Last updated 1 February 2021
With castles, lakes and dragon bridges, Slovenia could be straight out of a fairytale. The tiny country was the first to secede from the former Yugoslavia, meaning it escaped the subsequent war. Slovenia is almost landlocked, with just a sliver of the coast, Piran, within its borders.
Even if you don’t end up staying in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s wonderful little capital is worth a visit. Yes, the name is almost unpronounceable (until you’ve heard it a few times), but the old town is charming with beautiful old buildings, cobbled stones and bridges across the river. The symbol of Ljubljana is the dragon and you’ll see it everywhere. Legend says that Jason, the leader of the Argonauts from Greek mythology, pursued and eventually slew a dragon, and Ljubljana was founded on the site. The Dragon Bridge in particular has green dragon statues at either end, but you’ll see peeks of this mythical creature throughout the town.
Along with a castle up on the hill above the old town, Ljubljana has a bustling riverfront with good restaurants and bars, and an attractive newer city centre with a range of shops and malls. People are friendly in Ljubljana and English is widely spoken, making it an excellent place to ask questions about the country or do any chores (like getting a haircut). Its central location also makes it a great base for exploring the rest of the country.
One of Slovenia’s three seaside towns, Piran is a great option if you want to get a taste of the Adriatic without going over the border to Croatia. A small, pretty town, Piran has lovely Venetian architecture and a long pier which tends to feature in photos. The old town is beautifully preserved with winding narrow streets, but can be very busy at the height of summer. As you would have realised by now, the main drawcard is the sea, so be sure to make some time for relaxing at the beach.
A small lake in northwestern Slovenia, Lake Bled is one of the most photogenic spots in the country. The lake itself is a deep blue-green colour, but what makes it special is the tiny island in the middle, home to a 17th century monastery, which you can visit. There is also a castle on the hill near the lake and a number of beautiful hiking trails close by.
Considered one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe, the Soča River is a deep emerald green colour. It's water flows through waterfalls and rocky gorges in Slovenia, making its way through canyons and smaller pools. The surrounding areas are perfect for water sports or trout fishing. The mountains above the river were also the site of one of the largest battles in World War I.
Slovenia is at its best between Spring and Autumn, when you can take advantage of all its outdoor activities like hiking, rafting and mountaineering. The country does attract more visitors in July and August, especially around Lake Bled, so timing your trip before or after that peak can be a good idea. Winter can be cold, but it’s a magical time to visit the country and see the famous landmarks glittering with snow. You can also visit the Christmas markets in Ljubljana and, of course, spend some time skiing or snowboarding on the slopes.
As Slovenia is a small country, most attractions are within a couple of hours of Ljubljana and easily accessible by public transport. While the trains can be a little bit shabby around the edges, they are reliable and can get you to most places in the country. If you want to see more of the countryside or enjoy a more rural side of Slovenia, hiring a car would be the best bet, allowing you to go off the beaten track at your own pace.
Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is a wonderful, little city with a population of around 200,000. Situated near the centre of the country, it makes a perfect base for exploring further. You can enjoy the comforts of a larger city with international hotels, good restaurants and a wealth of Airbnbs. Ljubljana is also a transport hub, meaning that connections with other towns are readily available, making day trips easy.
Another popular area to stay is around Lake Bled. It’s a perfect option in warmer weather, allowing you to enjoy water sports on the lake at your leisure. Lake Bled can be a bit crowded in July or August, so if you want a truly relaxing holiday at the lake, book your trip outside those months.
There's a lot to do in Slovenia. Here are just a couple of the highlights
Wander through green valleys and canyons with rushing blue water far below you. There’s a wide range of beautiful hiking trails in Slovenia, all with stunning natural outlooks. Trails around Lake Bled and the Soča River and very popular for hiking.
Also known as the Emerald River, the Soča is so clear that you can see to the bottom of the river, even in the deepest sections. The surroundings are stunning and the long river gives you a good range of kayaking options. Suitable for beginners in places, there are also options for more experienced kayakers wanting a challenge. And the views and amenities are excellent throughout.
Slovenia is home a huge number of caves, some easily accessible and some requiring more of an adventure. Škocjan and Postojna, in particular, have regular guided tours and are can be visited by people of all ages. Of the two, my favourite is Škocjan, where you can cross a bridge over a huge cavern which looks like something out of the Lord of the Rings. There are also a number of underground caves around the Soča River which can be explored with a guide, including the Mala Boka and Srnica caves.
Launched in late 2020, the Slovenia Green Capitals route takes independent travellers on a journey between three travel hubs around the country. You can drive the route or do it by train, but there’s a particular joy in cycling between the green capitals – especially as this is designed to support sustainable travel. The route connects Ljubljana with Kočevje, renowned for its forest and natural features, and the Bela Krajina region, the heart of food and culture in the country.
It’s an easy climb up the hill to visit the castle perched about the city of Ljubljana. As well as beautiful views of the city, you can have lunch or dinner at the restaurant in the castle walls. There’s also plenty to explore in the walls, including a museum, interesting art and replicas of weapons.
If you're visiting Slovenia as part of a longer trip, there are a number of nearby countries which are great options to visit alongside Slovenia. There are easy train connections from Slovenia to Northern Italy, where you can visit the famous floating city of Venice, romantic Verona or the impressive Dolomites. The beautiful Renaissance city of Florence is also easily accessible, and makes the perfect stopover on the way to Rome.
From Piran, you can also head down the coast to explore coastal Croatia. The relatively quiet area of Istria makes a great introduction to this stunning country, while the Dalmatian islands each have their own character. Be sure to visit the wonderful city state of Dubrovnik and, if you have the time, do a day trip to Mostar, a beautiful city in Bosnia and Herzegovina.