March 5, 2018
Almost certainly the most popular day trip from Ljubljana, the out-of-town sight that those who only see one thing see, is Lake Bled, with its picture-perfect views of the lake, church, island and castle, not to mention the chance to eat cream cake (kremšnita) and include it as a cultural attraction. And while it’s obviously and unavoidably touristy in places, the area is big enough for you to find some peace and enjoy the scene, and it would be a real shame to make it all the way Slovenia without coming here.
The focus of the lake is the island, and the focus of the island the Church of the Assumption of Mary (Cerkev Marijinega vnebovzetja), built in the 17th century along with the 99 steps that grooms are supposed to carry their brides up in order to marry on the island.
Also of interest in the church is the “wishing bell”. The story here is rather tragic, involving a man killed by robbers and thrown in the lake, with his widow then commissioning a bell for the island in his memory. However, there was a storm when the bell was being taken to the island, and the board carrying it sank without a trace. The woman then moved to Rome and lived as a nun, with a Pope eventually hearing her sad tale and sending a new bell to Bled. Today people ring the bell three times for good luck, as you’ll no doubt hear on a visit.
There is a fee for the island that includes the entrance to the church and the bell tower, currently 6 EU for adults, 4 for students and seniors, 1 for children, and 12 for families. Other buildings to explore on the island include the 15th century bell tower, chaplain's house, provost's house, and a small hermitage – more than enough to make the trip across the water worthwhile.
One way to reach the island is with a traditional Pletna boat, powered by an oarsman who stands up (14 EUR return), with these leaving from the Health Park, Hotel Park and the rowing centre (for more locations, see here).
The famous cream slice (kremšnita), a well-earned treat after a walk around the lake or up a hill
Around the Lake
There’s a 6 km trail around the lake for jogging, hiking or bike rides, with plenty of opportunities to stop and rest along the way. Straža, a hill that offers good views of all the area has to offer, has both a hiking trail and chair lift to get to the top, as well as skiing in the winter months. Other hills to climb include the 611 m Ojstrica, while Osojnica has two viewing areas, Mala (Small) at 685 m and Veliki (Big) at 756 m, with the forest-trail walk lasting around 45 minutes and one-hour, respectively. Those who make the trip to the latter will be rewarded with some of the best the views in the area, so don’t forget to take a picture.
The castle, set atop a 130 m cliff and with a commanding view of the lake, first appears in written records in 1011, and over the years it’s passed through various hands, with the new owners often making alterations to the property, thus making it the attractive mix of styles you’ll see today. Entrance costs 11 EU for adults, 7 for students and 5 for children enter (although free if you book a table at the restaurant), and inside you’ll find a museum, wine cellar, forge, printing press, chapel, knights’ hall restaurant, souvenir store and yet more impressive views of the area. You can drive or take a bus to the castle, or take the 15-minute walk to the top.
Hot Springs and Swimming
The north-east side of the lake has some natural hot springs, with the water from these used in the pools that visitors can enjoy at the Grand Hotel Toplice, Hotel Park and Hotel Golf, and you can also take a slightly colder dip in the lake itself, or rent a boat.
While Bled can easily be done in a day trip, if you’d prefer to spend the night then there are many options for nearly all budgets, easily found online. Bled also makes an excellent staging post for some other local attractions, including the many natural wonders that can be seen in Triglav National Park.
How to get there
There are many ways to get to Bled, which is just 50 km from Ljubljana. The fastest is to drive there, taking the A2 highway northwest from the city, looking out for the signs to Kranj or Jesenice. Bear in mind that you’ll need to pay for parking in Bled between 07:00 and 20:00, although this will likely be free if staying at a hotel.
Regular buses leave for Bled from the central station in the capital, with the ride taking just over an hour, and the timetable can be searched here. There are also many tour companies offering packages, details of which you’ll find on flyers at all the hotels, hostels, tourist centres, bus stations and so on around town.
Finally, going by train is a possibility, but neither station in Bled is close to where you’ll want to be, and you’ll need to walk 4 km or get a bus into town, so plan accordingly (timetable).
Other articles in this series can be found here.