Let me start off by saying Lake Bled, one of Slovenia’s most popular tourist attractions, is not overrated. Not one little bit. Picture this: You’re in the Julian Alps. A fairytale medieval castle with Romanesque tower, drawbridge and moat sits perched up high, overlooking a calm glistening lake rippling only by the flap of a duck wing or the dip of a kayak paddle. A small island home to a church and legends sits in the center of it all, while al fresco cafés and ambient paths create an enjoyable outline.
Actually, let me set this beautiful scene through photos:
This all being said, there are certain experiences at Lake Bled that are extremely overrated.
My trip to Slovenia was a solo trip, and traveling off-season meant the hostels were pretty empty and there weren’t many tours running. Basically, I’d been having essentially a silent retreat and aside for a few locals through homestays, the only phrases I’d uttered recently were “espresso, please” or “the big slice with pepperoni.” So, when the bus dropped me off at Lake Bled and I found other lost English-speakers, I was immediately excited.
Two were from Miami studying abroad in Prague, Lauren and Kirlos, and the other was a French girl, Sophie, living in London. We all immediately clicked, and decided to explore together.
The Worst Of Lake Bled
“We’re planning on doing a boat trip to Bled Island,” said Lauren. “You can ring the wishing bell. It’s the main attraction of Lake Bled.”
As I looked around and spied nothing but water and woodland, I had a hard time believing a church bell would be the main attraction.
“Wait, so you mean that really tiny island in the center of Lake Bled?”
I could smell this tourist trap a mile away. Pay 12 Euros ($13 USD) to take a 15-minute boat ride to an island the size of my apartment. This sounded especially ridiculous as the entire round trip bus journey from Ljubljana was 12.80 Euros ($14). Not only that, but you then have to pay 6 Euros ($6) to see the attractions — an exhibition, church with wishing bell, and tower with some kind of pendulum-operated time telling device.
It was the sort of thing I loathed, especial when I loved being outside so much; however, I wanted to hangout with my new friends.
“Okay, but my wish better come true when I ring that bell!” I half joked.
My instincts were 100% correct about this island. The giant pendulum clock was pretty interesting, with the entire tower visit taking about 15 minutes, most of which is spent climbing the enormous staircase up, which has bible verses relating to the appreciation of time. The 17th-century baroque Assumption of Mary Church is pretty, but the wishing bell is so high up into the church tower you can’t even see it. You simply pull a long rope near the alter that appears to be attached to nothing and hope it’s the right bell.
There was a legend that if a groom could carry his bride up the church’s 99 steps and ring the bell, the marriage would be a happy one; however, these steps were closed to the public. The exhibition I didn’t really look at, as off season we were on a strict 30 minute time limit on the island, and I wanted to take photos.
Long rant short: don’t waste your time on Bled Island, at least in my opinion, especially for the price. I may have enjoyed it more if I rowed there myself because at least I would have felt like it was an activity; however, the row boat rental company was not open yet for the day when we were trying to go to the island. It also seemed like it could potentially get expensive at 15 Euros ($16) per hour.
Also, don’t forget to bring snacks! I’m not sure if it’s because it was off-season, but there weren’t a ton of quick budget-friendly options for food. I ended up eating three panini sandwiches that weren’t very good. It would have been much easier for me to just bring my own nourishment, which I usually do as a defensive traveler.
And lastly, don’t worry about getting lost. Once the bus drops you off, you’ll simply follow a path behind the bus station that leads right down to Lake Bled. You’ll be there in less than 10 minutes.
The Best Of Lake Bled
Now to the more cheerful section of my post. Despite losing 18 Euros ($19) during my crappy boat excursion, I had gained three new friends, so to me it was worth it in the end.
What was particularly awesome about them was they were much better planners than I was — whose plan encompassed not planning anything — and so they had a slew of active adventures they wanted to embark on. Of course, I was down.
At this point, it was essential for us to get food reserves as we’d be having an active day, starting with renting bikes from the tourist information office right on the Lake (3 Euros ($3) for three hours, 11 Euros ($12) for the day). We decided to cycle around Lake Bled — seemingly beautiful from every single vantage point of its 6.5-kilometer (4-mile) length — and make our way to the iconic viewpoint: Ojstrica, located at signpost #6 (Lake Bled walks/hikes are numbered). When you see the road sign for the 611-meter- (2,005-foot-) high hill you’ll lock up your bike and hike uphill through the forest for about 20 minutes to the top.
The hike is short but not easy; however, the aerial view of the entire Lake Bled landscape and surrounds is well worth the sweat. My group and I lingered up there for at least 30 minutes, taking photos, breathing in the crisp fresh air and just letting the inspiring scenery wash over us. Even the small island — which just an hour before I hated for stealing my money — made me smile to look at from above, the white church and historic tower adding to the idyllic emerald green lake.
If you’re not tired from the climb, you can go even higher and summit the adjacent Velika Osojnica — 756 meters/2,480-foot high — which also awards views of the Karavanke mountains and Kamnik Alps.
We didn’t do this second one, as we would be experiencing the Alps in a different way: cycling to Vintgar Gorge, within the famous Triglav National Park.
One word: WOW.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
After hiking Ojstrica we head back down, grab our bikes, and continue cycling around the lake path until we see arrive back near to the information center where we rented the bikes. Now, we make a left back toward the bus station, following signs for the village of Podhom.
At first we’re simply cycling through small villages, littered with small hotels, pubs, shops and homes. Until…we’re not.
Suddenly, there is nothing but bright green pastures and desolate farmland enhanced by a backdrop of snow-covered Karavanke Mountains. My group stops every 10 minutes or so to take photos, the scene becoming more beautiful at every angle. If I could define the word “serenity,” it would be this place, where silence envelops you like a blanket.
Another interesting feature of the ride: the scents. There are so many different aromas wafting through the air that we end up making it into a game, shouting out the different aromas: apples, vanilla, cherries, campfire, honey, pine.
The ride isn’t easy — although it’s well marked there is a lot of up and downhill — and at some points we have to get off the bikes and walk because of the steep inclines; however, none of us minded the hard work where we were surrounded by such beauty. I’m not going to lie, after that bike ride, cycling around Brooklyn is going to be tough to go back to.
When we reach the entrance for Vintgar Gorge we’re immediately entranced by the crystalline turquoise water, filled with giant fish just chilling out. It’s worth noting the entrance was also closed — we went in March, and the gorge doesn’t officially open until May — but we went in anyway (no scolding please!) and saw a few others in there, as well.
I’m not sure what it’s like in high season, but Vintgar Gorge was pure peace. While our countryside ride offered a dreamy alpine serenity, the Gorge was more of a refreshing calm, waterfalls creating the soundtrack to a woodland boardwalk stroll, the waters below us completely translucent as we pressed our backs against craggy rock canyon wall to get the best shot. A picnic lunch along the way was my best meal of the trip, despite the soggy sandwiches.
Overall, I wouldn’t change a thing about how I spent my day aside for the island, which I would have exchanged for one of the following activities I didn’t get to do.
- Take the bus 20ish minutes to Lake Bohinj, Slovenia’s largest permanent lake at 318 hectares (790 acres) and absolutely stunning in photos. I’ve been told by locals it’s great for the scenery and adventure sports, but that the nearby waterfall is a tourist trap as you have to pay to see it and then can’t get very close to it.
- Enjoy more walks and hikes around Lake Bled. There are 15+!
- Walk up to Bled Castle. I’m not a huge castle person, but this medieval castle — thought to potentially be the oldest in Slovenia — stands high above the lake, and I bet offers beautiful views. There’s a museum inside and, even more enticing, a wine cellar with tastings.
- Eat a Bled Cream Cake. I meant to do this but by the time I arrived back from cycling to the Gorge I had only 20 minutes to return my bike, pay and hustle back to the bus station. Bled Lake is known for its Bled Cream Cake, a light and fluffy cake stuffed with sweet cream and heavily dusted with powdered sugar. Just writing this makes my stomach sad I didn’t get to try it. Luckily, my hostel in Ljubljana — my homebase for my Slovenia trip — is near to an amazing bakery called Lolita, that makes delicious and elaborate desserts of all kinds and a very sleek, modern and pampered feel inside.
Packing Essentials For Slovenia
This stylish garment is great for throwing on for cool evenings. It also doubles as a travel blanket AND works for picnics.
I recommend packing a mix of Smartwool shirts, bottoms and socks, as the garments wick away moisture and keep your body temperate.
Affix this global SIM card onto your phone’s SIM card for instant cell service (with local rates) and unlimited data for $7.99/day!
This line of pickpocket-proof garments means thieves never know your carrying cash or cards.