Lake Bled is a dream.
It’s one of those destinations that you see in a photograph and immediately bump to the top of your bucket list. You may not know what there is to do there or how difficult it is to get there, you just know that after seeing images of this magical place, you must go.
When we planned our month-long itinerary, which was heavily anchored in our time in Croatia, we knew we could easily wrap in Slovenia, a place that had intrigued us for years. Slovenia is a relatively small country, making it easy to explore by car for those that want to delve into its varied landscape. We rented our car in Split with Sixt Car Rental (our international go-to), and took it up through Croatia and across the border in Slovenia. For those curious, the border crossing is a breeze – you don’t even have to get out of your car to handle immigrations. We dedicated four nights to Slovenia, with two nights in the capital (where we did an awesome food tour through Ljubljana), plus two nights on serene Lake Bled, a striking lake scene in the Julian Alps.
Exploring Lake Bled + Bled Island
Through zero strategic efforts on our end, our visit ended up being perfectly timed. We had dealt with two chilly, rainy days in Ljubljana but weather reports were showing sunny days at the lake, which was our biggest hope. Earlier in the month, the alps had received a dusting of snow much earlier than expected, which left us with the most incredible scene: the sparkling lake, 70 degree weather, vibrant greenery, and snow-capped mountains on the periphery. In that moment, it felt like we’d fallen into a fairytale. After our stressful weeks dealing with Hurricane Irma in Anguilla, we needed a place of pure serenity to allow minds to quiet a bit, and Lake Bled fit the bill.
Bled Island is the draw for many. While the lake is naturally beautiful, it’s made a thousand times more spectacular with Bled Island sitting idyllically in the middle, garnished with a picture-perfect church that visitors to the lake can visit. You’ll read mixed reports on this, with many budget-travelers saying that it’s not worth the trek. You’re in the cost of the boat trip (€14 round trip), plus the cost of entry once you’re on the island (€6). To be fair, one of the prettiest things about exploring Lake Bled is the view of the island. When you’re on the island, it’s a different vantage point. But seriously, if you’ve made it to Lake Bled, can you really miss going to the island? Unless the €20 is going to truly change the scope of your trip, spend the money to enjoy a ride along the lake and a visit to this magical little slice of land.
To reach Bled Island, row-boat rentals are available on an hourly basis but unless you’re particularly adept with rowing, you’ll probably opt for the shared wooden boat experience aboard a pletna, a traditional boat native to Bled waters. Boats depart from a variety of points along the lake, with return service from the island taking place in regular intervals, around every thirty minutes or so. You don’t necessarily have to return on the boat you depart with. You’ll pay the requisite €14 fee and receive a ticket, which entitles you to the roundtrip service.
Our boat ride out to the island ended up being a private expedition; just Scott, myself, and our rower, a third generation rower whose family has called Bled home for centuries. Our guide explained to us that all rowers on Lake Bled have to be from Bled. Not just from Slovenia broadly, but from Bled specifically, which keeps this tradition alive for many families during the area’s peak season. Our return ride took place aboard a power boat, which dropped us off at a different point along the lake so we could walk home along the waterfront. To be honest, the roundtrip fare is almost worth it just to spend some time bobbing along the lake and taking in the scenery. We spent 20 minutes or more cruising gently along the water, and it felt like we were dropped into a storybook with the picturesque background, and Bled Castle perched perfectly on the rocky face on the lake’s perimeter.
Then there’s the island itself, a tiny little mound dropped into the middle of the lake, with an idyllic church as the focal point. The Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary is the island’s main attraction. In its current form, the church dates back to the 1600s, but a church has existed on this site since the 9th century. If you’re visiting, ringing the bell to send your wishes to heaven is practically a rite of passage for travelers to the island. We visited in the morning, between 9 and 10AM, and while the island had many visitors already, it wasn’t overrun. While we were in the church, it was just us and another couple.
There’s also a clock tower on the island which is worth visiting, especially if you time it correctly (no pun intended). The clock tower is affiliated with the church, and requires a walk up a number of flights, with each landing area displaying some insight about how the practice of measuring time has evolved. When you reach the top, you’ll get to watch the clock and pendulums at work when the clock chimes throughout the day (honestly, cooler than I’m making it sound). Plus, views from a tower never hurt, right?
Allocate about an hour to the island in total, which provides leisure time to peruse their gift store, which is pretty well stocked with local handicrafts and gifts.
Where to Stay on Lake Bled
We’re boutique hotel lovers, and especially in quaint picturesque places like Lake Bled find that smaller hotels better capture the spirit of the destination. We opted to stay at Vila Istra, a small property perfectly located at the edge of the lake. Our experience was mixed; not nearly as friendly and personal as we would have hoped and the room itself left a bit to be desired, but the location was excellent, and we appreciated being at a smaller property. Surprisingly, there are many large hotels on Lake Bled (75+ rooms), largely clustered together. While many have great feedback and a wealth of amenities available on site, they lack a bit of charm. For smaller options, friends of ours highly recommended Vila Bled, which was the former summer residence of Tito, and others spoke highly of their experience at Hotel Penzion Berc, whose dining is famous in the area. If you’re able, it’s worth splurging on a room with a view – it’s a destination that’s worth it!
Up next, I’ll be sharing 5 things to do on Lake Bled for those curious about how to plan their itinerary for a few days on the lake!
Is Lake Bled on anyone else’s bucket list?