Discover Slovenia’s Top 9 Attractions – Unpacking Eastern Europe’s Hidden Gems
Your Ultimate Guide to the Perfect Slovenian Holiday
Slovenia is well renowned across the globe for its famous church, adorned on a petit island surrounded by the turquoise waters of Lake Bled, but for many people, their extent of knowledge stops there. People are mostly unaware that the little Eastern European country, home some to only 2.1 million Slovenians, is scattered with numerous untouched national parks, medieval castles, and charmingly quaint villages. So, what and where are these majestic tourist attractions you may ask? Based on our recent visit in the summer, we have searched high and low to bring you the ultimate list to make the perfect itinerary the balances the natural beauty of Slovenia with its fascinating culture.
1. Take a Dip in the Tranquil Waters of Lake Bled
Imagine. Warm summer days. The clear and cooling waters of Lake Bled. The steeple of a centuries old church peaking through the lush greenery on a small island. On top of that, all these elements showcased in front of the breath-taking backdrop of the Julian Alps, no wonder Lake Bled is Slovenia’s number one post card destination. Such a destination almost sounds fiction, but contrary to belief it exists and has something to offer everybody. So, yes, it’s beautiful, but what is there to do?
Hike one of the many hiking trails around Lake Bled
If you’re not a keen hiker, the spectacular views of Lake bled surrounded by a dramatic rugged landscape covered in dense green forestry will surely change your mind. Some of the most picturesque views of Bled lake can be found by tackling one of the numerous hiking trails located around the lake. The main trails you want to conqour is Ojstrica and Mala Osojnica, both of which are located on the west of the lake near Camp Bled. The hikes aren’t too strenuous, but you will face a few areas of steep incline. If you’re not used to walking on uneven terrain. make sure you take it nice and steady and enjoy the natural surroundings. If you’re up for more adventure then hike the trail up to Slovenia’s famous Bled Castle, which showcases panoramic views of the entire valley. So what’s the story behind lake Bled? Well keep reading.
Explore on of Slovenia’s Medieval Castles: Bled Castle
Bled Castle is perched upon a sheer cliff that overlooks the entirety of Lake Bled and offers awe-inspiring views of the Julian Alps, Gorenjska, and of course the Church of Assumption. The castle’s history spans more than one millennium when Henry the II passed the land rights over the Bishop of Brixen. The castle, which is encompassed by a gothic-inspired wall, contains a dual-level courtyard, one of which contains the most breath-taking views of turquoise waters below. The entry price is a tad steep at 11€ (2018) per adult, so if you are on a shoestring budget, I recommend hiking to Ojstrica or Mala Osojnica trails for an equally impressive view.
Endless Options for Water Sports
The lure of the cool, relaxing waters of the Lake Bled coupled with the serenity of the dense forest, makes Bled a popular summer vacation destination for both tourists and locals alike. Whether your ideal goal is to chill on a deck chair with a beer on hand, or to test your balance paddle boarding on the calm waters, Bled offers a seemingly endless variety of water related activities for you to get involved in. You will not have to search too far before coming across one of the many stores that hire out anything from canoes and floaties. If you’re looking for the best spots to take a swim, checkout the west bank of the lake, near Camp Bled, or the public lido which is located on the north.
Pull out your Lycra Outfit and Cycle around the Lake!
If swimming all day in the sun doesn’t sound too appealing, then one of the best modes of getting around and seeing Bled from a different perspective is by bicycle. Not only is it easier to maneuver around the area than by car, but you will also cover more ground inaccessible by vehicle. The advantage of riding is that you will also be burning off all those calories you gained from devouring portions of delicious Bled Cream Cake (Kremna Rezina), make sure you taste a slice it will change your life. If you are worried about the incline of the local geography, there is no need to be concerned. There are plenty of stores that hire out electric bicycles which are recommended if you want to head up to Bled Castle or to the utterly picturesque Vintgar Gorge.
2. Discover the Turbulent Turquoise Waters of Slovenia’s Vintgar Gorge in the Triglav National Park
No day trip to the Triglav National Park is complete without hiking through the Vintgar Gorge along the banks of the Radovna River. The gorge is located a mere 6 kilometres north of Slovenia’s Lake Bled and is easy to get to via car, bike or hiking. A fabulous wooden board walk has been constructed which leads you downstream parallel gushing waters of the river to a glorious 13-meter-high Waterfall (Šum Waterfall). The waterfall isn’t the only gem you will find on this adventure, you will also pass a manmade dam overshadowed by a gigantic stone arch bridge, which makes for the perfect photo opportunity.
To enter the gorge, you will be faced with a €5 fee per adult, which contributes to the upkeep of the park. There are several facilities located at the premises including: rest rooms, a snack shop and free parking, so you will not need to come fully prepared as if you were hiking in the forest. The best time to visit is early in the morning before the tourist buses arrive, you will have the gorge all to yourself.
3. Discover the Wonders of Slovenia’s Capital City, Ljubljana
The quaint and historic capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana (have fun trying to pronounce it) is a small city that packs a punch with its charm and character. The city is home to less than 300,000 people and can be considered Slovenia’s equivalent to the Czech Republic’s Prague or Austria’s Vienna. Ljubljana lies on banks of the Ljubljanica river and boasts plenty of sights and activities, which we have conveniently listed out for you below:
Explore the Old City and Try Local Foods
One of the many draws of Ljubljana is its colourfully vibrant old city, which exists in its current architectural state due to it’s devastating past. A horrific earthquake shook the capital and destroyed roughly 10 percent of the buildings in 1885. While tragic, the natural disaster spurred a regeneration of sorts, and a significant component of the city was rebuilt in the elegant architectural style known as Vienna Secession. The old town is now home to a variety of shops, from clothing to local restaurants, which is perfect to browse in the afternoon. If you are on the hunt for traditional fare, then we suggest checking out a Klobasarna. They serve a delicious traditional Slovenian sausage with stew, as well as Slovenian dumplings, done three ways. Trust me you will be disappointed if you don’t give them a try.
Get Lost in Tivoli Gardens
One of the attractive qualities about Ljubljana is the number of public green spaces located sporadically throughout the city. The biggest and most popular is Tivoli gardens, which spans an impressive 5 square kilometres, or 46% larger than the size of New York’s Central Park. The gardens are used regularly to showcase local artwork, host community activities and festivals and probably the best place in Ljubljana for a picnic (although the parks outside Ljubljana come a close second). If the sun is shining, then Tivoli gardens is the perfect place to take a stroll and enjoy the pleasant scenery.
Feast on Delicacies from the Local Markets
Ljubljana hosts an impressive array of farmers markets every weekend in the old town. Vendors sell a variety of vibrant fruits, crisp vegetables, and of course, local delicacies. The markets are unique because they offer something that I haven’t seen any where else in Europe. Along the road within the square, right next to the markets, you can find a vending machine that dispenses unpasteurised milk. What is so good about it, you may ask? Well, Unpasteurised milk is freshest milk that you can possibly buy, it does not go through any processing, so it is at its most creamy and delightful. Obviously, there are some risks in drinking it, but it didn’t hurt us and was a great little refreshing treat. The markets are open from early morning to mid-afternoon in the summer.
Explore Ljubljana Castle
The iconic Ljubljana Castle, perched on top of a rocky outcrop, makes a dramatic statement above the charming old town below and the mountain range in the distance. The castle has a history spanning back to the early 1200’s and now serves as a museum (entry will cost you 11€ – 2018), which also grants you access to the castle’s tower, where you can experience a glorious panoramic view of the surrounding city, valley and mountain range. There is some good news if you’re on a budget, you can enter the court yard for free of charge and even access some great view points of the city. If you have time free after exploring the castle, the gardens surrounding the castle are a delight to stroll through. There are two main ways to access the castle, you can attempt a short scenic hike (the track can be steep in a couple of sections), or alternatively take a ride on the small inclined tram, which will set you back a few Euro.
Now that you’ve that you’re practically a local, it’s time to spread your wings and discover Slovenia’s delights outside the capital city.
4. Visit the Dramatic Predjama Castle
If it is one thing that Slovenian’s know how to do well, it is their ability to build dramatic and impenetrable castles! The most impressive example of this by far is the gothic styled Predjama Castle, which is located approximately 10 kilometres North of the town of Postojna. While Eastern Europe does contain some seriously impressive castles, like the famous Bran Castle in Romania, Predjama is unique in the fact that the foundation is perched under a natural archway. Sounds impressive right? Did I mention that the archway is carved also into the rock-face of a gigantic sheer cliff, some 123 meters above the ground? The Castle primarily acts as a museum, it is worth the visit to wander through one of Slovenia’s architectural delights.
Travel Tip: While hiring a car is the most efficient way to explore Slovenia, there are buses available from Ljubljana to Postojna leaving every 30 minutes between 5:30AM to 11:00PM
5. Descend to the Depths of Postojna Cave
The natural beauty of some of Slovenia’s iconic landmarks are almost unparalleled in the region, especially with spectacles like the famous Postojna Cave. The cave, adorned with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, twists and turns through 24 kilometres of bedrock, 5 kilometres of which are open for the public to explore. If you decide to visit you will need to book a tour via the official website (which leave every 30 minutes costing about 32€). The tour sets off with you boarding a small gauged electric train that leads you through 2 kilometres of tunnels before reaching the magnificent main cabins. You will then be guided on foot through some of the most impressive areas of the cave, including one cabin that has a capacity to hold up to 10,000 people comfortably.
Travel Tip: The temperature within the cave can drop to as low as 10 degrees Celsius, so make sure you pack some warm clothing, even during summer.
6. Explore the City of Kranj, Slovenia’s Cultural Hub
The picturesque city of Kranj can easily be overlooked by it’s neighbour Ljubljana, however, Kranj is a vibrant cultural hub that is well worth a visit. Not only does the town have a charming old town, splashed in pastel colours, it is packed with restaurants, cafes and bars all offering various succulent cuisines. Our favourite restaurant is called Das Ist Valter, which serves tantalising traditional Slovenia sausage known as Sudzukice and cevapcici. Kranj is only a short distance from the international airport, so it is conveniently located for a pit stop at either the start or end of your journey. The town is also home to the serene Kokra Gorge which follows the banks of the Kokra river and kilometres of World War Two tunnels which lie underneath the city (which you can visit).
7. Take a Boat ride on the Breath-Taking Lake Bohinj (Bohinjsko Jezero)
While not as well known as the famous Lake Bled, Lake Bohinj is one of Slovenia’s most tranquil locations. The valley surrounding the lake, located within the Triglav National Park, oozes sheer natural beauty, with the lake’s turquoise waters coupled with the green canopies of the woodlands, all showcased in front of the epic Mount Vogel that lingers in the distance.
Travel Tip: If you are planning on staying in the region for at least two nights, you may be eligible for a Bohinj Mobility Card, which gives you plenty of discounts including the boat mentioned above for free – check it out here.
8. Take to the skies with a cable car up the rugged Mount Vogul in Slovenia’s Julian Alps
If you are a sucker for views, then one of the best ways to see the delights of the Triglav National Park is by conquering Mount Vogul. The mountain peaks at 1537 meters above sea level provides a panoramic view of Lake Bohinj and the surrounding Julian Alps. The best way to access to view is by cable car, which swiftly takes you up Mount Vogul (about 300 meters below the highest peak). Once at the top, there are numerous hiking trails that you can take to reach other peaks in the mountain range. If you do want to attempt a hike, make sure you are well prepared and have a posse with you. Some of the trails contain loose rocks and gravel so you should only attempt if you are in a good physical condition and have some hiking experience. The views become more spectacular the higher you go, so give it a go if you are able. If hiking isn’t your thing, the ride is still worth it for the view. As a bonus, there are plenty of friendly animals at the top of the mountain, so expect to be harassed (in a friendly way) by herds of local goats.
Travel Tip: The cable car costs around €20 for a return journey, however you can get a discount if you possess a Bohhinj Guest Card (about 20% off).
9. Hunt for Treasure behind the Peričnik Waterfall in the North of Triglav National Park
Peričnik Waterfall is king when it comes to the waterfalls in Slovenia. The waterfall decants gallons of turbulent water over the edge of a cliff face, standing roughly 52 meters above the river below. Peričnik is unique because the cliff wall behind the waterfall has eroded away due to thousands of years of gradational forces. This means that you can walk directly behind the waterfall.
The waterfall is located in the northern region of the Triglav National Park, about 5 kilometres south of the little town of Mojstrana. The best way to get to there is by driving (you will have to pay a few Euros to park at the hike entrance), however there are also public transport alternatives, but they are not as convenient. You can catch a bus from downtown bled to Mojstrana, which takes about 45 minutes, but you will then need to hike to the trail entrance (between 45 minutes to an hour depending on your pace). The train is also an alternative, but the from Bled, the train station is a little out of town, so you have to either walk a few kilometres or catch a taxi there.
We have only really scratched the surface of what Slovenia has to offer, but hopefully we have given you some insight into this little known Eastern European destination. We would love the year about your experiences of Slovenia, or if you have any questions, feel free to leave us a comment below.