First Impressions of Slovenia
On stepping off the bus in Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, fresh from Trieste, we were in search of a taxi. I’ll admit I was shocked and a little suspicious when, within a minute a cab drove past, cut across traffic to do a u-turn and collect us. It was that sense of urgency and enthusiasm that continued as we slid into the back seat. Our driver wanted to know all about us; where we were from, how long we were staying and exactly what we had planned. Growing more cagey I was vague with the details, watching for landmarks out the window in case this was the day we were kidnapped while travelling. I was prepared. But as we drove, it became more apparent that he was just a very proud Slovenian who wanted to ensure we were going to have an amazing time visiting his country. He gave us suggestions of what we shouldn’t miss while we were in town, creating a list a mile long. As he dropped us off, we offered him a tip to add to the already tiny taxi far, to thank him for all of his tips. He refused it and simply wished us well. It was the same friendly, welcoming attitude we experienced everywhere we went during our short stay in the country and just one of the ways Slovenia won us over.
What to See and Do in Ljubljana
Start your Slovenia stay in the capital, Ljubljana. Be warned, you may want to extend your stay; this city is as enchanting as they come. You will be reaching for your camera the moment you hit the cobblestones, not just for the beautiful buildings but for the stunning Slovenian people too. Model scouts would be working overtime on the streets of Ljubljana. For a country with a population of just 2 million people, we saw a lot of extraordinarily good looking and very fit and healthy locals on the streets of the capital.
Visiting Ljubljana Castle is a must and the perfect spot to start crossing off your Ljubljana sightseeing list. Wear comfortable shoes for the climb up the hill. The castle is beautifully preserved and now houses historical exhibitions, including an in-depth and very interesting permanent exhibit where you can learn all about the history of Slovenia. We also went to a temporary exhibition during our visit too and would highly recommend paying the extra to do so. Grab a coffee, sit on the grass and enjoy a little people watching or climb the fortress walls to get a better feel for the layout of Ljubljana below and of course snap some stunning photos. For something even more special, book a table for a long lunch at Strelec. Located in the formers archer’s tower, Strelec is led by one of the country’s top chefs, Igor Jagodic and serves up medieval-inspired fine dining fare with a modern twist.
The Ljubljanica River
The Ljubljanica River snakes its way up through the city, splitting the old town and the commercial centre. We used it as a guide to take us into the city, every morning. Ljubljana’s bridges are each unique and beautiful. Use them to zigzag your way back and forth between both sides of the city. Leave a love lock on the Butcher’s Bridge, admire the famed Central Market Building, designed by renowned Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik and make sure you stop and take in the view from the Triple Bridge, dating back to 1842. In the afternoon, you will notice the seats, steps and riverside restaurants begin to fill up with locals and visitors. Stop and join them with a glass of Slovenian craft beer or cviček, their local red wine. On weekends, pick up a coffee and stroll through the market stalls selling antiques on the Breg Embankment.
Tivoli Park | 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Tivoli Park is the city’s largest park and it’s the perfect place for a morning run or walk. Run north of the city all the way up to Tivoli Castle and stop on the way back through the park to admire the statues and artworks you’ll find along the way (about 20 minutes walk each way, depending on where you are staying).
Slovenia’s Farm to Fork Fare
Le Petit Cafe & Restaurant | Trg francoske revolucije 4, 1000 Ljubljana
Join the hipster crowd at Le Petit Cafe and Restaurant for weekend brunch. Ready to settle in for a relaxed morning in the sun-drenched courtyard, the crowd come armed with the weekend’s news headlines, dressed from head-to-toe in the latest trending looks. We loved the Baked Eggs and the creamy coffee and the morning buzz.
Gostilnica 5-6 kg | Gornji trg 33, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
We stopped at Gostilnica 5-6 kg for a late lunch on our first day in Ljubljana, on our way to Ljubljana Castle. Gostilnica simply translates to “restaurant”. This cute family restaurant was located in a quiet street and we sat out under the awning and ordered their set menu of gazpacho, octopus and goat. They also make their own bread and some delicious looking wood-fired pizzas.
Dvorni Wine Bar | Dvorni trg 2, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Dvorni is located in the perfect spot for people watching over a glass of local wine. Take a seat on the steps outside for a casual tipple or book one of the booth tables in the window and stay around for sundowners and dinner.
Weekend Market | Vodnikov trg & Pogačarnev trg, Ljubljana
Hisa Franko | Staro selo 1, 5222 Kobarid, Slovenia
A countryside estate, Hiša Franko is a working farm and home to Ana Ros’ kitchen. Named the World’s Best Female Chef in 2017, Ros creates innovative dishes using local ingredients, including those from her own herb, flower and vegetable garden, while her her husband Valter, matches each with the perfect wine pairing. A stay at Hiša Franko should be on every foodie’s Slovenian itinerary.
Exploring Beyond Ljubljana
All of the major sites you would want to see in Slovenia are just a couple of hours drive from the capital. As we hadn’t pre-booked accommodation and we visited during peak time, we based ourselves in Ljubljana and took day trips instead.
We rented a car from a local rental company, ATET. It cost a lot less than the international names, they gave us a free upgrade (and a brand new car) and even dropped us at the train station when we returned the car. We cannot recommend ATET enough.
Stay in the Slovenian Countryside
- Hardcore foodies should make time to visit or stay at a tourist farm during your time in Slovenia. Each farm offers a different type of stay, depending on how involved you want to be. Join the family by working the paddocks, or simply hang out by the pool and wait for meals to be served bed and breakfast style. We didn’t make it to a farm on our trip but Trnulja (near Ljubljana) and Štern or Firbas (near Maribor) were all recommended to us.
- For those who want a more independent or immersive experience, rent a cabin and sleep among the vines in Slovenia’s wine growing regions. These cabins are generally more of a grassroots experience and can be very simple accommodation.
- If you have always dreamed of living in a castle in the country, you can do that in Slovenia too with a number of castle hotels spread throughout.
Lake Bled vs Lake Bohinj
Lake Bled | Bled 4260, Slovenia
Get in the car (or hire a bike) and travel just another 30 minutes through the stunning Julian Alps countryside to visit Slovenia’s largest natural lake, Lake Bohinj. We found Bohinj to be even more beautiful with fewer people around than at Bled. Hire a stand up paddle board, a kayak or swim in the gorgeous blue-green water, or walk around the lake itself. Afterwards, make sure you get a coffee and try a piece of the area’s traditional cream cake, kremšnita. We had a lovely lunch at Zlatovcica Restaurant in the Jezero Hotel adjacent to the lake.
Postonja Cave | Jamska cesta 30, 6230 Postojna, Slovenia
Predjama Castle | 6230 Predjama, Slovenia
Less than ten kilometres down the road from the Postonja Cave, the 700-year-old Predjama Castle sits nestled into the side of a cliff, 123 metres off the ground. Visitors can wander through the castle and get a feel for the life of Erazem the “Robber Barron”. Furniture is set up in each room and the original bell still hangs, it’s a really well maintained living historic display and both adults and children will love it.
Buy your tickets for both the Postonja Cave and the Predjama Castle online or at the ticket office at the cave and make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to both. You will need at least two hours at Postonja Cave.
Get Adventurous in the Alps
Slovenia is playground for active travellers with adventures on offer that range from one-hour SUP rental to bike tours around the countryside, climbing expeditions in the mountains and a seemingly endless list of sports for the adrenaline junkie. Whether you love to hike, ride a bike, rock climb or paraglide, there really is something that will get your blood pumping in Slovenia.
Our only regret on our trip to Slovenia is that we didn’t spend more time in this beautiful country; to chase each other down the rapids on the Soča River or take bikes around the countryside and feast on local food and wine while chatting to locals and the many other activities on offer for the healthy traveller.
When we return to Slovenia we will do a few other things differently too:
- Book a hotel prior to arrival. We booked an AirBnB and it was a disastrous stay. When we tried to book a hotel instead, they were all booked up.
- Book a stay at Hisa Franca with plenty of notice. They were also full when we tried to book last-minute and missing out on experiencing the magic of Ana Ros’ kitchen is something I think about often.
- Immerse myself in the famous Slovenian wellness culture. Health and spa resorts are spread around the country and the range of ancient to modern healing modalities is impressive.
There are so many things we feel we missed doing in Slovenia. For such a small country, there really is so much on offer. Mainly though, we talk about how much we miss being in Slovenia. There’s something about Slovenia that just makes you feel good.