Though growing in popularity, Slovenia is an underrated gem, offering a rich variety of activities and stunning landscape!
Whilst touring two summers ago, my travel companion and I spent an enjoyable weekend in Ljubljana (Luub-lee-ah-na), before gracing Lake Bled with our presence, first detouring through Skofja Loka and Kranj.
This stunning country is remarkably welcoming, and very accessible. Slovenia is mountainous, reflected in the terrain of its cities, but exploring was never too challenging. A rich historical tapestry is woven into the architecture of Ljubljana, whilst Lake Bled is both beautiful, and entirely unique. For these two alone, Slovenia is wholly worth visiting!
A fascinating and friendly city. One of Europe’s least populated capitals, Ljubljana hosts an interesting mixture of different cultures and people, whilst being brilliantly connected with other, nearby attractions. The city centre sports wide, green streets, spacious parks, and, in regular times, a bustling hub of restaurants and nightlife situated alongside the River Ljubljanica, all in the shadow of a mighty castle. For the environmentally conscious, Ljubljana was voted the European Commission’s Green Capital of Europe in 2016.
Getting around Ljubljana
Barely twenty minutes from the airport, the city is easily reached by either bus, or the consistent taxi numbers perched outside the arrivals gate. Alternatively, private cars can be hired.
The city centre is, however, designed to prohibit vehicular traffic, though the roads feeding the outskirts can be busy. Pedestrians should note that ‘jaywalking’ (crossing outside of designated zones) is punishable by fines.
When exploring the central sites, this leaves them quieter, less congested, and more pleasant, with strolling being the most effective mode of transport.
Recognising the needs of those with limited mobility, a network of green (coloured) electric cabs provide free, private transport around the city centre.
Activities in Ljubljana
As might be expected, Slovenia’s capital is an organic, historical being. I would highly advise exploring this wealthy past. The Ljubljana Free Tour host free walking tours through the beating heart, which we capitalised upon. Engaging interactively with the city’s past thoroughly enriched my understanding of the streets.
Often described as the City of Dragons, ancient legend details Jason, hero of Greek mythology, encountering a dragon lurking close to the source of the Ljubljanica, and subsequently slaying it. Now the symbol of Slovenia’s capital, dragons can be found in various guises across the city, including intricate statues on the Dragon Bridge.
Another dragon also resides inside the rooms of Ljubljana Castle. Originally built as an defensive fortress in the 11th Century, it has since been repurposed as a major cultural venue. Requiring an uphill climb, it can be accessed on foot in under twenty minutes from the city centre, and affords sweeping views across the rooftops.
One main highlight of our walking tour included visiting Ljubljana Cathedral, officially known as St. Nicholas’s Church. Belonging to the Roman Catholic denomination, a Baroque exterior was redesigned in the early 18th Century, though the site was first occupied in 1262. The impressive bronze doors are complete with carvings of significant historical events.
Other walks can also be enjoyed through the numerous, large parks within Ljubljana. Šmartinska park is very pleasant, whilst Tivoli Park is spacious, and features several internal gardens alongside hosting over 500 animals in Ljubljana Zoo.
The city centre regularly exhibits a local market, should you wish to practise any Slovenian. Interestingly, various ‘Mlekomats’ are also dotted about this square. Otherwise known as ‘milk vending machines’ they are exactly that!
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Many of the remaining food and drink options cluster close to the banks of the Ljubljanica. Our experience with the various restaurants and bars was largely impeccable, with organically-produced ice cream a particular treat.
My only negative experience was in the Stara Macka steakhouse – despite making a reservation, we were seated outside, with scarcely enough lighting to read the menus without a torch, and informed the only item they had left was deer venison. Any families should also be warned about the prominent ‘adult shop’ directly across the road.
Skofja Loka and Kranj
Ljubljana is also well-positioned in relation to several day trips that can be enjoyed. In under an hour’s drive to the south, both the Postojna and Skocjan cave systems can be reached, themselves separated by roughly ten minutes. Though they represent one of the country’s more thrilling attractions, with Predjama Castle also built into the cliff face near Postojna, we were sadly unable to visit owing to time restraints.
Heading north from Ljubljana, one can alternatively reach the quaint town of Skofja Loka. Were I planning another trip to Slovenia, I would definitely spend more than the few hours I ultimately did. It’s a wonderfully historic town, with each attraction connected by winding, cobbled roads easily traversed on foot.
The Church of St. Cross, mounted on Hribec hill, is definitely worth the spectacular views sweeping across the town. In wandering the surrounding hills, we also encountered wild boars, and witnessed juvenile eagles refining their dive-bombing technique.
This particular excursion brought us back towards the central square, wonderfully charming in itself, across the notorious Devil’s Footbridge. With so much left to explore, I’d recommend this guide in providing a greater appreciation for the wealth of interesting attractions in Skofja Loka.
Unfortunately, having planned an itinerary around our arrival in Lake Bled, we were compelled to keep going, detouring once more in Kranj. Honestly, I’d probably skip this step in future. Though another charming Medieval town with undeniable appeal, we were simply exhausted. Travelling by bus, there was no available storage facility, leaving me carrying all of our luggage across frequently steep terrain, which was fun.
Especially for a twelve-mile round trip.
Lake Bled is remarkable, both for being spectacularly gorgeous, and the tear-shaped island housing a monastery. Since motorboats have been banned, the water is perfectly clear and unpolluted, voyaged solely by human-powered crafts. Still relatively undeveloped, the surrounding hills are laden with trees, and melt into snow-topped mountains.
Activities in Lake Bled
The serenity of Bled is well-suited to facilitating relaxing. Several beaches caressed by the rippling waves encourage bathing on warm days, connected to designated wading zones. The entire diameter of Lake Bled is 6km, making for a highly-recommendable stroll, with numerous scenic viewpoints to gaze across the water.
The Mala Osojnica trail is more challenging, consisting of a steep ascent into the surrounding hills, invariably accompanied by a rope handrail, and ending with a long, metal staircase. Taking between thirty minutes and an hour, it requires some exertion, but rewards utterly unmissable views!
Extreme water sports might be absent, though it is entirely possible to be active on the lake itself. At multiple sites, row boats, kayaks, or stand-up paddleboards can be hired, permitting you to travel even to the monastery. Strong swimmers can also attempt this, which is a shorter journey if departing from the west bank.
Assuming you’re not wet, it’s very possible to enter the monastery, once occupied by monks residing entirely upon the small island. ‘Pletna’ boats will also frequently commute to and from the island, at a small cost, with larger groups, should you desire this option. Additionally, in colder winters, the lake’s surface freezes, on rare occasions enabling visitors to walk across!
Likely once a pagan temple, the now-Catholic church houses a wishing bell inside, which has existed since the 16th Century.
In summer, Straza Bled is opened as a toboggan track, which combines a pretty chairlift ride to the top, and some good fun in getting down considerably faster. In other walks, you can visit Lake Bled Castle, positioned high above the water.
From Lake Bled, daytrips excursions can also be conducted into the surrounding areas. Vintgar Gorge is one such attractive, and just a brisk hour’s walk away. A wooden gangplank stretching over a kilometre and a half plunges alongside the natural rock walls to descend 250m, all the way accompanied by roaring water.
Lake Bohinge is also within reach through a convenient bus journey. Though lacking a central island monastery, it’s superior in sheer size, and is guarded by a statue of Goldenhorn. From popular folklore, he was an invulnerable goat, partly responsible for protecting nearby farmers and mountaineers, his powers of rejuvenation gifted by magical, kind-hearted maidens inhabiting the Julian Alps. Sadly, an unsuccessful hunter once so-enraged Goldenhorn in his attempt, the goat destroyed the meadow in a rage.
On final reflection, Slovenia is a gorgeous country, possessing an intriguing history, with plenty to explore. In my brief tour, I was lucky enough to experience a glimpse of what it had to offer. Lake Bled is one of the most attractive locations I’ve visited, and a brilliant place to stay.
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