This is a great route for travelers visiting Slovenia for the first time. You'll experience the main highlights, starting from Lake Bled and through the Julian Alps, with a stop in Croatian Istria and the beautiful Plitvice Lakes National Park, before you explore the Slovenian capital. Self-driving tours are best suited for those seeking a little adventure and who like exploring on their own, getting off the main routes and highways.

Highlights

  • See the limestone mountains of the central Julian Alps
  • Spoil yourself in Goriska Brda and taste some of Slovenia's best wines
  • Experience the charms of the Istrian Peninsula
  • Visit the sparkling lakes in Plitvice Lakes National Park
  • Take a stroll on the banks of Ljubljanica River

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Ljubljana, Drive to Lake Bled Bled
Day 2 Full day at Lake Bled Bled
Day 3 Explore Lake Bohinj (Day trip from Lake Bled) Bled
Day 4 Drive from Lake Bled to Bovec Bovec
Day 5 Explore the outdoor oasis of Bovec Bovec
Day 6 Drive from Bovec to Goriška Brda Wine Region Goriška Brda
Day 7 Goriska Brda Wine Region & Knežak Postojna
Day 8 Drive from Goriska Brda to Rovinj Rovinj
Day 9 Full day in Istria Rovinj
Day 10 Rovinj to Plitvice Lakes National Park via Opatija Plitvice Lakes
Day 11 Sunrise at Plitvice Lakes, Drive to Zagreb Zagreb
Day 12 Drive from Zagreb to Ljubljana Ljubljana
Day 13 Full Day in Ljubljana Ljubljana
Day 14 Depart Ljubljana  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Ljubljana, Drive to Lake Bled

The island at the center of Lake Bled

Welcome to Slovenia!

Upon arrival at Ljubljana's Jože Pučnik International Airport, you'll pick up your rental car and drive to Lake Bled (30 minutes away). 

Located in the foothills of the Julian Alps, this postcard-perfect lake and its island are one of Slovenia's main attractions.

Touring Bled Castle and visiting the island are two of the most popular activities in the area. Bled is also a great place for outdoor sports, like hiking and biking through the surrounding mountains to see forests, gorges, and old villages. 

Have a stroll around the lake, and make sure to visit a local cafe and try a traditional Bled cream cake.

You can also visit the nearby town of Radovljica, meet a local bee-keeper, or walk through the nearby Vintgar Gorge.

Day 2: Full day at Lake Bled

Famous church in the middle of Lake Bled with "Bled Castle" perched in the background

Climb up to Bled Castle and tour its smithy, wine cellar, and printing press, then head to the castle restaurant for a delicious traditional meal. 

Here are some other suggestions:

  • Choose between a plethora of shorter hikes through gorges (like nearby Vintgar Gorge) or to scenic viewpoints. 
  • Rent a bike and explore roads that will take you through scenic Slovenian countryside.  
  • Rent a stand-up paddleboard or a rowboat and sail to the island, or simply board one of the traditional Pletna boats and let the oarsman take you.
  • Visit a local beekeeper and learn about beekeeping tradition.
  • Go fly fishing.
  • Go summer tobogganing.
  • Drive to nearby Radovljica, which has one of the best-preserved town squares in Slovenia.   

Day 3: Explore Lake Bohinj (Day trip from Lake Bled)

Lake Bohinj
Lake Bohinj's clear waters

Bohinj is located in the Triglav National Park, only 30 minutes from Bled (by car). What makes Bohinj different from Bled is its pure, unspoiled nature. The main highlight of the area the glacial Lake Bohinj. There are several easy, scenic walks to nearby viewpoints nearby that take you through gorges and past beautiful waterfalls. 

Some other suggestions include: 

  • Take the cable car to Mount Vogel, where you'll get beautiful views of the lake and its surroundings. 
  • For a truly spectacular experience, go paragliding on Mount Vogel.
  • Rent a bike and explore the nearby alpine villages. There are several mountain biking tour options that you can do on your own or with a guide.
  • Rent a canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard and paddle on the smooth waters of the lake. 
  • Go on a horseback riding tour.

Return to Bled in the afternoon.

Driving time: 1 hour (both ways)  
Driving distance: 31 miles (50 km)

Day 4: Drive from Lake Bled to Bovec

The limestone mountains of the Julian Alps

After breakfast, you'll check out of your hotel and get back on the road. Drive across Vršič Pass, Slovenia's highest mountain pass located in the Julian Alps. Admire the limestone mountains as you make your way up the road. You'll have the option to make several detours and short hikes of varying lengths, including one with a dark past—it was built by Russian war prisoners. 

After your hike, stop for a coffee and a traditional Slovenian lunch at a cozy mountain hut with great views. Then, continue your drive to the Soča Valley and explore its hidden gems, including WWI forts, river gorges, and the mountain town of Bovec, where you'll spend the night. Once you've settled in, be sure to grab a drink at one of the town's many microbreweries.

Driving time: 2 hours
Driving distance: 53 miles (85km)

Day 5: Explore the outdoor oasis of Bovec

The turquoise waters of the Soča River 

Enjoy a full day exploring Bovec and its surroundings. Bovec is the starting point for most adventure sports in the area, including river rafting on the Soča River's famous blue-green waters. There are several hikes to conquer, some with detours to waterfalls and gorges.

Here are some suggestions on what to do:

  • Go hiking on your own or with a guide and explore the hidden gems of the Soča Valley
  • Rent a bike or book a biking tour. There are several dedicated biking routes on designated roads and paths.
  • Go whitewater rafting or kayaking. Soča is the most popular and exciting river for white water rafting in Slovenia.
  • Go canyoning, slide down waterfalls and swim in natural pools. 
  • Zoom down a zip-line.
  • If you're a foodie, book a table at House Franko—home of Ana Ros, named world's best female chef 2017.
  • Rent a car and drive to Kobarid, where you can visit the Italian Charnel House, a WWI museum, and a stunning waterfall all in one day.

Day 6: Drive from Bovec to Goriška Brda Wine Region

A village in the rolling wine hills of Goriška Brda

After breakfast in Bovec, you'll have the chance to see more of the Soča River as you drive south. Raft or swim in spectacular pools and walk along the Soča, which is also called the "Emerald River" for its colorful hue. Then, drive south to the town of Kobarid to learn about the town's WWI history, immortalized in Hemingway's novel A Farewell to Arms. 

Then, the steep mountains of the alps will give way to rolling hills as you enter Goriška Brda, Slovenia's wine region. Dotted with family vineyard estates, tiny churches, and cypress trees, you'll see why the region is sometimes called the "Slovenian Tuscany."

After arriving at Brda, relax and have a lovely dinner. 

Driving time: 1.5 hours
Driving distance: 45 miles (72 km)

Day 7: Goriška Brda Wine Region & Knezak

The wine hills of Goriška Brda seen from above

Spend the morning in Goriska Brda where quiet roads wind through gorgeous vineyards and fruit plantations and past peaceful villages. There are several hiking and cycling options in the area as well. In the afternoon, drive to the village of Knezak before checking-in at a local tourist farm close to Postojna.

Day 8: Drive from Goriška Brda to Rovinj

A pink sunset over Rovinj

After breakfast, visit the Slovenian Karst region and the Adriatic Coast, and head underground into the limestone Škocjan Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Boardwalks will lead you through the specialized ecosystem of one of the world's largest known underground caverns. It's believed that humans have been visiting the caves since the Iron Age. 

In the afternoon, continue driving towards the Adriatic Coast, cross the border into Croatia and check in to your hotel in Rovinj. Though Rovinj remains an active fishing port today, it wasn't until 1763 that it became a part of the mainland. As such, its restricted access created in the narrow cobblestoned streets you see today. Here are some options for what to see: 

  • Explore the town and climb up the tower of Saint Euphemia's Church and enjoy the view.
  • Discover the Bronze Age ruins of Monkodonjo outside of the city.
  • Sample some of the seafood the city is known for in the tavernas of Old Town.
  • Stop for sundown at La Puntulina.

Driving time: 3,5 hours
Driving distance: 115 miles (185 km)

Day 9: Full day in Istria

Oprtalj
Oprtalj

Drive through the Istrian Peninsula—often referred to as "Terra Magica" (magical land), and explore a region full of vineyards, olive groves, stunning coastlines, and hilltop towns.

Here are a few suggestions to see in the area:

  • Explore inland and visit Grožnjan (Grisignana), an Istrian medieval hilltop town known for its artists, and Motovun (Montona), an ancient little town located atop a 909-foot hill. 
  • Visit Pula’s 2nd-century amphitheater and its underground museum, or take in an evening concert from the stone stadium seats.
  • Hop on a water shuttle to see the artifacts on Briunji, Tito’s private resort island.
  • See intricate mosaics on Poreč’s Euphrasius Basilica, another of Croatia’s seven UNESCO World Heritage sites.
  • Drive to tiny Beram and go to St. Mary of the Rock, deep in the woods. The vibrant “Dance of the Dead” fresco inside is still alive with color.
  • Pick up a map showing Istria’s wine and olive oil routes and spend a day (or two or three) tasting and even picking a few grapes and olives.

Day 10: Rovinj to Plitvice Lakes National Park via Opatija

Stroll along the Lungomare in Opatija
Stroll along the Lungomare in Opatija

This morning, you'll drive to Opatija before continuing on to Plitvice Lakes National Park, one of Croatia's most popular national parks.

Start by heading northeast across the Istrian Peninsula to the coastal town of Opatija. Opatija has been a popular tourist destination since the 19th century and is known for its Mediterranean climate and historic Habsburg-era buildings. Stroll along the famous Lungomare, a promenade that follows the Adriatic coastline and stop for a drink at one of the many bars that overlook the Kvarner Gulf. 

Next, continue east to Plitvice Lakes National Park, which you'll reach in the afternoon. This UNESCO-protected park is made up of an exquisite collection of 16 glassy emerald green and blue travertine lakes, more than 90 cascading waterfalls that seemingly cover every corner of the park, and numerous caves. The terraced lakes are surrounded by beech and pine forests and are home to extensive wildlife. 

Here, you can request a private, expert local guide to lead you through the park. They will take you over wooden paths and bridges and explain the park's history and ecosystem. After your tour, you will have free time to continue exploring or have dinner. You can also pack dinner for a picnic in the park. 


Driving time (Rovinj to Opatija): 1.5 hours 
Driving time (Opatija to Plitvice): 2.5 hours

Day 11: Sunrise at Plitvice Lakes, Drive to Zagreb

Plitvice Lakes National Park at dawn
Plitvice Lakes National Park at dawn

Early morning is one of the best times to visit Plitvice Lakes. You can explore the park on your own or request a local guide, who will take you on a number of routes through the park. After enjoying a leisurely morning in Plitvice continue on your way north to Croatia's capital, Zagreb.

Zagreb is a true European gem and feels at once historic and new. It's filled with leafy green parks and gothic/neo-renaissance buildings, and there are also modern shopping complexes, outdoor malls, and endless dining and drinking options. The city center is easily walkable and the streets and parks are easy to navigate by foot. All the main attractions and restaurants are within walking distance.

Start with a guided walking tour of the historic heart of the city, which takes you from the main square to Zagreb's Upper Town and through local markets, before reaching St. Mark's Square.

You can also visit one of the city's many museums and art galleries, like the Homeland War Museum, the Nikola Tesla Technical Museum, or the ever-popular Museum of Broken Hearts. Another option is to take a stroll through the city center, to enjoy the 17th-century neo-baroque architecture of Zagreb's Art Pavilion and Croatian National Theater.

Zagreb also has a number of beautiful city parks which are great for exploring and people watching, especially in the late afternoon. Maksimir is a great option, with a variety of cafés nearby to pick up a coffee for your stroll.

Driving time: 2 hours

Day 12: Drive from Zagreb to Ljubljana

Charming riverside scenery in Ljubljana
Charming riverside scenery in Ljubljana

This morning you will drive two hours west back through Slovenia to Ljubljana. Check into your hotel before taking the rest of the day to explore Slovenia's lively capital. 

Stroll down the main street along the banks of the Ljubljanica River and visit the many small boutiques, outdoor cafés, and wine bar terraces you'll see along the way. A classic European castle, parks, and churches are dotted through the city. The Central Market is also a great place to sample local cuisine at its many stalls. Make your way around town by foot or by bicycle, and breathe in the fresh air of one of the continent's greenest cities. 

You'll also see modern architect Jože Plečnik's many buildings around the city, including the National Library, Central Market, Triple Bridge, and Plečnik's own home-turned-museum.

Driving time (Zagreb to Ljubljana): 2 hours

Day 13: Full Day in Ljubljana

On the banks of the Ljubljanica River 

Take a full day to explore Slovenia's lively capital. You can walk around on your own and visit the castle and Tivoli Park. Or, choose a guided walking tour to explore the city by bike, or have a food expert introduce you to the city's culinary scene.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Stroll along the riverbanks of the Ljubljanica River on your own or with a local guide.
  • Check out Metelkova Mesto, the capital of alternative culture. Every year Metelkova Mesto hosts more than 1,500 alternative events and is considered to be one of the most successful urban squats in Europe.
  • On the way to Metelkova, stop by the Ethnographical Museum and learn about Slovenian culture.
  • Book a bike trip around Ljubljana to see some interesting parts of the city that you would otherwise miss. 
  • Meet a local food expert and try local specialties.
  • Rent a canoe or a stand-up paddleboard and paddle on the Ljubljanica River. You can also paddle upstream, as the river is very slow.
  • Have a walk in Tivoli Park, Ljubljana's largest green space, and a great place to get away from the busy streets. If you have the energy, you can walk all the way to Roznik Hill.

Day 14: Depart Ljubljana

The riverfront promenade
The riverfront promenade

Depending on your departure time, you may have time to visit a local museum or enjoy an ice cream on the riverbank before it's time to go to the airport for your flight home.
 
Driving time: (Ljubljana to the airport) 30 minutes

Map

Map of Self-Drive Highlights of Slovenia & Istria - 14 Days
Map of Self-Drive Highlights of Slovenia & Istria - 14 Days