In most of Europe, true wilderness areas do not exist and brown bears Ursus arctos generally have to cope with human disturbance and infrastructure. The few studies in Europe that have investigated brown bear activity have demonstrated a predominantly nocturnal and ‘shy’ behaviour in bears. There is still quite a debate on whether the shy, nocturnal bears of Europe are the result of centuries of persecution by men (genetically fixed trait) or whether hunting and the high disturbance potential in the multi-use landscapes are the driving force (individually learnt trait). We analysed the activity pattern of 16 individual bears monitored for 3372 h between May and October 1982–1998 in the Dinaric Mountains of Slovenia and Croatia. The data were collected via time sampling and basically analysed using two approaches: a general linear model with seasonal component to delineate the most important variables influencing the activity pattern and level and cluster analysis to group bears according to their 24-h activity pattern. Time of day and age were the most important variables predicting activity. Although individual variation in the activity pattern was high among individual bears, in general, yearlings were more diurnal and had a less distinct difference between day- and night-time activity levels than adult bears. Subadults were somewhat intermediate to adults and yearlings. We believe that nocturnal behaviour is most likely driven through negative experiences with humans, giving space for much individual variation. More research is needed to prove the causal relationship of nocturnal behaviour and the degree of disturbance that an individual bear is exposed to.