In early February I decided to venture to Slovenia. I specifically wanted to visit the popular and famous fairytale lake, Lake Bled, 1.5 hour 6.25 Euro bus ride outside of the country’s gateway capital city of Ljubljana (pronounced Loo-Bee-Ana). That being said in doing my research, there is so much more to Slovenia than these two places. Fun fact, it is the motherland of U.S. First lady Melania Trump, interpret that however you wish.
In short, I enjoyed my whirlwind tour of Slovenia. Friendly people, most of whom speak fluent English. It is a very laid back country that has a mix of Alpine/Swiss and Eastern Europe/Soviet vibes. And the Alps as a backdrop certainly help this picturesque country.
Eastern Europe is not as easy to get to in the winter season when major airlines reduce flights or only fly seasonally from major Western European gateways. However, Slovenia is fairly accessible with national carrier Adria Airways flying daily to most key cities. You can also take the train from nearby Alpine countries or bus to say Venice or neighboring Austria. I flew through Munich and it was a short 40 minute hop from Munich to Ljubljana.
There are not many options to get to and from the airport. The best option in my opinion is to book a seat on one of the multiple shuttles. About 10 Euros each way, the shuttles drop you off anywhere in the city. You can also rent a car, hire a private shuttle/car or take the bus (which is the cheapest but most time consuming option). The airport is about a 25 minute drive from the city center. Upon exiting baggage claim the shuttle operators all have stands and all charge the same. Just book with any of them, NOTE: it may not be a immediate departure as they wait for all arrivals in the given bank of flights.
It was off season, so plenty of affordable hotel options available. I chose to stay at Hotel Cubo, a historic art-deco building with redone modern interiors, located at the heart of downtown and within walking distance to everything. The hotel staff are all very friendly, knowledgable and professional. Breakfast was included in my rate and I was given the option of having a box to go due to my early departure. I booked a single room, and it was spacious, comfortable and despite a 4-star rating, came with turn-down service. Would recommend this place to stay in Ljubljana. Although the swanky new Intercontinental had competitive rates and located right by the train and bus station also looked tempting.
Bled Day Trip/ Half Day Trip logisitcs:
Lake Bled is a popular and one of the main draws of Slovenia. It is very easy to get to from Ljubljana. Go to the central bus/train station, you can purchase a ticket with card at the office and board the bus or just have cash ready and pay the driver. The buses sort of just park in designated spots there are not real awnings or anything, however clear signage in English hang from the wiring and so just walk past the ticket booth and you’ll find the bus heading for Bled. Board, hand your ticket or say you are going to Bled and pay your 6.25 Euro fare and sit back and relax. It is not an express bus and will stop along the way. The journey takes about 1.5 hours. Buses run every hour and leave on the hour from Ljubljana. I left at 1PM and the bus wasnt full but nearly. There are multiple stops in Bled, get off at the second one, dont worry you’ll now as everyone else will get off and its in front of the tourist office.
The return, if you are day-tripping and plan to return after sunset like everyone else, board the bus from the tourist office stop. I boarded from the other stop and ended up standing for the return bus as it was extremely full. The return fare and process is the same. The bus has a sign that says Ljubjana so dont worry about getting on the wrong one.
Getting around Bled is easy. There is a local bus that I believe circles the lake. But if you are able, just walk. It is so pretty and the pedestrian paths are well paved.
- Arrive in Ljubljana at 11AM, wait for the shuttle to fill up then headed into the city, my hotel was the first stop and I got off, checked-in and freshened up.
- I checked the bus schedule and saw the next bus to Bled was leaving at 1PM and it would be a 20 minute walk to the bus station, so soon I walked out the door of the hotel.
- With 5 minutes to spare (I power walked after nearly being late), I boarded the bus, paid my fare and took a window seat for the stunning Alpine views along the way. At 1PM we drove off. it was just under 1.5 hours with the stops. We arrived in Bled at around 2:25PM.
- The bus and downtown Bled are on the East side of the lake, so I basically took a North then westward and then south and eastward walk around the lake.
- The first stop was the hike up some steps (some parts without steps) to Bled Castle, perched high atop a rock, it is about 11 euros enter. There is a museum inside, but most people come here to either eat or take in the panoramic views of the Lake. The views are excellent, but the best part of my visit to the castle was the wine shop, manned by a man dressed as a monk or maybe really a monk. The shop sells Slovenian wine, which is one of the oldest wine growing regions in the world. All for very reasonable prices, in fact some cheaper than the entry fee! Many bottles have unique prints on them too. And the monk was very friendly and explained every type of wine and the grape varieties.
- I then hiked back down to the main paved pedestrian boardwalk of sorts along the banks of the lake. The crowd was a good mix of Slovenian and foreign day-trippers. Along the way, I quickly realized the Bled is a popular spot for rowing and sailing in the summers. The banks of the lake are full of spectator stands and loading docks. At one end there is even an Olympics Rowing Center. The grounds of which are open to the public.
- The island with its church that makes Bled so picturesque and famous is on the west side of the lake. The island does not have a bad angle for photos or admiration.
- At the southwest corner of the lake is an unmarked, unpaved forest path that leads to a hilltop viewing area called Mala Osojnica. The concrete viewing platform has been demolished and left to the side, but hiking up here is well worth it. This is where one gets the post-card views of Bled, the lake framed by the Alps with both the island and castle in view, stunning. Just be careful in the rain or snow as it is quite slippery. I got lost but the local residence at the bottom of the path pointed me to the right way.
- Following a moment of zen where no one else was in sight, and I seemingly had all of Bled and the world to myself, I walked back down and continued my circumvention of the lake.
- I walked past the main dock where you can board a boat and be rowed to the island. The dock is located in front of the hotel Villa Bled.
- My day ended at Panorama Cafe. I wanted to go to the Hotel Park cafe and restaurant but both were closed for the winter season, so I settled for Panorama Cafe which is run by the same parent company. Hotel Park is the birthplace of the Bled Cream Cake. The cake was perfection after walking and hiking for 3 hours around the lake. It is light and fluffy vanilla cream and whipped cream between two crispy, flaky and airy crusts. I paired it with some cappuccino and Slovenian beer, Lasko. Just after sunset I boarded the packed bus back to Ljubljana where I stood for the entire journey back, actually wasnt that bad.
- I got back to Ljubljana at around 7PM. I returned to the hotel to take a short break before heading out to dinner at a restaurant the hotel recommended for local food.
- A short and scenic walk from the hotel is Gujzina Slovenian restaurant. It was not busy when I arrived at 7:45pm. I asked the super enthusiastic waiter for recommendations. The restaurant primarily serves food and wine from the Prekmurje region of Slovenia. I Ordered some Dodole, Slovenian potato pancake, with onion and sour cream with Prekmurski bograc, which is Slovenian Goulash with venison. Paired with a glass of Slovenian red, and followed by Prekmurska Gibanica, strudel layer cake with poppy seeds, walnuts, cottage cheese and apples. It was all delicious and very filling.
- After stuffing myself I walked around the city. It was rather quiet for a Saturday. Few tourists were around and from what I gathered locals were either at dinner, bars or getting ready to go clubbing. I stopped by the Triple bridge, The Central Market, and just walked along the river. The old town surrounds the Ljubljana Castle, perched high atop a hill overlooking the city, this too is open to the public and you can get there by hiking or taking the funicular.
- It was a quick but flavorful taste of Ljubljana, but alas I had to return to my hotel and get to bed for an early departure back to the United States.
Like I said above, Slovenia is beautiful and full of laid back and friendly people. The food is hearty and tasty. The scenery is probably what makes it such a great place to visit. Despite what seems to be a lack of transportation options, those that are available are easy and relatively affordable. Is Bled worth a visit? Absolutely. It is stunning and if you are lucky and go during an off-peak time and get good weather like I did, you might also have a zen moment atop the hill where the magic of Bled reveals itself to you.