Slovenia Road Trip Part II

The first part of my Slovenia road trip took me from Lake Bled to the town of Bovec in the Soca River Valley where I was staying the night. Definitely check out that post because it was probably my favorite part of my time in Slovenia. Driving along the Sava River in the sunrise, Zelenci Springs, Lake Jasna, the drive through the Julian Alps, and the Soca River gorges were breathtaking! If you’re just scrolling through the post and checking out the pics you might think that Part I was maybe a day’s drive or even two days worth of photos given how beautiful and distinct they are.  Actually, they were from about four or five hours maximum…

Slovenia is a relatively small country and easy to get around. That is one of the reasons I chose it for the week’s time that I had. The drive from Lake Bled to Bovec is only 1 hour and 45 minutes on Google Maps. My initial plan that day was to go first to Lake Bohinj near Lake Bled for the morning and then make the drive to end the day in Bovec. I decided to skip Lake Bohinj and start the drive to Bovec early in the morning and I made really good time. I certainly could have spent more time at Lake Jasna (if it had been closer to lunch it would have been the perfect place for a picnic), stopped more along the drive through the Julian Alps, and spending more time walking and hiking at stops along the stunning Soca River. But I still feel I got to experience all those sights.

Arriving in Bovec in the early afternoon I didn’t want to waste the extra time so I kept driving and saw sights past Bovec. These were supposed to be on my itinerary the next day on my way to Piran. The stops detailed below are from both that afternoon and the next day. This would have been close to my original itinerary for the Bovec to Piran drive if I hadn’t gotten to Bovec so quickly. I am putting them in order of proximity to Bovec rather than the actual order I did them. Stops #1-#4 are easy to do from Bovec as a home base and return while Stops #5 and #6 are longer drives that were perfect for me on my way to Piran (or maybe on the way to Postojna Cave or a roundabout way back to Ljubliana from Bovec for others).

Stop #1: Slap Virje

“Slap” means waterfall in Slovenian. It’s one of three waterfalls I had identified around Bovec along with Slap Boka and Slap Kozjak. Of the three Slap Kozjak probably caught my attention the most because it’s framed by giant slabs of rocks almost like a small grotto. My research told me it was a half-hour hike to get there though and I was picking a waterfall as it was getting closer to sunset and after a long day of driving and hiking. I do think Slap Kozjak is probably the thing I had the most FOMO about though once my trip was over. Slap Boka looked more like a large traditional waterfall (less distinct from others) and I heard its appearance can change drastically depending on the water levels (this was August at the time). I chose Slap Virje because it was close to Bovec, a short hike from the parking lot, and looked more enticing than Slap Boka for its pool of water and being able to get up close.

Slap Virje is about a 10-minute drive from Bovec. You will hit a small village called Plužna and then it’s a narrow one-lane road from the village to the parking lot. I luckily did not encounter any cars in the opposite direction when I arrived or left since it was the late afternoon, but that’s something to be cautious of. The parking lot probably could fit 20-25 cars and was about half full in the late afternoon (so it might fill up earlier in the day and when it’s busier in the mid-summer). Parking I believe was 5 Euros and I think the machine might have only taken cash.

From the parking lot it is a five-minute walk downhill to the waterfall. It starts flat and there were some beautiful trees that arched over the path, especially in the afternoon sun. It’s a reasonably smooth path (not paved though) and not too steep in the middle but you do get a bit of a decline down. That’s noteworthy just that you’ll have to go up on the way back but I’d say the walk is doable for anyone that doesn’t have mobility issues or tire from a slightly strenuous hike (for the incline back up and not the distance). It’s similar to walking up a flight of steps.

Slap Virje is a relatively small and light waterfall that falls along a wall of mossy rocks. It empties into a large pool of water that makes the overall effect very beautiful. It was pretty quiet and relaxing to stand and watch with the water sound. Given it’s so close to Bovec and a quick hike from the parking lot I would recommend this as a stop in the Soca Valley. If you have the time I think I would recommend Slap Kozjak first though from the pictures I saw (again one of the things I had more FOMO about after my trip).

Note: This was one time that Google Maps steered me wrong on my drive in Slovenia. I was coming from the southwest of Bovec and it tried to send me through a golf course. Looking at Google Maps it does look like there is a road there but it’s a private road through the golf course and clearly marked as such. Instead, I needed to return to Bovec and then take a road from there. If you’re in Bovec Google Maps should direct you this correct way. Coming from the south or west it might do what it did to me. In general, I advise checking directions to stick to main roads and make sure Google Maps isn’t sending you a weird way to “save” a minute.

Slap Virje
Slap Virje
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The path from the parking lot to the waterfall. Beautiful trees arching over the path. Slight decline shown here but it got much steeper beyond this.

Stop #2: Napoleon Bridge “A”

I shared in my previous posts that some of my itineraries on my trips come from following the tourist bureaus of a country/city on Instagram and seeing what sights catch my eye. The Napoleon Bridge outside of Kobarid was one of those. I am a sucker for bridges, especially a historic one over a steep gorge and a river as distinctly colorful as the Soca. It’s named for being a bridge Napoleon’s troops crossed although that exact bridge was destroyed in World War I. I am calling it Napoleon Bridge “A” because there are actually more than one Napoleon Bridge in the area (not surprisingly Napoleon’s troops had to cross a lot of bridges during his wars).

You’ll exit the main road in Kobarid and go through a little industrial area. The best parking is after you cross the bridge and go just to the left (on Google Maps here). This lot is also the parking for the hike to Slap Kozjak mentioned above. There was no cost to park but I could see this parking lot filling up midday in the summer. I did see this parking lot further down the river as an alternative if you don’t mind the extra walk back to the bridge.

Several people and bicyclists were hanging out on the bridge when I visited the first time in the afternoon. The bridge forms an H with two roads on each side of the gorge. I found the best views were from the southwest or northeast corners. There are a few spots where the road curves to get more of a direct view/shot of the bridge over the river. It was beautiful in the sun but given the bicyclists and pedestrians, I didn’t get as perfect of a shot (ie. without people) as I was hoping for. The next morning I went back early for a quick photo stop. It was quite foggy that morning but that ended up being a great effect in the photo.

Napoleon Bridge
Napoleon Bridge
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Napoleon Bridge in the morning fog

Stop # 3: Kobarid

You will drive through Kobarid if you’re visiting the Napoleon Bridge, Slap Kozjak, or driving from Bovec to sights south or east. However, you’ll see more of an industrial and modern area of Kobarid. I would recommend a quick 1-2 minute detour to the west when you hit Kobarid to see more of the historic town. I ended up going west to see the second Napoleon Bridge (what I below am calling “B”) and loved driving through the valley beyond Kobarid with beautiful farms and trees. The town itself also caught my attention for the historical buildings. On the way back I stopped in Kobarid to walk back and take a picture of the road framed in tall trees, as well as the church. Reviewing the map I do wish I had walked around the town a bit more because it’s very compact and I imagine there were some hidden gems I could have found. I parked in the lot here. I cannot remember if you have to pay for parking because I stopped for just a few minutes to take some pictures.

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The church in Kobarid
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Dense line of trees along the road right as you left Kobarid that I was absolutely enchanted by
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More beautiful trees and farmland further outside Kobarid on the road to Italy

Stop #4: Napoleon Bridge “B”

As I mentioned above Napoleon’s armies not surprisingly crossed a lot of bridges in its day. So there are actually two Napoleon Bridges just in the area. “B” was another find on the Slovenia tourist bureau Instagram. This is also a beautiful bridge but it was a bit more of a mission to get there.

It’s about 20 minutes from Kobarid so a 40-minute round trip detour since it’s not really along the way to anything else on my list (or where I would imagine most people are going either). You also first climb high up into the hills from Kobarid in the valley floor before descending again. I definitely needed to do some backtracking when I missed a turn or two, plus you’re going down some narrow roads through little villages (not helped by construction when I was there). There were times myself and a driver coming in the opposite direction had to be very careful creeping around each other. The elevation and narrow roads definitely had me alert for a lot of the time (also being in a rental car in a foreign country), but it also was an interesting experience and I saw some villages and views I wouldn’t have otherwise. I just would prepare for the elevation and narrow roads if you’re making the drive.

As you get back down to the valley floor and get closer to the bridge the road becomes wooded. There is a small gravel parking lot near the bridge. It was full when I got there but there was enough space to park on the side of the road. The bridge itself is not for cars and quite narrow. The river below (the Nadiža) is quite calm so there were a lot of people swimming around and underneath the bridge. It was super calm and serene so I wish I had brought my swim trunks.

Would I recommend this as a stop? I enjoyed it and found it very beautiful (plus appreciated the drive even though it put my nerves on high alert). If you’re tight on time I would say no. Also if you don’t plan to spend some time swimming and relaxing (again maybe another perfect place for a picnic lunch) then I would maybe deprioritize it. If you are a big photography person and/or enjoy sort of exploring off the beaten path (which the drive would also definitely be) then it could be worth adding to your list.

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Napoleon Bridge and the Nadiža River
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Napoleon Bridge viewed from the other side
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The Nadiža River
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Looking down onto the valley after the elevation climb along the drive

Stop #5: Tolmin Gorges

Of all the stops mentioned in this post, Tolmin Gorges was my favorite. It was another example of Slovenia’s breathtaking beauty and something I think you will be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

This was my first stop on my second day in the Soca River Valley (on my way to Piran) and I’m so glad I went first thing in the morning. I was there a few minutes before it even opened and it meant I was basically there by myself. There was what looked to be a family of three ahead of me but they outpaced me to where they weren’t really in my line of sight the rest of the time. Then there were two women that I crossed paths within the middle of my visit. But other than that I was entirely alone and the quiet and calm made the stunning beauty even more amazing! It was quite a contrast from the hundreds of people at the Vintgar Gorge near Lake Bled (post coming soon on that). That aspect of the experience made it one of my favorite memories.

You enter the park at a gate and ticket booth right near Parking Lot P1 (located here). This parking lot is a paid lot with a machine (I can’t remember if it was just cash or also card). There’s probably space for 40-45 cars. Along the drive to Tolmin, you will see electronic signs saying if it is full or not. The alternative lot (located here) is free and has a shuttle to the park. You’ll hit this alternative lot first coming from the town of Tolmin. The park employee in the ticket booth was so friendly. When she learned I was making the drive afterward to Piran she gave so many recommendations for different routes to take and sights along the way. The entrance fee ranges from 5 to 8 Euros depending on the season as of the time of posting this blog. You can buy tickets online here ahead of time if you would like (I did not).

The park is well laid out that you basically go in a rough loop in numbered ordered with only a little backtracking in parts. There is a moderate-to-high number of steps throughout and some other inclines. The first part of the park is oriented around the river itself and visiting several observation platforms along the river, from above, and then going through the Gorge itself. You then follow one of the tributaries and see some waterfalls. Finally, you end by climbing up to a hillside road where there is a cave before you wind down back to the parking lot/entrance. The river and the Gorge were my favorite parts followed by the hillside road with beautiful views from up high (some partial views of the river but primarily the mountains and forest). The waterfalls were also beautiful. The cave is rumored to have been visited by the poet Dante. It’s listed as a stop on the route and you can walk inside but it’s quite dark and rocky. I ventured in just a few feet. There’s really nothing to stop you from going further if you have the right equipment but the tourist website does mention you need a guide.

As you’ll see in the pics below Tolmin Gorges is stunningly beautiful and I absolutely recommend a stop. I loved having it pretty much to myself in the morning and would highly recommend going early for the peace and quiet (although I’m not sure if it’s usually relatively uncrowded).

There are two other sights in the area you might consider (and you might find even more if you’re spending more time in the area and doing further research). One is Tolmin Castle. I didn’t find this in my research ahead of time but absolutely noticed the fortress high on a hill overlooking Tolmin. The castle is primarily ruins but some of it has been restored. There is no road up the hill itself and you park at the base and have to hike up. It’s a 30-minute hike according to the website. Since I came across it just from wanting to know more about this fortress on a hill I decided not to hike up when I didn’t find parking. The website shows parking on the southwest side of the hill that I must have missed. The other site I only know of from going back to Tolmin Gorges’ website to link here. It mentions a possible joint ticket for the Gorges and Javorca- The Memorial Church of the Holy Spirit. The church was built in memory of Austro-Hungarian soldiers killed in World War I. Throughout my drive through the Soca River Valley I often saw buildings, especially churches, off in the distance and would sometime try to find more info about it by looking in its general direction on Google Maps when I next stopped. This is how I found info on the Tolmin Castle. I am pretty sure I saw Javorca from afar and wondered about it looking at pictures now. Potentially something I would have added to my list if I had extra time and had known about it before.

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The walk along the Tolminka River
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Looking up the river towards the Gorges
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The color of the water in the Soca River Valley (even though this is the Tolminska River specifically) continued to be breathtaking
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The main gorge after you walked through a rock tunnel
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The view from the hillside road and bridge looking down on the river

Miscellaneous Soca River Valley Pics

The one “frustration” I had during my time in the Soca River Valley was that I never seemed to be able to capture pictures that showed the beauty of the general valley. Either I wasn’t able to safely stop for views along my drive or the pictures fell flat, especially in capturing the proportions of the mountains, farmland, hills, etc. I really wish I had a dashcam to show the views I had out the windshield because there was so much I wish I captured from the tiny villages to the wide farmland at the base of towering mountains to some narrow roads in the hills. Hopefully, some of the pictures below capture a bit of the varied terrain of the valley.

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Stop #5: Kanal ob Soci

Kanal ob Soci is still in the Soca River Valley and could be part of a trip from and back to Bovec as a home base for the Soca River Valley. Kanal ob Soci is about a 50-minute drive from Bovec. It might make the most sense though to stop on your drive out of Bovec (whether that is to Piran, the Postojna Cave, Ljubliana, etc.). I had seen the town again on the Slovenia Instagram. I am glad I knew of it ahead of time otherwise I would have gotten very distracted while driving if I surprisingly came upon it. You approach the town on the other side of the river so you get pretty close to seeing the shot below just from the highway. Even getting close on the GPS and expecting the town I still had trouble not diverting my attention away from the road.

The best views (shown below) are from across the river from the town center and below the highway. There was a small parking lot near this viewpoint but it’s not easily visible until right before you hit it. There’s also a restaurant there and I am unsure if the parking lot is really for that (I think I remember seeing signs for private parking closer to the restaurant itself). The restaurant has great views from the patio if you want to stop there, but I found the viewpoint park itself to be totally fine (and free). I parked in a paid public lot (here) in the center of town after following signs for parking. This also gave me the opportunity to walk through the town and across the bridge rather than just make it a quick stop for a photo.

Once you cross back over the bridge from the parking lot you’ll walk down a small decline from the highway to a small beach/parkland. Several people were swimming here and it was nice to dip my feet in the water as I took pics. This would be another nice place to picnic if its near a mealtime and/or swim if you bring trunks.

After I got my pics I walked back through the town. It’s not large and I spent 10 minutes or so walking around the streets closest to there and center. The architecture reminded me a lot of an Italian town, which is not surprising since the border is only about 25 minutes away and it was a part of Italy between the world wars. There’s also a prominent church that you’ll see directly as you cross the bridge. You could probably take longer in the town if you wanted to explore more of the streets and walk-up the hillside, plus there were several restaurants you could stop at.

If you’re driving to Piran or the Skocjan Caves then I would recommend you take the more southern route that takes you through Kanal ob Soci (and it’s likely the quickest). If you’re headed back to Ljubliana this would not be the most direct route (a road that goes more to the north would be) but Google Maps estimates it would only be about 10 minutes longer in time to go the more southern route. That’s not too much extra time if you’d like to see it. Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle are close to being in the middle of both the north and south roads from around Tolmin so a stop in Kanal ob Soci would definitely be doable if either of those are your destination.

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Luckily I had Kanal ob Soci on my list otherwise if I drove by I probably would have slammed on my breaks seeing this view

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Stop #6: Stanjel

Stanjel is not part of the Soca River Valley but roughly along the way south to Piran (and a little bit off the longer southern route to Ljubliana if you stop in Kanal ob Soci above) so it can make a great stop. The town is a historic fortified city. Walls were built in the 15th century and then fortified against the Turkish armies in the 17th century. Unfortunately, the Germans used it as a base during World War II and it was damaged in bombings. The town has been rebuilt over time, however.

I made a quick 30-40 minute stop to walk around the town. It was early in the morning so there wasn’t a lot going on. The city is built on a hill and has a castle, a few churches, houses, and walls. The castle hosts a museum but it was not open yet when I was there. I did walk through the castle courtyard and then around the town. None of the streets in the town are for cars. You park outside the walls opposite the castle (there was an app to pay for parking) and then walk inside and around the town. At the top of the hill you can look back down on the town and the valley. It’s surrounded by vineyards, which was beautiful to drive through. I’m glad to have taken the detour to see a bit of Slovenian wine country, plus walk around a smaller Slovenian village that has a lot of history. Stopping in Stanjel adds about 15 minutes to the drive from Bovec to Piran so that’s not too bad and it was a beautiful drive of vineyards, farms, and small villages when I left the main highway.

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Walking through the walls of Štanjel in the early morning
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The castle courtyard
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Looking down on the town and the valley from the top of the hill
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One of the tiny little streets in Štanjel
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Štanjel on its hill viewed from afar on
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A church I stumbled upon on the drive to Štanjel

Final Thoughts:

I have already shared earlier in this post and the Road Trip Post #1 what I would have done differently reflecting back- spending more time hiking along the Soca River and visiting Slap Kozjak. Overall for the time that I had I was happy with what I saw and felt like I packed a lot into the two days it took me to drive from Lake Bled through the Soca River Valley and onto Piran. I would highly recommend taking those two days (if not more) to make a stop here rather than drive directly from Lake Bled to Piran through Ljubliana.

One area on my potential sight list I did not stop at all on my trip is one of Slovenia’s wine regions- Goriska Brda. The town of Dobrovo seems to be the center of the region and looks quite beautiful with its castle and town built onto a hill surrounded by vineyards. Since I didn’t have time to leisurely sit and drink wine (plus was driving a few hours after that) I did not stop. Definitely research it yourself if you’re into wine as well as look into wineries around Stanjel. Dobrovo is about a 15-minute drive off the road that takes you through Kanal ob Soci. It’s also very close to the border with Italy if you happen to be headed in the direction of Venice.

Where else might you stop along the way to Piran? Skocjan Cave, Postojna Cave, and Prejdama Castle are along the way or not too far of a detour. Skocjan Caves and Prejdama Castle are stops I made on my drive from Piran back to Ljubliana. I will hopefully have blog posts of those soon. Closer to the coast there also is the Slovenian town of Koper and the Italian city of Trieste. The drive from Tolmin to Piran is about two hours so there is plenty to research and try to find along the way!

Logistics:

Locations:

  • A link to a Google Map I created for sights within Slovenia and including the ones mentioned can be found here

Other Resources:

Driving:

  • Car Rental: While I highly recommended renting a car in my last post if you are not doing some sort of guided tour, I think the sights covered in this post absolutely require a car. Most of them are too far from Bovec as a home base to do with local transportation and you likely wouldn’t want to make so many little stops if taking long-distance buses.
  • International Driver’s Permit: An international driver’s permit is required for Slovenia if you have a U.S. driver’s license (and I believe the rental car agency checked mine). I got mine through AAA. It took about 15 minutes filling out the paperwork, taking a photo, and paying the fee.
  • Tolls: Cars using the highways in Slovenia must display a purchased vignette. If you are renting a car in Slovenia then this should be provided. There was not a specific charge for a vignette on my bill but it might have been (or a part of) a “registration fee” I was charged of 3 Euros per day. If you are renting a car in another country (might check if agencies in neighboring countries like Italy or Croatia have it as an option to add-on) or driving your own car you will need to purchase one in Slovenia. They are sold in weekly, monthly, and yearly options for cars. The weekly option is 15 Euros as of posting. The Slovene tourism board, I Feel Slovenia, has a helpful website with info on pricing and sales locations. The fine is several hundred Euros if caught without the vignette (which seems to be checked mostly at the border but better safe than sorry).
  • Google Maps: Google Maps worked fine for getting to major towns and places. As mentioned with Slap Virje it was less reliable though in terms of directions to smaller sights when it sent me down a golf course “road” that was clearly not for cars. I would always double-check the directions are taking major routes and not a random backroad to “save” a minute. Additionally, many sights in Slovenia (like Tolmin Gorges) have off-site parking lots and shuttles and that often isn’t accounted for by Google Maps directions. Make sure to check signs as you get close to your destination (which might direct you differently than Google Maps to parking) and do your research on parking ahead of time (I try to include that in the info I share though).
    • I can’t speak to the strength of Apple Maps’ directions since I didn’t use it for driving but I will say that Apple Maps loads much quicker for me if you’re ever having internet issues (and haven’t downloaded the offline version of Google Maps). I wonder if it’s potentially because Google Maps has so much extra information (things to explore, restaurants, etc.) that needs to load. But it’s something I keep in mind when I am walking around and want a map to get my bearings and/or walking directions and the internet is spotty.

Hotel:

  • I stayed at the Hotel Mangart Superior in Bovec. I really appreciated Bovec as my stop for the night for the Soca River Valley. It’s centrally located and a nice size in terms of hotels and restaurants but also quaint. This looked to be a relatively newer hotel. It was along the highway that goes along the edge of the town. It was about an 8-10 minute walk to what I saw as the center of Bovec. I chose the hotel mainly on price but found it to be clean, simple, and quiet (did not hear the highway). Since I was only staying one night and not doing much in Bovec itself I did not mind the location at all. When I went to look a month or so out from my trip it did seem like a lot of hotels in Bovec were already full, which may be reflective of the smaller town and late August still being a busy travel time. So it might be helpful to plan your hotel in Bovec in advance compared to places like Ljubliana and Lake Bled. The only amenities I used were the free parking and WiFi but there is a restaurant on the premises. It’s surrounded by farmland and has views of the mountains that surround the valley and Bovec.

Gluten-Free:

  • For fellow gluten-free travelers I have found the Find Me Gluten app and Tripadvisor to be pretty good at finding gluten-free options in Europe although there was nothing in Bovec that I found gluten-free “special” worth highlighting (ate naturally gluten-free things).

Cell Phone Plan:

  • Since I was driving it was great to have cell phone data although you can download maps on Google Maps for offline use. I had no trouble with cell reception on the Slovenia network AT&T had me on. I paid AT&T $10 a day for its International Pass which allows me to use my U.S. plan’s data allotment abroad. That is a bit steep and if I had been in Slovenia longer than a week I would have considered seeing the prices for a Slovenian SIM card.

Language:

  • I had no trouble with language in Slovenia. Many Slovenes speak English and this certainly was the case at hotels and restaurants and I found even in less touristy stores or gas stations English was spoken. Reminds me to be grateful English is often the language of travel and how I need to practice my German and Spanish more…
  • It’s great to learn simple phrases when visiting countries even if English is widely spoken. I enjoyed Slovene because it is similar or the same to many Croatian phrases:

Other Info:

  • Currency: Euros are the currency in Slovenia. I found credit cards widely accepted and ATMs common even in smaller towns like Bovec. Many parking locations for sights had either a machine that accepted credit cards or instructions to use a parking app.
  • Visas: One does not need a visa for Slovenia when coming with a valid passport from the U.S. if your visit to the entire Schengen Zone (of which Slovenia is a part along with many other EU countries) is less than 90 days. For most travelers that won’t be an issue but you can learn more details here at the U.S. Embassy’s website.
  • Vaccines: At the time of posting routine the CDC was recommending routine vaccines many in the United States already have for most travelers to Slovenia.
  • Electricity: You will need to bring an adapter if coming from the United States (although some hotels may have USB charging ports). I have loved my universal travel adapter but Slovenia plugs are Type-F if you want to buy a specific one. More info here. A lot of the common electronics today (chargers for phones, tablets, computers, etc.) you may be bringing are likely designed for both the voltage in Slovenia (~220V) and the United States (~120V). Double-check electronics you’re bringing though to see if there is a range listed. If it is only for around 120V you will need to buy a converter to ensure your electronics don’t get fried by the higher voltage in Slovenia.
  • Tipping: Fodor’s and a few other websites I checked mentioned that 10% is generally customary for meals and higher if the service is better. I went off of this recommendation.

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