I’m not sure how Slovenia came to the forefront of my travel destination wishlist.
Maybe it was the towering peaks of the Julian Alps, a subsection of the Alps that run through the heart of Europe that called out to me. Perhaps it was the photos that kept finding their way to my computer screen of the emerald blue Soča river. It might have been the numerous ancient and medievel cities that dot its countryside, or the vast network of caves that run through the country.
Whatever the combination of factors that led Christina and I to spend 2 weeks in tiny Slovenia (a good reference for my American readers here on how small it is: about the size of New Jersey), one thing is for sure – there was no shortage of beauty and adventure to be found.
It’s best to start with a little background about Slovenia. The country is quite a hidden gem within Europe, with many confusing it with Slovakia.
Slovenia is nestled just to the east of northern Italy (a 2 hour drive from Venice), south of Austria, north of Croatia, and west of Hungary. The northernmost portion of the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia broke away and gained their independence in 1991, before joining the European union in 2004.
Slovenia is an extremely varied landscape. The northwestern portion of the country is dominated by the dramatic Julian Alps, while the central and southwestern portions are known for their rolling hills and ample vineyards (thanks to a mediterranean climate).
Some Observations on Slovenia:
- It is an impeccably tidy and clean country. Not a bit of litter to be found on the roads or waterways. Grassy areas by the roadsides are kept mowed and there is a complex recycling program in place across the country. In fact, Ljubljana, the capital, has been named Europe’s “Green Capital” of 2016, due to their dedication to eco-friendly practices and cleanliness.
- Smoking is extremely prevalent. Like, just about everyone smokes. Everywhere.
- The locals are very friendly, sociable, and honest. I left my sunglasses on an outdoor table late one evening, and upon returning the following morning, they were waiting for me behind the counter. Slovenians are quick to engage you in friendly banter and are happy to tell you the best things to do in the area. They are very proud of their country, and with good reason – there’s a lot to love about Slovenia!
- The architecture is absolutely gorgeous in most areas, but get just outside of the old town of many of the larger cities, and you’ll find blocky, communist-era buildings, relics from its time as a part of the former Yugoslavia.
- In contrast, the smaller villages of the country are incredibly charming with many locations having buildings dating back to the 12th century.
- 2 very ubiquitous things you’ll find throughout the country are bees and lavender. Slovenia is famous for their honey and you’ll notice many beekeeping stands along the roadsides. Lavender also grows freely throughout the country, and wild patches of it are usually also swarming with bees.
A quick note on deciphering the Slovenian language. Undoubtably, it’s a difficult language to learn to a non-native speaker, but with a few helpful tips, you’ll get along just fine for a short trip through the country with some basic phrases and a little knowledge.
- Sometimes, letters have an accent over them: Š, Č, and Ž. This accent mark indicates that you should pronounce the letter as though it has an “h” behind it. Additionally, the letter “j” is pronounced more like Americans pronounce a “y” sound. So, the word “hiša” (meaning house) is pronounced “he-sha”; “Živjo” (meaning “hello”) is said “zhiv-yo”, and “Soča”, the name of Slovenia’s most famous river is pronounced “So-cha”.
- The letter “c” by itself, without the accent mark would be pronounced more like a “ts” sound. The town of Bovec, for example, is pronounced “Bovets” and the village of Jesenice would sound like “Yez-e-neets-eh”. Starting to make sense?
Now a few basic helpful phrases to get by in the country. While practically everyone in the country speaks nearly flawless English, it’s always appreciated to put forth a little effort to learn a few words prior to traveling in a new place.
- During the day time, you’ll be greeted with “Dober Dan”, which translates to “good day”. This is the most common greeting you’ll get when entering a store or lodging.
- The less formal greeting, which might translate more to “hey or hello” would be “živjo”. You might use this with a close acquaintance rather than someone you’ve just met.
- Nasvidenje (nas-veh-daynyuh) is the most common way to say “goodbye”
- Finally, hvala is the word for thank you. That was our most commonly used phrase on the trip. Hvala is usually followed up by the recipient of the “thank you” with “prosem” (you’re welcome)
Where to go
There are endless possibilities in Slovenia. We visited for 2 weeks and only visited the westernmost half of the country, and still we could have used more time to do everything we wanted to do! The following are some of the highlights of the country if you have a limited amount of time to spend here.
- Ljubljana – the capital, and your entry point into the country if you are flying in. It is extremely charming, and quite compact. The vibe here is all about sitting outside at a cafe table along side the Ljublanica River, and just people watching. Ljubljana is a great base for exploration, as it’s in a very centralized location. There’s plenty to do in the city itself, which I’ll detail more in a later post.
- Lake Bled – Definitely the most touristed area of the country, and with good reason! The dominant feature here is the lake with its island in the center, as well as the castle perched dramatically atop a cliff overlooking the lake from far above.
- Bohinj – Slovenia’s “other lake”. Far less touristed than the very nearby Lake Bled, I actually think Bohinj is far more dramatic in terms of scenery. Definitely worth a visit if you’re looking to spend some time lakeside without vast crowds of people around you. Hiking, waterfalls, and water sports abound here. A true outdoor lover’s dream destination.
- Bovec – located in the Soča valley with some of the most dramatic mountain scenery I’ve ever laid witness surrounding it on all sides. The electric blue Soča River meanders through the area here, which makes Bovec the perfect place for the outdoorsy types who want to do hiking, zip lining, rafting, kayaking, mountain climbing, paragliding, and any other form of adrenaline packed activities you can imagine.
- Kobarid – another city located in the Soča River valley, not far from Bovec, Kobarid is a history lover’s dream, and is famous for its historical walk where you will find relics of the dramatic battles that took place here during WWI. Another great jumping off point for adventurous outdoor activities.
- Piran – Piran is part of Slovenia’s tiny coast line. Though they might not have much land bordering water, they more than make up for the lack of it with dramatic views and amazing architecture here in Piran.
Most of the travelers with whom we spoke during our trip were only in Slovenia for a short period of time, usually at the start or end of a trip centering around Croatia. We have always yearned to visit Croatia, but really wanted to give Slovenia the time it deserved, and we decided to use our full 2 week trip (mostly) within its borders.
I’ve put together a helpful Google map that marks the highlights of the country, please feel free to use it in helping to plan your trip!
Slovenia Road Trip Planning Map
Also, visit my post here detailing some fantastic and unique places to stay during your trip!
9 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide to Slovenia”
Justin, this just a marvellous post with gorgeous photos and so much information. Funny how we, Bulgarians, have so many similarities in terms of language
Thanks Svet! I was not aware that there was such a similarity in language, but it should come as no surprise due to the proximity of the countries!
Great tips, Justin. You nailed the language perfectly, congrats! It is the hardest thing about living in Slovenia!! haha. Love this guy, sharing it ASAP
Thank you so much Isabel! The language can be a bit daunting for sure, but if you can at least nail down some basics, that’s certainly plenty to get by on as a tourist.
Love this post! Being from Slovenia, it’s super interesting to read how foreigners see our country. Unfortunately, you’re more than right about smoking. I wish there were less smokers and cigarette butts around here. And congratulations on language tips – you did a good job here
P.S. Love your pics! I’ve been following you on FB as well and I always get amazed about how beautiful your pictures are. I love how you capture things from a different perspective and not from the typical angle you can find all over the Internet.
Thank you so much Rea, that means a lot coming from someone who actually lives here! I love following you guys as well, love living vicariously through your beautiful photos!
Love your blog!!! So incredibly helpful!! So thankful I stumbled upon it! I am planning a 10 day trip to Slovenia for my partner’s 30th… how long do you recommend for each place? Minusing travel days it will be 8 full days in Slovenia.
I’d say give yourself 2 days in each location – maybe something like: 2 days Ljubljana, 2 days Bled, 2 days Bovec, 2 days Piran. Can’t really go wrong with using those places as a base. Use 1 day for exploring the town itself, then the 2nd day to do a day trip somewhere!
I’m planning a week-long trip with my fiancee next month and your blog has been extremely helpful and inspiring. But each time I visit Europe I always find it very hard to get a good cup of English-style tea when out and about – how is Slovenia for tea lovers?