Slovenia is a wonderful country, surrounded by the Julian Alps, Adriatic Sea and the Balkans. It has good land connections with Italy, Hungary, Croatia and is easily accessible for those that want to see its unique beauties. One of the best places to visit in Slovenia is its capital, Ljubljana, an unique city, smaller than most European capitals, but totally worth a visit. It has a river that passes through the town center, stone bridges, animated squares, a medieval castle, dragons and a quirky, but colorful neighborhood. This enchanting town is also home to interesting museums, a zoo, gothic churches, trendy bars, cool cafes and gourmet restaurants.
Ljubljana was also votes as the Green Capital of Europe in 2016. And there are several good reasons for this. Car traffic is restricted in the city center and the banks of Ljubljanica River were converted into a promenade area, perfect for a coffee and some people-watching on a sunny day.
About Ljubljana, Slovenia
Ljubljana is located in the center of Slovenia, a small Balkan country surrounded by Austria, Italy, Croatia and Hungary. It is the capital and largest city in Slovenia. However, things were not like this for a long time. Until 1991, Ljubljana wasn’t a capital and Slovenia was not a country. Its territory was part of the dissolved state Yugoslavia.
Once upon a time, legends say that Jason, a Greek mythological hero, killed a dragon in the marshlands around the town. Back then, the dragon was seen as a monster that ate people. But somehow, the dragon has become a symbol of Ljubljana, representing power, courage and greatness. You’ll see dragons on the bridges, decorating buildings in graffitis, in souvenir shops or at the Ljubljana Castle.
The dragon appears even on the coat of arms of Ljubljana. Thus, the town is also known as the City of Dragons, who supposedly protects it from beneath the chapel in the castle. Yeah, apparently it didn’t die after all.
Where to stay in Ljubljana, Slovenia?
As Ljubljana is pretty small, but lively, you’ll want to stay and central as possible. We parked our van right on the river, at the entrance into the old town for two nights. However, you might not be able to do this. So, here are some more traditional accommodation options:
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Best things to do and see in Ljubljana, Slovenia
If you like museums and have longer time to enjoy the city, check out Ljubljana Tourist Card that includes bus transport to and from the airport, boat rides on Ljubljanica river, a ride on the electric train, bike rental, museum entrance tickets and a guided tour of the city.
Ljubljana Castle – best things to do and see in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Ljubljana Castle watches over the city ever since the 15th century. You can reach the medieval fortress by funicular or by following a marked footpath. Once you get into the castle, don’t miss the view from the clock tower. The views are truly spectacular and this is for sure one of the best thing one can do in Ljubljana.
The ticket to the castle costs 13 euro, including the funicular, or 10 without the funicular. Just the funicular up and down costs 4 euro. Even if you don’t buy the castle entrance ticket, you can still wander around the courtyard, access one of the viewing platforms and have a coffee at one of the bars in the castle. However, the view from the platform can’t be compare with the one from the tower.
The entrance ticket also gives visitors access to some expositions, the ex-prison, a small chapel and a puppetry museum. They really weren’t mind-blowing in our opinion, they mostly justifies the higher price, so that you don’t feel like you pay the entrance fee just for the tower. But the tower is the main attraction and worth the price alone. Even if you decide not to buy the entrance ticket, the castle is still worth a visit.
The Old Town – best things to do and see in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Back down, explore the mostly pedestrian Old Town. You can visit a food market, scenic fountains, the town hall and see some animated squares and a series of stone bridges straddling the Ljubljanica River. Admire the views from the Triple Bridge and check out the Robba fountain.
On a sunny day, join the locals on a bicycle ride around the narrow streets and promenade or grab a seat at one of the restaurants along the Ljubljanica River promenade. Compared to other capitals, in Ljubljana you’ll still see a lot of locals doing the same, in the town center.
Most of the attractions of the Ljubljana were designed by a local hero, architect Jože Plečnik. During the first half of the 20th century he created the Triple Bridge, the National and University Library and Križanke, the best outdoor theater in Ljubljana. If you want to find out more, you can also take a guided tour of his home and studio for 35 years, Plečnik House.
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The main square in Ljubljana, Presernov Trg, was named after France Preseren, a beloved national poet whose statue stands in it. The square is spacious and bordered by Ljubljanica river on one side and colorful buildings in different architectural styles on the other one.
In this square, one can see some of the most important landmarks in Ljubljana: the Triple Bridge, the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation. Most of the festivals, concerts and political events in Ljubljana are held at this place.
It is the most popular spot for meetings among the locals. Most tourists also spend some time in this beautiful square, at one of the bars or restaurants, gazing at the exquisite Art Nouveau style halls and palaces.
Triple Bridge (Tromostovje)
In front of Preseren Square, there’s one of the most important landmarks of Ljubljana, work of Jože Plečnik, the Triple Bridge. This magnificent bridge, just as the name says, is composed out of three bridges that span across the Ljubljanica river one next to the other. Initially, there was only a one bridge for cars, but in 1930 two pedestrian bridges were added. The three bridges were embellished with pretty white balustrades that are softly illuminated at night.
The Franciscan Church (Franciskanska cerkev)
In the same square, you’ll see the bright-pink century Franciscan Church of the Annunciation in baroque style. It dominates Preseren Trg as the biggest and most eye-catching building in the square. Build at the middle of the 17th century, it has two bell towers and is one of the sights that one has to see on a trip to Ljubljana. At the interior, there’s an 18th century altarpiece surrounded by magnificent frescoes.
The Central Market – best things to do and see in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Close to Preseren Trg, on the banks of Ljubljanica River, you can take a walk around the bustling Central Market. The food market has been operating on the same spot for about 120 years. Merchants display their goods, from fresh fruits and vegetables to meat, dairy products, bread, oils, liqueurs, snacks, homemade products or flowers. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, it is still fun to visit. More recently, people also started to sell souvenirs, handicrafts and clothes close by. So, you may find some nice reminders of your visit to Slovenia’s capital city.
Dragon Bridge (Zmajski Most)
One of the most popular bridges in Ljubljana id Dragon Bridge, an Art Nouveau masterpiece guarded by four fierce-looking dragons, the symbol of Ljubljana, which is still said to sleep under the chapel in the castle on the hill. Take a picture of one of the dragon miniatures and compare it to the ones in Game of Thrones. The rest of the bridge is not very impressive nowadays, but in 1901, when it was build, it had one of the first reinforced concrete bridges around.
Cathedral of St. Nicholas
The Cathedral of St. Nicholas, with its green dome and twin belfries, is one of the most recognizable landmarks of Ljubljana. It was build at the beginning of the 18th century in Baroque style. However, even earlier there stood Romanesque and Gothic versions of it dating as far back as the 13th century. Its interior is also worth a few minutes. It features stunning frescoes, a painted dome, lovely stuccoes and sculptures.
Hidden behind the cathedral, there’s a pretty square home to the 15th century Town Hall and the beautiful Robba Fountain.
Ljubljana mayors have governed from this building since it was built, in the 15th century. If you’re curious, you are welcome to have a quick peak inside, as there are some miniatures of the town and medals on display inside.
Robba Fountain or the Fountain of Three Carniolan Rivers
Right in front of Ljubljana Town Hall stands the beautiful Robba Fountain in Baroque style. Three men hold jugs and pour water in a shell-shaped basin. The original version dates back to the middle of the 18th century and was inspired by the fountain in Piazza Navona in Roma. However, it is now kept safe in the National Gallery. The one we can see in the square is a replica.
The small square of Gornji Trg is hidden among the backstreets of the Old Town and gets less visitors than the other spots. However, this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a special charm. It is quiet, but cute, with cobblestones, pastel-colored medieval buildings and and outdoor terraces.
Congress Square (Kongresni trg)
Just off the Old Town, one can spend some time in the largest square in Ljubljana, Congress Square. Here, you’ll see the Ursuline Church, Star Park, Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra and Ljubljana University.
Metelkova – best things to do and see in Ljubljana, Slovenia
A little farther from the Old Town spans Metelkove, the Slovenian version of Christiania in Copenhagen. Once the military headquarter of the Austro-Hungarian and then Yugoslav armies, the Metelkova Quarter is now the perfect place to go to for those that want to see colorful street art. All the otherwise gray looking military barracks have been covered in graffiti and murals by local artists. A former prison was turned into a hostel and Museum of Contemporary Art. The area is also full of bars and nightclubs. A visit to Metelkova will let you see Ljubljana from a different perspective and is definitely one of the best things one can do in town.
Union Experience – best things to do and see in Ljubljana, Slovenia
If you’re a beer lover, one of the best things to do in Ljubljana for you should be a tour of the Pivovarna Union Brewery. Locals have been brewing beer at least since the 16th century. Union Brewery dates from the 19th century, but it has become one of their favorites. On a guided tour, you can learn all about their history, the modern production process and enjoy a glass of their brew at the end.
Ljubljana card owners have the entrance to the brewery included in the pass. If you don’t have one, you can also purchase your ticket separately.
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Broken Bones Gin Distillery
Walking along the river promenade, you can’t avoid to see how many bars offering gin and tonic there are. Slovenians seem to be in love with this drink and they even produce it locally. If you want to find more about gin, its history and production method, but also taste some locally distilled spirits and cocktails, you should visit Broken Bones Gin Distillery.
Park Tivoli – best things to do and see in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Tivoli is the largest park in Ljubljana covering more than 5 square kilometers. It is the ideal place to escape the crowds in the Old Town and enjoy a moment in nature. Opened more than 200 years ago, its landscaped gardens are an attraction for both locals and tourists. The park also has walking and cycling trails, a children’s playground, a botanical garden and a History Museum.
The Skyscraper (Nebotičnik)
You’ll get some nice views over Ljubljana from the castle. But there’s a second best spot for aerial views over the Slovenian capital, the 70 meters high Skyscraper. The best thing about it is that you can also see the castle from it. Besides, it doesn’t cost you anything, if you just enter for a few minutes and there’s a lift. One can also try their desserts and drinks at the bar on the highest floor.
With so many things to do and see in Ljubljana, it can be easily said that it is one of the top places to see in Slovenia and the Balkans. It has a little bit for everyone: unique architecture, local charms, natural beauty, street art and history. If you have the chance to visit Ljubljana, don’t think twice about it. Take it and spend a few days in this city, as it will most probably win you over, just as it happened to us.
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