Things to Do in Slovenia
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
More Things to Do in Slovenia
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Ljubljanica River has indelibly shaped the city of Ljubljana from its origins in prehistory as it wound its twisting course, acting as a trading route and bringing wealth to the early settlement. Today Ljubljana is often nicknamed "City of Bridges," and one of its most spectacular river crossings is the Art Nouveau Dragon Bridge, completed in 1901 by Dalmatian architect Jurij Zaninovic; it is guarded by an intimidating pair of bronze dragons – symbol of the city – at either end and connects the modern, working city with the Baroque charms of the Old Town across the Ljubljanica.
Although the river was first spanned by bridge in Roman times, the oldest crossing still in existence today is the 13th-century Cobblers’ Bridge; originally this was a simple wooden construction but it was replaced by a striking ballustraded affair in 1931 by Jože Plečnik. This Slovenian architect was also responsible for shaping much of the modern city before he died in 1957, designing the fine Art Nouveau Triple Bridge over the river from Prešeren Trg (Square) and also helping to wrench the waterfront back to life with the construction of tree-lined bankside promenades along the Ljubljanica. Today the riverbanks are home to countless smart bars and restaurants, with terrace seating for balmy summer evenings. A daily produce market sprawls along the river and there’s a Sunday flea market along the waterfront at Cankarjevo Nabrezje.
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.
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.
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.
The twin peaks of Grmada and Mount Saint Mary (Smarna Gora) are both swathed with oak and beech forest and sit in northern Slovenia; their humps are clearly visible from its enticing capital city of Ljubljana, which spreads out into a giant basin below the mountain. Mount Saint Mary is the eastern of the two peaks and reaches up to 669 meters (2,194 feet); woven with 15 hiking trails, it is one of the most popular weekend destinations for the folks of Ljubljana. They flock out to the forest to enjoy walking, jogging, mountain biking, and climbing through narrow craggy limestone gorges and canyons; while in winter Mount Saint Mary becomes a snowy paradise for Nordic skiing and tobogganing. It is also a haven for wildlife, with foxes, martens, squirrels, buzzards and hawks commonly spotted; sightings of deer and brown hare have been recorded but are rare.
Depending on fitness, it takes between 45 and 60 minutes to climb Mount Saint Mary, which is topped by the 18th-century Baroque church of the Virgin Mary – although a pilgrimage church has existed in this site since medieval times – from which there are spectacular views over the city to the Julian Alps. A popular restaurant shares the same spectacular panoramas, sells typically Slovenian treats such as puffy donuts called miske (mice) or stuffed dumplings, and gets rammed every summer weekend. Close by is an ancient bell, reputed to bring good luck to anyone who rings it.
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.
At an elevation of more than 1600 meters, the Vrsic Pass is the highest mountain pass in Slovenia, crossing the eastern Julian Alps. Part of the Russian Road built for military use in the early 19th century, the pass connects Upper Carniola with the Trenta Valley. This includes a series of 50 numbered hairpin turns leading up to the pass. A Russian Orthodox chapel stands on the north side of the pass near hairpin 8 and a Russian cemetery can be found near hairpin 4. Both the chapel and cemetery honor the Russian prisoners of war who died in an avalanche while building the road. On the south side of the pass, a bronze monument honors Slovenian mountaineer and writer Julius Kugy.
Those wishing to stretch their legs along the way can park near the top of the pass and follow a footpath to a mountain hut. From there, the path leads up to a summit for panoramic views of the surrounding area. The route can be covered on foot in about 45 minutes.
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