Day 1: Getting to Know Ljubljana
Ljubljana – the beloved city; a city of dragons; a city of swamps; the pint-sized capital of a central european republic. This is home base for any trip to Slovenia. Its city center is less than 4 sq. km making it easy to stroll around to all the sights (correction: there aren’t many major tourist attractions in Ljubljana). But with thinner tourist crowds comes a better chance to understand the city’s history, embrace the culture, and just wander around.
Before wandering on your own, consider taking the Ljubljana Free Tour. This is part of a larger network of tour operators across Europe that operate on tips and tips alone. The Ljubljana Free Tour is the second one I’ve taken and I 100% recommend it. This specific walking tour will last about 2.5 hours taking you around central Ljubljana discussing the history and culture of the city. Major stops include – Prešeren Square, the Triple Bridge, the Central Market, the Butcher’s Bridge, the Dragon Bridge, Saint Nicholas’ Church, Town Hall, Shoemaker’s Bridge, Congress Square, the National and University Library, and the Crusader’s Monastery.
After the walking tour it’s time to refuel. There’s a few quick, cheap lunch options to consider:
Burek: While not a traditional Slovenian dish, Ljubljana is littered with Burek stands (especially the area around the train station). It’s a savory pastry often made with a phyllo-like dough and stuffed with all sorts of goodness. Most stands will offer a few simple options – meat, cheese, spinach, or pizza. Shouldn’t cost you more than €3.
Carniolan Sausage (Kranjska Klobasa): Meat in tube form cannot get any better. This Slovenian sausage is kielbasa, but served in the European form. A standalone sausage, roll, and some mustard or horseradish to dip it in. One of the best places to grab one in Ljubljana is at Klobasarna. Order at the counter and just let them know if you want a half (one sausage) or a pair (two sausages). But it’s so cheap you mine as well grab two. €3,50 for a half and €5,90 for a pair.
In the fall and winter, little wooden shacks around the city will open up and pull a small circular grill out. And inside are bags and bags of chestnuts that come out for roasting over an open flame. Grab a snack, because you’ll need it for the walk up to the Ljubljana Castle.
At the top on a clear day you can see the snow capped tops of the Alps. Follow the street from behind the Central Market through a short quiet street where you’ll quickly encounter a posted map. A steep series of paved path and steps will lead you to the castle. There’s a guided tour that can be had if you choose, but we took the cheaper option (free) and spent a little time on the viewing terrace.
The cafe culture in Europe is something to love and the scene in Ljubljana is no different. Up and down the river are a variety of cafes and bars with patio seating to enjoy a coffee or other beverage of your choice. One popular stop is Kavarna Macek with happy hour Monday to Friday from 4 to 7 that will get you 20% of your tab. A few sips of Slovenian schnapps might warm you up on a chilly autumn evening. Blueberry, honey, and pear are popular varieties.
In a traditional gostilna in Slovenia, grandma will cheerfully serve you rustic, hearty dishes with a beer to go along with it. There seems to be one on every other street corner. We took a little bit of a different route for dinner- little hipper, a little younger, but still kinda a gostilna. Gostilnica XXI can still warm your stomach with classic Slovenian dishes, but there’s some more modern dishes as well.
It was all delicious – we had liver pate, horse steak, and a shellfish pasta.
Day 2: Daytrippin’
Any edge of Slovenia can be reached within two hours by car, making day trips a good option for a little change in scenery. While heading east towards Maribor might be a good option for some, I’m proposing two options in the western portions of Slovenia. If you have a car, you should be able to fit these packed itineraries into one day. If you’re using public transportation, plan on being more selective about your stops along the way.
Lakes and Mountains
Option 1 takes you into the highlands of the Julian Alps for a few walks around its pristine lakes.
Start off with the ~55 km ride from the center of Ljubljana to Bled, Slovenia’s most well known destination. Buses leave for Bled nearly every hour and will put you back €6,30 one-way. Take a walk around Lake Bled (about six km if you go around the whole thing) and stop to admire the castle…
Or check out the swans… or grab a Lasko or Kremsnita and coffee…
Or climb to the castle for a better view of the lake.
If you’re driving yourself, a quick stop at Vintgar Gorge is a short ten minutes past the north size of Lake Bled. Stop there for a short walk of the gorge before moving on to Bohinj.
Some would say that Lake Bohinj is more picturesque than Slovenia’s more well-known Bled. I say you should definitely see both and be the judge for yourself. Bohinj is sleepier, but larger where you’ll find plenty of quiet spots along the walking trails to enjoy a nice picnic. And if you’re feeling more adventurous you can visit Alpinsport right outside the Bohinj Jezero bus stop to rent bikes, a kayak or canoe, go mini-rafting, canyoning, or hang-gliding.
We slept in a little bit on our trip to the lakes so we only had time to stop at Bled and Bohinj, but if you plan ahead a little bit you may consider a stop somewhere else in the area. The two other popular stops include:
- Vogel Ski Resort – we’ve heard it offers beautiful views even outside of ski season. A cable car on the west side of Bohinj Lake will take you up to the resort. To get to the cable car you can walk ~6km from Bohinj Jezero bus stop or you can get off at the Bohinj Zlatorog stop and the cable car lift is close by from there).
- Radovljica – a small town with a medieval city center located in between Ljubljana and Bled. The bus stops here making it any easy drop off for an hour or two.
Caves and Coast
There are over 10,000 known caves in Slovenia that get hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
The closest from Ljubljana and most popular in Slovenia is the Postojna Cave. Some say it’s a natural wonder turned into Disneyland, with the Predjama Castle out front and a toy train to take you down below. A true spelunker would have none of it. But half a million visitors see it each year and it’s arguably the best system set up for a quick trip to the underground.
A little past the Postojna Cave near the town of Divaca is the Skocjan Caves. A UNESCO heritage site and a little closer to the heart of an enthusiast, this cave system takes 144m down for a three km walk through a smaller, but arguably more impressive underground canyon.
To the Sea
Cramped between the Italian and Croatian coast, a few small Slovenian towns dot the seaside. Piran is the most popular due to it’s medieval architecture but the towns of Koper, Izola, Portoroz are also close by. Have your pick and wanter around the narrow streets and compact town squares.
Day 3: Acting Like a Local
Central Market and Plečnik’s Covered Market
You may find the Ljubljana Central Market similar to others around the continent, but there’s a few fun finds worth checking out.
In the outdoor market you’ll find a few stands selling fresh sauerkraut. Straight from the fermentation barrel, order by weight and try some cabbage or turnip sauerkraut. Make an easy salad for lunch by chopping up some garlic and tossing it with the sauerkraut, some olive oil, and salt and pepper. Or save it for dinner and eat with nothing else but sausage and potatoes of course.
Near the walls of the covered market, we found something that seemed a little peculiar. The MLEKOmat dispenses fresh from the pasture raw milk 24/7 at the push of the button. We didn’t try it ourselves, but I found one stamp of approval claiming it’s the “richest, creamiest, loveliest, and most delicious surprise” they’ve ever had.
Tivoli Park, in the northwestern outskirts of city center, is stunning in the fall. Its back portion opens to the forest, covered in leaves changing color and fresh air. Take a stroll around lunch time with a fresh picnic packed from the market and sit atop Roznik Hill. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, hit up Hot Horse. These burgers are massive. Unfortunately I didn’t know that. I ordered a burger, fries, and a beer to go with it; a full feast. Did I mention this place is true to it’s name? The burgers are 100% horse meat. A least they are up front about it.
But if horse burgers aren’t your thing, I would understand. I ate alone on this occasion as I couldn’t convince anyone (Kristin) to come with me. Instead, head to the older part of town to find some cozy, comforting, and a little more upscale traditional-ish dishes. During the week, Pri Skofu offers a fixed lunch menu for just €8. We went on the hunt for this on a Saturday unfortunately. When we asked about it, the server seemed a little distressed and ran back to the kitchen. She came back and spat off what she could offer at a fixed price of €10. They make what they buy at the market each day. No menus. Just whatever the kitchen decides to offer.
Nobody says you can’t have dessert in the middle of the day. And after lunch, you’ll probably need an afternoon pick me up of sugar and a coffee to go with it. Zvesda has some of the best cakes in town and a few traditional dessert options as well. If you go traditional you’ll have a few options:
- Zavitek Iz Vlecenega Testa (Strudel) – Filo pastry with different fillings ranging from curd cheese or cherries to a mix of apples, cream, and peaches.
- Gibanica – The richest of all Slovenian desserts combines four different fillings: poppy seeds, curd cheese, walnuts, and apples separated by thin layers of filo pastry.
- Ljubljanski Strukelj – Cooked roll made of layered yeast-leavened dough with apricot jam, candied orange peel and almonds.
- Kremna Rezina (Cream Slice) – This layered pastry consists of a puff pastry base, custard, whipped cream, and a puff pastry upper layer sprinkled with powdered sugar.
- Domaca Potica – Grandma’s potica roll is a must during every Slovenian holiday. Available with walnut, tarragon, and almond fillings.