Plan a tour of the Balkans
If you plan to visit the Balkans but are not sure how to put together the perfect Balkans itinerary you’re in the right place. It was one of my bucket list itineraries and we enjoyed travelling there in September 2017. It’s a wonderful part of the world to travel so why wouldn’t you want to go there? And this is what my blog is all about. Helping you to put together the itineraries you want so that you can have the travel experiences you deserve.
Read our trip report
As a starting point, why not read our trip report from our Balkan tour. We drove from London all the way to Montenegro and back. Our trip was a camping-based trip but if you’re not into camping then don’t let that put you off. The Balkans itinerary we followed can be easily adapted to a hotel based holiday. In fact, the Balkans itinerary here assumes you’ll be staying in hotels, hostels or apartments not camping. Just because I know camping isn’t for everyone. On the other hand, if you are a keen camper then go for it. You’ll find plenty of campsites along the planned route as well.
Plan your Balkans itinerary
Use the trip report to get inspiration for your own Balkans itinerary. Our trip went a bit off plan due to the weather so to make it easier, I’ve created a detailed day-by-day Balkans itinerary which focuses more specifically on the Balkan countries. If you enjoyed my trip report and would like to follow in our footsteps and end your Balkan itinerary in Italy then be my guest. It was a great trip!
Do I need to drive all the way from London to do this tour?
Firstly, do you want to drive all the way from the UK as part of your Balkans itinerary? If you choose the camping option as we did then it makes sense so that you can take all your camping equipment with you. However, if you plan on staying in hotels or other accommodation during your Balkans tour then you have a choice.
If you love a long road trip or want to explore more of France, Austria or Germany on the way then you can drive all the way from London. It adds about 2 nights each way to the Balkans itinerary, more if you stop for some sightseeing along the route. It’s a great option if you’ve got the time as you’ll see more of Europe.
Alternatively, try a fly-drive
On the other hand, you might be short on time or prefer not to drive all the way across Europe as part of your Balkans itinerary. What if you live outside Europe? In this case, you have the option to fly to Ljubljana in Slovenia or Zagreb in Croatia instead. You can easily hire a car in either of those cities and they make a great starting point for your Balkan road trip. The best choice will depend on where you’re flying from. You might find it easier to get flights to Trieste in Italy or even Venice. You can easily adapt the Balkan itinerary to start and finish in one of these Italian cities instead.
One thing to bear in mind is that one-way car rental is not that easy to find in Europe. So, if you’re hiring a car you’ll probably need to plot a round-trip Balkan itinerary. Fortunately, you’ll find that’s really easy to do as the Balkans are packed with things to see and do so you can retrace your route and still find new places to visit.
What do you need to know before taking a road trip?
Firstly, in order to make this trip, you’re going to be driving across quite a few European countries. You might like to start by reading my general guide to driving in Europe.
In order to make sure you’re fully prepared for driving the Balkans itinerary, I’ve put together a short guide specifically for this tour. It includes tips and advice as well as useful information on local traffic laws and regulations in all the countries you’ll drive through on this trip.
Next choose between the channel tunnel or cross channel ferries
If you start from the UK then you need to find a way across the English channel before you can explore Europe. If you’re taking your own car then you have a choice. You can either take the train through the channel tunnel or you can hop on one of many cross channel ferries. I think there are advantages and disadvantages to both options. So, I’ve written a handy guide to help you decide which option is the best way for you to start your trip.
What places do you want to see on your Balkans itinerary?
Now you’ve decided whether you’re taking your own car on your Balkans itinerary and if so how you’re getting it across the channel. Next, think about where you want to go and what you want to see.
Think about accommodation
Now, let’s talk about hotels. As I’ve already mentioned we chose to do a camping version of this trip. However, I realise most people will prefer more solid accommodation. Firstly, do you prefer an international chain type hotel or something cosier? Would you rather stay in an apartment, hostel or B&B? Take a look at these articles on choosing your ideal accommodation.
If you’re planning more of a budget trip then consider staying at a hostel instead. Read this article on the benefits of hostels. Don’t think a hostel if for you? It might surprise you.
Perhaps you’d like more space than just a hotel room. You could consider upgrading to a suite but why not think about staying in an aparthotel or renting an apartment.
Where should you stay?
Firstly, think about location. Normally, I suggest staying in the city centre so you’re close to the attractions but that’s not so practical on a road trip. Before you book any accommodation you need to consider parking. Unfortunately, city centre parking is often very expensive. Sometimes you just won’t be able to find anything suitable. So, on a road trip make sure you tick the box for parking when you’re searching for accommodation.
Of course, just because you’re on a road trip doesn’t mean you have to use your car all the time. Look for accommodation with free parking near the city you want to visit. Then narrow your search to places which are near public transport. On city sightseeing days, leave your car at the hotel and take a bus, tram or metro into the centre. No expensive parking fees and easy access to the city sights.
Don’t just drive from city to city
Another key point is that on a road trip you won’t just be driving from city to city. You’ll want to mix and match your trip to include some city sightseeing, some rural touring and perhaps some coastal time as well. That’s the real beauty of a road trip. You can take a detour and see things on travel days. If you spot a signpost to somewhere interesting you can just turn off and take a look. When we drive we love to see the sights that are more difficult to get to by public transport and things which are outside the big cities.
Find your ideal accommodation
Now, let’s get back to planning the Balkans itinerary. Basically, as you’ll probably see, I prioritise location but my requirements vary if I’m on a city break or a road trip. Free parking is a key thing for us. On the other hand that may not bother you so much. I must admit I like to get great value for money so I’m always budget conscious. Not to the point of inconvenience though. It’s all about balance.
Once, you’ve decided where you want to stay it’s time to start searching. Try booking.com or one of the other accommodation search engines. Search for hotels and look at reviews. You can also find aparthotels, apartments and even house rentals on there now. I’ve written a guide to help you search on booking.com. Take a look at it here:
Read reviews carefully
When you look at all the different choices of accommodation available do you find it difficult to choose? Reading the reviews written by previous guests can be really helpful. You do need to know how to read between the lines though. I’ve also written a guide on reading reviews which focuses on using booking.com and Tripadvisor. You can read it here.
Now, you’re all set to book. Is that it? Well not quite. Now for the fun bit. Well, I think so anyway. Now, we’re going to plan what you’ll do in each place you visit. Keep in mind that although it might look like a detailed schedule the idea is to use it as a guide. Don’t treat it like a military operation where you have to stick to everything on your plan no matter what. Use your judgement as you travel. Have you put too much in? Are you super tired this morning? Does that detour look like more fun than what you had planned?
You should pre-plan what to see and do in each place you’re going to visit because otherwise, you might miss something really exciting. Or you might spend your first day wandering around looking for tourist offices or just getting lost. Trust me, I’ve been there. However, if you like a bit of unplanned wandering when you arrive at your destination then allow time for that. It’s all about getting the experience you want.
The journey is part of the fun of a road trip
On a road trip, I like to look at what interesting places we’ll pass as we move from place to place. A driving trip shouldn’t be just about getting from A to B. It’s the daily travel that makes a road trip so much fun. So, put your start point and end point into google maps and see what you pass through on the way. Don’t be afraid to take an indirect route in order to take in somewhere interesting.
If you’re passing a big city, for instance, Paris or Berlin and you’d really like to spend some time there it’s usually best to add an overnight stay nearby. It rarely works to just pop into a huge city. By the time you’ve driven in, parked and seen just a few sights, you’ve not got much time left for driving to your destination. If you’re really keen then allow plenty of time in the day’s schedule and consider parking at a train station outside the city. Trains are a great way to get right into the heart of a city quickly and allow more time for sightseeing.
Look for smaller towns and cities for half-day tours
Smaller cities and towns are easier. We’re made detour stops in places like Bordeaux, Rheims, Lucerne, Cadiz for example. We just drove straight in and looked for parking near the city centre. You do pay a premium but in towns where traffic is not too heavy, this is often the quickest, easiest option. We often make these stops around lunchtime. Take an hour or so for some sightseeing then have a nice lunch in town.
However, you have to understand that you can’t really do them justice in half a day. You can get a taste though and it does make the trip more fun. Remember to allow time in your driving schedule though. Don’t plot a 6-hour drive and then spend 6 hours sightseeing. It’s just not practical.
Don’t plan too much on driving days
Don’t be tempted to add too many stops on driving days. Yes, you need to plan some detours or stops. It’s not much fun spending the whole day in the car even if the scenery is great. Plan to get out several times a day even if it’s just to take some photos and stretch your legs.
Be reasonable about how far you can drive in one day and balance that with what you want to see on the way. Some days we drive a very long way and just make short stops. If we want to spend half a day browsing the shops in a nearby town or exploring a castle, garden or some other tourist attraction then we adjust the driving time to allow for it. If you plan a very busy day you won’t drive as far but that’s fine. Make the most of the journey rather than focus on the destination.
Read our trip report for inspiration
Read our trip report to get an idea of what you can do and see. I guarantee you’ll want to alter it. Make it your own.
What to see on your Balkans itinerary
If you follow my suggested day-by-day Balkans itinerary these are some of the places you can visit along the way. Look for smaller places on your route as you go and allow time for spontaneous detours and let your natural curiosity loose.
Now take this Balkan itinerary and create your own ideal road trip. Travelling is so much more rewarding once you start planning tours yourself. You’ll get more for your money that’s for sure. Perhaps you want to squeeze in an extra trip, add a few more days to this one or just save your money for other things. We all have bills after all! Take my sample day by day itinerary for a Balkan road trip and start building your own.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and found it useful. Please get in touch if you have any comments or suggestions about touring Italy. You might also be interested in some of our other European tours. Or perhaps you’d like to travel further afield. Whatever you decide, embrace travel and enjoy it.
Pin it for Later
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