Slovenia is a fantastic country around which to take a road trip. There’s stunning mountain scenery, incredible castles, magical lakes, and picturesque, largely unexplored towns and villages. It’s also an incredibly sparsely populated country (with just 2.06 million people living in an area of 20,273 square kilometres), so for the most part you’ll have the roads entirely to yourself.
Here are a few stops you absolutely should not miss on your road trip around Slovenia.
Unless you’re travelling overland from a different country, your road trip will more than likely begin and end in Ljubljana. Awarded the Green Capital of Europe title for 2016, Ljubljana is beautiful, compact, liveable city that’s easy to explore in two or three days.
It sits inside the loop of the Ljubljanica river and is therefore dominated by bridges and attractive riverside cafes. There’s also a hilltop castle worth visiting that offers stunning views of the city down below.
Just 23 kilometres northeast of Ljubljana but often missed by visitors who head directly to Bled from Slovenia’s capital, Kamnik is a picturesque medieval town that’s got its own little castle (ok I may have a bit of a weak spot for castles, but Slovenia’s got some great ones).
If you have time, take a drive into the nearby mountain pastures of Velika Planina.
Return to Ljubljana to pick up the road to Skofja Loka, one of the oldest and most beautiful settlements in Slovenia. It’s a lovely place to have a brief wander around, stop for coffee, and a climb up to its castle (which is exactly what we did) but I understand there are also many walking trails covering the surrounding hills.
The mountain pass from Zelezniki to Kropa
If you’re travelling from Skofja Loka towards Bled, this is the only route you can take but it’s worthy of a mention due to having some of the most stunning mountain scenery in the whole of Slovenia. The roads are pretty precarious in parts but the views alone make all those heart-stopping moments completely worthwhile.
Boasting the highest amount of sunny days in the entire Gorenjska region, Radovljica is centred around a large rectangular square and is filled with charming, historic buildings from the 14th and 15th centuries. It’s just seven kilometres from Bled so makes for an easy day trip from there, but we decided to stop here on route to the famous lake.
There’s also some incredible views from Radovljica’s old town, of the Alps, including Triglav, and of the roads we’d travelled earlier that afternoon.
If you’ve seen photographs of Slovenia, you’ve probably seen the lake of the same name with a picture-perfect church perched on an islet at its center.
Taking the six kilometre walk around the Bled’s lake not only allows you to properly familiarise yourself with the town, but it also gives you a constantly changing perspective of it. Rowing a little wooden boat out to its island gives you another, and then there is the walk up to its castle, and the hikes up through forested hills to two of its highest peaks, Osojnica and Ojstrica.
26km south west of Bled is Slovenia’s second lake, lake Bohinj. It sees far fewer tourists than Bled because it doesn’t have the same picturesque, fairy-tale appeal. However, with the low-lying cloud, and mountains rising sharply from the lake’s surface, it somehow felt more dramatic and atmospheric.
Negotiating the hairpin turns of the Vršič pass
From Bohinj, continue on to Slovenia’s largest ski resort, Kranjska Gora. It’s here that the road starts to climb steadily, twisting its way through the dramatic Julian Alps. There are apparently over 50 hairpin turns on this stretch of road, and an equal number of spectacular photo opportunities.
Kobarid is a charming little town in the Soca river valley (although you can also base yourself in nearby Bovec to explore the area). The beautiful aquamarine-coloured waters of Soca river are best admired from about two kilometres out town, where you can follow a short pathway down to the rivers edge to a precariously placed wooden bridge that crosses it.
This is Slovenia’s wine-growing region. And if you’re wondering why you don’t find many Slovenian wines in your local supermarket, well, so am I; Vipava Valley wines are good. You’ll pass a number of vineyards on your drive through the area, and if you’ve got time to stop, there are a number of wine-tasting houses to whet your appetite.
The Skocjan cave network is over 6km in length and up to 170m below ground. Photography is not permitted inside the caves, but I’d still recommend a visit here to witness the mighty stalagmites, curled wind-blown stalactites, narrow spot-lit walkways hugging the cave walls, bats circling the cave roof high above your head.
The region of Notranjska is peppered with castles and caves, and Predjama Grad combines both of these: it’s a castle built into the mouth of a cavern halfway up a 123m cliff.
From Predjama, it’s an easy one-hour run back to Ljubljana.