Best things to do in Slovenia
Find out more about those top places in Slovenia
The lakeside resort of Bled is rightly considered one of Europe’s most photogenic locations. It really has it all: a tranquil lake colored azure blue; enchanting islands dotted with medieval churches; an imposing hilltop castle; and the backdrop of the snow covered Julian Alps. While no longer the hidden gem it once was when Slovenia formed part of Yugoslavia, today Lake Bled is popular with everyone from backpackers inter railing round Europe to honeymooners and extreme sports enthusiasts. Despite the lake’s year round buzz, it remains Slovenia’s most captivating destination while the nearby Vintgar Gorge offers spectacular walks on boardwalks over massive waterfalls, placid lagoons and turbulent rapids.
Unsurprisingly, the main attraction at Bled is the emerald-green lake itself. During Slovenia’s long summer months, the lake can be explored with canoes, kayaks and paddle boards that can be rented in the town itself or you can hire bikes and cycle around its shores on well-maintained trails.
Just west of Bled is Slovenia’s premier natural wonder, the Vintgar Gorge. Formed by the often-raging Radovna River, the gorge is best explored by the 19th century walkways that span much of its length. On these you can walk above the emerald colored water, gaze down at the river’s bio-diverse aquatic life and reach the precipitous Šum Waterfall, which is often framed by rainbows formed by the water spray.
Combining fascinating history and breathtaking Alpine views, Bled Castle is one of Slovenia’s most iconic destinations. Perched more than 100 meters above the lake itself, the castle is framed by imposing walls, a deep moat and numerous terraces offering views of the Julian Alps. For those interested in the area’s rich history, tours of the 16th century castle are available.
Sitting right in the middle of Lake Bled is Bled Island, the area’s crowning gem. The island is best reached by pletna boats from the mainland and once there you can explore its rich history, including the frescoed 17th century Church of the Assumption and the grandiose South Staircase that leads down to the water.
A perfect excursion for all adventure seekers is the Sava River, where you can take part in white water rafting tours. Whether you are a complete beginner or an expert at the sport, expert tour guides will tailor this thrilling experience to your ability.
Not far from the tranquil waters of Lake Bled lies the rugged terrain of the Bohinj Valley, which is perfect for canyoning. Tours of area give you the opportunity to hike through lush Alpine vegetation, swim in glacier fed rock pools, scramble up canyon walls and wade through cascading waterfalls.
Spreading out from a hilltop fortress, the leafy medieval streets of Ljubljana form one of Europe’s most charming and livable cities. Slovenia is famed for its forward-thinking attitude and its capital city is no exception. As of 2016, car traffic is near banned from the city’s picture-perfect historic center and it has been named the Green Capital of Europe by the European Union. Ljubljana revolves around the River Ljubljanica with the elegant art-noveau bridges of Jože Plečnik connecting both café-lined banks. Beyond the picturesque old quarter, Ljubljana has a host of handsome Habsburg era buildings and an ever-growing student population, which gives the city a year round buzz.
Perched above Ljubljana’s leafy Habsburg-era streets is its perfectly formed castle, most of which dates from the 16th century. Much of the castle is free to explore, except for its crowing watchtowers, but expert local guides are also available to reveal more about its rich history. The most memorable way to access the castle is by a funicular from the Old Town.
Ljubljana’s picture-perfect center is divided in half by the narrow Ljubljanica River. For one of the city’s most romantic experiences, take a boat cruise up the river where you can marvel at the graceful architecture of the Triple Bridge, Cobbler’s Bridge and the Central Market, all of which were designed by the city’s most famous son, Jože Plecnik.
Designed by Jože Plecnik, Ljubljana’s National University and Library is the city’s standout piece of architecture. Tours are available throughout the day that will take you from its jaw-dropping black marble entrance hall to the world-famous modernist style library, which has scarcely changed since it was constructed in the 1930s.
A former army barracks, Metelkova Mesto was taken over by artistic squatters in the 1990s and has since been transformed into Ljubljana’s premier creative space. During the day, the building is crowded with art students, street artists and people relaxing in its unique outdoor beer garden while at night it comes alive with several clubs opening their doors.
The tangle of streets that start south of Cobbler’s Bridge are all that remains of medieval Ljubljana’s port. The narrow streets, some of which recall the area’s role as a Jewish ghetto, remain evocative until now and guided tours are on offer to explore the complex history of this hidden gem of a neighborhood.
Standing opposite the Triple Bridge, the pastel-hued Franciscan Church of the Annunciation is Ljubljana’s de facto emblem. Opening its doors in 1660, the church’s interior is bedecked in colorful frescoes and gold chandeliers that are bound to dazzle visitors.
In recent decades Slovenia has been one of the European countries to most embrace the trend towards organic, local and sustainable produce. To see this environmentally friendly ethos active, head to the Central Market where a vast farmer’s market runs every day of the week bar Sunday. Once inside you can explore stalls selling everything from honey to wild mushrooms and homemade cheeses to fresh berries.
Perched nearly a rugged peninsula jutting into the turquoise Adriatic Sea, Piran is undoubtedly one of Slovenia’s most historic towns. Influenced equally by Italian, Germanic and Slavic cultures, this picture-perfect seaside town is one of the Mediterranean’s true hidden gems. The tightly packed historic center is crisscrossed by enthralling cobbled lanes and peppered with baroque Austrian municipal buildings and Italianesque villas and piazzas. Piran’s most enchanting attraction is Tartinijev Trg, the atmospheric main square named after the 18th century Italian composer Giuseppe Tartini. Beyond this, a relaxing stroll around the town’s near-circular seaside promenade is irresistible.
Tartinijev Trg is the square at the bustling heart of old Piran and is named after the town’s most famous son, the composer, who is better known by his Italian name, Giuseppe Tartini. For classical music enthusiasts, tours of Tartini’s former home, which sits on the square, are available.
Built in the baroque style during the 17th century, Piran’s Cathedral of St. George is a highlight of any tour of the Slovene Riviera. Sitting astride a hill looking out over the Adriatic Sea, the cathedral can be freely explored while the nearby Parish Museum of St. George houses Piran’s holiest religious relics, including a silver figure of Saint George slaying a dragon.
The tip of the Piran peninsula is capped by the delightful Punta Lighthouse, which is built into the medieval Church of St. Clement. While the lighthouse itself is not of much interest, its setting is Piran’s most spectacular with the waves gently lapping at the shore and the entirety of the town’s medieval jumble of alleyways and plazas behind you.
For visitors interested in Piran’s complex history, head to the highly interactive Mediadom where you can explore the town’s story from its prehistoric origins to the expulsion of its Italian residents following World War Two and Slovenia’s declaration of independence from Yugoslavia.
The UNESCO World Heritage listed Škocjan Caves are a highlight of any trip to Slovenia. Once at the caves, you will be led on a two hour guided tour that will reveal underground caves bedecked in stalactites and stalagmites and raging subterranean rivers. With tours leaving regularly from Piran the caves are within easy reach from the Slovene Riviera and make the perfect day tour.
Perhaps the most visible reminder that Piran is little more than a short hop across the Gulf of Trieste to Venice is the stunning Venetian House. Built during the 15th century heyday of Venetian naval power, the house can be visited by guided tours that reveal the building’s romantic backstory.
One of Slovenia’s most important protected environments, the Secovlje Salt Pans are home to innumerable species of bird life who nest and winter amongst its brackish lagoons. Alongside this the pans are also important for the local economy with salt harvested today much as it would have been centuries ago. For the best experience, take an electric bike tour from Piran.
Tucked away in the Sava Dolinka Valley close to both the Austrian and Italian borders, Kranjska Gora is Slovenia’s alpine wonderland. In winter the town transforms itself into the country’s premier ski resort with 30 kilometers of well-groomed piste unfurling down pine-clad mountains. However, this hidden gem is more than just Slovenia’s winter sports capital. Year round it is the gateway to the wilderness of the Triglav National Park, named after Slovenia’s tallest mountain, and the water rafting, hiking and mountain biking of the Soča Valley.
Nestled beneath the impressive Mount Triglav, the Slovenian Alpine Museum is Kranjska Gora’s foremost museum. If you can tear yourself away from its unrivaled natural setting, it has a host of fascinating exhibits to be explored: vintage Yugoslav tourism movies show off the Julian Alps; old fashioned climbing equipment bedecks the walls; and there is a real-life mountain rescue helicopter.
The ski town of Kranjska Gora makes an ideal base for day tours into the breathtaking wilderness of Triglav National Park. While the centerpiece of the park is the eponymous mountain, it is also host to an array of other spectacular attractions. Notably, the Vršic Pass is home to one of Europe’s most thrilling roads, which twists and turns through arresting Alpine scenery, and the precipitous Savica Waterfall.
One of Slovenia’s unique natural wonders, the glacial fed Lake Zelenci appears torn straight from the pages of a fairy tale. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks, the lake never freezes in winter, as it maintains a constant temperature of 6 °C, and is home to a dazzling array of endangered species and lush plant life. What is more, Lake Zelenci is also the source of one of the Western Balkan’s most important rivers, the Sava.
Housing Kranjska Gora’s ethnographic museum, the 17th century Liznjek House is home to an astounding collection of Alpine artifacts dating from the past few centuries. Containing folk paintings, 19th century religious icons, dog sleds and antique snow shoes, the museum is a fascinating insight into Alpine culture. For the best experience, guided tours of this treasure trove are available.
For visitors wanting a taste of Kranjska Gora’s rich history of winter sports, head for the famed Planica Nordic Center. Home to seven ski jumping hills (including the tallest in the world) alongside miles of cross-country skiing tracks, the Nordic Center is one of the world’s largest. For visitors, the most thrilling experiences including zip lining down a ski jump and watching daring jumpers from a viewing platform.
The best place to relax in the Julian Alps is picture-perfect Lake Jasna. Surrounded by lush pine forests, the crystal clear lake is ideal for swimming and sunbathing on its golden sand beach in summer.
Postojna Caves are one of Europe’s most jaw-dropping natural wonders. Carved out by the Pivka River, the cave system is some 24 kilometers long and encompasses a host of subterranean ravines, caverns and halls, some of which are as large as cathedrals. The largest caverns are the Concert Hall, Great Mountain cavern and Winter Hall, all of which are coated in layers of ribbon-shaped stalactites and stalagmites, some of which are more than 2 million years old. Visits to the cave are by guided tour only with visitors getting a glimpse of the system walking and by underground railway. Beyond the caves themselves, further up the valley is the Predjama Castle, which looks straight out the pages of a fairy tale.
Most visitors come to Postojna for one thing: Europe’s greatest cave system. Stretching for more than 24 kilometers and some 2 million years old, the caves can only be explored via guided tours that take you on foot and by miniature railway through a series of jaw-dropping caverns and tunnels that are coated in stalactites and stalagmites. To put the size of the caves in perspective, the largest cavern can accommodate around 10 000 people.
Built into a cave system at the end of a steep-sided sub-Alpine valley, Predjama Castle is one of Europe’s most impregnable fortresses. With a history dating back to 1202, the castle has a storied past that matches its awe-inspiring setting – indeed, it was once home to Slovenia’s own Robin Hood.
Further proof of Postojna’s spectacular geology can be found at Planina Cave where the subterranean Unica River reaches the surface. Tours of the interior reveal vast underground lagoons, impressive rock formations and raging white water rapids.