Slovenia is an outstandingly beautiful country with many jewels in its crown. Read our top 10 tips on how to make the most of a trip to Lake Bled, one of the best.
Read a list of its attributes and it is easy to see why a trip to Lake Bled is one of the most popular things to do in Slovenia. If water the colour of emeralds and topaz, an impossibly picturesque island church, amazing food, and watersports is not enough to entice you then read on. How about a medieval castle atop a rocky cliff, a backdrop of the Julian Alps’ peaks, hiking, and relaxing? If your interest is still not piqued, even just a little, then have a quick look at this photo….
….there you go, now you can see why a trip to Lake Bled is a must! For many, visiting this natural wonder is on the travel bucket list and we couldn’t agree more. Whether you are planning a trip to Lake Bled or haven’t heard of it until now, read our top 10 tips for travel inspiration.
1. Think about how long you want your trip to Lake Bled to be
The lake is easily reachable from Ljubljana and therefore many people decide to take a day trip to Lake Bled. If you do this we suggest arriving as early as possible to have some time before the majority of tourists arrive.
For ideas on how to use your annual leave to get even more time off for work for experiences like this read How To Maximise Your Annual Leave.
We spent two-nights in Lake Bled as part of a two-week holiday and definitely recommend spending longer than a day here. Why? Whilst you can cram many activities into a day you won’t regret spacing them out and spending more time here. And as the sun starts to go down you can enjoy Lake Bled in a way that many day-trippers cannot.
So where should you stay?
- Grand Hotel Toplice – We stayed at this lakeside hotel, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group and Sava Hotels & Resorts. The hotel’s positioning on the lake is second to none, with views across to Bled Island and Bled Castle. Facilities include onsite restaurants, a bar with lake views, free parking, a spa with a natural spring water pool, and an hour’s complimentary rowing boat hire. Breakfast is a highlight and enjoying this whilst looking out on the lake is a wonderful start to the day. However, whilst the hotel is billed as luxurious we felt that it was a little dated and in need of refurbishment. It is popular with tourist groups and, although not an issue, it causes it to lose the feeling of exclusivity and romance. Whilst we would recommend staying here, we feel it needs to work a little harder to justify its ‘luxury’ tag.
- Vila Prešeren – Also on the shores of the lake, although this time underneath the castle, Vila Prešeren is a large hotel alternative. This converted 19thcentury villa has 8 guestrooms so booking in advance is essential. A four-star boutique hotel, facilities include a restaurant and terrace on the water’s edge and free parking.
- Garden Village Bled – For something completely different, consider Garden Village Bled. Fancy a stay in a tree, book a tree house. Want to stay in a tree but not in a tree house, book a tree tent. Like the idea of a tent but not a tree, book a glamping tent. With lots of different accommodation options this eco-resort provides the wow-factor that a stay in Bled should have. Although not on the shores of the lake the resort’s facilities more than make up for this. When not at the lake itself, use the natural swimming pool, eat in the onsite restaurant, or rejuvenate yourself in the Finnish sauna among the trees.
Although our tip number 1, it is perhaps sensible to leave deciding how long your trip to Lake Bled will be until you have read this article in full.
Alternatively, if you are thinking of a trip to Lake Bled from Slovenia’s capital and want to know more about a city break in Ljubljana read this article.
Or, if you want ideas on how to include Lake Bled in a longer holiday to Slovenia read this article.
How to get there
The lake is under an hour’s drive from the capital, or about a 70-minute bus journey. You can also take the train between Ljubljana and Lake Bled, although this is likely to involve a bus trip too. In addition, Lake Bled can be reached by bus from other European destinations, via Ljubljana. To read more on how to get to Lake Bled from Ljubljana click here.
2. Get out on the water
Resisting getting out on water as beautiful as Lake Bled’s is a difficult task. And why would you want to resist when the sun makes the clear water sparkle, emphasising its jewel-like colours? Motor boats are not allowed on the lake so to get out on the water you will be using your own power. Or someone else’s!
If you are a guest at the Grand Hotel Toplice your stay includes an hour’s complimentary boat hire. Unless you happen to be an Olympic rower, this is unlikely to be enough time to properly explore the lake. It is certainly enough to get a taste for the water though. You can hire for a longer period for a charge, or hire a rowing boat from elsewhere on the lake. Alternatively, hire a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard to get out on the water.
If paddling across waters as still as a millpond sounds a bit too much like hard work make the most of someone else’s energy. You will see wooden passenger boats with colourful awnings criss-crossing the lake. These are called Pletna boats and originate from the 1590s. A Pletna boat has a wooden flat-bottom and pointed bow and stern. Powered by an oarsman who uses two oars and rows whilst standing, they can carry around 20 people. Cruising the water by Pletna to visit Bled Island is one of the most popular things to do on a trip to Lake Bled.
3. Get in the water
Swimming in the freshwater lake is a refreshing and invigorating experience. The official swimming season lasts from June to late September and is the longest of any European alpine lake. In the summer the water temperatures can reach 28°C and at its deepest part it is 30 metres. Swimming in the lake is free and can be done all year round (depending on how invigorating you want your swim to be!).
The lake’s only public swimming lido is Grajsko Kopališče (or Castle Lido). This swimming area is open from June to late September. The enclosed bathing site covers a total area of approximately 12,000 square metres with changing rooms and lockers. Additional facilities include two waterslides, kayak hire, a trampoline, a climbing wall, table tennis, and swings and a sandbox for children.
The Grand Hotel Toplice has a private lido and beach which is open in the summer months.
4. Visit the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary on Bled Island
You’ve seen enough photos of the church on Bled Island, now it’s time to talk about visiting it.
In the north-western corner of the lake lies Bled Island, one of the most photographed places in Slovenia. The church, called Cerkev Marijinega Vnebovzetja in Slovene, dates to the end of the 17thcentury in its current form. There has, however, been a church standing here since the 9thcentury. A Gothic style church was built in the 15thcentury but was destroyed by an earthquake in 1509. The only remains from this church are the frescoes in the presbytery and a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary. The current church was built after another church was destroyed by an earthquake in the 17thcentury.
Prior to the first church, Bled Island was once home to a temple dedicated to the ancient Slavic goddess of love and fertility, Ziva. Although the temple disappeared in battles between the Pagans and the Christians, the connection to love remains. The church is a popular wedding venue and legend has it that if the groom carries the bride up the steps whilst she remains perfectly silent they will have a long and happy marriage. It is perhaps best not to dwell on the sexist symbolism of a strong man carrying a silent woman and what it portends for happiness!
Another legend connected to love is that of the sunken bell. Upon her husband being killed by robbers and thrown into the lake, a young widow gathered her gold and silver to cast a bell for the island’s chapel in his memory. However, the boat transporting the bell to the island was hit by a storm and the boatmen were drowned. The bell sunk to the bottom of the lake where it has remained ever since. The heartbroken widow went on a pilgrimage to Rome and when the Pope heard her story he donated a bell. The bell in the chapel is said to be this same bell. According to legend, if you make a wish whilst ringing the bell your wish will come true. Legend also has it that you can sometimes hear the sunken bell ringing from the depths of the lake.
Whilst you don’t have to pay to visit the island, there is an admission fee for the church. And unless you swim to the island, you will need to pay for a Pletna or boat to get there.
5. Visit Bled Castle
A game of word association to start us off…
What images do the words ‘medieval fortress’ conjure in your mind? An insurmountable cliff face? A moat and drawbridge? Impenetrable towers and ramparts? If you are thinking of any of these you will have a good idea of what Bled Castle looks like. Add an impossibly beautiful alpine lake and a mountain backdrop and you will know exactly what Bled Castle looks like.
Bled Castle is the oldest in Slovenia, first mentioned in a charter dating back to 1011. However, as a result of two earthquakes and a peasant uprising, most of what now stands is 16thcentury. The castle houses a museum collection tracing the lake’s history from the earliest times to its development as a resort. There is a large collection of armour and jewellery found at Slav burial pits in Pristava. There is also a wine cellar with wine tasting, a blacksmith shop, and a small chapel.
You have to pay to enter the grounds although it’s free if you book a table at the Castle Restaurant. Opening times vary throughout the year but visiting the castle is possible no matter when your trip to Lake Bled is. For those arriving by car, parking is available. Alternatively, you can reach the castle on foot following one of three trails.
6. Hiking at Lake Bled
One of the most pleasant things to do on a trip to Lake Bled is to walk the lake’s perimeter. This is an easy stroll and it takes a couple of hours to walk the distance of 6.5km/4 miles. It goes without saying, however, that you should allow longer than this to take account of the number of times you will stop to take photographs. And you would be silly not to factor in time for café stops.
If you want to circumnavigate the lake but don’t fancy the walk you can take the tourist train. The train runs daily from June to September and at weekends in May and October. A more romantic option, but also more expensive, is to take a horse-drawn carriage (fijaker). The stand is in the Spa Park, near the Festival Hall.
An alternative to walking round the lake is to take one of Bled’s hiking trails. The trails are well signposted and good maps are available to purchase in the town. One of the most popular trails is number 6, the Osojnica trail. This starts from the south-west corner of the lake and goes up a steep forested path to the top of Velika Osojnica. The panoramic view from the top across the lake is breathtaking and one of the most popular photographic spots.
7. Enjoy a meal at an excellent restaurant
As you would hope, there are many excellent places to eat at Lake Bled. The Castle Restaurantis particularly special and the quality of its food matches the quality of its location. High standards indeed.
For something more casual try Pizzeria Rustika. Choose between eating in the restaurant (perhaps on the terrace) or home delivery to sample the best pizza in town. Another pizzeria is the Briksen Bled, owned by Tomaž Razinger, a Slovenian ice hockey player. Whilst we weren’t overly impressed by the pizzas themselves, its location inside Bled’s sports hall next to the lake adds to its popularity. We’re not sure how we managed this but we didn’t realise it was actually in a sports hall at first. It was only when we wandered around that we realised it looked out onto an enormous ice hockey rink!
Our favourite restaurant is Ostarija Peglez’n, meaning ‘Iron Inn’. We stumbled on this gem by accident as it was close to our hotel and we were too hungry to venture further afield. The restaurant was packed but the amazing smell of the food made us add our names to the waiting list. Even though it just served to make us more hungry! But boy are we glad we waited.
Everything about Ostarija Peglez’n is a joy, from the incredible food, to the fantastic service, to the brilliant atmosphere. The menu is extensive and, although fish is the main draw, the pasta dishes were our particular favourite. The portions are large and whilst you will definitely want to eat everything, you may find them too much! The food was so good that we ate here two nights in a row. The restaurant thoroughly deserves its popularity but it means that reservations are essential, especially in high season. We were in Lake Bled at the end of September and people without reservations had to be turned away.
8. Sample the famous Lake Bled Cream Cake
Continuing the food theme, mention has to be made of the Bled cream cake, otherwise known as kremna rezina or kremsnita. This cake is characterised by puff pastry atop layers of vanilla cream and custard, cut into a perfect square. There are many places in Lake Bled which sell this famous cake, although the place of origin is said to be the Park Hotel. The decision you will be making is where you go to try the cake, not whether to try the cake! Take it from us, any trip to Lake Bled must include sampling this delicious cake.
9. Get an adrenaline rush on Lake Bled’s toboggan run
For something a little bit different visit the Straža Bled Ski Centre and experience the Lake Bled toboggan run. Open from April to October, the toboggan run is an adrenaline rush with stunning views of the lake. The track is 520 metres long with an average incline of 25%. Over an elevation difference of 131 metres you can reach speeds of up to 40 km/h.
In the winter months, the toboggan run turns into a ski slope. Whilst not a ski centre, skiing a slope with such a fantastic view of the lake is definitely worth doing.
10. Enjoy an aerial view of the lake with a bucket list experience
Make the most of a trip to Lake Bled by getting an aerial view of the lake from a hot air balloon. Undoubtedly a bucket list experience! Companies which run this excursion include 3glav.com and lifeadventures.si. Alternatively, book a scenic flight over the lake in a small aeroplane.
Whilst perhaps not quite the same bucket list experience, there is a third alternative which you can do on your way home. Take off from Ljubljana airport on a clear day and get aerial views of the lake from your plane!
Although undoubtedly popular with tourists and locals alike, Lake Bled well deserves its reputation as a stunningly beautiful destination. Whether visiting as a day trip or a longer stay, no holiday in Slovenia is complete without a trip to Lake Bled. Trust us!