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From historical architecture to edgy street art to cultural sites and a vibrant gastronomy circuit, here are all the things to do in Ljubljana to see it differently. A guide to Slovenia’s capital beyond its Old Town status.
In Ljubljana, you will immediately see that Slovenia’s capital is all the pretty things you hear about.
Except, travel to Ljubljana is more than the sum of its charming Old Town status that many do not look beyond, thereby setting a course in time for overcrowding and missing out on the young, artistic minds that have come to shape the city. The centre of Slovenia and a lesser-known darling of central Europe, Ljubljana will charm you with its old town but surprise you with how much more it offers.
This guide to Ljubljana will show you how it is a mix of the old and charming, dominated by the architectural visions of the father of design, Plečnik, mixed with the hip cultural and art scene alive in alternative neighbourhoods and the student influence, and with access to relaxation and adventure in the surrounding countryside, where 70% of Slovenia’s population resides.
It might just be time to re-think your European city-hopping route.
- Things to Know About Travel to Ljubljana
- Things to Do in Ljubljana to See it Differently
- Ljubljana Day Trips – Adventures in City Nature
Things to Know About Travel to Ljubljana
Is Ljubljana Worth Visiting?
Ljubljana has a small-town feel but with big European capital vibes, which is what you can expect from a capital that sits between central Europe and the Mediterranean. Its multi-faceted layers, including food, art, nightlife, history, and culture, are perfect for curious travellers. Located in the centre of Slovenia, the city is also a pivotal point to explore all corners of the country easily, which can be easily done via day trips.
How Many Days Do You Need in Ljubljana?
At the very least, you need two days in Ljubljana to see its Old Town and the art district of Metelkova. My four days allowed a more comfortable exploration, more time to try out restaurants and bars, and allowed time for day trips to the nature region surrounding the city.
What Time of the Year is Best to Visit Ljubljana?
Ljubljana is considered to have a ‘continental climate’, making it both a winter haven, given the nature surrounding it, and a summer hotspot with its beautiful Mediterranean climate.
How to Get to Ljubljana and Around
Well connected by rail, European buses like Flixbus, and by plane.
The Slovenian company GoOpti also operates car transfers between neighbouring European cities and neighbouring country airports in Germany, Austria, Croatia and Italy. We took the GoOpti transfer from Graz to Ljubljana, and I also took it back to Vienna from Ljubljana, where you share a car with other travellers booked on the same journey or route. You are reminded about your journey via text 24 hours before and when your vehicle arrives.
Attractions in Ljubljana
The Ljubljana card is an all-inclusive card giving you access to over 20 major attractions and museums, travel on the city buses, a guided city tour and 24-hour Internet access. You can save 10% by booking online.
- 24 hours: €27
- 48 hours: €34
- 72 hours: €39
Where to Stay in Ljubljana
Budget. Hostel Celica Art is a former prison turned design hostel in the alternative area of Metlekova. It has 20 unique cell rooms to choose from. It’s five minutes from the main train station and 10 to the heart of town.
Midrange. I stayed in Hotel Galleria on the fringes of the Old Town. It sits on the corner of some restaurants and coffee shops (open until late) and is a five-minute walk to the centre of the old town where the action is.
Luxury. For those looking to splash out, the 4 star Grand Union Hotel s situated just metres from Prešeren Square and the Triple Bridge. Constructed in the early 20th century, it is the oldest building Ljubljana, built during the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. It is considered one of central Europe’s most significant Art Nouveau architectural structures.
Getting Around Ljubljana
The Old Town is a vehicle-free zone, but a free shuttle bus/buggy system called Kavalir (gentle helper) exists where you can get from one end of the Old Town to another quickly. It’s handy at times, although the joy is in walking.
If you want to use the bus (without a Ljubljana card), you will need to purchase an ‘Urbana’ card from a newspaper stand. It costs €2. Each bus ticket cost €1.20 and is valid for 90 minutes.
Bikes are everywhere in Ljubljana – you’ll feel like you are in Amsterdam. Should you wish to join the city cyclists, bicycles can be hired in summer and autumn from the Slovenian Tourist Information Centre on Krekov trg 10, for €2 for 2 hours and €8 for two hours or more. You can also use the Bicike (LJ) hire network with 36 docking stations around the city. The first hour is free, and every additional hour is €1. You have to register online first.
Things to Do in Ljubljana to See it Differently
Visit Ljubljana Charm in the Old Town
Like any visitor, the Old Town was top of the list to explore. Like most former medieval strongholds, it’s compact yet full of a long, historical timeline of architectural styles and charms. In Ljubljana, this means endless cobblestone conveyor belts of streets that present numerous bridges, intricate townhouse facades, palaces, fountains, statues, monuments, churches and squares (of which Trg Republike next to the Slovenian parliament building is the largest).
Place all of that within the Mediterranean atmosphere of streets lined with tables, humming outdoor markets, a slew of coffee shops and those revelling in wine tasting and locals casually wheeling past pastel boulevards on their bicycles, and you’ve got yourself a very attractive city.
There are remains of the Roman city of Emona in the serene, green-filled outer city suburb of Trnovo – one of the oldest areas of the city, built outside of the city medieval walls, that used to be home to the fisherman.
Then you have the remnants of the medieval days, including the 15th-century old town hall on Mestni trg (street), behind the 20th-centry Robba Fountain (The Fountain of Three Carniolan Rivers). Stroll Vegova Ulica street to follow the course of the former medieval town wall, where a tower still stands at the end of the street.
Renaissance-era and Baroque (the latter designs found mostly in Stari trg, the oldest part of the city) fill the town, as they do in most European cities. In Ljubljana, the more quirky Art Nouveau structures from the early 20th century can be found between the old city and the railway station. The Dragon’s Bridge, adorned with giant emerald green dragon figures, is the city’s first Art Nouveau creation from 1901.
Ljubljana’s Architectural Legacy – Jože Plečnik’s Urban Design
You can’t miss the design works of Plečnik – Ljubljana’s famous architect and urban designer.
Jože Plečnik – known as the Slovenian father of design – left his visionary marks in many parts of Europe (having studied in Graz, Vienna and later becoming the Chief Architect in charge of Prague castle renovation), but he transformed his hometown of Ljubljana in the period between the two world wars (the era referred to as ‘Plečnik’s Ljubljana’).
All his works in Ljubljana were created in less than 20 years and his constructions here are rated some of the most prominent works of European art of the 20th Century. You likely stumble or stroll upon them without realising but the main design works include:
The Cobbler’s Bridge (connecting Mestini trg to Stari trg) is designed to be a ‘square’ above the water.
Then there’s the Triple Bridge (where two bridges were added to an original stone bridge) and the Butcher’s bridge (to create more space in the central market’s colonnade for trading), which you can spot by the love locks and opaque floor.
There’s also the Žale Cemetery, the promenade in Tivoli Park (Ljubljana’s largest) and the National and University Library.
I visited the NUK Café in the library to take part in an honourary Plečnik tradition – for tea, just as it was made for him by his housekeeper, in a strainer cup just like the one he used, and served with a honey biscuit (Plečnik loved honey), before heading to his house (Karunova 4-6) in Trnovo. A modern structure combining classical elements, it is now a permanent exhibition and has been left the exact same way since his death in 1957.
You can grab a map of Plečnik’s 39 works in Ljubljana from the Tourism Information centre and go on a self-guided walk.
BOOK: A tour of Plecnik’s work in Ljubljana and what inspired him, including a visit to his office at the Faculty of Architecture, a boat cruise on the Ljubljanica river and lunch in the Plečnik House garden.
Visit Open Kitchen Market (Every Friday)
Ljubljana is not just about architecture. The cirty thrives on the atmosphere that comes from reinventing tradition. The food and drink scene mixes traditional with modern in a city where young local chefs and international kitchen wizards are the force behind the reinvention.
We had lunch in Atelje, cooked up by one of Ljubljana’s award-winning chefs. Other recommendations include the healthy menu of Mala Terasa Bistro in the Skyscraper Nebotičnik for food with a view, and to sample the international influence of Slovenian cuisine, check out the Japanese chef influence at Bazilika and the middle-eastern feasts at Abi Falafel.
However, to get a real taste for Ljubljana’s vast options, the Open Kitchen Market should be top of your list. Every Friday the best chefs and city restaurants come together, each with their stall for locals and visitors to enjoy dishes on the spot. All washed down with fines wines, a good crowd and some music pumping in the background. It’s crowded, but for good reason.
BOOK: If you can’t make it for the Open Market, check out this Ljubljana good tour where you wander the old town with a professional guide and taste history via nine Slovenia culinary specialities and four local wines. Or take this 3-hour food tour through authentic Slovenian restaurants.
Check out the Castle in Ljubljana – The Symbol of the City
For a wonderfully presented breakfast 376 metres on the hill, head to the restaurant Gostilna na Gradu at the grounds of Ljubljana castle and fuel up for a day of exploration. In showcasing traditional eats and local ingredients, this breakfast serving is part of a project established in 2015, giving hoteliers and restaurants the chance to bring the farm to the table.
The site of a former fortress, military warehouse, army barracks, prison and even apartments is worth strolling, especially for the panorama views and walks along the old ramparts and towers.
It’s a complex catalogue of Ljubljana’s past – whose early beginnings in the early 1100s are recorded before being turned into a stone fortress in the 13th century, where it came under the estate of the Habsburgs in 1335 who demolished it and rebuilt it as new. It was ‘repurchased’ in 1905 by the then major of Ljubljana from Austro-Hungarian authorities.
The castle is now the core symbol of the city and the most visited tourist attraction, complete with interactive exhibitions on Slovene and Ljubljana history. There are even stones with fossils dating back 310 million years! So take the one-minute funicular ride up, whether for breakfast, the city views, or to enjoy one of the many social and cultural events like theatre shows, open-air cinema screenings, ‘Castle Summer Nights’ concerts and major annual events, including the Pink Week Ball that I attended.
See Metelkova – Ljubljana’s Alternative Arts Scene
I’m always seeking out the ‘other side’ to these pretty pastel old cities, and in Ljubljana, artists have found their space for expression. While small murals can be found in the old town, you’ll know when you’ve reached the grittier neighbourhoods.
These corners of the city are home to street art, sculpture art, artist galleries and studios that are home to an underground music scene of alternative bars and clubs at night. I couldn’t imagine Ljubljana without this contrast since it’s such a striking and fascinating difference to the Old Town.
Visiting Metelkova is one of the fun things to do in Ljubljana and a way to explore the city’s new persona. This colourful, funky, whacky place of artistry and alternative nightlife was once an abandoned barracks site. It turned urban squat and later was reclaimed by artists who use the spaces as open studios and small business ventures.
The further injection of cool comes from Ljubljana’s 60,000 students, many of whom live in and frequent the area of Metelkova.
In the daytime, I loved photographing the eclectic mix of art, from wall mosaics to giant sculptures (including a horror-house looking façade of giant sperm), and at night I ventured out to revel with the cool kids and students of the city as they party in these clubs and gather in droves on these very streets. I got a good feel for the real Ljubljana as it stands today – young, vibrant and outrageously artistic.
The hostel on-site, should you want to base yourself here, is a former prison where all rooms are former cells and still made to look the same, but with more comfortable touches!
Visit the Rog Factory – Ljubljana’s Creative Hub
I was told there wasn’t a lot to see at the Rog Factory, which is a short walk away from Metelkova, but I disagree. Should the door to the site be open, it’s well worth a wander through this creative space.
One room was an ariel silk practice area, other artists were working away in their small studios and the courtyard was filled with junk art, murals and even a robot sculpture made of metal. It’s a fascinating, reformed space where, creativly, anything goes.
Ljubljana Day Trips – Adventures in City Nature
Ljubljana is described as a “small capital with a green soul”, which means there’s plenty more to visually feast on than the gorgeous old town architecture. Central Slovenia is a blanket of nature filled with lakes, hills and mountains. From the marshes to the high peaks, outside of the city is a playground for hiking, biking and countryside wandering, with national parks and trail highlights accessible as day trips from Ljubljana.
READ MORE: Adventure Day Trips in Ljubljana and Around – Hiking and Biking Slovenia’s Nature.
Ljubljana City Tours and Excursions in Slovenia
There’s a host of city tours and day excursions, from culinary and cultural walks to beer and bicycle tours, as well as day trips to many parts of Slovenia and neighbouring countries such as Italy. All can be booked from the Tourism Office in the heart of the Old Town on Adamič-Lundrovo nabrežje. Slovenia is so small, it is said you can visit any point of the country in a day.
My trip to Ljubljana was a combination of a #EuroCityTrip project to highlight the city as a ‘cool neighbour’ to Austria’s second-largest city of Graz in partnership with both city tourism offices. Perfect as part of a multi-country city-hopping trip, you’ll be surprised how much they have in common being so close to one another.