There are so many wonderful things to see and do and eat across this lush, green landscape that it can be hard to figure out your priorities. But, unless you’re planning a permanent move there, you’ll need to make some tough choices and so it helps to have a hit list in mind.
Luckily, amongst the countless beautiful cities, lakes, caves and forests there are five iconic attractions that really do stand out from the rest and are absolute essentials on your first visit to Slovenia:
The hardest part about planning a trip to Slovenia is narrowing down the options of where to go.
There are plenty of pretty lakes around the world, but Lake Bled in Slovenia's north must surely be one of the best. The subject of thousands of Instagram photos, it is immediately recognisable thanks to its clear blue waters and the island at its centre that is home to the Assumption of Mary Church. Catch a pletna (traditional wooden boat) across the water to the island and walk the 99 steps up to the church for a magnificent view of the area. For an even higher view, head to Bled Castle, which has been perched up on a hill overlooking the lake since the 12th century and is now a museum devoted to local history. Walk or horseride around the edge of the lake, indulge in the local Bled Cream Cake, or kremšnita, then work off any dessert-guilt by going for a dip in the water, said to have healing properties, alongside all the locals who flock there in summer months to swim and kayak.
Ljubljana is one of those cities you'll never want to leave. Not just the capital of Slovenia, it is also the country's beating heart, full of culture and a vibrancy that simply must be experienced. Its most famous feature is the very grand and prominent Ljubljana Castle, which lies at the centre of the city and is a good place to start your explorations. From here, perhaps check out some of the many picturesque bridges throughout Ljubljana, especially the Tromostovje (the Triple Bridge) and the Dragon Bridge, and then stop by some of the local museums or the farmers market, before whiling away an afternoon at a footpath cafe. Or just wandering the streets is an excellent option. Ljubljana has an exceptionally lovely cityscape thanks to architect and local hero Jože Plečnik, who shaped the city into what it is today.
To say there is a lot going on beneath the surface of Slovenia would be a major understatement, as this beautiful country is home to an incredible collection of vast and awe-inspiring cave systems. If you only have time to visit one, then it has to be the famous Postojna Cave, which features kilometres of curtain-like stalagmites and stalactites and is truly a sight to be seen. The best approach is to book one of the guided tours that take you, via a very sweet open-top railway car, through the caves. You'll hear some of the history and get a chance to see its best sights such as the local community of olms, or human fish, as well as the huge crystal called Brilliant that is the symbol of the caves. While you're there, make time to also visit the nearby Predjama Castle, which is literally built into the side of a cliff and host to its own collection of underground caves.
The Slovenian coastline may be modest in size, but it makes up for this in sheer beauty, and the jewel in the crown in this part of the country is Piran. It's a stunning Mediterranean wall town, with glorious water views and seafood cuisine, plus a fascinating history that can be explored in the Maritime Museum. But Piran is best known for its world class salt, which has been produced in the local salt pans since 804 and is still in high demand today. Visiting the Piran Salt Pans and the Museum of Salt-Making will give you a terrific insight into the region's most important industry. But the best – and most enjoyable – way to really appreciate the local white gold is to experience some thalassotherapy (health treatments using sea water and mud) at the gorgeous Lepa Vida Spa.
Animal-lovers will not want to miss spending time in lovely Equestrian Park Lipica, home to the renowned Lipizzan horses, which have been bred here for more than 400 years. These striking white horses are best known for their association with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna and their excellence at classical dressage, but there is so much more to these majestic creatures that can been discovered at Lipica. Visit their interactive museum, go on a guided tour through the estate and make sure you catch one of the daily shows “A tale of Lipica” to see the horses in action.