8 Reasons Why Slovenia Should be Higher on Your Bucket List
Slovenia is Europe's hidden gem. Though Melania Trump may have put it ever so slightly on the map [insert screamface emoji here], it doesn't tend to top the list of countries for a European backpacking trip, nor a list of city break destinations. Don't make this mistake! This stunning jewel of a country is filled with countless natural wonders and breathtaking landscapes but much fewer tourists. It's also very affordable in comparison to Europe's heavy-hitters like France and Italy.
If you've got the time, I would highly recommend you make a stop in Slovenia on your European tour or, if you're based in Europe, consider Ljubljana for your next bank holiday escape. We travelled there ahead of a trip to Italy and it was the perfect start to our summer holiday.
So here are my eight tips for what to see / do / eat on a short city break or backpacking trip to Slovenia:
1) Stroll through the country's capital, Ljubljana, and go for a long wander along the Ljublanica river. Ljubljana is a quaint, beautiful city that you can easily explore on foot. There are no cars on the roads so you can roam freely without the hassle of traffic jams. Don't miss the three famous squares in the Old Town: Mestni trg, Staru trg and Gornji tgr. You'll also find beautiful bridges such as Lover's Bridge and Cobbler's Bridge, the latter of which was a place of trade in the Middle Ages. However, my favourite spot in Ljubljana is just past the famous Dragon Bridge, where quiet graffiti-lined streets run all along the river. The beautiful blue-green Ljublanica makes for a peaceful afternoon stroll.
2) Dine at Ribca in Ljubljana. Once you've worked up an appetite, do not miss grabbing dinner at Ribca. This delicious seafood restaurant was one of the highlights of our trip. It sits right along the river and the food is affordable and uber-delicious. I had octopus salad and peppercorn tuna with polenta (a Slovenian staple, apparently) and they were just divine. We tried (and loved) our first Union beers here as well!
3) Eat Kremšnita for dessert. I can't emphasise enough how delicious this is! And I'm not even a sweets junkie. We tried this at Ribca and devoured it in one quick go. This traditional pastry is made of vanilla custard, whipped cream and two thin layers of puff pastry. It's been around since the 1950s and was developed in Lake Bled but has become a popular dish across the country. It's an absolute must.
4) Hike up Castle Hill and admire the views. We decided to take on this hike right after dinner which probably wasn't the most brilliant move. You can also go up by cable car but if you're up for the exercise, I do recommend the walk up the hill. It's a beautiful, peaceful and a relatively short hike to the top. You'll get plenty of fresh air as well as a glimpse of the Julian Alps on your way there. At the top, you can roam the castle grounds or pay an entrance fee to check out Ljubljana Castle's watch tower and chapel. We opted to save the six euro and just soak in the nature instead.
5) Stroll around (or go for a swim in) Lake Bled. If you've based yourself in Ljubljana, its a very easy day trip to Lake Bled from the main bus / train station. And this is definitely a trip you don't want to miss. Lake Bled is everything you've ever imagined from a perfect European fairytale: a picturesque lake with crystal clear waters, pletna (gondolas) as the only mode of transport to the Church of Assumption in the middle of the lake and a castle to admire in the distance! We had a blissful afternoon hiking the 6 km perimeter of the lake though I did take a little detour for some raspberry sorbet. The weather is July is ideal: warm but with a nice breeze and lukewarm water for swimming.
6) Wander through the beautiful Vintgar Gorge. We booked a tour to Vintgar Gorge with Mamut, a excellent tour company. This beautiful gorge is only a short distance from Lake Bled, so if you're pressed for time, spend the first half the day at the lake and squeeze this in in the afternoon. You'll admire this stunning gorge along a lovely (through slippery) wooden walkway with stunning views at every turn. I did find navigating the crowds a bit exhausting, since the boardwalk is very narrow at points, but you can certainly see why this natural wonder attracts so many visitors.
7) Get lost in the Postojna caves. This was probably the highlight of our trip to Slovenia. I didn't know exactly what to expect from this spectacular cave network but I was awestruck by its sheer scale and complexity. Postojna cave is located in the heart of Slovenia's karst region and it's a grand 24 km underground system filled with an array of stalagmite and stalactite formations carved out by the Pivka river. You walk a few kilometres on foot but there's also a train that takes you into the depths of the cave. You can also spot the proteus anguinus, a funny little flesh-coloured (blind!) eel that lives in the cave on your tour. (Don't pay extra for the separate exhibition.) Key tip: bring extra layers for your visit, even at the height of summer. The temperature drops significantly underground and you don't want to fork out 3.5 euro just to borrow a cape to keep warm.
8) Spend an evening at the bars along the river, sampling the tasty local wine. Whether you've spend your day exploring Ljubljana on foot or come back buzzing from a day in the countryside, end your day on a high by dipping your toes into the city's nightlife along the river. Slovenes know how to live the good life and its worth spending an evening in their company. We had one wonderful night sampling local wines and watching the night come alive.
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