Ljubljana mon amour: In fact, already the city’s name sounds like a tender song…and derives from ljubljena – beloved.
Albeit the city is not hidden anymore, it has kept its sleeping beauty charm and is still a sparkling gem.
The first time I’ve heard about Ljubljana was when many years ago, an extremely quirky band named Laibach – which is the city’s German name – caused sensations among the underground clubs. And scandals in their home country which at that time was still Yugoslavia. Socialist Yugoslavia.
And this catapults us right in the middle of Slovenia’s ever-changing history:
I spare you the very beginning when the Illyrians settled in. Later came the Romans, Charlemagne followed and made them part of the Frankish Empire, later they came under Venetian primacy and finally they were part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. This fell apart with WWI and, subsequently, Slovenia became part of the State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs.
After WWII, they added a couple more countries and – woomph! – Yugoslavia was created. I was a socialist yet in comparison pretty liberal state of various ethnicities, lead by Josip Broz Tito till his death in 1980 – actually in the very Ljubljana.
Following his death, some of the states – like Slovenia – preferred to become independent which lead to a series of some of the most gruesome and barbaric military conflicts of the 20th century.
Slovenia, however, was involved very shortly. Although it was the first country being attacked, the conflict there lasted only ten days, then they were good to go…literally.
This is an extremely short and not very thorough recap but I presume that you don’t want to know all the details – and if so, probably not from me.
I rather tell you about this beauty I met during my far too short stay in Slovenia, that I fell in love with – and therefore love will be the golden thread in this post.
Looking for something old, you won’t be disappointed in the historic center of Ljubljana. After passing the bridge with the – not – fire-spitting dragons, walk one block further and turn right into the Vodnikov Trg.
At the corner is also the Slovenian Tourist Information where you can get free maps and friendly advice.
Next to it, you can stock up on some fresh snacks on the farmers market taking place from Monday to Saturday from 7 a. m. till the early afternoon.
Strolling down the Vodnikov Trg that then leads into Mestni Trg followed by Stari Trg, you pass some of the most important buildings like the Stolnica Sv. Nikolaja, Ljubljana’s Cathedral of St. Nicholas.
After having been damaged various times, the present structure was finished in 1706. Not far is the town hall, but more impressive than that building is the Robba Fountain in front of it.
The Robba Fountain is named after it’s sculptor Francesco Robba. However, it’s also called the Fountain of the Three Carniolan Rivers. As a matter of fact, Robba designed it in 1751 after Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers in Rome. Nevertheless, this one is only a copy since the original is at the National Gallery.
Full of Elegance
Next to these outstanding buildings are rows of beautiful, well-preserved houses mostly from the Renaissance and Baroque era. For the most part, these architectonic jewels are housing cute little specialty shops where you might want to stock up on original souvenirs – like lace, carved wood, and anything you can imagine made from honey. And if you should need a break from awing and shopping, there is also a large number of cozy little cafés.
I will not lie to you, if you don’t get up too late and don’t take your sweet time snacking and browsing, you can visit the most important sights of Ljubljana in two days. But not taking your sweet time would actually be a shame and you’d miss out on a major part of what’s Ljubljana’s charm all about: The small, unpretentious beautiful corners, alleys, and things. So lower your pace, just add a day or two to your stay.
The Home is the Castle
Now let’s walk up to Ljubljana’s most important and iconic structure, the Grad – which means castle.
There are many ways of getting up there. The funicular is the most convenient one. However, the station is way back where we started the tour, and seriously, walking up is not that hard.
To get up there, turn left into Gronji Trg at the Župnijska cerkev sv. Jakoba, Church of St. James, and then again left at Cerkev Sv. Florjana, Church of St. Florian, and walk the idyllic path all the way up.
Some Parts Are Free, For Others You Pay
You can enter the premises for free, walk around, enjoy the views and some refreshments at their restaurant. Only if you visit the exhibitions, attractions, or get up the tower, you have to pay.
The castle was built as a medieval fortress starting in the 11th century. Most of the buildings were added in the 16th and 17th centuries.
In the 19th century, parts of the castle were redesigned as a prison – hence, first it protected people from villains coming in, now it protected them from villains getting out.
Very unusual was its use from 1905 till 1963 when it served as communal housing for poor families – go figure – what a fancy kind of project!
There are various ticket options – with or without the funicular, so you better check their website before visiting to see what’s the best deal for you.
To go back to the city center, you can either use the funicular that takes you down to the puppet theater across from the farmers market. Or you walk down the trail Ovinki and then turn right and follow the trail Za Orajami that ends next to the funicular station.
This first part was rather a tour of the classic, exquisite sights’n’structures. However, sweet Ljubljana has also a rough and edgy side. She’s kind of a runaway bride.
Let’s explore it by crossing the Dragon bridge and after one block turn right into Trubarjeva Cesta. The narrow lane and its side streets are kind of Ljubljana’s Greenwich Village. Small coffee shops, international eateries, quirky specialty shops, and artists. Totally worth lingering and exploring.
At #72 is the Skatepark – you can’t miss it because here, the Trubarjeva Cesta is adorned by very artsy graffiti. Next to the Skatepark, you’ll get to the Avtonomna Tovarna Rog, the Autonomous Rog Factory. It’s an art and community center that has a bit of a Christiania-feel to it.
I presume you are familiar with the anarchistic Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen. If not, check my post on Denmark’s capital.
Between 1953 and 1991, Rog bicycles were manufactured on these premises. Until it was occupied in 2006 and transformed into a community and culture center, it had been abandoned. Despite its great service to the community, in 2016, the city began to demolish the center. A court decided the keep the buildings until the conflict is resolved.
It’s still an open case.
Autonomous Rog Factory
Trubarjeva cesta 72
At the next corner, turn left into Rozmanova Ulica – but first please notice Župnija Ljubljana – Sv. Peter, St. Peter’s Parish Church, which is one of the oldest churches in Ljubljana.
I simply love the unusual paintings by Ivan Vurnik, who for sure is known for having a thing for bold colors. A strong influence from Balkan folk art as well as Art Deco from the Vienna Secession cannot be denied.
Rozmanova Ulica continues into Tabor and eventually into Maistrova Ulica. Here, you’ll find two interesting museums: First, the Slovenski Etnografski Muzej, Slovenian Ethnographic Museum, a place where you can learn basically everything about Slovenia and its people in an entertaining way. For profound background knowledge – from the past till this day – a great place to visit.
The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m.
Right next door is the Muzej Sodobne Umetnosti Metelkova | + MSUM, Ljubljana’s Museum of Contemporary Art. I guess it strongly depends on their program, but since the building is pretty spectacular, the exhibitions are not. However, if you want to brush up your knowledge of Slovenian contemporary art, this is the perfect place to do so.
At the end of the road where Maistrova Ulica leads into Masarykova Cesta is another pretty unique and alternative music and cultural center: Metelkova Art Center. Here you’ll find more of the hip and trendy crowd than activists like at the Rog. There is a lot of music, theater, and art going in, there are clubs and there is a hostel.
All this is housed in seven buildings that used to be military barracks. First during the Austro-Hungarian Empire and eventually, it became the headquarter of the Yugoslav National Army. Although it was initially squatted, pretty fast they got a formal permission to operate their alternative businesses.
Metelkova Art Center
Metelkova ulica 10
From here, three blocks west, you’ll get to the central train and bus station.
Borrowed – well, I’d like to rephrase since it’s rather adopted. One of the most interesting and fascinating sides of Ljubljana is its rich international heritage. Italians, Austrians, the Balkans – all these people left their culinary traces. Today, you can add Asian and Arabic food and, of course, there are great places for Vegetarians and Vegans, too.
Let’s start with an omnipresent snack, the Burek, pretty greasy puff pastry, filled with cheese, spinach, potato, or minced meat. This snack is popular across the Balkan area, up northeast in Russia, in Turkey and probably in a couple more places that I don’t know of.
You’ll get some of the best Burek just one block from the train station – and these guys never let you down since they are open 24/7.
Miklošičeva cesta 30
Phone: + 386 – 1 – 232 33 92
If you should get tired of Burek for breakfast, I urge you to check out Slovenska Hiša. They are serving great food in a lovely, a bit rustic setting – and they do it with a smile and at an unbeatable price. Oh, and they are located right next to the Ljubljanica river – it can’t get any better, take it from me.
Cankarjevo nabrežje 13
Phone: +386 – 838 99811
They are open Sunday to Thursday from 8 a. m. to 1 a. m. and Fridays and Saturdays to 3 a. m.
Another great option for breakfast or a light snack is the Organic Garden on the main shopping street Ciril-Metodov Trg. I guess the name gives you a hint of what they serve.
Ciril-Metodov trg 11
Phone: + 386 – 820 54050
They are open every day from 9 a. m. to 10 p. m.
Not afraid of heavy, hearty, greasy food? That’s good since actually, all traditional dishes are pretty….nourishing. You can get these classics also in the touristy neighborhoods but, of course, they are best where the local people eat.
Like at this unpretentious Pivovarna, i.e. brewery; and the most adventurous ones sample their honey beer.
Pivovarna in Pivnica Kratochwill
Kolodvorska ulica 14
Phone: + 386 – 1 – 433 31 14
Kratochwill is open from Monday to Friday 9 a. m. to 10 p. m., Saturday from 11 a. m. and Sunday closed.
Now that we’d covered the classic Balkan cuisine, let’s move over to the lighter, Italian influenced gastronomy.
Whereby all these places also serve pizza – in case you cannot withstand without carbohydrates.
To have some Italian in a pretty authentic seeting, it’s worth it checking out the Pizzeria Foculus.
Pizzeria Foculus Gregorčičeva ulica 3 1000 Ljubljana
Phone: + 386 – 1 – 421 92 95
Open Monday to Saturday from 11 a. m. to midnight.
By the way, it’s surprising how many businesses stay closed on Sundays. After all, Ljubljana is such a popular place when it comes to city breaks.
Take Me to the River
The nicest locations, of course, are along the river Ljubljanica. The menus are actually pretty similar. The – very good – Slovenian wine is reasonably priced. And the view would cost a million dollars if you had to pay for it.
If you should have a craving for Asian, I firstly wonder why, and then I recommend The Wok. You order at the counter in sort of a modular system and then you can watch the super-efficient guys preparing your food with fresh produce from scratch. It’s a good place, only the lady at the cash could lose her attitude.
Čopova ulica 4
Phone: + 386 – 599 00555
Open daily from 9 a. m. to 11 p. m.
Fine Dining….on Street Food
Although Ljubljana is located in the heart of Slovenia, there is great fish and seafood coming in from the Adriatic coast and the best place to enjoy it – unfortunately without a view – is the Restavracija Valentin.
Another reason why you should consider this place is their street food option. During the day you can eat their fantastic meals in the relaxed atmosphere of their bistro-style entrance area.
In the evening, they serve a set dinner in the more formal rear part.
Vodnikov trg 5
Phone: + 386 – 590 41111
Open daily from 11 a. m. to 10 p. m., Sundays only from noon.
More great options to eat fresh fish are at some stalls at the farmers market – right across from Valentin Street Food – and, of course, at one of the restaurants at the fish market arcades.
Dining here does not only grant you with some atmospheric views. Aou are also eating at a real piece of art since the arcades were designed by no one less than Jože Plečnik, the famous Slovenian architect.
As you know from the Robba Fountain, there are three Carniolan rivers, namely Sava, Krka, and Ljubljanica, whereby the latter flows into the Sava which then exits into the Blue Danube. It flows like a melodic song.
Somehow a visit to Ljubljana without a cruise on the Ljubljanica would be incomplete.
Not only does the river divide the city in a pleasant way, making lots of beautiful bridges necessary, each of them an alluring and interesting sight. Slowly gliding down the river gives you an additional perspective on all the great buildings to your left and your right.
So hop on and let’s cruise for an hour.
Another very relaxing activity – is relaxing and activity not an oxymoron? – is just laying down on the lush lawns on both shores of the river, a little bit outside the city center. You can walk there or rent a bike and cycle – you’ll feel like being in the countryside.
Father of the Bride: Jože Plečnik
What a good father Jože Plečnik was to Ljubljana – he practically showered her with beautiful, unique, and meaningful architecture to make her one of the prettiest around.
Born in 1872 in Slovenia – which then was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Plečnik studied with Viennese uber-architect Otto Wagner and worked at his workshop till 1900. Although his fantastic structures can be found i. a. in Vienna, Belgrad, and, of course, Ljubljana, his most famous achievement is the renovation and remodeling of the Prague Castle from 1920 to 1934, commissioned by the first president of the Czechoslovak Republic Tomáš Masaryk.
Jože Plečnik’s Family Album
However, this good father left his beautiful daughter Ljubljana a remarkable chest full of jewels:
Actually, I’ve listed only the buildings that are located around the old center. If you are interested in further works by Plečnik, there is the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, the Žale Cemetery and more.
What to know when you visit
How to get there and around
Slovenia is located pretty centrally in Europe, nestled between Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia. This makes it quickly accessible from many regions. I got there by train from Munich in six hours.
However, since it’s becoming a popular city break destination, many will get there by plane.
It’s located about 20 km north of the city and named after – how surprising is that?! – Jože Plečnik; albeit it’s one of the few buildings he did not design. There is a cheap public bus, #28, but it runs approximately every hour – on weekends even less frequently – and takes about 45 minutes.
Taking a private shuttle is a little more costly – around 9 €uro one trip – but much more comfortable. There are various companies. You can check e. g. GoOpti.
Like I said, I got there by train. The train station is about 10 to 15 minutes from the city center, hence totally walkable.
The bus station is right next to it respectively partly it’s unremarkable cardboard signs pinned to the chain-link fence next to the main building; however, it’s a proper bus station and I took the bus to Zagreb from there – easy-peasy. Like I pointed out: Ljubljana is pretty centrally located so it’s a piece of cake taking a coach to Vienna, Budapest, Zagreb, or many other destinations.
At Ljubljana, you’ll probably be walking. There is a good bus system, but most of the rather touristy attractions are concentrated at or around the old town and a major part of this area are pedestrian streets.
However, if you buy a Ljubljana-card, public transport within the city is included; the airport bus, too, but it’s, of course, only the cheap, inconvenient one.
Tourist Information and Deals
Already before you go to Ljubljana you can get first information online.
In Ljubljana, you’ll find an info center at the airport and downtown at two locations:
Opening hours are weekdays from 8 a. m. to 7 p. m. and weekends from 9 a. m. to 5 p. m.
You can get free info material and maps, they answer all your questions and arrange guided tours – available in 18 languages!
You can also buy a Ljubljana Card there. With this card, you have free admission to more than twenty attractions, you can travel for free on city buses including the one to the airport – the slow one that nobody wants to take. You can join a guided city tour and you have 24-hour internet access at their office; which must be a remainder from times when you did not get free Wifi at each and every restaurant or bar and even at hotspots throughout the city.
Nevertheless, if you want to visit the castle and some of the museums, it’s worth it. Especially since there are some amazing other attractions included like a river cruise, a tour of the Union brewery, and bike rental for a couple of hours.
|24 hours||48 hours||72 hours|
|Adult||€ 31||€ 39||€ 45|
Note: You’ll get a 10% discount if you buy the card on the internet.
Alrighty, these are great deals – but how do you pay for all this? Well, if you don’t use your credit card, you’ll have to pay in €uro.
Since 2001, 19 European countries paying with €uros, and Slovenia joined the bandwagon in 2007. The exchange rate is 1 US$ = 0,90 EUR (March 2020), but you can check the conversion on this page.
Many people speak pretty decent English, most young people have even a great command of the language. However, it puts a smile on people’s faces when you can say at least thank you – hvala – and please and you’re welcome – prosim.
Note: In this article, I’m writing out some of the Slovenian names of brands and places and you will notice that there are letters that might not exist in other languages.
First of all, c is never pronounced k, it is pronounced like the ts in Tsar, so it’s ‘Ulitsa’, not Ulika, and ‘Pivnitsa’, not Pivnika.
Only when c is written č, it is pronounced like a ch: ‘Plechnik’ (beats me how I came up with this example….).
Same goes for s: written š, it’s pronounced sh. But only then.
The letter ž is pronounced more or less like j, but rather the French way – as in jour.
People tend to overdo it with the ch and the sh – if there is no accent, it’s a simple c or s, no crackjaw there.
Where to find all these wonderful places mentioned in this post
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I deeply appreciate that the Visit Ljubljana supported my blogger trip by granting me a private guided tour and supplying me with various tickets/access. However, all opinions on these services are mine and weren’t by any means influenced by my cooperation partner.
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