10 Reasons You Need to Visit Slovenia
Bordered by its often more well-known neighbors Italy, Austria, Hungary and even Croatia, Slovenia is a frequently overlooked European travel destination. You may have seen pictures of fairytale-like Lake Bled or the charming streets of the country’s hard to pronounce capital, Ljubljana (lyoo-BLYAH-nah), but there is so much more Slovenia has to offer. While the country has been trending up in searches, I have been advocating it as a beautiful and very unique place to visit for a long time.
Slovenia happens to be the place where I was born and grew up before moving to the U.S. and making Chicago my home, so this is not “just” another travel blogger’s recommendation. There is insider knowledge involved and it all comes from the heart. Here are 10 reasons why you should place Slovenia on your travel bucket list.
Why You Should Start Planning Your Slovenia Vacation Today
1. Because Rick Steves also says so
In case you think I may be biased since I am a native of Slovenia, you can trust Rick Steves, a celebrity authority on travel to Europe, who certainly knows a thing or two about its best destinations. He praises Slovenia in several articles and shares my view point that it is one of the most overlooked travel destination on the continent, yet one that will steal your heart if you decide to visit.
Rick Steves is not alone. Google “Slovenia” and your search will produce many stories and blog posts about this small and relatively young European country, typically written after their authors visit and fall in love with its beauty and its people. Slovenia has been listed by Huffington Post as one of the Epic Places You Never Thought to Travel But You Should and voted by Rough Guides readers as one the Most Beautiful Countries in the World.
2. Everybody will envy your Instagram photos
Slovenia has gorgeous landscape and despite the fact that it is small in size, it packs an incredible amount of diversity into its small territory. You will find majestic Alps, gorgeous lakes, awe-inspiring waterfalls, pristine rivers, incredible underground caves and plenty of charming rolling hills covered with vineyards. Over half of the country’s territory is covered with lush forests making it one of the greenest countries in Europe, ranked 3rd after Finland and Sweden.
Then there is the coast, which is only 28 miles (46 km) long, all that Slovenia inherited after its secession from Yugoslavia in 1991. Lined with tall, slender cypresses, dotted with colorful oleanders and the occasional fig trees, fragrant with pines, rosemary and lavender bushes, this area is intoxicating. Small picturesque towns, showing strong Roman origins, simply beg to be explored. (The region used to be part of the Roman Empire and both Slovene and Italian are official languages here.) A unique experience for visitors are the area’s salt pans where world class fleur de sel is produced using 7,000 year-old hand methods.
3. The charming capital
The name might be hard to pronounce for non-natives and Ljubljana might lack big ticket attractions, but it is, without a doubt, one of the most photogenic European capitals. For starters, there is a castle on the wooded hill at its center, surrounded by the Old Town where you will find cobblestone streets with many architecturally significant buildings, as well as a number of pretty fountains and churches.
The lazily flowing Ljubljanica river is home to many beautiful bridges with interesting names and history, such as the famous Three Bridges and the Shoemakers or the Butcher’s Bridge. A vast pedestrian-and-cyclists-only zone in the city center and countless cozy cafés and restaurants with outdoor seating invite to you slow down and savor the scene.
Street artists, musicians and a variety of unique outdoor festivals and cultural events, especially in the summer months, abound. The city vibe, which can be described as energetic and lively, yet laid back and unpretentious, will have you falling for Slovenia’s capital in no time. Highly environmentally conscious, Ljubljana is also very proud of the European Green Capital title it was awarded in 2016.
Tip: While there are no direct flights to Ljubljana from the U.S., it is easily accessible from many European cities. When I fly home with my family, we typically connect through Frankfurt, Munich, London, Paris or Zurich. Flying into nearby Vienna, Venice or Zagreb is also a good alternative. If you choose the latter, GoOpti can take you directly from the airport to any destination in Slovenia. They are reliable, highly professional and very reasonably priced.
4. Castles, dragons and knights… oh my!
Kids will love the fact that there are over 100 castles in tiny Slovenia. Some are in ruins, but many have been beautifully restored and are full of fascinating history and artifacts.
The most popular ones among tourists, largely due to their location, are those in Ljubljana, Bled and Postojna. Grown ups, particularly those who love history, are in for a treat, too. Due to its geographic position, the Slovene territory has an extremely colorful past with many rulers, such as Napoleon, and empires, like the Romans or the Habsburgs, all of whom left their mark.
If you are wondering about the dragons, a green one is the official symbol of Ljubljana, proudly displayed in its coat of arms. Some link it to Jason and the Argonauts from Greek mythology and others to Saint George, patron of Ljubljana’s castle chapel, who is often depicted with a spear and a dragon. Regardless which version you prefer, the giant green dragon is said to be Ljubljana’s most famous resident.
An impressive one can be found on Ljubljana’s Zmajski Most (the Dragon Bridge), but the symbol can also be found in many other parts of town and on many souvenirs. The local soccer team is called Zmaji, meaning, I’m sure you can guess, the Dragons.
5. Exciting food scene
Just like the country’s scenery, Slovene cuisine is very diverse with many regional specialties and notable influences by neighboring Italy, Austria and Hungary. Sampling and comparing dishes as you travel around Slovenia from its Alpine region to the coast is both delicious and fun.
Slovenia’s modern culinary scene is equally exciting. The last two decades have seen an explosion of restaurants with contemporary Slovene as well as worldly cuisines, particularly in the country’s capital and around bigger tourist destinations.
I bet you didn’t know that the World’s Best Female Chef 2017 is from Slovenia? Google Ana Roš if you would like to learn more, and plan months in advance if you want to visit her restaurant Hiša Franko in Kobarid.
In Ljubljana, two wonderful ways to enjoy the food scene are food tours by Ljubljananjam and a visit to Odprta Kuhna (translated as Open Kitchen), a delicious and fun food festival which takes place every Friday, weather permitting, next to the open air market and the Cathedral in the Old Town.
Tip: Slovenia has some of the best sladoled (gelato) and pizza outside of Italy. I’m totally serious. When I visit Ljubljana with my family, one of our favorite things to do is to stroll along the Ljubljana river in the Old Town and sample its ice cream shops with their countless delicious flavors, most of which we can never find in Chicago.
6. Award winning wines (or, if you prefer, beer)
Slovenia is a land of many vineyards. While the Slovene wines have traditionally been less well-known than those of some other European countries, many Slovene wineries are highly regarded by top sommeliers around the world, who like finding lesser known and a bit unusual, but exceptional wines. I am always excited to find a Slovene wine listed in a U.S. restaurant.
Slovenia also has a good climate for growing hops, a main ingredient for beer production, which has traditionally also been strong in the region. In Ljubljana, you can show your insider knowledge by ordering a glass of Union, the capital’s local beer, or sign up for a Beer Lover’s Experience of Ljubljana, where you can sample several craft beers and visit to a local brewery museum.
7. Another place to leave a love lock
If you didn’t make it to Paris before its famous love lock bridge was taken down, you are in luck in Ljubljana. Mesarski Most (the Butchers Bridge) is a special place to leave your love lock. However, please don’t throw the key into the river, the locals prefer to keep it clean. While its name is not very romantic, the bridge itself with its see-through glass floor and several modernist sculptures is quite unique. You will find it next to Ljubljana’s wonderful old style open market, between the famous Three Bridges and the Dragon Bridge.
8. It’s the only country in the world with the word “love” in it
And while we are on the topic, Slovenia is also said to have one of the world’s most romantic roads. In the middle of a vineyard, about a 30-minute drive from Maribor, Slovenia’s second biggest city on the eastern half of the country, is a heart-shaped road. This area is one of the most photographed and famous images in Slovenia. But the word “love” also brings me to my next point.
9. Friendly and welcoming Slovenes
Slovenes love visitors and are known to be extremely warm and welcoming hosts. Many, especially younger generations, speak very good English and usually a few other languages as well. If you are lost, need a recommendation for a good local restaurant or just want somebody to take your family photo on the famous Three Bridges, don’t hesitate to ask a local. I guarantee you will find a friendly native, eager to help, in no time.
10. Not too crowded. Yet.
The fact that it is not on everybody’s bucket list yet, might actually be one of the best reasons to visit Slovenia now. Even though in the last decade, the country has become much more visible on the travel scene, it is still relatively less discovered. You can expect plenty of pristine, unspoiled nature and smaller crowds than you might find in other more traditional European tourists destinations. But hurry, the word is spreading quickly!
You may also enjoy:
- Travel to Slovenia with your Family: Ljubljana and the Slovene Alps
- Travel to Slovenia With Your Family – Part 2: Underground Caves and the Slovene Coast
- Read about our other family vacations to neighboring Italy and Austria
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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…