Ljubljana is one of my favourite cities in the whole world.
Though much less popular with tourists than other European destinations, Ljubljana is up there at the top of my list. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it is that I love about it… I think it comes down to a combination of a three factors:
The first is that the entire city centre is a pedestrian-only zone. I’ve become increasingly appreciative of car-free living over recent years, and Ljubljana is reflects this lifestyle with cars banished to the outer suburbs in 2008. The lack of vehicle noise in the inner city makes it a peaceful and safe area to walk around.
The second factor is that it sits perfectly between central Europe and eastern Europe. This mix of influences make it fairly cheap, yet it feels comfortable for western tourists on a European vacation. It’s a quirk that only a handful of European cities have, in my opinion (some others being Zagreb, Krakow, and Budapest).
The third factor is that it’s an eco-friendly destination. Ljubljana actually won the title of European Green Capital in 2016! This environmental commitment is obvious when you wander the streets: there are public bins to separate waste items for recycling, plenty of bike paths, loads of green space, infrastructure for electric vehicles, and public buses that run entirely on methane.
I honestly believe that Ljubljana is one of the most underrated destinations in Europe. If you’re planning on visiting Slovenia’s capital, I promise you won’t be disappointed! Here are my suggestions for all the best things to do in Ljubljana.
Where to stay in Ljubljana:
We based our stay at Barbo Palace in the city centre. This boutique hotel was really fabulous – one of the best rooms I’ve experienced! Even considering the extra Euros we paid for a top floor ‘castle view’ apartment, it was very reasonably priced and centrally located. The building was actually a mansion built in 1755 and was only recently converted into accommodation. I would definitely recommend it!
Things to do in Ljubljana:
Watch the action in Prešeren Square
Prešeren Square, named for the Slovene poet France Prešeren, is the central plaza in Ljubljana. It’s a perfect place to start your exploration of the city as this is where all the action happens. The square is the place where locals meet up with their friends, where buskers set up to play music, and where tourists come to take photos.
The Franciscan Church of the Annunciation is the most prominent building lining the square. It was originally painted red, but the colour faded over time and the people of Ljubljana decided that they liked it better this way. I think the coral pink colour is totally gorgeous! The church was originally built in the 17th century and is now a Slovenian cultural monument. It’s free to enter, so have a peek inside!
Walk over the bridges
Ljubljana has loads of pedestrian and vehicle bridges crossing the Ljubljanica River, which cuts right through the city. The Dragon Bridge is probably the most famous, with its majestic dragon statues guarding the entrances on either end. A legend tells that the dragons will twitch their tails when a virgin crosses the bridge! Ha!
Another great bridge to check out is the Triple Bridge next to Prešeren Square. This uniquely-shaped stone arch bridge was originally designed to carry cars in the middle and foot traffic on either side, but now the iconic bridge sits inside the pedestrian-only zone.
Wander through Central Market
Central Market is the perfect place to see some of Ljubljana’s residents shopping for fresh produce. There are open-air farmers markets located within the square, and a covered market with stalls selling artisan goods (such as honey, chocolate, and truffles) lining the river. If you’re interested in learning more about the market and sampling some traditional Slovenian foods, you might enjoy a Ljubljana culinary tour.
This market is also a place where you can sample unpasteurised milk. Have you ever wondered what milk tastes like before it’s processed through machines? It seems like a crazy idea and is actually illegal in some countries (including my home country of Australia), but not in Slovenia! There is vending machine at the edge of the market where you can pop in a few Euros and get a stream of unpasteurised milk poured into a glass bottle for your drinking pleasure.
Go up to Ljubljana Castle
Ljubljana Castle houses a modern museum inside its historic walls. The main draw of this castle is that it sits atop a hill that provides some great views over the city – on a clear day you can easily see over the rooftops to the Julian Alps in the distance.
To get to the castle, you can pay €2.20 for a ride up in the funicular on the north side of the hill. At the top you can walk around the grounds and enter the courtyard for free, and there’s even a section of the castle wall that is accessible even without paying for an entrance ticket. Once you’ve finished exploring, there are multiple walking paths that lead back down to the city.
Get sunset views from the skyscraper
Nebotičnik Skyscraper has arguably the best views in Ljubljana. From the rooftop terrace cafe, there are uninterrupted views of the castle. You don’t have to pay an entrance ticket, but it’s good form to order something from the cocktail bar or some coffee, cake, or snacks from the restaurant. The prices are a little higher than other venues in Ljubljana, but still are way better than what you’d pay in the west! Gotta love eastern Europe.
Admire the graffiti in Metelkova
Metelkova is a commune of artists and activists, which has resulted in the area being covered from top to toe in graffiti. It was formerly used as military headquarters before the Slovenian independence in 1991, then in 1993 squatters moved in to the abandoned buildings and transformed the area into an artistic haven.
I walked through Metelkova in the middle of the day to admire the colourful walls, but apparently the evenings are when it really comes alive. It can feel somewhat unexciting to do this activity on your own, so I’d suggest seeing it on an urban walking tour or Ljubljana bike tour to have a local guide explaining the culture of this creative hood.
Drink wine by the Ljubljanica River
Ljubljana is all about al-fresco drinking and dining, even in the winter. Just look for some of the many outdoor bar tables that line the Ljubljanica River and take a seat – you can even use the provided blankets to cover your lap if you get cold! Ask your waiter to recommend a Slovenian wine, then enjoy your drink while watching the mix of locals and tourists enjoying the riverside.
Slovenia is one of the best places to eat pizza! The proximity to Italy really shows in the city’s pizzerias. We got a Margherita (Rob’s fave) from Ljubljanski dvor – a basement restaurant with authentic Italian vibes. The menu offered a ‘large’ size which we ordered to share between the two of us, but this monstrosity of a pizza was just too big! We’ll admit we failed to finish it, though it was delicious.