Ultimate Guide to the Postojna Caves: All You Need to Know
In Slovenia, you will find hundreds of caves. However, not all of them are open for touristic guides. The main cave where you will be able to go and have a look is the Postojna Caves. If you are a tourist in Slovenia, the Postojna Caves are absolutely a must-visit.
The Postojna Caves are the most touristic in Slovenia. They were discovered more than 200 years ago and have had more than 39 million visitors. If you are looking for a fairytale experience, the 14 miles (24 kilometers) of paths, galleries, and halls in the Caves are made for you.
In the Postojna Caves, you will find breathtaking landscapes and sceneries, the oldest railway in an underground cave, and real baby dragons. It is an unforgettable experience that you must try when coming to Slovenia. To convince you and help you prepare your visit, here is all you need to know about the Postojna Caves.
History of the Caves
The Postojna Caves are part of the Postojna Park, where you will also find the Predjama Castle (5,5 miles or 9 kilometers from the Caves), the Jamski Dvorec Mansion, the Vivarium (where you will see baby dragons), the Hotel Jama, the Modrijan Homestead, and an exposition.
Before you decide to visit the Postojna Caves, it is important for you to know a bit about its history. This way, when you will enter the karst, you will fully appreciate the subterranean treasure.
The Postojna Caves were discovered in the 17th century, in 1818 precisely. They were first described by Johann Weikhard von Valvasor, a specialist in karsts. We think humans have been in the Caves before because graffitis dating from 1213 are still in the Caves; however, there is no written information about this time.
We thought for a long time that the biggest part of the Caves was discovered by the Postojna district treasurer, Josip Jeršinović von Löwengreif. In 1854, we found out that it was a lie. The one who discovered the main part was a simple cave lamplighter named Luka Čeč.
Čeč was working on preparing the Dance Hall for a visit by the Austrian Emperor Franz I. He decided to climb some rock and, after a bit of exploration, discovered the Caves were much bigger. He described his discovery as “a new world,” “a discovery.”
However, since he was only a simple cave lamplighter, people gave credit to the Postojna district treasurer. We still do not know who this man was, who changed the future of the Caves entirely, but now credit for his discovery goes back to him.
After this discovery, he kept exploring the Caves extensively. He encountered the slender neck beetle and worked in the Caves until he died in 1836.
In the 1850s, the reference for speleology was published by the Austrian-Czech geographer Adolf Schmidl. He wrote a guide and a complete overview of the Postojna Caves.
In 1819, the Caves became officially open for tourists when Archduke Ferdinand visited them. Soon after, the first electric lights were added. The Postojna Caves were illuminated long before many European capitals. In the beginning, in 1818, the cave was illuminated by torches and candles.
With such a small light, it seems very complicated to appreciate the wonders of the scenery. This is why, 15 years before Ljubljana was even lit up electrically, the Caves were prepared for electric lightning.
This idea was very innovative, and it helped a lot with tourism, not only because people could see the landscapes a lot better, but because electricity was extremely rare back then. The first lightbulb had been lit up in Maribor just a few months before.
In 1884, permanent electric wiring was installed, and the first lights were in the most fascinating parts of the Caves: the Grand Dome, the Great Mountain, the Crossroads, the Dance Hall.
After World War I, to prove the advancement and pioneering aspect of Postojna, immense Murano glass chandeliers were put on the ceiling of the Dance Hall. They are still there today, and you can go and observe these testimonies of the past.
Nowadays, there are 483 electric lights illuminating the Caves. You will also find amazing games of light during Christmas time to add to the fairytale experience.
What to Find in the Caves?
Stalagmites And Stalagtites
The Postojna Caves are what we call karst. They are a type of geological formation, a topography resulting from the dissolution of soluble rocks. In this kind of place, you will find many underground sinkholes and caves.
The Caves became a beautiful and perfect touristic attraction by themselves. Humans did not build the mountains, rivers, halls, and narrow paths. They only added a railway and lights to facilitate visits.
Caves such as the Postojna Caves are known for being the houses of stalagmites and stalactites. The Postojna Caves do not fail in this area. If you ever visit them, you will see the breathtaking stalagmite nicknamed “the Brilliant.”
This stalagmite is a symbol of the Slovenian Karsts in general, and mostly a symbol of the Postojna Caves.
Stalagmites are formed on the floor of caves by drops of water falling slowly and continuously. This stalagmite is called Brilliant because of its white and shiny color. This spark is because the water deposits a layer of flowstone, giving a white aspect to the stalagmite.
The process is prolonged. Indeed, dripstones (speleothems) grow an average of 0,04 inches (one millimeter) over ten years. In some areas, it can be in a few years, but in others, depending on the conditions, it can take hundreds of years.
You will also see an ornament rich column right next to the Brilliant. This unforgettable landscape is worth seeing for every tourist in Slovenia.
Another stalagmite very important in the Postojna Caves is the Skyscraper. It is the oldest stalagmite in the Caves. Since it is the oldest, it had time to grow. It is now about 17 yards (16 meters) in height.
The stalagmite is so old it is hard to give it a date. However, scientists estimate its age at about 150,000 years. Since the Caves are three million years old, the Skyscraper is just a young stalagmite in comparison.
This young age leads us to think that there are many older stalagmites hidden in parts of the Caves that have never been explored until today. Some of them are probably older than half a million years.
Around the Skyscraper, and everywhere in the Caves, are several other giant stalagmites. These splendid pieces give your visit an impression of vastness. You will feel like looking at a forest of stalagmites, a forest of giants.
From the top of what we call the Cavalry (or Great Moutain), you will be able to see this “forest”. The stalagmites are called the Giants. They are near the Skyscraper, which is right below the Cavalry.
This Cavalry is the result of the ceiling collapsing. It has a volume of more than 168 thousand cubic meters. It is so big you could fit entire buildings inside of it.
The World’s First Railway In An Underground Cave
Something amazing you can see and experience in the Postojna Caves is the world’s first railway located underground, in the Caves. It opened in 1872.
If you are visiting the Postojna Caves, you will have the chance to take a trip on this railway.
The railway was a necessity for visits to the Caves. The first time people were transported in such a way in Postojna was in 1957 when Franz Joseph and Elizabeth on March 11th. They used sedan chairs to go around the Caves since they were no riding animals.
It was relatively easy for Slovenians to set up a railway in the Postojna Caves considering they are horizontal caves. It officially opened on June 16th, 1872.
Back then, cave guides had to pull two carriages called Phaetons, each carrying four visitors, to get from one point to another.
Since the opening of the railway, visits for tourists were much more comfortable, and the Caves gained in notoriety. As a plus, many footpaths were set up around the Caves, which gave the Caves a lot more advantages for tourism. It was also the time when tourism jumped, thanks to Dr. Anton Globočnik von Sorodolski becoming the Chairman of the Caves Commission.
He decided to build a new railway in 1872, to ease the work of the tourist guides. The trail was 1,677 yards (1,534 meters) in length and had a track gauge of 24 inches (620 mm). It went from the speleothem called Prižnica (Pulpit) in the Great Dome to the foot of the Great Mountain.
It took three months to complete the railway under the supervision of the road-master, Gregor Oblak. It was completely renovated after World War I. At the time, the Postojna Caves were in Italian territory.
The Kingdom of Italy started to work on the railway in 1923. They extended it and installed a gasoline-powered locomotive, which was much more useful and fast than the previous engine.
Also, the train could transport 20 passengers, a great advantage for tourism since more people could visit the Caves at the same time. Since the gasoline was a very compelling investment, the owners of the Caves decided to buy a second locomotive. The third one was purchased soon after, in Milan, in 1926.
Tourism increased a lot in a short time. The second locomotive had 25 carriages with six seats each. Now, 150 tourists could enter the Caves at the same time. You can now see this locomotive at the Postojna Cave exhibition pavilion, although it has not been used since 1957.
After World War II, Slovenia became part of Yugoslavia, and so did the Postojna Caves. It is during this time that the owners decided to go from gasoline-powered engines to electric trains.
Two brand new battery-powered electric locomotives were purchased in 1956, going up to 12 trains in the years following, and the last two in 1988.
With fast and effective engines, the only problem left was the fact that the trail was a single track. Because of this, only three trains could circulate in the Caves at the same time, making the maximum number of visitors per day around 2,100.
In 1964, a circular trail was built and was finished in 1967. To create such a path, workers had to excavate 461 yards (421 meters) of the tunnel and make a 21 yards-long (19,4 meters) bridge in the Small Caves.
Do not hesitate to go to the Postojna Caves only to experience a ride on the only double tracked underground trail. During the 3,7 kilometers of ride, you will have plenty of time to enjoy the magnificent scenery, as well as the Murano-glass chandeliers hanging down from the ceiling of the Dance Hall.
The Baby Dragons
In the Postojna Caves, you will see something extraordinary: actual baby dragons. In Slovenia, there are a lot of legends and myths surrounding dragons. Slovenian love dragons, and the country is full of them.
If you ever visit the city of Ljubljana, you will very likely see dragon symbols everywhere around town. From the Dragon’s Bridge built by Jože Plečnik between 1900 and 1901 to the utility hole covers, you cannot miss them.
Two legends explain the fact that Slovenians love dragons so much that they thought there were baby dragons in the Postojna Caves.
First, there is the myth of Jason and his army of Argonauts. Jason had to flee his country because he stole the King’s golden fleece. He fled with the King’s daughter Medea, a witch, who was also his lover.
They left on a boat, followed by the King’s army, but managed to evade before they got to them. Then, they crossed the Danube River and the Aegen Sea in his boat, the Argo, until they reached the mouth of the River Ljubljanica.
Since the river was too shallow for the boat to enter, the army had to dismantle the ship and keep going on foot. They set camp when winter came, near the city of Ljubljana. What they did not know was that they set foot on a Dragon’s marsh.
Since they lived in the dragon’s hunting territory, it attacked the camps, killing many soldiers and flooding the settlement.
Medea and Jason decided to find the dragon’s den and get rid of it. After hours of walking, they found the cave where the dragon lived. With her magic, Medea put the dragon asleep and then told Jason to put enormous rocks in its nostrils to avoid it from breathing fire.
When it woke up, considering it could not breathe fire, a bowl of flames accumulated in its stomach, and the dragon exploded.
The legend of Jason and the Argonauts is the most famous legend about dragons in Slovenia. Dragons are seen as protectors of the country since they are such powerful creatures. It is why, when people found small animals they did not recognize, they thought of baby dragons.
These creatures are as fascinating as the stories. They are called olms, or proteus anguinus. Olms look like fetuses, with translucid pink bodies and gills. They are very small, with absolutely no sight.
What is incredible is that they are supposed to live hundreds of years and up to eight years with no food. They live entirely in the dark, 400 feet underground. The only way you will see olms is by visiting the Postojna Caves or the Škocjan Caves, and by taking underground trains to the bottom of the Caves.
Recently, for the first time in decades, Slovenians were able to witness olms eggs hatch. It is a discovery significant for science because their reproduction system is poorly known.
You will see olms in aquariums inside the Caves.
The Postojna Caves Incredible Biodiversity
Once you saw stalagmites, and you discovered the baby dragons, you might think the Postojna Caves have no other surprises for you, but you would be wrong. In the Postojna Caves, you will find incredible biodiversity.
One of the main discoveries concerning biodiversity was made by Luka Čeč, the man who discovered the biggest part of the Cave, in September 1831.
When he was searching the Caves, he saw an odd insect he did not recognize. It was a small beetle with a large rear. He brought the insect to Count Franz Josef von Hochenwart, who was preparing the first printed Postojna Cave guidebook.
Count Franz Josef von Hochenwart decided to give the unknown insect for it to be studied. He put it in the hands of Ferdinand Schmidt, a renowned beetle expert.
The insect, just like the olms, was blind because it did not need to see in the darkness of the Caves. It also had long legs and antennae with tiny sensory hairs. What stood out, however, was the substantial rear. After some research, scientists discovered it was the rest of its wings fused when the insect evolved, considering it did not need to fly.
It was a crazy discovery because many scientists believed there was no life in the caves, which means no plants nor animals. When they found out cave-dwelling animals existed, it was a significant day.
The insect was given the Latin name Leptodirus hochenwartii. The only problem was that the beetle got harmed; they had to look for a second one to keep going with the research. It took 16 years to find another one.
During the research for a new cave beetle, hundreds of other cave-dwelling animals were found. To this date, 115 actual cave-dwelling animals were observed in the Postojna Caves.
How to Access the Caves?
You can reach the park by different means of transport.
By car, you will need to take the A1 motorway from Ljubljana, Koper, or Trieste (Postojna motorway exit No. 41, which is 1,25 miles (two kilometers) from the Park). The Postojna Caves are not very far from Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, nor Rijeka. It will take you less than an hour.
A full-day ticket for parking at the entrance to the Postojna Cave Park costs 5€. If you are staying at the hotel Jama, the parking is free of charge.
For people with motorhomes, you will find a parking 270 yards (250 meters) from the cave. The price is 20€ per night for the 24 hours parking open from April to October. The parking is fully equipped with water and electricity hook-up units, as well as a sewer connection.
If you decide to take the train, it will leave you directly in the town of Postojna. Afterward, you will have a 25-minute walk to get from the train station to the Postojna Caves. You can get to Postojna by train from Vienna, Venice, Zagreb, Salzburg, Rijeka, and Koper. The Postojna stop is on the Vienna-Venice railway. You can check the timetables here.
By bus, you will arrive right in front of the Caves car park if you take this bus. You can also take the bus that will get you in the town of Postojna and then walk to the Caves. This second bus will take you from Ljubljana to Postojna. Here are the timetables:
- Monday to Friday: 06.05, 06:30, 07:25, 08:52, 09:10, 09:50, 11:10, 11:57, 12:05, 13:55, 14:10, 15:10, 15:30, 16:05, 16:10, 17:56, 18:10, 20:50, 21:07
- Saturday: 07:20, 09:50, 14:10, 14:30, 16:05, 16:10, 17:56, 21:07
- Sunday: 07:20, 09:50, 14:10, 14:30, 16:00, 16:05, 17:56, 18:10, 20:45, 21:07
If you want to get there by plane, you will have to arrive in one of the closest airports in Ljubljana, in Italy (Trieste, Venice, and Milan) and Croatia (Zagreb, Rijeka, and Pula). Then, you can take any of the previous means of transport to arrive in Postojna.
Prices and Timetables
The Postojna Caves are open every day. If you want to take a tour, you need to know a few things like prices and timetables.
The tour includes a cave train ride and a walk along an accessible footpath. It takes about an hour and a half. The journey is suitable for everyone: children, seniors, and visitors with mobility impairment are more than welcome and should not encounter any difficulty.
Many languages are spoken by touristic guides, such as Slovenian, English, German, and Italian, but you can also use an audio guide in 17 different languages.
Do not forget to take a sweater for your tour; the temperature in the Caves is around 50°F (10°C) throughout the year. We also advise you to take sports shoes for the walk.
Timetable (they can sometimes change, to be certain of the times, be sure to check the official website):
- November to March: 10 am, 12 am, 3 pm
- April: 10 am, 11 am, 12 am, 2 pm, 3 pm, 4 pm
- May: every hour from 9 am to 5 pm
- June: 11 am, 4 pm
- July: 10 am, 11 am, 12 am, 2 pm, 3 pm
- August: 10 am, 12 am, 3 pm
- September: every hour from 9 am to 5 pm
- October: 10 am, 11 am, 12 am, 2 pm, 3 pm, 4 pm
- Adults: 27,90 €
- Students (16 – 25 years): 22,30 €
- Children from 6 to 15 years: 16,70 €
- Children up to 5 years: 1,00 €
It is also possible to visit the Postojna Caves in larger groups. For this, you will need to book the visit in advance. If you are visiting with 20 people or more, there are discounts and special accommodations.
There is also a field trip accommodation for school groups. They are available for primary-school and secondary-school students. You can choose between different science visits for children to enjoy:
- Karst Caves: Postojna Cave and Expo Cave Karst (2.5 to 3 h)
- Castle Adventure: Predjamski grad in Postojnska jama (2,5 h)
- Comprehensive Exploration of the Karst: Postojna cave, Expo Cave Karst, Predjama Castle (3 to 4 h)
- Underground Trekking Tour: Postojna Cave, Black and Pivka Caves, Karst forest, Expo Cave Karst (3 to 4 h)
A Hidden Underground World
The Postojna Caves are stunning and deserve the trip. Children and adults will all enjoy visiting the caves. So, if you are a tourist in Slovenia, go to this beautiful place and observe out of this world sceneries.
You will also have the possibility to bring back adorable souvenirs from your trip. From wooden magnets to olms plushies, you will necessarily find something you will like to bring back to your friends and family -or for yourself! Books, DVDs, stamps, postcards, etc. are available at every souvenir shop of the authentic Postojna Park brand. There even is an online shop!
Visit the Postojna Caves and Park today and discover its hidden underground world!