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Nestled at the heart of Europe lies Slovenia’s quaint and charismatic capital, Ljubljana. The city radiates charm and charisma, with vestiges of a rich history interwoven with vibrant modernity. This diverse city enthralls with its unique character and vast array of activities. Whether you’re a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast, food fanatic, or a party animal, there’s plenty to do in Ljubljana.
A Brief History of Ljubljana
Ljubljana has a history going back thousands of years. The area was initially settled around 2000 BCE by early inhabitants of the Ljubljana Marshes. In Roman times, Emona, a fortified Roman settlement, was established in the city around 14 CE, and vestiges of this period can still be seen today. During the Middle Ages, Ljubljana emerged as a significant cultural and trade center, with the construction of the Ljubljana Castle, which still watches over the city today.
Over the centuries, Ljubljana found itself caught between the Habsburg and Ottoman empires. It thrived under Habsburg rule and was greatly influenced by their architecture, including the famous Triple Bridge. In the early 20th century, revered architect Jože Plečnik further shaped Ljubljana’s distinctive appearance with his modernist style. After World War II, Ljubljana became the capital of the newly formed Socialist Republic of Slovenia, part of Yugoslavia, before Slovenia declared independence in 1991, designating Ljubljana as the nation’s capital.
Today, Ljubljana is celebrated for its colorful history, vibrant culture, sustainable practices, and a blend of architectural styles.
Interesting Facts About Ljubljana
Ljubljana is brimming with fascinating facts. This green city was the European Green Capital of 2016, and applies a unique eco-friendly approach; the city center is largely car-free, instead, free electric taxis roam the streets.
t’s guarded by the mythical Ljubljana Dragon, a celebrated symbol found perched on the iconic Dragon Bridge. Ljubljana is a city of bridges, with more than 17 adorning the Ljubljanica River.
With a rich history dating back to Roman times, one of its key attractions is the medieval Ljubljana Castle, providing impressive city views. Ljubljana is cultural, sustainable, historical and mythical—all in one!
Top Things to Do in Ljubljana
Feel the Allure of Ljubljana Castle
Perched atop Castle Hill overlooking the city, the iconic Ljubljana Castle is an absolute must-visit. One can ascend the hill using the charming funicular or take a leisurely stroll up the well-marked path. The castle complex boasts several exciting features: the viewing tower with a panoramic view of the city, the Castle Museum tracing the castle’s history, the Puppet Museum imbued with a whimsical charm, and a chapel that breathes history. Do not miss the open-air cinema under the stars during the summer.
Wander the Enchanting Old Town
Ljubljana’s Old Town, with its cobblestone streets and unique architecture, centres around the charming Triple Bridge. This area is home to some of the city’s most historic buildings, like the Town Hall and Robba Fountain, oozing a romantic ambiance. Its bustling squares, riverbanks, and numerous cafes provide ample opportunities to enjoy local gastronomy.
Visit Preseren Square
Preseren Square is the heart of Ljubljana, acting as a popular meeting point and event space. Characterized by the impressive salmon-pink Franciscan Church of the Annunciation and the monument to the national poet France Prešeren, it embodies the city’s cultural and historical essence. Moreover, its location at the head of the Triple Bridge, offering views of Ljubljana Castle, heightens its importance as both a landmark and transport hub. Furthermore, the square is a hub for numerous festivals, concerts, sports events, and a popular Christmas market.
Discover Ljubljana’s Famous Bridges
Ljubljana is renowned for its numerous charming bridges that enhance the city’s aesthetic charm. Most notable is Jože Plečnik’s architectural masterpiece, the Triple Bridge. Sitting in the heart of the city, it’s composed of its original stone bridge and two pedestrian-only side bridges, creating a unique triple pathway over the Ljubljanica River. The central bridge offers a splendid view of the Ljubljanica river and the town’s central square, while the side bridges lead you towards the delightful Old Town.
Then there’s the Dragon Bridge, an iconic Ljubljana symbol, famed for its Art Nouveau design and stunning copper-green dragon statues. It’s rich in symbolism and mythology, adding an almost mystical element to the city.
Lastly, the Butcher’s Bridge, initially part of Plečnik’s plans, was only finally built in 2010. This modern pedestrian bridge with a glass walking surface offers an unexpected twist with its unusual decor featuring eerie sculptures by Jakov Brdar.
These bridges not only connect the city’s halves but also its rich history with its vibrant present, bridging the past with the present and the ordinary with the extraordinary.
Venture into Tivoli Park
Tivoli Park, the city’s largest green space, offers a tranquil retreat from urban bustle. It welcomes visitors to unwind amidst the verdant landscape, decorative gardens, intricate sculptures, and imposing mansions that house the International Centre of Graphic Arts and the Museum of Contemporary History. In addition, the Jakopič Promenade, lined with outdoor photo exhibitions, is worth a visit.
Buy Fresh Produce at Central Market
Ljubljana’s Central Market is the beating heart of the city’s culinary scene. A bustling open-air market teeming with rows of vibrant stalls, it’s here you’ll discover fresh produce straight from the farm! Get lost in the delightful aroma of baked breads and the sight of diverse local cheeses. Whether you’re a seasoned chef, foodie, or just enjoy a good munch, you’re sure to love the freshness, variety and local vibe.
Ride the Funicular to Ljubljana Castle
Ljubljana Castle, a strategic medieval fortress overlooking Slovenia’s capital, is a must-visit attraction. Ascend by funicular or foot to explore its enriching museums, dine at the castle’s restaurants, and capture panoramic city views from the viewing tower.
The castle combines intriguing history, cultural events, and stunning views, offering visitors an immersive experience in a remarkably preserved historic setting. Its presence lingers in every corner of Ljubljana, symbolizing the city’s endurance and evolution over centuries.
Top tip: Purchase some cheese, bread and fruit from Central Market and have your own little picnic on the lawn outside the castle.
Experience Metelkova and Rog
Once Yugoslav army barracks, Metelkova and Rog are now autonomous cultural centres radiating a raw, trendy appeal. These graffiti-covered spaces are home to art installations, alternative galleries, quirky nightclubs, and workshops. They’re vibrant reflections of Ljubljana’s contemporary creative energy.
Ride a Boat on the Ljubljanica River
The Ljubljanica River, affectionately called the River of Seven Names, winds its way through the heart of the city. Hop onto one of the traditional wooden boats for a picturesque ride, offering unique perspectives of architectural landmarks like the Cobblers’ Bridge, Dragon Bridge, and buildings designed by the acclaimed architect Jože Plečnik.
Savor Slovenian Cuisine
Ljubljana’s culinary scene is increasingly recognized for its innovation and the use of locally sourced ingredients. Open Kitchen (“Odprta kuhna”) food market held on Fridays from mid-March to October is the perfect venue to devour a myriad of Slovenian and international dishes. Don’t forget to indulge in Potica, a traditional roll cake, and Kranjska klobasa, a Carniolan sausage.
Some top restaurants to visit in Ljubljana:
JB Restaurant: A renowned establishment led by Chef Janez Bratovž, known for its unique fusion of Mediterranean, French, and modern Slovenian cuisine. The elegant ambiance and artistic plating make for a delightful gastronomic experience.
Restaurant Strelec: Set within the Ljubljana Castle, this restaurant offers breathtaking views of the city and inventive Slovenian dishes crafted by Chef Igor Jagodic. This combination of atmosphere and cuisine creates a memorable dining encounter.
TaBar: A modern, cozy spot for tapas lovers. Enjoy a casual, yet sophisticated experience, as you savor a selection of creative local and international small plates, curated by Chef Jakob Pintar.
Atelje: Under the guidance of Chef Jorg Zupan, Atelje presents flavorful culinary masterpieces with a focus on carefully-selected, high-quality ingredients, all set within a chic and contemporary setting.
Restavracija AS: Located in the heart of Ljubljana, this restaurant offers a mix of Mediterranean, Asian, and modern Slovenian flavors on its eclectic menu. The outdoor terrace provides a relaxed, stylish dining atmosphere.
Discover Plečnik’s Ljubljana
Ljubljana owes much of its architectural elegance to the mastermind Jože Plečnik. A stroll around the city uncover Plečnik’s masterpieces – the Triple Bridge, Central Market, National and University Library, Plečnik’s House, and the impressive architecture of the Žale cemetery. The city showcases the breadth of the architect’s genius.
Visit the Slovenian Museums and Galleries
The city boasts numerous museums and galleries that contain a wealth of knowledge about Slovenia’s rich cultural, historical, and artistic heritage. The National Museum of Slovenia, Museum of Modern Art, Slovenian Ethnographic Museum, and the City Museum of Ljubljana are all well worth a visit.
Cathedral of St. Nicholas
The Cathedral of St. Nicholas, an architectural marvel in Ljubljana’s Old Town, showcases a stunning Baroque design characterized by its green dome and twin towers. Entering the cathedral, visitors are greeted with impressive frescoes, exquisitely carved pulpits, and a magnificent organ. As a significant cultural, religious, and historical treasure, St. Nicholas Cathedral offers more than a place of worship; it provides a window into the city’s rich past. This imposing edifice is truly a must-see when exploring Ljubljana.
Union Beer Tour
Absolutely, at Union Beer Experience in Ljubljana, you’re in for a good time. You get to stroll through the rich history of the Pivovarna Union Brewery, and see how your favorite brews are made today. Top it all off with a succulent pint of freshly made beer! Plus, it’s not just about the beer. Swing by the Union Pub for tasty bites and the true pub atmosphere. Music lovers and sports fans aren’t left out either – it’s an all-encompassing experience! And hey, you can score cool merch from their online shop to remember your visit by.
Enjoy the Nightlife
Ljubljana might be a small city, but it’s blessed with a vibrant nightlife. Revel in the bustling bars and pubs scattered around the Old Town, or dance the night away in clubs playing everything from techno to indie pop. For a laid-back evening, you could attend a theatre performance at the Slovenian National Theatre or a concert at Kino Šiška.
Stay in a Converted Prison
Hostel Celica is a former military prison that has been transformed into an avant-garde hostel with 20 one-of-a-kind cells, each individually redesigned by local and international artists. Guests enjoy a unique stay while soaking up art and culture. It boasts a welcoming community environment with communal areas, a bar, and even a gallery. This isn’t just a place to sleep, it’s an unforgettable experience that embodies the spirit of freedom and imagination. Embrace the chance to say, “I spent a night in a prison cell – and loved it!”
Rooftop Drinks at Neboticnik
The Nebotičnik Rooftop Bar in Ljubljana gives visitors a chance to see the city from a breathtakingA Final Word perspective. From the 11th floor of the Nebotičnik Building, one of the city’s tallest, you can savor delicious drinks and snacks along with panoramic views of the cityscape and Ljubljana Castle. Adding to the charm are chic interiors and an upscale, relaxed atmosphere. It’s a place to enjoy the sunset, to see the city lights sparkle, and truly feel on top of the world—making it a must-visit location in the heart of Ljubljana.
House of Illusions
The House of Illusions in Ljubljana is a fascinating world of optical illusions and mind-bending exhibits that engage and entertain visitors of all ages. From the Mirror Room to the Vortex Tunnel, the exhibits trick your senses and defy your perception of reality. It’s a place where you can defy gravity, shrink or grow within seconds, and find your way out of intriguing mazes. Far from an ordinary museum, the House of Illusions invites you to explore, interact, and most importantly, have waves of laughter and fun!
Day Trips From Ljubljana
Besides visiting Ljubljana, there are tons of great things to do in Slovenia. If you have time, I’d recommend hiring a car or booking a couple of day trips so you can see more of the country. Slovenia is compact in size, so it’s easy to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time.
Lake Bled is a stunning gem in Slovenia’s Julian Alps. Famous for its iconic island church and medieval cliff-top castle, the lake offers breathtaking, picture-postcard views. The emerald-green lake, contrasting with the white Julian Alps, lends an air of serene beauty. Visitors can row in traditional “pletna” boats to the island, hike up to the castle for panoramic views, or simply enjoy a leisurely lakeside stroll. With its mix of natural beauty and historical attractions, Lake Bled provides a tranquil retreat that leaves a lasting impression.
The Postojna Cave, stretching over 24 kilometers, is one of Slovenia’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders. As one of the world’s largest karst monuments, it’s renowned for its astounding formations of stalactites and stalagmites, its unique cave ecosystem, and the legendary human fish, also known as the Olm. Visitors can experience an exciting train ride into the cave’s depths, marvel at the Brilliant, the most famous stalagmite, and explore the enigmatic, subterranean world. The Postojna Cave is a captivating underground marvel that truly showcases Slovenia’s rich natural beauty.
Perched within a towering cliff, Predjama Castle is a remarkable, Renaissance-style fortress. Known as the world’s largest cave castle, it’s shrouded in legend, including tales of the 15th century ‘Slovenian Robin Hood’, Erazem Predjamski. The castle offers a fascinating insight into medieval life with secret tunnels, defensive walls, and restored living areas. Behind the castle, a network of natural cave passages adds to its allure. Synthesizing natural wonder and architectural sophistication, Predjama Castle provides a unique, unforgettable journey through history and a compelling story of survival.
A Final Word
Ljubljana, steeped in rich history, is a city full of surprises. Enthralling attractions like its medieval castle, the charming old town, unique locations like the Hostel Celica, and distinctive landmarks like the Dragon Bridge make it a city worth exploring.
Whether you’re into history, culture, sustainable living, or urban exploration, Slovenia’s capital has a unique allure. This stunning city combines a historic heart with a modern soul, delivering a truly unforgettable experience.
Book Your Trip
Book your flights: Find cheap flights using Google Flights, Skyscanner or Kayak. To get travel deals sent straight to your inbox, sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights or Jack’s Flight Club. Use the Hopper app for their AI powered price change predictions.
Booking your accommodation: I use Booking.com to book all my hotels. Their Genius loyalty program allows you to earn reward credits no bookings and 10%-20% off hotel prices. You can also try Google Hotels and TripAdvisor to search prices across a variety of sites. Agoda is the best site for booking hotels in Asia.
Travel on a budget: Staying in hostels is a great way to meet people and is best if you’re on a budget. You can find plenty of awesome hostels with Hostelworld.