Ljubljana: charming and cool!

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Street musicians performing at the Robbov fountain.

Each time I think of Ljubljana (map) nowadays, I react with a chuckle and a sigh. A chuckle because I still have problems spelling its name (thank you spell-checker for correcting me each time. I know I’ll master it myself one day!). A sigh because this fabulous city, the capital of Slovenia, just blew me away on my first visit. First of all, it’s simply a gorgeous city, with colourful buildings and atmospheric streets. Add to that a city steeped in history, eclectic architectural styles, a fluorishing foodie scene and relaxed vibes. I spent four terrific days exploring Ljubljana and when I left, I made a promise to myself to return soon!

Exploring Ljubljana

The historic city centre

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The serene Ljubljanica River and Ljubljana Castle.

Despite its relatively small size (its population is just under 300,000), Ljubljana is vibrant, diverse and exudes an unmistakable cosmopolitan aura. I always enjoy exploring a city on foot and Ljubljana is perfect for it due to its compact size AND the fact that its entire historic centre is a pedestrian zone!

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Beautiful Art Nouveau architecture in Ljubljana.

I started out at my hotel, the Best Western Premier Hotel Slon, one of the city’s high-end hotels and conveniently located at the edge of the historic centre. I walked down to the Miklosiceva street, famous for its Art Nouveau buildings. The street ends at the Prešeren Square where the famous Triple Bridge leads pedestrians across the serene Ljubljanica River to the eastern part of the historic centre. From here, riverside promenades, packed with restaurants and cafés fan out in different directions on either side of the river.

I crossed the bridge and turned left towards Plečnik’s Arcades, a series of riverside arcades designed by the famous Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik (in fact, he also designed the embankments, the Triple Bridge and various buildings in Ljubljana). The arcades are home to a variety of food stalls, the fish market and an art gallery. From here, I continued my stroll to the lively Central Market square. The market has two sections, a modern indoor hall and an outdoor section in the large square. I absolutely love checking out the different stalls at markets so I spent quite a bit of time here.

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Plečnik’s arcades seen from the Dragon Bridge.

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The flower section of the open-air market.

Castle Hill

My next stop was the funicular station. From here, a funicular railway whisks visitors up Castle Hill to the medieval Ljubljana Castle which overlooks the city. The castle museum is open to visitors, and from its imposing walls, there’s a beautiful view of the city.

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The main square inside Ljubljana Castle.

For the sommeliers or oenophiles among us, look for the Castle Grapevine, which is a graft of the oldest noble vine in the world. Nearby, on the ground floor of the Archers Tower, you’ll also find the Wine Convent of St. Urban Ljubljana. Each year, the best Slovenian white and red wines are chosen and receive the label of the Convent. A bottle of each is stored in a towering glass vitrine.

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The wine vitrine of the Wine Convent of St. Urban.

From the castle, I walked through the expansive park to the southeastern parts of Castle Hill to check out the castle’s vineyards.

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The vineyards on castle Hill.

From there, I hiked down the hill and back into the city. I soon found myself in Gornji trg (street), a charming street lined by gorgeous houses, restaurants, cafés, art galleries and other little shops.

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Gornji trg.

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A cute wine boutique in Gornji trg.

Gornji trg continues past the Old Square as Stari trg, a narrow but equally charming street. Stari trg soon opens out into Mestni trg, the main thoroughfare in the historic city centre. If you’re a foodie, like I am, be sure to drop by at Dobrote Dolenjske (Dolenjska Delights), a deli that specialises in delicious wines, jams, sausages and other goodies from the region of Dolenjska.

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Stari trg.

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Check out the lovely Dobrote Dolenjska shop.

the people are absolutely beautiful!

After several hours of wandering around, I started to feel very much at home in this cool city. The sun was shining bright, the terraces were buzzing and the pastel-coloured historic buildings looked so cheery in the sunshine. It somehow reminded me of my home, Amsterdam (without the hordes of tourists).

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Chilling along the banks of the Ljubljanica River with a view of the Cathedral.

Everywhere I looked, I saw locals out on a stroll, shopping or sipping wine, and simply enjoying themselves. And I must say, the people are absolutely beautiful! I’m guessing that centuries of Austrian-German, Hungarian, Balkan and Italian influences have done wonders for Slovenian genes! I chose to end my stroll at Movia, a wine bar next to the City Hall and indulged myself in some of Slovenia’s finest wines and some pretty incredible people-watching!

Another side of Ljubljana

The following day, I chose to explore the western bank of the Ljubljanica River. This side of the city centre is home to grand buildings (great examples include the Slovenian National Gallery and the stately Opera & Ballet Theatre); a sprinkling of Socialist-style architecture such as the Parliament with its intriguing façade, and Art Nouveau gems such as the Grand Hotel Union and the Galleria Emporium; resplendent parks and picturesque streets.

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The impressive façade of the Slovenian Parliament building.

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The Art Nouveau Galleria Emporium.

Metelkova neighbourhood

Further north, I discovered arguably one of the quirkiest neighbourhoods I’ve ever visited: the Metelkova City. The heart of the neighbourhood lies in what was a former military barracks and is full of art studios, bars and night clubs.

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The quirky and colourful Metelkova City.

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Houses covered in street art/graffiti in Metelkova.

This neighbourhood has to be experienced in the day time, when you can quietly enjoy the amazing street art, and at night, when Metelkova’s liberal attitude reigns supreme.

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Remnants from the night before.

A panoramic view and a stunning staircase!

This side of the city is also home to the Nebotičnik (or Skyscraper). Head to the rooftop café for panoramic views of the city and the impressive peaks of the Julian Alps in the distance.

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The panoramic view from the rooftop of the Skyscraper.

When you enter the building at the ground level, turn right before the elevators! Look up to see the absolutely stunning spiral staircase!

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The stunning spiral staircase!

After several days in Ljubljana, I was convinced that I had to return! Due to its small size, I’d half expected a sleepy town. Instead, I found a pulsating city with vibrant culinary and arts scenes, proud and beautiful people (who are really friendly and who speak good English), eclectic architecture and an attractive laid-back atmosphere.

Look for tours of Ljubljana.

Where to stay in Ljubljana

Best Western Premier Hotel Slon – I stayed in this luxury hotel located just a stone’s thrown from Čopova Street (a major shopping boulevard) and the Prešeren Square. Many of the rooms have recently been refurbished. The Superior Deluxe is a treat, with a spacious bedroom, separate lounge/study and an equally large bathroom. Breakfasts are lavish and there’s a popular restaurant and bar on the ground floor.

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The Superior Deluxe room.

Antiq Palace – set in a historic palace in the University Quarter, this luxury hotel and spa offers top-notch service, spacious rooms with high ceilings and luxurious amenities.

Grand Hotel Union – a beautiful Art Nouveau hotel in the city centre near Prešeren Square.

Hotel Galleria – located at the intersection of Gornji and Stari trg (at the Old Square) in the historic centre, this intimate boutique hotel is great for both leisure and business visitors.

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Hotel Galleria (left corner) in Gornji trg.

Where to eat and drink

Atelje – this gorgeous fine-dining restaurant around the corner from the Grand Hotel Union serves up top-notch contemporary Slovenian/fusion cuisine. Led by a young chef who is passionate about innovative cuisine, Atelje is recognised as one of the top restaurants in Ljubljana.

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Atelje restaurant.

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Smoked duck carpaccio at Atelje.

Druga Violina (Second Violin) – located in Stari trg, this restaurant serves delicious Slovenian cuisine at reasonable prices. Druga Violina is also known for its projects to train and employ disabled youngsters.

Klobasarna – this little place in the Ciril Metodov trg square opposite the Ljubljana Cathedral is famous for its juicy Carnolian sausages. A highly recommended snack/lunch spot!

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Klobasarna.

Gostilna na Gradu – situated in the Ljubljana castle, this classy restaurant serves classic Slovenian dishes with a contemporary twist. Also a great place for a hearty Ljubljana breakfast!

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A hearty Ljubljana breakfast at the Castle!

Odprta kuhna (Open Kitchen Market) – this food market is a must-visit in my book! Depending on the weather, the Open Kitchen Market is open every Friday between 10am and 10pm in the spring/summer months at the Pogačarjev street square at the foot of the Ljubljana Cathedral. Each stall, representing the top eateries from across Slovenia, serves something different. Perfect for a varied foodie experience and mingling with the locals.

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One of the many stalls at the Open Kitchen.

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A selection of what we ate at the Open Kitchen! 🙂 The falafel was superb!

Gostilnica 5-6kg – excellent pizzas in a cosy, homey atmosphere near the end of Gornji street.

Vodnikov Hram – this popular restaurant is located near the funicular station and serves Slovenia cuisine in a cavernous setting, or outside on its terrace.

Valvas’or – a fine-dining restaurant in Stari street. Expect beautifully presented, delicious contemporary Slovenian cuisine.

Movia – a popular wine bar/shop with a busy terrace. Movia prides itself in serving only the best Slovenian wines. Excellent people-watching opportunities from the outdoor terrace.

I also recommend having a drink/snack at one of the many café/bars that line the Ljubljanica River embankments.

How to get to Ljubljana

Ljubljana has an international airport with connections to most major European hubs. In addition, GoOpti provides affordable bus/van transfers to/from Ljubljana and its airport from cities in Austria, Italy, Hungary, Germany and Croatia.

Read about my day trip to the countryside from Ljubljana.

For more info on things to do in Ljubljana, visit Ljubljana Tourism.



Booking.com

Note: my trip to Ljubljana was part of the #EuroCityTrip campaign organised by iambassador with Ljubljana Tourism. As always, all views mentioned above are mine, and mine only.

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9 Responses to “Ljubljana: charming and cool!”

  1. Wilbur 09/10/2017 11:39 am
    #

    I loved my visit to Ljiblijana this spring. I did a short side trip by train to Skofja Loka, whose castle and most impressive museum were brilliant. I enjoyed your post and look forward to reading more. Wilbur.

  2. Keith Jenkins 03/08/2017 10:12 am
    #

    Hi Jane,
    Oh yes, I definitely recommend that you add Slovenia to your itinerary!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  3. Jane 02/08/2017 11:25 pm
    #

    With my tour of Europe dead ahead, it looks like Slovenia might be part of my plans … what a city!

  4. Keith Jenkins 17/07/2017 12:29 pm
    #

    Hi Deanna,
    You should and it’s only two hours drive away! 🙂

    Cheers,
    Keith

  5. Deanna Heidegger 15/07/2017 4:25 pm
    #

    I can’t believe I haven’t been here yet, when it’s so near my town. Looks fantastic!

  6. Keith Jenkins 10/07/2017 10:35 am
    #

    Thanks Zainab! Glad you enjoyed it. Hope you get to visit Ljubljana one day – pretty sure you’ll love it! 🙂

    Cheers,
    Keith

  7. Zainab 08/07/2017 1:54 am
    #

    Hey, this is a great overview! Sounds like you did just enough for four days and the food looks delicious – will be using this if I ever head down 🙂

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] was my first visit to Ljubljana (and Slovenia for that matter) and though my trip was focused on checking out Ljubljana (which I absolutely enjoyed!), I wanted to also explore a bit of the Slovenian countryside. There […]

  2. Slovenia: castles, wine and snow | Velvet Escape - 14/07/2017

    […] Get a bird’s-eye view of the capital Ljubljana from the tower of it’s own medieval castle. The city is a true architectural jewel where Art Nouveau, Baroque and Post-modernism mix. As you walk around the narrow streets of the Austrian-style old centre and say a prayer in a Gothic churche, prepare to meet the four fierce dragons guarding the Dragon Bridge. (Read more about Ljubljana). […]

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