18 Sep How to plan the perfect trip to Slovenia
Despite its petite size, Slovenia is home to an abundance of interesting places to visit, things to do and extraordinary adventures to be had. Find out how to plan the perfect itinerary to explore this majestic little country, that I think you’re going to fall in love with.
Slovenia is a real joy. Sandwiched between the Alps and the Mediterranean, it’s everything that’s wonderful about Europe rolled up into one small, friendly and inviting country. With soaring peaks in the Julian Alps no distance from lush green valleys and lakes, you’d be mistaken for thinking this is a destination just for the serious outdoor enthusiast. But I’m happy to report that you can also find cosmopolitan, and rather beautiful cities just a stone’s throw away – and that’s before you even reach the coast.
As you might be able to tell, I’m still a little spell-bound by the place.
We spent twelve days in Slovenia this summer, and loved it. Whilst I’ve already talked about each of our stops in more detailed posts, today I want to share;
- How we planned our trip – specifically how we divided our time to allow us to explore lots of this little country
- Suggestions for planning your own itinerary based on our own experiences – what I would do with more or less time here
There’s plenty you could pack into just a few days here if you’d prefer a shorter break. And if you’ve more time to travel, there are endless possibilities.
And before you ask, why twelve days?
Well firstly, this was when we could get flights for the right price (every traveller’s honest answer!). But a little research also told us there was more than enough to keep us busy for this whole time. Which turned out very much to be true. Honestly, I could have stayed longer.
Getting here and getting around
Let’s begin at the beginning.
Arriving in Slovenia
The easiest way to get to Slovenia is to fly into Ljubljana airport. Less than a half hour bus ride or taxi from the centre of the capital, it’s well served by airlines from across Europe. Easyjet and Adria Airways (the Slovenian national flag carrier) are the two major airlines operating in and out of here.
If you’re keen to drive here, you’ll find that there are good connections to the Austrian and Italian motorway networks if you’re coming from the north or west. And once you’re here, Slovenian motorways are free to use and well-signposted to get you on your way.
Travelling around Slovenia
It might be tempting to hire a car if you’re flying into Ljubljana and planning to explore. By all means choose this option if you want to get really off-piste, but I was really pleasantly surprised by the public transport network here. We travelled exclusively by bus and found it was a comfortable, quick and very affordable option. It was also always on time – or slightly alarmingly, often a minute or two early (not something I’m used to the UK!). Most major routes out of Ljubljana are operated by Alpetours.
And if buses aren’t convenient at the time of day or year that you’re travelling, there are professional shuttle services linking the airport with Ljubljana and Maribor, as well as many of the lake and mountain resorts. Although considerably more expensive than buses, they seemed much more affordable than similar services I’ve seen in the French and Italian Alps, and can be booked in advance for a fixed charge.
There’s also a comprehensive rail network. Although services aren’t as frequent as buses, it’s the quickest way to get to the coast and most cities east of Ljubljana – as well as Croatia.
Planning your itinerary
To help you plan your stay, I’m going to share more about the three locations we based ourselves in;
- Ljubljana – the capital city of Slovenia
- Lake Bled – about 45 minutes north of Ljubljana, in the foothills of the Julian Alps
- Lake Bohinj – another 30 minutes or so north-west of Bled, on the edge of Triglav National Park in the Alps
I’ll let you know how long we stayed for, how long I’d recommend that you allow and I’ll give you a few reasons why you should make a stop here.
I’m also going to share a few pointers for other places in Slovenia that are well-recommended, and that I would liked to have visited if we’d had more time. Let’s get started.
Part 1: Ljubljana
Exploring Slovenia’s capital city
We did: Two and a half days, three nights.
I’d recommend: At least two full days. A great city break destination.
Why you need to visit Ljubljana: Fantastic architecture, fresh food and and laid-back atmosphere that makes Ljubljana standard out from other European capitals.
Unmissable things to do: Drinks and dinner by the river in the old town, explore Tivoli park, get lost on castle hill.
If you’re wondering about the odd amount of time we spent here, let me explain. Our flights arrived late in the evening on our first day, so we headed straight to our hostel for an early night ready to explore the next day. We then spent two full days in the city, and the half day on last day – as we travelled on to Bled at noon.
I’d recommend spending at least two days in Ljubljana. It might not be a large city, but it more than punches above its weight and there is a lot to see and do here. Ljubljana is perfect for anyone with an enthusiasm for architecture, who enjoys a lazy cup of coffee or a cold beer on a cafe terrace and who loves exploring on foot. Eating and drinking out is very reasonable, and we didn’t once feel a need to hop on public transport to get to our next location. It’s a great choice for anyone who finds very large cities intimidating, or wants to comfortably feel like they’ve explored a good chunk of the city in a few days.
If you want to plan the perfect city break in Slovenia, consider making Ljubljana your base and heading to Lake Bled, Lake Bohinj or Piran for a day out. This would work brilliantly as a full day’s adventure during a three or four night stay.
For more about Slovenian capital, you can read my full guide to what to see, do and eat in Ljubljana here.
Part 2: Lake Bled
Slovenia’s most iconic destination
We did: Three days, three nights.
I’d recommend: Three days is long enough to get off the beaten path and really get to know the area. You can get a good feel for Lake Bled in a day, making it a great day trip from Ljubljana if your time is limited. Equally it could be a base for a longer stay if you’re happy to take trips out to other locations.
Why you need to visit Lake Bled: It’s outrageously beautiful, and perfect for active folks.
Unmissable things to do: Check out the views from Mala Osojnica, explore Vintgar Gorge.
Lake Bled is picture-postcard perfect. Probably Slovenia’s best-known destination, it’s been attracting tourists for decades and it’s easy to see why.
We knew we wanted to stay here long enough to get to know the area – I didn’t want to regret staying for too short a time. Three days was enough to get to know the lake and town, as well as explore the villages to the north and south. These don’t get many column-inches in travel guides but deserve more recognition. We felt like we’d had the chance to explore but also had time to wind down and enjoy some beach time.
Want to know more about what we got up to? You can read all about it in my guide to Lake Bled.
The town of Bled itself isn’t wildly exciting. It’s very hotel-centric, but think of it as a gateway to this region. Make the most of enjoying the lakeside, and escape the crowds in the overwhelming charming villages nearby. They’re just a brisk walk or a quick cycle ride away, and add a totally different dimension to your experience. It’s the perfect summer destination, with lively lakeside beaches circling the lake and a family-friendly crowd.
And with views of the mountains, it’s not hard to be lured towards another mountain destination – Lake Bohinj.
Part 3: Lake Bohinj
Wild beauty on the edge of the Julian Alps
We did: Five days, five nights
I’d recommend: A week, or as many days as you can manage.
Why you need to visit Lake Bohinj: It’s the Alps, but without the hefty price tag. An outdoor adventurer’s dream.
Unmissable things to do: Discover stunning waterfalls, take a dip in the lake, head to Vogel ski station, climb a mountain or two.
Ask me a year ago, and I wouldn’t have been able to name Lake Bohinj. And I certainly couldn’t pronounce it. We had to turn to YouTube for help with that (it’s something along the lines of Bok-Hinge – but fortunately the locals are very forgiving).
But this alpine delight has been on the radar of those in the know for years. Only they’ve mostly managed to keep it a secret.
And yes, there are more people are heading today than there were ten years ago. But the real joy of Lake Bohinj is how easy it is to escape the crowds and uncover the raw beauty of this region. It’s everything you’d want from an Alpine summer break but for a fraction of the price. And if I’m honest, without some of the trappings that tarnish some of the more developed resorts in France and Italy. You won’t find big hotels, private beaches or endless coach tours here. You’ll just find happy crowds of people on foot and two wheels, heading up high in the mountains to explore. Or finding their own perfect beach spot.
I’d recommend spending more time here than Bled simply because there is much more to do. It’s more than a little irresistible to anyone who loves being active and outdoors. And whilst you might have to build-your-own holiday a little more to get here and find accommodation, you’ll be rewarded with an abundance of experiences and landscapes.
Find out what we got up to – and my recommendations for quick, half day and full day adventures – in Bohinj in Pristine peaks and glittering falls: An active guide to exploring Lake Bohinj, Slovenia
Bonus points: Other spots worth including
I can’t resist including a few other honourable mentions. There is much, much more to Slovenia than three destinations – although they’ll certainly give you a feel for the place.
This beautiful town is just a few miles from Ljubljana airport (although you wouldn’t know it), so it’s easy to weave into your travel plans. We made a lunch stop before heading to the airport on our way home, and were glad we made time for it. Although it’s Slovenia’s third largest city, it’s really rather petite and an hour is more than enough time to explore the old town. But take a little while longer and enjoy a coffee on a shady terrace, or a lovely local lunch, and you’ll realise it’s quite a charmer – in spite of its modest size.
If I’d had even a day more, I would have headed south to the coast and soaked up the laid-back atmosphere of this beautiful looking seaside town. Although I didn’t make it there myself, it looks right up my street. Charming Venetian-style architecture, the Adriatic sea, fresh seafood. Perfect.
Thirdly, if Ljubljana whet you appetite for Slovenian cities, I have it on good authority that Maribor is well-worth a visit. A prestigious University town, it’s also got a fearsome reputation for food and drink – in particular for the local white wines.
Last but by no means least. Kranjska Gora is Slovenia’s biggest ski resort and about half an hour north of Lake Bohinj (although the formidable Mount Triglav stands between them). It’s got good form from a winter sports perspective as it’s now a regular on the Ski World Cup series, and I certainly wouldn’t rule out a trip here for my annual dose of snow. But it also looks stunning in the summer months, and given how gorgeous and activity packed Lake Bohinj is, I’m optimistic there’s just as much to explore here.
Slovenia: A summary
There’s such a lot that you can pack into a visit to Slovenia. You could argue that Ljubljana, Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj only just scrape the surface – which is true. And that they’re only a very small part of a wonderfully diverse country – also true.
But I think each has something special to bring the table. Ljubljana reflects this country’s history, culture and heritage all whilst managing to feel as young and vibrant as any capital I’ve visited in Europe. Lake Bled is Slovenia’s icon, a place that personifies its natural beauty and its lush green landscapes. And Lake Bohinj is the gateway to the Julian Alps and the Triglav National Park – places that Slovenians are so rightly proud of.
Whilst they’re not far apart, they represent three very different sides to the country. And what a bloomin’ lovely country it is.