Slovenia: land of nature, wine, nice people, and beautiful architecture. Basically, the ideal country. If you’re looking for things to do in Slovenia, here are seven tips from my brief but wonderful time in Ljubljana, Bled, and Maribor, Slovenia in winter 2019. There is so much more to discover in this small but mighty country (I can’t wait to go back for longer) but I hope this gives you a good start!
Geography: Located to the east of Italy, north of Croatia, west of Hungary, and south of Austria.
Does that help? Here, I’ve got a map for you too:
Size: Roughly the same size as Massachusetts State in the US (20,273 sq km)
Population: 2.081 million
Other: member of the EU and the Schengen Area (Curious about the difference? Here’s an article I found that explains the difference and what it might mean to you as a visiting tourist or digital nomad.)
OK – in no particular order, here are 7 things to know when planning a trip to Slovenia!
1. Slovenia is ALL ABOUT recycling.
Really. Coming from Portland, Oregon, I didn’t think I would ever find a place more committed to sustainable waste handling, but then I landed in Slovenia. Even in Airbnbs, you will have to be very careful what to compost, recycle, and discard. All the waste bins on the streets are very clearly labeled as well. They make it as easy and convenient as it is necessary. One Airbnb I stayed at in Ljubljana gave me the code I’d need to dispose of recycling/compost on the street. This is great + normal + very cool. Massive sustainability points for Slovenia!
2. Slovenia is such a small country and so easy to get around!
I was there in winter and it was still pretty easy to navigate. I mainly took local buses, FlixBus (which I definitely recomend for budget travel and is a super option throughout Europe) and the train. If you go in the busy season (summer) or shoulder seasons (spring and fall), you will be going at a much better time with more frequent transportation so I’m sure you’ll have some great hiking/exploring/mountain areas to access and explore. If you’re going to Slovenia with others, a car rental is also a good idea for exploring those more remote places.
3. WINE in Slovenia
Slovenia has 4 or 5 major wine regions. When you think about the neighboring countries known for their wine (ahem. Italy!), you’ll start to get a taste for how diverse and amazing the region is. I wasn’t able to visit many of the regions, but here are a few interesting facts:
- Slovenia’s vineyards do not produce enough wine to export at a consistent pace, so most of the country’s wine you won’t get to try anywhere else in the world. This makes it very exciting and kind of an exclusive feel to try all the varietals.
- Slovenia makes orange wine! I didn’t get to try it while there (edit: have since sampled a Greek orange wine which I found delightful), but it sounded intriguing.
- Maribor (on the way to Budapest) boasts The Oldest Wine Vine In The World. It’s not that impressive to look at, but the wine shop attached offers wine tastings from all around the country and all the different regions. Very friendly, knowledgeable staff, and very tasty wine.
- There are a couple of wine tasting events held on the regular in Ljubljana– one is in the castle! Both weren’t available to solo travelers when I was there in December, so I can’t vouch for them, but they both looked cool. 🙂 links: Dvorni bar and Hiša pod gradom
4. Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia
My favorite new city from an aesthetic and user-friendly perspective (ie – great urban planning!). Simply gorgeous. A few things:
- Jože Plečnik is the city’s treasured architect. He designed the triple bridge, which is SO COOL. His house is also on display as a museum, and worth checking out. It’sa 15 minute walk from the center of town, so easily accessible and open year-round. I’m not someone that typically gets enamored of the history of architecture (though that changes the longer I spend in Europe. How can it not, once you’ve seen the marvel that is La Sagrada Familia?) If you can’t make it to the museum, just watch Rick Steves’ special. It is informative and cute- plus Rick Steves is a national treasure and is sure to delight no matter what the topic.
- Ljubljana Castle is awesome! You can take the funicular up to the top, but there are also (at least) 2 paths you can walk. The one I stumbled upon winds through a neighborhood and ends up in the garden area. BEAUTIFUL view of the city once you’re to the top. And climbing small hills is just the sort of thing to do when you’re walking around cute European cities.
- There are some really cool museums! A very weird one I went to was a post-modern one and it was SO WEIRD and I’d love for you to go there so I have someone to talk about it with. I was looking for the ethnographic museum and stumbled into this one instead. If you find the ethnographic museum let me know. Here is a link to the weird one.
- It’s just such a cool city. There’s a giant market with tons of produce just over the river that’s awesome and worth checking out. Basically any direction you end up walking you’ll stumble upon beautiful things, old churches, stunning sites, views of the Julian Alps… it’s just amazing.
OK–I don’t need to tell you about the dragon bridge (other than the dragons are much smaller than I anticipated!) or anything food-related (I basically lived off hot wine from the Christmas markets while here).
5. Lake Bled!!
I am certain you will go here! The buses run VERY frequently (every 15 minutes, even in the winter when I was there) and are easy to catch at the central bus station. If you just go to the station you can purchase a ticket departing within the hour (easier than trying to buy online). By all accounts, the bus is better than train, which deposits you outside Bled proper and you then have to take a bus back, taking extra time.
There are two main bus stops in Bled– the main one is the second stop, and the first–Unior— is very easy to miss. If you are staying near Unior and miss your stop, you will have to walk back. BUT–it’s only about 10 minutes and you will get a very nice view of the castle, so…. it’s worth it? (That’s what I’m telling myself anyway.)
- Stay for at least 1-2 nights.
- Walk around the whole lake.
- Climb to the top of the castle (of course) but there’s also a STUNNING viewpoint if you climb to the top of Mala Osojnica. Steep and worth it. Here are directions. I climbed early in the morning and I was the only one on the trail. Stunning! Some advice says to climb it before sunrise, which sounds like a great view, but the path seemed a bit treacherous for a solo low-visibility climb.
- Eat a cream cake (NOT vegan BTW). Bled’s known for them, and much like champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region of France, Bled Cream Cake can only be found in Bled. The castle has a coffee shop where you can order a Bled cream cake and an espresso and enjoy an amazing view. or just get an espresso and enjoy the view. or just enjoy the view.
6. Lake Bohinj, Slovenia
I didn’t get the chance to go to Lake Bohinj but I feel like I missed out! Lake Bohinj is close to Lake Bled – just a little further away from Ljubljana. I decided to spend two nights in Bled instead of venturing up to Bohinj – I wanted to be sure to have time to walk around the lake. Because I went in winter, daylight exploring hours are greatly reduced (but the benefit is – not as crowded! and more affordable lodging!). If you visit Slovenia in other seasons, you’ll have more daylight time to explore. Just something ot keep in mind! Buses leave regularly from Bled and if you go please take pics and send me some.
7. Maribor, Slovenia
Maribor was…. OK. I went for three nights because it was on the way to Budapest, which was my next destination. Cute town, like a mini Ljubljana. It’s the second largest city in Slovenia. I have a feeling it’s beautiful in spring, summer, and fall. My favorite things about Maribor are the Airbnb I stayed in (linked here – definitely a splurge for this budget traveler but worth it), the view of the old town from across the river, and the oldest wine vine in the world. If you’re in the area, it’s worth a stop-by.
Hope you find this helpful. Let me know in the comments if you end up in any of these spots or cool other spots you discover! Have fun!