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First Trip to Europe - Have Chosen Croatia

Winnipeg, Canada
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First Trip to Europe - Have Chosen Croatia

Sorry this is going to be a long winded post. I’m just starting to plan our first vacation to Croatia for either this fall or spring of the following year. The reason for long post – this will also be our very first trip to Europe so I think sharing a little of our plans and expectations may help to get more insights from people.

We were undoubtedly overwhelmed in all of the possible choices for our first trip to Europe. I had been considering Croatia and then found a post on Trip Advisor. This poster was an experienced European traveler and Croatia was one of her favourite trips because of the combination of sea, history, culture, etc. This convinced me to try Croatia as these are all of the things we’re interested in - the sea – fishing villages, beaches, etc and we also want to experience history, etc.

We could have chosen a bus tour of Croatia, but I just don’t see us traveling on someone’s schedule. We will be doing this trip on our own, at our own palce.

We can spend between 2 and 3 weeks in Croatia. My initial thought of a high level itinerary is:

- fly to Zagreb, spend a couple of days.

- visit Plitvice National Park – overnight in the park

- travel down the coast with a few main stops where we could spend a few days exploring the area and day trip from – thinking of places such as Split, one of islands and of course Dubrovnik

- fly back from Dubrovnik

First question – we’d prefer not to rent a car. Would we be able to do this type of trip, for the most part through public transportation – bus/ferry? We would rent a car for specific portions if required. I’m wondering about Plitvice National Park – could we rely on public transportation to get us into the park and be able to tour around the park or would it be better if we had a car? Can we travel around major centres, Zagreb/Split/Dubrovnik - using public transportation?

Second question – does anyone have any comments as I begin the planning for this trip? “Do not miss” things, general advice on travel in Croatia, etc.

I’m planning to work through the itinerary and ask more and more specific questions on the appropriate forums. I love Trip Advisor. I'm already on information overload from all of the great questions and comments I'm reading. Trip Advisor members always seem to come through and provide the best info for plannig a great trip. I'm happy to look to you all for help with this one.

County Donegal...
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1. Re: First Trip to Europe - Have Chosen Croatia

Hi Deb

Public transport is excellent in Croatia & you'll be able to visit many places by using it.You could rent a car for a few days to visit some of the harder to get to places but you could also consider visiting these by organised day excursions.

Re your itinery.If flying into Zagreb & flying out from Dubrovnik i'd suggest that you go from Zagreb to Istria(Porec,Rovinj,Motovun) & work your way down the coast from there through Opatija to Plitvice,Zadar,Sibenik,Split

Winnipeg, Canada
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2. Re: First Trip to Europe - Have Chosen Croatia

Thanks - I was missing the Istiria portion. In my quick reading looks like that would have been a big oversight on my part.

The day excursions also sound like another option to explore for some of places we'd like to visit. Is this a good option for Plitvice park?

Edited: 21 February 2010, 20:09
Portland, OR
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3. Re: First Trip to Europe - Have Chosen Croatia

Croatia has excellent public transportation in the cities. Zagreb has super efficient trams; Split and Dubrovnik have buses. You can often rely on just walking as well and not need public transit all the time. There is no great train network in the country, though; you can't get to Dubrovnik or most anywhere else on the coast by train (except Split from Zagreb), but if you don't mind buses, you will do fine. The country's buses are clean and efficient. (I don't really care for buses myself - but I tolerated them for a few hours here or there when I was in Croatia and did OK. But I prefer trains.)

I did three weeks in Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) last fall, and I did what you suggest: rely mostly on public transportation but rented a car only for the portion between Zagreb, Plitvice, and Dubrovnik. I took buses, trains, and boats everywhere else. Driving was mostly stress-free - even the two-lane roads seemed decent and now there's a big freeway between Zagreb, Split, and partway down the coast (not all the way to Dubrovnik yet).

Don't miss spots? Beyond Dubrovnik and Plitvice, I'd add at least one island, probably Korcula (which I did) or Hvar. I also might suggest not creating your trip solely on national boundaries. One of the highlights of my whole trip was Ljubljana, Slovenia, which is only a few hours by (easy) direct train from Zagreb. You might consider starting or ending your trip there and using the train to get between them. I found Ljubljana to be a charming little city - would love to visit again.

I'd also consider a detour over to Mostar, BiH as I did - lots of people do this as a day trip from Dubrovnik (I stayed on night; one benefit: SUPER cheap to stay there.). You have to cross through BiH briefly going down the land route of the Dalmatian Coast anyway.

Have you looked at the logistics of flying directly to Zagreb and from Dubrovnik? I found it challenging to fly into/out of them from the west coast of the US without at least two connections. I chose instead to stage in Italy on the way in (one connection in Amsterdam to Milan, Venice, Ljubljana, to Zagreb all by land) and out of Paris (Split-Paris, stop in Paris, then Paris back to the US via Amsterdam). You might consider something similar, especially if this is your very first trip to Europe. Use Kayak.com to check airfares and logistics; you may find it expensive to fly directly into/out of Croatia but much cheaper to fly, say, into or out of London and take direct flights (easyJet or British Airways) to Croatia, at least one way. And that gives you a taste of another country as well - and the cheaper airfare may wind up paying for your extra time in London. Sometimes you'll find one way to Croatia isn't too bad but getting back to the American continent is inconvenient or vice versa - so consider a stop for a few days inbound or outbound in Western Europe.

I assume you've already picked up a good travel book? Even with the internet and these great forums, I still consider a travel book essential. Rick Steves has an excellent guidebook for Croatia, Slovenia, etc.

Winnipeg, Canada
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4. Re: First Trip to Europe - Have Chosen Croatia

Thanks Andrew - great info.

Our flights will be similar - not direct to Zagreb or Dubrovnik. We will have at least one connection either way. We can go to London direct from where we are or we have several options if we fly through Toronto Canada. (Winnipeg is a small Canadian city and we don't have many options to go direct to anywhere major - lol) Going through Italy is of interest to us as well - to get a "taste of another country". Have spoken with an Italian friend here and he mentioned his family in Italy often vacation in Croatia.

Thanks for recommending Lubljana. We will definitely consider it from Zagreb - I don't read a lot of recommendations for spending 3 days just in Zagreb.

I haven't picked up Rick Steeves book yet, but it is on my list of things to do.

Portland, OR
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5. Re: First Trip to Europe - Have Chosen Croatia

Some people really love Zagreb. I wasn't one of them, I thought it was a decent city and do not regret visiting, but two nights (arrived late first day, left early last day) was enough for me. You may be one of those who loves Zagreb. Travelers have different interests and biases.

You might consider flying directly into Ljubljana instead of Zagreb vs. backtracking - unless that works out well for Istiria or something.

This may seem to contradict what I wrote above - but I would caution you against trying to cram too much into one trip and overly complicate it. When I was originally planning my trip for last fall, I had much more time in Italy planned (and I'd been there before), but eventually I decided to focus more on Croatia. Venice might be the most practical place in Italy to taste before Croatia if that's your goal, but you could of course spend an entire trip just in Italy. Adding time in Italy makes more sense if, as in my case, airfares turn out to be considerably cheaper/more convenient into Italy than directly into Croatia.

I will say that my Croatia trip was more complicated to plan than my previous trips to Europe, in part because I couldn't rely on trains to get everywhere (I greatly prefer travel by train if possible). On the Dalmatian coast you're either doing buses or catamarans or ferries that may not run every day (or trying to drive a rental car). Plus it's hard to rely on conventional hotels in many places; you have to think about staying in apartments or sobe (private rooms) instead in some cases. Adding too much else for a first trip to Europe might be too much for you. I like to consider several different scenarios when I plan these things, then step back and say, "Is this too much?" I suggested adding Ljubljana because it's really convenient to/from Zagreb by train and because it's really nice in my opinion.

Have fun! Sometimes planning a trip can be almost as much fun as actually taking i! :-)

Winnipeg, Canada
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6. Re: First Trip to Europe - Have Chosen Croatia

Thanks Andrew. Looking at a map I see what you're talking about.

I agree, I will be very conscious not to try to cram too much in. My plan is narrow down what our "must sees" are, concentrating as much in Croatia as possible. I would love to tour Italy too, but that will have to on another trip so we can have time to appreciate all Italy has to offer. (We took a trip to Arizona last fall and since we only had a week, really narrowed down where we would visit - Sedona and the Grand Canyon became the focus. There are other areas in Northern Arizona and even into Utah that I would have loved to visit, but chose to save those areas for a another trip so we truly could enjoy the places we did visit)

I notice one of our Canadian tour companies flies direct from Toronto to Pescara Italy, which is across from Split. That may be another consideration. I'm starting to like the Venice option as well but then may have to decide about Zagreb and Ljubljana.

Glad I have lots of time to think about this.

Edited: 21 February 2010, 22:46
Zagreb, Croatia
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7. Re: First Trip to Europe - Have Chosen Croatia

Since you are planning such a great journey definitely make it regional and not only to visit Croatia. There are so many combinations possible, and the crucial thing to start planning it in details is to buy your tickets first. After that you can go adding places to visit. Andrew gave great advises, try to see flights arriving to Venice or departing from Venice..as I said it all starts from the flight. Ljubljana and the whole Slovenia shouldn't be missed as well as Mostar in Bosnia Herzegovina. You could do day trip to Montenegro from Dubrovnik as well as Mostar day excursion from there. Plitvice lakes I would suggest you take it easy since a day excursion would not be enough, it normaly gives you only a short walk of 4 hours and the lakes deserve more time.

Regards

Winnipeg, Canada
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8. Re: First Trip to Europe - Have Chosen Croatia

Yes, the options seem a little overwhelming when you're starting to plan - especially for a first timer. I could have easily said we'll do a guided bus tour so I don't have to worry about it, but that's just not our style of travel. I have lots of time, so I know I can work through this with help from a number of sources.

I really do appreciate the advice so far - it helps to narrow down where to even begin the planning.

9. Re: First Trip to Europe - Have Chosen Croatia

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