Top Things To Do in Slovenia – Visiting the Fairytale Lake Bled
Having just visited Slovenia for the first time, I’ve come back with a stash of wonderful travel memories. This tiny country, bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia and with a population of just over 2 million people, is a real hidden gem. There is so much to see and do that I’m already planning my next trip!
Fairytale Lake Bled
One of the most well known and beautiful places to visit has got to be the fairytale location of Lake Bled. First settled by the Slavs in the 8th century, it is located just 35km from Ljublana airport and 55km from Ljubljana, the capital. This mesmerising glacial lake is fed by natural springs and has an almost mythical quality to it. The natural island in the centre of the lake is surrounded by the stunning Julian Alps of the Upper Carniolan region. What’s more there is a medieval clifftop castle close by and and the whole area is one of outstanding natural beauty.
The Island Island and the Church of the Assumption of Mary
The island is home to the pilgrimage church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. The first brick built church was consecrated in 1142 by the Aquileia patriarch Pellegrino but during the 15th Century it was rebuilt in Gothic style. Then in 1509 the church was damaged by an earthquake, after which it was totally renovated in Baroque style. Prior to the church being constructed there was an ancient Slavic cult settlement here in the early Middle Ages. You can visit the island and the church by taking a “pletna” boats from one of the boat stations around the lake.
Take a Wooden Pletna Boat To The Island
These flat-bottomed wooden boats are reminiscent of Venetian gondolas. Apparently pletna boats were first used on Lake Bled around 1590 AD (though some claim they date as far back as 1150 AD).
Today the boats are still made by hand and are covered in bright colourful awnings to protect you from the sun and rain. They seat up to 20 passengers. However, once seated you can’t move around too much, as any moment may upset the balance!
The oarsman uses two large wooden oars to row the boat to the island and it is quite a skill.
In 1740, twenty two local families were given the exclusive right to ferry pilgrims to the church on Bled Island by Empress Maria Theresa. Many of today’s oarsman are descendants of the original 22 families. The boat trip only lasts around 10 minutes and once on the island you usually stop for around 45 minutes and then are transported back to the shore by the same boat. The return trip in a plenta costs about €15. Entrance to the island is free but if you would like to visit the museum and the bell tower you need to purchase an additional ticket on the island.
Hire A Small Boat Or SUP
There are also private boats that you can rent yourself and row to the island or simply around the lake. A small boat can be hired for around €20 per hour from one of the many location around the lake.
You can also rent a Stand Up Paddle boards by the hour for around €11 per hour.
Arriving On Bled Island
As you arrive on Bled Island there is a Baroque stairway directly in front of the shore with 99 stone steps leading up to the church which dates back to 1655. The church is a very popular wedding destination and traditionally the groom is supposed to carry his bride up the steps on their wedding day before ringing the Wishing Bell inside the church.
The Wishing Bell rope is located in front of the altar in the church and is also popular with tourists and visitors to the island.
According to legend you should ring the bell 3 times whilst making a wish. The legend stems from the tragic story of the widow Poliksena. After her husband’s death she had a bell cast in his memory. However, the bell was sunk in a terrible storm en route to the island. The inconsolable widow moved to Rome and became a nun. When the Pope heard of her sad story he cast a new bell for her. He decreed that anyone who rang the bell three times and believed in God would have their wish granted.
You can also climb the bell tower to see the mechanical oscillation clock in action.
There are also beautiful views from the island across the lake.
Potcia Cake or Lake Bled Cream Slice?
Our ticket for the church and museum also included a free cup of coffee and a slice of potica cake. Slovenian potica cake is a nut roll which is a traditional festive delicacy.
However, the slice we were served was a little on the dry side. Speaking to locals on the way back, they highly recommended I taste the famous Bled Cream Slice or “kremšnita”. Made from layers of puff pastry, confectioner’s custard and whipped cream it is supposed to be a square 7cm high by 7cm wide. Kremšnita they told me, was the “must eat” cake in the region of Bled! The traditional place to eat it is at the Park Hotel Restaurant in front of the lake, where it was originally invented.
Sadly I didn’t have time to track down a Bled Cream Slice – but at least I now have a reason to go back! 🙂
Go For A Swim In Lake Bled
Some locals swim from the lake shore to the island – but this crystal clear lake is almost 30 metres deep – so it is best for strong swimmers only. However, there’s nothing to stop you swimming or paddling around the lake shore and I went for a quick swim to cool down after the boat trip and it was really refreshing.
Walk Around Lake Bled
Another thing you could do is to go for a walk around Lake Bled. You can walk on the path right round the lake and it’s around 6km in total. The path is paved in some places and gravel in other with only a very slight incline in places but always with a great view of the lake. Depending on how fast you walk (and how many photos you take) it’s probably a good idea to allow around 1.5 to 2 hours. You can also drive along the lake on its southern side but on the northern side the road doesn’t follow the lake so you don’t get such a good view.
As you walk around the lake you may pass Villa Bled. It was once one of President Tito’s Summer residences. Official state visits were hosted there for Nikita Khrushchev, King Hussein, Indira Gandhi, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Kim Il Sung, Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie and for many others. Today it’s a hotel, restaurant and a popular wedding venue.
Visit Bled Castle
A visit to Lake Bled’s clifftop castle is also a must. The views from the castle walls are superb and this medieval castle is a great place to explore all in its own right.
Bled Castle is over 1,000 years old and is the oldest castle in Slovenia. Situated 130 metres above the water, as well as the museum there is also a great restaurant.
Visit the Museum at Bled Castle
Entry to the castle and museum costs around €13. The museum tells you all about the local history and geography of the area and explains what life was like through the ages. You can find out more about Bled Museum here.
Dine At Bled Castle
In the evening there is a tasting menu at the Restaurant at Bled Castle which is really delicious. Do make sure to reserve a table outdoors on the terrace if you can as it is just so beautiful.
The restaurant is extremely popular and the food was wonderful! You can visit the Bled Castle Restaurant website here.
Hike Up to Mala Osojnica
If you’re feeling energetic you could hike to Mala Osojnica to get a stunning aerial view over Lake Bled and the church on the island. It’s a steep hike up but mainly in the shade due to the tree coverage. You don’t need hiking boots, just normal sports shoes or trainers should be fine. The whole journey should take around one hour return and you will be rewarded by stunning views.
The Straža Bled Toboggan Run & Adventure Park
Another option would be to go to Strazo for a ride on the Straza Bled toboggan run. Open from Spring to Autumn (though it does get very busy during the peak of Summer) it’s a great activity for families. You take the chair lift to the top of the hill and speed down the hill on the toboggan, with stunning views of Lake Bled as you descend. You can find out more here.
Photo courtesy of Straža Bled
If you’re visiting the Straža Bled toboggan run you might also be interested in the Straža Adventure Park. With 81 stations and 5 difficulty levels this is a great attraction for families. You can find out more here.
Best Time to Visit Lake Bled
We visited Lake Bled in Summer, when it is at its busiest, but there are was still plenty of space to relax under the trees along the shoreline or in one of the little cafes with parasols along the front. It is a great place to visit anytime of the year. In Winter sometimes the lake freezes over and it looks stunning with a dusting of white snow. It’s supposed to be beautiful too in late spring and early autumn when the temperatures are warm and the scenery is still vibrant.
Getting To Lake Bled From Ljubljana
You can reach Lake Bled by car, on a Guided Tour from Ljubljana or even by public transport. If coming by car there are several car parks including the larger public car park near the Bled Sports Hall, but please note that in Summer the car parks can get quite busy. You can also take the train to one of the two train stations in Bled, Lesce-Bled (which is around 4km from the town centre) or Bled Jezero. The train from Ljubljana arrives in Lesce-Bled so you would need to take a taxi or local bus to get to the centre. There is also a bus you can catch from Ljublana to Bled. Please note that if you are driving your own car you need to purchase a vignette (which is used instead of motorway tolls) as failure to do so may result in a fine. You can purchase the vignette at petrol stations and kiosks.
Where to Stay in Lake Bled
We stayed at Hotel Bled Rose which is a 4 star hotel located just feet from the lake. It was renovated a couple of years ago and as well as a swimming room it has a lovely outdoor jacuzzi in its garden in front of the lake. The restaurant balcony and garden have beautiful views of Bled Castle. The rooms are spacious, bright and relaxing with very comfortable beds and large roomy bathrooms. I was on the first floor and managed to get a peek of the lake – but the higher you are the better the view.
The hotel was extremely welcoming and has a lovely restaurant and a great outside area with views onto the lake. It is also very child-friendly too with lots of facilities for children and some giant teddy bears in the foyer and the public areas for them to play with. I particularly liked the painting area next to where breakfast was served where children could paint on a large canvas.
In the morning it was lovely to wake up and to walk a few steps from the hotel down to the lake to see the view.
Other Towns Worth Visiting Along the Route From Ljubljana
Lake Bled is a fabulous destination and a “must see” when in Slovenia not just for its beauty but for its tranquility and the surrounding nature and countryside. Because Slovenia is so small, it’s very easy to travel and discover some of the beautiful towns along the way, if like us, you are travelling by car.
Skofja Loka, Kamnik and Radovljica
Škofja Loka and the Capuchin Stone Bridge
I particularly liked our stops en route to the towns of Škofja Loka in Upper Carniola, which is one of the most beautiful medieval towns with its castle and stone bridge, and the medieval town of Kamnik which has not one, but three castles. Another historic town is Radovljica, with a medieval moat and views of the Karavanke Alps and the Julian Alps. Radovljica is known for its tradition of beekeeping and chocolate and as a foodie hot spot. More to follow in another article.
Getting to Slovenia
From Zurich it takes just over an hour by plane but you can also take an overnight train all the way to Ljublana. From Ljublana you can take a train, bus or taxi to Lake Bled or hire a car.
I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Slovenia and can’t wait to explore more of this beautiful country. For more information please visit the I Feel Slovenia website here.
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