Visiting Ljubljana is like stepping into a scene from a fairytale. Ornate buildings line cobblestone streets and dragons guard bridges that arch majestically over the babbling waters of the Ljubljanica River. Warm and welcoming locals meet under leafy green trees and a hilltop castle looks over it all. This is the stuff that storybooks are made of!
The beautiful city definitely deserves to be seen and experienced, so Expat Explore has put together a list of the top things to do on your next trip to Ljubljana.
Ljubljana is Slovenia’s capital city and the bustling centre of the country. Slovenia is a small, gorgeous central European country that shares borders with Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. It’s an outdoor haven and one of Europe’s most eco-conscious countries. While it may be tiny, Slovenia rivals its neighbours as a top travel destination thanks to its natural beauty and the exciting activities available.
Slovenia is tiny but varied and full of charm, and the same can be said for the capital city. It may not have the vast size of sprawling destinations like Berlin and Paris but Ljubljana certainly has the confidence of a big city! Ljubljana boasts a beautiful setting combined with architectural and cultural treasures. Throw in views of the Julian Alps as a backdrop and you’ll find it hard not to fall in love with this magical city!
Ljubljana Castle stands proudly atop Castle Hill in downtown Ljubljana. The medieval fortress was originally built as a defence against Ottoman invasions and over the centuries it has been a military hospital, a prison and even a home for the city’s poorer families.
Today, visitors to Castle Hill can explore the historic halls and explore museums, galleries, and restaurants while enjoying the stunning views across the city. You can either catch the funicular and enjoy a quick, scenic ride to the top of Castle Hill, or meander along the walkways that wind their way up to the castle.
There is rich architecture throughout Slovenia from Gothic churches to traditional Hungarian farmhouses and Venetian harbour towns.
Ljubljana is home to a wealth of architectural styles including Baroque, Vienna Secession and Art Nouveau. Much of the city’s buildings were designed by Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik in the early 1900s. You’ll find Plečnik’s marvellous designs throughout the city. Some of his most iconic creations include the National and University Library, the impressive Triple Bridge in the centre of town, the Žale Cemetery, Cobbler’s Bridge and Križanke Summer Theatre. Explore the town on foot to experience the architecture at its best. You can also pay a visit to Plečnik House – the architect’s former home which houses an exhibit showcasing his life and work.
More must-see architectural highlights include the central market and the city’s bridges. Begin your explorations in Prešeren Square and see where your feet take you! Dragon Bridge takes its name from the famous dragon statues flanking each end of the bridge. Grab a photo here as it is one of the most well-known images of the city! Butcher’s Bridge was named after butcher stands that were once located nearby; today locals nickname it “Lover’s Bridge” thanks to the “love locks” lining the railings! Couples leave the “love locks” on the bridge and throw the padlock keys into the Ljubljanica River below for luck!
Central Market is another one of Plečnik’s designs. It’s a place to shop and socialise! Peruse the open-air and covered stalls situated across two squares along the riverside and buy local produce like fruits, vegetables, meats, cheese, fresh fish and much more. Locals gather at the market regularly so it offers insight into a slice of local life! The market is open every day except Sunday while Saturday morning is usually its busiest time.
The Ljubljanica flows through the heart of the city and is a key landmark. Leafy trees, bike paths and beautifully designed embankments line the cool waters.
Get active and explore the riverside! Set off on foot or grab a bike and travel along one of the cycle paths while admiring the surroundings. The city promotes BicikeLJ, a bike-sharing system that allows people to hire bikes from self-service terminals located across the city. The service is super affordable and a great way to see Ljubljana in an eco-friendly way!
Alternatively, take to the water and go on a sightseeing kayak trip along the river – it’s a memorable way to experience the city!
Did you know? Cars are restricted in the city centre and the banks of the Ljubljanica River are free for pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy!
Slovenia is steadily emerging as a world-class food destination. In 2020 the Michelin Guide awarded Slovenia’s first-ever stars to a number of restaurants. Slovenia focuses on sustainability and this is apparent in the food which is overwhelmingly fresh and locally sourced. In Ljubljana, visit Atelje which is the city’s first Michelin-starred restaurant. At many of the city’s restaurants, you’ll find creative spins on local, fresh fare.
If fine dining isn’t your thing, don’t miss a chance to try out the street food! Visit one of the markets or local shops and sample things like Kranjska klobasa (a Carinola pork sausage typically served with horseradish and spicy mustard), štrukli (a type of cottage cheese dumpling that can be savoury or sweet) and burek (pastry filled with meat or cheese).
Once you’ve had your fill of the outdoors and tasty local food, check out some of the city’s cultural hotspots.
Visit the National Gallery to see the largest collection of Slovene art, discover historic gems at the National Museum and learn more about Ljubljana at the City Museum. Enjoy a few hours of entertainment at the Ljubljana Puppet Theatre which has puppet shows for all ages. Admire the artworks at both the Museum of Modern Art and the International Centre of Graphic Art which is located in a former castle near the entrance to Tivoli Pak.
Ljubljana is also a city of festivals! It hosts the Ana Desetnica International Street Theatre Festival, Summer in Old Ljubljana and a festive annual Christmas fair amongst others.
For some unique counterculture, pay a visit to Metelkova which is an art commune within the city. The former military barracks have been transformed into a centre for creativity with galleries, a bar, nightclub and hostel now filling the quirky, graffiti-covered and art-filled space.
Slovenia is one of Europe’s most sustainable countries. Ljubljana was even voted the Green Capital of Europe in 2016. You’ll find a number of eco-friendly initiatives in the city including free electric taxi shuttles and even an electric train!
The best features of the city are the literal green spaces. Enjoy the calm atmosphere of the greenery shrouding Castle Hill or relax and unwind in one of the city’s parks such as the sprawling Tivoli Park and picturesque Rožnik Hill.
One of the best things about Slovenia’s compact size is that it is easy to access top destinations across the country, in a short amount of time! Ljubljana is in a convenient central location with many must-see destinations only a few hours drive away.
One of the most popular day trips is a visit to Lake Bled. This picturesque town is home to one of the country’s largest lakes, complete with a central island home to the Assumption of Mary Church. The lake forms an iconic image of Slovenia and is one of its top bucket list sites!
Travel tip: Grab a slice of kremsnita (famous Bled cream cake) while you’re there!
Another nearby destination is Postojna Cave. This is the second-largest cave system in the country and one of Slovenia’s top tourist attractions! Take a tour and explore the breathtaking rock formations in the caverns and vast halls – the Concert Hall even hosts musical performances for up to 10,000 attendees! You’ll even get to enjoy a trip on an electric train through a section of Postojna! Do keep note that the temperatures in the caves are chilly so be sure to pack a warm jacket when visiting.
Further day trip excursions include the Julian Alps, Slovenia’s wine regions and the Adriatic coastline.
If a trip to this beautiful Slovenian city isn’t on your travel wish list yet, add it now! See Ljubljana and more on Expat Explore’s Europe multi-country tours that visit Slovenia and a number of other beautiful destinations!
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