Balkans Road Trip | Julian Alps to the Adriatic Sea
Inspired by friends’ recommendations, travel media praises and vibrant Instagram pictures earlier this year my sister and a friend flew from Boston to Zagreb for a Balkans Road trip! The itinerary, starting in Lake Bled and working our way to Dubrovnik was perfect. The timing allowed for us to settle into each destination before hitting the road south.
Day 1 & 2 | Zagreb to Lake Bled
Arrive at Zagreb airport late morning. The airport is tiny and easy to navigate. The trip to Lake Bled is just 2 hours – a very easy drive on major highways with detailed signs. The route requires crossing the Croatia / Slovenia border. When you cross into Slovenia you should buy a “Vignette” a toll pass sticker for your windshield. You can buy this at a little convenience store on the right after immigration/passport control on the highway into Slovenia.
- Walk around Lake Bled
- Visit Bled Castle
- Hire a boat (free from the Grand Toplice Hotel) to Bled Island and the monastery in the center of the lake
- Restavracija Vila Ajda Bled – a cute Slovenian restaurant just steps from our hotel. Perfect casual meal of Slovenian comfort food after a long day of travels!
- Bled Castle Restaurant – refined modern Slovenian food in a bright, upscale castle restaurant with amazing views over the lake. A must! Your restaurant reservation allows for limited after hours exploration of the castle and we received a free glass of sparkling rose on arrival
- Cafe at the Vila Preseren Hotel – a lake side cafe/restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. Ideal for a take-away coffee or an al fresco lunch
- Grand Hotel Toplice an old but nice Small Luxury Hotel on Lake Bled. One of the highlights is the lounge / lobby with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the lake.
Day 3 | Plitvice Lakes National Park & Split
Wake up early and drive to Plitvice (3h 15m). The first part of the drive is on major highways, once into Croatia the drive switches to more country roads past rolling hills, rugged vineyards, rural churches and such. The last 30 mins or so when approaching Plitvice lakes are dramatic, curvy, steep, one way – two way roads! Ah!
When you arrive at Lake Plitvice, park by Entrance 2. You can spend the day walking around the magical waterfalls and taking in the pretty scenery. The path takes you all the way to the top of the park. You then take a shuttle back to the entrance. There is also a boat that runs across one of the lakes every 15 mins or so. The park can get quite crowded so I’d recommend arriving early.
Drive 2h 30m / 3h to Split – a generally tame drive primarily on highways. Cars are not allowed in Old Town Split. Our hotel arranged for a driver to meet us just outside Old Town. He carried our bags and took care of our car while we were in Split and Hvar – such a great help! With minimal time in Split, we only had time for breakfast and dinner, plus did a little walking around Old Town.
- Bokeria – a solid restaurant pick. The type of city tapas, wine bar that could be anywhere, but is kind of perfect for that reason. We had squid pasta, pea soup, roast beef salad, white fish
- Piazza Heritage Hotel Split this was a really cute, recently updated, small hotel on one of the narrow cobblestone streets of old town. I would recommend staying here for a night or two in Split!
Day 4 to 6 | Hvar
The ferry company Jadrolinija has both catamaran ferries (fast ferry) and car ferries from Split to Hvar. There are three major ports for ferries from Split in Hvar. If you are not bringing a car and you are staying in Hvar Town should make sure to take the ferry to the port called Hvar, Hvar (the town of Hvar on on the island of Hvar), not to the other ports (Stari Grad or Jelsa).
- Pool/beach and walking along the coast
- Charter a sailboat around to other islands perhaps Lešić Dimitri
- Hike/walk up to the Hvar Fortress
- Wander around the old town for an hour or two
- Day trip to secluded beaches and lavender fields
- Mediterraneo – second fav restaurant (after 360 Dubrovnik). The squid (cuttlefish) risotto, seafood risotto were highlights. They also gave us free drinks and dessert!
- Gariful Hvar – also really good and one of the best views of the harbor. We just had appetizers and wine, but I would have gone back for dinner if we had another day
- Famea – very good – recommended. We shared a stellar starter board with lots of interesting smoked fish, cheeses, spreads, etc, a huge pot of fish and the fish-in-letter (this is a specialty of Hvar).
- Robinson’s restaurant (lunch place) — we didn’t go here, but would have if we had another day. It looks like a fun place for eating grilled seafood on a secluded beach in a foreign country
- Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort (TA) A large beach resort hotel just a few minutes walk along the water from Hvar City / all of the restaurants and bars
Day 7 to 10 | Dubrovnik
We left our car in Split for the 3 days in Hvar. The ferry schedule back to Split was limited, so we opted for a private charter in a small boat across the rough seas! Quite an experience for $100 each! The drive from Split to Dubrovnik is just a couple hours on a combination of major highways and coastal roads.
- Old Town is very crowded during the day! We walked the wall, which I would totally recommend.
- Ferry to Lokrum, a small island and habitat to lots of bunnies and peacocks. It was nice to see the little salt lake, some cool rocks/ocean views and only takes like 2 hours or so total
- Other activities lounging by the water at the hotel, Kayaking into caves, cliff jumping into the ocean, wandering through old town
- Read more about my Dubrovnik recommendations here
- 360dubrovnik – Amazing! I loved the sommelier, the restaurant, the food! I had the carrot appetizer and Pork neck with sweet potato purée and a chutney for dinner. Mackerel and agnolotti appetizers were also so good. So were the duck and turbot (white fish) mains
Other food / bars
- We had good pizza at a random restaurant. There is kind of an Italian feel in general
- There are lots of bars down the little streets/ alleyways in old town. Its a fun expat / tourist / traveler scene at night
- Buza Bar – day drinking / sunset drinking bar built into the cliffs outside the old town wall. It’s a laid back, summery scene.
- Villa Dubrovnik – the nicest hotel of the trip! A Leading Hotel of the World a 15 minute walk from the center of town. Super luxurious and modern. We loved the service, the roof-deck Prosciutto & Wine bar, the Library Bar /Lounge, the white washed “beach” and the complementary breakfast. They even have a speedboat service to the city (when the weather cooperates)!