about 4pm or earlier, to make the 3 hour drive to Istria. Rather than drive straight to Motovun, which is where you’ll be spending the night, I recommend driving the the capital of Istria, Pula, first. Pula is home to the second best preserved ancient Roman Colosseum in the world (after the actual colosseum) and is an extremely lively and historic port town.
In the summer months, it will be bustling even if you arrive around 7pm. First, visit the Pula Arena (ancient colosseum), which will be l it up even at night. Have a wander around the old town – the shops will still all be open – and then choose somewhere to grab food (sit down or takeaway).
Getting to Motovunm
Finally, after dinner, make the hour drive to Motovun. Make sure you confirm a late arrival with your accommodation – around 10-11pm. Find your bed and crash – it’s been a LONG day!
Where to Stay in Motovun
Hostel: None, sorry!
Hotel: Hotel Kastel
If You Have More Time
Balkans Road Trip Day 8: Motovun/Istria
You might want to sleep in today, adventurers, you’ve done well and moved fast thus far if you’ve followed this Balkans road trip Itinerary exactly. But today we have our first scheduled two-night stay so far… PHEW!
When you wake up and look outside, surely you’ll be stunned by the new daytime view of the beautiful countryside you arrived in late last night. Istria is often compared to Tuscany, and showcases a truly different side to Croatia than the southern coast.
To learn about Motovun more in-depth, red my guide below:
What to do in Motovun
Today you will be exploring Motovun, a scenic medieval hilltop town known for its truffles, wine, and gastronomy.
- Truffle Hunting Tour – One of the most unique things to do in Motovun is take part in a truffle hunting and tasting tour put on by some famous family-owned truffle companies. On these you can taste local food and hunt with truffle-hunting dogs through dense forest as they sniff out one of the world’s delicacies: truffles. Check this site or my guide linked above for tours.
- Photos and Tastings in Old Town – Next, you’ll want to explore the hilltop town. Motovun is the foodie capital of Croatia, and has tons of small shops that give tastings of olive oil, truffle paste/oil, wine, rakija, and more. Pop into as many as you can and maybe you’ll find something you just can’t resist!
- Walk the Walls – Like many medieval towns, you can walk the walls of Motovun for 25kn. Enjoy views of the rolling green hills and understand why many people call Istria “the Tuscany of Croatia!”
- Wine Tasting – If you have time, there are a few wineries in the area. Fakin Winery was right next to our airbnb and offered tastings through the day.
Where to Eat in Motovun:
I recommend a truffle-tactic sit-down meal here. Each restaurant has many dishes based upon the white and black truffles of the area, and this is truly the time to indulge! Fakin Restaurant overlooks the sunset and serves their own truffle and wine – you can’t go wrong!
After Dinner: Grab your favorite bottle of wine, take it back to your accommodation, and relax!
Predjama Castle + Ljubljana, Slovenia
Balkans Road Trip Day 9: Motovun to Predjama Castle to Ljubljana
Before you leave: Enjoy a lazy morning in Motovun; I recommend having breakfast in your accommodation and getting ready to go to Slovenia at your earliest convenience – maybe 8 or 9.
Getting to Slovenia/Driving in Slovenia:
You’ll drive past some lovely little hilltop towns on your way into Slovenia. As your rental car company will have hopefully told you, you’ll need to purchase a tourist tax sticker at your earliest convenience once you enter the country. Driving here should be no different than Croatia; just make sure you have your passports to cross the border and purchase the blue tourist tax emblem once you are in at the nearest service station.
Currency Change: They use the euro in Slovenia. You’ll want to exchange euro or get some out before the trip. Montenegro also uses euro.
The first stop in Slovenia will be an incredible castle built into the side of a cliff face – Predjama Castle. Driving here from Motovun should take about 1.5 hours, assuming the line at the border isn’t too long. You can either admire Predjama from outside, or pay a bit extra to go inside. Postojna caves are also right next to the castle, if you’d like a bit of extra adventure before getting to Ljubljana.
What to do in Ljubljana
After visiting the castle/caves, you should arrive in Ljubljana in less than an hour. If you time it well, you can arrive into Slovenia’s capital by 1-2pm, giving you a free afternoon to explore. Once you check into your accommodation, get out into the city!
- Walk around the city: marvel at the old streets + town, visit the three bridges, the main square, and more
- Try some coffee at a local cafe – I recommend Cafe Cokl
- Walk through the large + grassy Tivoli park
- Visit the National Gallery + Art Museum (near Tivoli Park)
- Walk up to the Ljubljana Castle for sunset.
Surprise! I also have a guide to Ljubljana, Bled, and Bohinj which will go farther in depth than this Balkans Itinerary. Read it below.
Where to Eat in Ljubljana
- Restaurants along the river – these have a great view
- Ljubljana Castle – has a restaurant inside
- Try a Horseburger – an original Slovenian creation, the ‘Horseburger’ is lean and healthy and can be obtained from the fast food restaurant Hot Horse.
Where to Stay in Ljubljana
- Airbnb: We stayed at Martys Place in a Villa – lovely + just a short walk from town. Or, stay in Loft Above the Main Square for extra-central.
- Hostel: Hostel Tresor
- Hotel: Grand Hotel Union
Lake Bohinj from Mt. Vogel Cable Car
Balkans Road Trip Day 10: Ljubljana to Lake Bled/Lake Bohinj
Today you will do a day trip from Ljubljana to some GORGEOUS lakes in the Slovenian countryside. Most people know about Lake Bled, which is quite famous, but not Lake Bohinj, which is just 30 minutes away. The true adventurers can squeeze highlights of both into one day by following the itinerary below.
Getting From Ljubljana to Lake Bohinj
You’ll start off by driving to the far end of Lake Bohinj, which is about 1:15 hours away from the city. Set your navigation to Ukanc, or the Mt. Vogel Cable Car.
What to Do in Lake Bohinj
Once you arrive at the Mt. Vogel cable car, buy a ticket (they depart every 30 mins) and ride it to the top of the mountain. This will give you an idea of the extent of the Slovenian Alps right away. You’re in a MASSIVE mountain range known for climbing, snow sports, and more!
Mt Vogel is a ski resort in the winter, but a fantastic view in summer. You don’t need too long here unless you want to hike (for which you’d need extra days). Simply take some photos of the lake below and marvel at the view of the Julian alps, which will be a big scenery change from the coasts.
Next, drive to the other end of Lake Bohinj (Ribcev Laz) and park. Now, you can either have a leisurely walk around part of the lake, lay in the sun if it’s warm enough, or (my personal favorite) rent some kayaks. Many agencies rent kayaks near the water. Rent some for about an hour, which is just enough time to paddle to the nearest side of the lake and have a swim.
Where to Eat In Bohinj
After some exploring and kayaking, surely you’ll be hungry… and why not try some authentic Slovenian food?! Gostilnica Strudl is as authentic as it gets, and is just in the main town outside of Lake Bohinj. I can’t remember the specific dish names, but make sure to get the Strudl tasting platter with the sour milk to dip bread into (trust me), and the noodles with brown sugar and jam for afterwards.
What to Do in Lake Bled
Next, drive 30 mins to Lake Bled. First, hike to the Ojstrica Viewpoint, giving you sweeping views of Lake Bled (about 20-25 minutes). Next, walk along the water and consider having one last swim near the pebbly beach there.
Lastly, drive up to Bled Castle for sunset (we’ve done enough physical activity today!) and enjoy the surroundings. If you like, make a reservation at the restaurant for a 5 course dinner menu with a view. If not, grab some takeaway food either in Bled, or when you get back to Ljubljana! The drive will be about an hour.
If You Have More Time
Slovenia would be a great place to extend your trip for a few days. Spend an extra day exploring Ljubljana more fully, and then book accommodation near Bled OR Bohinj. You can do a 12k hike around one side of Lake Bohinj, go river rafting in Bled, do an organized tour + boat ride to Bled Lake/Castle, or go canyoning in the Bohinj Valley.
Balkans Road Trip Day 11: Slovenia to Mostar (+ Makarska!)
Today is our first big driving day! There is an option to stop in my one of favorite places in Croatia: Makarska. The drive would be 6.5 hours to Mostar without stopping, or 7.5 hours with it (plus however long you want to spend there – I recommend 2 hours).
Getting from Ljubljana to Makarska
Leave by 10ish, or earlier if you can. Drive straight to Makarska, which is my favorite Croatian coastal town at the base of Croatia’s tallest rocky mountains. Stop off for a swim, lunch, and maybe a bit of shopping!
- Swimming/Cliff Jumping – the best place to swim would be directly across from Deep Cave Bar, which is actually also a really cool cave bar. You can jump off the cliffs a few minutes down the coast from there as well.
- Wander Along the 2km Pebbly Beach + Markets – Makarska has a very long beach lined with restaurants along the water and tons of markets. Grab a bite to eat, a takeaway crepe or slushie, wander through the markets, or have another swim along the (often crowded) beach.
- Water Sports – you can also rent a jet ski or go parasailing in Makarska. If you have time I strongly recommend it!
Getting from Makarska to Mostar
When you’ve had your fill, the drive to Mostar from Makarska is less than 2 hours. Have your passports out to cross into the third country of your trip!
Once you arrive at your accommodation, have your first look around the Old Town, which completely lights up at night. If you haven’t already shopped till you drop, check out the markets of this old Turkish town, and marvel at the difference in feel between the Croatian Coast less than two hours ago, and now.
I have a complete travel guide to Mostar, too! Click below for more in-depth info.
Tonight, grab a bit to eat at The Food House – a more casual and affordable yet authentic food option right outside the old town.
Where to Stay in Mostar
Hostel – Hostel Nina
Balkans Road Trip Day 12: Mostar Sights + Surrounds
Now you have a full day to explore Mostar! Get going whenever, and head to some of the sights of the city. Below are the sights I recommend for today; don’t forget to check out my Mostar Travel Guide for more in-depth information about each.
- Kajtaz House – a historical authentic Turkish house
- Old Town and Old Bridge – obviously! See if you can catch anyone jumping from it.
- Mosques – Climb to the top of the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque, and revel at the historic Nesuh-Aga Vučjaković Mosque.
- War + Genocide Museum – Learn about the atrocities of the Yugoslav War in Bosnia
- Bosnian Coffee – Try one from Cafe de Alma
At some point, get a takeaway lunch (try the cevapi!) and go down to the square below the old bridge and see if you catch anyone jumping. Head back to the car around 4-5pm for a slight road trip to Blagaj Springs 15 minutes away.
- Blagaj Springs – Blagaj is the source of the Buna River and the deepest spring in Europe. It’s home to a historic Dervish house, which is a branch of Islam. First, go to the ‘Vrelo Bune’ viewpoint across from Dervish House for some great photos. Then head inside the house! You’ll have to cover up to go inside this traditional place of worship, but they have scarves for you.
When you’ve had your fill of views and more markets, head back to Mostar. This evening it’s time to shop at the markets for any final souvenirs, and have a fancier and bona fide Bosnian dinner at Šadrvan. This restaurant is one of the best known, and has great tasting platters where you can try a variety of cuisine.
At Night: Check out the Black Dog Pub – see if they have live music on (they usually do) and try some local beers or different flavors of rakija. If you want to keeo going into the night, Ali Baba club is the way to go – located inside a cave next to the Old Bridge!
If You Have More Time
You could definitely spend longer in Bosnia + Herzegovina. We touch on the main sights of Mostar in this Balkans road trip itinerary, but if you have more time, you could spend a couple days in Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo. Sarajevo is even more heavily Turkish than Mostar, with a heavier war history, too.
Mosques ring out through the hills in a call to prayer throughout the city every few hours, putting the soukhs in a brief pause from their usual activity. There are great viewpoints looking over the city, fascinating ruins, and rich history.
Balkans Road Trip Day 13: Bosnian Highlights to Kotor, Montenegro
Before You Leave Mostar: Have a leisurely morning – no need to leave before 10/11 today. Put on your swim suit for a brief stop at some gorgeous waterfalls (and a castle) on the way out of the country and into Montenegro.
Mostar to Kravice Waterfalls and Počitelj Castle
It will take you less than an hour to drive from Mostar to the region of two more famous viewpoints of the region: Kravice Waterfalls and Počitelj Castle. Stop first at Kravice Falls. Spend an hour or two swimming in the chilly water and exploring the gorgeous waterfall systems and rock pools. Read my guide to visiting Kravice waterfalls below for more info:
After your swim, get changed and drive 10 minutes to the impressive hillside fortress of Počitelj. This was a Hungarian fort before the area was under Ottoman rule, and now it’s an old walled town up a hill with a few great lookout points.
One side is all done up and preserved with glass, but the rest are more authentic ruins crumbling at the edges. You can climb some old winding stairs in one of the fortresses to see an amazing view of the river and countryside.
You’ll notice millions of pomegranate trees in the town – this area is known for them! Old ladies will be selling homemade juices of pomegranate, elderflower, and rose, and little cones full of fresh nuts and dried fruit. You can buy lots of fresh fruit here also – it’s very cheap and delicious!
Počitelj to Kotor, Montenegro
After Pocitelj, it’s time to head into Montenegro. This border sometimes takes a little while, and you must make sure you have your car registration (and passports of course) ready to show at the border.
It should be about 3 hours from Pocitelj to Kotor, not counting any waiting time at the border. You will probably end up arriving in the late afternoon/evening, giving you time to check into your accommodation and wander into town for dinner.
Where to Stay in Kotor
Hostel: Old Town Hostel West Wing – one of my favorites
Hotel: Boutique Hotel Astoria
What to Do in Kotor
It might be late when you get in today, so simply walk into the old walled town (are you tired of them yet?! 😛 ) and have a bit of an explore and dinner before retiring for the night.
Balkans Road Trip Day 14: Explore Kotor
Today you have a full day to explore Kotor!
What to Do in Kotor
- Explore Old Town: Marvel at the old Venetian gates, get lost in the impossible streets of old town, explore the shops, enter old churches, walk the walls, drink coffee in the alleyways, etc.
- Cat Museum + Cat Gift Shop (and all the actual cats!) – Kotor is known for having TONS of stray cats – so much that they have created an entire cat gift shops and museum!
- Swimming – There is a small beach to swim outside of town (although it’s not the nicest of this balkans road trip itinerary)
A few hours before sunset, hike up to the fortress! You’ll notice that the walls of the old town actually zigzag all the way up the rocky cliffside and connect to the fortress to make one continuous walled town. It’s pretty impressive, and the view from the top is even more so. The Bay of Kotor is truly a sight to behold, with the distant boats and dramatic mountains jutting out from the water.
There’s an option to hike even higher, to farther mountaintops that present an even better (if that’s even possible) view. I did this once a few years back. If you want to hike higher, I recommend doing the hike in the morning and exploring the town in the evening.
Where to Eat in Kotor
After the hike, it’s time to get your tired self some food. Some top rated restaurants are Galion and Tanjga. We went to Restaurant city (on google maps as ‘grad’) on my most recent trip, and it was fairly good and very central.
If You Have More Time
You can do bigger hikes or sailing trips around the mountains and Bay of Kotor. However, I recommend spending more time exploring the rest of Montenegro… so keep reading!
Balkans Road Trip Day 15: Montenegro Road Trip to Budva
For this part of the Balkans road trip, I’m going to give you a couple options. If you have more time, you can follow my comprehensive Montenegro road trip route linked below (will take 2+ days).
If you only have one day, you can follow the stops below. Either way, your road trip will start in Kotor and end in Budva, so bring your stuff and get started early! Budva is another (you guessed it) walled coastal town. It is larger and more lively than Kotor, and you’ll have a full day here after your road trip to relax and take in the epicness of your Balkans travel.
One-Day Shorter Montenegro Road Trip Route (See post above for timings + more info)
- Slansko Lakes – stop for a photo as you drive
- Ostrog Monastery (+ mountains views along the way) – this is a famous monastery built into the side of a tall mountain. It’s a picturesque Montenegrin icon, and the views on the way there are equally stunning as well.
- Podgorica/Niksic – These are two main Montenegrin cities/capital that you can drive through on your way through the countryside.
- Pavlova Strana Viewpoint in Skadar Lake National Park – This is a famous 180 degree river bend on the outskirts of Lake Skadar National Park, on the border or Albania. The roads will be a bit sketchy, but the view is worth it!
- Lovcen National Park – weave your way to a mountaintop mausoleum in the stunning rocky Lovcen National Park. Prepare for picturesque views and a creepy yet fascinating mausoleum for an old leader.
- Sveti Stefan – After making your way back to the coast, make one final detour to a famous island. Sveti Stefan is connected to the coast by a thin bridge, and is home to a VERY fancy hotel. Don’t get any ideas about walking onto the island itself (unless you’re very rich), but it’s a fantastic photo op and swimming spot.
Now – head to the final stop of your Balkans road trip – Budva, Montenegro!
Where t0 Stay in Budva
- Airbnb: Sea View Studio for a view/removed, or Old Town Budva Authentic Apartment for central
- Hostel: Freedom Hostel Budva
- Hotel: Apartment Alex Viewpoint
Where to Eat in Budva
- Konoba Portun – a quaint alleyway restaurant with great food
- Kafana Rivijera – classic montenegrin food + atmosphere
If You Have More Time
Spend up to an entire week on you the Montenegro Road Trip. Click here to read my post about canyoning, river rafting, zip lining, hiking, alpine lakes, scenic overpasses, and more amazing things you can do in Montenegro when you stray from the coast.
Balkans Road Trip Day 16: Budva
Budva is easily worth a few days time – it’s a much bigger city than Kotor and is the place young and old come at night time to wander the busy old town streets, listen to live music, and go clubbing.
What to Do in Budva
Hopefully you aren’t tired of exploring old towns, because you have one last one to explore! Today, you can:
- Wander through old town – get lost in the alleyways, browse through shops, find out what makes Montenegro different than the other countries you’ve seen
- Museums – Check out the Maritime Museum, City Museum, and a few art galleries
- Statua Ballerina – look at the ballerina statue up the coast from the town
- Sveti Stefan – You can also do Sveti Stefan today (rather than yesterday) to spend more time there. You could even relax on the beach all day! It’s great for a morning or sunset swim.
- Old Town Beach – if you’re just exhausted and can’t do anything else – plop down onto a beach chair on the beach outside old town, and don’t move ALL day. That’s fine too!
After the sun sets, choose a spot from the list above to have a last meal from your Balkans road trip. I’d suggest checking out what’s on in the town, too. It’s always bustling at night in the summer months with street fairs, open air clubs, and more. Soak in the final moments of an incredible trip – you’ve earned it!
Balkans Road Trip Day 17: Back to Dubrovnik
Well, now it’s time to drive to Dubrovnik and return your rental car… sad face. BUT FIRST – we can squeeze in one final stop, depending on the time of your flight (or if you are spending your final night in Dubrovnik like we did). If you missed out on Cavtat during your first bout in Dubrovnik… you can visit on the way back today!
Even if just for a coffee and a break from driving, pull a few minutes off the main road to soak up the last few moments of Croatian sun.
Next, return your rental car at Sixt. They have a location near Hotel Rexos and at the airport. If you’re staying the night, return it near the hotel. Ideally, stay there or nearby. If you’re flying out, return it at the airport and be on your way!
If you have a night, spend your last afternoon relaxing and having one more swim at Bellevue beach, and have a last dinner in port Gruz. Catch a taxi to the airport in the morning, and there you are done and dusted!
Made it all the way to the end?! Don’t forget to PIN me!