Group of four adults traveling May 2018. We are thinking of three days in Slovenia as part of a trip that would include Prague, Munich, and Salzburg. We definitely want to see Lake Bled so were thinking of staying there, would it be better to stay in Ljubljana, maybe more to do there? Is it just as easy to do a day trip either way? What are the best sites to see, and most effective use of the three days in that area?
Depends on your interests, really. I love cities, and Ljubljana is lovely and charming - maybe my favorite city in Europe. At night everything is lit up and it is magical - reminds you a little of Prague without the mobs of tourists. And there are lots of restaurant choices. It's a college town and feels very lively at night, with people dining at outdoor tables (but not rowdy).
Lake Bled is lovely. The town of Bled is a convenient base for exploring the area, but it is nothing special in my opinion. I would much prefer to be in Ljubljana at night, but there are certainly restaurants in Bled - you won't go hungry. It's more touristy than Ljubljana for sure. If you'd prefer a charming small town near Bled, try Radovljica (direct train from Ljubljana, but a bus from Radovljica to Bled works best).
People who like a more back-to-nature experience might prefer to base near Lake Bohinj, which is much less developed than Bled, a built-up tourist destination. You could do that without a car (by bus), but Bohinj is easier with a car.
It's easy to get between Ljubljana and Lake Bled by bus (or even train if you are a train enthusiast, but the bus is direct and easier). But driving in Slovenia is really easy for Americans and usually affordable, and you can see much more in my opinion with a car. Last May I rented a car just for the day in Ljubljana and drove to the town of Skofja Loka (charming little town), then did the scenic drive through the mountains via the little towns of Jamnik and Kropa - really breathtaking views in parts with a number of little places to stop - churches, monuments, viewpoints, etc. Then I explored the towns of Kranj and Kamnik before heading back to Ljubljana - but I had been to Bled and Bohinj before. Continuing on to Bled makes more sense.
If you rent a car in Slovenia, I suggest getting an international driving permit (IDP) from AAA before you leave home - about $20 USD. There's some debate as to whether you need one or not (you need your US driver's license for sure), but it's not a bad idea and costs very little.
I rented last May from Avantcar in Ljubljana (in town, not at the airport) and it worked out great - I was able to drop the car after hours and leave the keys at the hotel front desk next door. I've rented from Sixt in the past (at the train station) - they were fine too.
I second the car rental recommendation and given your itinerary, I suggest spending an afternoon in Venetian-style Piran on the coast to contrast the mostly Central European and Alpine itinerary. You could combine it with a visit to one of the wine regions or the caves and do a day trip from Ljubljana or Lake Bled, although I prefer the former as far as the ambiance goes. Along with seeing Ljubljana and the Alpine lakes (try to make it to Lake Bohinj beyond Lake Bled), you would get a taste of what the country has to offer.
Linda - my wife and I are visiting Slovenia for the first time in August. I hope that you write back on this site upon your return - I am really looking forward to hearing what you decided to do and your thoughts on where to go/see...how to travel.. hotel recommendations..renting a car..etc. We are looking at 5 days ourselves -
I too am enjoying this. My wife and I are going to Slovinia for 7 days in September. It will be our first trip there so any tips and feedback from recent travels are always appriciated.
My husband and I are also traveling to Slovenia in mid August for 7 days and possibly a night at Plitvice Lakes. Trying to decide whether to see Plitvice Lakes on the front or back in of trip. Is seeing Plitvice Lakes too much to try as a day trip from Slovenia? Also trying to decide where to fly in and out of . Thinking Venice-Zagreb or vice versa because of better connections. We are planning to rent a car when in Slovenia so appreciate that information.
The problem with day-tripping to Plitvice from Ljubljana (or Zagreb or Split or Zadar) is that it is an extraordinarily popular day-trip destination. You really need to spend the night before your visit very near the park so you can enter it when it opens. Otherwise, you will find the walkways miserably packed, and you will not experience the park at anything like its best. I arrived around 10 AM in 2015 and spent an hour in the ticket line, after which I moved in lockstep through the park in such crowded conditions that if one person had stumbled, six would probably have ended up in the water. (There are few guardrails.) Please do not make the same mistake I did. Plitvice is magnificent; set up your itinerary so you can see it at its best, or leave it for another time.
I definitely would not day trip to Plitvice in mid-August from Slovenia or anywhere else. Either spend a night so you can enter the park at 7am the next morning or skip it. It's amazing but not worth dealing with the huge crowds you'll find mid-day in August.
Yes, flying into Venice or Zagreb works fine if you know the connection options to Ljubljana. I've never flown directly into Ljubljana but have been there four times; I usually fly into Venice. There are some good connection options now from Venice including GoOpti, DRD, FlixBus (maybe from the airport), and I believe as of this coming June, you can even take a train (connect in Trieste) from Venice Mestre station, though that's likely extra time and hassle (best option only if you love trains like I do).
I'm not aware of as many options from Zagreb to Ljubljana. On the upside, there are several direct trains and buses a day, but they don't go directly from the airport, so you'll have to get to the train or bus station first then find a train or bus at the right time. GoOpti would be an option from Zagreb airport too.