Ljubljana, Slovenia. The capital city’s name is a mouthful. If you’re like me, maybe you even had to Google the correct pronunciation. (Shhh!). Or, if you’re like many Americans, maybe you’ve never even heard of Ljubljana or aren’t quite sure exactly where the country of Slovenia is…
Slovenia is a small picturesque country which is located in southern central Europe. It’s bordered by Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Hungary to the northeast and Croatia to the south. The country isn’t especially known by many North Americans, but is popular with Europeans and has become a new “hot spot” with travelers (and travel bloggers). Why? It’s freakin’ gorgeous! One look at a photo of fairy tale Lake Bled (above) located just outside Ljubljana and you’ll get it. You can read more about why I chose to travel to Slovenia and my road trip with Auto Europe around the country here.
Ljubljana is Slovenia’s lovely tiny capital city. Prior to my trip, I heard that most anyone who travels to Ljubljana falls in love. The city has been touted by those “in the know” as Europe’s most attractive, picturesque, green and/or livable capital. Old Town’s pedestrian friendly cobblestone streets are lined with historic colorful buildings which snake along the city’s river, whereas the newer parts of town are spattered with green spaces and parks and are home to impressive architecture and art installations.
After doing my research, I thought that the city did appear to be quite charming, especially for a capital city, but I couldn’t honestly say that I was as excited for my stay in Ljubljana as I was to see Bled or Piran. Nonetheless, I figured that “everyone” couldn’t be wrong, so I scheduled two nights in the city during my road trip through Slovenia.
Ljubljana City Guide
How to Get to Ljubljana
Jože Pučnik Airport is Slovenia’s international airport and is located less than 30 km outside the city center. If you’re traveling from the USA several airlines will get you to Ljubljana, but I found Turkish Air to be the cheapest and most convenient for my trip in late May. If you’re already in Europe, you’re in luck – you can snag a fairly inexpensive flight with a low cost or regional carrier to Ljubljana from many European cities. You can also get to Ljubljana by train or bus from many cities in eastern and central Europe. The trip is approximately 2 hours from Zagreb, 4 hours from Saltzburg, 6 hours from Vienna or Munich, 8 hours from Budapest, 10 hours from Frankfurt and 11 hours from Zurich.
Ljubljana City Guide
How to Get Around Ljubljana
Ljubljana is easily explored on foot if you’re staying near the city center. In fact, many of the roads in Old Town are closed to cars and are pedestrian-only. This said, Ljubljana can serve as a great base for you to explore the rest of Slovenia. I would highly recommend driving around the country. Slovenia was made for road tripping! The top sites are fairly close to each other, meaning you don’t have to spend a ton of time in the car (no destination in the entire country is more than a three hour drive from Ljubljana), and the roads are well-kept and easy to travel on. Plus, Slovenia is a very safe country (which is an obvious plus if you are traveling solo or on a girls trip like I was). You can read more about my road trip route with Auto Europe and itinerary in this post. If you don’t feel comfortable renting a car, it is possible to take day trips to destinations such as Bled and Piran via bus. Destinations such as Bovec and Brda are difficult to reach with public transportation, but can be visited with a private tour operator.
Ljubljana City Guide
What to Do in Ljubljana
Dragon Bridge – This bridge adorned with dragons has become the symbol of Ljubljana and is quite possibly the most photographed site in the city. Local legend has it that when a virgin walks across the bridge the dragons will wag their tails. (!)
Visit Ljubljana Castle – You can’t miss Ljubljana Castle perched high above the city. You can walk up Castle Hill or take the funicular up to explore the medieval fortress. Climb the tower for sweeping views of the city below. Find the calligrapher in the chapel and ask him to write your name or a Slovenian proverb in elegant script for a memorable souvenir.
Stroll the River – One of my favorite things to do in in Ljubljana was simply stroll the river walk and explore historic Old Town. The bustling walkway is jam-packed with locals and tourists alike. Cross the bridges and watch the boats pass under you, enjoy the awe-inspiring architecture, grab a cocktail or coffee at one of the many cafes and then zigzag through the side streets popping into the eclectic shops.
Enjoy the City’s Art – Ljubljana is a city of culture – you’ll find art installations throughout the city in what seems to be the most random places. Look down and you may find sculpture built right into the cobblestones near your feet, to your left a pop-up “Library Under the Treetops,” and to your right a concert or puppet show being set up in the middle of the street.
Wander Old Town After Dark – Ljubljana is equally beautiful after dusk. The colorful buildings are illuminated and reflect off the peaceful river, yet the streets and squares are still active with people heading out to socialize with friends.
Take a Tour – Stop in the tourism bureau and sign up for one of the many tours offered by Visit Ljubljana. You can take a tour of the city via bicycle or segway, hop on a river cruise, or participate in a pub crawl. You can find a full list of all the tours offered here.Don’t Miss: Metelkovo Mesto – Whoa… where do I begin? This self-declared “Autonomous Culture Zone” may be the most bizarre, crazy, fascinating place I’ve ever visited. (Strike that – it’s equally bizarre, but far more interesting than the outdoor prison beach bar in Tallinn where I drank prosecco). The former military barracks turned artist commune is plastered with archaic architecture, tiled mosaics and brightly colored street art. By day the squat houses galleries and studios, but come nighttime the grungy bars open and the area fills with black-clad patrons drinking in the streets and listening to live bands.
After I got over my initial shock of just how “different” Metelkovo Mesto was, a sense of uneasiness swept over me. To be perfectly honest, the area (and many of its patrons) looked as though they could be a bit dangerous. I wondered if “this” was why our taxi driver told us that “nice girls like us” don’t go to Metelkovo Mesto and that we should avoid it all together?! But, after walking around for a bit and realizing that no one even seemed to notice us (despite the fact that two blonde, brightly dressed Americans stuck out like a sore thumb), I realized that the people around me seemed to be kind and non-judgmental. (In fact, the bartender kept trying to return the euro I left for her as a tip because she thought I didn’t understand how much our drinks cost). Exploring this fascinating urban oasis is a must. Dress down, pop open a can of beer and spend some time people-watching. I’m willing to bet you’ll find yourself as fascinated as I was.
Ljubljana City Guide
Where to Eat in Ljubljana
Klobasarna – This small restaurant serves traditional sausage at low prices, perfect for a quick lunch or if you’re on a backpackers budget. I’m usually not one to eat “fast food” while traveling, but this sausage was delicious and shouldn’t be skipped.
Druga Violina – Their name means “other violin” since the restaurant is located across from the Academy of Music. Druga Violina is a social project designed to help people with disabilities and hires employees with special needs to help serve and produce the locally grown fare.
Trta Pizzaria – Slovenians will be quick to tell you that they believe their pizza is superior to what you’ll find in Italy. Trta is a great place to sample Slovenian pizza If you want to decide for yourself whether this claim holds true.Strelec – Head up the funicular to Ljubljana Castle to dine in their chic restaurant, Strelec, if you’re not on a budget and have coin to spare. The views from my table were as mouthwatering as the elegantly prepared dishes.
Altroke – I tried several dishes at this adorable wine and tapas bar and enjoyed each one. It’s also a great spot to introduce yourself to the local Slovenian wines.
Hot Horse – Feeling adventurous? As you may have guessed by the name, the secret ingredient in a Hot Horse burger is the horse meat.
Don’t Miss: Taste of Ljubljana Food Tour – I indulged in the Taste of Ljubljana Food Tour operated by the cities tourism bureau, Visit Ljubljana. The tour is three hours long and cost 30 euro, which was a steal for all the food and drinks I consumed. During the tour you’ll explore the city by foot, visiting five different restaurant stops while learning about Ljubljana’s food, history and culture. Slovenia’s food is unique and I was able to sample Slovenian varieties of sausage, potatoes, cow tongue, “fried” chicken and pastries while I sipped local wines and beers.
Ljubljana City Guide
Where to Drink in Ljubljana
Neboticnik – This rooftop bar and restaurant offers impressive 360 degree views of Ljubljana.
Cat Caffe – A visit to Ljubljana’s Cat Caffe is a must if you’re a cat lover. Enjoy a glass of wine, beer or coffee and meet the cafe’s playful and curious kitties.
Nostalgia – A drink here will transport you back in time. Nostalgia is decorated with vintage barber chairs, gas pumps and jukeboxes.
Solist – Head to Solist for a glass of champagne if you’re feeling classy. This fashionable bar is housed in Ljubljana’s beautiful philharmonic building.
Kavarna SEM – My only suggestion outside the city center, this cafe has an adorable outdoor space and is the perfect stop en-route to Metelkovo Mesto.
Don’t Miss: Daktari – The atmosphere at this bar is nothing short of awesome. Daktari is decked out with mismatched antique furniture and the walls are lined with tattered books. If you’re sitting on their terrace, keep an eye on the clock tower across the street – you’ll have a great view of the puppet show that begins on the hour until 9:00 p.m.
Ljubljana City Guide
Where to Stay in Ljubljana
I stayed at the Grand Hotel Union during my visit to Ljubljana. The hotel opened its doors in 1905 and the art nouveau building is revered as an important architectural achievement for the city. The historic hotel has hosted many famous people throughout the years such as actor and director Orson Welles, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and England’s Queen Elizabeth.
The luxe Grand Hotel Union is gorgeous inside and out, and is perfectly located just steps from the city’s main square. Fit for a queen (quite literally), my sophisticated hotel room was extremely large. I was also delighted to see that I had a street-facing window which looked across to one of Ljubljana’s most famous buildings, the Cooperative Business Bank Building, known for its interesting and brightly colored facade. I would highly recommend the hotel to my readers without hesitation.
So, What’d I Think?
Ljubljana blew me away!
It’s now clear to me why nearly every traveler I’ve met speaks so highly of Ljubljana. It’s also obvious why the city is often proclaimed to be Europe’s most attractive capital… it’s so darn pretty! I mean, you’ve seen the photos in this post – everywhere you look there’s interesting architecture, impressive art, green trees, colorful flowers, and of course, the aqua-hued Ljubljanica River. For a small city, Ljubljana is bursting with history, beauty and culture and offers a ton for visitors to do and see. Although I was able to get an ample taste of Ljubljana after two days, I could have easily and happily stayed longer.
Have you been to Ljubljana? What else would you add to this list? Did you fall head over heels for the city like I did?
Thank you to Visit Ljubljana for inviting me experience their lovely city and Auto Europe for sponsoring my road trip through Slovenia. As always, all opinions are my own. Header/Pinterest photo: Ljubljana by Gilad Rom/CC BY-NC 2.0.
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