Things to do in Bled (including a visit to Vintgar Gorge and Pokljuka Gorge)

by 28 Feb, 2021Slovenia

😷  COVID-19 NOTICE: You can check out the latest information about travel restrictions and bans in Slovenia due to the coronavirus HERE.

🗺️  ITINERARY: 
This destination is part of a 10-day itinerary in Slovenia, check it out HERE.

Bled is with no doubt the most popular destination in Slovenia, and a must in the bucket list of many world travellers.

You will probably have seen many pictures of this place before, with or without realising it (see for instance BBC Travel’s cover photo on Twitter). This must mean something: that it’s a gorgeous place indeed, extraordinarily photogenic; but it’s also full of tourists like you or us, so do be prepared for that…

Before going, a friend warned me about this, and I think it was actually a very good thing she did, because then our expectations about this place were rather low (we don’t like crowds when travelling, but appreciate we are part of them…), and still ended up loving it! 😍

🤔 Why is Bled so famous

Yes, this is the town with the lake and island with a church in the middle… ⬇

Lake Bled, Slovenia

And what a lovely location! This is also one of the features that characterises Bled the most: its surrounding hills and mountains, including the Austrian-Slovenian Karawanks mountain range on the North and the Julian Alps on the West and South. This makes Bled a small but fun ski destination during winter as well.

But the most famous attraction of this place is the Lake Bled, a 2×1-km lake (very roughly speaking) of mixed origin (glacier and tectonic most likely) with a small island in the middle on which a very simple but imposing church lies: the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria.

The Pilgrimage Church’s current structure dates from the 17th century, but before that, there was a Gothic-style church, and before that, other religious temples including a temple for the Slavic goddess Živa. To reach the church, you will have to first cross the Lake and climb the 99 steps taking you there – a beautiful but exhausting entrance. Another peculiarity is the separate 54-metre bell tower that clearly stands out from the leafy island.

Bled Lake, Pilgrim Church Island, water lilies

📷 What to do in Bled

So there are many things you can do in Bled, but the TOP one (at least for us) was to walk by the Lake! Stroll, drop our things and jump into the water every time we felt like for a swim… and reach the next viewpoint, specially on the southwestern side of the Lake, closer to the Pilgrimage Church island, around Vila Bled and Café Belvedere.

That said, there are other nice things you can do in Bled, even if you are staying there for one or two days only!

⛰ Hike up to Ojstrica

As mentioned, Bled is surrounded by mountains and hills, and hilltops offer amazing views (duh!). This is to say that don’t be shy while you are in Bled and climb one of the hills in front of the Pilgrimage Church island, you won’t regret it!

There are three famous hilltops you can reach: Ojstrica (610 m), Velika Osojnica (750 m) and then Mala Osojnica (670 m). But if you feel like just doing one, Ojstrica offers beautiful views of Lake Bled and its Pilgrimage Church island, and it only has a 100-m elevation gain taking 20-25 minutes to hike up there from Velika Zaka.

If you don’t find the path, you can ask around or use these indications, it’s up to you whether you want to extend your hike to Velika Osojnica and Mala Osojnica afterwards.

Bled's Pilgrim Church Island, Slovenia

🚣 Reach the Pilgrimage Church

If you are up for getting on a boat or stand-up paddle (SUP), you are good to go to the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria!

You have two options:

  • Take Bled’s typical boat, the pletna, from Mlino Port (map location)pletna(s) are wooden boats that you will only find in Bled, they are a bit similar to Venetian gondolas but with a colourful hood on top and can fit about 18 people. There are only a handful of pletna(s) as these boats are produced locally and can only be operated by rowers who inherit this profession from generation to generation. The return trip costs 14€ and the boat waits ~30-40 min on the island.
  • Rent a small boat or SUP, we saw a rental place near Vila Bled, see it on our map of suggestions. We didn’t check prices for these two options, but I understand they are a bit more expensive, although they also give you more freedom and time on the island.

Once you arrive in the island (and after you climb those 99 steps), you will be able to visit the Pilgrimage Church and its bell tower for an entry fee of 6€/adult. In the church, in front of the altar, you will find a wishing bell, which you must ring three times and only make one wish (that’s the tradition!). From the top of the bell tower, you will appreciate completely different views of the Lake.

On the island, you have the Provost’s House as well, which is also from the 17th century and, as its name indicates, used to host the provost (a senior priest) that would come from time to time to the Pilgrim Church. It has also hosted pilgrims at some point in history and it’s currently an exhibition space. Next to the house, there is currently a cafe Potičnica offering refreshments, ice-cream and cakes.

Bled Castle, views from Lake Bled

🏰 Visit Bled Castle

From many points across Bled, you will notice the Bled Castle on top of a cliff. This imposing castle situated 130 metres above Lake Bled is the oldest castle in Slovenia (it was first mentioned early in the 11th century).

The walls and main tower of the castle are of Romanesque style and the rest of the castle is mostly of Renaissance style built later on around two courtyards. On the upper courtyard, there is the beautiful Chapel of St Albuin and St Ingenuin of Gothic style with some Baroque elements and astonishing and colourful frescoes that create a sense of depth.

You can visit the castle complex from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. during summer for 13€/adult. If you get hungry, there is a fancy restaurant with breathtaking views of Lake Bled and the Pilgrim Church, but you can also look for other viewpoints around the castle.

Bled Castle at Sunset, Slovenia

🗺️ What else to visit in the region

Two recommendations:

1️⃣ Vintgar Gorge

Vintgar Gorge, Bled, Slovenia

The Vintgar Gorge (Soteska Vintgar) is a natural gorge along the Radovna River, which has been accommodated with footbridges that allow you to visit this small canyon for 1.6 km until arriving at a waterfall, Slap Šum.

For the way back, you have different options, to either return through the way you came (currently not possible because of COVID-19), or do one of the following circular routes: option 1 or option 2.

This gorge has something magic with it’s extremely clear water and light mist. Moreover, you will pass by some magnificent rapids and potholes, while you’re inside the ravine.

Vintgar Gorge, Bled, Slovenia

What we didn’t like so much, is that the place is extremely popular, and sometimes it can get crowded. Therefore, I would recommend you try to go there as early as possible for your visit, plus you might get to see the gorge with a bit more of mist (it gives the place a nice and even more mysterious touch).

You can check opening hours on the website (it changes according to season). Note that the gorge is usually closed during winter (from November to March) and there is an entry fee of 10€/adult (and parking nearby is 5€)!

2️⃣ Pokljuka Gorge

Gallery of Pokljuka Gorge, Bled, Slovenia
Pokljuka Gorge, Bled, Slovenia

The Pokljuka Gorge (Pokljuška Soteska) is another natural gorge on the Pokljuka Plateau close to Bled (within a 15-min drive). This gorge is dry-fossil as it no longer has a running river (the stream went underground). The river created a beautiful canyon that reaches 50 metres of height in some points and has an extremely narrow passage, the gallery (Pokljuška Galerija).

This passage is accessible via a footbridge and it’s just impressive (it makes you feel so small next to it)! Although it’s hard to appreciate its size and beauty in the pictures… especially because when we did the excursion, it was unfortunately raining quite heavily and they don’t look precisely great.

Narrow alley at Pokljuka Gorge, Bled, Slovenia

The Pokljuka Gorge is less touristy than the Vintgar Gorge and I would even dare to say it’s more beautiful! This much less touristic place can be visited through a short, easy and circular hike of 1h30 that starts here and takes you to the gallery and another interesting passage in the form of a natural cave (Pokljuška Luknja) with several holes.

That said, we got the hike completely wrong (🙈), it was raining and we didn’t have much visibility and I think we missed a few signs… After our trip to Patagonia, we got used to hiking under any weather condition, and we thought it was better trying the hike under the rain, than not doing it!

The most important thing to note is that when you start the hike and after a few minutes walking, there is a split with a sign saying “Galerija” on the left, take that direction and the path will first take you to the gallery and at the end to the cave.

You can find a much better description of the hike on Slovenia Locations.

🥗 Where to eat in Bled and have a kremšnita (🍰)

Bled cream cake kremšnita (or Blejska kremna rezina)

Photo under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Source: Lordlazar98 from Wikimedia Commons.

An.On the sweet front, Bled is famous for its cream cake kremšnita (or Blejska kremna rezina), a calorie bomb worth eating at least once while you are there. We aren’t very keen on chantilly in general, but this custard & whipped cream cake is quite special indeed! Its puff pastry must be folded seven times following very closely a recipe from 1953.

By Lake Bled, there is a cafe in front of Hotel Park (called Park Café, map location), home of the Bled cream cake, where you can have an original slice while enjoying the panoramic views from the cafe’s terrace. When we went there it was full and we weren’t in the mood to wait for a table, so we ended up buying a slice of cake in a random bakery (pekarna).

To be honest, we don’t recall where we bought it, nor took a picture of it (again, we did this trip before the idea of a blog crossed our minds!; and that’s why I have put a Wikimedia photo for you to see how the cake looks like…). And just to say that even our random slice tasted amazing!

If you cannot go to Park Café, and don’t like to improvise, we were later recommended a bakery which has a very high rating (even higher than Park Café): Slaščičarna Zima (map location). FYI, this bakery is very close to Bled’s bus stop (worth knowing in case you’re travelling by bus). 😉

Terrace of Gostilna Pri Planincu, Bled, amazing food, nice atmosphere

Actually, very close to Slaščičarna Zima and the bus stop, there is a great restaurant: Gostilna Pri Planincu (map location). We fully recommend it for lunch or dinner while you spend some time in Bled’s town. Maybe it isn’t on the waterfront, but it has a pleasant atmosphere and a very nice terrace with humouristic elements (photo above).

Moreover, the food is just amazing and the menu offers lots of tasty local dishes. Beware of portions, they are very generous! By the time we found this gostilna, we were starving after having searched for restaurants that wouldn’t look touristy (all restaurants on the waterfront looked very touristic to us) and having waited a bit to be seated as the terrace was full. So we ordered a starter, and when we saw the main dishes arriving, we were like “good luck with that, stomach”. But again, everything was yummy, yummy!

The place is also a pub (an over-100-year old pub actually) with a motorbike atmosphere, offering of wide variety of beers. Last but not least, if you feel like trying this place but you are a bit fed up with local cuisine (it can happen after spending a long time anywhere), they have a renowned pizzeria on the second floor too!

🛏 Where to stay in Bled

There are many hotels around Lake Bled, some of them with thermal swimming pools such as Grand Hotel Toplice (~200€/night for a double room) or Hotel Park (yeap, the one from the Bled cream cake; ~120€/night for a double room).

In our case, we were more on a camping mode, but Camping Bled doesn’t allow a one-night stay (minimum a three-night stay). And other campings were too far from the Lake and would have required us to take the car… a bit annoying for a short stay!

If you are into glampings, there are some fancy options in Bled where you can book a pier tent or tree house (Garden Village Bled); or a bit further from the Lake, you have cabins with individual wooden hot tubs at Glamping Ribno.

We ended up looking for guest houses and Bled is full of those! However, when we were looking for accommodation (a week before going!), there weren’t many options available on main platforms like Booking given it was high season and during the weekend.

So we started looking directly on Google Maps and found Rooms Dolar (map location), a simple but nice guest house located in a calm area with parking space and within walking distance of the Lake (10 min) and town of Bled (30 min). We booked via an online form on their website, and they responded very fast. The double room cost us 40€/night and it was high season (very reasonable, and you will need to add to that the tourist tax which is 6€/night for 2 people).

⏭️ What to visit next? Bohinj!

If there is another beautiful and mountainous lake in Slovenia, that’s Lake Bohinj.

Even if it doesn’t have a church island in the middle, this is a gorgeous spot to spend a few days in! It’s just within a 30-min drive of Bled and it’s a perfect location to start hikes to Triglav National Park in the Julian Alps.

If you do like we did (go from Bled to the Bohinj area by car), and you want to have some food on the way, we highly recommend you Gostilna Batišt Tomaž Zupan (map location). This is a local restaurant a bit in the middle of nowhere with a great food offer, and the staff was extremely nice to us as we came in all wet after our rainy adventure at Pokljuka Gorge.

📍Map of recommendations for this region

Did you find the above useful or have other suggestions for this region?

If you like what you read, please feel free to share this post, leave a comment and/or find out more about travelling in Slovenia or neighbouring Italy 👇👇👇👇👇

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