Slovenia’s Lake Bled stakes a claim to being the most picturesque Alpine lake anywhere in Europe. That is high praise indeed, but it’s deserved as this shimmering glacial wonder boasts crystal clear waters, and sports an island topped with a cute church, with a rugged castle overlooking the scene from a lofty rock perch. The setting is sublime with a phalanx of often snow-capped mountains rising up precipitously in the postcard perfect background. There is plenty of substance too, with myriad things to do on and around the lake.
Stroll around Lake Bled
Strolling around Lake Bled is the best way to really appreciate its scale and remarkable setting. A sinewy path skirts the lake all the way round and you’ll stay next to the water bar a few sections up by the road. Early morning is the best time to set out for light for photos and lack of crowds. Always pack a raincoat or umbrella. It’s doable in two to three hours.
Insider’s tip: Start and finish at the Hotel Park, the home of Bled’s famously decadent cream cake, kremsnita. Reclining in their café overlooking the lake you’ve just hiked around as you enjoy a bela kava (latte) and your ridiculously oversized cake is a quintessential Bled experience.
Opening times: Open all day and night
Hike up to Bled Castle
The rugged fortress that haunts Lake Bled from its improbably steep mountain perch is mercifully not just a fairytale confection. Indeed it is said to be the oldest castle in Slovenia, sporting a palpable sense of history with a museum on hand to help tell its story along with that of the town that unfurls below.
Insider’s tip: You could catch the tourist train up or a taxi, but walking at least one way helps you appreciate exactly why they forged it here, as well as offering a free work out as you tackle the 130m in height. You also get to savour a different view at every turn.
Contact: 00 386 04 572 9782; blejski-grad.si
Mess about in a boat
You have to get out on the lake’s waters at least once. The traditional way to do it is one of the pletna wooden boats that leave from near the Grand Hotel Toplice. They’ve incredibly been plying the local waters since 1740! Consider taking a guide if there are a few of you as it really opens up the lake’s rich history.
Insider’s tip: You can also rent a rowing boat to tackle Lake Bled yourself, which can be a sublime experience as you ease along below the castle and hulking Alpine peaks. Beware, though, that the lake is bigger than it looks and you’ll need to keep an eye on other vessels, swimmers and rowers.
Contact: 00 386 041 948 168; pletna.si
Indulge in wild swimming
The gorgeously clear waters of Lake Bled tempt, but jump in at the wrong spot and you’re liable to get run over by a rower training for the Olympics. A better plan is the public lido below Ljubljana Castle. You can rent a sunbed and umbrella, plus there is a pool and water slides. A more rough and ready beach sits across the lake at Mlino. Savvy swimmers stay at Vila Bled – it boasts its own sumptuous swimming terrace.
Insider’s tip: It may sound obvious, but remember to actually swim when you get in. Many visitors aren’t used to the very low salinity freshwater and slide under the water before they get going. It’s best to warn children in advance. Note swimming is not recommended here for poor swimmers.
Contact: 00 386 04 578 0534; kopalisce-bled.si
Take a horse drawn carriage ride
Bled may not be the prettiest town in itself – the picturesque lake brilliantly deflects this – but it does take on a bit of magic when you rumble around it on a horse carriage, or fijaker as the local version is known. The best place to pick one up is around the Festival Hall.
Insider’s tip: Some visitors just take their fijaker up to Bled Castle, not realising you can actually go all the way around the lake for not much more. If you’re really keen they’ll even clip clop you out to Vintgar Gorge.
Contact: Mobile number of various drivers on website; fijaker-bled.si
Venture to Bled Island
Disney would be proud of the wee tear-shaped island that reclines in the Alpine waters of Lake Bled. It glistens in the ever changing light with a church topping it off perfectly. The Church of the Assumption’s gothic and baroque exterior is more interesting than the interior. You’ll often see newlyweds here as it’s a tradition for newlyweds to haul their formerly betrothed up the 99 steps.
Insider’s tip: Most visitors arrive by the traditional pletna boats, but it’s much more romantic to row out here yourself. Allow plenty of time as everything is much further than it looks on the water.
Hike up Mala Osojnica
Mala Osojnica soars 685m above Lake Bled. This still brings the hill within reasonable hiking distance for anyone with a decent level of health and fitness. Allow an hour for the brisk hike up a steep forest trail. The effort is more than worth it as Lake Bled spills out below and you can take in the Karavanke and Kamnisko-Savinjske Alpe mountain ranges, as well as views back towards Ljubljana.
Insider’s tip: While you’re up here it’s just another half an hour walk further up to 756m high Velika Osojnica, which boasts even better views. You’ll need a seat on a bench here, but it will be a bench with a serious view.
Visit Vintgar Gorge
If you don’t have time to spend days hiking in Bled’s mountainous hinterland a visit to Vintgar Gorge, only 4km from Bled, gives you a refreshing, life affirming taste of clean, green Slovenia. The gorge surges for 1,600m and is up to 250m deep. The trail was opened back in 1893 and it really lets you get to the heart of nature, though be careful with children as it can be slippery.
Insider’s tip: As a creation of Mother Nature, Vintgar is at the mercy of the vagaries of the weather and can close in wild weather. Note than it opens from April-November, but again this is weather dependent.
Get active at Straza
This hill just back from the banks of the lake offers a serious treasure trove of fun. In winter you can ski here, with a chairlift on hand to whisk you up the slopes. In summer the chairlift takes keen tobogganers up, ready to flash down on the dedicated track. There are a network of hiking trails too.
Insider’s tip: Straza Hill is great for families and not just because of the skiing and tobogganing, with the Family Adventure Park on hand to entertain and tire out wee ones.
Contact: 00 386 04 578 0534; straza-bled.si
Swoop into the skies
The Lake Bled area is ideal for a hot air balloon ride, with its epic natural panorama of snow-capped mountains and shimmering lake. Your one hour bird’s eye flight will have you snapping photo after photo, before you land and enjoy swigging a glass of bubbly plus a slice of Bled’s famous cream cake.
Insider’s tip: Head out with Life Adventurers, a local outfit who have experience of hot air ballooning in the area stretching back 20 years. They are adept at dealing with nervous passengers. Note that they also offer Ljubljana departures.