If you are looking for nature, hiking, rivers, valleys, mountains and waterfalls, then look no further than a road trip through Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Montenegro. This region in the Balkans is breathtakingly beautiful and relatively easy to navigate through. In these 12 days in the Balkans, you will visit amazing national parks and a famous walled city in Croatia, drive through Slovenia’s highest mountain pass and fall in love with its lakes, walk through the cobbled stoned streets of Mostar, exploring its past and wonder at the fjord like mountains in Montenegro. This post gives you a day by day play of how to spend 12 amazing days in the Balkans.
Table of Contents
- Important Notes on this itinerary
- Day 1 – Zagreb (Night in Zagreb)
- Day 2 – Ljubljana (Night in Ljubljana)
- Day 3 – Lake Bled (Night in Lake Bled)
- Day 4 – Lake Bohinj, Julian Alps and Soca Valley Road Trip and Tolmin Gorge (Night in Rijeka)
- Day 5- Plitvice Lakes National Park and Possibly Krka National Park (Night in Split)
- Day 6 – Blue Caves and Island Excursion (From Split/ Night in Split)
- Day 7 – Krka National Park, Trogir and Hvar (From Split/Night in Split)
- Day 8 – Split (Night in Split)
- Day 9 – Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Night in Mostar)
- Day 10 – Kotor and the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro (Night in Dubrovnik)
- Day 11 – Dubrovnik (Night in Dubrovnik)
- Day 12 – Dubrovnik (Night in Zagreb)
- Day 13- End of the 12 Amazing Days in the Balkans!
- 2 Important Tips
Important Notes on this itinerary
- You could probably spend at least 10 days in Slovenia and 2 weeks in Croatia easily! Similarly, you could also perhaps spend more than 24 hours in Bosnia and do more than a day trip to Montenegro. However, consider this itinerary a sampler especially if you have limited time but still want to see the best of what these countries have to offer!
- This itinerary is best done driving. If you are not driving then you may have to cut down on some of the things to do. I’m happy to help you through this if you send me a message!
- There are lots of early and long days on this trip but feel free to adjust as needed
- This is best done in the summer or late spring when there is a lot more daylight time
- I have detailed, individual posts on most of the days on this 12 days in the Balkans post. I will link each one below each day. These posts cover more details on what to see and do, has more attractions listed out, includes where to eat and has loads of recommendations, tips and travel guides. Definitely check them out for more information!
- Also included below is a link to a post about driving in the Balkans which will give you all the information about hiring a car, crossing boarders and documents needed to cross
- You will cross borders 7 times if you follow this 12 days in the Balkans itinerary exactly. However, don’t fret! It was all smooth sailing with the right documentation!
- Lastly, I did this trip solo! It was the first time I had driven on my won in Europe and the first time I had crossed so many borders but it felt so good doing it and I have some of the best memories from it
Day 1 – Zagreb (Night in Zagreb)
These 12 amazing days in the Balkans start in Zagreb. I picked up my car and drove straight to the city. I spent my time exploring Zagreb and enjoying the capital of Croatia
Sites Not to Miss in Zagreb
- Tkalčićeva Street
- Upper town (Gornji Grad)
- St. Mark’s Church
- Cathedral of the Assumption
- Ban Josip Jelačić Square
Try to find an accommodation spot that is close to the main attractions and can be walked to.
Day 2 – Ljubljana (Night in Ljubljana)
Today, I said goodbye to Croatia (temporarily) and crossed the border over to Slovenia. I spent 1 day mostly in the capital Ljubljana. I really liked Ljubljana. It was relatively small and had a lot of character!
Sites Not to Miss in Ljubljana
- Triple Bridge
- Prešeren Square and the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation a.k.a the Pink Church
- Butchers, Cobblers and Dragon Bridges
- Gornji Trg, Stari Trg and Mestno Trg
- Town Hall and Robba Fountain
- Plecnik’s Covered Market and the Outdoor Market
I left Zagreb early morning and got an early start in Ljubljana. After walking around the city and covering a lot of sites, I realized I could go to see the Postojna Caves and Predjama Castle. Postojna Caves are about 30 minutes from Ljubljana and Predjama Castle is about 10 minutes from the caves. Expect to spend 1.5 hours (maybe 2 with the entry and exit) at the caves. After the caves, I got to Predjama right before closing.
After seeing these sites, I drove back to Ljubljana and covered a few more things. Interestingly, all the crowds from earlier than day had dispersed and Ljubljana was very peaceful. One advantage of traveling in late spring or summer is that you can take advantage of day light savings time!
Day 3 – Lake Bled (Night in Lake Bled)
I once again packed up and left early to get to Bled from Ljubljana. I must say I really enjoyed driving in Slovenia! The roads are great and Slovenia is relatively small so you can drive to places in short amounts of time.
Visiting Lake Bled was a dream come true! My recommendation is to stay overnight day in Bled. This area gets crowded during the day with day trippers but is peaceful early morning or at night!
Sites Not to Miss/Things to do in Bled
- Stroll along the lake
- Visit Bled Island
- Hike to a lookout point
- Try Bled cream cake
- Take a boat ride
- Visit Bled Castle
I hopped in my car this afternoon after lunch and drove about 15 minutes to Vintgar Gorge. I highly recommend making the trip to hike this gorge. The emerald green color of the water is so beautiful! It takes around 1 hour 20 minutes to hike this gorge from start to finish. The hike is one way and cuts through a pretty village.
Once back in Bled that evening, I did a little more walking and touring around.
Day 4 – Lake Bohinj, Julian Alps and Soca Valley Road Trip and Tolmin Gorge (Night in Rijeka)
I’ll admit that I kind of mixed things up planning the day. I thought Bohinj was between Bled and the Julian Alps to my plan was to start early, go to Bohinj and then drive through the Julian Alps via the Vršič pass down to the Soca valley. What I totally missed was that I had to pass Bled again after Bohinj to get to the Vršič pass. On the map initially it looked like Bohinj was between Bled and the Vršič pass. But since the are is mountainous, the way it looked on the map was deceiving. I didn’t realize this until I put in directions to go to the start of the Vršič pass from Bohinj.
I still did everything I wanted to that day but this was probably the longest day on this 12 days in the Balkans itinerary.
You have a few options here. Stick to what I did or add an extra day to the itinerary or cut off Bohinj. I think you can definitely do everything I did, if you are not doing any activities in Bohinj or hiking in the Alps or doing any water sports in the Soca Valley. It also helps if you are doing this in the summer when the days are longer.
Sites Not to Miss on Day 4
- Lake Bohinj
- St. John the Baptist Church
- Cable car to the Vogel Mountains
- Driving up and down Vršič pass through the Julian Alps
- Soca River Valley
- Tolmin Gorge
After visiting Tolmin Gorge, I made my way back to Croatia and spent the night in Rijeka. If you are planning on following this exact itinerary and going to Plitvice National park then next day ,it may be worth it to drive a little longer and staying closer to Plitvice National Park.
Day 5- Plitvice Lakes National Park and Possibly Krka National Park (Night in Split)
Started early on day 5 of this 12 days in the Balkans itinerary as well because I really wanted to get to Plitvice at the time I had bought my ticket. Plitvice is huge and there are so many hiking trails and paths you can take. My best advice is to go with a plan and try to stick to it. Although I did have somewhat of an idea of what I wanted to do, I still ended up spending way too much time trying to figure it out as I went. After I visited, I put together the best route that captures the best of Plitvice and its hidden gems. See below for the link to this post!
How to Spend Your Day
Expect to spend 4-6 hours at Plitvice. My plan was to arrive early in Plitvice (which I did), spend about 4-6 hours here and then make it to Krka National Park before closing time. But, alas, I spent too much time in Plitvice. I did drive to Krka after with the hopes of still making it but I took the Skradin entrance instead of the Lozovac entrance. The Skradin entrance closes a little earlier than the Lozovac entrance. The reason for this is because it takes you to the falls area on a boat which has specific departing times. Had I gone straight to the Lozovac entrance I would have probably still made it.
Krka is a lot more easier and straight forward than Plitvice is. I you only want to see the waterfall it’s a straight shot from the Lozovac entrance. The boardwalk is about 1.5 miles and ends up at the waterfall. Overall expect to spend about 2 hours at Krka.
Don’t worry if you don’t make it to Krka or run out of time. I still did Krka another day!
From Krka (and my failed attempt), I drove down to Split. It was evening when I got to Split so I checked-in, showered and then walked around Split for a little. The night life in Split is buzzing!
Day 6 – Blue Caves and Island Excursion (From Split/ Night in Split)
On day 6, I booked full day excursion to see the Blue Caves and a few islands around Split. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the Blue Caves as the wind was bad. Nevertheless, the tour operator still took us to 5 other places instead. Namely Pakleni, Hvar, Blue Lagoon, Milna and Maslinica. We spent the majority of the time in Hvar, which was great!
The day was fun even without the Blue Caves. HERE is the tour that I did. This tour has the highest rating on Getyourguide. Alternatively, you can also book this tour directly through the tour operator’s website (there was no major price difference when I booked).
Day 7 – Krka National Park, Trogir and Hvar (From Split/Night in Split)
On the 7th day of this 12 days in the Balkans itinerary, I visited Krka National Park and Hvar. I started the day with a visit to Krka early morning. I went straight to the Lozovac entrance and after parking in the big car park, bought my ticket and took the bus straight down to the boardwalk. On the way back, I stopped at Trogir for an hour or so. I you had a chance to go to Krka on day 5, then consider going to Trogir and spending more time there. I got back to Split and took a ferry to Hvar.
Sites Not to Miss/Things to do in Hvar
- Visit the Fort
- Visit St. Stephen’s Cathedral
- Wander through the streets
- Relax on a beach
- Walk Around St. Stephen’s Square
- People watch at the harbor
I recommend buying your ferry tickets in advance or at least the day before like I did. Having had spent some time in Hvar, the day before and seen some of the sites, so I took the rest of the day to visit the other ones I couldn’t cover the day before. Overall, when you add my time up, I spent about one day in Hvar and I think this is more than enough time to spend in the town of Hvar. I took the last ferry back to Split from Hvar.
Day 8 – Split (Night in Split)
Today, I toured around Split, enjoying all the sites and history of the city. Split was probably one of my favorite relatively big cities visited on this trip. I spent most of the day in Split and after lunch took a short drive to visit Klis Fortress (skippable if you don’t have a car)
After coming back to Split, I enjoyed a couple of cocktails on the Riva before grabbing dinner.
Sites Not to Miss in Split
- Diocletian’s Palace
- Cathedral of St. Domnius
- Bell tower of St. Domnius Cathedral
- Marjan Peninsular
- Walk along the Riva
Day 9 – Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Night in Mostar)
Probably one of my favorite days on this 12 days in the Balkans trip! One day is probably enough time in Mostar, although if you have more time than 12 days, you can perhaps drive to the capital Sarajevo. Mostar was like no other place I’ve been to before. The old bridge, the cobblestoned roads and the sleepy river, all adds to its charm and beauty. Definitely a must see location in the Balkans!
Sites Not to Miss in Mostar
- Stari Most (Old Bridge)
- Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque
- Wander Through the Old Town
- The Old Bazaar
- Kriva ćuprija or Crooked Bridge
- Vrelo Bune and Blagaj Tekija – side trip
Day 10 – Kotor and the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro (Night in Dubrovnik)
While Montenegro deserves more than a day or so of exploring, consider today a sampler for a trip in the future where you can spend more time here. Kotor and the Bay of Kotor is on the west coast of Montenegro and is simply stunning! Fjord like mountains roll down to the Adriatic sea as little villages and churches with stone facades dot the coast line.
The best way to conquer this day is to divide it in 2. One part for the Old Town of Kotor and the other hald to drive along the Bay.
I highly recommend staying in Kotor to see the sunset. I did this and then drove across the boarder to Dubrovnik and spent the night there.
Sites Not to Miss in Kotor and the Bay
- Walls of Kotor and St. Giovanni’s Fort – absolute must do if in good health
- Walk around the Old town of Kotor
- Town of Perast
- Church of St. Nicholas in Perast
- Boat ride to Old Lady of the Rocks
- Watch the sunset
Day 11 – Dubrovnik (Night in Dubrovnik)
Is there a more popular city in Croatia than Dubrovnik? Especially after the HBO hit series the Game of Thrones. Dubrovnik was a lot more compact that I thought it would be and can be easily seen in 1.5-2 days. Don’t underestimate the crowds in Dubrovnik though. It’s a cruise port and get’s crowded mid-morning to evening. Start our day early to beat the crowds!
The walls are probably the biggest attraction in Dubrovnik and is an absolute must do to walk them!
Sites Not to Miss in Dubrovnik (Includes day 12 as well)
- Walk the walls
- Walk Along the Stradun
- Wander Through the Old Town
- Relax at Banje Beach
- Visit Game of Throne sites if you’re a fan
- Visit Fort Lovrijenac
- See Dubrovnik from Mount Srd
- Go to D’Vino wine bar
Day 12 – Dubrovnik (Night in Zagreb)
Today I covered a few more places from my 15 things to do in Dubrovnik list and then drove back to Zagreb that afternoon. I stopped at Mount Srd for one of the best views of Dubrovnik from top.
You certainly don’t have to drive back to Zagreb. I had to do this for 2 reasons. 1. It was cheaper for to me fly in and out on Zagreb and the flight schedule worked out better. Had I flown out of Dubrovnik I would have had a 26 hour layover in Paris and I needed to get back home to catch a flight to Egypt the next day….so why didn’t I take an internal flight from Dubrovnik to Zagreb? 2. it was significantly cheaper for me to drop off the rental car back where I picked it up from.
Day 13- End of the 12 Amazing Days in the Balkans!
I said goodbye to Croatia and hopped on a flight back home…to fly back to Egypt the next day! I had booked the Egypt trip way before I booked this trip and couldn’t change the flight so I had to cross the Atlantic twice in 2 days!
2 Important Tips
As mentioned at the start of this post, I have a detailed guide on driving in these 4 countries. I’ve also outlines every single border crossing, what you need to cross, what to consider when hiring a car and so many more important details.
I’ve covered travel to each of these individual cities and countries in great detail in their respective posts linked throughout this 12 days in the Balkans article but wanted to call out one important thing here. Bosnia and to some extent Croatia is mostly cash only. Slovenia, Bosnia and Montenegro use the euro while Croatia uses the Kuna. The official currency of Bosnia is the convertible mark but they will take euros as well.
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