5 of the best road trips and long-distance cycling routes in Slovenia

Slovenia is often called small.

And while it’s true the Central European nation ranks 24th in size out of 27 EU countries, this is a positive for drivers and cyclists. In the course of one visit, you can see many of Slovenia’s most picturesque villages, pristine forests, vineyard-covered foothills, karst landscapes, and seaside towns, and shoot a lifetime’s worth of majestic photos.

What many travelers learn as they drive or ride around Slovenia: the country may be compact on a two-dimensional map, but it’s a 3D heavyweight. The topography is dense with stunning mountain ranges – their peaks reflected in alpine lakes fed by rivers that roll across undulating hillsides and merge with the Adriatic Sea.

The key to a drive or a cycling excursion here, regardless of season, is to take your time and soak in Slovenia’s quiet byways. Allow yourself to be as free as the open road. Here, we’ve outlined three scenic trips for exploring by car, and two long-distance cycling journeys. The distances provided are not direct between the start and end points; they assume some diversion from the main route and allow you to explore more of each region.

Two hikers follow a path leading to a wood cabin in a rocky landscape
Triglav National Park is on a route that takes you from the Julian Alps to the Adriatic coast © Matic Štojs / Alamy Stock Photo

1. Alps to Adriatic road trip

Best road trip to sample everything
Kranjska Gora–Koper; 300km (185 miles), allow 1–2 days

Summer or early autumn is the best time for this “Greatest Hits of Western Slovenia” journey that combines the highlights of the Julian Alps, the karst region and the Adriatic coastline. The trip starts near Kranjska Gora, and winds its way through the mountainous Triglav National Park and along the luminous, turquoise Soča River before breaking through the hills at vineyards and ending up at Koper on the Adriatic. You can do it all in a day, but there’s so much to see en route, you could easily stretch it into a week.

From Kranjska Gora, follow main road no 206 south into the national park and snake your way up and down the 50 breathtaking hairpin turns of the Vršič Pass, Slovenia’s highest mountain pass, at 1611m (5285ft). Continue along the same road, moving deeper into the park until you reach the whitewater-rafting mecca of Bovec. Turn south along main road 203 to the historic town (and now culinary hot spot) of Kobarid.

From here, pick up main road 102 heading south, following the Soča River, in the direction of Tolmin. Bear right on main road 103 through the heart of the Goriška Brda’s vineyards, to the modern city of Nova Gorica. You could easily spend days in Goriška Brda, sampling the wines and touring pretty villages like Šmartno. From here, follow the H4 highway that merges with the A1 expressway to take you down to Koper. A slower journey follows main road 204 out of Nova Gorica and passes through lovely, medieval villages like Stanjel.

Planning tip: Don’t try the Alpine portion of this tour in late autumn and winter (from October through March) as the Vršič Pass is closed for the season.

Plan the right time for your visit to Slovenia with our seasonal guide

The red facade of a building dominates a city square near a river
Linger in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s lively capital city © kasto80 / Getty Images

2. Sava Valley road trip

Best road trip to understand the region
Kranjska Gora–Brežice; 200km (125 miles), allow 2 days

A drive along the Sava River takes adventurers diagonally from Slovenia’s far northwest corner to a southeastern nook nestled against Croatia. Historically this is one of Europe’s most important waterways; it spans Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. For travelers, exploring this cultural corridor is essential for understanding the country and the region generally.

Starting at the Sava’s source, near Kranjska Gora. From here, follow main road 201 east along the river. Pick up the busier E61 highway that passes near Lake Bled, where mountains frame its oft-ogled island church that give you, perhaps, the best photo op of your life. Follow the route beyond the pretty town of Kranj to Ljubljana, where the city center buzzes with open-air markets, cafes, watering holes, and sublime restaurants.

North of the capital, main road 108 rejoins the Sava and parallels the waterway eastward for around 60km (36 miles), passing through riverside hamlets, to the town of Zidani Most. Pick up main road 5 for another 40km (25 miles) to Krško and then beyond, following the main A2 motorway, to Brežice in the Posavje region, where vineyards and castles merge on the riverbanks to complete this Central European fairy tale.

Traveling Slovenia on a budget? Here are our top money-saving tips 

3. Thermal spas road trip

Best road trip in eastern Slovenia
Maribor–Maribor; 400km (250 miles), allow 3 days

As you head east into the Pannonian Plain, dominated by the Sava and Drava Rivers, the geology begins to change. Here, the limestone Alps have been replaced by thermal waters at every turn. The Romans discovered these Slovenian treasures centuries ago. Today, the adjoining health and wellness spas, many with long years of tradition, take you from stressed-out to relaxed and robed in the span of a visit. There’s no prescribed circuit here, simply the chance to see and soak at one of the country’s many natural health resorts along the drive.

Start and end your loop in Maribor, Slovenia’s second-largest city. From there, cruise south in the direction of Ptuj, and the city’s elegant Terme Ptuj. Continue south to the historic spa at Rogaška Slatina, with waters known round the world for their curative properties. Terme Olimia in the nearby town of Podčetrtek, began as a wellness center in the 1960s, but has since expanded to include more water slides per capita than anywhere else in the world.

The drive north and west toward the city of Celje brings you closer to another batch of wellness retreats. Terme Dobrna, north of Celje, is the oldest working spa in Slovenia and shows no signs of aging. The Celjska Koča, south of Celje, is a family-focused adventure park perfect for parents who want to squeeze in wellness. Thermana Laško has a well-deserved international reputation for luxury. Dramatic Rimske Terme sports Roman-inspired baths and wellness treatments. On the return to Maribor, detour in the direction of Rogla, to pop in at Terme Zreče, tucked into the long-running hills of the Pohorje range.

Planning tip: To get the most out of this trip, plan to stop at one or two spas along the route and book rooms and treatments in advance online.

A cyclist rides over a suspension bridge above a river
Follow the Slovenian Green Gourmet Route by bike to taste the best of the region’s food and drink © Saro17 / Getty Images

4. Gourmet cycling route

Best bike trip for sampling fine food and drink
Soča Valley–Maribor; 480km (300 miles), allow 1 day per stage (16 days for the circuit)

The Slovenia Green Gourmet Route (SGGR), launched in 2021 to coincide with Slovenia being chosen as Europe’s Gastronomic Region, takes cyclists to vineyards, Michelin-starred restaurants and family-run bistros as it stretches from the country’s western edge to its eastern end. The route is built along 16 day-long stages that can be done as one long trip, or simply piecemeal, depending on your interests (note the stages require at least a moderate level of fitness). The SGGR offers serpentine climbs to typical Slovenian perched villages and along rivers to castles hanging from bluffs. And though this isn’t a car road trip, you are rolling on wheels to the same spots, just with more human-touch accessibility.

The SGGR is one of several recent Slovenian itineraries that freely provide information so adventurers can explore the nation’s culture, food and active possibilities on their own. Starting from Kobarid, in the Soča Valley, the route hugs the Italian border, before heading east through the capital, Ljubljana, to the pastoral Sava River. The final stages require a train journey and then spin along the Drava River to Maribor. Trading a seatbelt for a bicycle helmet means you’re traveling like a Slovene, earning your vittles and wine after rewarding days in the saddle.

Planning tip: See the website for a description of each stage; be sure to reserve accommodations and meals in advance to avoid rolling up to find everything’s already booked solid.

5. Primeval Forest bicycle loop

Best bike trip for getting out into the woods
Kočevje–Kočevje; 145km (90 miles), allow 4 days

More than 60% of Slovenia is covered in trees, yet the Kočevsko region — in the southeast of the country — is considered to be Slovenia’s nature capital. The four-stage Slovenia Green Kočevsko Cycle Loop, which starts in Kočevje, about 60km (36 miles) south of Ljubljana, gives cyclists a chance to pedal through the area’s virgin and UNESCO-listed stands of ancient beech and fir that foxes, bears, lynx and deer call home. The panoramas aren’t bad either. From atop the Dinaric Alps, vistas include eagles, hawks and the Kolpa river, which runs along the Croatian border.

Planning tip: Consult the Kočevje Cycle Loop website for descriptions of each of the four stages. Rent bikes and pick up more info at the Bearlog Hostel in Kočevje.

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