Picture-perfect Slovenia and the sparkling waters of Croatia have snuck into everyone’s Europe “must-sees” in recent years. The two make an ideal pairing, but once you’ve arrived in these beautiful countries, where do you go? This two-week (give or take) itinerary through Slovenia and Croatia ensures you catch all the highlights, while giving you enough flexibility to dig deeper on the stops that interest you.
Ljubljana – Explore Europe’s Cutest Capital (2-3 days)
Compact, walkable, friendly, and oddly fascinated with dragons, Slovenia’s capital is like a Europe visitor’s dream come true. It isn’t so much about showy, flashy attractions, but rather an atmosphere created by relaxed city squares and lovely bridges. What are the most beautiful places in or around Ljubljana? You could centre your sightseeing around Ljubljanski Castle and the city’s jaw-dropping cathedral, but the whole town is a delight for visitors of almost any aesthetic. Some even draw comparisons to Prague, though you won’t face anywhere near the same tourist crowds here. Music lovers absolutely shouldn’t miss Ljubljana, as live music across all genres is a cornerstone of its culture. Finally? It’s pronounced loob-lee-ah-nah.
Lake Bled – Ring the Bell for Luck and Beautiful Views (1-2 days)
Feeling relaxed after Ljubljana? Lake Bled winds the pace back even further and replaces it with natural “wow” factor. Try not to spend the whole day admiring Lake Bled from above after your hike, which might have led you to picturesque Bled Castle. Do however take a good long look, enjoying views of the Julian Alps, before you boat across to Bled Island and ring the luck-bringing bell at the Church of the Assumption of Mary. If you’re staying a little longer, venture out to scenic Vintgar Gorge, or to nearby Lake Bohinj, Bled’s almost-as-photogenic traditional rival. No matter how you choose to spend the day outdoors, by day’s end, you’ll have earned a sweet piece of Cremeschnitte, Slovenia’s signature pastry.
Zagreb – Start of a Great Croatia Itinerary (2-3 days)
Why is Zagreb worth the time to visit? Croatia’s capital offers the best insight into its contemporary culture and future. Some of its more unique museums and cultural attractions have also put Zagreb on the city hopper’s map, most famously–or infamously–the unconventional Museum of Broken Relationships. Explore the city streets to get a sense of what modern Croatia is all about, feast your eyes on a wealth of contemporary art, enjoy the hopping nightlife, and perhaps be thankful your past relationships are not on display in your city’s best known museum. If you prefer a more nostalgic trip down memory lane with an insight into the former Yugoslavia, pop into the Zagreb 80s Museum instead.
Day Trip: Plitvice Lakes National Park (from Zagreb, Zadar, or Split)
Plitvice Lakes should be an essential part of your Croatia travel plans. Even the most reluctant hiker soon finds themselves caught up in the beauty and vivid colours of Croatia’s best loved wilderness. A total of sixteen turquoise lakes—closed to swimming—flow into each other throughout the park, cascading through canyons and flowing under low-impact walkways, creating scenes that will convince you you’ve stepped foot on another world. Brace yourself for crowds of fellow nature lovers during the summer, since Plitvice receives 1.2 million visitors each year. But much like Dubrovnik, it’s a Croatia vacation highlight you can’t afford to miss.
Zadar – The Coolest City on the Croatia Coast (1-2 days)
Zadar is one of the country’s hidden secrets with a history dating back to the 4th century BC. It also offers some seriously fun attractions including a giant, solar-powered public dancefloor, and the Sea Organ, a 70 metre waterfront walkway with pipes that play different chords and tones according to the changing tides. Even walking Zadar’s marble streets adds a uniquely elegant experience to your Croatia trip, one made a little surreal by the knowledge that the gorgeous stone beneath your feet is so ancient. But if there’s one big reason to visit Zadar, it’s to experience the Dalmatian Coast without the summer crowds that can swarm Split and Dubrovnik.
Split – Historic Treasure of the Croatian Coast (2-3 days plus island trips)
Split’s main draw for visitors is Diocletian’s Palace, a 4th-century complex that embodies the power and influence the Roman Empire once held here. Globetrotters particularly keen on history and archaeology should give Split an extra day or two, allowing themselves time to explore the ruined city of Salona, Klis Fortress, Solin, Trogir, St Duje’s Cathedral, and more. If you want to feel like a local for a day, try picigin, a non-competitive ball based game that predates soccer and has been part of Split life since 1908. The city also happens to be a fantastic base for exploring the Dalmatian Coast’s islands, including white pebble beach lined Brac, glamorous Hvar, historic Trogir, and Vis, home to an ancient walled town that’s considerably less busy than Dubrovnik. Perhaps Split’s prettiest day trip though is to the waterfalls of the River Krka, and the Sibernik Riviera.
Dubrovnik – Pearl of the Adriatic Coast (2-3 days plus day trips)
A star turn in TV’s Game of Thrones has been a mixed blessing to the once quiet UNESCO World Heritage listed city of Dubrovnik, but there are still plenty of reasons to visit, whether you’re a fan of the show or not. You can of course take a filming locations tour, but don’t skip Dubrovnik’s ultimate establishing shot, the spectacular view from the city’s cable car. Take a walk (without shame) along the famous Walls of Dubrovnik, enjoy the relative tranquility of the Trsteno Arboretum, explore Sponza Palace and Lovrijenac Fort, or spend some time unwinding on the local beaches. Give yourself at least a day and a half to explore the city proper, then add in any day trips to the nearby islands, particularly Mljet and Korcula, or the spectacular Bay of Kotor in neighbouring Montenegro.
Day Trip: Mostar (from Dubrovnik or Split)
Skip across the border into Hercegovina and it won’t take long to reach magical Mostar. There’s one photo pretty much every visitor wants, and that’s a perfectly framed snap of Stari Most, the 16th-century Ottoman bridge over the river Neretva that seems almost too perfect to be true. In one sense, it is. Its predecessor destroyed during the Yugoslav wars, the current Stari Most was finished in 2004–somewhat ironic when you consider the name means “Old Bridge.” Still, the original look has been recreated to a fault, restoring Mostar’s most spectacular centrepiece. Of course, there are other reasons to visit Mostar. Pop into the Koski Mehmed Pasa Mosque, swim beneath the natural perfection that is Kravice Waterfalls, or visit the Dervish monastery, Blagag Tekke.
Day Trip: Bay of Kotor (from Dubrovnik)
Add another country to your travel map! The Bay of Kotor is Montenegro’s most popular attraction, located less than two hours from Dubrovnik. The bay and its surrounding towns bring together a rich heritage dating all the way back to Mesolithic Era, over 10,000 years ago. Indulge your inner anthropologist looking for prehistoric cave paintings in Lipci, walk in the footsteps of ancient Romans in Risan, and of course, feel their legacy on the 2300+ year-old streets of Kotor itself. Periods of Byzantine and Venetian control followed, and all have left their mark on Old Town Kotor. It’s the beauty of the bay itself however that secures Montenegro’s place in your memory, and your heart.
How do I Spend One Week in Croatia (or Slovenia)?
If you have just one week for your Croatia trip, combine the Dubrovnik and Split itineraries above for an easy and practical quick visit packed with varied highlights. If you’d like to explore the islands in detail, denied to most day trippers, connect the two cities with a short Croatia cruise. For a completely different take on Slovenia and Croatia travel, Goway’s Flavours of Northern Croatia and Slovenia trip diverts to the Istrian Peninsula for spectacular scenery, with visits to Lake Bled and the Plitvice Lakes. Along the way, this itinerary lets you sample a wide variety of local specialties bursting with flavour.
7-Day Small Group Touring: Flavours of Northern Croatia & Slovenia