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Help! 1 Week in Slovenia - last minute trip

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I'm usually very into planning our trips (and, I think, do it well) but my husband and I are suddenly stuck with August 9-25 for our vacation due to work, and because I'm taking the bar exam in 5 weeks, I sadly have no time to plan. We want to nail down the big things (flights, hotel) asap and I'll plan the details after my exam. Any help you all can give me to figure out the big stuff fast and easily would be great!

I think we have decided to take a 1 weeks cruise to several Greek islands, which is round trip from Venice departing on August 17. We're thinking we'd like to spend about 1 week before that in Slovenia. (Note: we've already traveled extensively throughout Italy, including Venice.) I know little about Slovenia, but it looks like the top sights are Lake Bled, Ljubljana, and the Saca River area. We'd take an overnight flight (from NYC) either Aug 9 or 10 to arrive the next morning.

I see you can take a short ferry from Venice to Piran. Does it make sense for us to make Piran out base for at least part of the time? Or should we fly into Slovenia (Ljubljana?) then make our way down to Piran and ferry to Venice for our cruise? We'd rather not be switching hotels constantly, and would prefer to have 1 or 2 bases in Slovenia and see the country from there. Geographically, it looks like it might be best to spend a little time near Piran and the rest near Ljubljana and Lake Bled. Suggestions on where we should base ourselves and the best ways to get around would be extremely helpful, as would hotel suggestions (max $200/nt but my understanding is Slovenia is on the cheap side). I read a recent trip report on here in which the poster rented a car; is that better than using public transit to get around in Slovenia? We've never rented a car in a foreign country and, being New Yorkers, would prefer not to drive but are open to it.

We're both 30, enjoy things like biking and other outdoorsy stuff, and are big foodies; we're not so much museums but would certainly want to learn about the culture and history of the country.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions you all have!

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    You can read my trip report (if you haven't already) by clicking on my name. I did rent a car and drove from Ljubljana to Lake Bled (2 nights), drove over the Vrsic Pass past the Julian Alps and back to Kobarid (in the Soca Valley - 1 night), then dropped the car near Piran.

    If you skip the drive through the Vrsic Pass, you can do it all by public transit: Ljubljana - Bled, Bled - Ljubljana - Piran (buses may be better, sometimes trains). But, I found driving in Slovenia very easy, and I was nervous about it. You drive on the same side of the road as you do in NYC. The cars are smaller, and your rental will probably be a 5-speed, so you'd need to be able to drive a manual transmission or pay a premium price for a rental car. One-way rental doesn't incur a surcharge if you do several (four?) days minimum and drop in the same country.

    August is peak vacation season in Slovenia. I wouldn't expect cheap prices anywhere - perhaps cheaper than Italy but not "cheap cheap." Piran is a booming vacation spot which was busy on a warm September weekend; I'd imagine it would be mobbed in August. Lake Bled would probably be busy too. Ljubljana may be less busy but I wouldn't expect cheap lodging there, either. For some reason, there is a shortage of good hotels there. (Check prices yourself on Booking.com for a few days in August you'd be there.) I stayed at the Slamic B&B that many others here recommend (so would I).

    Still, I loved Slovenia. It's much more laid back than Italy - touristy for sure but not many Americans, so it feels at least a little more exotic. (Every other tourist isn't carrying a Rick Steves book - though I found his Slovenia/Croatia book very helpful.) Besides the highlights you mention (Ljubljana, Bled, Piran, all of which I liked), I also enjoyed some of the smaller towns like Skofja Loka and the beautiful drive from there up to Lake Bled. Many tourists miss the eastern towns like Maribor, Ptuj, and Celje but if you have time they're worth a look, too. There are ample hiking opportunities around Lake Bohinj and in Triglav National Park adjacent to there.

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    Sorry - only one week, I forgot. Forget about Maribor, Ptuj, etc. I'd probably do two nights in Ljulbjana, three nights in Lake Bled or Lake Bohinj (as it sounds like you like the outdoorsy stuff) and two in Piran. You can certainly fly into Ljubljana if it's affordable (maybe book your own flight on the national airline, Adria, or easyJet from London), but if you can get to Venice cheaper, you can get direct buses from Venice to Ljubljana, work your way down to Piran, then ferry or buses back to Venice.

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    Andrew has given you some great advice!

    You might want to invest in the Rough Guide for Slovenia - great maps, very thorough coverage, etc.

    As I understand it, Ljubljiana is a great base whether you use public transportation or a rental car, but I didn't go to Piran, which might be a good 2nd base. Before you make a decision, you might want to check viamichelin or mappy to get a sense of the distances.

    Enjoy! It's a beautiful part of the world.

    And good luck with the bar. :-)

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    We returned from Slovenia a couple of weeks ago. We spent 4 nights in Ljubljana and 3 near Lake Bohinj. We were able to do day trips from there by train and bus (which were very good). If you prefer Ljubljana/Piran I can see that that would also be a great choice, although I don't have any personal experience of transport there. We travelled slightly off season so there was no ferry Venice to Piran then. If possible, I'd fly into Ljubljana then Piran, ferry to Venice (if there is one) and then take your cruise. Starting and ending in Venice gives you unnecessary travel time.

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    Thank you for the great help! Andrew, your trip report looks very detailed, I look forward to reading it when I have more time.

    We're definitely going to plan on flying into Ljubljana to make the most out of our time in Slovenia. Does anyone have any experience with the Piran-Venice ferry (ie, is it dependable)? I see it doesn't run often, but it happens to be going to Venice on the morning we need it and it looks like it docks right near the cruise ships. Otherwise, if we taxi to Trieste and take the train, how much time should we budget for getting to Venezia Sta Lucia on a Saturday morning/early afternoon?

    Do you suggest we rent a GPS if we decide to rent a car (10 euros/day from Budget), or can we make it using printed directions (from mappy or viamichelin, as previously suggested) plus a good paper map?

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    Liked Ljubljana... We just got home... We used airbnb for a nice apartment, not expensive.

    We took a bus to Piran, no problems... There are a few per day.

    A car would have been nice, but not necessary.

    200 dollars per night in Slovenia will go a long way.

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    lmschmale: Andrew, your trip report looks very detailed, I look forward to reading it when I have more time.

    It's a bit long - feel free to skim it or just look at the pictures!

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    We spent about a week in Slovenia last year, and loved it. You can click on my name to find a TR and the pictures.

    Andrew’s suggestions are very good, and you are right, Slovenia is cheaper than Italy or other western European countries. We drove too, and found driving in Slovenia easy, the roads well marked and the flexibility offered by having a car great.

    You might want to explore the option of flying into Zagreb, only about 1 ½ hrs (if I remember correctly) from Ljubljana. I think we almost did it that way, but we were flying using FF miles, so we had somewhat limited choices. Have a great trip, and good luck with the bar exam.

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    Thanks again everyone. We leave in 3 days! I'm just printing out some directions and maps from Google right now. Some routes are shorter if we drive part of the way in Italy. I know both countries are in the EU, but will this be a problem if we cross the Italy border? We'll have an IDP, and are picking up and returning our rental car in Slovenia (it was about $200+ more to drop it off in Italy!).

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    I'm not sure, but I would certainly ask my rental car agency.

    And BTW, keep in mind that shortest isn't always best. For example, shorter may also be less scenic or with toll or whatever.

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    As far as Google Maps go, I suggest you try www.viamichelin.com instead, in my experience it has more realistic driving times and calculates the costs for you as well.

    Slovenia and Austria both have the vignette system of highway tolls, so make sure you have the right windshield stickers before venturing on their highways, the Slovenian one should be included since you're renting there, the Austrian probably won't so you'll have to buy one at a gas station. The regular roads aren't tolled though so if you stick to them you won't need the Austrian sticker.

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    I thought I'd post an update now that I'm back from my trip in case someone comes across this thread in the future. First of all, Slovenia is awesome. Second, having a car was great and easy. We rented a manual VW Golf from Europcar (picked up in Ljubljana at City Hotel and dropped off in Portoroz). We were charged a "surprise" extra 11 euros or so per day for some sticker or something that would allow us to drive on the highways; I read about this ahead of time so we expected the extra charge. We were told that if we wanted to drive into Italy and/or Austria we had to pay an extra 30 euros per country. I don't know how they would know (perhaps by looking at the GPS history) but we did not pay this. For the drive from Ljubljana to Bovec, the Europcar guy told us that the best/fastest way to get to Bovec was in fact through part of Italy; he agreed to not charge us the extra 30 euros if that was the only part of Italy we were driving through.

    Driving was very easy and the roads are well kept. We rented a GPS for about $50 and this was key. We never looked at the maps and directions I printed out ahead of time (although I will note that actual driving times and directions were basically identical to those on Google maps and Via Michelin). The one warning I want to give people is you might want to check the route your GPS gives you. For the Bovec to Piran route, the GPS took us on routes 609/607 between Tolmin and Nova Gorica. 609 and 607 here was a very narrow 2-lane mountainous road with tons of curves. We also constantly had to stop to pull over as far as possible to let cars pass because the road is so narrow. It added an hour to the drive and we would have much preferred to take 103 the entire way.

    A brief overview of our trip:

    Aug 10-11: flew NYC-BRU-LJU. Explored the city (which is more like a town). Easy trip and the LJU airport is small and a short distance from the city. A previous posted suggested flying into Zagreb but we had already booked our flight to LJU on Adria Air. It was admittedly a bit expensive.

    Aug 12: explored LJU, including the castle and main churches. Highly recommend having coffee/lunch at the café on the top of Neboticnik. The dumplings with veal dish was excellent. There are also some great restaurants along the river in the old town, and the Dvorni wine bar is great with $3 glasses of excellent local wine.

    Aug 13: overnight in LJU but drove out to Bled for the day. Easy drive. Rented bikes near the lake and completed a 33km ride around the countryside. This was the highlight of the trip for my husband, but be warned we probably biked closer to 40 km because the route was basically not marked at all. It was also extremely hilly. Despite this, it was an excellent way to see the countryside and small, traditional villages. We also spent some time in Bled, walked around the lake a bit, then drove up to the castle. The original plan was to also visit Lake Bohinj at the town of Stara Fuzina, but because our ride was longer and more exhausting than anticipated and initially delayed due to rain, we skipped it. Next time!

    Aug 14: left rainy LJU and drove past Bled to Bovec. We skipped attempting the Vrsic Pass and drove through part of Italy. Because both countries are in the EU, there is no stop at the border. The drive was beautiful. In retrospect, we weren't sure if we wished we'd stayed the night before in Bled since we were there the day before, but we looking for hotels there wasn't much left in Bled at the time. In Bovec, we went white water rafting with the Soca Rafting Company. It was an amazing experience and we highly recommend it. There isn't much at all to do in the town itself.

    Aug 15: Drove from Bovec to Piran, with a detour to Predjama Castle. Because of all the castles in Slovenia, and especially at this one, my husband, a big Game of Thrones fan, felt like he was in the show. We didn't go in the castle itself, nor did we tour the caves, but it was still worth a short visit. I would have liked to stop in Nova Gorica, but we both felt a bit sick after the aforementioned windy drive which tacked on an extra hour of driving, so we kept going. We drove to Portoroz to drop off the car. This was the one frustrating part of the car rental: no one was there but Europcar shares an office space with a travel agency, and the travel agent called the Europcar guy. We were told to wait 1 hour. It gave us the chance to walk around and check our Portoroz some, which is very glitzy and European-resort-ey. The Europcar guy drove us to our hotel in Piran. Piran was more our style: beautiful, medieval seaside town. In general, things (food, bottled water) was a tad more expensive in Piran than elsewhere in Slovenia, but still cheaper than Venice (our next stop).

    Aug 16: We spent about half the day in Piran then around 1 or 2 we took a taxi to the train station in Trieste, Italy. This cost about 60 euros my research revealed that it was the cheapest way to get there unless we took a bus from Piran at 645am or took some other crazy bus route which required like 3 different buses. In the end, we nixed the ferry to Venice idea because I read some stuff online that seemed to indicate that it wasn't reliable, and since we were getting on a cruise in Venice, we had to make sure we got there. Dropping the rental car off in Italy, while possible, would have added a good $200 or more.

    In the end, we absolutely loved Slovenia and highly recommend it. We ended up cutting 2 days off our original Slovenia plan to cut flight prices, and to ensure we got to Venice a day before our cruise so we didn't miss it. We kind of wished we had another day in Piran, but time just did not allow it, and in the end we were a bit glad due to the noise at our hotel in Piran (see below). I had wanted to go to a winery in the Goriska Brda region, but the day we drove near there (Aug 15) was a national holiday and the wineries were closed. If we could have added an extra day, I may have added it here. I also wanted to go to Skocjan Caves, but my husband was not interested at all and time didn't allow, but that's another attraction that I read a lot of great reviews of. We also clearly did not explore eastern Slovenia at all but hope to get there one day!

    Our hotels:
    Ljubljana: Best Western Hotel Slon - excellent location, nice staff, very comfortable bed but the AC was not cool enough for us. The lobby was under construction while we were there but we could tell it was very nice. The breakfast that was included was absolutely excellent and included a spread of both European and American breakfast items, as well as eggs made to order. Parking was about $20/day. The hotel also has a small gym.

    Bovec: Hotel Dobra Vila - we absolutely loved this small hotel/B&B. We got a room with a balcony and the view was amazing. The staff was very helpful (they got us a discount on the rafting trip). The breakfast was again excellent and included made to order eggs and cappuccinos. Our only frustration was that we couldn't get the WiFi to work, but we were only there for 1 night so we gave up. The hotel has a restaurant with a set 5 course meal that was excellent and well worth the price. The waiter also suggested a wonderful bottle of Slovenia wine to go with the meal.

    Piran: Hotel Piran - we loved this hotel when we got here. Great location right on the water with lounge chairs at the ocean, another great breakfast, and a very nice staff who spoke English very well. We got a seaview room which was on the corner and had 3 windows overlooking the ocean and town. The problem came that evening after we got back from dinner; very very loud pop/club music was coming from somewhere and continued until 2am. Even with the windows closed and the AC on high it was very loud. Luckily, we brought and watched a movie on our laptop until shortly after 2, but otherwise had we been trying to sleep we would have been very upset. It is for this reason that we decided we were ultimately glad that we weren't staying a second night at this hotel. I don't know if this is a common occurrence or was just bad luck the one night we were there, but we did not read any reviews with complaints about noise before we booked the hotel, and we otherwise highly recommend the hotel.

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    lmschmale: In retrospect, we weren't sure if we wished we'd stayed the night before in Bled since we were there the day before, but we looking for hotels there wasn't much left in Bled at the time.

    I stayed in Bled a couple of nights and enjoyed it during the day - for the Lake and proximity to Lake Bohinj - but the town of Bled itself is nothing special in my opinion. I don't think you made a bad choice avoiding Bled in the summer when it was probably overly expensive, anyway.

    We drove to Portoroz to drop off the car. This was the one frustrating part of the car rental: no one was there but Europcar shares an office space with a travel agency, and the travel agent called the Europcar guy. We were told to wait 1 hour. It gave us the chance to walk around and check our Portoroz some, which is very glitzy and European-resort-ey. The Europcar guy drove us to our hotel in Piran.

    I had a frustrating car return experience in Portoroz, too! First of, I couldn't even FIND the Sixt rental car return in Portoroz and drove up and down the main drag in town looking for it. I FINALLY found the tiny sign (even with an address finding it was a challenge) only to find no one was there during scheduled hours (there was a sign on the door with a cell phone). I called (lucky I had a local cell phone) and was told simply to drop my car at the hotel across the street. I then took an (easy) bus to Piran, which I also loved. Portoroz isn't a place I would have any interest in visiting.

    Aug 16: We spent about half the day in Piran then around 1 or 2 we took a taxi to the train station in Trieste, Italy. This cost about 60 euros my research revealed that it was the cheapest way to get there unless we took a bus from Piran at 645am or took some other crazy bus route which required like 3 different buses.

    I had to do it on a Sunday morning so the bus wasn't even an option for me, as it didn't run on Sundays. I wound up getting my B&B owner to take me to Trieste for 40 euros; I'd read that sometimes B&B or hotels can arrange "private" taxi service like this for cheaper than a regular taxi, so I asked.

    Glad you had a good time in Slovenia - I loved the country too and hope to go back again!

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    "First of all, Slovenia is awesome. Second, having a car was great and easy."

    That's exactly how we felt. Our itinerary was very similar to yours, we just spent more time in each location, and loved it.

    Thankfully, returning the car at LJU airport was painless (except for the gas fill issue - there is no gas station at the airport!!! We had to turn around, at 5 am or so, and found a gas station thanks to our GPS).

    We hope to go back to Slovenia soon, before everyone discovers it. Glad to hear you had a great trip.

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    I'm guessing that one reason Slovenia hasn't quite been "discovered" by Americans, at least, is that it's not as easy to get to as Italy, France, etc. Many US visitors would have to change planes twice to fly into Ljubljana, perhaps at a much higher airfare. Flying into Venice is the closest practical option, but there's no direct train from Venice, and the direct buses aren't quite convenient for many travelers.

    A restoration of the direct train from Venice to Ljubljana (removed due to political reasons some years ago, as I understand it) would probably be a boon to Slovenian tourism. That would make tacking Slovenia onto your Italian vacation a lot easier if you've already decided to ride trains on your vacation. But it probably wouldn't help Italy, which might prefer to keep those tourists in Italy.

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