10 best places to visit in Slovenia
by Graeme Chuter / 15th October 2020 / reading time 10 minutes
From the Julian Alps to the Adriatic Sea, and from underground natural wonders to the most attractive cities and towns, here is my personal selection of the “10 best” places to visit in Slovenia.
For each location, I would like to offer you some brief background information, a few details about what you can see and do, plus some useful tips and recommendations.
Ptuj is reputed to be Slovenia’s oldest town, dating back to Roman times and first documented in the year AD69, when the region was part of the so-called Pannonion Province. Today Ptuj is a relatively small market town built on the banks of the River Drava. The oldest part of the town features several attractive cobbled streets and buildings which date back to the Habsburg period and beyond. Ptuj Castle was constructed in the middle of the 12th century when the area was controlled by the Archdiocese of Salzburg. In my opinion, a couple of hours should be enough time to explore the old town and to take a walk up to the castle – unless you are a castle or museum fanatic – in which case an additional hour might be beneficial. There are a few café bars and a couple of reasonable restaurants if you would like to have morning coffee or lunch here. For more information visit the Ptuj tourist information website.
The Lipica estate is the original home of the stud farm for the Lipizzaner breed of horses, renowned for their immaculate dressage shows at The Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Founded in 1580, during the time of Habsburg rule across the region, a collection of six stallions and twenty-four mares was brought to the estate from Spain. And the rest is history as they say. During the course of four centuries, the Lipica Estate has endured numerous wars and different regimes, ruled by the Habsburgs, Napolean, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Italy, Yugoslavia and now Slovenia. Despite these disruptions, the estate which spreads across three hundred acres of partially wooded pastures, has maintained its position as a leading breeding organisation, holding the original studbooks of the Lipizzaner breed.
For today’s visitors, there are plenty of attractions on offer, including private horse riding, horse-drawn carriage rides, shared group tours of the main stud facilities, a museum, and occasional dressage shows in the presentation hall. The most popular combination is a one hour guided tour followed by a thirty-minute presentation show, but this is available only three days per week during the busiest months of the summer season. Therefore it is advisable to check the Lipica website in advance of your visit.
8) Lake Bohinj
Lake Bohinj is Slovenia’s largest glacial lake, located inside the boundary of the Triglav National Park, and just half an hour’s drive from its more famous neighbour Lake Bled. Nature lovers are likely to be of the opinion that Lake Bohinj is more beautiful, peaceful and unspoilt. The lake is approximately 12 km in circumference and if you don’t fancy walking all the way around, there is a pleasure boat running from one end of the lake to the other during the summer months. At the southern end of the lake there are two further attractions – the cable car up to Mt.Vogel and the Savica waterfall – popular with keen walkers and also for those wanting to enjoy the mountain views without too much exertion.
Directly adjacent to the lake at the northern end is the village of Ribčev Laz, which has several café bars, restaurants, hotels and shops, yet is not over commercialised. The charming little 12th century church of St John the Baptist is certainly well worth a visit, with some of the oldest original frescoes in Slovenia. It is a good idea to check the local tourist information office website for up to date opening times and other details.
7) Soča Valley
The Soča Valley, also known as “the Valley of the Emerald River”, is located on the extreme western side of Slovenia, running north to south and adjacent to the border with Italy. Taking the road from Bovec in the north towards Nova Gorica in the south, there are numerous beauty spots to explore on foot. My personal favourites include the hike up to the viewing point at the Boka waterfall (the tallest waterfall in Slovenia), the walk from the Napolean’s Bridge to the Kozjak waterfall, the town of Kobarid and its superb First World War museum, and the town of Kanal ob Soči. The turquoise waters of the River Soča are a sight to behold and a photographer’s paradise. It is hard to believe that this peaceful and tranquil valley was once the setting of many bloody battles during the First World War, which were the inspiration behind Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”. Nowadays the only shrieks one is likely to hear by the riverside are from adrenaline rush seeking kayakers and white water rafters. For further details, you can visit the website of the tourist information office for the Soča Valley.
6) Julian Alps
The Julian Alps are located in the north-west of Slovenia, bordering with Italy to the west and Austria to the north. For keen mountain walkers and climbers, there are countless opportunities for pursuing these activities. The region is easily explored by road and there are several routes that can be taken to enjoy the spectacular alpine views and to take photographs.
My recommendation for spending a day in the mountains would be taking the circular route which starts and finishes at the village of Kranjska Gora, going clockwise over the Vršič pass to Bovec, and returning using the Predel pass which crosses the border into Italy before heading back into Slovenia at the village of Rateče. The mountain roads on this route have plenty of lay-bys for stopping to admire the views and to take photographs. I would particularly recommend making stops at the Jasna Lakes, the Russian Chapel (Ruska Kapelica), the top of the Vršič pass, Bovec, the Predel Pass, Predel Lake (Lago di Predil) and Planica – the ski-jumping centre near Rateče. For more information about the region and related activities, you can visit the Julian Alps tourist information website.
5) Predjama Castle
Predjama Castle is one of the most enchanting castles you are ever likely to visit, built in front of a cave on a sheer rock face. The original castle dates back to the 13th century but the outer construction which can be seen today was completed in the early 17th century, following a turbulent period in the castle’s history and a devastating earthquake. The most renowned stories about the castle go back to the 15th century when the Knight Erasmus, known to be somewhat of a rogue and a thorn in the side of the Habsburg elite, was besieged in the castle for over year. I won’t tell you the full story now, which is quite amusing and perhaps better left until you are actually here. Tours around the castle are self-guided using an audio player and tend to be combined with a visit to the nearby Postojna Caves, just ten minutes’ drive away.
4) Postojna Caves
The Postojna Caves are Slovenia’s biggest visitor attraction and well worth a visit in my opinion. Yes, the caves can get very busy in the peak season and it can feel rather commercialised. But the tours are very well managed, the organisation is slick and there remains a very impressive wow factor when you get inside. An open-air train ride takes visitors through the outer caverns and into the first of a sequence of large galleries which are explored on foot with a local guide. The guided walk takes around 45 minutes and is quite easy, requiring just a reasonable level of fitness and walking ability. Comfortable footwear such as trainers or gym shoes are advised, and be sure to take something warm to wear inside the caves where the temperature is a constant 8 degrees celsius. For more information about visiting the caves and ticket prices, visit the official website of the Postojna Caves.
Built on a small peninsula, Piran is undoubtedly the prettiest town on Slovenia’s Adriatic coast. Built in a classic Venetian style, the town features several attractive squares – most notably Tartini Square, the largest and grandest, – a labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets, a cute harbour, and a stylish promenade that follows the curve of the peninsula and provides stunning views across the sea towards Croatia and Italy. On a clear day it is also possible to see the snow-capped mountain peaks of the Julian Alps and the Italian Dolomites rising in the distance. If you are visiting Piran as part of a day trip, I would say that two or three hours is adequate time to take a gentle stroll around the town and to see the main highlights.
For the more enthusiastic and energetic walkers, there are footpaths with plenty of steps that lead the way up to St George’s church (Sveti Jurija) and to the old town walls. The panoramic views over the rooftops and across the Bay of Piran are stunning. If you would like to make time for lunch, dinner or refreshments there are plentiful café bars and restaurants. The local specialities include fish, other seafood, local cheeses and cold cuts. It is perhaps also worth noting that the ice cream is pretty scrummy too! Here is a link to the tourist information office for Piran and neighbouring Portorož.
Ljubljana is still perhaps one of Europe’s lesser-known capitals, but the awareness of its charm and friendliness has undoubtedly been gaining momentum over recent years. When I first arrived in Slovenia back in 2002, for me Ljubljana felt like a pleasant and welcoming city, if perhaps a little bit sleepy and rather bland. But even in those days one could feel that the city centre was oozing with potential, and almost twenty years later Ljubljana has found its mojo. Especially during the warmer months of the spring, summer and early autumn, the old town which straddles both sides of the river Ljubljanica in the heart of the city, feels colourful and vibrant. Most of this area is now pedestrianised, making Ljubljana a comfortable place to navigate by foot.
The number and variety of boutique hotels, restaurants and café bars has blossomed, with lots of outdoor seating along cobbled streets and adjacent to the river bank. It has become a popular overnight location for short city breaks, but if you are staying elsewhere I would say that you should allow a good half day to take in the main sights. The most attractive part of the old town is conveniently condensed into approximately one square mile, in the shadow of Ljubljana Castle standing on the hillside above. A circular walk around the centre should ideally include Congress Square (Kongresni trg), the river embankment, the city hall and Robba fountain (Robbov vodnjak) in Mestni trg, the Cathedral of St Nicholas (Sveti Nikolaj), the market square, the Dragon Bridge, the Triple Bridge, and Prešeren Square. Whilst it is quite straightforward to navigate one’s self around the centre of Ljubljana, I would say that this is one place where the services of a local tour guide pay off, even for just for an hour or so. I often work with local guides in Ljubljana when I have my own private tours. For more information about this wonderful city, here is a link to the main tourist information website for Ljubljana.
1) Lake Bled
Lake Bled provides perhaps the most iconic image of Slovenia, the small teardrop-shaped island with its adorable church and bell tower. Like something out of an ancient fairy-tale.
The lake is actually quite small (6.5 km in circumference) and a brisk walk all the way around should take you about an hour or so. However, with camera in hand and the opportunity to take one or two refreshment breaks along the way, this can easily turn into half a day! There are regular “pletna boat” crossings over to the island, or you might decide to hire a rowing boat and do it yourself. Honestly, the island has become somewhat of a tourist trap and can get busy, not to mention quite expensive, during the peak summer months – but that said, a trip to the island is hard to resist. Towering above the lake on the top of a steep rock face, Bled Castle is certainly worth a visit in my opinion, with an interesting museum, and with panoramic views across the lake that are simply amazing.
The centre of Bled has more of a resort feel about it rather than a town, with purpose-built hotels, a promenade and a shopping centre. There are many restaurants and bars to choose from if you would like to enjoy lunch, dinner or refreshments. The infamous Bled cream slice or Kremna Rezina certainly goes down very nicely with morning coffee or afternoon tea. Lake Bled remains one of the most popular places for visitors to stay when holidaying in Slovenia, and I would recommend a minimum of two or three nights here. There are many different accommodation options available, including private rooms, B&B hotels, stylish boutique hotels, prestigious luxury hotels and even glamping. If you are visiting just for the day, I would recommend a full day, which might also include visits to the nearby Vintgar Gorge and to Lake Bohinj which is just thirty minutes down the road. For further details, you can visit the Bled tourist information website.
So there you have it, this is my personal selection of the top ten places to visit in Slovenia. I hope that you find the information and my recommendations helpful.
You might also be interested to take a look at another blog I have written with my favourite “10 hidden gems in Slovenia”, taking you off the beaten path and providing top tips for some truly authentic travel experiences.