Things to Do in Slovenia
Between Ljubljana’s medieval hilltop castle and the Ljubljanica River lie the narrow cobblestone streets and charming pastel-colored buildings of Old Town. The neighborhood’s impressive architecture, picturesque bridges, riverfront walkways, and heaps of cafés and bars with terrace seating help make Ljubljana a true jewel of Central Europe.
Nestled into the foothills of the Julian Alps in northwest Slovenia, glacial Lake Bled is a place of spectacular natural beauty. Subterranean thermal springs keep the lake’s exquisite blue-green waters relatively warm during summer, making it a hot spot for water sports. Bled also makes a perfect base for exploring the Julian Alps.
Stretching from Triglav National Park to Nova Gorica in Slovenia, the Soca Valley is home to the outdoor adventure hotspots of Bovec and Kobarid. Bovec in particular is known as the adrenaline capital of the country, serving as a base for white water rafting, kayaking, paragliding and hiking. It is also home to a zip line that lets visitors soar at speeds up to 40 kilometers per hour more than 50 meters above the ground. Other options include mountain biking, bungee jumping, canyoning, fishing, horseback riding and, in the winter months, ice climbing.
Beyond the adventure activities, the Soca Valley is home to several historical sights, mostly relating to World War I, when millions of troops fought in the surrounding mountains. Those interested in the heritage of World War I can follow a well-marked hiking trail known as the Walk of Peace through the valley past several outdoor museums.
The Postojna Cave—a subterranean wonderland of karst tunnels, caverns, and galleries, adorned with dramatic stalagmites and stalactites—is one of Slovenia’s most remarkable natural wonders and among the country’s most visited tourist attractions. It stretches along the Pivka River for an impressive 12.5 miles (20 kilometers).
Built into a rocky precipice in the Julian Alps foothills of northwest Slovenia, Bled Castle (Blejski Grad) sits high above the stunning blue-green Lake Bled. With moats, a drawbridge, ramparts, towers, and terraces with magnificent views of the lake, this 9th-century fortress is everything you would imagine a medieval fairy-tale castle to be.
Flowing through the Trenta Valley in Slovenia’s Julian Alps, the Soca (also known as the Isonzo) is one of Europe’s most beautiful rivers. The Soca River is known for its narrow, rocky gorges, hidden canyons, waterfalls, and striking emerald color, which gives the river its nickname the “Emerald Beauty.”
The Church of St. George (Piran Cathedral) is a Roman Catholic church sitting high on a hill above the Slovenian port town of Piran on the Adriatic Coast. Considered one of the most impressive churches in Slovenia, it is also one of the most important landmarks in Piran, visible from Tartini Square in the center of town. Dating to the 14th century, it was reconstructed in the early 17th century in a Venetian Renaissance style. Around the same time, a bell tower was added that was modeled after St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice, followed a few years later by a Baroque style baptistery.
Visitors should look for two sculptures of St. George within the church, a larger one by an unknown artist and a smaller, silver plated sculpture made by a goldsmith workshop in Piran. Also of note are two large paintings from the early 17th century, several marble altars that were added in 1737 and interior frescoes that were restored in 2002-2005. The ground floor of the sacristy displays a variety of religious objects, as well as a wooden model representing an earlier version of the church. In front of the church is a large lawn that was once a graveyard. Today, it offers superb views over the Bay of Trieste and the town of Piran.
Piran’s Tartini Square (Tartinijev Trg) is one of the most impressive plazas in Slovenia, and that's not just because of its grand Venetian and neo-Renaissance surroundings. Originally outside city walls, the square first served as a fishing dock, and by the end of the 19th century, was completely overrun with sewage, prompting city officials to build the public square on top. Today, the pedestrian-only plaza sits between Piran's Town Hall and Court House, and serves as a scenic venue for concerts and events, as well as a popular meeting spot for city locals. Go for the people-watching or for excellent views of the surrounding hills, architecture, and Adriatic Sea.
Within the square, you'll see a 19th-century monument of the violinist and composer Giuseppe Tartini, for whom the square is named for, and two stone flag poles from the 15th century at either side of its entrance.
Tucked almost on the border with Italy in Slovenia’s limestone karst landscape, Lipica is an ancient village best known for the stud farm that started breeding white Lipizzaner horses when the region was part of the Austrian Habsburg empire in the 16th century. The first brood mares and stallions were brought here from southern Spain in 1581 and although the stud has been relocated several times over the centuries – thanks to wars, earthquakes and changing national boundaries – the same Lipizzaner strain has been bred ever since.
A visit to Lipica Stud Farm encompasses guided tours of the historic estate, family-friendly “meet the horses” sessions, carriage rides (weather-dependent), seeing the horses in morning training and dressage performances by the stallions in the manège, while the Lipikum Museum showcases the backstory of the stud. For non-equine fans, the farm has a year-round nine-hole golf course.
Also to see in Lipica are mass graves dating from World War II, the Vilenica and UNESCO-listed Škocjan karst cave complexes and the ornate little Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes in the Dolina Valley, which is now a popular Catholic pilgrimage point.
With its picture-perfect church and ornate steeple peeking out above the treeline and perched on Bled Lake, tiny Bled Island (Bled Island (Blejski Otok) looks like something out of a fairy tale. Local tradition has it that a groom must carry his bride up all 99 steps that lead from the island’s dock to the church to ensure a happy marriage.
More Things to Do in Slovenia
Over 700 years old, this incredible castle is unique in every way. Home to the infamous rebel knight Erazem of Predjama in the 15th century, this Renaissance castle sits in the mouth of a cave on a 123 meter (40 foot) high cliff. The interior houses an incredible collection of historical artifacts, from antique armaments to old artworks, as well as the original furnishings and decorations.
For the adventurous visitor, the famous tunnel of Erazem, the secret passage used when the castle was besieged, is designed as a historical center of the legend, and can be ascended.
The observation post perched on a cliff provides a breathtaking view of the countryside, and is not to be missed. If you're visiting in July, be sure to check out the annual Erasmus tournament, in which people gather in costumes to participate in traditional tournament events in true medieval fashion.
Since 2006, the Ljubljana Castle Funicular has been transporting passengers between the city center in Slovenia’s capital and Ljubljana Castle, perched on top of Castle Hill. Featuring a modern design, the glass-enclosed cable railway also offers spectacular views over Ljubljana, as well as the ruins of a medieval defensive wall.
Spanning the Ljubljanica River in the heart of Old Town Ljubljana, the Dragon Bridge is one of the most popular landmarks in the city. Four menacing bronze dragons guard the bridge, two at each end, with 16 smaller dragons adorning its span. These mythical beasts are symbolic of the city’s founding and have become the emblem of Ljubljana.
Triglav National Park (Triglavski Narodni Park) is one of Europe’s largest nature reserves, with over 340 square miles (881 square kilometers) of mountains, lakes, glacial valleys, and alpine meadows. Best known for its rocky mountain vistas and rich biodiversity, the park is an ideal spot for hiking, climbing, rafting, and other wilderness activities.
With pretty landscaped gardens, shaded woodlands, and peaceful walkways, Tivoli Park is Ljubljana's most popular green space. The 2-square-mile (5-square-kilometer) expanse features walking and cycling trails, mini golf courses, and playgrounds as well as important cultural institutions such as Tivoli Mansion and the Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia.
Located at the foot of the iconic Triple Bridge over Ljubljanica River—and dedicated to beloved national poet France Prešeren—Prešeren Square is one of Ljubljana’s most famous public spaces. Perched by the riverside, the square is connected to many of the city’s main thoroughfares, making it the perfect spot from which to explore the city.
Slovenia’s largest lake is a tranquil oasis of pristine water lying in Triglav National Park northwest of Ljubljana. Bordered by the peaks of the Julian Alps, this is a region of powerful natural beauty, rich in cascading waterfalls and limestone cave complexes burrowing underground. It was formed by glaciation in the last Ice Age and today the lake is fed by spring waters bubbling up through limestone deep under its northern shores as well as glacier melt from the Savica River, which starts life plunging over a spectacular 71-m (232-ft) waterfall upstream in the Julian foothills. The same river leaves Lake Bohinj as the Sava Bohinjka, which twists and turns its way 30 km (18.5 miles) through tumbling gorges into the clear waters of Lake Bled.
Lake Bohinj is a hive of activity all year round, with cyclists and hikers basing themselves in the sleepy town of Ribcev Laz to follow the marked trails around the shoreline. While Bohinj occasionally freezes hard enough for ice-skating in winter, the sunny summer months are a haven for sports fans, when water temperatures are warm enough for swimming, wind surfing, kayaking and canoeing. Sailing and fishing for trout and char are other popular summer pastimes and excursion boats chug around the lake, departing from Ribcev Laz between May and October. Ibex, rare chamois and golden eagles can sometimes be spotted in the remote alpine landscapes surrounding Bohinj.
Ljubljana’s Congress Square (Kongresni Trg) is an historical Baroque piazza uniting some of the city's most beautiful buildings and popular attractions—yet it's best known as a place to relax. Built in 1821 just a street over from the main area of old town, the peaceful square and verdant Star Park (Park Zvezda) that sits in its middle offer locals and visitors a quiet place to eat, read, and soak in views of the city's iconic hilltop castle.
The University of Ljubljana and Slovenian Philharmonic line the southern flank of the square, while the Baroque-designed Ursuline Church of the Holy Trinity and popular Kazina are found on the square's north end. Also nearby are excavations of the Roman settlement of Emona.
Though most popular in summer when an open-air cinema plays free movies in the park in August, the square's surrounding Biedermeier-style architecture, convenient cafes, and beautiful scenery make it a major stop on most walking and cycling tours of Ljubljana.
With its enormous green dome and twin clock towers, the St. Nicholas’ Cathedral (Stolnica Sv. Nikolaja) towers over Ljubljana Old Town and is one of the city’s must-see attractions. The cathedral’s lavish interior is its biggest draw; nearly every inch of the inside is covered in art from the baroque-style frescos and portraits to the magnificent carved altar and bronze doors.
One of Ljubljana’s most recognizable landmarks, the Triple Bridge over Ljubljanica River connects the city’s historic center with the popular meeting point, Prešeren Plaza. The bridge’s three interconnected pedestrian-only pathways are the inspired masterwork of Slovene architect Jože Ple?nik and stand among his many humanist architectural gems in the city.
The Vintgar Gorge—created over centuries by the waters of the Radovna River—draws visitors with its emerald green pools, dramatic waterfalls, and picturesque swimming holes. Visit to traverse bridges and wooden boardwalks suspended over the water, and see the Sum waterfall, which cascades into an emerald pool at the head of the gorge.
While the romantic position of the lovely Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary (Bled Island Church) on a minuscule mound in the middle of Lake Bled is enough to attract thousands of visitors to it each year – it is one of Slovenia’s most popular wedding venues – it is also feted thanks to its internal ornamentation, 177‐foot (54‐meter) tower and dedication to the Virgin Mary. Starting out as a pagan temple many years before the advent of Christianity, the church has at various times been a small, wooden structure and a single‐aisle Gothic church, which was consecrated by the Bishop of Ljubljana in 1465. The freestanding bell tower appeared later in the same century and the church was reconstructed yet again in 1685 in its present Baroque style, with a deliciously OTT gilt‐encrusted altar and black marble and wood‐carved pulpits contrasting keenly with its serene white and cream aisles. Two legends surround the church: that men must carry their partners up the 99 steps of the 15th‐century stone staircase leading up to its entrance to ensure marital happiness; and that ringing the wishing bell – which dates from 1534 – on the left of the altar makes wishes come true.
Kozjak Waterfall (Slap Kozjak) is close to the village of Kobarid in the foothills of the Julian Alps in western Slovenia, close to the border with Italy. Access to the waterfall is along an undemanding and clearly signposted 20-minute trail overlooking the clear, turquoise waters of the Soča River, which is backed by lush alpine forest.
On its way down Mount Krnčica (7,028 ft (2,142 m)) to join the Soča, the Kozjak River flows through karst landscapes pockmarked with caves and throws itself over six limestone gorges. The lowest of these waterfalls is the spectacular Kozjak cascade, which plunges 50 ft (15-m) through a narrow ravine into a deep blue pool formed as the force of the water has eroded the cliffs around it into a hollow, rounded cavern. The falls are at their most impressive in spring after the snow melts and make a scenic swimming spot in summer; the river itself is a popular destination for kayakers, rafters and canyoners.
The Kozjak Waterfall forms part of a circular walk that takes in all of the historic sights around Kobarid, including World War I bunkers and the Napoleon Bridge. This was built in 1750 and is so-named as Napoleon and his troops crossed it on their way to Predel Pass, where a battle took place against the Austrians in 1809.
Located in Ljubljana’s vast cobbled square of Mestni Trg, the Baroque Magistrat was built in 1719 by Slovenian architect Gregor Maček and today contains the office of the mayor as well as being a popular landmark with visitors to this elegant, pocket-sized city. The town hall is approached by an impressive flight of steps, has an ornate whitewashed façade incorporating an arched Venetian-style balcony, and is topped with a fancy pediment and clock tower. This incarnation replaced the previous Gothic town hall, which was built in 1418 but subsequently destroyed in a violent earthquake in 1511.
A monument to Yugoslavia’s first king, Peter I, was erected in the entrance hall in the mid-1920s but this was destroyed by Italian Fascist troops when they occupied the city in 1941 – nowadays a 17th-century statue of Hercules the lion has taken its place. The walls are covered with oil paintings and there are often a couple of art or history exhibitions on the go in the pretty inner courtyard. Outside the Magistrat stands the Robba Fountain, one of the city’s best-loved Baroque monuments. It was the last masterpiece of Ljubljana sculptor Francesco Robba, completed in 1751 and depicting three river gods representing Slovenia’s main rivers.
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