Travel brochures had enticed me for years with their photos of Lake Bled with its small island complete with church but it took me a bit longer than expected to actually get there. When I finally visited, my 3-day stay allowed me to experience the best things to do in Bled, Slovenia.
My first visit was planned for December 2010 but my itinerary was changed when my husband required a stay in a French hospital! As it turned out, a visit to Bled during summer was more than we hoped for and it was definitely worth the wait of almost four years.
After a very pleasant drive from Zell am See in Austria, we arrived in the small Slovenian town of Bled early afternoon and after checking in to our hotel, set off to explore the town.
I had decided to base ourselves for three days in Bled so that we didn’t feel too rushed and we could also visit a couple of other nearby places, one of which was Ljubljana.
Many people do day trips from Ljubljana to Bled – we did the reverse!
Day 1 – Admiring the beauty of Lake Bled, Slovenia
Bled’s main attractions are all centred around the lake so our first task was to see what all the fuss was about. It was a beautiful sunny day of about 28 degrees Celcius and we were happy to set off around the lake on foot. It’s about six kilometres around the lake and a walking path all the way makes it a pleasant walk.
Along the way are designated swimming areas as well as huts where boats and canoes can be hired and we completed our walk around Lake Bled in around an hour and a half, which included numerous photo stops and a swim.
Lake Bled is crystal clear and, due to its position between the Julian Alps and the Karavanke, boasts one of the longest swimming seasons in central Europe. But whilst the beauty of the lake is enough to take your breath away, Bled Castle, perched high on the rocky cliff above the lake, and Bled Island, with its aforementioned church, also demand your attention. More on them later.
Lots of hotels and restaurants look out over the lake with ‘to die for’ views but despite its growing popularity as a tourist destination, prices remain reasonably low compared to other European countries.
We finished our first day in Bled with a lovely dinner on the terrace of the Park Restaurant with stunning views of the Castle and the lake for under €40. For a main course and two glasses of wine each, I thought it was excellent value.
Day 2 – Experiencing a Pletna ride to Bled Island and enjoying traditional Slovenian cuisine
The next day I’d arranged to meet Andrew Villone from Savor the Experience Tours who had offered to give us a unique Slovenian experience in both Bled and Ljubljana. This was a fantastic, ‘off-the tourist-trail’ experience, but first there was the obligatory Pletna boat ride out to Bled Island.
Tourists are rowed to the island in traditional wooden gondola-style boats and spend thirty minutes on the island (enough time to look in the church and museum if you wish) before being rowed back. Alternatively, you can hire a row boat and do the hard work yourself.
The church on Bled Island today dates back to the 17th Century but there is evidence of settlement on the island as far back as prehistoric times. Written records have confirmed the first church on the island was consecrated in 1142 but over the centuries earthquakes and lightning have caused destruction and resulted in the church having to be replaced.
TIP: A Pletna ride to Bled Island and return costs €12 per person (all ‘gondoliers’ have a fixed price). Row boats (for up to 4 people) cost €15 per hour.
After our Pletna ride, we met Andrew and drove a few kilometres to experience a traditional Slovenian meal, all made by our host. It was a fascinating and delicious few hours which I wrote about here.
We then drove from Bled to Ljubljana for our personal ‘off-the-beaten-track’ tour. (Read about our visit to Ljubljana here.)
Day 3 – Visiting Triglav National Park and dining at Bled Castle restaurant
Before leaving Slovenia we wanted to see a little more of the countryside so on our final day we headed to Lake Bohinj, about 30 kilometres from Bled, and the nearby Savica Slap waterfall, both well worth a visit.
Despite the rain, which had set in for the morning, we loved driving through the lush Slovenian countryside. I was on the lookout for a glimpse of a Toplar hayrack, the traditional Slovenian hayracks that are used for drying hay. My patience was rewarded when he passed numerous fields with Toplar draped with hay.
After arriving back in Bled, we joined Tomaz, the concierge from our hotel, for a complimentary guided one hour tour of Bled. The tour was really interesting and Tomaz’s passion for Bled and Slovenia really shone through. He shared lots of fascinating history and local stories with us, and it was an hour well spent.
We left Tomaz by the lake where the path leads up to the Castle and headed on up for a look at what is a very impressive building, dating back to 1004.
Tomaz had told us that a Medieval performance was to be held at the castle at 5pm (he was one of the performers) so we stayed to watch and enjoyed the play, which told the story of Slovenia being invaded by the Turks in Medieval times.
The end to our final day in Bled was a real highlight. We’d decided to have dinner at the Castle restaurant and thanks to a great tip from Andrew (of Savor the Experience Tours), by phoning ahead to make a dinner reservation we received free entry to the Castle, a saving of €9 each.
The meal was nothing short of magnificent. It is without a doubt the best meal we had enjoyed on our trip and the view looking down on the lake and over Bled Island was something I’ll never forget. Even when it started to rain, we stayed outside at our table on the Castle terrace to savour the moment.
My tips for visiting Bled
Give yourself more than one day in Bled. There is enough to see and do to warrant at least two full days (three if you’d like to also visit Ljubljana or the nearby Triglav National Park), and the lakeside makes a great place to just relax and watch the world go by.
The best views of the church on Bled Island can be seen from the Castle and from the end of the lake opposite the town. Walk around the lake (or hire a bike) to the far end and you’ll be rewarded with great photos as the island is quite close to the mainland at that end.
A local group of enthusiasts perform a free play at Bled Castle at 5pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays during Summer.
If you plan to enjoy lunch or dinner at the Castle restaurant, ask your hotel concierge to phone ahead and make a reservation for you. On arrival at the castle, you then give your name at the ticket window and you’ll be granted free entry.
Where is Bled?
Bled is situated in the north of Slovenia about 45 kilometres from the Austrian border. It is 54 kilometres from the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana and 143 kilometres from Trieste in Italy.
Getting to Lake Bled
If you are flying into Ljubljana, a pre-booked transfer from the airport to Bled (around 40 minutes) costs around €50.
For those renting a car to drive in Slovenia, a tax vignette (toll sticker) is required for travel on motorways and it is compulsory for cars to have their headlights on at all times. The standard of roads is excellent.
Bled can also be reached by train or on the circular bus route Loopy Slovenia . The Bled - Lesce railway station (4 km from the township) is located on the main Villach - Jesenice - Ljubljana rail line.
Where to stay in Bled
We stayed at BW Premier Hotel Lovec, a 4* property just a couple of minutes walk from the lake. Our room featured a jacuzzi and balcony and looked out over the lake. Request a room on the third or fourth floor for the best views.
The buffet breakfast (included in our room rate) offered plenty of hot and cold options and the hotel’s Grill restaurant (open for dinner) was good value with a large selection of meals.
Staff were friendly and helpful and the free guided tour offered to hotel guests by Tomaz, the hotel’s concierge (as mentioned above), was excellent.
Where to eat in Bled
Don’t miss the opportunity to dine with a view at Bled Castle’s restaurant. Our meal was superb.
If you’re after something sweet, try Bled Cream Cake, similar to what we know in Australia as a Vanilla Slice. It's available on just about every menu in Bled.
I hope this summary of my 3-day Lake Bled itinerary has inspired you to visit this beautiful town. No matter how much or how little time you have, the best things to see in Bled are well worth a visit.
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