The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip: Exploring Mostar, Dubrovnik and Kotor

How can I call myself a travel blogger? I’m having two weeks off work to uh, travel, and I’m getting in a right state over it.

Regular followers may have figured that city trips are my forte; long weekend jaunts, strictly hand-luggage only. It’s certainly my thing; I swear, just give me a destination, three days in your calendar and a slim budget and I’ll work magic so good, just call me Miss Hermione Granger of the travel world.

So whilst this wasn’t on the same level as trying to co-ordinate a twelve month long overland trip to Oz, my ten day multi-destination road trip around the Balkan Peninsula was still the decent challenge I wanted whilst also giving me a tiny stress headache in the left temple. I’d have to get home from my nine to five and sit down to coloured itineraries, research on foreign road regulations, cross-border insurances, currency spreadsheets, google map routes, and three times the regular amount of accommodation confirmations.

It wasn’t until I’d checked out the tiny VW, driven three hours down the winding Croatian coast line, made it over the border into Bosnia and collected the keys for our first Airbnb that I was able to stop clenching everything that could be clenched that it actually hit home that I had ten blissful days of Balkan beaches, craft beers, different cultures, new foods and rich history. Bring it!

Day One – Three: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Day One: Arriving into Mostar

Driving time: 3 hours, along the costal road, through the Neum corridor and then north through Pocitelj.

Sparkling seas faded to dusty roads as we crossed the border into Bosnia and Herzegovina. ‘So-long Schengen zone of the west’. Though, the border queues were ‘off-season’ kind-of short, and, don’t roll your eyes at me, but actually felt lamely adventurous to have our passports thoroughly examined by official looking people behind Perspex, and not just half-ignored as they usually are.
Driving inland we reached Mostar in the early afternoon following a series of near-misses; partly down to the charming rebellious attitudes of the local drivers but also due to my less-charming inability to correctly distinguish between a road and a tow-path. So, after sending prayers to the higher powers that we might get our hire car to Mostar without taking out the front bumper, we arrived in the city to muggy heat, a slight sweat-on and hunger pains, in need of whatever-the-local-something was to take the edge off. Checking into our Airbnb by substituting words with smiles and gestures with our friendly Bosnian host, and then recovering from a delayed miniature anxiety attack, we set out for the old town. Finally.

Day Two: Waterfalls and Monastery’s

Driving time: 3 hours on the road. A return trip from Mostar to Kravice Waterfalls with a stop at Blagaj.

Mini Road Trip! The difficult part was navigating the one-way streets of residential Mostar, with its potholes, rush-hour traffic, hefty road-works and surprise detours. But once we’d taken a right turn and we were back on the main road out of town running over familiar ground, it wasn’t so bad.
Blagaj Tekija was less than a 20 minute drive from the centre of Mostar; the site of Bosnia’s Dervish Monastery. Incredibly poignant on both an historical and religious level, but also a view you’ve probably seen on Pinterest a few hundred times thanks to it’s stunning natural setting; hugging the rocks at the foot of the cliff. We covered up our heads, and legs with the fabrics laid out at the entrance and paid the small fee to visit, spending a bit of time drifting between the different white-washed rooms.
In the afternoon we navigated our way to Kravice Waterfalls, Bosnia’s answer to Krka; much smaller though and much less touristy, yet just as beautiful. Even in October, when the water chill was giving me ripples of goose bumps, it was a calming experience to pull myself across the shallow waters and perch on the rocks under the cascades of water. Considering this was one of Bosnia’s top attractions, it still felt like we we’d uncovered a little secret gem in the Bosnian countryside.

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Day Three: I Never Want To Leave!

Driving time: 0 Hours, on foot around Mostar.

It was only my third day in Bosnia so it said a lot for this city to say I was starting to get a touch fond for Mostar. Our final day in Mostar was all about keeping the pace ridiculously slow and winding about the Escher-like maze of the Old Town’s streets, eating and drinking and exploring to the sound of the Muslim Call to Prayer. If you consider that this city was a war-zone in the 90’s, the forthcoming warm welcomes and smiles, the genuine tranquillity and natural beauty of the place went against all of my preconceptions. You won’t forget the city’s history though; walking under the old sniper tower in the park and past the ‘f*ck the war’ graffiti on the walls, Mostars history is still raw.
Even more surprising was all the food. My god! The food. Carnivores rejoice, for you have found your paradise! For us it was Tima Irma for both lunch and dinner. The owner is a real feeder though; joyfully slipping more meat and bread on your plate in spite of your pleas of feeling fit to burst. Evening drinks as the sun set behind the mountains were craft beers on the veranda of Black Dog Pub with the bats flying low over the river.
I’ve peaked!

Days Three – Six: Dubrovnik, Croatia

Day Four: Moving On – The Orange Roofs Of Dubrovnik

Driving time: 3 hours, straight from Mostar to Dubrovnik.

Having arrived into Dubrovnik Airport on our very first day and catching sight that orange-y panorama of the city from the sea-road, I won’t lie, I was keen to return, if only to get in that sea. As much as I’ll forever gush over Mostar, I was craving salty sea and sandy beaches, and you all know Croatia boasts the best coastline in Europe (that’s not up for debate).
We checked into our Airbnb and practically ignoring the existence of the world famous old town, headed straight down to our nearest beach. Everyone is either a mountain, sea or city girl, and I can never settle on where I belong, but throwing myself into the clear waters of Dubrovnik, there and then? I was honorary mermaid through and through.

Day Five: Walking the Old Town Walls and the Island of Lokrum

Driving time: 0 Hours

I very nearly scrubbed this off my to-do list. Isn’t walking the city walls, expensive and hot and sweaty and stupidly touristy?
Actually, yes it’s all of the above.
But is it one of the best things to do in Dubrovnik? Easily, yes. Like everybody told me, and now I’m telling you, walking the city walls offers the best perspective and the most glorious view of the whole city. All those shots you see on Instagram are probably taken from somewhere along the city wall. Even in October, right in the shoulder season, there was a noticeable lack of shade and still a load of tourists. Stunning though. Sweaty and stunning.
After filling my memory card with hundreds of shots of orange roofs and blue horizons, we ventured into the middle of the old town. Even for this girl, who’s never watched that little show called Game of Thrones (heard of it?), I loved the old town. Feel free to read that with an undertone of surprise, because I was fully expecting to be underwhelmed by the seriously hyped up location; but the old town, with its fresh fish restaurants, bars, ice cream parlours, cats, cream-stone architecture and the shiniest pavements you’ll ever see; it was just gorgeous.
In the afternoon we caught the tourist ferry boat to Lokrum island, a little oasis off the coast of Dubrovnik, for sea swimming and frolicking with the ultra-friendly resident bunny and peacock population, who would flock around you in the grass. If you have a desire to re-enact the opening scenes from Disney’s ‘Snow White’, I tell you, Lokrum Island is a good place to start.

Day Six: The Money Shot and A Sunset Goodbye

Driving time: Under an hour. A round trip from our Airbnb apartment to the hill top.

Opting out of taking the cable car to the hill top, we saved our Euros and took the hire car out for a bone-shaking drive up the side of the mountain. Despite some hairy corners and patches of rough track, getting to the top and looking down on that iconic orange-hued view of the old town was more than enough of a reward.
We had a mind to picnic at the top of the mountain but the strong winds made it near-on impossible to eat the olives without gulping mouthfuls of my own hair as well, so that idea was quickly scrapped.
For the rest of the day, we could slow the pace down. We’d ticked off some of the major sights already, so now we could hunt out the best ice cream in Dubrovnik, take some wrong turns in the old town to see where we’d end up, stumble on some bars and eat more calamari. We ended the day up the hill in the Ploce area, near to our airbnb, at our local café-bar and then finally retreating back to our apartment’s balcony with some coffees to watch the colourful sunset over the old town.
The sunset’s always better when you’re abroad isn’t it?

Days Six – Nine: Kotor, Montenegro

Day Seven: Onwards to Kotor

Driving time: 2 hours, straight from Dubrovnik to Kotor, around the perimeter of the Bay of Kotor.

The first slightly lame but exciting thing about Montenegro was gaining a passport stamp. Travelling mainly around Europe and Schengen Zones means despite getting about a bit, my passport still looks pretty sad and unused.
But uh, moving away from that news, who knew the bay of Kotor is a bit of looker?
Apparently there’s a car-ferry that cuts out the drive around the perimeter of the bay, but everyone we spoke to was adamant that we shouldn’t take the cop out short-cut and instead take the longer scenic route for the best introduction to Montenegro.
Arriving into Kotor in the late afternoon, everyone was already on the wind down so we Googled our dinner for the evening; a local grill place with epic cevapi and flatbread and then sought out the cheapest bar in the whole of the old town. There’s always something to be said for choosing a place that is polar-opposite of trendy; a place so simple that you can enter with no preconceptions and 9 out of 10 times it’ll end up being the best damn place on the whole trip. Klub Invalida is a bar that can only call itself so because of the fridge of beer and a few bottles of wine in the corner of the smoky room. The reality of this place is a very informal hang out for the aged-folk of the town who have seemingly stubbornly refused to modernise their gaff for anyone, and why should they? The best bit about this place is the gruff mannerisms of the owner who will shuffle out to you in his creased leather jacket to serve you your (seriously cheap!) drinks; we grew quite fond of his surly nature became an honorary regular.

Day Eight: Hiking the Fortress Walls and Road-tripping to Budva

Driving time: 1 hour. A return trip from Kotor to Budva .

Almost the only thing on my list to do in Kotor was to climb the fortress walls. I’d seen it on the travel guides, and now I needed that gram for myself.
Thankfully, it’s actually a pretty easy going hike and doesn’t take too long, but to beat the heat and ensure we weren’t making it harder than necessary for ourselves we set off straight after breakfast, before the midday sun got too much.
If you do have time to make the walk to the top, do. the panorama across the old town and out towards the bay are pretty spectacular and gives you the best view of the blackened mountains that clearly gave Montenegro it’s name.
In the afternoon we took a short drive out to Budva and after figuring out the parking situation took a walk around the town. The old town is considerably smaller than Kotor but being on the coast, there’s a few beaches and swimming spots to explore. There’s also cats. Dozens of them. And they are so darn cute! Too cute apparently, which explains why I have hardly any photos of Budva itself, but a SD card chokka-full of pictures of tiny kittens eating cat biscuits instead. You’re welcome. 

Day Nine: Exploring Kotor and Grabbing a Takeaway in Tivat

Driving time: Under an hour. A return trip from Kotor to Tivat.

Day three in Kotor gave us that extra day we needed to relax and hang around in the old town and avoid any thoughts relating to this being our penultimate day of the holiday (internal cries!). It also gave us a chance to head out to another nearby town in the car. We drove the short distance to Tivat and had a walk along the newly-built modern harbour front, scoffing at the ridiculous price-tags on the private yachts and the luxury apartments, only to grab ourselves a takeaway pizza and a couple of Coke cans from a street corner to eat on the wall of the harbour with our legs dangling over the edge. Definitely more our style.

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Day Nine – Ten: Croatia and Home

Day Ten: The Tiny Town of Perast and the Final Calamari

Driving time: 2 hours from Kotor to Cavtat with a stop at Perast.

Perast is so tiny, we actually drove right past it the first time. But there’s no denying what it lacks in size, it makes up for by being one of the most idyllic locations on the entire bay. However, despite it being so well known, there’s practically zero things to do here apart from take a boat ride out to Our Lady on the Rocks, which we declined to do, or have an ice cream from one of the stalls on the bay-front, which we most certainly did. But after taking a few photos to prove we’d been, there wasn’t much point in sticking around so we headed back to Dubrovnik for our final evening in the Balkans.
Running really low on funds, but following the calls of our favourite sea food restaurant in Dubrovnik we credit-carded a final dinner of fried calamari with a stunning view of the harbour with no regrets whatsoever.
Possibly the best end to the best ever road trip?

Total Driving time: Approximately 13 hours over 10 days (with lots of photo stops!)
Miles Covered: 620 km or 385 miles.
Cost of the hire car: Approximately £35 for 10 days (yes, really!)
Accommodation: Airbnb in Mostar, Dubrovnik and Kotor.

Have you ever been on a European road trip? Ever explored this area of the Balkans? Let me know in the comments…  

13 thoughts on “The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip: Exploring Mostar, Dubrovnik and Kotor

  1. This has been such a great read. Im from Australia, Mostar being my mother land. Im heading to Mostar and Dubrovnik in August, this has been a great post! Thank you

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  2. Hi everyone! I’m a tour guide in Mostar. If you decide to come around, feel free to contact me for any tips or suggestions (for free) 😉 or arrange a custom-made tour as it suits you. best, your Tourist Guide Mostar Team

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  3. Ah Michaela, what an amazing trip! Your photos are absolutely gorgeous. I’m definitely going to show my boyfriend Stuart this post, as he’s desperate to visit some of these places!

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    1. I really is all super close! My partner drove but it didn’t feel like we were on the road that long at all and the coastal roads and the road around Kotor bay was just SO pretty! I’d been dreaming of this road trip for years so I’m so happy that we finally did it!

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    1. I know! I can’t believe our luck! Had to share that figure because it seems ridiculous! It was a place called Economy Car Rentals and we booked it online a few months before our trip… Not sure if it was because it was slightly out of season being October but it was perhaps the deal of the century!
      Mostar was my favourite. 🙂

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  4. Wow this is an amazingly written blog post and the photos are stunning too! Well done! 🙂
    It brought back so many memories of my road trip in the Balkans 1.5 years ago. We went to almost the same places, and we did a roadtrip too – but all the way from Poland. It was really intense and we covered a lot of places but didn’t really have more than a day or two at a place. Montenegro was my favorite country from the road trip. If you’re interested, you can check out my blog for more! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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