Driving the Balkans Along the Adriatic Coast – Tips and Information

    Driving the Balkans Along the Adriatic Coast – Tips and Information


    Despite its remarkable beauty and cultural diversity, the Balkan Peninsula remained for a long time a relatively unexplored region of Europe. After Communism disintegrated in Eastern Europe people began flocking to the sunny beaches of the Dalmatian Coast. It didn’t take the world travelers long to discover  the area’s abundance of breath-taking coastlines, dazzling landscapes, beautiful architecture and rich history.  Soon countries like Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro became Europe’s new hotspots. 

    Visiting the Balkan countries along the Adriatic Coast has been a dream of ours for a long time and finally this year we managed to make it happen. Our itinerary started in Budapest and included Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. But before starting to elaborate on each of the countries we visited, I want to share with you some tips and useful information regarding the technical aspects of this road trip. 

    view of the map showing the Balkan Road Trip itinerary
    Our Balkan Road Trip Itinerary


    Why Did We Choose to Drive?


    Driving in a foreign country may be more stressful than using public transportation but it also has its own advantages. Being able to start your day whenever you want, stopping wherever  you see something attractive, not having to worry about missing the train or the bus, are big pluses. Besides, if the weather turns bad you are not stuck in a place waiting for the next train. We decided to rent a car mainly for convenience, but also because my husband likes to drive (and he is really good at it.)


    Renting a Car in Budapest
    If you are renting a car in Budapest or anywhere in Europe, here are some things you should consider:
    • Please remember that you are not in the USA, so don’t expect the same standard of service. The cars and the prices are very different between these two continents.
    • There are several car-rental agencies in Budapest (like Autoeurope, Rentalcars, Economy Car Rentals, Europcar, Sixt, and Turo), but they compete very little against each other. That said, what will make you choose one over the other is the type of cars they have available. If all you want is an economy car, that’s easy because they all have it. But if you are looking for an SUV, or a bigger, more spacious car, only two or three of these agencies may have them. 
    • Prices are more expensive than in the USA and insurance is paid separately, through a third party.
    • Checking out the car at one point and dropping it at another outside the country is not possible, so you have to allocate time for a return trip. 
    • Read the Terms and Conditions of your contract very carefully. If you are planning to take the car outside the country  you will have to specify it when you reserve the car. There is a 45 Euro charge payable at the time of the reservation AND another 45 Euro charge payable at the register! Also,  not all the countries on your itinerary may be covered (Slovenia and Croatia are covered, but Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro are not).
    • Renting the car in downtown is more expensive than renting it at the airport. However, taking a cab or the minibus to/from the airport is costly and inconvenient (unless you plan to return the car on the day of your departure).
    • Renting a manual car is cheaper than renting an automatic one. 
    • When you check out car take a very good look at every little dent or scratch that it may have and document it in the contract. Also, I suggest taking pictures of the car when you take it and when you returne it to avoid the unpleasant surprise of being charged for somebody else’s scratches.
    What you will need in your rental car 
     • If you are planning to drive, you should get a GPS. Renting a car that has one can be expensive. We discovered however that our iPhones work great for directions, so after a few days we began using them for directions.
    • Back yourself up with a physical map of the region, in case the GPS stops working or doesn’t give you the right directions.
    • I would strongly encourage you to rent a bigger car, especially if there are more than two people in your party. Keep in mind that what European cars are much smaller in size than the American ones, so an Economy or a Standard car will be very uncomfortable and with very little space for luggage.


    Driving in the Balkans

    Driving in the Balkans may not be as easy and convenient as driving in the USA, but it’s better than you’d expect. For the most part the roads are good, with a lot of rest areas and places where you can pull over if you want to take picture or enjoy the view. The highway system (toll roads) in Slovenia and Croatia are a pleasure to drive, with plenty of road signs, gas stations and food stops along the way. 

    image depicting driving the balkans


    In Slovenia it is mandatory to have a vignette for driving on motorways. The vignette can be purchased at the border, but you’ll have to be very careful not to miss the border. You may find it hard to believe, but the Slovenian border with Hungary was some little hut next to a gas station. We missed it and 5 miles later we have been stopped by the highway patrol who gave us a very pricey fine. 

    In Croatia there are toll roads and that’s a little easier. You pick up a ticket as you get on the motorway and pay it as you exit it.

    Montenegro as well as Bosnia & Herzegovina on the other hand are decades away from a modern European highway system. The roads leading to the coastal areas are in better condition, but they can be very crowded during the summer months. Couple of that with the aggressive local drivers and you’ll understand why your rental contract doesn’t include insurance for Bosnia and Montenegro. Driving a rental car through these two countries requires also requires an International Driving Permit that can be easily obtained from any AAA branch in the USA ($20 plus the cost of two passport-type photos).


    Border Crossing in the Balkans

    Border crossing is relatively easy. As far as I can tell, the border patrols in these countries are not in the business of making your life miserable. The amount of time you’ll spend at the border depends on the time of the year you travel to these countries.

    image depicting the border crossing when driving the balkans
    Croatian border


    We’ve been here in April and it took us only a few minutes to cross. I’m sure however that during the summer months it will take much longer.



    Parking in Europe in a nightmare almost everywhere and the Balkans are no exception. The few street spots that you’ll see are always taken and outrageously expensive. Your best bet is to find a garage or a parking lot as close as possible to your hotel. Unfortunately, most old town hotels don’t even have a spot where you can unload your luggage because the area is pedestrian. So if you don’t want to drag your luggage for 2 miles, don’t choose a hotel in the old town. 

    image depicting the difficulty of parking when driving the balkans
    Street parking in Split

    Getting around the Balkans is not as simple and ‘computerized‘ as in other parts of Europe, where public transportation has very precise schedules and tickets can be purchased online. Nonetheless, if you don’t feel confident to drive in this part of Europe, public transportation remains a good option.



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