For some, Slovenia is just a tiny plot of land between Italy and Croatia. But for others who take the time to explore it fully, Slovenia is a vast country full of unique and beautiful things to do. Formed in 1991 as part of former Yugoslavia, Slovenia is a perfect adventure lover’s destination that many people don’t even realize is right there in Europe!
For its small size, Slovenia really does have it all: stunning coastlines, jagged mountaintops, placid lakes, ancient caves, turquoise rivers, lush forests, and more. In fact, forests cover around two-thirds of the entire country, and it’s one of the top three most forested countries in Europe. There are also over 10,000 named caves in Slovenia. Slovenia is arguably just as beautiful as some of the well-known areas of Austria, Northern Italy, and Switzerland, but traveling there comes at a fraction of the price.
So, I decided on a whim in 2017 to go for a visit, and I was floored by Slovenia’s exceptional beauty and kind locals. So floored, in fact, that I recently went back for round two. In this post, I’ll cover some of the reasons why Slovenia is a fantastic adventure destination, travel tips to plan your visit, and 5 amazing places to see while you’re there.
Why Go to Slovenia?
Admittedly, I visited Slovenia for the first time because I found a cheap flight from the United States to the capital city, Ljubljana. I had no idea what to expect (or what to do) when I arrived. Before purchasing the flight, I scoured the Internet for information. A little bit of research brought me to photos of some of the main historic landmarks and medieval castles in Slovenia, as well as a few images of landscapes that looked stunningly beautiful. Kind of like this:
Needless to say, I was sold.
In the weeks leading up to my trip, I continued to try and find out more about this tiny country that I’d really never heard anything about. It turns out that the history and culture of Slovenia are just as rich as the photographs I saw of the architecture and landscape. They have a deep winemaking tradition that’s so important to Slovenians that 94% of their annual wine production is served inside the country. Legends and fairy tales involving dragons are pervasive throughout the country, with each tiny province holding its own superstitions and stories, passed down from generation to generation.
But perhaps the most compelling reason why I knew I needed to book my flight booking and take my subsequent trip to Slovenia was the landscapes. For such a small place, Slovenia is packed with hidden gems and visual treasures, if you take the time to look for them. With hundreds of kilometers of hiking trails, rivers to raft and pathways to bike, it’s an adventure lover’s paradise, and one I felt was worthy of exploring more than once.
Slovenia Travel Tips
When to Visit Slovenia
Slovenia is a year-round destination, with most attractions open year-round. However, like most places in Europe, the majority of tourists head to Slovenia during the warm summer months.
With that said, I went once in the spring (early May) and once in the fall (mid-October), and those months were the perfect times to travel there. The tourist crowds were slightly smaller, the weather was crisp, and, in the fall, the leaves were all different colors and shades of red, orange, and yellow.
How to Get In and Around Slovenia
Getting into Slovenia is pretty straightforward: You can fly into Ljubljana (LJU) or take a bus/train in from most major nearby cities. Ljubljana is just 2.5 hours from Venice, 2 hours from Austria (Graz), and 2 hours from Zagreb.
To get from place to place in Slovenia, there’s no better way to travel than by renting a car at the airport and embarking on a Slovenian road trip. I rented a car both times I visited Slovenia and didn’t regret it, as most of the main things to do in nature aren’t really accessible except by private vehicle, or on a day tour from Ljubljana. Most attractions within Slovenia are less than one hour from each other (it’s a small country), and the roads are in very good condition.
Top 5 Outdoor Attractions in Slovenia
1. Lake Bled
Some may disagree, but I would argue that Lake Bled should be the first stop on any Slovenian itinerary. Despite being the #1 tourist area (aside from Ljubljana) in the country, Lake Bled is quite possibly one of the most beautiful places in all of Europe (and maybe the world). It’s located on the edge of Slovenia’s only national park: Triglav National Park.
You may have seen photos of Lake Bled floating around the internet: It’s a small lake surrounded by the Julian Alps, with a small island housing a charming church steeple in the middle. Next to the lake is an old castle sitting atop a steep cliff, and a small town with hotels, restaurants, and shops below.
Located just 45 minutes from downtown Ljubljana, you can definitely visit Bled on a day trip, but I’d recommend spending a couple days there to truly enjoy it. While most tourists typically limit themselves to the lake’s perimeter path and the boat rentals on the lake that lead up to the church, there are so many more things to do in Bled. A few of the activities I’d recommend escaping the main tourist areas include:
- Driving to the nearby Vintgar Gorge, where you can see beautiful, turquoise water pools surrounded by stark rock formations.
- Hiking to Ojstrica and Osojnica viewpoints, which offer two picture perfect views of Lake Bled from almost a bird’s eye view.
- Exploring some of the nearby villages, which are mostly inhabited by local farmers.
As you can see, there are tons of attractions in and around Bled that will surprise and delight any kind of traveler.
2. The Istrian Coast
Down on the southernmost tip of Slovenia lies just 43 kilometers of coastline. But within those 43 kilometers are many of the country’s most gorgeous nature reserves and viewpoints. Home to charming small towns like Portoroz, Izola, and Piran, the majority of Slovenia’s coast is connected by small roads and walking trails that visitors can enjoy. Unlike some other areas of the Istrian coast, Slovenia’s beaches are lined with rocks.
One of the most beautiful areas to explore on the coast is the Strunjan Nature Reserve. Home to one of the many coastal salt pans that produce the region’s famed salt, there are also several hiking paths along the coast that pass through craggy cliffs, farms, fields, and forests. The Moon Bay is, in my opinion, the most stunning view in the entire area, where visitors can look through the trees and gaze down to the sparkling, deep blue waters of the Mediterranean surrounded by stark rock cliffs.
Also near the coast is one of the most impressive cave systems in the country, Skocjan, which is one of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Slovenia. You can easily book a day tour from Ljubljana, or again, rent a car for the most flexibility.
3. Lake Bohinj
Lake Bohinj is another lake in the Triglav National Park area, but it is actually quite different from visiting Lake Bled. Instead of tons of built up hotels, shopping areas, and tourist areas, Bohinj captures the tranquility and silence of a national park. While the lake can get crowded during peak season, outdoor-seeking visitors will love the large size of the lake and lack of commercial operations within the area. Here, you can hike, swim, ride a boat, or simply relax on the shore with the waterfowl that inhabit the region.
While at Bohinj, opt for an electric boat tour of the area, which will bring you from the main parking lot all the way to the other side of the lake. Aboard this eco-friendly vessel, a local guide tells about the history of Bohinj and many of the legends that surround it.
Located just off the main Bohinj stretch is one of Slovenia’s most beautiful waterfalls: Slap Savica. After a short hike, a magnificent cascade plummets from a high cliff down into a series of beautiful, emerald pools below. On top of a gorgeous waterfall spectacle, the hike also offers stunning views of the valleys of Triglav National Park.
4. Kranjska Gora
If you’re a true mountain lover, you MUST visit Kranjska Gora. Located near the Austrian border in the Triglav National Park area, it’s one of the most visually stunning regions in the entire country. Every turn brings you to incredible, breathtaking views of the surrounding villages and mountain ridges.
Near Kranjska Gora, you can visit the Zelenci Spring, a pristine alpine spring that boasts stunning blue waters and lush forestry. You can also hike one of the many trails near Gozd Martuljek, which boast stunning views of Mount Triglav, the highest mountain in Slovenia and the namesake of its only national park.
One of the most popular skiing areas in the country, Kranjska Gora is the perfect place for adventure travelers to base themselves for a few days. The town of Kranjska Gora has typical tourist amenities: restaurants, shops, and hotels and is surrounded by the beautiful peaks of the Julian Alps.
5. Predjama Castle & Postojna Cave
One of my favorite destinations in Slovenia and one of the most unique places in the world is the Predjama Castle and Postojna Cave region. Situated south of Ljubljana, it’s the perfect day trip from the city to experience some of the country’s most perplexing cave systems.
While not a natural attraction in itself, Predjama Castle has earned a place on its list because it is one of the world’s most unique castles: the construction and architecture are fully integrated with a limestone karst cave system inside of a large cliff. Upon arriving at the castle, it’s hard to tell where the walls and foundation end and the rocks begin. A visit inside the castle proves to be even more fascinating, as the hallways lead straight into hidden rock chambers and escape tunnels through dark caves.
Nearby Postojna Cave is also well worth a visit on any trip to Slovenia. Visitors can take tours through this massive underground cave system, which is beautifully lit throughout its opening hours. There’s even an underground train you can take to several areas of the park. You even have a chance of seeing the Slovenian ?loveška ribica, also known as the “baby dragon” or “human fish,” a special, blind species of salamander that only inhabits Slovenia’s cave systems.
Recommended Resources And Readings:
Best Books About Slovenia:
- Rick Steves Croatia & Slovenia: Rick Steves’ guides to Europe really beat out most of the others on the market with their mix of history and customized routes and tidbits of insight. That said, if you are truly only going to Slovenia, and not Croatia as well, then the recent Lonely Planet Slovenia is a great choice.
- Eastern Europe!: Everything You Need to Know About the History (and More) of a Region that Shaped Our World and Still Does: This is a fun read, particularly if you will be in the region for a while and you’re interested in how history has shaped everything from the culture to the food you see today.
- Slovenia 1945: Memories of Death and Survival After World War II: Quickly get up to speed on everything you need to know about this small European country.
Plan a Trip to Slovenia:
Where to Stay in Ljubljana: We’re partial to Hotel Florjan?kov Hram on a mid-range budget, the Urban Hotel for a bit of a splurge, and Hotel Meksiko offers a fantastic ratio of amenities-to-price for those on a budget.
Navigate the Country: Being a small but mountainous country, your best bet is to either rent a car for excursions, or join one of the many a fantastic full- and half-day tours that leave Ljubljana and easily visit every corner of the country.
By Kay Rodriguez
Kay Rodriguez is the blogger and photographer behind Jetfarer. You can also find her on Instagram and Facebook. When she’s not traveling, you can find her avidly reading or searching a city for the best chai latte.