Travel tales

5 reasons to fall in love with Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana's Dragon Bridge

By capital city standards, Ljubljana is tiny. Slovenia’s biggest city only has 287,000 residents (about the same size as Newcastle in the UK) and you can walk from one side of its historic centre to the other in about 15 minutes. But in this case, small is beautiful – or as they say here, “small by surface area, large by quality of life”. Yes you could probably whip around the city’s sights in a day if you really wanted to, but it’s more of a place to slow down, relax and let yourself fall in love – and here are five reasons why.

Read more: The green waters of Slovenia’s Vintgar Gorge

Ljubljana

Ljubljana’s historic centre

Its beauty

There’s no denying Ljubljana is one of Europe’s prettiest capitals. The old town is an atmospheric web of cobbled streets with pastel-coloured buildings topped with terracotta tiled roofs. Church spires and a castle perched on a hilltop look down on you. And flowing through the middle is the emerald green River Ljubljanica, with its tree-lined banks and pavement cafés. Some of the city’s buildings are Baroque and others Viennese Secession style. But the credit for a lot of its beauty has to go to architect Jože Plečnik. After working in Prague and Paris he came back to his home town in the 1920s and set about transforming it.

As well as designing the city’s major buildings he added the features that make Ljubljana special  – the parks and plazas, the open air market, the riverside walkways and the ornate bridges. The river is criss-crossed by 17 bridges, including Plečnik’s Triple Bridge and one dedicated to the symbol of the city – the dragon. Keep you eye out for other dragons too, with metal dragon sculptures dotted around the city.

The river flowing through Ljubljana

Ljublana’s gorgeous old town

Its relaxed feel

On Sunday lunchtime it felt like the whole city was out on Ljubljana’s streets. There were boats of sightseers drifting along the Ljubljanica. People lazily browsing stalls piled high with crafts and antiques at the riverside market. The hum of people chatting and glasses clinking as they toasted another sunny spring day. Pretty much a perfect Sunday – and in Ljubljana every day feels a bit like a Sunday.

It isn’t one of those cities bursting with must-see sights where you end up scurrying around manically to try and tick them all off. Instead you can happily lose a day or two soaking up the atmosphere, admiring the views and hopping from café to bar to restaurant. There are museums, churches and castles to visit if you want to learn more, and plenty of interesting spots within easy reach of a day trip, like Lake Bled or the mountains of Kranjska Gora. But it’s also one of those places where you don’t feel bad for not doing a lot.

Ljubljana riverside market

Sunday market along the riverside

Its history

Legend has it Ljubljana was founded by Jason and the Argonauts, who stopped here on their way back to Greece with the stolen Golden Fleece. Or it could be it started life as a Roman fort, became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire then a province of Yugoslavia, was occupied by the Italians in WWII and finally gained independence in 1991. Either way, this city has a fascinating history. The City Museum gives you a crash course in its past, or for more recent history try the National Museum of Contemporary History.

The city’s top historic site – towering over everything else – is its castle. It was built in the 15th century on the site of an earlier medieval castle and has been a fortress, prison and house over the years. Today you can climb the hill (or take the funicular) for the city’s best view from the castle tower. The castle’s been restored and is surprisingly modern inside, with exhibitions plus a great restaurant and café.

Ljubljana streets

Ljubljana’s old town

Its greenness

In most capital cities space is at a premium and the buildings are packed in tightly. But looking down from the castle tower I was surprised at just how green Ljubljana is. Parks, gardens and trees seemed to fill every patch of spare space. It hasn’t always been that way though. Ten years ago the riverside streets were polluted and clogged up with traffic. But since then the whole historic centre has been pedestrianised, and now the only wheels allowed in are buses and bikes. It was controversial at the time, but it’s been such so successful that Ljubljana was named the European Green Capital for 2016.

Five new parks have been built and 2000 trees planted, as well as setting up recycling and bike hire schemes. So you don’t have to go far to find a patch of green in Ljubljana – follow the grassy riverside path out of the centre, head west to the huge Tivoli Park and have a picnic on the lawns or cycle out into the forests.

Views from Ljubljana castle

Looking down from Ljubljana castle

Its culture

Ljubljana’s a young city, both in terms of its age and its people – students make up 13% of the population. It’s not stuck in the past but still developing and finding its identity. And it knows how to have a good time. There are plenty of bars and restaurants in the centre, so whether you fancy a cosy cellar or waterside terrace you won’t have much trouble finding a perfect spot for a Union beer or glass of local wine.

The city has an edgier side too – away from the historic centre there’s the Metelkova district, a former military barracks turned squat that’s now the place to go for nightlife. Ljubljana’s also a festival hotspot, with a mind-blowing 10,000 events held in the city every year. Biggest of them all is the Ljubljana Festival in the summer, with music, opera, ballet and theatre performances. But there are also festivals dedicated to food, literature and film – so this city has something to love for everyone.

Riverside Ljubljana

Riverside bars and restaurants

Have you ever visited Ljubljana or is it on your wishlist?

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Five reasons why the compact Slovenian capital Ljubljana makes a perfect city break destination – beautiful buildings, green spaces, history and culture #Slovenia #Ljubljana

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38 Comments

  • Reply
    Richard
    May 26, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    I agree with everything you say – gorgeous city and one that wasn’t overrun with tourists when I was there. But Union beer? Nah – the
    Laško was much nicer!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 26, 2016 at 2:53 pm

      I will bow to your superior knowledge on that – no beer for me sadly since it’s all got gluten in (blame the husband’s beer choices!)

  • Reply
    Mrs Ayla's Adventures
    May 26, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    I desperately want to visit Ljubljana and Lake Bled! Looks like such a beautiful little European spot 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 27, 2016 at 2:02 pm

      It is gorgeous, the country’s pretty compact too so it’s easy to go out and explore even on a short trip.

    • Reply
      Katja Činč
      June 2, 2016 at 4:47 pm

      I am from Ljubljana and I really love my city, it truly is beautiful. 🙂 If you want a free tour by a local, feel free to contact me, I love meeting new people that share the same passion for travel. 🙂

      • Reply
        Lucy
        June 2, 2016 at 10:02 pm

        That’s great thanks! Will definitely get in touch when I come back to Ljubljana.

      • Reply
        Katja Činč
        June 10, 2016 at 6:57 am

        You are welcome! I love your post about it. 🙂

      • Reply
        Erika DeNoronha
        June 14, 2016 at 4:14 pm

        Hi Katja, we are a group of friends planning to visit Ljubljana in July for around 4 days! Do you think we could get in touch?

  • Reply
    Bidforester
    May 26, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    About ten years ago we drove to Slovenia in July. We had not booked anything but midweek found a very nice seaside hotel in Portoroz, which was lovely and was full at the weekend as we expected.Then we went to Ljubljana for a long weekend. We went for a business hotel as we thought it would offer good deals at the weekend. It did and we had a sumptuous room for Friday and Saturday night BUT I am not sure of the hotel-I think it was The Grand Hotel Union. There seemed to be Art Deco everywhere.
    At the time easy jet had started flying there so there were a few British people there but the city seemed mainly unappreciated. I am glad it has become a weekend destination, but hope it is not spoilt by stag/hen parties.
    How many British tourists did you come across?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 27, 2016 at 2:03 pm

      Sounds lovely. I’d heard that it was a bit of a hotspot for stag/hen parties but we didn’t see that many and not a huge number of British tourists either. There was quite a mix with a lot of Germans and French in camper vans. Would love to go back and explore the coast and head down into the Istrian Peninsula sometime.

  • Reply
    bevchen
    May 27, 2016 at 8:56 am

    DRAGONS!! I’ve had Ljubljana on my list for a while because of the caves that are on my 35 before 35 list, but the dragons have just bumped it up in my priorities. I love dragons!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 27, 2016 at 2:01 pm

      If you love dragons you definitely need to visit Slovenia! As well as the bridge there was a blacksmith in Bled Castle who makes beautiful dragon sculptures (of all sizes so easy to take home!).

  • Reply
    Kate
    May 27, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Ljubljana looks amazing! If there’s only one place I can visit this summer, I want it to be Ljubljana!

    Kate | http://www.petiteadventures.org/

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 27, 2016 at 2:00 pm

      I would recommend a trip, it’s a lovely place!

  • Reply
    Vesna
    May 27, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    Ljubljana is stunning and a great base to explore other parts of Slovenia (Kamnik-Savinja Alps, Soca valley, Vipava valley, Brda region, Karst region and the coast, etc.) Endless opportunities!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 27, 2016 at 2:00 pm

      So many places to see! I will definitely be back to explore more of the country.

  • Reply
    lexklein
    May 27, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    I’m in agreement with all your points (although I will echo Richard and say the Laško was the beer to love in Ljubljana!). I adored this city and have been working to get the rest of my family there since then.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 29, 2016 at 11:39 am

      It’s a lovely place, I hope to get back ans explore more of the country sometime too.

  • Reply
    Ladies what...travel (@LadiesWhat)
    May 27, 2016 at 3:32 pm

    Visited Ljubljana probably almost a decade ago for a work trip to the Gorenje factory no less! Thankfully I spent more time exploring the city that wandering the shop floor and I thought it was very beautiful. I’d love to go back to see how much it’s changed, if at all!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 29, 2016 at 11:40 am

      Not the usual tourist itinerary there! It is a lovely place, I think a lot of the Green Ljubljana stuff is fairly new so you might well notice a difference.

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    May 28, 2016 at 9:03 pm

    I really need to get that trip to Slovenia booked sooner rather than later. It looks gorgeous 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 29, 2016 at 11:29 am

      You do! Such a gorgeous country, and so much packed into a fairly small space.

  • Reply
    MummyTravels
    May 29, 2016 at 8:14 am

    I loved Ljubljana – such a gorgeous city and definitely underrated/overlooked. The dragons were great and just strolling along the riverside by the bars. I did a couple of great tours too including a fun food one.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 29, 2016 at 11:29 am

      It’s definitely not as well known as it should be – the tours sound good, I’d like to go back sometime and would be interesting to find out more about local food.

  • Reply
    Anže
    May 31, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    If you’re in Ljubljana, you drink Union. There is nothing else. You want Laško, drink it elsewhere. Want really good beer? Don’t drink either, both are kind of bad when comparing to foreign beer, especially Czech beer. But hey, this artcle isn’t about beer so let’s leave that topic 😀
    I must say, this is one of the better articles I’ve read about my hometown, and probably one of the rare ones that actually has no factual errors. Really nice job!
    Okay, I said I will leave the topic, but I must add that The Union Brewery has a really cool pub called “Pivnica Union” with A LOT of different kinds of really top quality beverages (including non-alcoholic stuff like juice and water) made by both Union and Laško as well as great food. So it’s pretty much a must for any tourist visiting Ljubljana. The pub is near to Tivoli Park.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 20, 2016 at 9:46 am

      Thanks Anže, really glad you liked the article – and thanks for sorting out the beer debate!

  • Reply
    Vlad
    June 1, 2016 at 5:37 am

    You’re the third person I know who has been to Ljubljana lately and after seeing your beautiful photos, I’m convinced I need to included on my itinerary next year. 😀

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 20, 2016 at 9:45 am

      Someone’s trying to tell you something – must be a sign you should plan a trip out there!

  • Reply
    Aggy (@dewtraveller)
    June 3, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    Looks like my kind of place! That view from the castle looks spectacular. Never knew this place is awesome, I’ve heard of how small it is but never expected it to be this gorgeous. Would love to visit it!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 20, 2016 at 9:44 am

      Such great views – hope you get to visit someday!

  • Reply
    Packing my Suitcase
    June 6, 2016 at 11:01 am

    I couldn’t agree more with you Lucy! This small town has definitely lots to offer despite its size, I often recommend people to go there, it’s incredible that many never heard of it and yet it’s a place totally worth visiting! Love your photos 😀

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 20, 2016 at 9:43 am

      Thanks, I really loved it there an hope it encourages lots of people to visit!

  • Reply
    Greta
    June 14, 2016 at 10:41 am

    I was in Ljubljana last summer, and I fell in love with it! Small bars and shops, bookshops standing close to amazingly smelling vegan restaurants and bars with live DJ sets, impossible not to like it!
    Definitely agree with you on recommending it!
    Have a great day,
    Greta

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 20, 2016 at 9:40 am

      Thanks Greta, it’s such a great city!

  • Reply
    emmajayneknapp
    August 16, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    Ljubljana looks beautiful! I’m hoping to make it there later in the year, hopefully it’s still just as beautiful in winter (I’m sure it is!).

    Emma x

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 17, 2016 at 6:29 pm

      I bet it’s lovely in winter, especially if there’s some snow! Have a great trip x

  • Reply
    Charles
    September 22, 2016 at 10:27 am

    Thanks. I’ll be there all of this October.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 22, 2016 at 11:28 am

      Hope you have a great time!

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