With the UK having updated its green list of travel countries and some of the most popular holiday destinations not having made the cut (sorry Spain, France, and Italy), many people may be wondering…
Being left with a rather alien looking list of possible destinations to head to this summer, if you’re feeling confused but want somewhere with one of the greenest and prettiest capital cities in Europe, a thriving food and bar scene, and fairytale castles nestled amongst stunning scenery packed with adventure, then you should look no further than Slovenia!
Bordering the more famous countries of Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary, Slovenia is a true hidden gem in central Europe.
I went there on a road trip holiday back in 2018, and it’s one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever been to…
Named the Green Capital of Europe 2016, Ljubljana may be one of the smallest capitals in Europe, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in culture, history, and cuisine.
The centre is pedestrianised and compact so it’s easy to wander the medieval streets and explore the pretty buildings and array of interesting markets and shops, some of which are almost like museums selling items dating back to the old Yugoslavia days.
And as you wander around the city you will cross the many picturesque bridges which cross the Ljubljanica River flowing through the centre, and don’t miss out on the thriving café and bar culture serving some amazing local and international dishes which line the riverbanks.
The bridges are sights to see in themselves… Dragon Bridge is one of the main icons of the city, Butcher’s Bridge is decorated with Greek mythology sculptures and has become known as love-lock bridge with lovers adding padlocks to the railings, Triple Bridge which as the name suggests is three bridges merged into one dating back to the 1840’s, plus many many more. A bridge spotters delight!
The main landmark of the city though is undoubtedly Ljubljana Castle, the 900-year-old fortress standing high on a hill overlooking the city below.
Records suggest that the site has had a continuous settlement since at least 1200 BC (!), and today the castle houses a Slovenian history museum and, rather randomly, a huge puppet collection!
Both the museum and puppets are an interesting attraction and worth the €13 entrance fee, but it’s the ancient castle walls and towers and the amazing views they offer of Ljubljana Old Town which are the standout sights to see!
Tickets can be bought online for €13 if you want to walk up the hill, or if you want to get the funicular up family tickets can be bought for €36.50.
A slightly more unusual place to visit in the city is also one of the coolest, and definitely my top pick of things to do.
Metelkova is an autonomous social and cultural centre which started as an illegal squat in an abandoned military barracks after the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the declaration of independence of Slovenia and Croatia.
Now it’s a cultural hub for underground artists and musicians to host exhibitions and performances, along with some really cool street art!
Chilling out on a sunny afternoon in the near deserted streets was my favourite experience in Ljubljana, and although there weren’t any events on at night when I went back, I can imagine it would be an amazing place to party as well!
1. Visit the autonomous centre of Metelkova
2. Walk up to Ljubljana Castle and admire the spectacular views
3. Enjoy the restuarants on the riverbanks and try the local cuisine and wine
One of the great things about Slovenia is how small the country is… less than a 45-minute drive away from Ljubljana is the magical Lake Bled.
If you’ve ever Googled Slovenia then chances are you will have seen the picture postcard sight of the bluey-green lake sparkling beneath the Julian Alps, with an island church in the centre overlooked by a medieval castle teetering on the edge of the cliffs above.
The scene is one straight out of a Disney fairytale, and somehow it looks even better in person than it does in the pictures!
But it’s not just a beautiful place to relax and soak in the scenery, the area is also an adventurer’s dream!
Hiking, biking, water sports, and summer tobogganing are just some of the activities on offer if you enjoy the outdoors, as well as hiring a boat to row out to the island and visit the church in the middle of the lake (there is a more leisurely option of a tour boat if you want to visit without the effort).
I can highly recommend the SUP boarding on the lake and racing down the summer toboggan course on Straža Hill while admiring the stunning views (ok it wasn’t quite “racing” … it’s perfectly fine for kids to go on but it was a lot of fun!)
SUP boarding and rowing boat hire is offered at loads of huts surrounding the lake and were fairly cheap, and tickets for the summer toboggan are available from the kiosks at the base of the hill for €10.
There are many medieval castles throughout Slovenia, but Bled Castle is the oldest of them all dating back to 1011… over 1,000 years!
It’s worth visiting for the views alone but there’s also a museum which tells the story of Lake Bled throughout history to follow.
Tickets can be bought online and cost €13
An hours’ walk (or 10 minutes’ drive if that’s more your thing) from Lake Bled is Vintgar Gorge, a 1.6km walk which criss-crosses the Radovna River through a canyon and is another must-see attraction.
The walkways hang off the side of the surrounding cliffs and make you feel like you’re floating above the river and rapids below which is really cool, and they end at Šum Waterfall which is the highest waterfall in Slovenia.
Tickets cost €10 and can be pre-booked online, but I just turned up and paid at the gate.
1. Row out to The Church of Mary the Queen in the middle of the lake
2. Go to Vintgar Gorge and walk the boardwalks through the stunning canyon
3. Hire a SUP board and enjoy the tranquility of the lake
Half an hour’s drive from Lake Bled is another amazing lake which is often overlooked due to it’s more famous neighbour… and while it may not be quite as pretty as Bled is, it is still a stunning place in a more rugged setting with the surrounding mountains seemingly growing out of the lake itself!
It offers much the same as Lake Bled in terms of activities and things to do but is usually less crowded and makes you feel like you’re out in the wilderness more than the touristy Lake Bled.
The final castle of my road trip was perhaps the most dramatic… it’s built into a cave in a 123-metre-high cliff!
Inhabited by a Robin Hood like character during the 15th century, there is an audio guide to talk you through the history of the castle and the escapades of Erazem Lueger, who is said to have robbed from the rich to give to the poor.
Tickets for the castle can be bought online, either for just for the castle (€14.90) or as a joint ticket with the Postojna Caves (see below)
Another of Slovenia’s top attractions is the amazing Postojna Cave and the baby dragons which live within.
The karst caves were carved over 2 million years ago and can be explored with an underground railway taking you 3km into the vast network, before a walking guided tour takes you through cavernous spaces and tells you the history of how the caves were formed while you admire the many stalagmites, halls and even bridges built over time.
The tour lasts for 1 and a half hours in total and ends in a small museum area where you get to see baby dragons!!
The baby dragons, or human fish, Olm or Proteus to give them their proper names, are tiny creatures who live completely in the dark in the underground cave systems and are only found in this part of the world.
They were first found by humans only 400 years ago despite having existed for millions of years, and believing that dragons lived inside the Postojna Caves, the human fish were thought to be baby dragons!
Tickets for the caves can be bought online, I went for the full caves experience for €45.60 which includes Predjama Castle as well and would highly recommend this option. Inside the caves the temperature is a constant 8°C regardless of what the weather is like outside, so I’d recommend taking a warm jacket with you.
During the trip I stayed at a few different hotels but the one must stay place is Garden Village Bled.
Slovenia prides itself on being an eco-friendly and sustainable country, and nowhere did I experience that more than at the Garden Village.
A glamping site on the edge of Lake Bled where you can choose to stay in posh tents, a luxury apartment, or even a treehouse!
The whole place has been designed with nature in mind and it’s an incredible experience… from the restaurant serving local fish caught in the lake and vegetables grown on site, fruit trees lining the paths where you can pick and eat the apples straight from the trees, to the natural pool filled with fresh spring water where you can have an invigorating swim.
I spent 7 days touring the country during which I managed to see all of the sites I had on my list, but you could easily spend longer if you want to take advantage of more of the activities on offer at the lakes or travel down to the Slovenian Riviera where there is a short coastline with beaches and coastal towns.
As it’s a small country I’d recommend hiring a car to get around easily, and you can easily combine the holiday with a visit to a neighbouring country if you wish (I tagged on a visit to Venice in Italy… watch out for that in a future blog!)
Please check the Slovenian government website for the latest entry requirements… https://www.gov.si/en/topics/coronavirus-disease-covid-19/border-crossing/
Below is a map of the route I took during my time there…
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