Kayaking down the pristine blue waters of the Soca River in Slovenia
travel guide

Slovenia travel guide: exploring lakes, rivers and caves

A country dotted with castles, lakes and dragon bridges, Slovenia could be straight out of a fairytale. Most of the country's major attractions are inland and focused on the natural environment with deep gorges, dark caverns and blue rivers on the tourist trail. Slovenia only has a sliver of coastline, so it isn't known for its beaches, however the small, seaside town of Piran is well worth visiting.

Easily one of the best places to visit in the Western Balkans, Slovenia was the first to secede from the former Yugoslavia, escaping the subsequent war and associated scars. The capital Ljubljana is a small but lovely city, which makes a convenient base for exploring the country. There's a surprising amount to do in Slovenia, particularly if you enjoy the outdoors. Here's what you need to know to plan your trip to this beautiful country.

The monastery at Lake Bled

Best time to visit Slovenia

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.

Best places to visit in Slovenia

For such a small country, there are a number of places in Slovenia well worth visiting. Here are a few places where you may want to spend a night or two (or longer) to soak up the stunning surroundings and experience the local vibe.

Ljubljana

An aerial view of Ljubljana and the castle on the hill

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. Local legends say 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.

Stay at the City Hotel Ljubljana for great views in a central location, or live like a local in a self-contained studio at Ethno Apartments.

Piran

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.

Stay at Hotel Piran in the centre of town or Apartments Maja for a beachfront location.

Lake Bled

Rowing to the monastery on the island on Lake Bled

A small lake in northwestern Slovenia, Lake Bled is one of the most photogenic spots in the country. Surrounded by mountains, the lake itself is a deep blue-green colour with clear waters. What makes it particularly enchanting, however, is the tiny island in the middle, home to a 17th century monastery, which you can visit.

The lake itself is a popular spot for boating, swimming or kayaking or you can just stroll around around the lake. Nearby, there is also a castle on the hill near the lake and a number of beautiful hiking and cycling trails close by.

Stay at Vila Bled, Tito's former summer residence, which is lakefront, with a lovely park and spectacular views.

Soča Valley

A canyon with huge rocks along the turquoise Soca River

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.

There is limited accommodation in some parts of the Julian Alps and both Bovec and Kobarid are popular places to stay in the area. Bovec is a mountain town and is home to the bulk of the accommodation in the area. Nearby Kobarid is quaint and also tucked into the mountains, and is a good spot to discover more about local history.

Stay at the Garni Hotel in Bovec or the Apartments Masera in Kobarid

Kayaking down the pristine blue waters of the Soca River in Slovenia

Things to do in Slovenia

There's a lot to do in Slovenia and a large variety of outdoor activities to choose from. The Julian Alps are home to some stunning national parks and exciting (and sometimes adrenaline inducing) experiences. Here are just a couple of the highlights:

Hiking

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 Triglav National Park are very popular for hiking.

Kayak in the Soča River

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.

The pathway through the interior of Postojna Cave

Explore a cave

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 the Škocjan Caves, 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.

Cycle the Green Capitals Route

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.

Visit Ljubljana Castle

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. There are also guided tours available if you want to learn more about the castle.

The walkway over the Reka River

Getting around Slovenia

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.

Cycling is also a good way to get around, with cycle routes connecting some of the cities. However, 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.

Where to next

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 south 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.

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Roxanne de Bruyn

Author - Roxanne de Bruyn

Roxanne is the founder and editor of Faraway Worlds. She is a freelance writer and guidebook author and has written for several travel publications, including Lonely Planet and The Culture Trip. With a background in communications, she has studied ancient history, comparative religion and international development, and has a particular interest in sustainable tourism.

Originally from South Africa, Roxanne has travelled widely and loves learning the stories of the places she visits. She enjoys cooking, dance and yoga, and usually travels with her husband and young son. She is based in New Zealand.

Last Updated 17 September 2022

A misty morning in Bela Krajina

Slovenia

Known for its lakes, caves and castles, Slovenia is a small, beautiful country on the northern edge of the Balkan peninsula.
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