Explore the northwestern Balkans in this trip that combines nature with historic cities, starting in Slovenia with a tour of its capital Ljubljana, as well as visits to Lake Bled, Lake Bohinj, and the country's Karst Region. Discover the beauty of Croatia by visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park, as well as the ancient Old Towns of Split's Diocletian Palace and Dubrovnik's walled fortress. Enjoy day trips to Mostar and Kravice Waterfalls in Bosnia and Herzegovina, plus Perast and Kotor in Montenegro.

Highlights

  • Explore Ljubljana and discover the beauty of Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj
  • Walk the boardwalks and amongst the waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes National Park
  • Discover the historic goldmine of Diocletian's Palace in Split
  • Enjoy day trips to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kotor, Montenegro
  • Walk the ancient walls of Dubrovnik's Old Town

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Zagreb - Explore the city Zagreb
Day 2 Drive to Ljubljana - Visit the city's castle Ljubljana
Day 3 Enjoy a day trip to Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj Ljubljana
Day 4 Explore Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle Ljubljana
Day 5 Drive to Plitvice Lakes National Park Plitvice Lakes
Day 6 Visit Plitvice Lakes in the morning and continue to Split Split
Day 7 Discover Split's Diocletian Palace and historic Old Town Split
Day 8 Enjoy a day trip to Mostar and Kravice Waterfalls Split
Day 9 Take the ferry to Dubrovnik and walk its ancient walls Dubrovnik
Day 10 Explore Dubrovnik - Relax at Banje Beach or kayak to the islands Dubrovnik
Day 11 Discover the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro Dubrovnik
Day 12 Depart Dubrovnik  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Zagreb - Explore the city

Aerial View of Zagreb
Aerial View of Zagreb

Welcome to Croatia! You'll start your adventure in the Balkans with the city of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Upon arriving at the airport, you'll pick up your rental car and drive to your accommodation. The rest of the day is yours to explore the city at your leisure. 

Zagreb is at once historic and new. It's filled with leafy green parks and gothic/neo-renaissance buildings, as well as modern shopping complexes and endless dining and drinking options. A good way to get to know the city is with a walking tour. Start in Ban Jelačić, the city's main square, and stroll along the streets enjoying 17th-century neo-baroque architecture found at Zagreb's Art Pavilion. You'll pass by the Croatian National Theater and wander through local markets before reaching St. Mark's Square in Zagreb's Upper Town.

Along the way, you can visit one of the many museums and art galleries, like the Homeland War Museum, the Nikola Tesla Technical Museum, or the popular Museum of Broken Hearts

Zagreb also has several beautiful city parks which are great for an afternoon walk. Maksimir is an excellent option, with a variety of restaurants and cafés nearby for a coffee break or dinner.

Day 2: Drive to Ljubljana - Visit the city's castle

Ljubljana's Old Town along the Ljubljanica River

This morning, you'll leave Zagreb and drive two hours to the city of Ljubljana. Check into your hotel before taking the rest of the day to explore Slovenia's lively capital. 

Meander the main streets along the banks of the Ljubljanica River, stopping in the many boutiques, outdoor cafés, and wine bar terraces. Ljubljana is one of the continent's greenest cities, and you'll certainly notice it's clean and leafy core. Hike or ride the funicular up to the Ljubljana Castle, enjoying the red-roof views of the Old Town, as well as the Kamnik–Savinja Alps in the distance. 

As you head back down into the city, you'll notice the legacy of modern architect Jože Plečnik. Find his designs all around the city, including at the National Library, Central Market, Triple Bridge, and Plečnik's home-turned-museum. 

Take a look inside the city's pink landmark, the 17th-century Franciscan church, then stroll down the hip street Trubarjeva cesta, eyeing its street art. End at Metelkova, an autonomous social community that made its home in a former military barrack, once used by both the Army of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Yugoslav National Army.

In the evening, find dinner at one of the city's many eateries. You can enjoy the buzz of the riverbank or settle into a cozy table along the main shopping street. Due to Slovenia's geographical location, Ljubljana has numerous restaurants with a wide range of cuisine. You'll find traditional seafood dishes like black risotto, as well as hearty Slovenian food and light Italian fare. 

Day 3: Enjoy a day trip to Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj

Bled Island on Lake Bled

After breakfast in Ljubljana, you'll drive about one hour north to Lake Bled. This large lake with its church-adorned island is one of Slovenia's main attractions. Start with a visit to the town's castle and tour its smithy, wine cellar, and printing press before enjoying a traditional meal in its restaurant. Then row a traditional pletna boat across the waters to Bled Island, where you can climb up the church's 99 steps. Legend has it that ringing the church bell will grant your wishes. 

In the early afternoon, drive to nearby Lake Bohinj. You'll have the option to ride the cable car up to Mt. Vogel for spectacular views over the lake, as well as the Julian Alps and Triglav National Park. You can also opt to take a boat ride across Lake Bohinj.

Before returning to Ljubljana, stretch your legs with a short hike. Your hosts will give you several options for routes in the area, with a popular choice being the trail to Savica Waterfall, where its 256-foot (78-m) cascade falls into the clear waters below.  

You'll return to Ljubljana in the evening. Grab dinner and then relax at a pub or wine bar to try some of Slovenia's craft beer and wine varietals.

Day 4: Explore Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle

Postojna Cave in Slovenia

Today's adventure takes you on a day trip to Slovenia's Karst Region. You'll drive to Postojna to visit the Postojna Cave and then to the nearby Predjama Castle

At 15 miles (24 km) long, Postojna Cave is the largest show cave in Europe. You'll be able to ride an underground train through the tunnels and see the cave's fascinating subterranean landscape.

Next, you'll head to Predjama Castle, which was built into the rockface of a sheer cliff. Predjama is the largest cave castle in the world, and inside you will see how many of the walls were hewed straight out of the rock. 

Return to Ljubljana in time for an evening boat cruise along the Ljubljanica River, followed by dinner. Finish the day by trying the region's famous cream cake at Zvezda Café near the city's Congress Park.

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Day 5: Drive to Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes
Plitvice Lakes National Park

In the morning, you'll say goodbye to Slovenia and return to Croatia. Today's destination is the famous Plitvice Lakes National Park, set in the central inland region of the country. The drive will take about 4-5 hours to complete

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Plitvice Lakes is a must-visit for any traveler to Croatia. Comprised of 16 terraced lakes over a total area of 114 square miles (296 sq. km), its glassy waters are as emerald green as the forest that surrounds it. The highlights are the boardwalk trails that curve throughout the park and the powerful waterfalls that plunge into the lakes at seemingly every corner of Plitvice. 

After settling into your accommodation, you'll have just a couple of hours to explore the park. You can choose either the northern or southern entrance, as you'll tackle the other half tomorrow morning. In the evening, enjoy dinner at one of the park's restaurants.

Day 6: Visit Plitvice Lakes in the morning and continue to Split

Split at Sunset
Split at Sunset

Awake early to take advantage of the park's quiet morning hours and finish your visit of Plitvice Lakes. Whatever you weren't able to see yesterday, you can enjoy it today. Afterward, you'll continue your road trip to Croatia's second-largest city, the coastal seaport of Split.

As you arrive in Split, you'll first return your rental car and then you'll make your way to your accommodation. Take some time to settle in and relax, then head out to enjoy the city's historic Old Town and waterfront promenade. Tomorrow, you'll have plenty of time to properly explore the city, so for tonight, just stroll through its cobbled streets in search of dinner.

If you don't mind a long (but worth it) wait, check out the popular restaurant Villa Spiza or enjoy wine and cheese at Paradox. Afterward, bear the long line at Hajduk for exceptional ice cream. Your cone will pair perfectly with an evening stroll along the promenade.

Day 7: Discover Split's Diocletian Palace and historic Old Town

Diocletian Palace in Split
Diocletian's Palace in Split

You'll certainly need the entire day to explore all that Split has to offer. Start in Peristyle Square, taking in the 3,500-year-old sphinxes that Diocletian brought back from Egypt, then head into the 4th-century Diocletian's Palace. As you start exploring, take part in a much-loved ritual among Dalmatian people: drinking coffee. Grab a seat at one of the Palace's terraced cafe and sip your coffee amongst ancient ruins.

After your coffee, continue walking through Diocletian Palace. Stroll through the slick cobbled streets to the People's Square and admire the Mediterranean architecture. Stroll by the old clock tower on your way to Saint Domnius Bell Tower, where you can admire the ancient colonnades and pass through the open Mozaik Podrum. Then wrap around to the Palace's old cellars. If you're a Game of Thrones fan, you'll certainly recognize this filming location.

For stunning views over the city and Adriatic be sure to climb the Romanesque bell tower of the Cathedral of St. Dominus (St. Duje), which is considered the oldest Catholic cathedral still in use. Another option for great views is to hike or bike to the top of Marjan Hill. As the "lungs of the city," the entire Marjan Peninsula is dotted with centuries-old churches, large cypress and black pine trees, and Mediterranean plants and herbs. 

Spend your afternoon relaxing on the beach with a visit to either Firule Beach or Bacvice Beach, both with perfectly swimmable, narrow waters. The beaches are also lined with restaurants if you'd to enjoy dinner outside of the Old Town.

Day 8: Enjoy a day trip to Mostar and Kravice Waterfalls

Mostar Old Town and Bridge
Mostar Old Town and Bridge

This morning, you'll meet your driver and travel to the historic town of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Along the drive, you'll enjoy beautiful panoramic views of the Bosnian countryside. Upon arriving in Mostar, take some time to explore the city's Old Town, which was nearly destroyed during the war in the 90s, but was restored thanks to international support. 

Start at the city's famous Old Bridge and walk through the Old Town, passing shops with souvenirs and hand-crafted goods, until you reach Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque and Karađoz Beg Mosque. Climb the minarets for views of the city and river, then visit the enlightening Museum Of War And Genocide Victims.

On the way back to Split, you'll visit Kravice Waterfalls, which are among the most fascinating naturalistic features of the Herzegovina region. The waterfall was created by the Trebizat River with its tuff deposits and has been declared a natural phenomenon under state protection. You can swim in the lagoon formed by the waterfalls, and rest by its shore.

You'll return to Split in the evening. Enjoy your final dinner in the Old Town with one last stroll along the waterfront.

Day 9: Take the ferry to Dubrovnik and walk its ancient walls

Harbor in Dubrovnik
Harbor and Banje Beach in Dubrovnik

This morning, you'll catch a 4-hour ferry to Croatia's southern city of Dubrovnik, where you will have the afternoon to explore one of the most ancient fortress cities in Europe. Known as the "Pearl of the Adriatic", Dubrovnik is a piece of history. While there's evidence of settlements as far back as the Byzantine era, this region only came into its own in the 12th and 13th centuries when it was under the rule of the Venetians. Throughout the Middle Ages, it was a fortress port encircled by stone walls and filled with baroque churches and renaissance/Gothic palaces that still stand today.

After checking into your hotel, head out into the Old Town, walking along its walls and visiting the Lovrijenac and Bokar fortresses. There are almost too many sights to see, but you can't miss the Saint Ignatius Church, Rector's Palace, or the Dubrovnik Cathedral. Other interesting monuments include Sponza Palace, the Dominican Monastery, and the Dubrovnik Synagogue. Outside the walls, you can visit the Porat, the West Harbour, and  Pile Gate.

As the sun starts to set, you can't miss riding the cable car up to Srđ Mountain to take in the views over the nearby Elafiti Islands. Afterward, stroll down Stradun, Dubrovnik's main street, and along its side streets to find a hip bistro for dinner and a wine bar for a nightcap.

Day 10: Explore Dubrovnik - Relax at Banje Beach or kayak to the islands

Fort Lovrijenac
Fort Lovrijenac and Dubrovnik's Western Harbor

Spend the day as you like, exploring Dubrovnik's ancient medieval core. Whatever you weren't able to see yesterday, you can enjoy it today.

Start early to visit the open-air Gundulić Square Market for authentic Dubrovnik products, like dried lavender, local brandies, and dried fruits. From there, take a stroll through the narrow streets of Old Town, walk atop the encircling city walls, hitting all the different viewpoints and the Orlando Column.

Break up your walk by sampling the local cuisine. Dubrovnik's location on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro creates a unique fusion of different cuisine. But you can also find classics like Italian-inspired comfort food, such as pasta in meat sauce, black risotto, and basic meat-and-potatoes dishes.

In the afternoon, head to Banje Beach for a swim and some relaxation on this sandy stretch close to Old Town. You can also opt to join a kayak excursion around the harbor and out to the small island of Otok Lokrum.

In the evening, catch the sunset from the water on a sunset dinner cruise aboard a traditional karaka ship, or a private boat. 

Day 11: Discover the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro

Kotor, Montenegro
Views of the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Cross the border into the beautiful country of Montenegro and make your way to the incredible Bay of Kotor, which is completely enveloped by jagged, rocky mountain peaks. Scattered with waterfront medieval towns, the bay (commonly known as simply "Boka") is stitched together by a series of scenic, serpentine roads, making it easy to explore. On this day trip, you can explore the towns of Kotor and Perast. Upon request, you can also visit Our Lady of the Rocks, a small island just off the coast of Perast.

You'll start with a guided city tour in Kotor, followed by some free time to meander the medieval streets. If you have time, walk up the hill to the Kotor Fortress for views across Boka. Along the way, you can stop in Church of Our Lady of Remedy. Enjoy lunch on your own and head to Perast, exploring the bay by boat.

You'll return to Dubrovnik in the evening, just in time for dinner along the waterfront.

Day 12: Depart Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik Old Town Walls
Dubrovnik Old Town Walls

Enjoy your final morning in Dubrovnik. If you have time, you can spend the morning strolling through the Old Town and visiting any sights you missed. When you're ready, you'll transfer to the airport in time for your flight.