Often overlooked by travellers who flock to neighbouring Italy or Croatia, Slovenia may be one of Europe’s best kept secrets. For us, it was unexpectedly one of the most charming destinations we’ve been to. The Slovenes often joked with us that Slovenia is a “wannabe Switzerland” and they weren’t wrong; with quaint towns nestled amongst the Julian Alps, we were mesmerised by the sheer beauty of this little nation. And if that wasn’t enough, the Slovenes gave us one of the warmest welcomes that we’ve experienced in Europe. After 20+ European countries under the belts, that’s saying a lot.
Part of Slovenia’s charm is that there isn’t a huge influx of tourists, so we strongly recommend you put this little gem on your to-visit list. The country is comfortable and safe to travel around; and Ljubljana, the country’s capital, is frequently rated as one of the safest (and greenest) cities in the world.
Days 1 & 2 – Ljubljana
Slovenia’s sophisticated capital is a confection of beautiful churches, bridges, leafy squares and funky riverside cafés and restaurants. We based ourselves here for 4 days and stayed at the Grand Union Hotel. Clean, charming and comfortable, this beautiful hotel was just a stone’s throw from the Old Town. We also hired a car through Hertz (a few min walk away on Trdinova ulica 9 from the Old town) to explore this beautiful country.
On most of our trips, we usually join a free walking tour as it’s a great way to familiarise yourself with the city. But since heavy rain was forecast for our first morning, we did Ljubljanajam’s food walking tour instead. We’d never experienced Slovenian cuisine, so this gave us an intro to range of traditional, signature and seasonal dishes. On this tour, we strolled through a local market and small hole-in-the-wall places where we sampled Štruklji (traditional dish made of cottage cheese wrapped in dough), Slovenian Chilli Schnapps liqueur, traditional Cviček wine (made out of red & white grapes), Istrian pasta among many other goodies. We were also pleasantly surprised how nice Slovenian wine actually is. Check out our separate post on what our favourite places to eat and drink in Ljubljana were.
Lucky for us, the weather cleared up that afternoon. Ljubljana is a tiny city and the old town can be easily explored by foot in a day. However, we chose to join the Free Walking tour to continue exploring lovely Ljubljana. We find walking tours are a great way to familiarise ourselves with a new city. The guides are often very knowledgeable and engaging mainly because they work on a “tipping” basis, where customers pay them what they feel the tour was worth at the end. Our guide was an extremely knowledgeable (and funny!) University history lecturer, who conducted these tours on weekends and during the summer holidays. The highlights included Prešeren Square, Congress Square, Town Square, Triple Bridge, Butchers bridge, Dragons Bridge, Shoemakers bridge, Cathedral, Town Hall, National Library & much more. Through his anecdotes, we got to learn so much about Slovenian culture and way of life. The tour doesn’t go up to the Castle, so we later explored that on our own. It’s a 15-20 min walk to the Castle from the town center or the other option is to take take the funicular. Ljubljana is so adorable, that the highlight was just strolling around and taking it all in.
- Visit the Castle in the morning or during sunset for the best views of the city.
- Check out the Central Market which comes to life every morning. It’s great for sampling some of the freshest fruits, bakery products or people watching.
- If hiring from Hertz in the old town, parking is free on weekends and public holidays on Cigaletova ulic.
- We found the easiest and cheapest way to get from the airport to the old town is using an MTJ shuttle. They charge Euros 9 pp each way and are comfortable and reliable.
Day 3 – Lakes Bled & Bohinj
No visit to Slovenia is complete without a visit to Lake Bled. Less than an hour’s drive from Ljubljana, this stunning lake with its picture-postcard church on an islet was every bit as impressive as the photos. Buses are a good alternative, but we drove because of the journey’s duration (approx 1 hour 20 min) and frequency of the buses (hourly). Lake Bled is set-up well for tourists with lots of restaurants, cafes, and activities.
The highlight for us was hiking to the Mala Osojnica lookout for panoramic views of Lake Bled. There are three spots for free panoramic views of the Lake. From low to high, they are Mala Ojstrica, Mala Osojnica and Velika Ojsonica. We went so far as Mala Osojnica, which was quite a steep 20 min uphill hike, but the views were completely worth every ounce of sweat! If this climb seems too challenging, Mala Ojstrica is a good alternative. We were told that although Velika Ojsonica is the highest point among the three, the views weren’t as spectacular. After our hike, we grabbed some lunch and indulged in some well earned Bled cream cake.
Tips for Lake Bled
- Parking is difficult & traffic can be heavy, especially on a sunny day, weekend or public holiday, so get there early.
- When hiring a car, the tolls should be included in the cost of the rental. At each toll gate, slow down to the speed limit, stick to the left and pass through slowly.
- If you decide to hike to Mala Osojnica, there is free parking up the road up at Pension Bomi
- When starting the hike, look for the wooden sign board with “Number 6” path and head uphill. The trail isn’t well marked so keep a lookout for signs and keep checking in with other hikers along the way.
- The trail is steep in many parts so we strongly recommend good, sturdy walking shoes or boots.
- Entry to the castle is expensive, but it’s free if you eat at the restaurant. Make reservations in advance.
- Hire a little pletna boat (Euros 15 per hour) and row yourself across the river to the Church. They can be hired from a couple of points around the Lake (e.g. Hotel Toplice), but must be returned to the place you hired it from.
- And be sure to try a slice of the Bled cream cake!
Once we had our fill of Lake Bled, we drove another 30 min south to Lake Bohinj. Surrounded by the Alps, this lake was picturesque in its own right and is well worth a visit if time permits. It’s not as developed in terms of the number of restaurants and shops, but that only adds to its charm. A great spot for a coffee or a picnic lunch.
Tip: for best views, head to Vogel Ski Centre which is a further 5 km from the lake.
Day 4 – Predjama Castle & Piran
When you travel throughout Europe, it’s easy to get “Castle fatigue” so we were initially a little reluctant to visit this castle. But boy, we were we glad we did! Built inside a towering cliff, this was one of the most dramatic castles we’ve seen. Also less than an hour’s drive from Ljubljana, this is an ideal spot for morning tea, lunch or a picnic (with a magnificent view). Based on some of the TripAdvisor reviews, we chose not to go inside the Castle.
Most people combine a visit to Predjama Castle with a trip to Postjana caves, only 9 km away. Having visited numerous caves around the world, we opted to visit the quaint little seaside town of Piran instead, which was another hour further South. Piran reminded us of a smaller version of Dubrovnik. The highlights of Piran for us were Tartini Square, Piran Walls & Church of St George, which we leisurely explored after lunch at one of the seaside restaurants. Piran is a small town and can easily be explored in a day.
Tips for Piran
- There is no parking in Piran itself. You have to park at Fornace carpark and either take the shuttle or walk down to the town. The walk is a very pleasant 15 minute stroll along the sea.
- End the day with a nice gelato at one of the many cafes.
Have you been to Slovenia? Leave us a comment as we’d love to hear the highlights of your trip.