We are planning to go to Slovenia this summer for 8 days. The planning is going well, except for one thing -- driving. I would like to see the Julian Alps, but could not stand the road with 50 hairpin turns. Also, I hear that the Slovenians are crazy drivers -- tailgating even at high speed, etc. I love trains, but am having trouble finding information about train routes there. Any information would be welcome.
Here's a map of the Slovenian rail network.
For schedules, I like to use the Deutsche Bahn website.
I haven't been beyond Lake Bohinj so can't be of much help beyond saying that I think you may need to supplement trains with buses. For short jaunts into the hinterland, you may find a taxi from the nearest bus station/stop to be pretty affordable.
It is practically impossible to see the Julian Alps by train. You can get as far as Bled or Bohinj, but going any further will require taking a bus. The upper Soca Valley and Vrsic Pass also require taking a bus. However, it's not the most practical way to see the sights. It doesn't stop at lookout points and other interesting points along the route and if you get off at a bus stop, you may have to wait a few hours for the next one. If you don't feel like driving and want to experience Vrsic Pass and the Soca Valley, consider a guided day tour instead.
I don't think Slovenians are particularly crazy drivers, though. They aren't the most patient drivers in Europe but they are certainly far from the worst. The traffic-related death rate in the country is similar to Canada or Belgium and lower than in the United States. Note that on European freeways, the left lane is strictly used for passing only and drivers become impatient if a vehicle fails to move to the rightmost lane after overtaking. You will encounter tailgating or some form of signalling in this situation in Germany, Austria, etc., too.
I just want to add to what Dejan said. The drive over Vrsic Pass does have 50 hairpin turns, but it is not anything like some highways you might have traveled on in the USA, where the road is very narrow and there is a steep cliff inches from your tires. It's mainly through wooded areas.I don't recall feeling ill at ease driving it, even when passing a car coming the other direction. There are plenty of wide areas to pull over if there's a car behind you, but I think it's unlikely you will have tailgaters on that road.
Here's a photo I took of one of the typical switchbacks.
Elsewhere, I found driving in Slovenia every bit as easy as driving in the USA. If (based on your name) you're from Maine, perhaps you've driven in Boston? If so, you have experienced crazier drivers than any in Slovenia!
But if you're not convinced, perhaps you can hire a local driver to take you on a day trip through the Julian Alps.
Thanks Everyone for your quick assistance. Very helpful.
A related question. If we are landing in Zagreb, does it make sense to:
1) take the train to Ljubljana, so some exploring there and then get a car, as I understand it is hard to park in the city;
2) rent a car at the airport in Zagreb and drive to Ljubljana.
If #2, should we stay somewhere outside Ljubljana and go in to see the city?
There's usually a substantial drop-off charge if you don't return the car in the same country where you picked it up, so unless you're planning a loop trip, I think picking up the car in Zagreb could prove costly.
Either train or bus works between Zagreb and Ljubljana. The two stations are very close together in Ljubljana. In Zagreb, they are farther apart than they look on a map. In terms of walking distance, the Zagreb train station is perhaps 10 minutes closer to the historic core. There are very few trains, though, so I don't think the station has much in the way of services. The bus station has far more foot traffic, and it's easy to grab a taxi or a tram there. There's also a tourist office upstairs in the same complex.
I like both of those cities a lot. They feel very different, partly because Ljubljana has a river running through the historic district, which is easy to get around on foot. Zagreb is a much larger city, with more museums. The historic district (which is bi-level) seemed quite a bit larger to me. Walkable, but more time-consuming to see. The larger museums are in an area set apart from the oldest part of town (closer to the train station).
I didn't have a car in either city and am not sure what sort of parking challenges you will face. However, as of 2015 taxis in Slovenia were quite reasonable, so I don't think it would be a disaster if you needed to park outside Ljubljana's historic center and taxi in.
Ljubljana is wonderful especially at night when everything is lit up. I don't recommend staying outside of the city - it's a great place to be at night.
If you are worried about parking a car, just take the train from Zagreb. One option I'd consider now that I didn't now about when I last visited (had I flown into Zagreb) would be to take a shuttle from Zagreb airport directly to Ljubljana, via a shuttle service like GoOpti. Their price varies by the date and time (I have not used them) and you won't receive a pick-up time for shared transfer until the day before, by text message, but they seem to be very affordable in some cases I've checked.
Yes, the drivers are sometimes a little nuts in Slovenia (and Croatia) in regards to passing at short distances. But it never really bothered me - just something to watch out for. I enjoyed driving in Slovenia and found it very easy. Don't worry about the drive over the Virsic Pass through the Julian Alps - just take it slow. It's a good road.
Do keep in mind that a rental car in Slovenia is likely to be manual transmission unless you pay extra for an automatic - usually an upgrade in Europe.
Also try to take the scenic drive from Ljubljana to Bled via the town of Skofja Loka. Stop in the town, too, if you have time. The drive from Skofja Loka through the hills through the towns of Jamnik and Kropa (not via Kranj) is very scenic and beautiful.