mountains

The She & Jim Guide to Slovenia

· 10 min read ·

Slovenia is one of Central Europe’s hidden gems. With a quaint capitol, sporty mountain towns, and a scenic coast, it’s easy to pass weeks here and fall into step with the culture. We were lucky enough to kickoff our European tour in Slovenia and to have a fantastic host, Špela. Each day we discovered something new, so we became inspired to share a guide to Slovenia from our perspective. Enjoy!

Exploring old town Ljubljana
Exploring old town Ljubljana

Places to Drink Coffee

Cold drip coffee at Cafe Čokl
Cold drip coffee at Cafe Čokl

Cafe Čokl

(pronounced choke-l) Sheila happened across this spot after visiting the Ljubljana castle in 2017 and it stole her heart. The cafe imports raw unprocessed and fairly traded beans and roasts on site. They have a host of other refreshments, including beer and wine, but we recommend trying out the cold drip that they serve in an elegant wine glass. This is the best cafe in Ljubljana!

Traditional Turkish coffee at Čajnica Gallus
Traditional Turkish coffee at Čajnica Gallus

Čajnica Gallus

Our friend Špela frequently prepared Turkish coffee for us, and we wanted to see if there was a local place that prepared coffee the same way, so we could recommend it to friends. We found this nice spot, which is located right along the river. They of course have other types of coffees and beverages but if you are interested in trying the Turkish way, they serve it on a platter with the pot and a sweet treat.

Sheila enjoying a cookbook at EK Bistro
Sheila enjoying a cookbook at EK Bistro

EK Bistro

This spot is hip! It’s also along the river but away from the hustle and bustle of the city center. They offer pastries (never tried but heard great things), small plates, and delicious coffee. Bistro is in the name and also in the portion size but we still highly recommend venturing there to sip coffee and flip through the recipe books on the shelves inside.

Good Eats

Cheesecake and iced coffee at Barberella
Cheesecake and iced coffee at Barberella

Barberella Arkade Bistro

Amazing vegan food. They serve an assortment of lunch items, as well as decadent vegan sweets. The vegan cheese burger, taco bowl, and soup+salad combo were all tried and enjoyed. We ogled their banana bread at every visit, and while we didn’t end up committing, it tasted excellent when we imagined eating it. On our last day we opted for the vegan cheesecake and iced coffee 😛

Gostilna Pri Kolovratu

Seen at a glance during our free tour of Ljubljana, we were drawn in like bees to a flower when we saw on their “vegetarian” list the sweet sweet words “buckwheat dumplings” - served traditionally with a slightly tart Slovenian cheese (think blue cheese but less offensive), these were filling and quite enough for the two of us to share for lunch. We have no experience with the rest of their menu but it seems like a good spot to share a traditional dish from their specials menu.

“Daily” Farmers Market

(Excepting Sunday) - Ljubljana has an exceptional farmers market, which is popular amongst both locals and tourists. We heard from our tour guide that locals prefer to buy fresh from the farmers here, even if it’s more expensive, and that “even the President can be seen here with his basket.” If you have access to a kitchen, this is a superb place to do your grocery shopping and cook at home. This is what we did, almost daily, since we tend to cook more than we eat out. If you do not have kitchen access, definitely pass through for some vibrant fresh fruits and veggies to simply snack on.

Špela & James enjoying Open Kitchen
Špela & James enjoying Open Kitchen

Open Kitchen

(Every Friday) - Wow. This is a highlight for any and all. The space adjacent to the farmers market becomes an outdoor food-fest and public party at seemingly all hours each Friday in Ljubljana during the summer. There are some two dozen stalls with freshly prepared food, the air is redolent with the scent of smoking meat, fresh pizza, and … ice cream rolls? Though we stuck to the veggie burgers and beer amongst the MANY offerings to be had walking through the stalls, suffice to say you can safely eat three solid meals here every Friday if you wanted to - Open Kitchen runs from 10AM - 9PM!

Cafe Romeo

If you are in search of a spot that will appease the whole group, offer a good river view, and hit a nice price point - this is the one! Cafe Romeo has a varied menu, which Sheila has taken advantage of on a few occasions. They are known for their crepes (sweet & savory options!) and also have everything from salad to Mexican. We each got a salad when we were there last, which weren’t anything special - but their chips & guac were on point! So… head here to scope out an app, crepes, and a nice river-side beverage.

Day Trips

Lake Bled will never disappoint
Lake Bled will never disappoint

Bled & Bohinj

Lake Bled features blue-green water that has to be seen to be believed. There are busses from Ljubljana, but we drove - it took ~45 minutes, driving. The hiking here is outrageous - seemingly every trail offers a scenic viewpoint every few switchbacks of the lake and the island on the lake. Check out our Day Trips & Dragons **post for more details on the hike and where to eat!

Bohinj is another 45 minutes from Bled, which is kind of unreal because it’s only a few miles further! This is something that takes some getting used to in Slovenia: it’s hard to judge distance because sometimes the roads are so mountainous that it can take quite a while to travel relatively small distances. Sheila got here in 2017, but we bailed on driving to Bohinj on this trip because the weather was deteriorating and we were already tired from hiking around Bled.

Packrafting the Soča
Packrafting the Soča

Soča Packrafting

If you are on the adventurous side, pack-rafting/kayaking/group rafting the Soča is a must! We kicked off our time in Slovenia with a 3 day pack-rafting trip with Packraft Touren. We glamped in Bovec (pronounced bo-vitz) at a place called Camp Liza and each morning we met our guide at a local bar/cafe to plan out our route, then we hit the river! Of course you can do a trip of any duration and we enjoyed the multi-day aspect because we had the opportunity to learn and get comfortable on the water. Staying in a beautiful mountain town was an experience of its own, so we would also recommend going to this area to simply pass time and get in a few hikes. You can see more details about the trip and area activities in our post, Packrafting the Soča!

Not staged 😅
Not staged 😅

Predjama Castle & Postojna Cave

We only stopped at Predjama on this trip but you literally drive past Postojna while on the way there, and Sheila has done both. Predjama is a fairly wild “castle in a cave” that’s visible from the road, and it’s also part of a trail that runs through the mountains in Slovenia. You can pay to go inside, or just admire the views from outside (which is what we did). Postojna is an impressive cave that requires both walking and riding through via tram. Highly recommend renting one of their wool robes before you go in. It’s cold and completely worth it!

Activities in Ljubljana & Beyond

Free Tour of the Capitol

365 days a year, rain or shine, you can take a free ****walking tour of Ljubljana and it’s actually awesome. All tours are in English and walk you around the city, shedding light on medieval and contemporary times. The tour lasts for a little over 2 hours and it goes by quickly, as the guides are personable and interesting (at least ours were)! Recommend doing this ASAP, as it provides great historical context and offers an opportunity to get more local intel on things to see and do! You will be required to take a photo at the end - keep your eyes open!

Sheila going for the send at Bolder Scena
Sheila going for the send at Bolder Scena

Indoor Rock Climbing

The city has a surprising number of indoor climbing gyms and, due to the rainy weather we experienced during the majority of our stay, we tested two of them.

  • Bolder Scena - newer gym that is bouldering only, but also has multi-purpose rooms and some classes like aerial yoga. We were impressed with the quality of the setting and the cleanliness of the facility. They also have a cafe/bar to support your caffeine needs or celebration drinks. Day pass was $10 and we brought our own shoes but you can rent.
  • Plezalni Center - this spot is a bit old school and well-known in the area. Has a wealth of lead climbing and top roping. As we were only bouldering, we stuck to their single room on the second floor. It was dark and the setting wasn’t particularly clear. It seemed neglected amidst the rope climbing and there were few problems for lower levels. Still fun to mess around here and they also have a cafe/bar.

Slovenian Ethnographic Museum

This is a pretty eclectic place and not all exhibits are translated. We enjoyed interpreting the upper levels of the museum, which featured a permanent exhibit on the emigration patterns and stories of Slovenians through history. Their bee exhibit celebrating the apiaries scattering the country-side was well translated and extremely interesting. An excellent rainy day activity. Look online to see which exhibits are currently on display!

Graffiti in Metalkova
Graffiti in Metalkova

Metalkova Graffiti area

Immediately behind the Ethnographic Museum (👆 ), these former barracks-turned-bohème bungalows showcase an impressive display of outdoor graffiti.

Sheila on top of the Ljubljana Castle
Sheila on top of the Ljubljana Castle

Ljubljana Castle

Presiding over the city center looms the castle grounds. You can take a funicular up to the top for several euro, or enjoy a steeply uphill series of paths (which we fully enjoyed, short as they were). There is an entrance fee to go inside the castle, but the views from the grounds are free and the sight of Ljubljana stretching out below you is definitely worth it. We recommend hitting this spot in the early morning or early afternoon, followed by a visit to the aforementioned Cafe Čokl, which sits in the castle’s shadow.

Slovenian Culture

Tips & Things to Watch Out For

  • Ask for the check. You’re not going to leave a restaurant otherwise.
  • Pay at the front. It’s customary to pay at the front of most eating establishments. When in doubt, you can ask the server, but they won’t come around as often as their North American counterparts, so be prepared to energetically flag one down! They’re very friendly and we were always well served.
  • Bread costs $$$ If a restaurant asks you if you’d like them to bring bread out, be aware that’s going to be an extra cost. We got quite the sticker shock in Bovec figuring this out.
  • Tipping in Slovenia is not a thing - pretty self explanatory. You can if you want but it’s not expected.
  • No J Walking - this is true of most places in Europe, but even if you don’t seen any cars coming, it’s best to respect local customs, and we rarely saw a local cross even small streets without a walk sign.
  • Safe city - we heard during our city tour that a few years ago there was a gang of women pick-pocketing, and everyone knew about it; Ljubljana went to work and caught them. We never felt even remotely unsafe.
  • Slippers - it’s customary to take off your shoes upon entrance to a house or even a salon. Guest slippers are typically provided, or you can walk around barefoot.
  • Take the receipt - it’s mandatory in Slovenia for a receipt to be given and taken. You can just immediately throw it away, but they won’t do it for you. Apparently as a citizen you can get audited and without all your slips you can get into trouble!
  • Bar = cafe - in Europe these names are typically synonymous, we didn’t include a section on where to get good drinks, because honestly, you can’t go wrong. Beer at brunch, coffee as a dinner digestif - Europeans follow their heart when drinking.
  • Rain coat = tourist! Athletes wear raincoats in the mountains, but it’s unfashionable to be seen in the city with one and because we did not carry an umbrella, the spectacle of our passing was observed by all. Given the rainy nature of our visit, plenty of people had the chance to identify us as waterproof tourists.
  • Pay for gas inside - you don’t pay at the pump; you tell the cashier your pump number! Also, it’s petrol.

Useful phrases

  • Hvala - (pronounced mostly silent h, hva-lah) - thank you!
  • Dober tek - (dough-ber teek) - bon appetit!
  • Dober dan (dough-ber don) - literally “good day” but the sort of thing you would say as a hello. “Dan” is the shorthand
  • Dober jutro (dough-ber you-tro) - good morning!

We hope you enjoyed our guide to Slovenia! Remember to follow along on our #travellightexperienceheavy adventures, and leave us a comment if you found this helpful or interesting!

It's us!

Adventure travel blog by James Simone & Sheila Murray. Travel along with them on their backpacking trip(s) as they actively explore the American West, Europe and beyond:

Follow @sheilaanne.lifecoachFollow @mrwordsmith#travellightexperienceheavy