Travel to Slovenia with your Family: Ljubljana and the Slovene Alps
As a native, I have long advocated Slovenia as a great place to visit and I’m happy to see that recently it has been discovered by many U.S. travel magazines, websites and bloggers. Until a short time ago, my country was unknown among most Americans traveling to Europe and, as a result, families rarely considered traveling to Slovenia.
Slovenia was just featured in the book 100 Places That Can Change Your Child’s Life by National Geographic, which prompted me to write this article with some ideas (not in the book!) to help you plan your family trip, should you decide to pay a visit. Slovenia is an easy side trip from many European destinations, including Venice, Italy; Vienna, Austria; and Munich, Germany.
Slovenia packs extreme diversity and a wealth of natural wonders into a country the size of New Jersey, offering many unique and memorable sights and experiences. Doing it justice is hard if you only plan a short visit, so I suggest a minimum of 3-4 days.
There is so much to choose from…Ljubljana (pronounced lyoo-BLYAH-nah), Slovenia’s charming capital city; the country’s spectacular Alps, dotted with mountain meadows, pristine lakes and more than 250 waterfalls; or the rolling hills of Slovenia’s many wine regions. Then there are the picturesque Adriatic coast, approximately 500 castles (some in ruins and some beautifully restored), amazing underground caves, and spectacular wild water rafting.
This leads to some difficult choices, so here are a few recommendations that are particularly well suited for family travel:
Visit Old Town in Ljubljana, the picturesque capital of Slovenia
While the city has expanded considerably and modernized over the last two decades, the old part of the city which surrounds the enchanting Ljubljana castle that sits atop a hill, remains quaint, charming and relaxed in its pace.
I recommend starting your visit by taking a funicular up the hill to see the castle and enjoy spectacular views of the city and the Alps to the north. For more adventurous types or families with older kids, I suggest a short, but exhilarating hike up the hill through the narrow and steep streets on the western part of Old Town, called Stari Trg (meaning “the Old Square”), my favorite way to get to the castle.
Once at the castle, visitors can take advantage of guided tours (no advance registration needed) where you can learn many interesting facts about the castle and Ljubljana’s history. Inside the courtyard, there is a lovely restaurant and a great souvenir and antique shop. In the summer months, there are daily art exhibitions, performances or open-air movie screenings.
Old Town Ljubljana and the Ljubljanica River
Back down in the Old Town, stroll along the banks of the lazy Ljubljanica River, lined with art stands, musicians and impressive old willows, and enjoy the picturesque scenery, with many great family photo opportunities.
Make sure to stop at one of the many delicious gelato or Italian-style pizza places for a tasty break. Then head to the Prešeren Square (named after the most famous Slovene poet) and enjoy the view of the striking Franciscan Church and the famous Three Bridges. Close-by, you can toss a coin for good luck in the famous Robba fountain in front of Ljubljana’s Town Hall.
I highly recommend a visit to the near-by open-air market where locals not only shop for produce, herbs, bread or fish, but also meet over coffee. It’s a great place to buy a piece of fresh fruit (likely picked that morning) and inexpensive souvenirs to take back home, including delicious honey, cute slippers or wooden crafts.
Head Toward the Alps!
After admiring the Alps from the Ljubljana castle, you will want to get closer! The Slovene Alps offer serious mountain climbing; spectacular hiking with hundreds of scenic routes with various degrees of difficulty; or heart pumping wild water rafting on the Soča River, made famous by Hemingway’s classic novel A Farewell to Arms, as well as Disney’s Chronicles of Narnia, parts of which were filmed there.
If you prefer a less daring adventure, the Alpine region boasts numerous crystal clear lakes or waterfalls, offering opportunities for quiet enjoyment and reflection. The region has over 90 protected areas, with the most important one being Triglav National Park, and is known for its remarkable flora and fauna.
For families looking for an easy, memorable day trip from Ljubljana, here is a good itinerary:
Take a one-hour drive to Vintgar, a beautiful gorge, located in the Triglav National Park. Our kids loved the adventurous trail snaking alongside the river, occasionally carved into the surrounding rock and connected by several wooden bridges. The trail offers a terrific way to enjoy the area’s pristine nature and admire the crystal clear water, rapids, waterfalls and native trout.
Next, take a short drive to the town of Bled, one of Slovenia’s most famous tourist destinations, nestled in the mountains. It is best known for its picturesque lake with its tiny island in the middle, as well as an impressive castle perched high in the rocks on its northeast side.
There are two things you should not miss:
- First, is a visit to the island by renting a pletna, a traditional flat-bottomed boat, rowed by a local guide. Once on the island, take the 99 stairs up to the Church of Queen Mary and tell your kids to ring the bell three times as they make a wish. This old Slovene tradition is bound to make it come true!
- A second must-do in Bled is to have a taste of kremšnita, the famous Bled desert, a slice of heaven that you will remember long after your trip.
After this tasty break, head to Bled’s medieval castle for another exciting adventure (what kids don’t like castles?), a bit of a history lesson and spectacular views of the lake, island and surrounding mountains before the return drive to the Ljubljana.
Because there is so much to explore in Slovenia, look for the second part of my article on Travel to Slovenia with Your Family to come soon. Until then, take a look at all of my photos from our travels to Slovenia.
A native of Slovenia, Vera moved to the U.S. 20+ years ago after meeting her American husband. Together with their two children they live on the North…