Mountains, Lakes, and Sea – Oh my!
As the European Shoot Concierge this summer, I have been working remotely from Europe and exploring some spectacular places. One of my destinations was Slovenia. I had no expectations for this little country that seemed ‘on the way’ to the huge European destinations I was eager to get to, but it sincerely blew me away! It really has everything: mountains, lakes, castles, caves, coast, food, and music. Read on for my top tips on the best things to see and do in Slovenia.
The City of Ljubljana
Pronounced loo-blee-AH-nah, this capital city will captivate you. There are many things to do in the city, and it is also a great central place to explore from. Here are my city-specific recommendations to see:
1. Ljubljana Castle – This fortress-turned-museum is perched high atop a hill in the centre of the city. The Ljubljanica River flows in an arch around the castle hill, so the streets all seem to face the imperial palace. This results in an amazing 360-degree view of the skyline when you walk the castle walls. I highly recommend visiting late in the day. Most of the other tourists will have departed, plus you can catch the sunset from the top. On a clear day, you’ll see the surrounding mountains on all sides of the capital. A ticket is required for the museum, and it is, of course, worth exploring as well. If you prefer to avoid walking up the hill, take the cute little funicular (cable car railway) and enjoy the ride.
2. Three Bridges and the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation – Several scenic bridges cross the river in the old town, and a must-see set of bridges are the three built close together in front of the vibrant Franciscan Church of the Annunciation. Watch the ducks paddle by while you are serenaded by musicians performing on the Prešeren Square. I am so glad I chose this dynamic location for my Flytographer shoot, as it captured the beauty of the architecture, cobblestone streets, and lovely river canals that contribute to this city’s unique identity.
Coffee culture is very strong here, so perhaps order a traditional Turkish coffee at a riverside café. This is quite common thanks to the country’s position between the East and the West. Then head towards the Central Market for lunch and fresh local produce. If you’re visiting on a Friday, you can take advantage of the huge variety of dishes available during the Open Kitchen events. There is a good chance you’ll be able to enjoy more performers here as well.
3. Mesarski Most and Dragon Bridge – The spelling of the name Slovenia has ‘love’ in the middle, and you’ll feel that affection when you cross the Mesarski Most (Butchers’ Bridge). The steel wire railings along the beautiful steel and glass bridge are covered with the love locks (padlocks) of sweethearts who have locked them to the bridge and then merrily tossed the keys into the river (to symbolize their unbreakable love). From here you can look downriver to see the iconic Triple Bridge. Then the next bridge is the famous Dragon Bridge, which is decorated with large statues of the mythical creatures that give the bridge its name. From this bridge, you have a great view of the castle on the hill. If you are interested in getting closer to the river itself, you can join a stand-up-paddle board tour or a river cruise boat tour.
4. City Park Tivoli – This incredibly large park is a haven for nature seekers and casual strollers alike. Most of the space is rocky, hilly forest, and it’s a perfect playground for mountain bikers and trail runners. There are also lovely manicured paths, gardens, and fields, complete with fountains and cafés. If you love green spaces as much as I do, then adding the Botanical Garden & Park Špica to your itinerary is a must, as well. Learning about the local flora is so interesting, and finding a shady place to sit can be a welcome relief during your explorations. After you’re finished strolling in the Botanical Garden, you can walk up and down the banks of the Ljubljanica River under the serenely swaying branches of willow trees in Park Špica. You might be tempted to bask in the sun along the stretch of steps that lead down to the water’s edge. Keep an eye out for some cute coypus (also known as ‘beaver rats,’ but much cuter than the name suggests).
5. Metelkova Art Centre – I promised that Slovenia has music, and it certainly does! Not only are there performers on several street corners in the old town, but also the city organizes many festivals and concert events to enjoy. Taking a walk through Congress Square, you may find yourself watching a show without having planned to! A more permanent place to find a variety of music is the Metelkova Art Centre, which is a city block that includes bars and clubs playing whatever genre you may fancy. In the spirit of inclusiveness, the space is decorated with alternative art and transformed structures. It surrounds a large outdoor area that promotes socializing. The locals are particularly proud of the spot since it sincerely encourages people of different backgrounds and interests to come together.
If you’d love even more great recommendations for things to see, do, and eat in Ljubljana, definitely check out the site SpottedByLocals.com. There are helpful articles on a wide variety of categories, so you can fill your days with the very best things to experience in the city. We love to recommend this site because our very own Flytographer photographer Mankica contributes awesome articles to it.
Outside the City
Ljubljana is very centrally located within Slovenia, so it is a perfect place to set off from for more adventures! One of the best travel decisions I have ever made (after capturing my memories with Flytographer, of course!) was to rent a car to drive through this magnificent country! If you prefer not to drive, there are tours and bus options available as well. Here are some can’t-miss, must-see, breath-taking things to do elsewhere in Slovenia.
6. Lake Bled – Truly a picture-perfect scene, this aquamarine lake completely surrounded by mountains is a jewel of nature! It has some impressive man-made features as well. A castle that was built on the cliffside has been transformed into an informative museum. It offers stunning views of the scenery below and mountains beyond. Additionally, there is a small island that hosts a lovely church, accessible by boats, paddleboards, or swimming. A grand, sweeping staircase from the shore leads up to the church, inviting all visitors (who are dressed appropriately, of course). Adventurous and energetic visitors who climb the steep trail up the Mala Osojnica hillside are rewarded with an iconic postcard view of the scene. And the climb is a perfect way to build up some heat that will encourage you to jump into the beautiful, clear waters once you’ve returned to the lakeside. By the way, the region is famous for its cream cakes, which you will notice advertised in many places, so be sure to treat yourself.
7. Lake Bohinj – Just a little further on, nestled in the heart of the rugged Triglav National Park, lies Slovenia’s largest lake. Much less visited than Lake Bled, it is heaven-on-Earth for nature lovers. It has the clearest waters you could hope for, surrounded by the Julian Alps, and complete with the sound of cowbells tinkling in the air. Canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and paddleboarding are available. If you’d like to be a little more active, the hike to Mt. Vogar ridge on the northeast shore offers breathtaking views! A clearing has been made for paragliders to launch from, so they can sail over the lake. Here you can take a well-deserved rest while the soft breeze rustles the colourful wildflowers around you. You don’t need to hike to access the views, however, and can instead catch the chair lift to Mt. Vogar from the southwestern shore. While you’re on this side of the lake, don’t miss the majestic Waterfall Savica, just a 20-minute walk along a river that feeds the lake.
8. Vršič Pass – If twirling around in the mountains Julie-Andrews style is on your bucket list, then you will have the opportunity to do so several times along this drive! Definitely plan to spend at least a couple of more hours than what a GPS may say because (1) the roads are very twisty and narrow, and there may even be a bike race going on, and (2) you will want to pull over every few minutes to soak in the monumental views. The mountains start sharp and jagged in the east and then ease into rolling farmland through the Soča valley in the west. Stop in to admire the Russian Cathedral established for the Russian prisoners of war who helped build the road. You’ll also enjoy watching rafters rush by on the turquoise rivers. But do be careful of your speed when the road leads through the small, rose-covered villages in the valleys. My only regret is not staying the night in a quaint cabin in the mountains to see the sun set and rise along the resplendent ridges.
9. Predjama Castle and Postojna Cave – These two must-sees are close to each other, so you can easily visit them in a day trip from Ljubljana. Predjama Castle is an impressive structure built into the side of a mountain, with much of the fortress itself in a naturally occurring cave mouth. Special tours can take you deep into the cave, and the museum within the castle is very well done with an informative audio guide included with entrance. Then head down the road to the Postojna Cave, an impressive phenomenon where the Pivka River used to flow. As the river shifted to flow deeper into the ground, incredible caverns were carved over thousands of years. They are so extensive that a train takes you into the depths to experience the stalactites and stalagmites. A helpful guide explains all the different kinds of formations and minerals and the mind-boggling time it took to all take shape.
10. Piran – Craving some time by the sea? Slovenia isn’t completely land-locked, so you can check out some lovely villages along the northern coast of the Adriatic Sea. Piran is one of the country’s ancient Roman port cities. With several harbours, waterside restaurants, and ample opportunities to dive into the sparkling water, Piran perfectly complements a vacation in the mountains. Slovenians are really proud of Piran and believe this little medieval town’s beauty rivals that of Venice. And if you look across the sea on a clear day, you may even be able to spot Venice on the horizon.
If you want to capture your memories in Slovenia when you visit, make sure to check out our photographer in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and you will have frame-worthy pictures for your wall to help you remember your amazing trip.
I had so much fun exploring this beautiful country, and I can’t wait to go back again soon! If you’d love to learn more about another nearby city, check out our guide for The Best Things To Do in Prague, Czech Republic!