I'd wanted to visit Slovenia for some time, and I had high hopes from the country. Even with these high hopes I was still surprised by just how beautiful a country it was.
My main base was of course the capital city of Ljubljana, which is in a perfect location! It's smack bang in the middle of the country, which means that it's easy to travel to sights outside of the city without spending too much time travelling.
I'm fairly sure that if you're visiting Ljubljana you'll want to take a day trip to see Lake Bled, if not also some of the other natural wonders of the country.
Ljubljana itself is a beautiful city. With a canal running through the centre, colourful buildings, unique statues and ornate fountains, I felt as if I was in a fairytale.
For a small city there's a lot to see and do, and although there were several fellow tourists, it didn't seem too overcrowded with them in the city. Lake Bled however, is another story.
Ljubljana's central square has several streets leading into it. From here you'll see the colourful Church of the Annunciation, Prešeren Monument and the Triple Bridge.
As city squares go, it has quite a different feel to it. Most city squares I have visited in Europe tend to be surrounded by restaurants and cafes, souvenirs shops and maybe some attractions. There isn't really any of this on Prešeren Square and as a result it feels like less of a place to sit and people watch, and more a part of the city you will regularly pass through.
The Triple Bridge, or Tromostovje in Slovenian, is essentially what it is, three bridges all crossing at the same point of the river. Why the need for three bridges? When there was only one bridge crossing the river, it could not accommodate all the traffic which flowed across it. Two smaller footbridges were built either side for pedestrians, whilst the central bridge would be used for transport.
This is one of the most popular sights in the city, I imagine because it is a little different to your standard bridge. Although it is just a bridge which you can see fairly quickly it's a beautiful place to sit and watch the world go by.
As you walk around Ljubljana you'll see the castle looking over the city. Once at the top you'll get some marvellous views of the city below, which I found to be worth visiting the castle for. The castle itself is worth checking out if you enjoy such attractions, but if you've been to one too many castles, consider a short visit for the view.
Once at the castle you'll find a museum dedicated to Slovenian history, a puppet museum and a prison.
There are a few ways up to the castle, but the quickest and most fun way is to use the funicular railway.
There are several bridges which cross the river in Ljubljana, including the Butchers Bridge filled with statues and padlocks. But the dragon bridge was my favourite, simply for having dragon statues on it.
The dragon is an important symbol in Ljubljana, which dates back to the Greek hero Jason. The site of Ljubljana is where Jason was said to have slayed a dragon.
Nowadays the dragon is a symbol of a protector embodying power, courage and wisdom. You'll see many dragons carved in architecture around the city and even on drain covers. And every winter there is a dragon carnival celebrating all things dragon.
When it comes to cathedrals, I've seen so many throughout Europe that I tend to pass them briefly without truly admiring them. Ljubljana Cathedral doesn't appear to stand out as one of the most beautiful I've seen from the outside, in fact it looks quite plain in my opinion. However, the interior is a different story. Filled with colourful frescoes on the walls and ceiling, it's a rather beautiful sight.
This small alley is an interesting sight. It's not so easy to find, so it's unlikely you'll come upon it by chance. You'll find it on a map as "Kljucavnicarska Ulica", and the entrance to the alley is marked with a key. As you walk through you'll notice hundreds of tiny distorted faces beneath your feet. these lead all the way up to a small plinth with a fat hand resting on top.
The work is by Slovenian sculpture Jakov Brdar. You'll notice many surreal statues sculpted by him throughout the centre of the city, some in a similar style to the faces found in this street.
An instrument which is used for measuring blueness. This cyanometer sculpture is fully functional, and it actually changes colour to match that of the sky, be it day or night, dull or bright.
It's also used to detect the air quality by the moisture in the atmosphere, all to help monitor air pollution and possibly improve the cleanliness of the air.
It may not be the most amazing sight to see in the city, but it's very different and fairly central, so you won't have to go out of your way to see it.
The most popular attraction in Slovenia is Lake Bled, and for good reason, it really is a beautiful sight.
As a result of this, it is of course overcrowded with tourists, so I suggest getting here as early as possible to avoid the crowds, but to also get better photos during the early morning light.
From the shore you will see beautiful mountain ranges, Bled Castle and Bled island in the centre of the lake itself.
You can cross to the island either by a large passenger gondola, or you can hire your own rowing boat to row across, but I suggest knowing how to row if you choose the latter option.
On Bled island you'll have to walk up 99 stone steps. It's a tradition for a newly wed husband to carry his bride up all 99 of them.
Once at the top you'll find two churches, and a clock tower. You can climb to the top of the clock tower, and visit inside both churches, one of which has a wishing bell. I had to queue to use it, but it was fun to pull the rope three times and make a wish as the bell rung out.
I visited Lake Bled as part of an organised tour, but it's possible to use public transport from Ljubljana. The only downside to this is how early you can get there, and also the buses tend to be overcrowded with tourists, meaning you have to wait for a free bus. If you don't make it onto the last bus returning to Ljubljana due to overcrowding, then you're essentially stuck in Bled unless you fork out a lot of money for a taxi.
Another option would be to stay overnight in Bled. Although expensive, I'm sure the lake would be beautiful at sunset and sunrise any time of the year you visit.
Overlooking Lake Bled, this is a beautiful sight when viewed from the lake, but when you're at the castle itself, it has one of the best views of Lake Bled.
The castle itself was interesting, but the best part about it for me was of course the view. It actually felt quite a lot smaller than it seemed from a distance, but there were quite a few activities to do here.
Part of the castle is a museum, with information on the castle and lake's history. There's a printing works, a restaurant and ice cream parlour. The castle chapel is worth seeing, although very small, the frescoes decorating the interior are stunning. There's a castle forge where you can see a blacksmith crafting beautiful iron souvenirs for sale, as well as having the chance to craft your own souvenir coin on an anvil. Then there is the wine tasting experience in the wine cellar, where you can taste and bottle your own wine for a price.
What appears to be a castle built into a cliff is more a castle built into a cave mouth. The exterior is quite impressive, as is the legend about Erasmus of Lueg, a lord who lived in the castle during the 15th century. He was a little like Robin Hood, and would steal from the rich to give to the poor.
The interior was okay, a lot of the rooms being like other European castles. The caverns make it a little more interesting, but personally I think the exterior is the most impressive part.
If you've explored caves before, you may not think this will be very different. In all honesty, a lot of what you'll see here may not be, but the cave network here is huge. You'll see quite a different range of stalagmites and stalactites, and varying colours of rock formations. There's an enjoyable train ride to take you deep into the caves before you explore the rest on foot. The best part about these caves though are its inhabitants of baby dragons. Okay, so they are not actual dragons, they are known as Olms, which are a native species found only in this cave. You'll see some in a tank at the end of your tour, although they can be hard to see in the darkness.