Plan your vacations in the Balkans: The perfect itinerary to Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina

Once a war-struck region, the Balkans are now as alluring as ever. A fantastic alternative to countries like Greece, Spain, and Italy, all Balkan countries are unified not just by history but also by awe-inspiring landscapes, unspoilt nature and shorelines, ancient times, and warm people. If that wasn’t enough, what makes them highly desirable as a travel destination are the affordable prices, too. While each Balkan country has a distinct character that makes it worthwhile to visit each country on its own, a great way to start exploring the region is by first going on a comprehensive Balkan trip where beach breaks, inland nature parks, ancient towns, mountains, and fjord-like landscapes are only a short drive apart. Discover the Balkan Peninsula with the help of our 12-day Balkan itinerary.

Tailor Made Journey

Tailor-Made Croatia: Split to Dubrovnik

Discover the best of Croatia’s Adriatic coast, taking in spectacular scenery and savouring local delicacies, and experience the historic walled city of Dubrovnik, walking its medieval ramparts and meeting with locals, on this elegant independent journey.

Marseille City Guide

Kotor, Montenegro | Photo: Faruk Kaymak

The Balkan Peninsula

The Balkan Peninsula, more commonly referred to as simply the Balkans, is one of Europe’s great southern peninsulas and the one located the furthest east. Since some refer to the region in historical and cultural terms, others do geographical – that’s why the list of countries considered Balkan is somewhat changing. But typically, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia are known as the Balkans. With the Adriatic shoreline on one side and epic mountains on the other, the region is truly mesmerising, sometimes making you question whether you are still in Europe and where exactly – for example, the waterfall national parks resemble the tropics while the Bay of Kotor could easily be mistaken for the Norwegian fjords. This diversity in the landscape provides ample options for where to go and what to do while in the Balkans, all you have to do is take a pick.

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina | Photo: Zac Wolff

Photo: Alexander Voronov

Best time to visit the Balkans

Generally speaking, the best time to visit the Balkans is between April and December. That said, like in most places in Europe, June through August is the peak travel season. Since the Balkan countries are only a short flight from most European cities, this makes it a popular destination during the summer holidays. Furthermore, port towns have cruise ships stopping by almost daily – it can quickly get crowder. With that in mind, the shoulder seasons are perhaps the most desirable time of the year when to visit (April–June and September–November). Even in October, the temperatures remain moderately warm and comfortable, so it’s a great time to visit if you plan to enjoy city breaks and outdoor activities like hiking.

Getting Around the Balkans

While Europe may be famous for its trains, in the Balkans, the best option to get around is either a bus or a rental car. The bus services are surprisingly punctual, making them an affordable and trustworthy means of transport. If you visit during peak season, shuttle buses may be better, more comfortable, and an easier albeit slightly more expensive option than public buses. Car rentals are plentiful, and, quite honestly, renting a car offers you the freedom and flexibility to travel on your own terms – the region is simply too beautiful for not stopping at roadsides to admire the scenery or even make quick detours to nearby towns and villages.

Kotor, Montenegro | Photo: Radik Sitdikov

12 Days in the Balkans

The Balkan region is so easy to navigate through that this 12-day itinerary will take you through some of the most beautiful national parks, river valleys, mountains, ancient towns, seaside locations, and even islands guaranteed to instantly charm you. From the cobbled-stone streets of Mostar to the legendary walled city of Dubrovnik, made even more famous by Game of Thrones, from waterfall parks to the Blue Caves off the shore of Croatia – this road trip is packed with a lifetime of memories. A great way to sample the region, the places you see will leave you eager to return for a more in-depth trip.

Day 1: Zagreb

Begin your 12-day trip in the inland capital of Croatia, the city of Zagreb, and let it charm you with its medley of contrasts, history, and striking appearance. Zagreb sometimes lies in the shadow of its coastal counterparts, but its grandeur leaves nobody unimpressed. Put on your favourite pair of walking shoes and embrace how easy this city is to explore on foot. From ornate buildings dating back hundreds of years to modern street art pieces – the city vibrates with expression. Stroll around the Old Town before heading to one of the museums – Zagreb has plenty of good ones, like the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Broken Relationships, the Chocolate Museum, and even an 80s Museum! Another thing in abundance is fantastic restaurants and cafes around the city that showcase culinary excellence through the best local ingredients. Make sure to visit the Upper Town and the Cathedral of Zagreb, ride the Funicular Railway, and have a picnic by Jarun Lake.

Zagreb | Photo: Marko Tomic

Day 2: Ljubljana

From Croatia to Slovenia, begin your second day in the Balkans with an early start road trip to Ljubljana. A drive to Slovenia’s capital from Zagreb takes approximately three hours. It’s worth noting that during the peak season, there may be long queues at the border crossing for passport control, so an early start is a must. Additionally, once you’re in Slovenia, you’ll need a motorway vignette. Known as one of the greenest capitals in Europe, Ljubljana sees an abundance of pedestrians and cyclists take over the city when the weather is fine because car traffic is highly restricted in the city centre. Start exploring the city with a visit to the Old Town and Ljubljana Castle – the view from Castle Hill offers panoramic vistas over the city. After exploring Old Town, cross over the Triple Bridge to find yourself in the city’s architectural marvel Prešernov Trg. During the summer, there are numerous cafes and restaurants that take advantage of the good weather and open their terraces where you can enjoy a fantastic meal. Ljubljana offers a vast selection of traditional and local as well as international cuisines. And then there’s Metelkova Mesto, a popular nightlife destination. This ex-army garrison is now the epicentre of the counterculture, adorned with colourful street art. Other places to explore in the city include the Robba Fountain, Tivoli Park, the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, and Dragon Bridge.

Ljubljana | Photo: Bram Van Geerenstein

Ljubljana | Photo: Eugene Kuznetsov

Day 3: Lake Bled

A little over a 40-minute drive from Ljubljana, there’s Lake Bled, the famous postcard-like destination known for the church on the island in the heart of the lake, enclosed by the landscape of Julian Alps. If you haven’t already, this popular resort town will make you instantly fall in love with Slovenia. The first thing you’ll want to do after enjoying a refreshing cup of coffee in one of the quaint little cafes is to head for a rowboat ride that will take you to Bled Island. Whether you opt to head inside the church or simply enjoy a snack or two while taking in the remarkable view and walking around the island, this place will leave you awestruck. To get a birds-eye view of this magnificent lake, you have two options – head up to Bled Castle or go for a hike to the Mala Osojnica lookout for the most romantic view imaginable. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, a drive to the Vintgar Gorge is a must – located only a 15-minute drive from Bled, this epic place will instantly make you think you’re on another continent.

Lake Bled, Slovenia | Photo Maria Clara Cavallini

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Piran Old Town is one of the most well-preserved historical places in the region with remarkable Venetian Gothic architecture, tuck-away alleyways, and plenty of places to watch the beautiful sunsets from

Day 4: Piran

From the mountains to the seaside, day four takes you on a scenic two-hour road trip from Lake Bled to one of the most charming towns on the Adriatic coast – Piran! You can either drive straight over or make a few stops along the way – the Postojna Cave Park is well worth it. Once you arrive in Piran, bask in the glory of the Old Town, which is one of the most well-preserved historical places in the region with remarkable Venetian Gothic architecture, tuck-away alleyways, and plenty of places to watch some of the most beautiful sunsets from. As a coastal town, Piran boasts some excellent seafood restaurants.

Piran, Slovenia | Photo: Mikita Karasiou

Slovenia | Photo: Norbert Buduczki

Day 5: Plitvice Lakes National Park

Day five awaits you with a slightly longer drive ahead of you but know that it’s worth every bit – you’re off to the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia. Located a three to four-hour drive from Piran, it is one of the most beautiful national parks in the region, known for its almost tropical landscape complete with lush greenery and the most paradise-like waterfalls. There are 16 interconnected emerald lakes weaving their way through the mountainous landscape. This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a bountiful selection of activities, from various walks and hikes to row boat rides in the lakes. It’s best to get an early start at Plitvice to have enough time for exploring. At the end of the day, you’ll want to plan 2-3 hours to drive to Split where your next adventure awaits.

Plitvice Lakes National Park | Photo: Marla Prusik

Day 6: The Blue Cave and the islands around Split

Split is perhaps the most popular destination in Croatia, and there’s plenty to do not just in Split but around it, too. After spending the night here, day six is actually not for the city itself but for discovering all the amazing nearby places, like the famous Blue Caves and the islands. An excellent way to enjoy this is by booking a private island and Blue Cave tour by speedboat – you’ll discover five islands, including Hvar, and the glittering Blue Caves that seem out of this world. On top of that, you’ll be able to snorkel in the azure waters and visit the charming seaside village Komiža.

Day 7: Krka National Park, Trogir and Hvar

From mesmerising seaside to enchanting tropical landscapes, day seven takes you back inland in the first half of the day to Krka National Park. Named after the river Krka, this national park is one of Croatia’s crown jewels, famous for its lush landscape and heavenly waterfalls. After leaving Split in the morning, head straight to Skradinski buk, which will land you in the most beautiful part of the park, complete with natural pools and epic waterfalls. After visiting the park, on your way back to Split, make sure to stop at Trogir, another remarkably-preserved historical seaside town full of Renaissance, Baroque, and Romanesque architecture. A little over an hour should be enough to walk the central parts of Trogir while taking in the picture-perfect surroundings. Once you’re back in Split, take the one-hour ferry to Hvar, but make sure to purchase tickets at least a day in advance. You may have already gotten a good glimpse of this island the day before, so the rest of this day is ideal for exploring the sights and places you didn’t get to visit earlier, like the fortress, the Franciscan and Benedictine monasteries, and other historical sites. Finish the day by taking the last ferry back to Split.

Island Visovac, National Park Krka, Croatia | Photo: Hrvoje Photograph

Day 8: Split

The second-largest city in Croatia, Split has ancient roots and modern ambitions. Its stunning historical architecture is world-famous alongside the landmarks and its awe-inspiring natural surroundings – spend your eight day in the Balkans discovering this Adriatic Perl for yourself. One of the best ways to explore the city is by going on a walking tour guaranteed to give you plenty of insights about the city you wouldn’t find online. Top landmarks like Diocletian’s Palace, Klis Fortress, and Cathedral of St Domnius will let you peek inside the wondrous Dalmatian history, while the Marjan Forest Park gives you a break from the buzzing city while offering generous views of Split and the surrounding islands. There are numerous excellent cafes and restaurants in Split where you can sit down and enjoy life from a local’s perspective.

Day 9: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

One of the biggest advantages of visiting the Balkan region is its compact size. It couldn’t be easier to country-hop from one place to another. And while sharing borders and history, each place has its distinct culture and character. Many associate Croatia’s southern neighbour Bosnia and Herzegovina with the crippling war in the 90s, but thirty years later, it’s a remarkable east-meets-west destination with mesmerising landscapes, challenging and rewarding nature trails, historically significant towns, and the warmest locals you’ll meet. It only takes two hours to drive from Split in Croatia to Mostar in Herzegovina, which is instantaneously charming. Located in the Neretva River valley, Mostar is known for its world-famous Old Bridge, connecting two parts of the city. As you wander through the city, there are endless reminders of the distant Ottoman past and the not-so-distant past when the country was shaken by war. From bridges to museums, bazaars and town squares, there’s something wonderful around each corner. Make sure to try traditional Balkan cuisine at one of the many restaurants in Mostar!

Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina | Photo: Adnan Hajvazovic

Mostar | Photo: Darcey Beau

Day 10: Kotor and the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Filled to the brim with epic mountains, dazzling beaches, and friendly locals, tiny Montenegro confirms that even the smallest places can pack a big punch. The truth is, one day is not nearly enough to discover everything Montenegro has to offer, but this final leg of your Balkan journey is the perfect opportunity to scout ideas and locations for a more in-depth trip back someday. Kotor and the Bay of Kotor are great places to start. Dotted with mediaeval towns, the cliff-hugged Bay of Kotor is a mesmerising place – not quite a fjord or a canyon, but certainly resembling both a bit. The towns are well-connected by zigzagging roads, making it easy to explore the region. Kotor itself is Montenegro’s most-visited place, and for a good reason – packed with centuries-old buildings, quaint mediaeval squares, cobblestone streets, museums, and cafes, it is as vibrant as its surroundings. This pocket-sized town will quickly charm you with its serenity, and you’ll want to enjoy it slowly.

Kotor, Montenegro | Photo: Radik Sitdikov

Montenegro | Photo: Petar Lazarevic

Days 11 & 12: Dubrovnik

Spend your last two days in the Balkans in Dubrovnik, a city that has never been shy of tourists due to being a port town. And while it has always been a popular destination in Croatia, nothing prepared it for the hordes of visitors after Dubrovnik was featured in the legendary TV series Game of Thrones. While a compact town, two days are optimal for stress-free exploring. Prepare to be awestruck once you feast your eyes on the old town and walk the limestone streets surrounded by baroque buildings. The shimmering Adriatic only adds to the charm, while a walk along the age-old city walls will give you a glimpse of what life was like during the Byzantine times. To visit the city walls and forts it is highly advised to purchase tickets in advance – this will save you time spent queueing. Other must-see places in the city include the Rector’s Palace, Sponza Palace, and the Cathedral of the Assumption. You can also visit Lokrum, the lush green island visible from the city.

Dubrovnik, Croatia | Photo: Geio Tischler

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