Set in the sparkling Adriatic Sea, Piran’s tight network of streets and beautiful old buildings could easily be mistaken for Venice. And it’s fair to say that Piran does feel more like Italy than Slovenia; ruled by the Venetians for quite some time, Italian is spoken as much as Slovenian. But unlike its Italian neighbour it’s blissfully quiet and surprisingly tourist free.
I went here in July, the height of summer, and couldn’t believe how quiet it was. There are shops and restaurants scattered around, especially at Tartini Square and along the coast, but they haven’t taken over the town. Turn a blind corner off any of the main streets and you’ll find yourself alone or among locals going about their business. Then, without any cars around (the streets are too small), all you can hear is the lapping of the ocean, conversations between people, and little domestic noises like the clinking of plates in a washing up bowl.
With only 47km of coastline, I guess Piran isn’t really what people associate with Slovenia. Most go for the spectacular mountain ranges as opposed to terracotta seaside towns. Then those that do want that type of thing head to Italy. I totally get it, and I kind of like it, because this makes Piran feel like a little secret.
Just 0.7km2 in size, most people will visit Piran for half a day or so. On the face of it, admittedly, there’s not a huge amount to do besides grab some food, look in a few shops, and check out the historical buildings. But if wandering around atmospheric streets is your thing (especially photographers!), then you’ll want to give yourself more time; a night at the very least. You’ll be amazed at how untouched and beautiful the little backstreets are. Slow down, relax, and get just the tiniest bit lost.
This is the kind of place where getting lost is fun. Not that you get lost, exactly. You’ll discover even more ridiculously beautiful streets, older and tinier than the last, get a bit disorientated, then in a while end up back in an area you sort of recognise. Piran is a gentle place. But what you really do lose is time – I spent a whole afternoon/evening alone with my camera turning down whatever streets took my fancy.
The houses are colourful, tiny, and random, with no two quite the same; the Venetians left their mark here when they ruled it 500 years ago. Walls are adorned with exotic flowers that hum with insects and it feels like paradise.
For some of the best views of Piran, head to St George’s Parish Church. From its walls you can see the whole town spread in front of you, including Tartini Square. Go up the tower to get an even better bird’s-eye view (and get scared out of your wits by the bell that rings every half hour!).
Then for some real magic, watch the sun set there (pictured at the top of this post). Warm Mediterranean temperatures, beautiful buildings and total serenity make this a treat for the soul. It’s a mystery to me that barely anyone else was there when I did this. In fact, I was on my own beside the Church at sunset. How is this possible? The day-trippers are seriously missing out.
Another great spot for views is up the on the hills behind the town. I watched the sun rise from here and it was bliss – if you ignore the swarm of mosquitos…
Up in these hills are the town walls (which look a bit like a castle). Built in the 1500s there are a few areas to walk around and clamber up, and more great spots to watch the sun set. It’s a super romantic spot (just like the rest of Piran really), but luckily the couples haven’t caught on to quite it yet therefore solo travellers like me don’t feel like the awkward singleton in a sea of lovers!
How to get to Piran
Most people stay in Portoroz and visit Piran for the day. Flashy promenades of casinos and high-rise hotels, Portoroz is much more touristy with much less character. It’s not my cup of tea. But there is a lot more accommodation on offer and at much cheaper prices than Piran.
Public transport in Slovenia is brilliant and buses frequently run between the two towns, otherwise it’s anything from 30 minutes to an hour’s walk into Piran, depending where in Portoroz you are staying. With a connection or two you can get to Portoroz from almost anywhere in Slovenia by bus. I came from Ljubljana.
Parking in Piran is not easy: cars aren’t allowed in the town centre. There are a few small car parks on the outskirts though get in early if you want a space! It’s easier to park in Portoroz and walk/catch the bus.
TIP: If you’re flying in, Trieste airport in Italy is closer to Piran and just as easy to get to as Ljubljana’s airport. I found the prices to be cheaper there as well.