I’ve pledged my love for Slovenia multiple times on this blog. It’s no longer a secret. I’ve been twice in the chilly winter months, witnessing this country’s snowy, holiday appeal. I’ve experienced Lake Bled and loved it as much as the next tourist. I meandered around the countryside, relaxing along its sliver of coastline. And I’ve spent time in the country’s capital city, devouring its artsy, hipster vibes. It’s the greatest small country I’ve encountered. Great enough, and small enough, for a true adventure. It’s the perfect place for the ultimate road trip.
This is because of Slovenia’s diversity. You really have it all here: a bustling, energetic capital city; the Alps that provide endless outdoor opportunities; a history that’s as old as centuries, yet as new as decades; a unique wine industry; agricultural tourism; castles and caves; a huge and famous national park; thermal spas; and Mediterranean vibes. So grab a car and prepare yourself for the ultimate road trip through Slovenia.
The Ultimate Road Trip Through Slovenia
Starting point: Ljubljana
Ending point: Maribor
Highlights: Ljubljana → Lake Bled → Triglav National Park → Soča River Valley → Piran → Predjama Castle → Laško → Spas → Vineyards → Maribor
How to Rent a Car
You can rent a car using several services in Slovenia, so planning your perfect, ultimate road trip is easy. When we planned ours, we went with Europcar because they didn’t charge extra to return our car to a different location (as long as it was still in the country). We found out later, however, that this is common in Slovenia. So if you have a preferred rental service, just ask! This is super convenient if you want to explore more of the country. But, all roads lead to Ljubljana, and with Slovenia being so small, it’s not too much of a hassle to use the capital as both your starting and ending points, if you wish.
Helpful Driving Tips
Slovenia is in continental Europe, so rest assured, you will drive on the righthand side of the road. There aren’t too many traffic circles in Slovenia either (phew!), so driving is pretty routine. Speed and distance, however, are measured in kilometers and you purchase your petrol in liters (for those Americans out there). We cruised around the western part of the country only filling the tank once. So although petrol is more expensive than the United States, it’s cheaper than countries in Western Europe.
The driving laws in Slovenia are rather straightforward. The only difference we encountered was the mandatory use of headlights at all times (lowlights during the day). Your rental company should provide you with a general summary of local traffic laws.
And, stick to the main roads if you’re a bit skittish. Smaller roads are drivable, of course, but they are extremely narrow and a little scary for those of us not used to hilly European driving! If you can brave it, it’s encouraged because Slovenia has so many hidden treasures. It wouldn’t be an ultimate road trip without these little gems!
Ultimate Road Trip Through Slovenia: Itinerary
Stop #1 → Ljubljana
For a full city guide to Ljubljana, you can read my post here. It’s packed with details on where to stay, where to eat, and what to do.
But to sum it up, Ljubljana is a must on your road trip through Slovenia because it’s a living, breathing, artsy capital city. It’s almost like a smaller version of Berlin: an emerging food and coffee scene, overall support of public art, an underground music scene, an excellent reputation for craft beer, an interesting and recent history, and a castle that sits in the middle, high on a hill. Ljubljana is also where the international airport and a large train station resides. So most likely, you’d start your adventures here anyway.
Stop #2 → Škofja Loka
Škofja Loka is an historic town just north of Ljubljana, an easy stop on your way to Lake Bled. It’s perfectly picturesque and a great example of medieval architecture. A large castle and tower sit high above the once walled town, its impressive bright red turrets acting as watchtowers. Walking up to the castle is a unique part of the journey, as you must snake through the town’s old cobblestone streets. You get amazing views of the valley, the mountains in the distance, and an old Slovenian church dotting the hillside.
At the castle, you can enjoy the gardens, the interactive museum (free of charge), or spend time in nature by hiking through the forested park. The main street, Mestni, is lined with cafes and small shops, and opens up to a large square.
- Local honey bread
- River walk
Stop #3 → Lake Bled
You can’t really talk about Slovenia without mentioning Lake Bled. It could really be the country’s symbol, so your ultimate road trip must include this gorgeous natural gem. I wrote an article detailing everything you can do in the area (read it here).
It’s a small lake with a few different villages and neighborhoods dotting its shores, but it’s packed with things to do. And, it’s perfect for every personality. You can enjoy the village with its little shops, delicious traditional restaurants, and famous cream cake. You can walk around the lake and enjoy the views, or get a bit more active by renting a bike or a boat. There’s a castle, hiking trails, and other nearby adventures.
There are endless options for accommodation in Lake Bled as well. But since you have a car, skip the hotels and opt for a guest house outside the main village. You’ll experience the true appeal of the lake: its serenity.
- Rowing to the island
- Cream cake
- Hiking Mala Osojnica
Stop #4 → Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge is a quick jaunt from Lake Bled, so it’s easy to tackle in just a few hours. It’s a long gorge with elevated wooden walkways that lead you through forests above the rushing river below. It’s beautiful in every season, but be warned that it’s closed during the winter months. Prior to last year, it was easy to pass through the gate and enjoy the icy, snowy scene at your own risk. But the proprietors now mean business, locking the main entrance with deterring features (like spikes and anti-grip goo).
Tip: go in the morning. The light is beautiful as it dances across the river and through the trees, and it’s much less crowded.
Stop #5 → Kranjska Gora
Triglav National Park is one of the most beautiful natural spaces I’ve encountered. It’s very busy in the summer months, so we were lucky to have some of the trails all to ourselves in the winter. We started our stay in the small town of Kranjska Gora. The entrance to the park greets you with a twisting river, a giant lake, and a statue of the region’s mascot: the mountain goat. Just outside the entrance is an excellent hike (detailed here) that takes you along the river and into the mossy forest. The towering Julian Alps make their appearance, and can refuel at a small hut offering hearty soup and crisp beer.
- Skiing (or sledding) in winter
- Lake Jasna
- Hiking to one of the mountain huts
Stop #6 → Vršič Pass
If road conditions permit, you can drive through Triglav National Park from its north side in Kranjska Gora to its south side in the small town of Bovec via Vršič Pass. It’s one of the most breathtaking drives in all of Europe and truly makes this list the ultimate road trip. The views and adventures are nonstop. You’ll twist and turn along mountain roads, but eventually you’ll find the high alpine meadows near Trenta. There is accommodation up in these mountain towns, so it’s fun to sleep where you feel on top of the world… or at least in the Sound of Music.
- Russian Church
- Valleys of Trenta
Stop #7 → Soča River Valley
Once you’re over the pass, you will enter the Soča River Valley, which flows straight out of the Alps, the water a crystal clear hue of turquoise which contrasts perfectly with the light shades of winter. Or, it provides the perfect swimming hole in the summer. You may not imagine swimming in the rivers of the Alps in Slovenia, but you won’t be able to stop yourself once you see the water.
There’s a lot to see in this area of Slovenia: you can hike, bike, fish, and river raft. You can explore small settlements and visit museums. Some of the cute towns to stay or eat lunch include Bovec, Kobarid, and Tolmin. We stopped in Kobarid to hike to Kozjak Waterfall and the hills above it, and to mosey through the cutesy town of Drežnica.
Stop #9 → The Coast
If you want to feel like you’re in a breezy, Mediterranean village, head straight to Piran. They call it Slovenia’s version of Venice for a reason, which means it definitely deserves a place on the ultimate road trip list. It’s like a different world and you’ll wonder if you are, indeed, still in Slovenia. The entire Old Town is completely preserved, narrow cobblestones twisting so close together, you can almost reach out and touch both sides. Laundry hangs above and shutters sit haphazardly framing open windows. Music wafts from the main square, a church sitting high on the hill above, and water splashes gently against boats in the port. It’s a dream. If you stay here, opt to park your car at one of the lots and stay in the Old Town.
While in the area, you can also check out Slovenia’s other port towns: Koper and Izola. Koper is known for its Old Town square, complete with two palaces and an old Renaissance vibe. Izola is similar to Piran in its charms: red roofs, narrow streets, cobblestones, and that Venice vibe. Both cities are much bigger than Piran, so deciding on where to sleep depends on your personal preference!
- Old Town Walls
- Splurging on a seafood dinner
- Market at the Main Square
Stop #10 → Predjama Castle
Predjama Castle is located in one of the most impressive scenes. It looks straight out of a medieval story, yet is pressed against a rocky cliffside surrounded by rolling green. Part of the castle includes a small network of caves, so you can learn about history and have a little adventure. But there are two other, slightly more impressive, caves in the area: Škocjan Caves and Postojna Caves. Both are worth a visit for separate reasons. But if you can only choose one, Škocjan Caves is one of the best.
Stop #11 → Laško
Laško may sound familiar because it shares the name of one of Slovenia’s popular lagers. This delicious brew is made in Laško and you can sip (and sip, and sip) and tour the brewery. But it’s also a town for a little rest and relaxation, as it’s a spa town. You may have heard of the thermal baths of neighboring Hungary, but Slovenia has its share of spas as well. And if beer and thermal spas weren’t enough to entice you, this little town is also a great place to enjoy historical architecture and beautiful scenery. You can walk up to the little church of Šmihel, surrounded by bushy hills, and gaze down into the sleepy village.
Stop #12 → Ptuj
But the oldest town in Slovenia is Ptuj, and it’s so picturesque it’s almost difficult to describe. The pale facades are adorned with steep red roofs twisting in a line through the Old town. Churches pop out of the skyline, their ruby red or emerald green domes dominating the scene. A river rushes by, eventually opening up into a wide lake as the old walled castle sits as the town’s guardian. It’s a European dream.
And now you’re getting closer to the country’s wine region and it’s very convenient to visit different vineyards in the area or the wine cellar in town.
- The castle
- Ptuj wine cellar
- Carnival festival
Stop #13 → Maribor
Maribor is in the eastern part of country, and although it’s Slovenia’s second largest city, it’s often overlooked. Which is a shame because it has some serious highlights. This includes the home of the oldest vine in the world, over 400 years old… that sounds pretty “ultimate road trip” to me! It symbolizes the country’s exceptional wine culture. And because it has the oldest wine in the world, the city has beautiful wine cellars to explore as well, or you can enjoy the vineyards that surround the city. Really, it’s an almost perfect spot for a wine lover.
- The Old Vine House
- The gondola to Pohorje
- Visiting the vineyards
If driving is your preferred method of transport, Slovenia is truly one of your best options. It’s unique and compact, filled with treasures, easily navigated, and English is spoken throughout the country. It’s really the perfect little country for the ultimate road trip in Europe.
What do you think? Are you going to put Slovenia on your list? And, since I’m always on the lookout for my next trip, do you have a favorite country for the ultimate road trip?