Mary Ann Issac
Discovering Bled, Slovenia
Updated: Aug 30, 2020
Bled in Slovenia goes unnoticed by most who make their way to Europe. If a quiet getaway in a magical setting is what you are looking for in your European holiday, then Bled is the place for you! Whether it is summer or winter, Bled is equally beautiful.I was there in spring, so there was still a chill in the air, but the snow had melted. I had seen pictures of Bled in the winter, and it’s nothing short of a dreamy winter wonderland.
Surprisingly, there weren’t many tourists when I was there, it was like I had the whole place to myself, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
I’m sure Bled has become more popular with tourists over the years, but I’m glad I visited when it was not a tourist hotspot.
1. Bled Island
The tiny tear shaped island is the most alluring sight in Bled. The island boasts of the famous Church of Assumption, the Provost's house, a cafe, souvenir store, & small museum. Entry to the island is FREE.
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How to get to Bled Island
Rowing a boat on Bled lake is one of the most popular things to do. There are boatsmen waiting at the dock to take you across to the island on a pletna. This is a larger boat that can fit up to 20 people. This costs €15/return journey.
Since there were very few tourists at the time that I visited, it was a peaceful ride across the lake for me.
If you are taking the Pletna to the island in the evening, check with the boatsman the timing of the last Pletna to leave the island-otherwise you will be stuck here overnight! (There is no hotel on the island.)
The electric boat /Hydrobus has a fixed schedule. It will cost €12/return journey.
Rent a row boat
You can also rent a boat and row it yourself across the lake to the island. Renting a row boat costs €20/hour. (Yes, Bled is expensive!)
Try Stand up Paddle boarding
There are other water activities like paddle boarding that you can try- check at the shops near the lake for equipment and prices.
The water is calm, and in the summers, it will be pleasant even if you fall in!
Stand up paddle boarding is a great way to see all of bled through Bled lake!
Everything that a tourist wants to see in Bled can be seen from Bled Lake, so when you are on your boat, Paddleboarding, or pletna, you will be graced with sights such as Bled Castle, St. Martin's Parish, the lush green hills (Straza, Mala Osojnica, Ojstrica), and the highest peaks of Slovenia!
Once you reach the island, you will see the long 99 step staircase that leads up to the
2. Church of Assumption.
The Church is a popular spot for weddings in Bled, and it is said that if the newly married husband carries his wife up the 99 steps to the church, they will be blessed with a happy marriage!
It is not just local residents who choose to get married here- people from abroad plan their weddings here, and why wouldn’t they, it is such a romantic location to say I do!
The church holds catholic services a few times a month, so if you check beforehand, you can attend a service at the church.
Entry to the church, and ringing of the bell costs €6.
3. Ring the wishing bell
The tradition of ringing the wishing bell at the church on Bled island has become so popular with tourists, that as you approach the island you will here the incessant ringing of the bell! I rang the bell as well (it was heavy), but for the life of me, I do not remember what I wished for- so I cannot say whether the wish came true or not! (Also, you can only make 1 wish.)
The legend behind the bell
Poliksena, a resident of Bled in the 16th century, built a bell with all her gold & silver, in memory of her late husband. As the bell was gettingting delivered, a storm sank the boat & the boatsmen. Poliksena moved to Rome and became a nun following the heartbreak. When she died, Pope Clement VII cast a new bell for her, having heard her story. He declared that anyone who rang the bell 3 times & believed in God would have their wish granted.
The legend is sometimes said a bit differently, I heard different stories about it when I was there, and later when I check online, I read different accounts of it as well. So don’t be surprised if you hear or read slightly different versions of the legend.
History of The Church of Assumption
The location of the church was once home to a pagan temple to Slavic Goddess Ziva, the goddess of life & fertility. It was in the 9th century that the Pagan temple was replaced by a pre-romanesque church, which was later replaced by other church buildings. The church of Mother Mary that stands at this spot today, was built in the 17th century.
An interesting thing to look out for when you are at the church are the remains of the older churches that once stood in its place. There are glass panels on the floor of the church that give you a glimpse of what lies below-the remains of the older churches!
The altar holds figures of Mary, Henry II & his wife Cunigunde. Henry II was the roman emperor who granted Bled island, castle, & lake bled to the Bishopric of Brixen (they owned the property for 800 years).
There is a second staircase with 78 steps on the other side, that leads to the church as well.
I heard that during winter, the lake is covered in ice! Though I’m sure it looks beautiful in the winter, but visiting in winter time, you wouldn’t be able to cross the lake to the island, so you would be missing out on one of the main points of interest in Bled.
(I have seen pictures of Bled in winter- it is absolutely stunning!)
4. Visit the Provost’s House
It is a gallery & exhibition venue today. It was built in 1619, and used to house the Provost (priest) who would visit Bled occasionally.
5. Try some locally made pastry at The Poticnica
The Poticnica is next to the Provost’s house. They sell Slovenian pastry, and is a good place to take a break from climbing the 99 steps. They serve drinks & sell souvenirs too.
6. Swim in the lake
If you are here in the summer, jump into the beautiful lake, and swim to the Bled island! What a great way to reach the beautiful island! Or just jump in and relax in the cool waters of the lake.
7. Walk around Bled Lake
Walking the distance of 6km around the lake is my favourite thing to do in Bled. There are some swimming spots, which you can jump into. (It was a little chilly still, when I was there, so I didn’t) Bled island & Bled castle can be seen from most points around the lake, and it is a great way to see the most popular part of Bled. There are small shops and cafes, and beautiful houses around the lake.
8. Picnic around Lake Bled
The perimeter of the lake also has some cozy spots where you can sit down for a picnic facing the the castle of the island. Buy some snacks from a cafe and head to your favourite spot! But please don’t leave a trace of you having been there (clean up your mess, & dispose of all the leftovers in the garbage bins).
9. Eat the Bled cream cake!
If there is one thing I still dream of and crave is the Bled Cream cake! It is available everywhere, and so it is easy to get a hold of. It has light, crisp pastry layers, and the most delicious sweet cream filling! I ate so many cream cakes when I was there, that I lost count! Please try it!!
10. Bled Castle
My favourite thing about Bled Castle is of course the view! You can see Bled Lake, the island, and the lush forests around (Straza, Ojstrica, & Mala Osojnica) It is an absolutely stunning view, that you can sit and admire for hours with some snacks, or a book. Further up the stairs, from the highest point of the castle that is accessible to tourists, one can see the Julian Alps, & Mount Triglav which is the highest peak in the Slovenian Alps.
Bled Castle is the oldest castle in Slovenia, and has been mentioned as early as 1011. It was a castle that was used by the Bishops of Brixen. Brixen is a village in northern Italy now. As I mentioned earlier, the castle and the premises were given to the Bishops of Brixen by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry II. So it was never a residence of a king or queen. It was largely maintained by the helpers of the bishops, as it was not regularly inhabited by them.
There is a lot you can do on the premises of the castle. There still exists an old Gutenburg printing press, which now operates for the entertainment of the tourists that come by. You can get your name printed using the ancient machinery that they still use. You could try you hand at the printing process as well. They let me take part in their demonstration. I was a little nervous, but I did alright in the end. ( I get nervous when the spotlight is on me.)
There is a cafe on the premises with alfresco seating to enjoy views of the lake below. The shop near the cafe sells Slovenian honey & other souvenirs.
The castle’s lower level has a winery which allows you to bottle your own wine to take home as a souvenir!
The museum on the premises is a worthwhile visit with many artefacts from Slovenian history. The museum is on one of the highest parts of the castle, and there is an extremely small window which I really liked for some reason. I did try taking a picture to capture the view from that window, but it didn’t come out very well. but, if you visit the museum, look out for this window, and check out the view from there!
There is a small chapel which was built in the 16th century on the premises of the castle as well. It boasts of beautiful frescos in pastel shades.
11. Watch a traditional dance
If you are lucky you will be able to catch a traditional dance performance at the castle. There was a performance at the castle the day that I visited.
Men & women in elaborate traditional costumes dance whilst telling a folktale. There was a translator who explained the theme of the dance & the story they were enacting.
It might be possible to organise a viewing of such a show if you check with your hotel. Check with your hotel before you book your stay if you are keen on watching it.
Hikes around Bled for beautiful views
12. Hike Straza
During the spring & summer months, you can use the chairlift to reach near the main viewpoint of Straza hill. Lake Bled, Bled Castle, neighbouring towns, & the mountains are seen from here.
You can also follow the hiking trail to get to the viewpoint. The trail is clearly marked making it easy to navigate.
13. Come down Straza Hill on a Toboggan.
After a hike up the hill, (or a chairlift), you can choose to ride toboggan down the slope! This is available from Spring to Autumn.
14. Watch the sunrise from Ojstrica Hill
This one of the most popular hikes in Bled because of the stunning view it grants of Bled island. The trail is marked, and there is signage from the starting point, which is at the lake. You can ask anyone, and they will point you to the start of the trail. The most popular time of day for a hike up Ojstrica, is before sunrise. The view of sunrise over Bled island is spectacular from here.
The starting point of this trail is at Velika Zaka by Lake Bled. There is signage marking the beginning of the trail to Ojstrica.
You can hike onwards to Mala Osojnica & Velica Osojnica from Ojstrica.
15. Hike Mala Osojnica
The beginning of the trail is from the lake, like the other trails, this is marked and is easy to navigate.
It is an unpaved path under the cover of trees for most of it, and then towards the end there is a long staircase. The main viewpoint is few more minutes walk from the top of the staircase. At the main viewpoint there is an information board and a bench, and you can see Bled lake, & the castle.
From the second viewpoint the view is of a vast landscape of a river & the mountains.
Getting around Bled
Take the tourist train
It plies around Bled every 45 mins from 9AM-5Pm in the summers (June-September), and 10AM-5PM in Spring & autumn,(May,Oct) unless the weather is bad.
It costs €5 for adults, & €3 for children. It is worth taking it when you are tired of walking.
How to get there
Fly into Ljublana and then either take a bus, train, or self drive to Bled. Else, take a cab from the airport to Bled.
Bled is 54km from Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.