Overshadowed by its flashier neighbouring countries such as Italy and Croatia, tranquil Slovenia is a somewhat underrated and forgotten gem within central Europe. Known for its stunning mountain ranges, picturesque lakes and charming architecture, Slovenia is a country well deserving of your attention. But the scenery is not the only reason you should visit this peaceful country. Below is a list of my top reasons why Slovenia makes an awesome holiday destination, all year round.
1. The Lovely Capital of Ljubljana
Probably the cleanest and quietest capital city you’ll ever see, in 2016 Ljubljana won the title of ‘Europe’s Greenest City’ and impressively you will not find a single car in the old town. Ljubljana is perfect for exploring totally by foot and for those that can’t walk far, there are even little Eco golf carts cutely called ‘gentlemen’ that ferry people through the attractive cobbled streets for free.
Ljubljana has pockets of rustic medieval charm yet has a sprinkling of stylish bars, boutique shops and restaurants. If you’re a history nerd, a guided walking tour hosted by a local student costs only €13 from the tourist centre and provides a fascinating insight into the bustling Balkan past. To learn even more, tourists can also visit the awesome Museum of Slovenian History located within Ljubljana Castle which dramatically dominates a hill over the city, accessible by foot or a glass cable car.
If gastronomy is more your thing, you will find some of the best restaurants in Slovenia located in Ljubljana. There are adorable tea houses like Cajna Hisa, a Japanese themed vintage lunch room for cakes and light bites, or for more hearty local and Balkan cuisine (such as stews and sausages), great restaurants such as Gujzina or Sarajevo ’84.
2. They Have a Thing with Dragons
Dragons are Slovenia’s national mascot and so you will find emblems of this fierce beast plastered throughout the country, especially in Ljubljana. The dragon bridge here is adorned with four large copper dragons at each corner of the bridge (and 16 small ones), which according to local legends, wag their tails when a virgin crosses it. Weirdly the dragons must have been asleep when the ladies on the walking tour and I crossed it..
Aside from eyeing up virgins, the dragons are said to protect the city from intruders and symbolise courage and strength.
If you go to the Postojna Caves, one of Europe’s largest cave networks situated less than an hour from Ljubljana, you can even see highly endangered ‘baby dragons’ called ‘Proteus Anguinus’ or known locally as ‘Olms’. Said to be the spawn of the mythical beast, these strange eyeless salamanders are currently being bred in the depths of the caves in an attempt to avert their imminent extinction.
There’s something really magical about Slovenia’s dragon folklore. It’s embodied in not only Ljubljana’s founding history, but also celebrated in Slovenian music, art and architecture.
3. The Famous Lakes
The lakes of Slovenia, with their pristine alpine water, have attracted local holidaymakers all over the country for centuries. The most famous lake of all is fairytale Lake Bled, most notable for being surrounded by the Julian Alps and for the photogenic church perched on an island in the middle. Only an hour away by bus, Bled makes a popular day trip from Ljubljana.
In the winter when it’s fully frozen, ice skating is a popular activity on the lake and when thawed, swimming and hiring rowing boats to visit the church. Walking around the lake will take about two hours but the most worthwhile hike of all is to the Straža viewpoint to look at the lake from above. This view really makes you appreciate the full beauty of Bled.
Lake Bohinj, 26Km from Bled, is in many people’s opinion a more beautiful and less touristy lake, which when I visited was blanketed in snow. In the winter you can hike or ski in the area and in the summer Lake Bohinj is a hub for water sports such as kayaking, white water rafting and paddle boarding.
4. It’s Cheap (including the flight)
I went to Slovenia in February 2017 and booked the flight four weeks before my departure date. From London Luton a return ticket cost me £32 with Wizz Air (but I took only small hand luggage, there are high fees if you bring more than this). If you break that down, that’s only £16 each way and includes taxes and admin fees – pretty amazing value!! I often notice Slovenia makes it within the top 10 cheapest destinations from the UK on a Skyscanner to ‘everywhere’ search. This means that if you are flexible on your dates, you may be able to get the flight even cheaper than I did.
On average, hostels in Slovenia cost me only €10-€12 a night for really decent en-suite dorm rooms. Transport is also really reasonable if you book your ticket in advance (buses are the quickest and most cost effective option).
The most expensive thing I found in Slovenia (but still reasonable for central Europe) was the cost of dining out. However the supermarkets and ‘fast food’ convenience stores (where you can buy paninis, slices of pizza, salads etc) were really good value. There is no denying that Slovenia is a cheaper place to visit than its more touristy neighbours, like Italy.
5. There are Some Incredible Castles
If there is a mountain peak in Slovenia, chances are there’s either a medieval castle or a church dramatically perched on the top of it. Of course back in the 11th century when the castles were built, this was purely tactical to protect against invasion and to ensure efficient vantage points. Today, these beautifully rustic Gothic structures romantically adorn the skyline, visible for miles around.
In Ljubljana the castle not only contains a permanent history exhibition but it is also home to a fantastic restaurant (that you will need to book in advance due to popularity), incredible city views and some brilliant temporary displays. It has been modernised quite a lot but retains some great original features. The entrance is a very reasonable €10 (or €12 to include the funicular up), which considering it takes a good 3-4 hours to explore properly, makes the ticket really good value.
The oldest and most visited site in Slovenia is said to be Bled Castle. Bled is everything a typical castle should be: complete with moats, towers, dungeons and dramatic terrace views. To avoid the €10 entrance fee here, you can be cheeky and just have a meal in the restaurant to soak up the atmosphere and views.
6. The Country is Small
At just over 20,000 square kilometres (about the size of Wales), you can easily tour the majority of Slovenia’s highlights in only a week.
In seven days I managed to spend a few nights not only in the capital of Ljubljana, but also Lake Bled, Lake Bohinj and Piran. Worth visiting is also Maribor and Ptuj to the East which you can do in this timescale is you skip Lake Bohinj or spend only a day in Ljubljana.
It’s pretty cool that you can gain such a big insight into a country in such a short space of time
7. It’s Safe
In Slovenia the government not only provides free university education for students, but they also heavily subsidise food and accommodation. As my walking tour guide explained, it’s no surprise that the majority of people end up staying in education for as long as possible doing multiple degrees! This inclusive university system has resulted in a highly educated population and I think an important factor as to why Slovenia has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. They also scored an extremely impressive number seven on the 2017 global peace index which takes into account not only crime but things like the risk of terrorism and natural disasters etc.
I felt totally safe walking the streets alone both day and night in Slovenia. As a lone traveller, bus drivers, shop attendants and so on were super kind and friendly, often going out their way to assist me. If you’re looking for somewhere peaceful to explore solo, Slovenia may just be the place for you.
8. Their Most Famous Dish is a Cream Cake
Any country that celebrates cake is an awesome country in my books. Originating from Bled, ‘Kremna Rezina‘ is lashings of thick vanilla cream sandwiched between two leafy sheets of flaky pastry and dusted in icing sugar. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you can’t leave the country without trying one of these delicious treats!!
You can buy this dessert from any Slovenian supermarket or cafe but if you’re in Bled, try one with a coffee from the cosy and quirky Ostarija Peglez’n cafe/restaurant near Hotel Park.