Taking bikes on trains, buses and ferries in Croatia and Slovenia

It’s possible to take bikes on trains, buses, and some ferries in Croatia.

The trains didn’t seem too bad although we didn’t feel particularly welcome. The rail network in Croatia doesn’t have a lot of coverage though. As with Slovenia, you might have a bit of trouble getting on the trains with a bike if it’s particularly crowded.

Buses will accept bikes, but only when they’re in the mood, and it’s up to the driver. You have to wait until the bus arrives, and if you’re rejected try the next one. If the bus is not very full you have a good chance, so try not to travel in peak times. The charge for taking a bike is considerably more than for the same size of luggage, as well.

Car ferries are great for bikes, but the passenger-only catamarans won’t take them. There’s no reason why not, so, as with most things, this might be negotiable. You may also be able to negotiate with tour operators and the like if they are travelling to an island you want to go to. To be sure ahead of time, check that the route you want to take is serviced by a car ferry. Also, in some cases the cost of a bike on a ferry is more than the cost of a person.

In Slovenia we never tried using buses, but we used trains fairly regularly and never had a problem. We weren’t travelling in a peak time though, and I understand you can be rejected by the train conductor if he thinks it is too full.

In general, travelling outside of peak season will give you a good chance of getting onto public transport with your bike.

We never had to box or bag the bike on any trains, buses or ferries. Just take the front wheel off for the buses.

Wrapup of Croatia and the entire trip

The traffic in Croatia was not as bike friendly as in Slovenia, and our couple of rides along the busy coastal road weren’t particularly pleasant. This basically limited us to travelling the islands. That’s OK, as Croatia has fantastic islands. It’s generally easy to travel by ferry between islands, but for some reason you can only take bikes on car ferries and not the people-only catamarans, and this limited our movements considerably. Ferries can also be quite expensive for bikes.

The heat was often a bit too much to ride in, so opting to spend four or so hours in the middle of the day lazing about in the shade somewhere, and only riding morning and late afternoon was great. The time off can easily be wasted on delicious gelato, beer, and enjoying the seaside towns.

Krk as a town was a highlight – beautiful, but small and relatively quiet. For cycling the highlight was probably the twin islands of Cres and Losinj.

Although the big cities are great in themselves, as a cyclist it’s difficult to like them. Dubrovnik in particular is a very beautiful city, but is more suited to the normal tourist than cyclists. On another cycling trip I would gladly skip the big cities and spend the entire time on the islands, then visit Montenegro via Trebinje. The inland route via Bosnia seems it would be much more pleasant and easy than the coastal road.

Finding campgrounds in Croatia was easier than in Slovenia, but they were usually rocky and hard ground, and we came home with a few bent pegs. In some cases we used rocks more than pegs to anchor the tent.

We didn’t cycle as much distance as we intended. In Slovenia we were limited mostly by bad weather, and in Croatia it was our limited ferry options and our unwillingness to ride the main coastal highway, and the heat. What we did was very enjoyable though. We also improved quite a lot as cyclists over the three weeks, and were in pretty good shape by the end.

Apart from the unusually high rainfall we suffered, Slovenia was a better country for cycling. It’s less touristy and more bike friendly than Croatia, and there were areas that sound great for cycling that we didn’t visit, such as the Krka river.

Anyway, it was a great trip. I think our only mistake was to try to fit in too many places which were far apart, meaning we had to cover quite a lot of distance on other forms of transport in order to fit them in. Catching trains, buses and planes is so much less fun and rewarding than cycling, and considerably more expensive. It would be better to cover less distance and be cycling nearly all of the time, even if it means missing a lot of the big drawcards of a region. There are so many small things which will make up for it.

Slovenia and Croatia: Days 22 and 23 – Dubrovnik and Tallinn

Plane Dubrovnik to Tallinn

6th and 7th June 2008

Our last day in Dubrovnik before heading home was spent looking for bike boxes. As there are a total of zero specialist bike shops in the city and a similar number of helpful people in the sports shops that did sell bikes, this turned out to be not possible. Estonian Air’s policy is that all bikes must be in a box. When we called them they said they would accept them bagged, just not take responsibility for any damage. Eventually we found some huge sheets of plastic from a gardening shop to wrap them up in. This is far easier and more practical than a box anyway, as it made packing the bikes a simple task, and we could fold them away for reuse later. After this experience I would definitely recommend bagging rather than boxing. Just take off the wheels, turn the handlebars, and remove the pedals, just as you would if packing in a box. Bike are relatively sturdy and are likely to survive the trip, even with baggage handlers roughing them up a bit.

We had a mid morning flight back to Tallinn, and there our trip ended.

Slovenia and Croatia: Day 21 – Trebinje

Cycled Dubrovnik to Trebinje and back

Date: 5th June 2008

We took a day off from our lazing about in Dubrovnik to make a side trip to nearby Trebinje in Bosnia. Since it was just a day trip we didn’t have much weight so it was to be a relatively easy ride. Leaving Dubrovnik wasn’t so easy because it was quite a long steep hill, and a very busy road. There was a shoulder which made it, although still a little frightening, at least managable.

About 4km out of Dubrovnik we turned off the main highway onto a small road which led to Trebinje. At first we thought we were lost because the road was completely empty, and we thought it was a major road into a different country and so should be busy. There were a couple of quarries around but little else. We were able to confirm we were on the right track though and continued on our merry way up the winding road. The views back to Croatia and the Adriatic were quite spectacular.

View from the pass over the mountains between Dubrovnik and Trebinje, near the Croatia/Bosnia border.

Because of the history of unfriendliness between Croatia and Bosnia I was expecting the border security to be quite tough, but it was the most relaxed I’ve ever seen. The Croatian border waved us out, then when we got to the Bosnian security I was taking too long to find Millerine’s passport, so they sent us through without checking. Obviously two non-slavs on bicycles don’t pose much of a threat.

The rest of the trip to Trebinje was uneventful. The road continued winding up to the top of the hill, then it was a gradually graded 15km ride down into Trebinje. In between there was very little other than abandoned and destroyed buildings, road kill, and only about four or five cars. It was very stark. It looked as though it had been hit hard by the war and never recovered. The view of Bosnia was nothing but mountains. If I were to ride to Montenegro I would go via Bosnia though. It’s a much more pleasant ride than along the busy coastal road.

Trebinje was a very normal city, not a beautiful town like we were getting used to. There was an old town, but not much of one. It had other things going for it though. We were the only tourists in town, it was very cheap, and everyone we met was helpful and friendly. I got out fifty konvertibilnih maraka (the very interestingly named currency) after judging its spending power by looking at cafe beer prices, but it went a very long way. We went to the markets and bought a whole heap of vegetables, then had what for us was a gourmet restaurant lunch (the best food for the trip), and still had enough to buy some food and alcohol supplies for a couple of days.

In general there wasn’t much to see, but after being in overtouristy, unfriendly Croatia for so long the friendliness of the people of Trebinje was very welcome.

On the way back the border security just waved us through. We enjoyed more of the view of the Adriatic, and were back in time to cook a delicious vegetable soup from the produce we had picked up at the markets in Trebinje.

Slovenia and Croatia: Days 19 and 20 – Dubrovnik

Cycled Milna to Stari Grad
Ferry Stari Grad to Dubrovnik

Dates: 3rd and 4th June 2008

The ride back to the ferry at Stari Grad was fun because once you get through the tunnel at the top of the island it’s all downhill, and we knew the road well by now.

Again we shared the ferry with Pat and Ron, although they got off at Korčula and we had decided to go straight through to Dubrovnik. The view of Korčula old town from the ferry was almost enough to cause regret for not stopping off there. The rest of the island didn’t look all that exciting as we travelled down it’s coastline though, so I settled into reading Kafka’s The Castle and drinking beer on deck.

Dubrovnik is a fantastic city. The old town is as beautiful as any I’ve seen (or more so), is large, and the walls are very well preserved. It also has hundreds of stray cats. The rest of the city outside of the old town has some character and a good vibe as well. The only problem is the hills and the lack of bike shops. Also don’t go if you disapprove of tourists.

Dubrovnik's shiny street

One of the gates to the old town

A cat sleeping on the wall by the sea. One of many.

We stayed at Camping Solitudo, which is a campground near the suburb of Lapad, a few kilometres from the city centre. It’s a very comfortable place, particularly as there was a little market which sold our staple diet of the trip – bread, vegies, beer and wine. It was ideal for settling down for a few days, which is exactly what we intended to do, apart from our day trip to Bosnia the next day.

Slovenia and Croatia: Days 17 and 18 – Hvar

Cycled Trogir to Split
Ferry Split to Stari Grad
Cycled Stari Grad to Hvar

Dates: 1st and 2nd June 2008

We got up early to ride to Split in an effort to beat traffic, but we needn’t have worried as it was Sunday and even the multilane highway we entered Split on was pretty empty. It was an OK ride and our fastest average speed for any section of the trip. In Split we ran into a Dutch guy who was planning to reach Indonesia sometime before December, and had cycled 4400km in 6 weeks. He was wondering what the roads were like for cycling between Darwin and Sydney, so I told him a little about the difficulties with distances and water.

We met an English couple, Pat and Ron, on the ferry. They were a bit older and doing a similar thing to us. We went together for the ride to Milna where we camped, and they were much more our pace than Matt and Vanessa had been.

Hvar is a long thin island with a 77km road from Hvar at one end to Sucaraj at the other. Stari Grad is less than 20km from Hvar, on the other side of the island. The road to Hvar is good for cycling. You have to ride over a big hill (as with all Croatian islands), but there isn’t much traffic. There is a kilometre or so long tunnel at the top which is well lit and worth it for skipping the worst of the hill. It’s very steep getting out of Hvar, but only for a short distance.

The town of Hvar itself is very cool. It’s very touristy but nice and lively. There’s also an awesome castle with fantastic views of the surrounding islands and of Hvar.

View of Hvar from the castle

View of Hvar from the castle

The Milna campground was about 5km from Hvar and wasn’t great quality, but was cheap at 100 kune/night. It was in a nice place next to the sea, but the ground was rock hard, resulting in lots of bent pegs and a partially erected tent. There was a very good campground nearer Hvar, but it was more than twice the price.

We still didn’t want to ride the mainland coast road, so we opted to ferry out of Stari Grad, leaving us a day to hire a scooter and travel to the other end of the island.

Millerine and I travelling by scooter

Millerine and I travelling by scooter

Hvar is probably the most scenic of the islands, with an excellent town and castle. Well worth the visit, but cycling the length of it would be fun.

Slovenia and Croatia: Days 15 and 16 – Trogir and Split

Bus Zadar to Trogir
Bus Trogir to Split and back

Dates: 30th and 31st May 2008

We left the campground early as we were obliged to do, and spent a while riding around Zadar. It’s a nice town with a bustling lifestyle, and seems to have a life of its own apart from the tourism. We saw some roman columns and some markets before leaving. It seemed a nice enough town to stay in for a couple of days.

We caught a bus from Zadar to Trogir near Split as we wanted to avoid the busy mainland coastal road. It is up to the driver of each bus service to decide if they’ll take a bike, and they seem generally reluctant to do so. There is a train but it takes a long time with multiple changes and the services are apparently not particularly reliable. The bus drivers are difficult to communicate with, making the process of getting a bike on a bus a pain in the arse, and it’s also more expensive than trains. Avoid taking bikes on the bus in Croatia if you can, although I would also be reluctant to ride the coastal road. We would have fared better if we had been more prepared with better maps and details of all the possible ferry routes.

Trogir is a lovely small town that we stayed in for two nights. It has a small walled old town with a small fortress, and many, many scooters. We camped a few kilometres away from the old town on an island you could access by bridge. The ground was ridiculously hard and I bent the pegs trying to put them in. There were a few beaches which were recommended to us by the tourist info, but they were uninspiring gravel beaches.

The town of Trogir

The town of Trogir

The next day we caught the bus to Split for a day trip. It has a beautiful roman palace in the centre, but apart from that felt like quite a soulless city.

We met an English man doing an England to New Zealand trip who looked set for life. His Burley Nomad trailer was piled up with gear, and was quite colourful with flags from places he’d been to. He claimed to get quite a bit of attention when on the road. Not sure I’d want to pull that weight though. Also he used foot straps rather than cleats, which is unusual for a long distance cyclist.

Slovenia and Croatia: Day 14 – Mali Lošinj

Cycled Osor to Mali Lošinj
Ferry Mali Lošinj to Zadar

Date: 29th May 2008

We left Osor quite early and the ride was very easy down the island of Lošinj to Mali Lošinj. The scenery along these islands was very rather sparse, with more rocks dotting the hilly landscape than trees. We stayed in Mali Lošinj for around six hours until the ferry left, then it was a further six hour trip to Zadar. It was dark once we started cycling from the ferry terminal to our campground, but it was well lit and not too hard to find our way.

The guy serving us at the campground offered us a 50 kuna deal instead of the normal 140 kuna if he could take our money under the table and we agreed to leave before the office opened in the morning.

In Mali Lošinj we dropped into an internet cafe and booked our plane tickets home. There was a new Estonian Air service from Dubrovnik to Tallinn, which we booked for the 7th of June. It cut our trip short a little both in time and distance, but it was the easiest way for us to get home.

Slovenia and Croatia: Day 12 – Krk

Cycled Rijeka to Krk

Date: 27th May 2008

We left Rijeka and started out down the coast road of Croatia towards the island of Krk. There’s quite a lot of traffic and it was quite a change from our relaxed Slovenian experience. The cars didn’t give very much space, particularly the buses. I was driven off the road by a truck who was a bit impatient to overtake on Krk.

Against the warnings of some locals we rode through the middle of the day, and the heat was quite oppressive. Particularly as we were told of a “shortcut” that took us up and down some steep hills before taking us back to the main road we had started on. The bridge to Krk was also kind of strange as we were directed by a toll operator to take the footpath, but that led us into a large set of stairs, so we reversed up and took the main road instead. We’re learning quite quickly that the advice of locals here is not always of a high quality (apart from “don’t ride in the middle of the day”), although it seems they mean well.

We made it to the town of Krk and settled into the campground there. It’s quite fantastic as it’s only a short walk from the town centre. Krk is a very beautiful walled town and we spent the evening enjoying beers and the company of a friendly german shephard, who was very well mannered and seemed to want to act as our tour guide. This was one of our best stops of the trip because of the facilities of the campground and it’s proximity to a very lovely town.

Although it was very hot, we were relieved that there was finally no sign of rain clouds. For the entirety of the trip before we reached Croatia it was either raining, or there was the threat of rain. Now the skies were clear and we had a great excuse to take a break in the middle of the day for ice cream and beers.

Slovenia and Croatia: Day 11 – Škocjan Caves

Cycled Fernetti to Divača
Train Divača to Rijeka

Date: 26th May 2008

We rode to Škocjan Caves in time for the first tour of the morning. The caves are nothing less than terrific. You walk through a series of large caverns to a section with a river running through it. It reminded me a little of the mines of Moria. The walkway goes along the sides of the cave with a river raging 100m below, and a high bridge crossing between the two sides of the gorge-like cavern. The river ends as a waterfall disappearing into the depths. It’s completely awesome. Sadly we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the caves.

The entrance to Škocjan Caves

The entrance to Škocjan Caves

Afterwards we caught the train to Rijeka in Croatia, ending our Slovenian experience. Rijeka was a very busy city, but there’s not much else to say about it. We stayed at a hostel and looked forward to moving on in the morning. If you ever end up in Rijeka it will probably be as a stepping stone to or from the Croatian islands.

Audio description of the Škocjan Caves