The Ultimate Two Week Balkans Itinerary

Here is how you can spend two weeks exploring Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro.

 

If the Balkans isn’t yet on your radar, it definitely should be. While the area is becoming increasingly popular, it’s still a very underrated destination. After spending almost two weeks road tripping though the area, I’m convinced that when it comes to natural beauty, sightseeing, food, and culture, it can rival any of the big hitters in Europe. Not to mention it’s safe, budget-friendly, and the locals are some of the friendliest I’ve met.

This itinerary works for anyone who has 10-15 days to spend in the area. I would have loved to spend more time in some places, mainly Montenegro, but I left feeling content with what I saw.  At the same time I also have no doubt that I want to return in the future, and that is always a good thing.

 

Quick Tips

  • When to go: I went at the end of May to beginning of June and the weather was perfect. In fact it was already getting scorching hot in Croatia (30C+), perfect for swimming but not so perfect for trekking around the city with a backpack. It was crowded at main tourist spots and cities like Split and Dubrovnik, but overall it was tolerable. I think in general May and late September-early October would be the ideal mix of weather and crowds.
  • How to get there: I flew in and out of Zagreb, Croatia as this was the cheapest and most convenient option. More ideally you can also fly into Zagreb and out of Dubrovnik. I avoided flying in and out of different countries as I knew I would be renting a car and those international drop off fees can be killer.
  • How to get around: I would highly recommend renting a car for the whole trip. The roads in the Balkans are in great condition and signs are easy to follow. The flexibility of being able to stop whenever you want and to visit remote hilltop towns is well worth the cost and responsibility of driving.  I picked up and returned my car at the Zagreb airport without any issue. Just remember to buy a vignette (window sticker) when you enter Slovenia, this lets you drive on the highways there.

 

The Ultimate Two Week Balkans Itinerary: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro

 

Day 1: Arrive in Zagreb, Drive to Ljubljana

Arrive in Zagreb as early as you can. Pick up your rental car at the airport and head straight to Slovenia. Hi and bye Croatia. Don’t worry, you’ll be back soon. It’s an easy 2-hour drive to Ljubljana. Right after you pass the border control there is a small station where you can buy your Vignette which allows you to drive on Slovenian highways. It’s 15 Euros for a weekly one. You’ll see tons of signs for the Vignette and they also sell it at most gas stations along the highway.

Check into your hotel in Ljubljana. I stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton. It’s a bit further from downtown but right by the highway.

After getting settled, head out and explore downtown Ljubljana. It’s everything you expect a small charming European city to be, full of cobbled streets and colourful architecture. The area along the Ljubljanica River near the Triple Bridge was probably my favourite part of the city. Find a restaurant along the river and enjoy your first dinner in the Balkans.

Colourful buildings along the river in downtown Ljubljana
Colourful buildings along the river in old town Ljubljana.
A view of the famous pink facade of the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation
A view of the famous pink facade of the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation.

 

Day 2: Explore Ljubljana, Drive to Lake Bled, Stop in Jamnik on the way

Get up early and explore more of Ljubljana. For a great view of the city head up to Ljubljana Castle. The old town is not too big so aim to get on the road to Lake Bled by noon. The direct drive to Bled is only about 40 minutes, but I would recommend stopping by Jamnik on the way if you are into picturesque hilltop churches and the beautiful Slovenian countryside. The Church of St Primus is one of the most photographed places in Slovenia and it’s not hard to see why. Best of all, you won’t be fighting off any crowds here. I hung out for an hour or so and only saw two groups of hikers the entire time.

Fields and a hilltop church in Jamnik Slovenia
The Church of St Primus in Jamnik is as picturesque as it gets.

One thing to keep in mind is that the drive up to Jamnik is pretty steep and involves navigating many switchbacks. If you are not comfortable driving along mountain roads then this might not be for you. However there is hardly any traffic so you can take all the time you need. I was a little nervous during the drive but it was definitely manageable. Also – the view was totally worth it.

Church of Saint Primus in Jamnik Croatia
Straight out of a fairytale.

From Jamnik it’s a 30-minute drive to Bled. I stayed at Bled Apartments, it was very basic but had everything I needed for a comfortable stay. However I found the location a bit too far from the most scenic part of the lake, which is the west shore near Camping Bled. I would recommend staying near there if you can.

Spend the evening walking around the lake and ask yourself whether this is the most picturesque place you’ve ever laid eyes on. Lake Bled is magical at sunset. Aim to be near the south-west shore between Vila Bled and Camping Bled, the views are the best from there.

Sunset at Lake Bled
Sunset at Lake Bled.

 

Day 3: Lake Bled, Triglav National Park, Lake Bohinj

This is your chance to catch sunrise at the most beautiful viewpoint in Lake Bled: Ojstrica. Yes this involves a very early wake up call (4:30am when I went in May), but trust me it is worth it. If you’re driving you can park at the Camping Bled parking lot, it’s free until 8am. The trailhead is a very short walk from the parking lot (see map below).

Sunrise at the Ojstrica viewpoint
Sunrise at the Ojstrica viewpoint.

The hike takes about 30 minutes and is not to be underestimated. It has some fairly steep parts and can be very slippery if it has recently rained. Wear appropriate footwear! I did not and ended up falling on my butt on my way down. I arrived at the viewpoint shortly after sunrise and there were already four people with their tripods set up. There isn’t a lot of space so aim to be there early. After we all watched the sun rise over the mountains in awe, everyone left and I had the viewpoint to myself. Make sure to pack yourself a little breakfast and just enjoy the view.

Enjoying the view at Ojstrica
Enjoying the view at Ojstrica after sunrise.

Hike back down and take a stroll along the lake. It’s incredibly peaceful in the morning. There are docks on the north-west side of the lake in front of the Rowing Club, they are perfect for hanging out and taking in the scenery. After you’ve had some time to relax, rent a row boat from one of the many rental places and row to Bled Island. You can visit the church on the island or just wander around.

Rowing a boat on Lake Bled
Rowing a boat while taking a tripod shot – is there an award for this?

Grab a quick lunch before heading to Triglav National Park. There are many options of how to enjoy a visit here. You can go on a hike through the Julian Alps, spend a relaxing afternoon by Lake Bohinj, or visit the stunning Vintgar Gorge. I went with option number two because I couldn’t seem to get enough of Slovenian lakes, also I was feeling a bit jet lagged and not up for a hike. In hindsight I regret not venturing into the Julian Alps, and while Lake Bohinj was nice, it didn’t blow me away like Lake Bled did.

A dock on misty Lake Bohinj
A dock on misty Lake Bohinj.

 

Day 4: Leave Lake Bled, Drive to Plitvice Lakes National Park

Spend the morning at Lake Bled. This will be your last chance to get all the postcard worthy shots that you came for. By noon head out and start your drive to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Yes that means it’s sadly time to say goodbye to Slovenia. The drive is about 3.5 hours and pretty uneventful, so load up your playlist and podcasts because you’ll need it.

Lake Bled
Last morning at Lake Bled.

I highly recommend staying in Plitvica Selo during your visit to the park. There are quite a few hotels in this small area. I stayed at Pansion Breza and it was one of my favourite stays of the whole trip. Upon check-in I was given a map of all the best viewpoints in Plitvice and tips on the best routes within the park. Also since Plitvica Selo is technically located within the park, I was able to spend the evening visiting the upper sections of the park by foot without having to buy a ticket for that day.

Plitvice National Park waterfalls
One of the many viewpoints of Plitvice Lakes National Park that were within walking distance from my hotel.

 

Day 5: Explore Plitvice Lakes National Park, Drive to Zaton/Sibenik 

Wake up early and get ready to explore this UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most beautiful parks in the world. When you stay at Pansion Breza, they buy the entrance tickets for you and leave it on your table with breakfast, along with sandwiches that you can bring for lunch. See why I highly recommend staying here?

Waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes National Park
One of many waterfalls inside the park.
Boardwalks and waterfalls inside Plitvice Lakes National Park
One of my favourite views of the park.

The park opens at 8am and you probably want to get there shortly after. It gets very crowded as the day goes on and these boardwalks turn into giant traffic jams. You need about 6-8 hours to see most of the park.

Aim to head out at around 4-5pm and make your way down to the Dalmatian Coast. I chose to stay near Šibenik at The Admiral Zaton, mainly because this is where Krka National Park is located. A lot of visitors tend to day trip there from Split but I wanted to get to the park as early as possible to avoid the crowds. Zaton is a tiny and charming seaside town and I really enjoyed my stay there.

 

Day 6: Krka National Park

Krka opens at 8am so aim to get there at that time. There are two main entrances, I used the Lozovac entrance because the other Skradin entrance involves taking a ferry which seemed time consuming. Parking was free and the line for tickets wasn’t very long. Once you enter take the shuttle bus which drops you off near the main waterfall, Skradinski Buk.

Skradinski Buk waterfall in Krka National Park
Skradinski Buk, the most famous waterfall at Krka National Park

There are many other sights to see in Krka, including a monastery, roman ruins, and more waterfalls. You can easily spend the entire day here. At Skradinski Buk there are restaurants and food carts where you can grab lunch.

Spend the evening relaxing in Zaton or Šibenik. I had dinner at the restaurant of The Admiral Zaton, followed by a sunset bike ride along the harbour.

View of Zaton from The Admiral Zaton.
View of Zaton from The Admiral Zaton.

 

Day 7: Drive to Split, Stop in Primosten and Trogir on the way

This is a pretty relaxing day so you can sleep in a little. Take the very scenic coastal drive from Zaton to Split, and make as many stops as you want.

First stop: Primošten, or at least a view of it. You can either spend some time in this town or just admire it from afar. There is a viewpoint just off the main coastal road (the D8) where you can park your car. You’ll find a trail here that can lead you all the way down to the water, with the most beautiful views of Primošten.

View of Primošten.
View of Primošten from the main coastal road.

Next stop: Trogir. It’s definitely worthwhile to make a stop in this town. There are many inexpensive parking lots just outside of the old town. Ditch your car and take a stroll within the medieval walls of this charming town. Have lunch at one of the many cute restaurants and cafes that line the cobblestone streets.

Old town Trogir
Old town Trogir.
Promenade in Trogir with palm trees and medieval walls
Medieval walls surround the tiny island of Trogir.

Make your way to Split and check into your hotel. I stayed at the Hotel Luxe Split and really enjoyed my time there. The location is perfectly situated just outside of Diocletian’s Palace. Take a look at my blog post about my stay here.

After getting settled, enjoy your evening strolling through the ancient roman ruins of Diocletian’s Palace. Grab a gelato and have a seat at the Peristil, the main courtyard, for some quality people watching. For sunset head to the Riva, Split’s main seaside promenade.

View of the Riva in Split Croatia
View of the Riva in Split.

 

Day 8: Split 

If you want any chance of seeing Diocletian’s Palace without hordes of people, this is your opportunity. Get up for sunrise and head straight to the Peristil. If you’re lucky you’ll have the place relatively to yourself, and that’s a pretty magical experience.

Diocletian's Palace at 6am in the morning
Exploring Diocletian’s Palace at 6am in the morning.
The Peristil in Diocletian's Palace
The only time you’ll ever see this place empty.

The rest of the day is kind of up to you. You can either have a beach day at one of the many beaches in Split, or grab a seat at a cafe on the Riva and just relax. For lunch or dinner head to Restaurant Nostromo, I had the grilled octopus there and I’m still dreaming about it.

 

Day 9: Split – Mostar – Dubrovnik 

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The picturesque town of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mostar was one of my favourite stops of the entire trip, so it definitely makes for a great day trip on your way from Split to Dubrovnik. It’s about a 2-hour drive from Split to Mostar and another 2-hour drive from Mostar to Dubrovnik. The border crossings were smooth and I didn’t have any issues or long waits. 

Once you get to Mostar, park at the “Campanile” parking lot which is just beside the Catholic Church (see map below). From here it’s a 10-minute walk to Stari Most – the iconic bridge that Mostar is known for.

Stari Most, the famous bridge of Mostar.
Stari Most, the famous bridge of Mostar.

Head to the eastern side of the bridge where there is a small diving platform for the best view. It’s a tradition for divers to jump off Stari Most, and while I was there I had the pleasure (and shock) of watching three divers jump.

The main cobblestone road that extends from the bridge is filled with touristy shops and restaurants. It was extremely hot when I was there so I didn’t spend too much time walking around. You can also visit the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque which sits along the river and is supposed to provide optimal views of Stari Most and the surrounding town.

The Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque sits along the Neretva River in Mostar
The Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque sits along the Neretva River in Mostar.

What I found fascinating was learning about the history of war in Mostar and the Balkans in general, and being able to see the effects of the war so clearly. The Stari Most was actually destroyed in 1993 during the Balkan Wars and then rebuilt with original stones recovered from the river.  I would highly recommend that you read up about the history of the Balkans before you visit.

After spending enough time in Mostar, drive down to Dubrovnik – the jewel of the Adriatic. I stayed at the Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera on this night which is about 15 minutes from old town Dubrovnik. This part of the riviera was so scenic and had a very Amalfi Coast vibe to it. The location was perfect since I knew I would be day tripping to Montenegro the next day, so there was no point in staying in central Dubrovnik.

Pool views at the Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera
Pool views at the Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera.
Srebreno Beach on the Dubrovnik Riviera
Srebreno Beach on the Dubrovnik Riviera.

 

Day 10: Montenegro Day Trip

Start your day as early as you can and drive down to Montenegro. It’s only a 1.5-hour drive to the Bay of Kotor. Most of the drive is along the coast with scenic views throughout, feel free to stop whenever you see a lookout point.

Bay of Kotor
One of many viewpoints along the Bay of Kotor.

First stop: Perast. This is a tiny but charming town right on the Bay of Kotor. It has only one main street so you don’t have to worry about getting lost here. There are two parking lots on either side of the town where you can leave your car. Take a stroll through the town and you’ll probably be approached by several people offering you a boat tour to Our Lady of The Rocks, one of two small islets just off the shore of Perast. I didn’t go but it looks like a cute island with a church on it.

Perast, Montenegro
The town of Perast on the Bay of Kotor.

There are quite a few restaurants by the water where you can stop for lunch. After lunch venture off the main street and climb up into the upper levels of the town for a great view of the bay.

View of Perast and small islet Our Lady of The Rocks
View of Perast and the small islet Our Lady of The Rocks.

Next stop: Kotor. After leaving Perast continue driving along the bay for another 20 minutes before you reach the town of Kotor. Park at the huge lot just behind the Courthouse (see map below) and walk to the medieval old town. Spend some time wandering around the streets and admiring the well preserved architecture. There are tons of cute cafes and shops to hop into.

One of the highlights in Kotor is its ancient city walls which are built into the cliffs overlooking the city, leading up to the Kotor Fortress. From here you’ll get one of the best views of the city and the Bay of Kotor. The hike starts near the Church of St. Mary Collegiate and requires an entrance fee of 8 Euros (unless you start before 8am or after 8pm).  The hike consists mostly of steep and narrow stairs and is not too difficult, except if you’re doing it during the hottest time of day on what feels like the hottest day of the year. Let’s just say I didn’t even know I could sweat so much.

Hiking up the city walls to the Kotor Fortress
Hiking up the city walls to the Kotor Fortress.
 Church of Our Lady of Remedy
The Church of Our Lady of Remedy, about half way up the hike.

I stopped just past the Church of Our Lady of Remedy for a little picnic and photo session. As I stayed here the skies began to darken and I could hear thunderstorms nearby. This was my cue that I should probably start heading down. So sadly I did not make it all the way to the Fortress, but honestly the views were already incredible.

Already a pretty good view right?

Originally I planned to continue on to the Budva Riviera and Sveti Stefan, but because it started thunder storming I decided to drive back to Dubrovnik early. If you have time definitely give those places a visit.

I arrived back in Dubrovnik and checked into my Airbnb which was within walking distance to the walled old town. I made it just in time to watch my first sunset over “King’s Landing”, and it was pretty magical.

Sunset views of Dubrovnik from Fort Lovrijenac
Sunset views of Dubrovnik from Fort Lovrijenac.

 

Day 11: Dubrovnik

Aim to be at the Dubrovnik city walls by the opening time of 8am. Trust me, it gets insanely crowded and hot and you don’t want to be stuck in one of the narrow sections sandwiched between huge tour groups. It takes about 2-3 hours to walk around the entire walled city and the views are unbeatable.

View of the Stradun from the Dubrovnik city walls.
View of the Stradun from the city walls.
Looking over the terra cotta roofs of Dubrovnik from the city walls
Looking over the terra cotta roofs of Dubrovnik.

After visiting the city walls, spend some time exploring the atmospheric streets of the old town. Grab lunch at one of the many patio restaurants tucked away on smaller side streets. After lunch head to the old port, this part of the city offers tons of picturesque views and the photo ops are endless.

Exit the walled city from the Ploce Gate and head towards Banje Beach. If you’re looking for the perfect spot to have a dip in the Adriatic without any crowds, the rocky shore in front of Komarda Restaurant is your best bet.

Rocky beach in front of Komarda Restaurant with view of Dubrovnik
Rocky beach in front of Komarda Restaurant.

Alternatively if you’re looking for a buzzy beach club scene you can visit Banje Beach.

Banje Beach
Banje Beach.

You can either spend the afternoon at the beach, or you can visit Fort Lovrijenac. Entrance to the fort is included in your ticket to the city walls, so make sure you hold on to them.

For sunset take the cable car up to Mount Srd. Instead of hanging out at the viewing platform, walk down to the cross and you’ll see a rocky field where all the cool kids hang out. Grab a seat here and get ready for some stunning sunset views.

Sunset view of Dubrovnik from Mount Srd.
Sunset view of Dubrovnik from Mount Srd.
Sunset view of Dubrovnik from Mount Srd
View from Mount Srd.

 

Day 12: Dubrovnik to Zagreb

Grab breakfast at a cafe in old town and enjoy your last morning in Dubrovnik.

From Dubrovnik it’s a 6.5-hour drive to Zagreb. I decided to drive because I couldn’t find any suitable and inexpensive flights. I made a few stops at gas stations to break up the drive and it didn’t feel too long. Alternatively you can drop off your rental car in Dubrovnik and fly into Zagreb, or just fly home from Dubrovnik.

I arrived in Zagreb just before sunset and spent the evening walking around the old town. There were tons of cute cobblestone streets and cafe-strewn squares.

Plaza de Josip Jelačić in downtown Zagreb.
Plaza de Josip Jelačić in downtown Zagreb.

Day 13: Fly out of Zagreb 

Depending on when your flight is, you can spend some more time exploring Zagreb. The old town is a great place to stroll around and to admire the architecture. If you have time, visit the Museum of Broken Relationships, which sounds absolutely fascinating.  Or check out Mirogoj Cemetery, which looks like the most beautiful cemetery ever.

The Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb.
The Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb.

 

Hope you found this itinerary helpful! If you have any questions or comments leave them below.

 

 

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