Without question, one can spend plenty of money in Slovenia – in every corner of the country, there are enough high-end resorts, wellness centers, hotels, vineyards and restaurants to make any five-star traveler feel at home. But it's also an ideal destination for budget travelers.
The general day-to-day prices are reasonable: a pint of beer is about €3 (US$3.40), and in-country train tickets about €10 ($11). Plus this Central European nation values a roll-up-your-sleeves approach to discovery, meaning walking between villages and cycling through regions is often the best way to experience all it has to offer.
The positive byproduct for those who enjoy the outdoors is a number of cost-effective, artfully functional lodgings and spots to refresh along the way. There's also good news for those who aren’t ready to spend their holidays in boots or on bike saddles: budget-friendly buses and trains also provide authentic experiences and a taste of the real Slovenia.
Shoulder season offers big savings – and stellar weather for outdoor pursuits
Although there's technically a high season for Slovenian tourism – June to September – this is year-round territory for travelers. But for many (myself included), the best time to be here is shoulder season, from late April to June and September to late October. The weather for cycling and hiking is stellar, and pleasant temperatures and changing seasons add to powerful panoramas in plateaus, rivers, lakes, Alps and the Adriatic Sea. Prices are also lower during these periods, especially for lodging, and there are fewer travelers, so you might even have the sights all to yourself.
For cheap flights, look to neighboring countries
Flying into Ljubljana's Jože Pučnik International Airport (LJU) is the only option for landing in Slovenia, which makes sense – the country is roughly the size of New Jersey, and about half that of Switzerland. But there are nine flights per week into LJU from Paris, 10 from Frankfurt and five from Istanbul, and deals to be had if you're diligent.
The main pro tip, however, is to keep an eye on the larger airports in countries that share Slovenia's borders: Croatia, Italy, Austria and Hungary. Zagreb, for example, is just a 90-minute drive away, or two-and-a-half hours by train, and Venice is connected by bus and train as well. Both cities have busy international airports and better odds for flight specials.
To get around with money to spare, plan ahead
Travelers often underestimate the amount of time it'll take to figure out a new transportation system, which can result in time wasted, not to mention unnecessary money spent on wrong turns and missed connections. Instead, come up with a plan for getting around before you set foot in Slovenia. Buses and trains are affordable and reliable – by bus, you can get anywhere in the country for about €10 ($11), while trains are more romantic, albeit slower and not as well connected.
If you have the gumption, you can also plan your trip around hiking and cycling. You won’t cover as many kilometers, but you’ll actually see more. Best of all, you only need to pay your stomach for the fare.
Find quality, cost-friendly accommodations at boutique hostels
Slovenia does hostels well – and we’re not talking about those places with 30 teens crowded around a communal dining area playing drinking games all night. These are hotel-level digs that provide most of the privacy at a fraction of the cost, about €15 to €25 ($17 to $29) per night.
Boutique hostels exist all over the country. Ljubljana’s Celica – a former prison – is perfectly placed in the capital and serves wonderful, inexpensive food. The Bearlog Hostel in Kočevje, in the country’s far south, teaches and promotes responsible travel in one of the nation’s most pristine natural areas.
No matter how you're used to traveling, consider lodging that puts you closer to the natural action – camping, glamping and cyclist-friendly accommodations rank among the most sought-after overnight options. With camping stays ranging from about €10 to €15 ($11 to $17) per night, you'll save on costs, and give yourself a chance to really connect with the country too.
To eat well on the cheap, talk to a local
It sounds simple, but the single most important strategy for eating well and inexpensively is speaking with locals about where they go and what they cook. This is a win-win: when you replace shyness with curiosity, it's possible to eat better and more cost-effectively, and learn more about Slovenian culture at the same time.
As luck would have it, restaurant and bar prices are often cheaper here than in neighboring Italy and Austria, and similar to those in Croatia. You can expect to spend around €10 ($11) at solid street-food restaurants in Ljubljana, like the tasty international and domestic spots lining Trubarjeva cesta (street), just off of Prešernov Trg (square).
The other advice many Slovenes will impart: cook for yourself. If you're staying in an apartment or hostel with kitchen access, do yourself a favor and purchase a Slovenian cookbook, such as Cook Eat Slovenia. You’ll likely make back the cost in a couple of meals, and you'll have a souvenir of your time in the country.
Free tours and discounted attractions let you see it all for less
First things first: take advantage of the incredible landscape surrounding you. Yes, getting there may necessitate a fare, ticket or fee, but experiencing Slovenia atop a mountain, in a perched village, next to a river or on the Adriatic shore is free.
Even if outdoor attractions aren't your focus, there are other practical suggestions for saving money. One is to take free tours when possible. (Ljubljana's, for one, will teach you more about the capital than you'd ever learn alone.) The guides work for tips, and can often offer cost-saving suggestions themselves.
Destinations around the country, including Maribor, Lake Bled and the capital, offer cards loaded with discounts. The 48-hour Ljubljana Card allows free entry to most of the main attractions and includes a free bus ride to and from the airport for €39 ($45); it's also available in 24- and 72-hour increments.
Finally, take advantage of the free itinerary planner on Slovenia’s official tourism website. It’s full of advice from people who know the country well – and want to keep budget-minded travelers happy and coming back as often as possible.
Daily costs in Slovenia
Bed in a hostel dorm: €15-25
Basic hotel room for two: €40-60
Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): from €50
Public transport ticket in Ljubljana city bus: €1.20
Dinner for two in a mid-range restaurant: €35
Beer/pint at the bar: €3
You might also like:
How to trek Slovenia: 5 stellar long-haul hikes
The 8 best places to discover in Slovenia
5 incredible and responsible road trips in Slovenia