[updated November 2019]
What are the things to do in Slovenia? Here are my 5 top reasons to travel to Slovenia, known for its snowcapped peaks, Mediterranean coast, & delicious cuisine.
Small and Beautiful Slovenia
Some don’t even know the name. Or still think if it as Yugoslavia, which it was until 1991. Slovenia is a tiny Balkan country in Central Europe wedged between Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia. The entire country’s population is about 2 million (which is a little less than the population of Chicago). It joined the European Union in 2004 and three years later became the first former Communist country to join the Eurozone.
Things to do in Slovenia
There are truly so many things to do in Slovenia. With dozens of sidewalk cafes on cobblestone streets hugging the riverside, the capital city of Ljubljana (Loob-lee-yana) is one of the most charming cities in Europe. It’s the largest city in the country, but still intimate and very easy to get around. It is truly European – in ancient times it was a Roman city, then it was under Hapsburg rule all the way up until 1918. This tiny country packs a punch of picturesque mountain countryside, Mediterranean laidback-ness, and a great mix of cuisines. Here are 5 reasons you must visit including things to do in Slovenia:
1. Friendly and Welcoming
From the moment I arrived and checked in at my cute airbnb, I knew Slovenia was going to live up to its expectations. I’d heard so many good things and seen so many captivating photos of this beautiful country, that it had long been high on my bucket list.
Jolanda not only welcomed me into her clean and simple apartment, we ended up having lunch together and getting to know one another a bit. This is why I keep harping on “getting local” when you travel. It’s about meeting locals and getting to know them, getting to know the food and culture. Not only did we have lunch, but I also ended up meeting her and her husband (who coincidentally also used to work in broadcasting like I did) at a local bar another evening. And, in another fortuitous travel moment, I also had the opportunity to speak at their daughter’s high school about my journalism career and traveling.
This was one of the highlights of my trip! How often do you get to speak at a foreign school and meet ‘regular’ kids? This was not your typical ‘tourist stop’ which is what made even more real and special. Plus, these students were great – inquisitive and engaged. They attend Gimzanija Vic a very good secondary school in Ljubljana. The school has a progressive program of “adventure learning”, personal development, and teachers are encouraged to use contemporary methods and have guest speakers like myself. One of the unique things I noticed is that although there aren’t uniforms, students are asked to take off their shoes inside the school and all wear slippers. There was something really nice about this. It seemed to make the atmosphere more relaxed and there was certainly no running!
Have more time? How about a drive down the Adriatic Coast?
2. Green City of Ljubljana
The city of Ljubljana was named the Green Capital of Europe for 2016. What a great time to visit! Cars have been banned from the city. Today, it is all pedestrian along much of the old town along the river. The city’s buses run on natural gas, there is a bike share program and even a free electric Kavalir (“gentleman” in English) to drive you around in the city center.
Cycling is also easy and popular here.
I hoped on a great bike tour with Watermelon Ljubljana by Bike through the city. Cycling is another way to get more local and really ‘feel’ a city. Tevz Cernigoj started his bike tours in Ljubljana a few years ago after the city eliminated cars in the city center. He felt like it was now the perfect city to tour by bike. The city is flat and compact and made for cycling. Tevz (Tay-oosh) took me all around the city and outside of the touristy center to some neat neighborhoods that I likely would not have seen on my own, which is why I LOVE bike tours! It’s a great way to see a city and also get off the beaten path a bit. Tours are 2-4 hours and start around €22.
Ljubljana has 542 square meters of public green space per resident. While the city features 80 hectares of newly maintained green spaces, new green spaces are still being created from degraded urban land.
3. Gorgeous countryside
Skiing in the Alps? Check. Mediterranean beaches? Check. Gorgeous vineyards, enchanting caves, forests, and lots and lots of green — tiny Slovenia has a rich diverse landscape thanks to its location. The country is dominated by the Alps and over half the country is covered in forest making it the third most forested country in Europe after Finland and Sweden.
This iconic image of Lake Bled with the church on a tiny island in the center surrounded by mountains and castles is what drew me to Slovenia initially. It didn’t disappoint. I’d recommend visiting Lake Bled in autumn when all the trees are ablaze with color, but really any time is quite beautiful.
Bled Castle is one of the oldest in Slovenia and was first mentioned in writing in 1011. That’s about 1,000 years ago! It’s built high atop a cliff above the lake and affords spectacular views of the Julian Alps and Karavanke mountains.
Although I’d heard of Lake Bled, I’m so glad I drove a little further west to Triglav National Park and Lake Bohinj, the largest lake in Slovenia. It might not have the picture postcard perfect island in the middle, but Bohinj is just as stunning if not more authentic and much less crowded than Bled. It sits smack dab in the center of the Julian Alps, the most south-eastern part of the entire Alp range. The area has tons of outdoor things to do like cycling, hiking, and of course skiing.
For more specifics on things to do here, check out this post on a Day Trip to Lake Bled and Bohinj from Go Beyond Bounds.
The International Wildflower Festival takes place each year in the spring. It’s two weeks of concerts, guided walks and hikes, cycling, workshops and culinary events.
Lake Bled is on many a travel bucket list thanks to its fairy-tale beauty. For more must-sees, check out this Ultimate Europe Bucket list.
4. Tastes of many countries
When you live in between Italy, Austria and Hungary, there is going to be some amazing culinary fusion going on. Historically, Slovenian cuisine was divided more by economic and social level. Due to the variety of Slovenian cultural and natural landscapes, there are more than 40 distinct regional cuisines. Since I focus so much on food as culture, check out my other post which specifically talks about some food tours and classes I took and what to eat in Slovenia. Suffice it to say, I was so impressed with all the different dishes, flavors, and wines here.
Recently two baby dragons hatched far down in the depths of one of Europe’s most stunning caves.
Well, a long time ago, someone thought they were dragons. They’re olms (proteus anguinus) — an ancient species of blind salamander that centuries ago was thought to be a young version of the mythological creature. Apparently they’re believed to be able to live 100 years or longer, and can survive without food for up to 10 years. What’s special about these is that while a female can lay hundreds of eggs in her lifetime only a couple will survive.
Come see the dragons, but also this immense and impressive cave.
Postojna Cave has world’s only double-track underground railway takes visitors deep underground to begin a journey exploring nearly 15 miles of tunnels, caverns and subterranean halls.
During the 200 years since it’s been open to the public, hosted over 36 million visitors from all over the world making it the most visited show cave in Europe.
Tour experiences range from a couple of hours to a full day visit including Predjama Castle.
For more, check out my post what to eat in Slovenia
Disclosure: During parts of my time I was hosted by Visit Slovenia, Lake Bled, Bohinj, and was a guest on the Ljubljana by Bike tour. As always all opinions are my own.