First things first – Lake Bled is one of the most beautiful places in Europe. As a gorgeous lake ringed by hills and surrounded by distant snow-capped mountains, its natural allure is incredible. What really sets it apart, though, are the unique additions of Bled Castle and the Bled Island church (officially the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria). This pair of terrifically photogenic buildings push the overall scenery to an entirely new level. Lake Bled is also framed by the Julian Alps in the Triglav National Park while the Zaka Valley lies at the west end of the lake. The wide range of very different, very spectacular Lake Bled viewpoints allow eager photographers endless opportunities to frame that perfect holiday shot. It is an absolute must-see destination on any Balkan holiday.
Of course, there is far more to Lake Bled than simply great views. It is one of the best places to visit in Slovenia because it also offers a quaint little town, a vast array of activities, good value accommodation and a bevy of excellent restaurants. While it is possible to enjoy the main highlights of Lake Bled on a day trip from Ljubljana (one of the most attractive capitals in Europe), there is more than enough to do to keep you occupied for a week or more. We would say that three days is probably the minimum amount of time you would need to feel you had gotten the full Lake Bled experience.
Lake Bled Details
The lake itself is just over 2 km long and roughly 1 ½ km across. It is actually quite shallow in comparison to many other lakes of this size, reaching just 30 metres at its deepest point. This is one of the reasons, along with the shelter provided by the surrounding hills, that the surface of Lake Bled is often calm and glassy, providing amazing reflections of the castle, church and, from certain angles, even the mountains.
You can walk all the way around the lake in less than 2 hours (including photo stops), as this gorgeous, easy trail is just 6 kilometres long and basically flat. Of course, there are many other great, easy hikes around the lake, as well as some longer trails that lead up into the nearby mountains.
How to get to Lake Bled
Lake Bled is located just 30 km from Lake Bohinj, 55 km from Ljubljana and 175 km from terrific Piran on the Adriatic coast. If you can’t find a convenient flight to Ljubljana (the closest airport to Lake Bled), it is also relatively accessible from the international airports in Trieste (140 km), Zagreb (200 km), Salzburg (230 km) or wonderful Venice (300 km).
Frequent buses leave Ljubljana, take about an hour and cost roughly €5-10.
Taxis from Ljubljana are faster and easier but will typically cost around €80-100.
There are also trains that run from the capital but they are infrequent, take almost twice as long and cost more than the bus.
You can also rent a car (€30-50 per day plus fuel) and arrive in just over half an hour.
Trieste, Italy – 3.5 hrs, €10-20
Piran, Slovenia – 4.5 hrs, €15-30
Venice, Italy – 4.5 hrs, €20-40
Zagreb, Croatia – 5 hrs, €20-30
Salzburg, Austria – 5 hrs, €20-40
How Long Should You Visit Lake Bled?
Any visit is worth it, but definitely the more time you have the better. Stopping in on a one-day trip will still get you to the top viewpoints, let you walk around the lake once and have a good meal and maybe a sunset drink. Staying at least one night, however, gives you a look at the place when the crowds have cleared out and will give you the opportunity to have the most popular attractions a little more to yourself. Of course, with just 24 hours you are really at the mercy of the weather. A longer visit makes it more likely you will enjoy some clear skies and calm waters.
Ideally, you will want at least 4 nights and 3 days. That amount of time will allow for leisurely sightseeing, give you time to check out even the less popular (and less crowded) viewpoints, do some hikes and enjoy several of Lake Bled’s great restaurants. Another benefit is that you are far more likely to get some good weather and you’ll be able to see the best viewpoints at different times of day.
Rest assured, though, a week is certainly not too long. With that amount of time you can explore some of the cute little villages near the lake, journey over to the comparably beautiful Lake Bohinj and maybe even head up into the Triglav Mountains for some true alpine hiking.
Things to Do in Lake Bled
Walk Around the Lake
This is a simple, free undertaking and far and away the most popular activity on Lake Bled. The path is only about 6 km long, mainly flat, and provides a wide variety of terrific lake views.
Lake Bled Castle
A close second in popularity is to visit the extraordinary Bled Castle, over 1,000 years old and featuring unique lake views and fascinating medieval architecture. There are ramparts, walls and a chapel to explore, a café with an impressive outdoor terrace, a small museum and even a wine cellar that offers tastings.
The castle opens at 8 am year-round but the closing time varies depending on the season. Tickets cost €11/€7/€5 for adults/students/children (14 and under).
Visit Lake Bled Island
Maybe the most iconic feature of the entire lake is Bled Island. With its picture-perfect little church and prominent location on the west side of the lake, this exquisite island is what sets Lake Bled apart from the many other pretty lakes around Europe. But there is more to it than just great photos. It is also possible to visit the Lake Bled church and island by either rowboat or “pletna”.
Pletnas are small, flat-bottomed, traditional wooden boats that date back to the 16th century. They feature colourful awnings, hold up to 18 people and are manned by a “pletnar” who uses an unusual technique of rowing with two oars while standing. These leave for the island several times per hour, cost €15 per person and allow you around 40 minutes to explore the island.
If you prefer the freedom of going it alone, private rowboats can be rented for €15/hr (north side dock) or €20/hr (south side dock). The benefit of this is that you can take as much time as you want, can circle the island for every possible view and even explore other parts of the lake. The downside, obviously, is that you have to do the rowing yourself. Maybe you find this fun, maybe it seems like too much work for a holiday activity, who’s to say? You are allowed to tie up your boat at the small dock on the north side while you check out the island.
From the island you get new perspectives of the lake and the hills around. The big draw, though, is the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria. Entrance to the church costs €6 per person and gains you access to the iconic Wishing Bell. Legend has it that anyone ringing the bell not only honours the Virgin Mary but also receives one wish. I can’t speak to the accuracy of this but, based on the constant tolling of the bell, most people are willing to take their chances.
As one of the world’s true scenic wonders, one of your main priorities should be getting a look at Lake Bled from all the different, amazing viewpoints. Each one offering a unique perspective, angle and photo opportunity. In fact, we discovered so many excellent viewpoints that we decided to dedicate an entire post to mapping and describing them in great detail:
If you only have time for a few, though, be sure to make it up to Bled Castle, Mala Osojnica – a short climb up from the west side of the lake with close views of the island – and nearby Mala Ojstrica, which is was our personal favourite for its slightly higher, more panoramic views that include the mountains more fully.
Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP)
These can be rented from various spots around the lake for around €10/hr or €30/hr for a guided tour (minimum 4 people). You can enjoy the lake from an entirely new perspective and there is nothing quite like the serenity of quietly paddling around one of the uncrowded corners of the lake on a calm, sunny day.
In addition to the easy lake trail, Lake Bled is surrounded by nice hiking trails suitable for all ages and fitness levels. This AllTrails list gives a number of good options but you don’t necessarily have to stick to the ones mapped out. If you go into any of the hike maps you can zoom in and see dotted lines showing every trail in the area, even those that aren’t part of a specific route. We spent a couple mornings just wandering the area, following dotted lines and ending up in all sorts of interesting areas. That is even how we discovered a couple of the outstanding viewpoints in our list above.
The hike to, and through, Vintgar Gorge is one of the top activities in the area (€10/€2 adults/children). It is a gorgeous, narrow canyon with a pretty little river and dozens of great viewpoints. It is a relatively easy 1-hour walk to the canyon that can be turned into a loop, or you can drive and park right at the entrance. Try to visit either early or late in the day as the gorge gets quite busy and the narrow boardwalks can get pretty jammed up in the middle of the day.
Go for a Swim
Can you swim in Lake Bled? Well that depends on you. Is it cold? You bet. Is it beautiful and usually calm? Definitely. Obviously, how enticing it seems will depend a lot on when you visit. On a hot mid-summer day it might be the highlight of your trip. On a chilly spring day when you really just want to get in and out to have a photo to post on Instagram, you may find it a little less enjoyable. In any case, it is allowed as long as you enter from designated beach areas. The best, in our opinion, is the small sandy patch in the far western corner.
Toboggan Ride on Straza Hill
These hilarious little toboggans on rails offer a little adrenalin rush along with yet more terrific lake views all the way down (including a photo frame at the starting point). The toboggans feature a small handbrake if the speed and unsteady rails make you uncomfortable but it is not an overly frightening journey. For just €4 though, I’d say well worth it (you’ll pay another €4 if you want to ride the chair lift to the top). This is part of a larger entertainment facility that also offers a treetop obstacle course geared toward kids.
Sample the Bled Cream Cake
You should definitely make time to sample Bled cream cake, also known as kremna rezina, a famous Slovenian specialty. You can find it in almost every café and bakery around the lake but you can also go to the bakery in the Hotel Park where it originated. The cake is always served as a square piece and includes layers of puff pastry, egg custard, a layer of whipped cream that is slightly sweetened, then topped with another layer of puff pastry and some powered sugar. Mouth watering yet?
Constantly compared to its more famous neighbour, Lake Bohinj is another sublime alpine lake worth visiting if you have more than a day or two in the area. While some people prefer Bohinj for its rural feel and quieter atmosphere, it still falls slightly behind Lake Bled for sheer beauty. Of course, I highly recommend checking out both to draw your own conclusions.
Lake Bled Weather
As with most of Europe, Bled enjoys warm summers and cool winters, both of which are somewhat tempered by its general proximity to the sea. Lake Bled does not get a lot of rain compared to coastal cities in the region, and the amount doesn’t really change that much throughout the year. January is the driest, with just 50mm, and November the wettest, with roughly 120mm. From May to September daily highs average 20C+ while it rarely drops below 10C at night. The shoulder seasons are still pleasant, with average highs and lows of 16/8 in October and 14/6 in April. The coldest month is January at 4/-1. While not a particularly windy destination, there is especially little wind between June and October.
When to Visit Lake Bled
Summer (Jun-Aug) is hot, festive and offers the most hours of daylight. Swimming is very popular, the night life is hopping (for Bled, it isn’t exactly a party destination) and you can enjoy the views until late in the evening. Of course, the lake will also be at its most crowded, accommodation prices will be higher than normal and you may have to reserve tables ahead at the best restaurants.
If you have the choice, we recommend visiting in the shoulder seasons. This applies to most places we’ve travelled and Slovenia is no exception. The weather in Lake Bled is still pleasant in April-May and October-November but you won’t have to fight through the crowds or worry about hotel vacancies or restaurant queues. Most accommodation is discounted and you will have more options to choose from. In spring, the flowers and trees will be in full bloom, while the fall foliage can be spectacular.
Then there’s winter, which isn’t for everyone but does provide a completely different experience, with different activities and extremely different views.
Lake Bled in Winter
We haven’t actually visited in winter but from what we’ve read and the photos we’ve seen it looks pretty magnificent. Sure, you won’t be doing any swimming and maybe those ice cream strolls along the lake are going to be less inviting, but throw a photogenic layer of snow on top of everything else Bled has going for it and landscapes don’t get much more impressive than this. Not to mention, all the benefits of shoulder season to the extreme – no crowds and much lower prices. Sledding, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are also appealing activities only available in winter. And you can sometimes go ice skating on Lake Bled when it freezes.
How to Avoid the Crowds on Lake Bled
As we’ve discussed, the season you choose will have the most impact on your ability to avoid the vacation crowds. But even in the heart of summer there are ways to get the best spots a little bit to yourself if you follow these travel tips.
First off, stay the night. We’ve already suggested that even a week wouldn’t be too long for a visit to Lake Bled, but even if that isn’t feasible definitely try to spend at least one night. There are a lot of group day tours that come to the lake during the day – staying the night lets you enjoy the morning and evenings when the crowds have really thinned out.
Pick your spots wisely. Even though you won’t want to pass up the best parts of the day just because there are more people around, you can plan to see the less popular spots when the crowds are busiest. Then plan your visits to Bled Island, Bled Castle, Vintgar Gorge and the hugely popular Mala Osojnica viewpoint either very early or very late.
How to Visit Lake Bled on a Day Trip
Driving is the easiest way, of course, as Lake Bled is located just 55 km from the capital, Ljubljana. Driving in Slovenia is a breeze and there is plenty of parking just outside the main lakeside areas.
There are also comfortable Arriva buses that travel hourly between the lake and Ljubljana, cost €6 and take about an hour and 20 minutes.
From the other direction, it is just 85 km but still a 1.5 hr drive from Bovec, home of the beautiful Soca Valley. Public transport to/from this area is rather complicated.
The final option is to take a day tour. There are day tour trips from Ljubljana that include Lake Bled, the Castle and Postojna Cave.
Where to Stay on Lake Bled
There is a great selection of Lake Bled hotels and apartments. Although the best ones do book up, if you plan early enough you should be able to find good choices in every price range. Here are a few excellent options:
Grand Hotel Toplice is a high-end option right in town with amazing views over the lake and the alps. It has all the amenities including pool, spa and restaurants.
Adora Luxury Hotel is a beautiful place with a commanding location overlooking Bled Island.
Old Bled House is a wonderful, traditional spot located right in the heart of Bled town.
Meanwhile, Vila Alpina is a terrific budget choice on the western side of the lake.
Another budget option just a 10-minute walk to the lake is Rudi Hiti’s Guest House. The location ensures peace and tranquility, especially in the garden. It also has free bikes to make your visit to Vintgar Gorge very easy.
Where to Eat on Lake Bled
Old Cellar Bled specializes in fine wines and is one of the most popular restaurants in town.
Pizzeria Rustika is the place to go for outstanding, affordable pies. You can eat at one of the outside tables or get takeaway.
The Park Café has an amazing location right on the lake overlooking the castle and is a particularly good place for breakfast.
You can’t really beat the atmosphere of the Bled Castle Restaurant, a great way to enhance your visit to this iconic Bled landmark.
Grajska Plaza is a relatively hidden gem just off the lake trail on the north side of the lake. Everyone raves about it (including us).
Or just get your meal from one of the many bakeries and have a picnic.
Cost of Lake Bled
Slovenia is a much more affordable destination than many of the more established tourist hotspots nearby in Italy, Austria and Croatia. Like anywhere in Europe, there are plenty of extravagant alternatives if money is no object. Luxury hotels and fine dining are certainly available. However, it is also quite easy to visit Lake Bled on a budget as well. In the shoulder and off-seasons it is quite possible to find hotels and apartments in the €30-50 range. If you stick to simple meals and pizzas and the like you can generally eat for €10 per person or less and beer and house wines are usually only a couple euro each. You can reduce costs even further by renting an apartment and eating some of your meals in. While certain attractions such as Bled Castle, Bled Island and Vintgar Gorge charge entrance fees, you should be able to experience all of these things without spending more than €50 per person. All in all, Lake Bled is a much cheaper destination than most comparable places around Europe.
Majestic Lake Bled had been on our bucket list for a long time before we finally made it there, yet it still managed to exceed our high expectations. With phenomenal scenery, a relaxed atmosphere, affordable attractions and a long list of activities, it ranks right up there among our very favourite European destinations. Spending a week there it felt like we were only scratching the surface of everything the area has to offer and we are already working on when we can return for a long-term stay. But whether you have all summer or just a few hours, unbelievable Lake Bled should not be missed.
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