LJUBLJANA TRAVEL GUIDE
Ljubljana is undoubtedly one of our favourite cities in the world and quite possibly our favourite city in Europe. With its old school charm and modern vibe, it's no surprise that Ljubljana is often referred to as a ‘hidden gem’ when talking about the capital of Slovenia. We ended up in Slovenia by pure chance during our 2018 Europe Campervan Trip seeing as Slovenia was hardly on our to-visit list, but oh boy did it impress! Slovenia generally seems like somewhat of an under the radar destination and it’s mainly because, well, barely anyone knows about it.
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After spending just 4 nights there, wee really LOVED Ljubljana! Ljubljana is proud to be one of the greenest and most liveable capital cities of Europe and is both Slovenia's capital and largest city. We cannot wait to return and both agreed that Ljubljana is a place where we could easily hang out for a few weeks or even months. So, first things first:
How Do You Pronounce Ljubljana?
Ljubljana is pronounced lub-lee-yana. Although the Slovenian language may be pretty tough for most English speakers, it's well worth learning how to pronounce the name of such a special city. After all, you don't want to be that tourists mumbling incoherent sounds when referring to Ljubljana.
If you are planning on visiting most of the main tourist attractions, including museums, we suggest that you consider purchasing the Ljubljana Card, which offers discounted entry and public transportation.
Ljubljana has a relaxed, welcoming vibe and is far from overrun by tourists. The old part of the city is pedestrianized which adds a lot to the relaxed atmosphere and charm we experienced as the leafy banks of the emerald-green Ljubljanica River, which flows through the city's heart, is left free for pedestrians and cyclists. During the summer months, you can even enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of outside seating at most riverside restaurants and cafes. Take a look at our video to see us exploring the best of Ljubljana.
LJUBLJANA - WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Ljubljana is proud to be one of the most environmentally friendly and green capital cities in the world, so it's no surprise that Tivoli Park is one of its prized attractions. Tivoli Park was first laid out way back in the 19th century and today it is proud to be labelled both the most beautiful and biggest park in Ljubljana. Tivoli Park stretches over a vast area, with wide tree-lined promenades, neatly landscaped colourful flower beds and plenty of historic and modern statues. You will find the park filled with a great mix of local dog-walkers, joggers and youngsters as well as many strolling tourists, all enjoying the wonderfully serene atmosphere.
This is a somewhat alternative attraction of Ljubljana. The Metelkova area is now an art commune with a fascinating history. Metelkova originally served as a barracks for over one hundred years until December 1990, when artists expressed their desire to convert this derelict former military zone into a revised cultural hub. Three years later, after ongoing futile negotiations with the local authorities, the artists persisted by squatting and gradually establishing what is today a dilapidated collection of graffiti-covered buildings that are home to bars and art galleries. We must warn you, this is the dodgier side of town and may make you feel a little out of your comfort zone. It is safest explored in a group and in daylight hours.
Saints Cyril and Methodius Church
This Serbian Orthodox Church, with its neo-Byzantine architecture, was built from 1932 to 1936. The church is free to visit and is admired for its bulbous cupolas on the outside with their golden crosses as well as an interior beautifully decorated with frescoes. It's worth popping your head in here while visiting the adjacent Tivoli Park.
Ljubljana Cathedral - Saint Nicholas Cathedral
You can't miss the impressive twin bell towers and 24m high dome of Ljubljana's Saint Nicholas Cathedral from the Central Market Area. The church was completed in 1707 although the two bronze doors were added much later to commemorate Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1996. The church is free to visit and the interior is elaborately decorated with colourful and vivid frescoes.
Ljubljana Central Market
The Central Market is on the Eastern bank of the Ljubljana River towards the North of the Old Town Area. Locals head to the open-air market to buy fresh fish, local fruit, vegetables and herbs. You will also find a row of handicraft stalls and speciality foods along the riverbank. In season, The Central Market is also host to the worldwide Open Kitchen movement, so check online or ask a local if this is happening when you visit.
Ljubljana Skyscraper - Nebotičnik
Although at first, it may just appear to be another ordinary multistorey building, when it was constructed back in 1933, the Nebotičnik skyscraper held the title as the tallest residential building in Europe for quite some time. At only 70m high, this 13-storey building may no longer dominate the Ljubljana skyline, but it still offers an incredible view out over the city with a reasonably priced restaurant, which in our opinion, is reason enough to visit!
The building is open to the public and you can make your way to the restaurant's top terrace for free. We do, however, highly recommend that you take the time to sit down and try a local speciality of Prekmurska Gibanica (Slovenian Layered Pastry) with a coffee while appreciating the view. As budget travellers, we really enjoyed this affordable little luxury!
Ljubljana’s Triple Bridge
Designed in1929 by architect Jože Plečnik, the Triple Bridge links the popular Prešeren Square on the western bank of the Ljubljanica River with the Central Market Area on the eastern bank. Jože Plečnik was instrumental in Ljubljana's Urban Design Transformation. He came up with the idea of adding angled pedestrian bridges on each side of the original 19th-century bridge to effectively broaden it and alleviate increasing traffic at this crossing point. The bridge itself is a work of art, but this is also a great place to hang out and people watch!
Ljubljana’s Dragon Bridge
The Dragon Bridge is a legacy of one of the earliest reinforced concrete bridges constructed in Europe. It was built in 1901 to replace an old wooden bridge and although simple, it has a strange old-world charm to it. The Secessionist architecture of the bridge is accompanied not only by the four large menacing dragons but also smaller dragon figurines at the lampposts. You may have noticed that the dragon is a symbolic emblem of Ljubljana which is said to represent strength and grandeur.
Ljubljana’s Butcher’s Bridge
This modern and simple footbridge is adorned with bronze sculptures and 'love padlocks' placed by tourists. Make your way along the riverbank from this bridge all the way to the Cobbler’s Bridge.
Ljubljana’s Cobbler’s Bridge
Rumour has it that back int he day, local bakers who cheated their loyal customers out of good quality bread were dunked into the freezing cold river water from this bridge! Make your way along the riverbank from this bridge all the way to the Butcher’s Bridge.
Stroll Around Ljubljana Old Town
One of our favourite things to do is to stroll around the historical Old Town Area of Ljubljana, which stretches from the banks of the Ljubljanica river all the way up to the great castle. The area is characterized by its distinctive Mediterranean feel as you wander the cobbled streets with many handicraft stalls from piazza to piazza, admiring Baroque mansions and fountain statues. The riverbank itself is lined with shady trees making it a pleasant stroll between local restaurants and lively cafés where you can stop and relax amongst the locals. Keep an eye out for the Town Hall and Robba Fountain (Fountain of the Three Rivers).
Cycle Around Ljubljana
Ljubljana is a very cycle-friendly city. If you don't have your own bicycle, you can get one from the Slovenian Tourist Information Centre (STIC) for as little as 2 euros! This is a great fun way to see a little more of the city or get to all the attractions a little quicker than walking.
Ljubljana Castle sits proudly on the hill to the East of the Ljubljanica river. This medieval castle was first inhabited by Carinthian dukes during the 12th century before the Habsburgs took over during the 14th century. In the years that followed, the castle has been used as a barracks and a provincial jail, but today it is a worthy tourist attraction. There is a Museum and restaurant, but what we enjoyed most, was the walk up to the castle as well as strolling around the castle and admiring both the immaculate castle grounds and the impressive panoramic views out over the city. You can reach the castle by the glass funicular or you can take the long and winding walk all the way to the top as we did. If you are not heading to the museum, then sunset is a great time to be up there enjoying the view!
Located on the western bank of the Ljubljanica River, Prešeren Square is the heart of the Old Town and has many cafes and restaurants. You can't help but notice the pink façade of the Franciscan Church. It's also a great place for people watching or enjoying an ice-cream.
These tranquil, emerald-green waters are actually one of Slovenia’s archaeological sites. An impressive number of ancient artefacts have been salvaged from the Ljubljanica Riverbed over the past few centuries, including Bronze Age helmets and sickles, Iron Age spearheads and even medieval swords. Today you can stroll along the riverbanks enjoying the vibrant atmosphere of the town or you can even take part in some water activities such as Stand Up Paddleboarding or rowing. Or why not take a river cruise to enjoy the city from a different perspective.
Ljubljana’s City Beach - Špica
Don't expect to find any sand at Ljubljana’s City Beach! The Špica is a great place to hang out in summer, you can pull up a sun lounger, enjoy a beer and the tranquillity of the river. Just note that the river is not suitable for swimming.