If you are planning to visit Slovenia and its charming capital, Ljubljana, you’ve come to the right place. Here are my top tips for booking air travel, reserving hotels and transportation. This is a totally honest guide to what you can expect by a Slovenian-American journalist. I’ve been coming here since 2009 to connect with my roots. I ended up loving Slovenia so much that I became a citizen and part-time resident of Ljubljana. Let’s get started!
Documents Needed for Tourist Travel to Slovenia
If you have a US passport that is not due to expire for at least three months (recommended to have six months), you can visit Slovenia for up to 90 days without a visa. Travelers with passports from the UK, Canada, Australia, Japan and New Zealand may also enter Slovenia visa-free. If you are from another non-EU country, check the website of your country’s embassy or consulate in Slovenia.
In fact, you can travel anywhere in the “Schengen” zone, named after the agreement that allows for essentially borderless travel between the majority of countries in Europe. If you go through EU passport control in any Schengen country (such as Germany, France or Switzerland), you will be able to travel onward to Slovenia. The details can be tricky. The neighboring countries of Austria, Hungary and Italy are part of Schengen. Croatia, however, is not. This means you could wait for some time to cross the border with Croatia by car, bus or train. Lines can be long during the peak summer months.
Air Travel to Ljubljana
If you’re planning a trip to Slovenia, you might be struggling with how to pronounce the name of the capital city. I’ve explained to a lot of airline reservation agents that it helps to think of the “j” as similar to a “y” in English. Try saying “Lyooh-blee-yah-nah.” Not perfect, but you’ll be close.
Getting to Slovenia by air can be just as challenging as the Slovenian language. Fear not. The extra planning required is totally worth it.
Flying to Ljubljana from the USA: There are no nonstop flights to Ljubljana from anywhere the USA. You likely will need to stop elsewhere in Europe to connect to the Jože Pučnik Airport in Brnik, abbreviated LJU. The bankruptcy of the national carrier, Adria Airways, left Slovenia with a shiny new terminal and fewer direct flights to choose from. Here are some of the routes that I’ve tried:
- Lufthansa through Frankfurt or Munich: I’ve also taken United Airlines from the East Coast of the US to get to Frankfurt or Munich. The last leg of the journey will have to be on one of the small commuter jets that Lufthansa flies to and from LJU daily.
- Swissair through Zurich: The connection to LJU only operates on certain days of the week. You may need to spend the night either coming or going.
- LOT Polish through Warsaw: An option from Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami or New York, which might require an overnight. Slightly cheaper fares. So I didn’t mind paying for the Marriott Courtyard or the Renaissance Warsaw Airport Hotel, right across the street from the terminal.
- Turkish Airlines through Istanbul: A longer but usually cheaper option, with the added benefit of maybe qualifying for a free hotel or tour in Istanbul if you have a long layover or have to spend the night.
- Air France and Delta through Paris: another option. Connection to LJU might only be operating a few days per week in the off-peak seasons.
- I’ve avoided connecting through London, unless I can do it without changing airports. You might be able to connect through a seasonal flight from Heathrow on British Airways. Low-cost connections to LJU might leave from Gatwick or Luton, quite far away from Heathrow.
Slovenia has been offering subsidies to carriers that add flights. Keep checking the LJU airport’s list of airlines to see what’s been added, especially during the peak summer travel season. You can also look for lower airfares on CheapOAir.
Flying into neighboring countries: Or you can fly like a Slovenian and avoid LJU altogether. Slovenians are famous for being thrifty. They like to save money by catching a flight out of Zagreb in Croatia, Klagenfurt in Austria, or Trieste and Venice in Italy. Flying to Venice and booking a Flixbus or GoOpti van transfer to Ljubljana resulted in a much lower fare from the US, However, you’ll spend more time waiting in the airport parking lot for the bus and the ride could take over three hours. Some Slovenes will head to Vienna for a cheaper international airfare, but the four-hour GoOpti van ride was just too long for me.
Flying into one of the nearby countries means you could also rent a car and drive across the border into Slovenia. Drive around the country and then back across the border to the airport when you’re ready to leave.
Airport Transfer to Ljubljana Center or Bled from LJU
The most economical and efficient transfer from LJU is GoOpti. It’s used by locals and visitors alike. You can book a shared van from the airport terminal to Ljubljana, or to Bled. Use this link to book your first ride on GoOpti with a discount. I usually add their “worry-free” package for a few euros more in case my flight is delayed. The one time that Lufthansa delayed my connecting flight, I notified GoOpti and a driver was waiting with a van that was just for me!
Pro Tip: The GoOpti vans have preferred stopping points around Ljubljana. You’ll save money by choosing the one that’s nearest to where you’re staying, rather than a specific address. My home in the car-free center can’t be reached by van anyway. I book the regular stop at the City Hotel and walk two short blocks to get to my actual building.
Theoretically, you can also buy a GoOpti ticket near the baggage claim or pay the driver. However, GoOpti recommends booking at least two days in advance to be sure there is a spot for you and your luggage in the next available van. I’ve seen last-minute ticket buyers left behind to wait if the van was full. I’ve never had a problem with licensed taxis from the airport, but you’ll spend considerably more.
The unexpected bonus of a shared van is that you’ll get a glimpse of residential neighborhoods that tourists otherwise rarely see. And the lively conversation that might break out among English-speaking visitors and locals in the van? Priceless.
There is no equivalent of Uber or Lyft in Slovenia that operates in English. And yes, there is a regular LPP bus that goes between the airport and the bus/train station in Ljubljana center. However, with GoOpti being a more efficient airport transfer, I’ve never taken the bus.
Do I Need to Rent a Car in Ljubljana?
Short answer: NO.
There is no free parking in the pedestrian zone of Ljubljana city center. Exceptions: you might find an AirBnb or hotel that includes parking just outside the no-car zone. A budget-priced example is the Hotel Celica, an artsy hostel in a former military prison.
Some hotels and vacation rentals allow guests to borrow bikes. For a few outlying destinations like the Plečnik-designed Žale cemetery, you can catch a cab if you happen to see one parked in one of the taxi stands around the city. Locals usually call taxis with an app, so ask at your hotel if you need help.
Bike riding in Ljubljana’s car-free center or in Tivoli Park is the best way to get around.
ProTip: Buy the Visit Ljubljana card. It will allow you to take LPP city buses or rent a bike, parked in the “Bikelj” stands around the center city. It will also save you money on sightseeing, a funicular ride to the castle, a river boat ride and limited free use of the city’s wifi.
Stranger Danger: Ljubljana is regularly on the list of the world’s safest and most crime-free cities. However, bicycle theft is a problem. If you rent or borrow a bike, do NOT leave it unlocked and unattended anywhere in the city.
Where to Stay in Ljubljana
Everything you want to see in the city center is accessible by bicycle or on foot from a wide choice of hotels. You can flag down or call the free golf cart service called Kavalir to get a ride anywhere in the car-free zone.
My recommendation is to make Ljubljana either the first or last stop on your trip. See the city and then pick up the rental car to head out into the countryside. Or pick up your car on arrival at the airport, travel around Slovenia and then return the car before you spend a few days in the city and head home.
Ljubljana is getting more choices at the luxury end of the hotel market. The InterContinental Ljubljana is a modern highrise with dramatic views of the castle, the old town and the snow-kissed Alps. The renovated Zlata Ladica Boutique Hotel will put you in a historic building right on the river. Mid-priced choices include the City Hotel with a bountiful breakfast buffet and the art deco Grand Hotel Union, just steps away from Prešeren Square and the Triple Bridge. The eco-friendly B & B Hotel Ljubljana Park has a roof terrace where you can learn about the Slovenian tradition of beekeeping.
Where to Stay in Bled
Parking is famously difficult and expensive in Bled, a world-class beauty that fills up in the peak summer season. My recommendation is to visit on a day trip from Ljubljana by bus or train. For that reason I’ve never stayed overnight.
If you plan to stay in Bled, look for a rental or hotel with parking included. The elegant Vila Bled is a luxury hotel once preferred by Yugoslavian leader Josip Broz Tito. Donald Trump met the parents of the future First Lady at the Grand Hotel Toplice. I’ve heard from friends who loved the Adora Luxury Hotel.
If a luxury “glamping” experience in natural surroundings is your thing, check out the Garden Village Bled, just a short walk from the lake. It’s highly recommended by my blogger friends at Let’s Go Slovenia, but keep in mind that it closes during the colder months.
Driving in Slovenia
As for touring the rest of Slovenia, you will need a rental car or alternative transportation.
Despite all the talk about sustainability in Slovenia’s green capital, Slovenes are madly in love with their cars. Frankly, it’s a necessity because getting out to “the nature” is almost impossible by public transit. Believe me, I hate to drive and I’ve tried!
I love living in the pedestrian zone of Ljubljana and not owning a car. However, my Slovene friends think I’m crazy. They can’t imagine life without a car to access the countryside or the big box shopping centers on the outskirts of the city.
Some car rental and transportation options:
- Before you leave the USA, reserve your rental car on Auto Europe. I’ve saved money by using them on several European trips. They compare different vendors from the major rental companies to offer you the best deal.
- All the major rental car companies have offices at the Ljubljana airport and in the city. I don’t drive a manual stick shift, so I usually book with Avant Car. They are more likely to have an automatic transmission available, as long as you reserve at least a few days in advance.
- Make sure your rental has a “vinjeta” sticker that is needed to pay the automatic tolls on major highways. Highways throughout the country are excellent and well marked, but try to avoid morning and afternoon rush hours, when the local two-lane roads jam up with traffic.
- Choose Ljubljana or Bled as your home base and take day trips in Slovenia with local guides who will include transportation in the price. Hiring a local guide for sightseeing or a Ljubljana food tour will also help you make the most of your time in the city. It’s a small country so you can visit Postojna Cave, the cliffside Predjama Castle and just about anything else of interest on a day trip.
- Drunk driving is a serious crime in Slovenia. Keep that in mind if you plan to go wine tasting in Goriška Brda or the Vipava Valley. Designate a driver or do your wine-tasting in Ljubljana — or blindfolded wine-tasting in Bled! Then you can safely walk back to your hotel.
- Sorry, I’m not a tour group person. There are plenty of tour bus groups trudging through Ljubljana, but that’s not how I roll. I also don’t know much about camping, except that you definitely need a vehicle to get to the campsites.
When is the Best Time to Visit Slovenia?
My #1 tip: Don’t go to Slovenia in August.
Why? Most Slovenians apparently have a God-given right to be on holiday at the sea or in the mountains during the month of August. So you won’t meet many locals in Ljubljana, Bled or Maribor. They’re all at the seaside in Croatia. Elsewhere in Slovenia, you’ll find crowded campsites and beaches, plus hotels could be filled if you didn’t reserve in advance. Getting a rental car at the last minute in August can be a challenge.
If you decide to go in August anyway, you’ll still have a great time. Just plan ahead and get ready to meet a lot of other international tourists. Be patient with the service at hotels and restaurants, due to possible staffing issues because everyone is away on holiday or wishes they were.
Slovenia is enjoyable year-round. Winter brings the holiday markets. Ljubljana might have the best Christmas market in Europe. It starts at the end of November and continues into January. Carnival or “Pust” is celebrated In February/March at the beginning of Lent, with furry costumed creatures called “kurenti” shaking their cowbells in the streets to chase away the cold weather. Museums and cozy cafes are great options for the days when you don’t want to be outside. Slovenia also has lots of winter activities, although I haven’t worked up the nerve to try the national sport, ski-jumping.
I much prefer the “shoulder seasons” in spring and fall, when you can join the Slovenes for bicycle tours, epic mountain hikes and all kinds of outdoor recreation. March can have quite a few pleasant days but I’ve seen snow in Ljubljana in April. May can be famously rainy, to the point they even have a patron saint for it. Overall, the months with the most reliable weather are June, July, September and October.
What to Pack For a Trip to Slovenia
The #1 must-have for your trip to Slovenia: sturdy, comfortable walking/hiking shoes. You’ll be exploring the city by foot or venturing out on hilly paths.
In the winter, bring your warm parka, gloves and a hat. Shorts, jeans, leggings, t-shirts and light dresses will keep you cool during the summer. Because Ljubljana is in a riverside swamp at the base of the Alps, you might also experience damp, misty fog in winter, spring or fall that will chill your bones if you’re not bundled up.
You will definitely need a jacket to explore Slovenia’s amazing caves. The underground temperature is around 48 degrees fahrenheit or 8-10 celsius, even in August.
The rest of the time, dress in layers and be prepared for whatever you like to do in very changeable weather. I’ve seen a few people wear jeans to the opera, but you’ll fit in better with something dressy or smart-casual. And don’t forget your umbrella or rain hoodie! A passing shower doesn’t need to ruin your whole day.
Do people in Slovenia speak English?
Short answer: YES.
As long as you are in the tourist-friendly areas, you’ll hear lots of English spoken as well as most other European languages. English instruction begins in elementary schools and continues through high school. Younger generations have grown up watching subtitled TV shows in English and singing English lyrics to pop music. You should be able to get by as a tourist by speaking only English.
But for every Slovene I know who loves showing off their fluent English, there are many others who prefer to communicate in their own language, especially if you get off the beaten path or need some basic service like fixing a flat tire. I highly recommend the two-week summer Slovene language school for foreigners if you think you’d like to stay longer or even move to Slovenia like my son did. Slovenes will appreciate that you made the effort even though they will quickly switch to English, rather than put up with your lame attempts to speak their complicated language.
Paying with Cash and Credit in Slovenia
Slovenia is in the euro zone, so you’ll need to have euros in your pocket. Try to avoid large denominations. You can bring a cafe server to tears by asking them to break a 20-euro bill for a cup of coffee. Exact change is appreciated for small purchases. Break up the bigger bills at the cash register in the supermarket or when making a larger purchase. Major credit and debit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are everywhere.
Based on my personal experience I can recommend the United Explorer Card. You can use it to pay in euros just like a credit card at home, earning airline miles and bonuses that will help you qualify for elite status. Well worth the annual fee for the convenience and rewards, in my opinion. It doesn’t work exactly like Europe-based debit cards that allow you to tap and go. You might be asked to sign a credit card receipt. “Podpis” is the word for signature. It’s just a minor annoyance compared to the benefits.
The card offers a fairly competitive exchange rate from dollars to euros. If you are offered a choice to pay in dollars, decline and pay in euros with the Explorer Card. The exchange rate for the local business turning your Euros back into dollars is generally not favorable to you.
Tipping in Slovenia
Tipping is not a big thing in Slovenia, but it’s very welcome. The waiters and waitresses tend to be students who are paid a low hourly wage. Unlike the servis compris in France, service is usually not included in the check. Round up your bill, or tell them to keep the change. You’ll get a warm smile even if it seems like a small tip to you. I happily tip for good service by rounding up my bill, but don’t go overboard and be the stereotypical American who tips 15 to 20% of the restaurant tab. That’s way too much by Slovenian standards.
Now that you’re ready to explore clean, green Slovenia, I hope you’ll browse the other posts on this blog for more trip ideas around the country. And thank you for clicking on the ads or links to shop for hotels, car rental, credit cards or airfares. The referrals support this blog at no additional cost to you.
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