You’d be hard pressed to place a country’s location on the travel map better than Slovenia. The Central European nation sits in both the Alps and on the Adriatic. Its influences include neighboring Italy, Austria, and the Western Balkans. And, because it is compact, a visit here can include all of its regions.

Though you could easily lose yourself in any quadrant, those looking to gather country-wide experiences are in for a multi-layered treat. World class outdoor activities can be combined with city-based excitement. Wine tours are easily paired with history-themed journeys. Here is a smattering of the best things to do and experience in Slovenia.

Hike in Alps on the Juliana Trail

For less experienced adventurers, a hike in the Alps feels extreme — but it doesn’t have to be. Slovenia is a haven for trekking of every variety from hardcore mountaineering to relaxed walks surrounded by epic scenery. The compromise is the Juliana Trail: a 168-mile loop that follows the contours of the Triglav National Park, which is tucked into the country’s northwest Julian Alps. Have your cameras ready for incredible photographs in iconic overnight locales like peak-encircled Lake Bled and the massive alpine Lake Bohinj. The vast majority of the trail’s 16 stages are relatively flat (so no equipment is needed beyond a pack, solid boots, and a good attitude) and categorized as easy or moderate — with the highest elevation reaching around 4,350 feet.

Boats and paddle boarders travel down the tree-lined Ljubljanica River, which flows through the centre of Ljubljana.
Boating along the the tree-lined Ljubljanica River, which flows through Ljubljana © Justin Foulkes / Lonely Planet

Ljubljana’s Central Market

More than just a place to stock up on fresh ingredients, the outdoor and covered areas of the Central Market are the lifeblood of Ljubljana. Just off the main square, beyond the famous Triple Bridge and on the banks of the Ljubljanica River, haggling with the vendors and shopping for your rations here sews you squarely into the city’s fabric. 

Do like locals do and purchase your fish, meat, vegetables, fruit, cheese, nuts, honey, and liqueurs, and then relax at a nearby cafe to feel the city center’s rhythm. On Fridays, make sure to stick around for the Odprta Kuhna, or Open Kitchen, when dozens restaurants from across Ljubljana set up stands for the weekly food fest with specially prepared dishes so locals and visitors alike can investigate the town’s culinary prowess.

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Walk around Jože Plečnik’s Ljubljana

Whether you know it or not, one of the reasons you’ve fallen in love with Ljubljana is because of the architectural prowess of Jože Plečnik, a native of the Slovenian capital who designed many buildings and structures here in the 20th century. Take a tour of the city through the eyes and talents of Ljubljana’s favorite son. 

Of his 10 masterpieces you’ll find scattered throughout the city, the Plečnik House, where he lived and worked for nearly four decades is a great place to begin. You’ll begin to pick out his style as you walk around town. Pay particular attention to the everyday designs you have likely already visited, such as the Triple Bridge and the covered area of the central market known as the Plečnik Colonnade,.

Male mountainbiker is crossing a suspension bridge in Slovenia.
A mountain biker crosses a suspension bridge over the Soča River in the cycling haven of Slovenia © Saro17 / Getty Images

Cycling with champions

Slovenia has become the capital of world cycling over the last handful of years. Slovenes have won the last two Tour de France races, the last three Tours of Spain, two of the last three Tours of Slovenia, and took gold and bronze cycling medals at the 2020 Summer Olympics. The reason for such dominance: the roads and landscapes here are perfect for developing champions. Discover this training ground, and the culture surrounding it, on the new Slovenia Road Cycling Loop. Though any bike can be used for the route, which stays on quiet asphalt roads, the stages focus on cyclists riding racing bicycles. 

The loop, which circumnavigates the entire country, covers 1,500 kilometers over approximately 15 to 20 stages. As well, there are four regional loops (each around 270 kilometers in length) for those who want to ride in more specific (or compact) areas and focus their cultural investigation. Along the way — whether on the main loop or a regional route — you’ll ride through or near the country’s most iconic climbs, views, and locales: Bled, Bohinj, Kranjska Gora, Ljubljana, and Maribor.

Collect castles in Slovenia's medieval castle country

The region along the Sava and Krka Rivers in southeastern Slovenia is often overlooked because of the preponderance of top sights packed into the country’s western half. That’s a pity for those who don’t make it east of Ljubljana. This area of the nation, which includes Posavje, as the Lower Sava Valley Region is called in Slovenian, is medieval castle country and the area is easily visited by both car or bicycle. 

There are scores of castles scattered around the country. However, this region has nearly a dozen packed into a conveniently connected area. Of particular note is the stretch along the Sava River linking the historic structures from the town of Sevnica to the Mokrice Castle near the Croatian border. In the well-preserved, 13th century Brežice Castle, you’ll find the Posavje Museum with exhibitions explaining the area’s heritage from pre-historic times to the modern era.

Drink the world’s oldest wine

There’s vintage wine and there's record-setting vintage wine. To sample the latter, head to the Old Vine House in Maribor, Slovenia’s second-largest city in the country’s northeast corner. The vine growing up the house’s facade is more than four centuries old and holds a spot in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest fruit-producing vine. Have a seat on the house’s terrace and taste this ancient red variety, or the many others its shop offers.

Proteus anguinus, or the olm also called human fish captured in it's natural habitat in Planinska jama underground water cave, Slovenia
Translucent salamanders, or olm, spotted in its natural habitat in an underground cave in Slovenia © piranka / Getty Images

Go spelunking in the Karst Region

Slovenia has its share of attractions above ground. If you really want to get under this country’s skin, you’ve got to go beneath the surface. The southwestern Karst Region provides just the opportunity. The porous limestone topography is a perfect recipe for caves and two stand out: Postojna and Škocjan

Take the four-kilometer train tour, opened in 1872, into the Postojna Cave’s nearly 24 kilometers of total tunnels. Of special interest to visiting cavers are the translucent salamanders, or olms, known as “human fish” or “baby dragons.” The Unesco-listed, six-kilometer-long Škocjan Caves offer guided tours through the so-called “Silent Cave” and then into the “Murmuring Cave” with a bridge taking amateur, and professional, spelunkers nearly 50 meters above the Reka River flowing below.

Train through the Alps

At the beginning of the 20th century, train tracks were laid to better connect the northern reaches of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the Adriatic. Opened in 1906, the route went through Slovenia and, necessarily, the Alps. The result is the Bohinj Railway, among Europe’s most scenic lines. 

To combine sightseeing, history, and responsible travel in your itinerary, hop aboard the train in the town of Bohinjska Bistrica and take it to Nova Gorica on the Italian border. On your voyage, you’ll pass through the mountains via the 6,327-meter Bohinj Tunnel, roll along the show-stopping, electric-emerald Soča River, and over the Solkan Bridge, which, at 85 meters, is considered to be among the longest stone-arch, rail overpasses in the world.

Beautiful aerial view on Piran town with Tartini main square, ancient buildings with red roofs and Adriatic sea in southwestern Slovenia
Aerial view on Piran's Tartini Central Square and the Adriatic sea in southwestern Slovenia © RossHelen / Shutterstock

Head to the coast

It is not that most forget that Slovenia has a coast, which clocks in at just under 50 kilometers. Slovenia's other attractions are just so magnetic that the country’s Adriatic shore is often left as the reward for a successful trip galavanting through the mountains, along the rivers, between the vineyards, and into its caves. When your time comes to head to the coast, there is a destination for every personality.

Koper, the largest city on Slovenia’s Adriatic, is more than a port city. It’s a great place to swim in the sea and in history with a visit, for instance, to its 15th century Praetorian Palace. Just to the southwest, the sleepier and oft-overlooked town of Izola is a great place to get away, and splash in beautiful spots like Dubrava Beach, a 30-minute walk away. Further west brings you to the peninsular Piran, where a beautifully preserved town built on the architectural charm of the Venetian Republic is a great spot to have it all: history, beaches, and incredible views. All you need is a moment in its oval Tartinijev trg (Tartini’s Central Square) — with ancient churches, houses, and the charming little fishing port — to feel you’ve found coastal paradise. 

Gallop with history in Lipica

For more than 440 years, Lipizzaners — strong, famously white horses — have been bred in Lipica, a town in Slovenia’s Karst Region in the county’s southwestern corner. One of the continent’s oldest breeds, there are some 300 that roam the grounds of the Lipica Stud Farm, which was named a Slovenian cultural monument in 1996. Stroll the grounds and snap photographs of the friendly animals as they trot through and are herded across 300 hectares of fields. Take a guided tour of the farm to visit the museums and stables, and then stick around for the Lipica Riding School performance.

Vineyard in Autumn late afternoon
Famous for its wine, vineyard touring in Slovenia is one of those must-do experiences © zkbld / Getty Images

Wine tasting in Goriška Brda

In recent years, Slovenia has built a reputation for wine. To a large degree, that rep is based on the wines from the Goriška Brda region. Jutting over the Italian border, this nodule of goodness is an expanse of vineyards covering rolling hills extending to the horizon and only broken by the occasional perched village. There are many vineyards to visit and taste vintages. In the community of Ceglo, the Simčič and Movia Vineyards are both top-end vineyards and have had much to do with Slovenia’s ascension in the wine world. Just north in the village of Dobrovo, the Klet Brda Winery is a cooperative of some 400 families. You can take a tour of the cellars and taste many of its varieties. 

Climb Mount Triglav

As the legend goes, to be a real Slovene you must summit Mount Triglav. The country’s (and the Julian Alps’) tallest mountain, which fills the nation’s northwest corner and anchors the Triglav National Park, stands at 2,864 meters. You don’t need to be a world-class climber to reach the peak — but you do need to be prepared with a helmet and harness to attempt one of the steep but safe via ferrata routes. For the attempt, allow for two days to relax at your starting point before attempting the all-day scramble.

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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