Slovenia is blessed with a magnificent natural environment of mountains, lakes and rivers that lend a breathtaking backdrop to any activity. Popular pursuits include hiking, skiing and mountain biking, but there's also a world of more intrepid activities – from white-water rafting and caving to horse riding and canyoning.
Hiking & Walking
Hiking is a national pastime. The country has an excellent system of well-marked trails that run to a total length of more than 9000km. Most trails are marked by a red circle with a white centre, with periodic updater signs along the way indicating distances and walking times. In addition, most regional tourist offices and bookshops stock a comprehensive selection of hiking maps.
The most popular areas for hikes include the Julian Alps and the Kamnik-Savinja Alps in the northwest, as well as the Pohorje Massif in the northeast, but there are wonderful trails in all of the country’s regions. Some of the best of these are linked with less obviously salubrious activities, such as wine tasting.
Many trails can also be cycled, with the notable exception being most of the trails in Triglav National Park.
Great Slovenian Hikes
- The Soča Trail extends 25km along the turquoise Soča River, from its source west as far as the edge of Triglav National Park at Kršovec. From here, a trail known as the Bovec Walking Trail continues to Bovec.
- The Slovenian Mountain Trail runs for 500km from Maribor to Ankaran on the coast via the Pohorje Massif, the Kamnik-Savinja Alps, the Julian Alps, and the Cerkno and Idrija hills. It was opened back in 1953 and was the first such national trail in Europe.
- The 320km-long Walk of Peace (Pot Miru; www.potmiru.si) connects the outdoor museums and the most important remains and memorials of the Isonzo Front of the Upper Soča Region.
- About 30km of the scenic Parenzana Trail (www.parenzana.info) that follows the old narrow-gauge Parenzana railway runs through Slovenia. The railway once connected Trieste in Italy with Poreč in Croatia and has a total length of 130km.
- The 470km-long Sub-Alpine Trail (Predalpska pot) covers Slovenia's hill country – from Cerkno and Idrija to Posavje via the Karst – and is for less-ambitious, but equally keen, walkers and hikers.
- A great vinska cesta (wine road) is the Jeruzalem-Ljutomer wine road in eastern Slovenia, which begins at Ormož and continues for 18km north to Ljutomer, via the beautiful hilltop village of Jeruzalem. There are many wine cellars along the way, and this road can also be biked.
- The Haloze Mountain Path is a lovely wine-oriented 31km-long footpath that takes in the gentle landscape of the Haloze Hills wine region. It is accessible from near Štatenberg.
Major European Trails
E6 European Hiking Trail This 350km trail runs from the Baltic to the Adriatic seas and enters Slovenia at Radlje ob Dravi in northeastern Slovenia. It continues on to a point south of Snežnik in southern Slovenia. Budget 20 days end to end.
E7 European Hiking Trail This 600km trail connects the Atlantic with the Black Sea. It crosses into western Slovenia at Robič and runs along the Soča Valley. From here, it continues through the southern part of the country eastward to Bistrica ob Sotli, before exiting into Croatia. Takes about 30 days to hike end to end.
Via Alpina (www.via-alpina.com) Slovenia has joined Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, France and Monaco to develop this system of five long trails that follow the entire arc of the Alps from Trieste to Monaco. Two of the trails pass through northern Slovenia: the 14-stage Red Trail (220km) and the 10-stage Purple Trail (120km).
Alpe-Adria-Trail (www.alpe-adria-trail.com) This 700km through Austria, Italy and Slovenia, enters Slovenia at the Jepca mountain pass on the Austrian border and continues for 145km, exiting at Milje above Trieste.
- The Ljubljana-based Alpine Association of Slovenia is the fount of all information on hikes and treks. The organisation is a good first stop for basic info and arranging mountain guides. It also publishes hiking maps and maintains an up-to-date list of mountain huts, refuges and bivouacs throughout Slovenia on its website.
- The Slovenian Tourist Board (www.slovenia.info) publishes the excellent Hiking in Slovenia brochure with more than 30 suggested itineraries.
- The Julian Alps of Slovenia (Cicerone) by Justi Carey and Roy Clark features 58 walking routes and short treks. The same pair's Trekking in Slovenia: The Slovene High Level Route (Cicerone) includes 500km of mountain and upland trail walking. Long Distance Trails, published by the Slovenian Tourist Board and the Alpine Association of Slovenia, features several walks and hikes.
Skiing rivals hiking as the most popular recreational pursuit in Slovenia, and many Slovenes even believe the sport was invented here. Today an estimated 300,000 people – some 15% of the population – ski regularly. Just about everyone takes to the slopes or trails in season, and you can too on the more than three-dozen ski grounds and resorts of varying sizes listed in the Slovenian Tourist Board's useful Ski Resorts in Slovenia.
Most of Slovenia's ski areas are small and relatively unchallenging compared to the Alpine resorts of France, Switzerland and Italy, but they do have the attraction of lower prices and easy access. For more details, as well as the latest weather and snow reports, check out the Ski Resort Info website (www.skiresort.info) or Snow Telephone.
- Kranjska Gora (800m to 1215m) Kranjska Gora has some 20km of pistes, but the skiing here is fairly straightforward and suited mostly to beginners and intermediates. Nevertheless, for foreign visitors, it is probably Slovenia's best-known and most popular ski resort, being easily accessible from Austria and Italy.
- Vogel (570m to 1800m) Above shimmering Lake Bohinj, Vogel offers dazzling views of Mt Triglav and reliable snow cover on around 22km of slopes.
- Krvavec (1450m to 1970m) In the hills northeast of Kranj, Krvavec is one of the best-equipped ski areas in the country, with 30km of pistes and 40km of trails. In addition you'll find a number of ski (Alpine and telemark) and snowboard schools, equipment rental, a ski shop, and some good restaurants and bars. As it's only an hour's drive from Ljubljana, it's best avoided at the weekends.
- Maribor Pohorje (330m to 1350m) In the hills south of Maribor, this is the biggest downhill skiing area, with 42km of linked pistes and 27km of cross-country trails suitable for skiers of all levels. It offers a ski and snowboard school, equipment rental and floodlit night skiing, as well as being a good starting point for ski touring through the forested hills of the Pohorje.
Cycling & Mountain Biking
Slovenia is an excellent cycling destination, both for road and off-road riding. Ljubljana is a bike-friendly big city, with marked cycling paths, an active bike-riding population, and several rental outfits, including an innovative rent-as-you-go cycling scheme called Bicike(lj). Around the country, you'll find trails suited both to casual and experienced riders. Some ski resorts reopen in summer as downhill-cycling adrenaline parks.
Great Regions for Rides
You'll find good cycling all around the country. Mountain bikers and trail riders will want to focus on the Julian Alps and Soča Valley areas, particularly around Bovec, Lake Bohinj and Kranjska Gora. The 13km-long Radovna cycling trail, that starts northwest of Bled, is the only dedicated cycling path that takes you to the centre of the national park. Bled-based 3glav Adventures can lead a tour and also rents e-bikes that make the steep climbs like child's play.
The TICs at Lake Bohinj and Kranjska Gora are particularly bike savvy, offering guided tours and helpful cycling maps that mark out regional routes that go from family-friendly to downright crazy.
For real thrill seekers, the Bike Park Kranjska Gora whisks cyclists up some steep hills on a ski lift where they can then hurtle downward at breakneck speeds. Another popular adrenaline destination is Logarska Dolina and the surrounding Upper Savinja Valley in eastern Slovenia. Buy a copy of the Upper Savinja Valley Cycling Map (€3).
Slower, more scenic rides can be found in the Krka Valley in Dolenjska. Slovenia's many dedicated 'wine routes' also often make for great cycling trips.
Rentals & Repair
Rent bikes at TICs, adventure-travel agencies and many hotels. Rates depend on the make and quality of the bike, but expect to pay anywhere from €2 to €4 per hour and €12 to €18 per day for a good-quality mountain bike. Cheaper rates can sometimes be negotiated for longer rentals. Some places also offer electronic bikes (e-bikes) for rent. These are a lot of fun and can be lifesavers for helping inexperienced cyclists climb high hills. Expect to pay €30 to €60 per day to hire an e-bike, depending on the make and quality.
Bike-repair shops are thin on the ground, though big cities and towns will usually have a few. Bring spare tubes and repair kits with you on the trail. Local TICs can advise on the nearest repair place. In a pinch, bike-rental outfits or adventure-travel agencies may be able to help out.
The Slovenian Tourist Board (www.slovenia.info) website is filled with information on biking, including great rides around the country, bike-friendly accommodation and dedicated tours. It also publishes a large-format brochure called Cycling in Slovenia, with information for on- and off-road biking and accommodation, as well as a 1:260,000-scale map with the same name.
Mountaineering & Rock Climbing
Climbing mountains is a national mania, and indeed Slovenes are expected to summit the country's highest peak, Mt Triglav (2864m), in Triglav National Park at least once in their lives. It's a relatively demanding climb that's possible to do on your own, but is better with the help of a guide. There are plenty of other, smaller mountains, like Viševnik (2050m) near Bled, that offer almost all of the views but don't necessarily demand all of the skills. Adventure outfits in both Bled and Lake Bohinj can help.
Scaling Rock Faces
The principal Alpine climbing areas in Slovenia include Mt Triglav's magnificent north face – where routes range from the classic 'Slovene Route' (Slovenski Pot; Grade II/III; 750m) to the modern 'Sphinx Face' (Obraz Sfinge; Grade IX+/X-; 140m), with a crux 6m roof – as well as the impressive northern buttresses of Prisank overlooking the Vršič Pass.
Another promising place for climbers is located in the coastal region, near the village of Osp, northeast of Koper. The four main climbing crags around Osp range in difficulty from intermediate to challenging.
Sport climbing (športno plezanje) is popular in Slovenia as well. The revised Slovenija Športnoplezalni Vodnik (Sport Climbing Guide to Slovenia; Sidarta) by climber Janez Skok et al covers 92 crags, with good topos and descriptions in English.
- The Alpine Association of Slovenia lists around 180 mountain huts throughout the country and these are ranked according to category.
- A bivouac is the most basic hut in the mountains of Slovenia, providing shelter only.
- A refuge has refreshments, and sometimes accommodation, but usually no running water.
- A koča (hut) or dom (house) can be a simple cottage or a fairly grand establishment.
- A bed for the night costs €21 to €27 in a Category I hut, the most remote hut, depending on the number of beds in the room, and €16 to €22 in a Category II hut, defined as being within an hour’s walk of motor transport. Category III huts are allowed to set their own prices but usually cost less than Category I huts.
- There are around 50 mountain huts in the Julian Alps, most of them open at least between June and September; some huts at lower altitudes are open year-round.
- Huts are never more than five hours' walk apart. You'll never be turned away if the weather looks bad, but some huts on Triglav can be unbearably crowded at weekends – especially in August and September.
Several good hiking maps are available from TICs. Two recommended options: the laminated 1:50,000-scale Triglavski Narodni Park (€9.10; buy online from shop.pzs.si) from the Alpine Association of Slovenia (PZS), and Kartografija's widely available 1:50,000-scale Triglavski Narodni Park (€8; www.kartografija.si).
The best mountaineering guidebook readily available is Mountaineering in Slovenia (€29.90; Sidarta) by Tine Mihelič, which describes more than 80 tours in the Julian Alps as well as the Kamnik-Savinja Alps and the Karavanke.
Kayaking, Canoeing, Rafting & Canyoning
The country's centre for kayaking and rafting is the Soča River at Bovec. The Soča is famed as one of Europe's best white-water rafting rivers and is one of only half-a-dozen water channels in the European Alps whose upper waters are still unspoiled.
The Soča is where to give canyoning a go. It's a sport that has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years and will have you descending through gorges, jumping over and sliding down waterfalls, swimming in rock pools and abseiling/rappelling. It's been described as being in one huge, natural water park. Operators at Lake Bled can set you up for the day.
Other rafting centres include the Krka and Kolpa Rivers in southern Slovenia, the Sava River at Bohinj, the Savinja River at Logarska Dolina and the Drava River near Dravograd in northeastern Slovenia.
In recent years, Slovenia has become a mecca for high-altitude 'adventure sports' of all kinds, like paragliding, hot-air ballooning and, most recently, ziplining. The Julian Alps offers the best chances for paragliding, and adventure-travel agencies in Bled, Lake Bohinj and Bovec can help arrange jumps. The TIC in Ljubljana can organise hot-air balloon flights.
Ziplining, where you sail over a valley, blissfully gliding along a wire, is gaining in popularity and two outfitters now offer breathtaking sails high over scenic Alpine vistas:
Planica Zipline Operators claim this wire over the towering Planica Ski-Jump Centre is the world's steepest zipline.
Zipline Dolinka Breathless travel along five zipline cables through the stunning Sava Dolinka valley.
Every town in Slovenia seems to have an airstrip or an aerodrome, complete with an aeroklub whose enthusiastic members can take you 'flight-seeing'. The Ljubljana-based Aeronautical Association of Slovenia has a list.
It's hardly surprising that the country that gave the world the word 'karst' is riddled with caves – around 7500 have been recorded and described. The main potholing regions in Slovenia are the Karst around Postojna and the Julian Alps, and there are about 20 caves open to visitors.
Some caves, such as Škocjan and Postojna, can be visited easily on a guided tour, others are demanding undertakings requiring more pre-planning. At Križna Cave, you actually take a subterranean boat ride. This is Slovenia's only tourist cave without electric lighting – visitors are given lamps (and boots) for the visit. It's a special thrill for kids.
The Speleological Association of Slovenia in Ljubljana can provide information on the requirements for visiting caves and can put you in touch with guides and caving clubs.
Birdwatching & Wildlife Spotting
Slovenia offers some of the most rewarding birding in Central Europe. Some 376 species have been sighted here, 219 of which are breeders. The Ljubljana Marsh, south of Ljubljana, Lake Cerknica, in southern Slovenia, and the Sečovlje salt pans near Portorož on the coast are especially good for sighting waterbirds and waders, as is the Drava River and its reservoirs in northeast Slovenia.
An especially wonderful sight is the arrival of the white storks in Prekmurje in March/April. Other important habitats are the Julian and Savinja Alps, the Karst area and the Krakovski Forest north of Kostanjevica na Krki in southern Slovenia.
Slovenia slides in under the radar in terms of wildlife spotting, but the Green Karst region in southwestern Slovenia, particularly the Lož Valley, has emerged as one of the best places to spot live bear. Several outfitters can help you observe the animals in their natural habitats from April to September. Most tours involve a drive into the forest, followed by a short walk to an observation hide. When looking for bears, keep an eye out for lynx and wolves, which also reside in local forests.
For more information on birdwatching, contact the Ljubljana-based Bird Watching & Study Association of Slovenia, a member of Bird Life International.
Diving opportunities abound in the Kolpa River in southern Slovenia and at Ankaran, Portorož and especially in Piran on the coast. Outfitters like Portorož's Dive Strong or Piran's Sub-Net can get you started. For more information, contact the Slovenian Diving Federation in Ljubljana.
Cave diving is a popular sport in Slovenia but is permitted only under the supervision of a professional guide. It can be done at Postojna, Škocjan and in the tunnel at Wild Lake (Divje Jezero) near Idrija.
Slovenia's mountain streams are teeming with brown and rainbow trout and grayling, and its lakes and more-sluggish rivers are home to pike, perch, carp, chub and other fish. The best rivers for angling are the Soča, the Krka, the Kolpa, the Sava Bohinjka near Bohinj, and the Unica in southern Slovenia.
Fishing is not cheap in Slovenia – a permit at the more popular rivers will cost €60 to €150 for two or three days. Catch-and-release permits are cheaper. You can usually buy short-term fishing permits at local TICs. The season runs from March/April to November.
Bohinj's International Fly Fishing Festival in the autumn drawers fishermen from around the world.
For information on licences and seasons, check the website of the Slovenian Fisheries Research Institute (www.zzrs.si).
Slovenia is a nation of horse riders. The world's most famous horse – the Lipizzaner of Spanish Riding School fame in Vienna – was first bred at Lipica and the Lipica Stud Farm is still the best place for serious riders to improve their skills. For a simpler day out on the horses, the Mrcina Ranč in Studor near Lake Bohinj offers a range of guided tours on horseback, many of which are suitable for children.