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! There are so many things to do in Ljubljana and its surroundings – four days weren’t enough!
The historic city centre
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!
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.
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.
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.
From the castle, I walked through the expansive park to the southeastern parts of Castle Hill to check out the castle’s vineyards.
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.
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.
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).
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!
Watch my video guide on what to do in Ljubljana.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When you enter the building at the ground level, turn right before the elevators! Look up to see the absolutely 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.