Why Slovenia Should Be Your Next European Destination
When you decide to book a European vacation, the prospects can be exciting, even overwhelming. You might think of kissing your reluctant lover under the Eiffel tour, strapping on some lederhosen and chugging beers in Germany, or scouring the beaches of Greece for some wine-fueled adventure. I know that for me, Slovenia was not even on my radar when I started planning my European getaway. If someone had asked me about Slovenia this time last year, my response probably would have been,
“Heh? Who dat?”
But luckily, the trusty collective wisdom of the travel blogging community set me straight. After a few days of researching and drooling over photos online, I came to the realization that Slovenia is where it’s at.
My train ride from Prague to Ljubljana was filled with questions from other travellers heading onwards to Croatia:
“Why would you go to Slovenia?”
“You’re seriously skipping Croatia?”
“Are you not into gorgeous beaches or do you just hate Game of Thrones?”
My answer was always the same- Croatia looks amazing, beaches are my jam, and I would do just about anything to catch a glimpse at one of those sexy man-elves that always seem to be running around on that show. But for me this trip was about seeing something different and catching up on the old Eastern European charm I’d been missing out on. So without further ado, allow me to pitch Slovenia to you, hard.
Small Town Charm in the Capital
The city of Ljubljana looks like any other- until you enter the Old Town.This town has all of the elements that make a European city great: clear and winding canals, colourful historic buildings, cobblestone streets, and delicious food and drinks. The Old Town is easily walkable and filled with rentable bikes, and most of the fun is in weaving in and out of the side streets searching for hidden gems. There is also a fairly constant stream of open air and glass-covered boats available. As for history, Slovenia is hard to beat. This country’s history is full of eclectic facts and figures, and there are tons of fantastic tour guides who know the city in and out. As a rule, I generally hate walking tours (I’m a speed walker with the attention span of a goldfish), but I was blown away by everything I learned on my free walking tour with Ljubljana Free Tour. The tour runs everyday at 11 AM and again at 3 PM in the high season, starting at the pink cathedral in Prešeren Square. At night, the restaurants and pubs lining the canal are the place to be as the town lights up and invites you to enjoy one or two (four) more glasses of their impressive local wine. By the end of the day, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into another era- and you’ll probably like this one better.
Where Young and Old Meet
Ljubljana oozes old town charm, but the young energy of the capital is what makes this city truly vibrant. Historical buildings mingle with hip cafes and bars, farmer’s markets and upscale junk food stops. Ljubljana is home to a huge university and the city’s street scene reflects this. On warm Friday’s, some of Ljubljana’s best food and drink hot spots set up stalls along the river and offer small plates for a fraction of the cost. Add a few kegs, picnic benches, and an awesome speaker system, and you’ve got the perfect evening by the river. This was one of my favourite experiences in Slovenia and is not to be missed if you can arrange your schedule around it! For more nightlife, you can’t go wrong with a pub crawl. I did not expect much from this charming town’s nightlife scene, but my night out with Pub Crawl Ljubljana was one of the wildest on my entire trip.
For most, Lake Bled is the main draw for a Slovenian stopover. After just a few hours there, I can tell you that this is totally justified. No matter how many photos you look at, none will capture the incredible sight of an ancient castle seemingly floating in the middle of the glowing teal water of the lake. When you’re done pinching yourself and have an SD card worth of photos, Lake Bled has got you covered for the day. If you’re on a budget, the lake has a great trail for walking and cycling that will take you around the entire lake, with several places to stop for a well deserved beer. If you’re willing to open the purse strings a little, there are tons of water activities to try like kayaking, paddle boarding, and even diving. The most enticing option was a personal wooden boat that can be paddled to the island for a visit to the church. The rental system and price makes this option a little unreasonable for solo travellers, and considering my boyfriend and I had been dating for approximately two days, it seemed a tad inappropriate to ask him to jet off to another continent so that I could ride in a romantic tandem paddle boat. As a destination for couples or families I would definitely recommend an overnight visit, but as a solo traveler I found a day to be enough time for me to enjoy the sights. Ask for the bus number and schedule from your front desk and the local transportation should get you there and back for less than $10 roundtrip.
Have you ever seen one of those movies where a gruff old grandfather reluctantly accepts an adorable puppy from his concerned children, only for them to become best friends who share ice cream cones and go on adventures together? Slovenians are those grandfathers. At first, they may come off as a little standoffish and cold (as I found common throughout Eastern Europe), but with a good attitude and a little persistence, you will grow on them. When I had questions about Slovenian culture and sights, I was always met with enthusiastic rambles from Slovenians who are obviously proud of their gorgeous country. After a night out where my purse and phone did not make it home with me, the amazing staff at Hostel Tivoli gave me a couch to nap on until I could find somewhere to extend my reservation. They then contacted everyone who might help me track it down, pulled out a bottle of homemade honey schnapps and had a Hugh Grant movie marathon with me. They turned the most frustrating day of my trip into something pretty memorable, and this was the type of genuine kindness I saw in Slovenians throughout my time there.
Hidden Gems Galore
With all of this said, I do have one major regret about my visit to Slovenia. If I knew then what I do now, I would have tripled the amount of time I planned for my stay there. Like I said before, the major draw to Slovenia for most tourists is Lake Bled, like for myself. All of my time in Slovenia was spent in Ljubljana and Lake Bled and while these stops were both amazing, this itinerary did not even scrape the surface of what Slovenia has to offer. It wasn’t until the communal breakfasts at my hostel that I heard about the mind-blowing scenery at Lake Bohinj, the rolling vineyards, the mountainside castle and caves at Scocjan, and the Vintgar gorge. I don’t usually make a habit of visiting the same country twice, but my FOMO was seriously kicking in when I realized all of the things my visit was missing. So let my cautionary tale be a warning to you all, and spend at least a full week checking out this tourist’s dream.
Sure, if you hate food, fun and nature, Slovenia may not be your thing, but I’m thinking that some of you have already left this page to go book your flights. Slovenia seems to just now be showing up on a lot of tourist’s radars so plan your visit now, before the rest of the world gets in on the secret.
Have any questions or guidebook worthy Slovenian experiences? Let me know in the comments below!