You may have never heard of Bled, but you’ve probably seen photos of its picturesque lake with the island church. Bled is a small town in northern Slovenia, about 40 minutes or 55 kilometers from the capital of Ljubljana. Slovenia isn’t a well-known travel destination outside of Europe, but if you enjoy the Alps, outdoor activities, majestic views, and a range of fresh food and drinks, Bled should be on your list!
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Getting to Bled
You’ll most likely be coming to Bled from the capital city of Ljubljana, in which case your best option is taking a short bus trip. You can get there in under 40 minutes by taxi, but it will cost you 80-100 euros. The bus will take up to twice as long, but the cost will be under 10 euros. There is also a train, but the station, Bled Jezero, is on the western side of the city, and you’ll need to walk about 40 minutes into town–not fun when carrying luggage.
Taking a day trip to Bled from Ljubljana is also an option, but it will be a whirlwind visit.
If you are coming from Austria, there is a train that goes from Villach to Bled (Lesce-Bled station) a few times a day for around 10 euros, but you’ll stop at the eastern train station and need to walk or taxi from there.
When we left Bled we were headed to Venice, and because of the lack of direct trains or buses, we took a shared van through a company called Go Opti. We lucked out and were the only passengers, so we got a private van straight to Venice for 72 euros! Prices vary depending on how flexible you can be with your time, so this could be a great fit for you if you are traveling around Slovenia and Central Europe and don’t like trains or buses.
When is the best time to visit Lake Bled?
The best time to visit Bled, Slovenia is during the early summer or early fall. Most Europeans take vacation in August, so that is the month to avoid crowds and high prices. June or September should still be warm enough (highs around 25C or 77F) to enjoy the lake but with less crowds. October can also be beautiful with the fall colors. Winter is somewhat mild, with highs not usually down to freezing, but if it gets cold enough Lake Bled can freeze and you can get some beautiful photos in the snow.
What to see and do in Bled
Bled Castle (Blejski Grad)
The castle dates back to 1004 when it was expanded from a tower to a full-fledged defensive castle. Today visitors climb to the top and are rewarded with 360 degree views of the lake and mountains.
As you enter the castle, the printing works shop has a replica of a working Gutenberg printing press! You can print out your own souvenir certificate, but you have to do the work. Choose the paper, select the letter blocks for your name, put them in the frame, ink them, and then use your elbow grease to press the printing press.
Next, visit the chapel and see the red frescos.
You can even bottle your own wine and seal it with wax in the wine cellar for a fun, adult souvenir.
The first week in June there is a medieval celebration with music and dance. The castle is open from 8:00am-8:00pm during the summer months and costs 13 euros for adults with discounts for students and children. Plan on going an hour before sunset and then enjoy a happy hour drink at the café while the sun sets over the lake.
How to get a boat to Lake Bled Island
Bled’s most famous feature is, of course, the island in the lake. The large island is a long way out from the shore. Although it is possible to kayak or paddle board to it, the best bet is also the most fun experience: a traditional pletna boat.
The pletna boat looks like a cross between a gondola and a rowboat: it is wooden with a cover on top and rowed by an oarsman standing in the back. They can fit around 12 people and are about 7×2 meters.
To get a boat to Lake Bled island, go to the south side of the lake where the shore is much closer to the island (these are man-powered, remember!). You’ll see the boats and can find out which is the next to leave, pay and hope on. It’s about 20 minutes to cross and your oarsman will give you 30 minutes to explore the church and the island.
There is also a motorized wooden boat that leaves from Cafe Park, for those that can’t or don’t want to walk to the south shore.
Lake Bled Island Church (Blejski otok)
When you disembark on the island you’ll first need to reckon with 99 steep stairs! Tradition has it that for weddings here, the groom climbs these stairs to the church, carrying his bride to symbolize his maturity and commitment to marriage.
After catching your breath, explore the church and the bell tower. If you have the chance, ring the “wishing bell” commissioned by the Pope in the 16th century to have the Lady of the Lake fulfill your wish.
There is a small café here and you can walk around the rest of the island on a narrow path in about 10 minutes.
The church is open from 10:00 to 19:00 (7:00pm) in the summer and 10:00 to 16:00 (4:00pm) in the winter. To visit the church and other buildings you’ll need to pay a 12 euro admission for adults and 5 euro for children. Discounts are available for students and families.
Hiking in Bled
The most popular hike is circumnavigating Lake Bled. It’s a flat, 6km walk that will take around two hours if you are stopping and strolling. Parts of the path are crowded, but there are plenty of places to stop and rest.
Lake Bled is quite appropriately home to Slovenia’s olympic rowing center, and you can stop here and see the statues to learn more about Slovenia’s rowing history.
For more of a challenge and great views, choose a hike that goes up into the mountains. How about circumnavigating the lake but from the tops of the mountains? Bled’s tourism website is a wonderful resource to choose a hike. There are maps and information on elevation, distance and more. Paths in the area are well maintained and well marked, making it a great location to hike in.
Ski in the winter and in the warmer months you can summer toboggan, otherwise known as an alpine slide. There is also an outdoor adventure park which involves climbing, sliding and jumping while attached to a harness and is fun for all ages.
Food and Drink in Bled
Slovenian food tends to be more similar to Central European countries than some of its Balkan neighbors to the South. Heavy on meat, cheese and wine, in the summer you’ll be able to get lots of fresh fruits and veggies, too.
Lake Bled Cream Cake
Bled is on the national culinary map for its famed cream cake, crafted in the café of the Park Hotel. Over 15 million have been served since its creation in 1953. The cake starts with thin puff pastry, followed by custard, whipped cream, more puff pastry and a dusting of powdered sugar. This unique treat, plus the lake views at the Park Café, make it a required place to stop for an afternoon snack.
Lake Bled Restaurants
For a unique (and pricey) experience try dining at the castle. You’ll need to reserve in advance for lunch or dinner.
Sova Wine Bar and Restaurant on the southeast side of the lake has a cozy, wooden decor and hearty, meaty dishes.
For those that don’t like meat, try the Public and Vegan Kitchen Bled on the east side of the lake.
Another unique experience on the southeast side of the lake is the Garden Village Bled. This is actually a treehouse resort! The food is local, with some even grown on-site, and tables overlook the natural swimming pool. It is worth going here just to peak at the amazing treehouses.
Day trips from Bled
If Bled is your base, then a day trip to the city of Ljubljana is an easy trip. Explore with the walking food tour there to get to know the city a bit better.
If you have a few nights in Bled, I highly recommend the day trip to Triglav National Park. It is long and covers a lot of ground, but it’s a great way to see more of Slovenia with a limited amount of time. We drove through the mountains, hiked, swam in crystal-clear streams, then white-water rafted all in one day. We then put our van on a car-carrying train to come back through a series of tunnels. I’m always a fan of trips that don’t take the same way back! 🙂
I’m sure that you’ll love Bled as much as I did. If you are looking for other less familiar destinations, read about fjords and seafaring history in Bergen, Norway.