A friend recently asked me to list the top 5 countries that I’ve visited.
A tough question, as each country has a set of unique qualities that make it great (or bad!). I pondered the question for a while, and realised that one country had moved up in the list after my recent winter Eurotrip. Rob and I spent 2 months travelling the European continent, with a road trip through Croatia and Slovenia wrapping up our last few weeks.
Slovenia had impressed me the first time I visited in 2014, and now it was way up there in my top 5. I’d seen more of the country this time around, from the glorious landscapes of the Julian Alps to the seaside vibes of the Adriatic. Getting a wider view of what Slovenia has to offer visitors proved that the country is even more amazing than I remembered.
Of course, our time in Croatia was lovely, too. It’s just that Croatia is already popular as a tourist destination, and it’s somewhat of a pain to visit when you’re country-hopping across Europe as it’s not in the Schengen Area and doesn’t use Euros as a currency (tsch!). Still, it is a really nice country and I did enjoy visiting it.
This itinerary starts in Croatia’s capital and ends in Slovenia’s capital, with a handful of cute coastal towns, majestic mountain scenery, and medieval castles in between. It’s everything you could possibly want in a 10-day road trip! Here are the full details of my Croatia + Slovenia road trip itinerary.
Itinerary map guide:
1 – Zagreb (Croatia)
2 – Plitvice Lakes National Park (Croatia)
3 – Rovinj (Croatia)
4 – Piran (Slovenia)
5 – Predjama Castle + Postojna (Slovenia)
6 – Bled (Slovenia)
7 – Triglav National Park (Slovenia)
8 – Ljubljana (Slovenia)
It’s best to fly into Zagreb to start this itinerary as it has the biggest airport of all the included destinations. We actually did Zagreb last on our road trip (after Ljubljana), but I think the rest of you will find it easier to begin here!
Zagreb is an eastern European city with a picturesque old town and some edgy street art. I found the food to be amazing, and the prices to be cheap! Check out my self-guided walking tour of Zagreb for more info on this city.
We stayed in the Palace Hotel, which smelled slightly of cigarette smoke (unfortunately all establishments in Croatia are like this!) but aside from that, it was a nice place in a good location with a great breakfast.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is Croatia’s top tourist destination. It’s easy to see why everyone wants to go there – it’s one of those places that is so damn beautiful that it doesn’t even look real!
Plitvice Lakes can get insanely busy in the summer, so if you’ll be visiting in peak season, be sure to plan your trip ahead of time to ensure you get tickets (yep, there are a limited number!) and avoid the crowds. Luckily, I visited in the off-season and basically had the entire park to myself. Check out my winter guide to Plitvice Lakes which has a ton of useful info on visiting this spectacular destination.
We stayed overnight in Fenomen Plitvice, which was right next to the Lower Lakes within the national park. The rooms were tastefully decorated, and the resort had a spa/sauna and a really fabulous on-site restaurant. I highly recommend staying here!
The drive from Plitvice Lakes to Rovinj was really spectacular – the highways cut across the Istrian Peninsula through some amazing rock formations, and we could see the sunlight sparkling on the waters of the Adriatic as we made our way around the Kvarner Gulf.
Rovinj is located on the seaside, and in my opinion it feels much like one of the Mediterranean towns that you might find on the coast of Italy. The old town is super cute with narrow cobblestone streets and pastel-tinted buildings.
After a few hours of walking around taking pictures, we settled at an al fresco bar to watch the sunset while drinking a few glasses of local Istrian wine. It was a superb way to finish up the day.
We stayed in Hotel Delfin, which was a simple but modern boutique hotel on the waterfront. The location was perfect for our trip as there was street parking around the corner for our rental car, and it was an easy walk to the town centre.
From Rovinj, it’s an easy drive up to the border of Slovenia. Not many people know that Slovenia actually has a 47km (29 mi) slice of coastline on the Adriatic Sea. There are a few small towns that line the coast, with Piran being the most popular for tourists.
Piran was more difficult to navigate by car. There are a limited number of spots for visitors to park down by the waterfront but they were all full by the time we got there, which meant that we had to park in the only place we could – half way up the hill at Garage Fornače. It was a little annoying but what can you do.
Once we had finally walked into Piran, we found it to be quite an interesting little town. It felt a lot like Italy to me, and I learned later that it was in the hands of the Venetians for over 500 years! It has a historic church tower which you can climb for amazing views, a classic market plaza, and a fortified wall on a hill where you get lovely vista of the town silhouetted against the sea.
We stayed overnight at Hotel Oleander, which was located just outside of town. To be honest I wasn’t all that impressed with it, but at least it had free parking!
Predjama Castle is only an hour’s drive northeast of Piran, and it was one of my highlights from Slovenia! I’ve seen plenty of castles before so my expectations weren’t all that high, but Predjama is totally unique. This medieval palace is actually built into the side of a cliff, and it has all sorts of interesting quirks that make it different from every other castle I’ve visited.
The audio guide provided a ton of interesting facts and it was perfectly timed to make the tour last about an hour. Inside, we learned about the secret escape through the caves in the rocks behind the castle, and how the residents used the cave system to collect fresh running water. Truly fascinating!
Postojna Caves are another attraction that are just down the road from the castle. We decided not to go in and continued the drive onwards to our next stop (staying in an Airbnb along the way), but you may want to put aside some time for the caves and stay in Postojna overnight instead.
Bled is one of those adorable holiday villages that I could keep going back to over and over again. Located in a truly picturesque spot in the Alps, Bled has a ton of interesting activities. You can visit a castle on a clifftop, swim in the lake, eat famous Bled Cream Cake, and row out to Bled Island without even leaving the town.
Most visitors will spend just one day in Bled, but we stayed in an Airbnb vacation home in Bled for an entire week to spend time skiing the Alps. Obviously this would make the road trip longer than my suggested 10-days, but it’s worth spending a few extra days enjoying this part of Slovenia!
Triglav National Park
Triglav National Park has some of the most stunning natural scenery I’ve seen. Named after Slovenia’s highest mountain which reaches 2864 metres, this protected area in the Alps is the only national park in the country.
Bohinj is a great place to base your exploration of Triglav. There’s a gorgeous lake, a cute stone bridge, a historic church, a statue of a mythical mountain goat, and some walking trails all within easy reach of the town centre. 10 minutes drive away is the base of Vogel ski resort, where you can take a gondola up the mountain (even if you’re visiting outside of the winter season) for fab views over Lake Bohinj and the surrounding mountains.
We didn’t stay overnight in Triglav National Park as Bled is only a 30 minute drive away, but there are a few hotels in the town if you’d like to stay in the area.
Ljubljana is one of my favourite cities! As you can’t take cars into the centre of Ljubljana, it might be best to drop off your rental before exploring the city. We did this before checking in to our accommodation at Barbo Palace and had no troubles getting around the city by foot.
The pedestrian zone in the old town gives the place a really relaxed vibe. Ljubljana is all about outdoor dining, drinking Slovenian wine, and wandering slowly along the river and its many bridges. The castle is unfortunately not as awesome as Predjama, but walking up the hill does provide some neat views of the city. I’ll be putting together a city guide for Ljubljana soon!