Slovenia is often called small. And while it’s true the Central European nation ranks 24th in size out of 27 EU countries, this is a positive for drivers and cyclists. In the course of one visit, you can see many of Slovenia’s most picturesque villages, pristine forests, vineyard-covered foothills, karst landscapes, and seaside towns, and shoot a lifetime’s worth of majestic photos. 

What many travelers learn as they drive or ride around Slovenia: It may be compact on a two-dimensional map, but the former Yugoslav Republic is a 3D heavyweight. The topography here is dense with stunning mountain ranges – their peaks reflected in alpine lakes fed by rivers that roll across undulating hillsides and merge with the Adriatic Sea. The key to a drive or a cycling excursion here, regardless of season, is to take your time and soak in Slovenia’s quiet byways. Allow yourself to be as free as the open road.

The distances provided are not direct between the start and end points; assume some diversion from the main route, allowing you to explore more of each region.

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A path leading a wood cabin in Triglav National Park
Triglav National Park is on a route that takes you from the Julian Alps to the Adriatic coast © Matic Štojs / Alamy Stock Photo

Alps to Adriatic road trip

Start – Bovec; End – Koper; Distance – approx 185 miles/300km

Autumn is the best time for this greatest-hits Slovenian journey starting from Bovec on the turquoise Soča River lodged in the Julian Alps. The road then runs through the heart of Triglav National Park up the 5285ft Vršič Pass, with 50 hairpin turns snaking to Kranjska Gora, the country’s storied World Cup skiing venue. The most recognizable icons await: the tectonic and glacial Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj. Trade in the snow globe for a wine glass as you cross Goriška Brda’s vineyards, which merge with the cave-riddled Karst region to deliver you – almost a Slovene now – to Koper on the Adriatic coast.

Consider purchasing a Julian Alps Card for discounts on tours, buses, bicycles and boat excursions. In the town of Bohinjska Bistrica, near Lake Bohinj, load your car onto a train tunneling through the Alps. Both sustainable options help eliminate traffic in this sensitive ecosystem, and they allow drivers to save gas, sit back and watch the scenery.

Crowds at a market at night in Ljubljana, Slovenia
A food market in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia © Matej Kastelic /500px

Gourmet cycling route

Start – Soča Valley; End – Maribor; Distance – approx 300 miles/480km

The Slovenia Green Gourmet Route (SGGR), launched last year just as Slovenia assumed the mantle of European Gastronomic Region for 2021, takes cyclists to vineyards, Michelin-starred restaurants and family-run bistros as it stretches from the country’s western edge to its eastern end. The SGGR also offers serpentine climbs to typical Slovenian perched villages and along rivers to castles hanging from bluffs. And though this isn’t a car road trip, you are rolling on wheels to the same spots, just with more human-touch accessibility. 

The SGGR is one of several recent Slovenian itineraries that freely provide information so adventurers can explore the nation's culture, food and active possibilities on their own. Starting from Kobarid, in the Soča Valley, the route hugs the Italian border before heading east through the capital, Ljubljana, to the pastoral Sava River. The final stages spin along the Drava River to Maribor. Trading a seatbelt for a bicycle helmet means you’re traveling like a Slovene, earning your vittles and wine after rewarding days in the saddle. 

Sava Valley road trip

Start – Kranjska Gora; End – Brežice; Distance – approx 125 miles/200km

A drive along the Sava River takes adventurers diagonally from Slovenia’s far northwest corner to a southeastern nook nestled against Croatia. Historically this is one of Europe’s most important waterways; it spans Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia. For travelers, exploring this cultural corridor is essential for understanding the country and the region generally. 

Starting at the Sava’s source, near Kranjska Gora, the road trip passes Lake Bled, where mountains frame its oft-ogled island church that give you, perhaps, the best photo op of your life. The route continues south to Ljubljana, where the city center buzzes with open-air markets, cafes, watering holes, and sublime restaurants. The journey ends in Brežice in the Posavje region, where vineyards and castles merge on the riverbanks to complete this Central European fairytale.

View of Laško, Slovenia and its brewery
After visiting Slovenian spas, stop in Laško for a brewery tour and a taste of the beer that shares the town's name © Getty Images

Thermal spas road trip

Start – Maribor; End – Maribor; Distance – approx 250 miles/400km

As you head east into the Pannonian Plain, which is dominated by the Sava and Drava Rivers, the geology begins to change. Here, the limestone Alps have been replaced by thermal waters at every turn. The Romans discovered these Slovenian treasures millennia ago. Today, the adjoining health and wellness spas, some with centuries of tradition, take you from stress case to relaxed and robed in the span of a visit. 

Start and end your loop in Maribor, the country’s second-largest city. From there, cruise south and take advantage of the around 20 natural health resorts along the drive. As you near the completion of the loop, celebrate with a brewery tour in the town of Laško, also the name of one of Slovenia’s most famous beers. For those looking for a more active experience between stops, keep an eye out for the upcoming launch of the Slovenia Green Wellness Cycling Route. 

Primeval Forest bicycle loop

Start – Kočevje; End – Kočevje; Distance – approx 90 miles/145km

More than 60 percent of Slovenia is covered in trees and nearly 75 percent of its landscape is protected. Still, the Kočevsko region — more than 90 percent forested — is considered the country’s nature capital. The four-stage Slovenia Green Kočevsko Cycle Loop, another of the recent bevy of adventure routes, gives road-tripping cyclists a chance to pedal through the area’s virgin and Unesco-listed stands of ancient beech and fir that foxes, bears, lynx and deer call home. The panoramas aren’t bad either. From atop the Dinaric Alps, vistas include eagles, hawks and the Kolpa river, which runs along the Croatian border.

Slovenia is on our 2022 Best of Travel list. For more stories from some of the world’s most exciting destinations click here.

Safety recommendations and restrictions during a pandemic can change rapidly. Lonely Planet recommends that travelers always check with local authorities for up-to-date guidance before traveling during Covid-19.

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