Slovenia is one of Europe’s most underrated destinations, which can be attributed to its neighbouring borders with Italy, Croatia, Austria, Switzerland and Hungary.
During a long weekend in Slovenia, I visited both Lake Bled and Ljubljana for which this article mostly covers. If you too would like a little slice of Slovenia, then here’s how a long weekend will having you searching return cheap flight deals on the trip home.
Fortunately Slovenia offers pretty good discounts for international students, so if you have a Totum card (formerly NUS Extra) you’ll notice that while the front is pink, the back is an international student identity. If you’re a student and don’t have one, prices start from just £12.
Knowing we only had a short time in Slovenia, meant waking up at some god awful hour in the morning for an early flight. Departing from London Luton at 10:15am, we opted to stay in a nearby hotel for easy access. As the capital, Ljubljana is the airport you’ll most likely fly into and from here continue your journey onwards.
There seemed to be mixed information about travelling from Ljubljana to Lake Bled, and given the relatively small cost – and time constraints – we opted for a pre-arranged taxi that dropped us right outside our hotel. We paid €45 between two of us for a 30-minute journey.
I can’t say that glamping is ever an option I’d choose when travelling in Europe, but with a growing number of recommendations for Lake Bled’s Garden Village it was hard to consider anything else – and thank goodness we didn’t! This was such a unique place to stay in Lake Bled, that it deserved its own post which is coming soon…
Arriving in blistering sunshine, we arrived at our accommodation and enjoyed a complimentary snack and drink overlooking the pond. We were so taken by the accommodation that we had to peel ourselves away rather reluctantly to discover the rest of the town.
The original plan was to have a picnic at the small ‘beach’ located on the north side of the Lake, just in front of the Camping Bled. Unfortunately we spent far too much time admiring our accommodation and opted to take the picnic on the island instead.
If you have time and the weather is fine, I’d recommend setting some time aside to bathe in the glacial waters from Velika Zaka.
Pletna Boat to Bled Island
Originating back to 1590, the Pletna Boat is propelled by oarsmen who carry their title with honour having been handed down the respectable profession from generation to generation.
You’ll find the Pletna Boats at the Mlino Port or by Park Hotel Bled – we caught ours from the former after stocking up on a picnic from the Mercator close by. For €15 per person, you can hop on with a maximum of 20 people to Bled Island. We were given forty minutes to explore the island before being transported back. You pay on the return in cash.
Whilst on the island, pay a visit the Church of the Mother of God and ring the wishing bell three times, or just ogle at the view with a homemade picnic. You can visit the clock tower, however I felt this was a little disappointing given the entry fee.
There’s always the option to hire your own rowing boat or paddleboard to the island instead – at Čolnarna Vila Bled it’s €20 per hour for a 4 person boat, €25 for a 6 person boat plus €10 for every additional hour. It’s €10 to rent a SUP for the hour plus an additional €10 for each hour after. A picnic both is €50 for 2 hours.
Kresmnita from Hotel Park
If you like a custard slice from Greggs, then you’ll love the Kremšnita.
Layered with puff pastry, custard, whipped cream, puff pastry and icing sugar, the Kremšnita is derived from the Vojvodina cream cake. Bled’s famous cream cake was concocted by accident by Ištvan Lukačevič at Hotel Park. An original cream cake is exactly 7cm x 7cm x 7cm, and the entire cream cake must ‘sway back and forth’ when placed on the plate.
You can find the cream cake in various places around Bled, however you can still sample the local sweet treat where it was conceived at Hotel Park.
After taking some time to stroll the shops and a quick refreshment back at our Garden Village, it was off for dinner.
Dinner at Restavracija 1906
We opted to dine at Restavracija 1906 after coming up regularly as a recommendation. Located within Hotel Triglav, the restaurant overlooks the clear waters of Lake Bled and originates of course back to 1906.
Despite the décor looking a little dated, which adds to its charm, the set tasting menu was nothing short of delicious.
It’s here we had our first taste of Slovenian wine, as recommended by the very attentive waiter, and we ended up taking back the remainder of the bottle.
Bled is home to one of Europe’s largest Mini Golf courses that’s open until 11pm, had we not been so knackered from the early flight, we’d have had a round for sure.
Apparently one early start wasn’t enough, and we set our alarms for 4:30am the next morning bound for Ojstrica. Enough people had included a sunrise hike as one of the must-do activities in Bled that we added it to our itinerary.
Despite a questionable moment upon waking as to if it was worth it, we reasoned that if it was a clear morning and we weren’t about to become drowned rats we’d go for it – logic prevailed and we were glad we took a leap of faith.
There are two viewpoints in Bled – Ojstrica and Mala Osojnica. We opted for the shorter (not necessarily easier) hike – Ojstrica – that was said to provide better views of the two.
To reach the opening for Ojstrica, head towards Camping Bled and before reaching the campsite and slightly before the Velika Zaka you’ll notice a brown sign signposted for Ojstrica. It looks as if it’s sending you into a random part of the woods – it is – but just go with it and keep following the signs up. Word to the wise, it’s pretty much a straight uphill hike so give yourself enough time to get up at a reasonable pace – around 20-25 minutes from the foot of the hill will suffice.
Back for a nap and some breakfast and it was on for the rest of the day.
Knowing the weather was forecast for some heavy rain later in the day, we decided to take the 09:45am shuttle to Vintgar Gorge with Mamut. For €10 per person, you’ll get transport from the office to the gorge, picked up at midday and transported to the Castle or back to the office.
Entrance to the gorge is €10 per person for 1.6 km of waterfalls, pools and rapids surrounded by the Hom and Boršt hills. Hang on to your ticket as depending on how far you go, you might need it to come back again.
The 13m high Šum waterfall marks the end of the Gorge, although you can continue further into the Triglav national park if you wish (and have time). Don’t miss the ravine underneath the manmade single-arch stone Bohinj railway bridge.
If you have time when you reach the Šum waterfall, walk down the staircase to the right of the tickets and refreshment cabin and you’ll come to a small bridge that offers a better viewpoint of the waterfall. When we visited, we had to talk past some construction, that wasn’t immediately obvious that it was the way to go.
Tip: Mt. Triglav is Slovenia’s highest mountain (2864 m) which can be reached from the gorge which is park of Triglav National Park.
Perhaps because of the torrential downpour there didn’t seem like a huge amount to see and do at the castle but it did offer some fantastic views! I’d say it’s worth the €9.50 entry free – or €6.50 for students – for the views alone.
Sadly the bee house was closed, but the printing press and the winery were interesting. Don’t be fooled into thinking the wine is expensive, for €18 you can fill and cork your own bottle that even comes with a certificate! Sadly, we only had hand luggage! (A deep regret!)
Side note: if it’s wine you’re after, we were tipped off by a local taxi driver to visit Vinoteka Zdravljica for a good wine at reasonable prices.
Feeling a little peckish we stopped off at Pizzeria Rustika which topped the recommendations list as a lunch spot and good pizzas.
For two pizzas and two beers we paid €30 total – and we had to take the last few remaining slices away with us!
Živa Wellness Cente
After several early mornings and lots of walking, we felt it was time for some of that Rilki wellness that Slovenia was famous for. Named after the pagan goddess of love – Živa – the Živa Wellness Centre is one of a few Wellness centres in the town of Bled.
We chose Živa as it’s the largest swimming pool complex in the Gorenjska region, boasting six swimming pools and an indoor waterslide with a view of Lake Bled. It’s thermal pools are supplied by the thermal springs in the north-eastern part of Lake Bled.
For a three hour use of the pools only – called the World of Water Pleasures – we paid €16 per person however it’s only €3 more for the day pass on the weekend rate. It’s a further €3 for towel hire and €5 for robe hire should you require them. The swimming pools are open Friday and Saturday from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm.
For use of the saunas only – The World of Saunas – you’d pay €25 on a weekend rate for three hours or €29 for a day rate. I believe if you wanted to use both the pools and the sauna, you’d pay the rate for each so around €41 for three hours or €48 for the day rate for both.
Opting to spend most of our time in the outdoor thermal pool, the three hours was more than enough however the timetable of events in the saunas was tempting. You’re given a wristband that controls your lockers so no small change is required.
If you wanted to splash out a little, there’s a number of treatments, special baths and packages available.
Top tip: you’ll receive 20% discount for staying in any hotel in Lake Bled on presentation of a key.
Traditional Slovenian Dinner at Gostilna Murka
Every taxi ride we took we’d ask the driver for restaurant recommendations, and time and time again Gostilna Murka was mentioned among the greats. Open since 1909, the former Inn has not lost its charm, nor has it strayed from offering Slovenian national dishes without a tourist price tag – here’s where you’ll find genuine – and cheap – Slovenian cuisine. For a bottle of white wine and two main meals came to only €16 each!
Wine tasting is also available here for a fee and a reservation is required.
After dinner we were eager to get back to our wonderful accommodation and enjoy the communal fire pit over a delicious glass of red… and we may even have taken dessert by the fire too!
Public Bus to Ljubljana
The public bus run by Arriva takes around 45 to 60 minutes to reach Ljubljana at €6.30 per person. You can pay the driver on the bus, and the bus stop is opposite the Gostilna Union Bled restaurant.
The Skyscraper (Nebotičnik)
After a quick check-in to our apartment, we had a little bit of time to kill before the 3pm walking tour so we headed to the ‘skyscraper’ for a cocktail. The entrance to the building is on the side and you need to take the lift up to the highest floor possible. There’s no charge to enter the building. As the sun was shining we opted to sit outdoors and soak in the view. We paid around €7 for a cocktail.
Knowing we only had limited time in Ljubljana, we opted for a three-hour walking tour that would provide lots of information about the capital in the short time we had. Ljubljana Free Tour offer three walking tours – Classic City Tour, Old Town and Castle Tour and the Communist Tour – all of the tours are free of charge and no booking is necessary. The tours run at 11am all year round and 3pm from May to October, and 6pm from July to August.
Knowing we wanted to visit the Castle the next day, we opted for the Classic City Tour meeting at Prešeren Square. Over the course of three hours, we learned about superstitions, the city’s interesting history, sampled the local liqueur, saw the milk vending machine, received food and drink recommendations and saw parts of the city we’d ever have even thought to have looked.
What’s great about the tour is that, although receiving voluntary tips, our guide was so passionate about the city and making sure we had all the information we needed to make the most out of our stay – they even handed out discounts and vouchers for various attractions at the end of the tour!
Eat With Vesna and Lucija
After all that walking, it was time for our highly anticipated Eat With experience. If you haven’t heard of Eat With before, I’d urge you to go and check out this article about my experience in Romania. I’ve also joined locals in Florence, Bucharest and Lisbon.
In essence, it’s a platform that allows locals to host visitors in their own homes and cook traditional dishes. For the price of a meal in a restaurant you get an exclusive peek into the lives of the locals, enjoy home-cooked food and leave with a friend in the city – who often times is on hand should you need any help or advice during your time there.
As it’s such a unique and special experience it also deserves its own post, so stay tuned…
Ah Monday, Monday, doesn’t take long for it to come back around does it? But with an afternoon flight we had time for a quick dash to the castle and a wee bit of shopping.
It’s a €15 entry fee – €10.50 for students – for both the funicular and Ljubljana Castle and it has quite a lot of activities on offer. You can pick up an audio guide from the souvenir shop inside the castle grounds for an additional fee.
Head to the chapel and pick up a free bookmark with your name written in Latin script by the calligrapher for a small donation. Since the witty man seemed to be enjoying himself, we left with Amor Vincit Omnia (Love Conquers All) on one side, and our names on the other.
Be sure to take a visit to the tower – sadly due to the rain the open lookout was closed – but we were able to get up quite high even so. On your way to the tower, stop and watch the interactive castle ‘show’ that provides some background to the castle through the eyes of an animated dragon.
Tip: It’s 50 cents to use the toilets in the castle grounds.
Central Market…well, Cake actually
After the castle, we had wanted to have a stroll around the market but the rain was just too heavy, and we ended up taking solace in a cup of coffee and a slice of Prekmurska Gibanica – or moving cake to the English tongue. A cross between a pastry and a cake – a castry or pake if you will (I made that up, don’t ask for that in Slovenia!) – this popular strudel-like dessert typically contains poppy seeds, walnuts, apples, raisins and cream cheese fillings.
Soon after it was time to collect our luggage and make headway to Ljubljana airport. We didn’t realise the bus times would be as infrequent as they were, so we panic jumped into a Taxi after realising we’d be waiting over an hour for the next bus and potentially miss our flight. So for reference, here are the times of the 28 bus to Ljubljana Airport.
If you’ve got some extra time to spend in Slovenia, I’d recommend a visit to the Soča Valley. While I myself didn’t get to visit, our Eat With host Vesna was very complimentary about the region – even running a homestay. Said to be one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe, it’s own species of trout, and preserving the heritage of World War I – the Soča Valley rivals Lake Bled for natural beauty.
If you’d like to experience Soča Valley like a local, take a look at the Herbal Rooms Homestay. A unique way to immerse yourself into Slovenian culture where you can enjoy hiking, foraging, orange wine tasting and much more.
Stay tuned for these further articles on Slovenia coming soon:
- Where to Stay in Lake Bled, Slovenia
- Eat With, Slovenia
- 6 Experience You Can’t Miss in Lake Bled, Slovenia
And if there’s something else you wish to know about my time in Slovenia, drop me a comment or send me a message!
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