Lake Bled, Slovenia is gorgeous at any time of year. But this sparkling alpine lake, with its island church and clifftop castle, is no longer a hidden gem. To avoid the crowded summer months, plan to visit Lake Bled in the spring or fall. Or in winter, when the magical landscape is filled with holiday cheer.
I was a typical tourist when I first visited Bled with my family in summer 2009. We didn’t exactly slow down to admire the views. In just one exhausting day, we rowed to the island, drove up to the castle and went speeding down the Straža summer toboggan hill, before stopping for a memorable meal. We headed back to our rented apartment in Ljubljana, feeling like we’d “seen it.” Well, sort of.
Since then, I have embraced my Slovenian ancestry and put down roots here. I returned to Bled for three memorable autumn days in mid-October, eager to experience the area more like a local. Here are my top tips for planning and enjoying your visit.
My #1 tip: one day is not enough! Most of the activities described here are available year round and enjoyable in any kind of weather.
Planning Your Trip to Lake Bled
Getting there: Bled can be reached by frequent trains or buses from Ljubljana. The bus station is closer to the center of town than the train station. The ride takes just over an hour. If you are coming directly from the Ljubljana airport, you can book a transfer in a shared van. Here’s a link to make your first Go Opti reservation with a discount.
Do I need to rent a car in Lake Bled? It depends on where and how long you stay. There’s a wide choice of hotels in the town of Bled. From the centrally located Hotel Park, for example, you can walk up a steep hill to the castle, take a boat ride to the island or stroll on the paths around the lake without a car.
If you have rented a car to explore more destinations around Slovenia, be aware that there’s no free parking in Bled. Look for rentals or hotels where the parking is included. The drive from Ljubljana takes about 45 minutes. My vacation rental had parking, but we paid to park in town or at the castle if we didn’t feel like walking there.
Pro tip: save money by reserving your car on Auto Europe in advance.
Visit Bled Tourism Information Center
Now that you’ve arrived, stop at the friendly Bled information center at the entrance to town. It’s at 27 Ljubljanska Cesta, walking distance from the bus/train stations. Free parking and WiFi while you’re inside.
The English-speaking staff will answer your questions, help you rent a bike or book a tour. There’s also a nature exhibit, a cafe and a shop with “Bled certified” local products that make great souvenirs to take home. I left with an armful of helpful maps and brochures. A well-stocked Mercator supermarket is across the street.
Top 5 Things to Do in Lake Bled Year Round
- Scenic Path Around Lake Bled
- Pletna Boat Ride to Bled Island
- Visit Bled Castle
- Bled’s Spa Tradition of Alpine Wellness
- Taste Kremšnita with a Castle View
Enjoy this video of the top things to do in Bled year round. And, while you’re there, kindly subscribe to my YouTube channel!
Then, read on for the details of each activity. Pick two or three of them for a one-day visit. You can do them all in two to three days. Plus, a few more ideas for things to do in or near Bled if you have more time.
Scenic Path Around Lake Bled
Admire Bled from every angle by walking or biking the six-kilometer path around the lake (3.7 miles). It will take about two hours, walking at a leisurely pace. You’ll want to stop for all of the insta-worthy photo ops like the gigantic heart on the shoreline close to the center of town.
The mostly flat shoreline path is an easy walk or bike ride. It’s a great place to walk your dog in a pet-friendly town. But if you or your little ones need a lift, a train ride around the lake operates daily in the summer, on weekends in spring and fall. You can also ride in fijakerji horse-drawn carriages.
In the winter, bundle up for the snow-covered views and enjoy the festive holiday market. During very cold years, the lake has frozen over and you can walk to Bled island at your own risk.
Pletna Boat Ride to Bled Island
Visiting Bled without taking a pletna boat ride is like skipping the gondolas in Venice. These human-powered watercraft date back to 1590. The job of pletnarstvo has been handed down in local families for generations. We got our tickets at the info center, but you can also pay cash to the boatman.
Pro tip: You can catch a pletna boat in town, but I recommend walking on the lakefront path toward Vila Bled. You’ll pass another pletna boat dock that is much closer to Bled island.
There’s no set schedule. Once the boat fills up, the oarsman stands at the back and rows with both arms. He’ll also warn you to stay seated. Please don’t be the photo-obsessed idiot who rocks the tippy boat.
Once you reach the island, you will need to walk up 99 steps to reach the church. Tradition has it that brides must be carried to the top by their future husband. Yes, my husband actually carried me up on our first visit!
Church of the Mother of God
There are traces of a pagan temple to the goddess Živa beneath the church. You can still see remains of Slavic graves. The present Baroque-style church dates back to 1509 and later renovations. There is an admission fee to go inside the church, climb the tower and ring the wishing bell.
Ring the Wishing Bell: Local legend says the bell was commissioned by a young widow after robbers killed her husband. It sunk to the bottom of the lake during a storm. Upon her death in a convent, the pope sent a new bell to Bled Island. I pulled on the rope and made my wish when I heard the bell, but I’m still waiting for it to come true.
Taste Potica on Bled Island: You can also take a break in the cafe to taste potica, the sweet nutroll that is the national dessert of Slovenians around the world. But pay attention to the time. You have 40 minutes to visit the island. Your boatman will be waiting for you at the bottom of the steps for the return trip. Plan to go back on the same boat.
Other ways to reach Bled Island: On our first visit to Bled with an energetic teenager, we opted to rent a rowboat to reach Bled Island. So we had more time to look around. If you are on a tight schedule, an electric-motor ferryboat leaves the town dock on the hour. Find the schedule here. You can also swim, sail or SUP.
Visit Bled Castle
The oldest castle in Slovenia dates back to 1004. The ruling bishops and nobles never lived there, so there are no elaborate rooms. But you can see the beautifully painted ceiling in the chapel, visit the museum and the printing shop. There is a cafe on the terrace, but the acclaimed restaurant was closed on the day of our visit, due to a wedding.
Climb the hill to the castle if you are up for a serious workout. Otherwise, drive to the parking lot and walk up a steep ramp to the entrance. On a pleasant autumn day, the castle was bustling with visitors from neighboring countries and Slovenians enjoying their own heritage.
I appreciate Bled Castle even more from a distance. The mighty fortress rising straight up out of the rock always takes my breath away, especially when lit up at night.
Rikli Balance Tradition of Alpine Wellness in Bled
Živa, the pagan goddess of wellness, is alive and well in Bled, thanks in part to Arnold Rikli. The Swiss health enthusiast spent 52 years in Bled developing a program of healthy eating and exercise that began attracting tourism in the 19th century. Among other things, he believed in the benefits of swimming in the thermal waters that feed Lake Bled.
Wellness Živa in the Rikli Balance Hotel carries on that tradition. The warm thermal pools with castle views offer relaxation at temperatures up to 30 degrees C. There’s something for everyone, from a family-friendly indoor waterpark to a mixed gender sauna.
For a blissful experience, book a treatment in the spa. I enjoyed the alpine bath, scented with fragrant spruce tips and other local aromatics. You might be surprised by the reasonable prices for massage and other therapies. I’m already planning a return trip to enjoy a winter spa break!
Bled Creme Cake with a Castle View
Don’t leave Bled without tasting the kremšnita at the Hotel Park Cafe (Kavarna Park). In 1953, the chef here created the iconic desert with its crunchy crust, vanilla creme and whipped topping. Since then, more than 15 million have been served.
The Park Cafe terrace offers a splendid view of Bled Castle towering over the lake and the town. In colder months, enjoy the views through the dining room windows. We enjoyed our lunch as the friendly server made us feel at home.
If You Have More Time in Lake Bled
Ojstrica, Mala and Velika Osojnica Viewpoints: If you’re planning to visit Lake Bled, you no doubt have already seen the instagram photos of that bench. The one that looks down on the panorama of the lake, the church island and the castle with the snow-dusted Alps in the distance.
The tourism office can provide you with maps to reach these scenic photo opportunities. Keep in mind that the uphill climb can take 20-45 minutes or more, depending on your fitness level. I chose not to do it on this trip due to the cloudy weather. On a clear day, you are likely to have lots of company up there.
Accessible Tourism: Unfortunately, Bled Island, Bled Castle and parts of the lakefront path are not wheelchair/stroller accessible. Click here for details.
More Active Adventures in Bled
I just love a sommerrodelbahn, or summer tobaggan ride. You can find it in the Straža adventure park. If ziplines are your thing, you can also book a tour from Bled to the longest zipline in Europe.
Swimming in Lake Bled: On the lakefront path you will pass the two designated public swimming areas. The Grajska beach is directly under the castle. For a small fee you can enjoy waterslides and changing facilities. It’s open from June to September. Another public beach (Zaka) is near the campground on the far shore of the lake. A few hardy souls jump in for the Winter Swimming World Championships here.
Vintgar Gorge: Only 4 km from Lake Bled, the Vintgar Gorge is a spectacular walk in the natural beauty at the foot of the Alps. It’s closed in the winter, but you’ll need a reservation to visit at other times of the year. Click here to find out how to reserve your ticket and plan your visit to Vintgar Gorge.
Bled vs Bohinj: Many Slovenians will tell you they prefer to swim or camp at neighboring Lake Bohinj, a more natural and less touristed environment. Why choose? Try them both and decide. I definitely prefer Lake Bled. The USA and many other countries have pretty mountain lakes, but none with an island church and a castle like Bled.
Bled at Night: It’s a small town with not much going on. But I can highly recommend an evening with Wine Tasting Bled as a fun way to learn about Slovenia’s excellent wine! Or enjoy vino kuhano — hot mulled wine — at the winter holiday market.
Terry’s Travel Thoughts
The biggest change in tourism since I first visited Bled in 2009: the onslaught of professional photographers and wannabe influencers. Photography in Bled can be tricky, depending on the weather and the position of the sun. Take your time, be courteous to others, and everyone will get the shot, I promise!
Folks with really huge camera lenses have staked out some of the most advantageous spots at certain times of day. And they’re not moving. Commercial photography in Bled requires a permit. Drones are not allowed, unless you have the special training license required by the aviation authorities.
Disclaimer: Many thanks to Visit Bled and Sava Hotels Bled for sponsoring this post with a very kind welcome. Opinions are my own. Thank you for clicking on the links in this post to reserve your hotel or book an airport transfer with Go Opti. It results in a small commission to me at no cost to you.
Did this post help you plan your visit to Lake Bled? Let me know in the comments. And please subscribe to my free monthly newsletter so you won’t miss any new posts. More Slovenia content @TerryAnzur on Youtube.