I first became interested in visiting Slovenia last year when I stumbled upon a photo of Lake Bled, and immediately fell in love. Wanting to see it for myself, I did some research on the country and discovered that there was a whole lot more to see than just this fairytale lake. So when planning my latest European adventure I made sure that Slovenia was a part of my itinerary. I expected to be amazed by Lake Bled; what I didn’t expect was that Slovenia itself would become one of my favourite countries, and top recommendations to travellers.
How to Get There
Surrounded on land by Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia; Slovenia isn’t as simple to access as other European destinations. Plan for lengthy bus or train rides but trust me; it’s worth it, and (in my experience) reasonably priced. I originally planned on arriving from Hungary but quickly changed my mind when I saw how long it would take to get there. Instead, I made a little detour to Austria, and took a train direct to Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, from Vienna. It was the prettiest train ride I have taken in my life and although I planned on a nap, I spent the majority of the six hour ride staring out the window.
Another fantastic option is the Go Opti shuttle services. This shuttle company offers transfer services to/from Ljubljana from a variety of nearby European cities. I used them to get to Venice after my stay in Slovenia, and although I was a little worried that I had to book and pay in advance without knowing the time I was leaving until the day before departure, I was very pleased with their service and would highly recommend them.
For those coming from further away, Ljubljana, also has a small airport that is frequented by a few European airlines including Easyjet and Wizzair.
Where to Base Yourself
In my opinion, the best place to base yourself out of is the capital city, Ljubljana. There is a great network of both trains and busses that can get you into the mountains or to the sea in just a couple of hours.
I would definitely recommend staying around old town. I stayed in Vila Veselova, an awesome and friendly hostel in a safe neighbourhood. However you don’t have to hostel it, Ljubljana is a budget friendly city so you can get a beautiful hotel such as Hotel Cubo for a great price. For something a little cheaper (but still a private room) try the Antiq Palace Hotel. And of course, check Airbnb.
Where to Go
If I had more time I would have stayed longer to see more of the country. That being said, I think that three full days will allow for time to see the best highlights. Based on my experiences I would recommend spending a day at each of the following:
The Capital city, Ljubljana, is one of the smallest capital cities of Europe. The old town sits alongside the Ljubljanica River under an impressive Castle, and is one of the most charming cities I have ever been to.
The river is lined with restaurants and cafes while little boutiques and galleries follow the winding cobblestone paths under the castle’s shadow. Part of the beauty of this small European capital is the lack of excessive tourism. Tourist shops offer authentic local merchandise instead of the ‘made-in-China’ junk that you find on every street corner in Paris. I didn’t see a single scammer trying to sell me fake bags or lure children with brightly coloured toys. And, compared to most other capital cities, Ljubljana is very clean. Part of my draw to the city is that no matter where I went, my experience always felt authentic.
Although the city isn’t big there is a lot to see including:
The Ljubljana Castle: Located at the top of the hill you can either hike up Castle Hill (about 40 minutes of steep climbing) or take the funicular for a fee. Once at the top one can pay to enter the castle and enjoy the exhibitions, or just take in the beautiful views.
The Dragon Bridge: The dragon bridge is the most famous of the many bridges in Ljubjana, and is very easy to find. As the name suggests, Dragons guard each side of the bridge so there’s no doubt when you’ve arrived as to which bridge you are crossing. The dragon is the symbol of the city, so expect to see it everywhere. Other popular bridges to check out include the triple bridge and the butcher’s bridge, which is where you will find Ljubljana’s love locks.
The Market: Anything and everything can be found at the market; from homemade arts and crafts, to fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, and clothing. Prices may not be better than those at the grocery store but you can trust that the products are fresh and local.
Metelkova: Probably one of the most unique places you will ever see. This section of Ljubljana is an alternative art and culture community located only a few minutes from the train station. The buildings, many of which have been converted into galleries, cafes, bars, and clubs, are covered in graffiti. It’s the social centre of the city, and a hot-spot for young people at night.
Between the above sites, walking through the streets, and relaxing in the Tivoli Park, it’s easy to spend a day enjoying Slovenia’s beautiful capital city.
Lake Bled and Bohinj in Triglav National Park
Seeing that a photo of Lake Bled is what drew me to Slovenia in the first place, it was a ‘must-see’ during my visit.
Probably one of the most photographed places in the country, Lake Bled looks right out of a fairytale, and even has the legend to go with it. The story goes that the area didn’t used to be a lake, but was a beautiful field of green grass. The fairies loved to dance here but soon a farmer discovered it and led his herds to feed. The fairies begged the farmer to stop, because his herds were destroying the field and making it hard to dance on. But the farmer didn’t listen, and day after day continued to bring his herds. Afraid that they would be hurt, the fairies threatened the farmer that one day the field would no longer exist if he continued. But still the famer and his herd kept returning until one night a fairy fell and broke her leg on the now uneven ground. In their anger the fairies cast a spell and covered the field with water, drowning the farmer and his herds in the process. Today only the island remains, a small but safe place for the fairies to continue their dancing.
There are regular busses from Ljubljana train station, as well as a train, however the bus is a better option as it takes you right into the town.
There are three main highlights of Lake Bled. The first is the castle, located on the cliff top overlooking the lake. It’s a steep (and sweaty) climb, but only do it if you plan on paying to enter the castle as that’s the only place you will get the views. Upon entering the castle there are a couple of small exhibits as well as a gift shop and restaurant, but the main attraction is the views. There a two levels at which you can look down at the lake and both are worth visiting. Even if you are on a backpacking budget- this is a view worth paying for.
The second attraction is the island in the middle of the lake, where the church is located. Once on the island tradition is to ring the church bell and make a wish- although you will have to pay for this privilege. Another tradition on the island is for newly wedded couples. On the day of the wedding groom must carry his (silent) bride up the stairs to the church to ring the bell and wish luck on their wedding.
Boats go to/from the island on a regular basis throughout the day. Sadly we missed the last boat during out visit and didn’t get to experience the island for ourselves, but it was still stunning to look at, even on our cloudy and foggy day.
The third main attraction of Bled is the famous Bled Cream Cake. It is served at most restaurants in the area but all will tell you that the best is found at the Park Hotel. Of course we had to try it for ourselves, along with another traditional Slovenian cake called prekmurska gibanica. The Bled cream cake was to die for, but neither of us was a big fan of the other.
One can easily spend half a day at Bled Lake before taking the bus another 45 or so minutes to Bohinj in Triglav National park. Sadly my travel buddy and I only made it to Bled due to time restrictions, but from everything I heard from other travellers (and the locals) the area is incredibly beautiful with a stunning waterfall.
Another perfect day trip from Ljubljana is to the seaside town of Piran. Located on the coast of the Adriatic sea, Piran is a stunning coastal town perfect for a relaxed day. It is about a 2.5 hour bus ride from Llubljana but you arrive right by the pier.
The town is small, and doesn’t have a lot going on but is perfect for walking along the water and exploring the little shops. Grab lunch at one of the many seaside café’s and, if you are feeling adventurous, hike to the old wall and climb the stairs for a stunning panoramic view. The cost for the wall is 2 euro, make sure you have proper change as it is a turnstile entry, and the nearby café will not make change.
Even walking along the sea offers stunning views of both Croatia and Italy. Although there are no actual beaches here, there are docks with ladders that you can use for swimming. Note that there is not a direct bus back to Llubljana, you need to go to Koper (about 45 min) then transfer to a bus to Llubljana.
If You Have More Time
As I said earlier I wish I had the time to visit Bohinj, from that I heard from others you could probably spend an entire day just exploring that area. There are also numerous more castles that would be incredible to visit, as well as the world famous Postojna Cave. Needless to say from sea to mountains to national parks, there is enough in this beautiful country to keep you busy for at least a week.
Planning a Trip? Don’t Leave Home Without
*This post was updated Jan. 2018