Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, is just a fantastic little city to visit. Having been awarded the coveted ‘Green Capital of Europe’ title of 2016, this pretty city is a peaceful and fairly quiet one. With its gorgeous, flowing Ljubljanica River, leafy green banks, and traffic free centre, Ljubljana is an ideal city for those who enjoy a more serene setting, whilst still having a thriving clubbing, art and culture scene due to a large number of students in the area. Beautiful, colourful buildings designed by Jože Plečnik, Slovenia’s own, world renown architect, line the river’s banks and during the spring and summer months the bars and cafes along the canal set up terrace seating along the river, making for a laid back, effervescent and social vibe.
If you are visiting Slovenia, two days in the capital should be ample time to explore the city and it’s surroundings. As I already said, it’s not a big place, and is very manageable by foot.
Where to Stay
Ljubljana is full of fantastic, and often very affordable accommodation options, with very good customer service. I chose to spend two nights in the Adora Hotel. A lovely and very comfortable, in a fantastic location, offering parking options at an extra charge. Some other options which come highly recommended include:
- Urban Hotel – 500 m from the Tromostovje Bridge and Ljubljana Old Town.
- Art Hotel – only 350 m from Prešern Square, Triple Bridge and the Old Town.
- Antiq Palace Hotel – a very fancy, yet affordable place which is actually a former aristocratic residence.
- City Hotel Ljubljana – located in the heart of Ljubljana, just 300 m from the central Prešeren Square.
- Hostel Celica – a unique and quirky place to stay in, that’s for sure. This hostel/hotel is actually a former PRISON! That’s right, a real, functioning prison! It has now been expertly converted into a chic and funky hostel with a variety of accommodation options. Yes, you can actually sleep in a cell if you like!
All opinions are my own and I have no affiliations with the hotels mentioned above.
If you are arriving by car you will have to find parking, unless your hotel provides that for you. Make sure to check about this prior to arriving. Not all hotels within the centre have parking available, so don’t take this for granted. During my stay at the Adora Hotel, I paid an extra €9.00 daily for parking, Parking within the city is a problem as most of the old town is pedestrianised, and as with most European capitals, finding free parking during the week within the city centre, especially until late afternoon, can be a mission of sorts. Even so, paid car parks are available, and you can find more information about this on the municipal parking web site. Street parking spaces are metered by parkomats. into which you insert payment after entering the amount of time you will be using the spot. The parkomat will then print you a receipt which you must put on display in your car. Paying is necessary on every working day until 6pm and on Saturdays till 1pm, however on Sundays and holidays parking is free.
As I already said, the best way to explore Ljubljana is by foot. Most of the main sites and attractions are within meters of each other, and the city has such a lovely and friendly vibe, which is best experienced by strolling around and just taking in the atmosphere. I’m just going to list my top ten things to do and see whilst in this gorgeous little city.
- Ljubljana Card – The Ljubljana Card is a combined ticket to Ljubljana’s major sights enabling visitors to explore the city in a comfortable way and at the lowest cost. You can purchase the card from the Tourist Information Centres which are found in various places around the city, as well as from some hotels, but the best deal would be to buy it online as you get an extra 10% discount when purchasing through the website. You can choose how long to use the card, with 24, 48 and 72 hour options, with validity begininning to run from the moment when the card is used for the first time.
- The Ljubljana Free Tour – If you’re unsure where and how to start exlporing the city, I have just the thing for you! The Ljubljana Free Walking Tour! It’s free of charge (although guides do appreciate a tip for their friendly and lively efforts), lasts around 2-2.5 hours, and covers everything from history and architecture to general vibe and national psyche. Tours are available daily and do not require booking. They are only held in English and cover most of Ljubljana’s notable sites and attractions.
- Preseren Square – The city’s favorite meeting point, as well as a direct link between the Center district and the Old Town, Preseren Square, known as Prešernov Trg by the locals, is definitely the place to start out your touring. This marvellous architectural masterpiece is colourful and lively, flanked by the pink Franciscan Church of the Annunciation on the north and the famous, elegant Triple Bridge to the south. Right in the centre of the square you will notice the large Prešeren monument, and erected in honour of Slovenia’s greatest poet, France Prešeren. To the east of the monument at No 5 is the Italianate Central Pharmacy, a cafe frequented by intellectuals in the 19th century whilst diagonally across the square at No 1 you will find another architectural gem: the Hauptman House. Two doors down at Wolfova ulica 4 you’ll see a terracotta figure on the wall, peeking out from a window. It’s Julija Primič gazing at her lifelong admirer Prešeren. It is said that the famous poet was head over heels in love with her, dedicating the ‘Sonetni venec’ and other romantic songs to her.
- Ljubljana Castle – Sitting atop a a 375-metre-high hill east of the Old Town, Ljubljana Castle is as typical a castle as you can get. With its huge walls, towers and turrets, the castle is a combination of different architectural styles acquired through the ages, although the majority of the complex was actually rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in the early 16th century. Entrance to the castle is free of charge, but you’ll have to pay to enter the Watchtower, the Chapel of St George, to see the Exhibition on Slovenian History, visit the new Puppet Theatre (creepy…. Oh so creepy….) and take the Time Machine tour. The latter is highly recommended and lasts about 90 minutes, led by costumed guides who walk you through the different eras of Slovenian history. The Watchtower gives you an opportunity to take in some fantastic bird’s eye views of the city below. There’s also a 12-minute video tour of Ljubljana and its history in several languages. There are several ways to get to the castle, with the easiest (and most fun!) being a 70m-long funicular that leaves from Old Town not far from the market on Vodnikov trg. You can also get on an hourly tourist train that departs from south of the Ljubljana Tourist Information Centre… Both are good fun if you have kids with you. If you have some extra time on your hands you could choose to walk up to the castle via three main walking routes: Študentovska ulica, which runs south from Ciril Metodov trg; steep Reber ulica from Stari trg; and Ulica na Grad from Gornji trg. Check out the official website for more info, opening hours and pricing: Ljubljana Castle Website.
- Central Market – Ljubljana’s market is teeming with different foods, both local and international, as well as colourful flower and plant stalls. If you’re looking for an authentic Slovenian souvenir to take home, buy some local honey from one of the hawkers, it’s absolutely delicious. Make sure to buy some fresh berries to snack on and yes, the home made cheese is pretty tasty, the sausages too!
- Bridges of Ljubljana – Ljubljana is a city of bridges, with the most popular, and most attractive, being the Triple Bridge, designed by local architect Plečnik himself, connecting the main Preseren Square with the Old Town. The Dragon Bridge is a well known Ljubljana trademark and one of the most well known sights of the city. Four green dragons, two on each side, stand and guard the bridge, as well as the city. Legend has it that if a virgin woman crosses the bridge, the dragons
would come to life and wave their tails… So watch out ladies!!! The Cobblers` Bridge, also designed by Plecnik is recognised by its upstanding pillars, supporting lamps and other stone balls. The bridge is a link from one side of the old town to another and a popular place for street artists, musicians, painters etc… Very pretty indeed. The Butcher’s Bridge is a more modern bridge, connecting the Ljubljana Central Market and the Petkovšek Embankment. It was initially proposed by, once again, Presnik, in the 1930s, but was actually built and unveiled in 2010, after much deliberation and debate. It’s a very simple and modern bridge, but it does have a few very interesting sculptures on it… Worth a look at! Also, take a small padlock with you to this bridge… You can leave your own memorandum there if you like. 🙂
- Lunch/Dinner or just a local Beer along the canal – A simple one here! Sitting by the beautiful river and just watching life go by was one of my favourite things to do in Ljubljana. A perfect way to spend a warm, sunny spring or summer afternoon or evening, you’re sure to find something tasty to suit your culinary needs with a variety of restaurants, cafes and bars along the embankment. Most places even have cosy blankets to cuddle in, should the weather be cool.
- Tivoli City Park – For a more laid back afternoon, head on towards Tivola Park, Ljubljana’s largest green area. It is located on the northern outskirts of the Center District, stretching to the Šiška District to the north, the Vič District to the south, and the Rožnik District to the west. It was designed in 1813 by the French engineer Jean Blanchard and created by joining together the parks which had surrounded Podturn and Cekin Mansions, now found within the park itself, The park, covering an area of approximately five square kilometres, is crossed by three grand horse chestnut tree-lined walks and landscaped with ornamental flower beds, interesting trees and numerous statues and fountains. If it’s sunny you really should just get a sandwich or snack from the Center district and take a stroll toward the park where you can munch down in the sun and just enjoy the scenery.
- Alternative and Green Tours – If you are staying in the city for more than a couple of days, seeing Ljubljana in a quirky or alternative way is definitely the way to go. Slovenia’s capital is famous for having a green heart, with a commitment towards
sustainable development and eco friendly, adventurous activities. You can explore the city by bicycle or Segway or glide down the Ljubljanica River on a stand-up paddleboard or kayak. Cool right?? If you’re a foodie, you’re in luck! You can get a taste of the local culinary offerings through the initiative Taste Ljubljana. This brand is characterised by the use of locally sourced and, most often, organic ingredients which taste absolutely delicious, and are good for you! 🙂
Straying away from the city – If your stay in Slovenia is limited to the city of Ljubljana, you could always opt for a day trip outside the capital. A number of tour operators offer a variety of day tours outside the city, venturing towards Lake Bled – Slovenia’s poster-child, and it’s surroundings, the immense and breath-taking Postojna Caves and the nearby Predjama castle, Lipica and Skocjan, Maribor and Styria, Piran and many others. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you might even choose to venture even further to Croatia, or Northern Italy! My suggestion would be to stick to a closer area, so if you’re short on time but still want to leave the city for the day, Lake Bled and it’s surroundings would definitely be the easier and most gratifying option, in my opinion.
So there you have it. Ten fun things to do when in Ljubljana! Pick and choose to your own liking, you’ll definitely find something to suit your needs! Will be writing more about Slovenia in the coming weeks as I only spent a couple of days in the city, then ventured onwards into the country. So if you like what you see, feel free to follow the blog or follow me on Facebook.
Happy travels everyone!