A long time ago, in a beautiful green valley surrounded by mountains, fairies would descend from the skies and dance on the luscious green grass in starry nights. During the daytime, shepherds from nearby settlements would bring their sheep to the valley for grazing. Fearing that the sheep would eat up all the grass, the fairies requested the shepherds to build a fence around their “dance floor”. The shepherds refused to oblige! Soon, the fairies’ fears turned true. The sheep ate all the grass and left behind a barren piece of land. So, the fairies called upon the surrounding springs and streams to flood the valley. And that’s how they created Lake Bled with a tiny island in the middle, on which they could continue to dance under the starry skies. So goes the legend.

The gorgeous Lake Bled
Photo by Neven Krcmarek on Unsplash

When you google for “Slovenia”, a majority of the pictures in the Images section are those of Lake Bled. Those pictures of the lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains and with the church-topped island in the middle of it truly make it seem like a place straight out of fairy tales. Hordes of tourists visit Slovenia only to see the much-talked-about lake that’s nestled in Julian Alps on the northeast side of Slovenia, where it adjoins the town of Bled. I wonder how the dancing fairies, who created the lake and the island, feel about tourists thronging their “dancing floor”.

Like most people, I fell in love with the pretty lake in those images as well. I’d planned a stay of 2 nights in the Bled town. I changed the plan later though (for the sake of convenience – to avoid having to unpack, pack, and carry bags to different places every other day!) and decided to make a day-trip to Lake Bled from Ljubljana instead. Since the gorgeous Vintgar gorge isn’t too far off, I decided to combine a visit to the gorge with my day trip to Bled. It worked pretty well for me because it allowed me some flexibility in terms of planning the day of my visit depending on the weather. Of course, I had to sacrifice a few other things I had on my list, such as hiking up a peak called Ojstrica, which I could’ve done had I planned a stay in Bled.

If you are planning to spend more than a day in Bled, you can find the complete list of things to do here.

How to get to Bled

Drive: Bled is about an hour of driving distance from the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana.

Bus: Buses from different operators such as Flixbus, GetByBus, and the regular Arriva buses leave from Ljubljana bus station every hour and take about an hour to reach to Bled. You do not need to book a ticket prior to your trip.

Trains: There are trains to go from Ljubljana to Bled, but they’re slower than buses and end up taking 2 hours for the journey. It’s supposed to be quite a scenic ride though, which supposedly provides views of Julian Alps, meadows, and historic towns along the way.

Shuttles: You can book a shuttle through Mamut, an agency that offers group shuttles and other services in Slovenia.

Here’s how I made the most out of my day trip to Bled while making sure that I got adequate time to explore and didn’t have to rush at any point.

A Walk through the Vintgar Gorge (Soteska Vintgar)

Emerald green and turquoise blue crystal-clear pools, gushing waterfalls, lush greenery, wooden walkways set along canyon walls – Vintgar gorge is nature at its gorgeous best! Also known as the Bled Gorge (Blejski Vintgar), it is located at the edge of the Triglav National Park and is about 4 km away from Lake Bled. The 1.6 km long gorge is naturally created by the Radovna river as it carves its way through the Hom and Borst hills. The gorge was discovered in 1891 and has been open to the public since 1893 after completion of laying out of wooden walkways and bridges.

Green heaven!
Turquoise blue pools and wooden walkways along the rock wall
Numerous streams with water gushing through rocks at some places and flowing calmly at some other
There are some small bridges like this one too

The wooden walkway (named Žumer Galleries after the mayor who discovered the gorge) leads you from the entrance right up to Sum waterfalls (Vodopád Šum) at the end of the gorge and there are stupendous views all along the way. You also get to see a-little-over-a-century old largest stone-arch railway bridge at the end of the gorge.

Stone arch of more than a century old railway bridge and the waterfall below

The walk/hike is super-easy and takes less than 2 hours even at an easy pace. This was easily my most favorite part of the day trip. On the recommendation of the booking agents at Mamut, a Slovenian outdoor company, I took a shuttle to Vintgar gorge as soon as I reached Bled and completed the walk through the gorge before heading to Lake Bled. It proved to be pretty useful advice as I got lesser crowds at the gorge, which could also be because I was there in the third week of May – not exactly the peak tourist season. I also got enough time to explore Bled.

Happiness and bliss!
Getting to Vintgar Gorge from Bled

Mamut, a Slovenian outdoor adventure company, runs an hourly shuttle service from Bled bus station to Vintgar Gorge. The cost is €5 for a return journey. The shuttle drops you at the entrance of the gorge and picks you up from the gorge after 2 hours.

Walking is an option if you have about 2.5-3 hours to go to and return from the gorge.

The gorge is about 10 minutes drive from Bled main bus station and there’s free parking at the entrance of the gorge.

A Hike up to the Bled Castle (Blejsi Grad)

It was noon by the time I returned from Vintgar gorge to the Mamut office near the bus station. Dark clouds had begun to fill the skies and I hoped that the rains wouldn’t spoil my day. I decided to hike up to the Bled Castle, not too far from the bus station, and spend the noon enjoying the vistas.

Bled castle perched atop a steep cliff

Over a thousand years ago, the German king, Henry II, signed a donation deed giving away the ownership of the Bled estate and the castle to the Austrian bishops of Brixen, who later decided to lease the property. Due to the frequent changes in the occupants and managers of the castle, it didn’t have much valuable furniture and resources of any significant historical value. Now, the castle, perched atop a steep cliff is a mere tourist attraction due to the views of its beautiful surroundings. It has a history museum with very little to offer, a chapel, an old printing press, and a restaurant.

Bled Castle complex
View of the lake from the castle complex

I didn’t really think much of the castle. The views are alright, but absolutely not worth the admission fee of €9. One can walk up a trail or up the stairs to get beautiful views and just skip the castle altogether, especially if one is short on time.

A Walk Around Lake Bled

After a quick visit to Bled Castle, I had ample of time to spend around the lake. The lake has about 6 km walking path around it and a stroll on this path is quite easy and blissful. The walk provides stunning views of the lake, the Bled Castle at the top of the cliff, church-topped little island in the lake, the surrounding mountains, and greenery.

A Boat Ride to Visit the Bled Island

You can reach the Bled island in various ways and can even row a boat by yourself. I chose to take the traditional pletna boat. These boats, typical of Bled, are built by locals from larch wood. The origin of these flat-bottomed boats dates back to 1590 and the design has been passed down from one generation to the next over all these centuries. A pletnar or an oarsman, navigates the boat. A round trip to Bled island on pletna costs around €15. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the island and you get a little over half-an-hour to explore Bled island, which is more than sufficient.

Pletna boats parked at the lake
The pletnar who took us to the Bled Island

The tiny Bled island in the middle of Lake Bled is the only island in Slovenia. The island that’s said to have been inhabited since the 9th century once had a Slavic pagan temple dedicated to the goddess of life and fertility. It then got torn down and rebuilt a couple of times and what stands today in its place is the Pilgrimage Church of Assumption of Mary, a Baroque church with its details such as moldings and the famous Baroque staircase with 99 steps built in the 17th century. As per one of the traditions followed to date, a groom has to carry the bride up the 99 steps if they want to marry in the island church.

Bled Island
Bled Castle, Lake Bled, pletna boat, and pletnar

One of the most popular things to do on Bled island is to ring the church bell, of course for a price. It’s said that ringing the bell makes your wishes come true. Legend has it that a young grieving widow, whose husband was killed by robbers and thrown into Lake Bled, would sit in Bled Castle overlooking Lake Bled. She wanted to honor her dead husband. So she collected all her jewelry and paid for a bell that could be placed in the chapel on the island. As the bell was being carried on a boat to the island, a heavy storm sunk the boat along with the bell. Hearing about the accident, the widow sold off all her belongings and went to spend the rest of her life in a monastery in Rome. The Pope got to know her story and dedicated a new bell to her and sent it to Bled Island. It’s this bell that fulfils wishes of any person who rings it.

As for me, I skipped the visit to the church and ringing the bell. I found getting to the island to be far more fun than the island itself.

It late evening by the time I’d checked all the absolute “must-do” activities on my list. It was time to pamper the sweet tooth and I couldn’t wait to taste the famous kremsnita or kremna rezina considered to be a specialty of Bled. A slice of the incredibly delicious layered cake with vanilla and whipped cream while enjoying the view of the lake… Umm… there couldn’t have been a better way to end the day in Bled!

Layered cream cake… ummmm… yummm!!
Photo by Pika Žvan on Unsplash

The wait for the bus back to Ljubljana proved to be a rather long one. By the time the bus arrived, a huge crowd had gotten impatient to get in and I was pushed aside by a bunch of young girls. I did manage to get in thankfully and was back in Ljubljana in an hour or so.

Did I find Lake Bled to be as beautiful as it looks in pictures? I did, but I enjoyed my time at Vintgar gorge far more than at Lake Bled and I enjoyed the pletna boat ride far more than my time on the Bled Island. As for Bled Castle – it was quite underwhelming. A day in Bled proved to be just enough for an experience that didn’t completely match the expectations in every sense, yet didn’t disappoint.