On the map of Europe, Slovenia fits neatly between Austria, Italy, Croatia and Hungary – and indeed, this delightful little country is a fascinating mix of cultural influences against the backdrop of diverse natural landscapes. In Slovenia, the sophistication of Central Europe meets the raw charm of the Balkans. Slavic, Germanic, Latin and Hungarian legacies shake hands along the banks of the Sava River. And the dazzling Julian Alps rise to 2,864 metres, not too far from the country’s tiny but scenic Adriatic shoreline. In short, Slovenia is a cultural heaven as well as a natural paradise!
Starting in the European green capital, passing through an endless cave system, washing up at the Mediterranean coast and ending high above the clouds in one of the Alps’ top national parks, kashkaval tourist presents 7 things to do in lovely little Slovenia.
1. A capital to fall in love with: go for a leisurely walk in historic Ljubljana
With its 280,000 inhabitants, Ljubljana is one of Europe’s smallest capital cities – and that’s no bad thing! The city is compact, walkable, bikeable, surrounded by parks and low mountains. A stroll in Ljubljana’s car-free city centre feels like a journey back to Austro-Hungarian times. And a short walk up to the medieval Ljubljana Castle will reward you with the best city panoramas as well as views of the Kamnik–Savinja Alps in the distance.
When you’re done with checking off the main sights like the curious Dragon Bridge, the baffling Triple Bridge next to Prešeren Square and the classical Town Hall with the Robba Fountain, you can enjoy a glass of local wine on the banks of the pristine Ljubljanica River. A bike tour through the scenic Tivoli Park might well end up with… a beer tasting at the Union Brewery pub. And for nightlife enthusiasts, the semi-legal bars and clubs in the Metelkova autonomous cultural centre (or “squat” for short!) provide a refreshing Berlin vibe.
2. Slovenia’s postcard: chill by the shores of Lake Bled
Situated at the foot of the Alps in the country’s northwest, the elegant resort town of Bled lies by the shores of a gorgeous mountain lake. Surrounded by jagged Alpine peaks, thick forests and classy hotels, Lake Bled and its blue-green waters might be Slovenia’s prime tourist destination. Traditional pletna boats take visitors to the quaint little island in the middle of the lake for a pilgrimage to the Church of the Assumption of Mary. And on the other, northeastern side of the lake, the thousand-year-old Bled Castle adorns the cliffs above the town.
For the top vistas of Lake Bled including the castle and the island with the church, your best bet is a brief hike to the Osojnica hill west of the lake. And if you’re too lazy for that or think you’ve deserved a culinary reward for completing the hike, you can always end your day with a slice of Bled’s legendary cremeschnitte cake. The classic place for this is the splendid Park Café, where it has been served (with cappuccino and calming lake views on the side) since 1953.
3. Karst marvels of the subterranean world: explore the Postojna cave system
The Karst plateau in southwestern Slovenia is world-famous for its limestone landscapes and multitude of caves – and none are more renowned than the “Queen of Caves”, Postojna. The largest show cave in Europe, Postojna boasts five kilometres of chambers and passageways, all connected by an underground train. There’s huge stalactites and stalagmites, mysterious cave spaghetti, rumbling subterranean rivers and even bizarre creatures like the blind “human fish” olms (cave salamanders) to admire!
It’s a good idea to combine your visit to Postojna with a detour to the peculiar Predjama Castle, which stands in the entrance of another karst cave. However, bear in mind that at 28 €, Postojna is already a harsh destination for budget travelers. With Predjama, the package deal rises up to 38,50 € — and that doesn’t include the taxi ride between the two sights.
4. Venetian charm by the sea: feel the breeze in Koper
Koper (or Capodistria) is Slovenia’s most important Adriatic port and the unofficial capital of Slovenian Istria – its population of 25,000 still makes it a small settlement by any definition though! So rather than a busy harbour city, imagine Koper as a laid-back seaside town with a pronounced Italianate charm.
Tour the Praetorian Palace and Loggia Palace, the two impressive 15th-century Venetian Gothic residences on the central Tito Square (yes, you read that right!). Then climb hundreds of stairs up the cathedral’s campanile for some Adriatic vistas. Sit down for a glass of tannic Refosco or soft Malvasia on the charming Čevljarska (Shoemakers’) street – and continue to the palm-lined promenade for a quick dip into the Mediterranean.
5. Pearl of the Slovenian Adriatic: do a day trip to enchanting Piran
Delightful little Piran is doubtlessly the prettiest town on the Slovenian coast and a genuine rival to the more touristy Adriatic gems of Croatia or Montenegro, Dubrovnik and Kotor. Located on the tip of a spectacular peninsula, Piran boasts views of both Croatia to the south and Italy to the north. Its narrow medieval streets will invite you for a walk back to Venetian times – but save some energy for a hearty frutti di mare lunch on the seafront. You don’t want to skip on those calamari!
The elliptical Tartini Square houses the town hall and is still the hub of urban life today. Some of the Piran’s historic town walls have still been preserved and needless to say, they’re worth a visit both for the panoramas too. Oh, and don’t forget to bring a little bag of Piran salt home as a memento – it has been produced in nearby Sečovlje for 700 years, and still according to traditional methods!
6. Alpine wonderland: go hiking in Triglav National Park
The mighty Mount Triglav is Slovenia’s national symbol (it’s on the flag and coat of arms, after all) and the highest peak in Slovenia and all of former Yugoslavia. With its 2,864 metres, it’s the crown jewel of the heavenly Triglav National Park. And though an ascent of this legendary summit might not be for the faint-hearted, the lush Alpine valleys surrounding it offer basically limitless hiking opportunities.
Triglav National Park’s well-maintained network of trails and mountain huts can keep you entertained and well-fed for weeks. But even if you’ve got only a weekend to spare, a two-day hike to the Seven Triglav Lakes valley, past seemingly eternal snow fields under rugged ridges, is an incredibly rewarding trekking experience. Keep your eyes open and you might spot a deer or two – and if you’re really lucky, perhaps even the fabled chamois Goldhorn!
7. Grandiose glacial purity: be active at Lake Bohinj
You don’t need to be a hardcore hiker to be an outdoor enthusiast, of course, and Triglav National Park isn’t all about mountaineering either. At the foot of the Julian Alps, you’ll discover the crystal-clear Lake Bohinj, Slovenia’s largest glacial lake and a sheer paradise for nature lovers. The medieval church and the old bridge at Ribčev Laz provide for a memorable welcome to the Bohinj region… and you’ll be quick to notice that the kayak rental station is just next door!
Needless to say, the vastness of Lake Bohinj can be explored by boat or by bike just as well. And for some quality skiing or just high-altitude vistas , take the cable car to the Vogel ski resort above the lake. The astounding Savica Waterfall (source of the Sava River) is accessible via a free bus from Bohinj and then just a short uphill walk. Fittingly, the nearby Savica Hut serves a delicious local Carniolan sausage with žganci (buckwheat polenta), sauerkraut and pork rind on the side.