Slovenia isn’t widely known to be a top tourist country, especially for Americans. While many travel to Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, and even Hungary, Slovenia is often left out. Many haven’t even heard of the small European nation. In this post I plan to unlock some of the amazing places Slovenia has to offer that will make you want to add this destination to your bucket list for sure.
Slovenia officially gained its independence in 1991 when it split off from Yugoslavia. While the history behind the split isn’t the most peaceful story, the people of Slovenia (known as Slovenes) are very peaceful. In fact, Slovenia today is one of Europe’s most peaceful countries to visit – and it’s beautiful as well! The native language spoken is also known as Slovene, though English is widely recognized and spoken. Most Slovene’s speak multiple languages as the nation is bordered by different language speaking nations such as Italy (Italian), Austria (German), and Croatia (Serbo-Croatian). In fact our first lady, Melania Trump, is from Slovenia and speaks five languages fluently. So, if you plan to visit Slovenia and you don’t speak Slovene, have no fear because most likely someone speaks your language.
My family and I visited Slovenia by car in June 2017 when we drove from Austria in the north to Croatia in the south. While we mostly intended to pass through the nation while driving from Salzburg down to Dubrovnik, we did decide to stop and do some touristy things during our stay. What we didn’t realize was how much there was to see and do, and how much we’d enjoy it!
Triglav National Park / Lake Bled
In Northern Slovenia you will find the Triglav National Park. The scenery here is absolutely incredible. While we unfortunately didn’t have very long to spend here, one can easily make a week out of it. Whether you like fishing, hiking, camping, rafting, or even mountain climbing, you can find that and more here.
Right beside the entrance to the national park is Lake Bled. If you are short on time (as we were) or just passing through Slovenia and don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to the whole park, this is an excellent stop to just get a taste of the majestic beauty Slovenia has to offer. There are some amazing views you can get of Lake Bled (as pictured below). This post provides information about an amazing hidden viewpoint at Ojstrica.
Beside the lake is Bled Castle – the oldest castle in Slovenia dating back to 1011. The castle sits majestically perched upon a 426ft (130m) cliff side overlooking the beautiful lake below. There are available tours to the castle or you can just walk around the perimeter as we did (due to our late arrival). From here, you can view the Karawanks (mountain range) and the Julian Alps in the distance, as well as see the small island in the center of Lake Bled below which looks very much like something out of a fantasy.
Heading further south into the heart of the country we entered the capital city of Ljubljana (pronounced lub-liana). While the outskirts of the city resemble your typical busy European city complete with graffiti and some less than desirable looking neighborhoods, the old city located at it’s center is surprisingly very lovely. The Ljubljanica River winds through the heart of the old city and surrounding the river are a pleasant mix of cafes, shops, plazas, and bridges.
The Bridges of Ljubljana
The bridges in Ljubljana are unique in themselves and worth the visit alone in my opinion. One of them is called the “Dragon Bridge“. This is an arched traffic bridge built in 1901 which became the first bridge Slovenia to feature asphalt paving. It gets its name from the many dragon figures that adorn the bridge (20 in total). This includes 4 large statues of dragons on pedestals which sit on the corners of the bridge, and 16 much smaller dragons featured in the bridge’s decor. While the bridge nor the city has any mythical history with dragons, it is still pretty cool, and the dragons have become the iconic symbol for the city of Ljubljana! We enjoyed walking over it and taking pictures of the dragons. The kids especially enjoyed it!
Another famous Ljubljana bridge is known as the “Triple Bridge“. This bridge is actually 3 bridges (hence the name) and connects the old city with the modern city. My boys and I crossed the bridges as we watched the river boats travel beneath us in the Ljubljanica River. This is yet another nice attraction to the city for those who are interested in sightseeing by water!
As we walked along the streets of old town Ljubljana, we enjoyed the cultural aspect to the city. We walked through Prešeren Square and enjoyed listening to local street performers while gazing upon giant statues dating back to the older Yugoslavian days.
Perched upon Castle Hill in the center of the city is Ljubljana Castle. The 11th century medieval fortress is a key landmark for the city and today is open for tourism. Admission includes round trip rides on the hill side Funicular, Castle and Pavilion guided tour, Virtual Castle (projection film about history of the castle), Permanent Exhibition of Slovenian History, Penitentiary, Chapel, Viewing Tower, and Museum of Puppetry.
Throughout the month of July, the castle is also known to offer open air film screenings in the pavilion for those who want a movie night out under the stars!
Heading southwest from Ljubljana, we entered some beautiful scenic country as we headed for our next destination – Predjama Castle. Listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest cave-castle on earth, this castle is like no other and was definitely worth the visit.
The castle has a lengthy medieval history to it, much of which we found extremely interesting on our self-guided tour. Half castle / half cave, we wandered through the castle visiting the armory, bed chambers, and castle chapel and before long we found ourselves within a cave that was attached to the castle as part of it’s defensive strategy. I didn’t know if it felt more like Lord of the Rings or Minecraft but it was incredibly unique and amazing. Our children absolutely loved it!
The castle contained passageways this way and that and little hidden nooks and crannies that even our youngest found most amusing!
The castle lookouts were also really neat. This is where the watchmen would look out for approaching visitors and oncoming attacks. The view from here was really nice and shows some of the natural beauty of the area.
Only 9km from the Predjama Castle is the Postojna Cave. This cave system is a 24,340 m long karst cave system is the 2nd largest in the country and runs all the way from the town of Postojna to Predjama and underneath the Predjama Castle. The cave system is unique for it’s railway which gives visitors a relaxing journey through part of the cave system, and definitely appeals to kids!
Due to our tight schedule, my family and I decided to skip this cave system and head to the Škocjan Caves which I talk about next. The two cave systems are very different from one another so I’m not stating to skip to the Postojna Cave. If you enjoy caves and have the time, by all means see both as I’ve read both have very different systems and are unique in their own way, but if you only have time to do one (as my family did), I suggest seeing the Škocjan Caves for reasons I am about to explain.
About a half an hour drive further southwest from either the Predjama Castle or the Postojna Cave are the world famous Škocjan Caves. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Škocjan Caves are one of the largest known underground canyons in the world. Unlike any cave system we’ve ever experienced, this one in our opinion was the mother of all caves. This one you will truly have to see for yourself to believe because even the greatest pictures does not do it justice. Trust me on this. I was unable to take my own photos of the cave since photography was not allowed within the cave at the time of our visit (I’m unsure as to why exactly), however I was able to obtain these amazing photos online, but as I said above, you truly need to experience this yourself to fully appreciate it.
There are two different guided tours available to choose from. Each tour is available in several different languages which was very helpful. The first tour takes you through the “Silent Cave” where you will get to experience seeing many unique formations of typical stalactites and stalagmites and the build up of calcium carbonate rock (shown above). While this is typical of most cave systems, these were amazing and well worth the experience in our opinion. There are some large “ballrooms” in the silent cave that are quite larger than most other cave systems we’ve toured, and the formations are beautiful. The 2nd half of this tour takes you into the famous underground canyon of the Reka River, which is what makes the cave so famous. (More on this in a bit.) The second tour available enters the cave from a different area and follows the Reka River underground leading up to the canyon. You can choose to do one or the other, or if you want – both! We chose to do the first tour and were not disappointed. I’m going to now focus on the underground canyon part of the cave, as it’s what is truly the highlight of the experience.
We entered the underground canyon following a lighted path around the perimeter of the “room”. As we went further in, the immense vastness of the space started growing rapidly. Before we knew it we were in this underground chamber that was insanely large. How large is insanely large? The ceiling sits at 492 ft high (150m) off the riverbed floor, and the walls are over 393 ft (120m) apart! To put this into perspective, you can easily fit the Statue of Liberty with pedestal and base in this room! Not only will it fit, but you will have almost 200 ft (61m) of room to spare! Below is a diagram to show you this height comparison.
As we walked further around the perimeter stopping occasionally so the tour guide could provide descriptions about various parts of the canyon and point out some interesting areas, we couldn’t help but feel like we were in the Lord of the Rings. Along the wall edges of the canyon you could clearly see staircases made from stone that climbed the walls of the cave with no railings of any kind. Some of the staircases appeared broken off as if they had collapsed at some point in time – which is ironically similar to the scenes in The Fellowship of the Ring when Gandolf was leading his company away from the pursuing Balrog.
We even got to cross a bridge over the shear depths of the canyon just like in the film! I felt like standing firm on the center of the bridge and turning around and yelling “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” (If you haven’t seen the movie, watch it and this will make perfect sense to you.)
As we left the main room of the canyon, the surrounding walls narrowed some but the shear awe of the place did not. You could clearly see and hear the river now and the many bats that have made their home on the caves ceiling several hundred feet above us. When we finally exited the cave and met daylight again (far from where we first entered), we sort of felt like Hobbits who made it safely through the Mines of Moria. What an experience! This was something we were so glad we decided to do and something we definitely would like to return to someday. The only drawback to this cave was that we now felt that visiting other cave systems throughout the world will fall incredibly short in comparison to this one.
One last thing to add about traveling to the Škocjan Caves I should mention is that if you are driving here (which is probably the most common method to arrive here), make sure your GPS is sending you to the correct location. Apparently there is some other really small local cave in the area by the same name (though I can’t find this on any internet search), because our GPS initially was taking us to these caves which were the wrong ones and located out in the middle of nowhere! The road turned from pavement to gravel to dirt to a rough trail with grass in the center before we realized we couldn’t possibly be headed in the right direction! A quick search made us realize this mistake and we entered the correct Škocjan Caves into the GPS.
The Škocjan Caves were the last thing we did in what has become one of our favorite countries. We exited the country at the southern border where we entered Croatia. Please note if you decide to travel to Slovenia and exit as we did into Croatia you will need the appropriate travel documents (passport and vehicle registration information) as the border with Croatia has an established customs station.
We truly enjoyed our first visit to Slovenia and I can say it definitely won’t be our last. While we didn’t do everything the country has to offer, what we have done was enough to leave us wanting to experience more. If you have any questions or comments about anything I touched upon or anything in general related to traveling to Slovenia, I would be most delighted to help! You can leave your questions/comments below and I will get back to you as soon as I am able. Thank you for reading!
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