Everything started the night we arrived in Ljubljana.
We noticed the person who drove us from the airport waited till we entered the rental (apartment) to leave. My husband made an “ok” sign, the driver waved and got back on the road.
It was a small gesture, but we knew he was making sure we were in the right place. I got a warm, fuzzy security feeling. You can stop being grateful when another human being, in this case, a stranger, cares about you.
The friendly displays continued during my stay in the city (and country). Because of that, I am sure you are not going to be surprised by what I am going to say next. I completely adored Ljubljana!
As a matter of fact, I cannot wait to share what I saw, did, and eat there.
Ljubljana is the capital and biggest city in Slovenia. Historical records indicate a Roman city stood in the area. However, the city started to be mentioned by name in the 12th century. As with many other places in Europe, Ljubljana was ruled by the Habsburgs (Austrian Emperors) from the middle ages till the end of World War I (when the empire was dissolved).
After that, Ljubljana and Slovenia entered the Yugoslavian Republic (in its different political forms). Slovenia became independent in 1991 and joined the European Union in 2004.
Ljubljana has a population of about 300,000. That is small compared to other capitals in the continent. However, if you enjoy vibrant, colorful, clean, non-crowded and relaxed places, then I recommend you visit Ljubljana. The vibe in the city makes you feel happy. It is not difficult to sit down at a riverside café, converse, and laugh. Just follow the locals lead!
Here are some recommendations on what to see and do in the city.
Get ready for a day of sightseeing by bringing the right gear. Here is a list of the items I pack to explore cities and towns in Europe.
- Walking Shoes – Comfortable walking shoes are a must. I recommend investing in a good pair. My go-to brands are Clarks, Tevas, and Sketchers.
- Anti-Theft Bag – Keep your belongings safe by keeping them in an anti-theft bag. The ones manufactured by Travelon have a 5-points security system including an RFID blocking pocket. >>Check out their crossbody bag here If you prefer a backpack, this one is a good option
- Sweatshirt – A sweatshirt is a must to keep me warm during chilly mornings and nights. >Click to see a great option here
- Sun Block – Do not leave the house (or the car) without applying sunblock. I repeat, always wear sunblock when outdoors. >Buy sunblock here
- Lip Balm with Sunscreen – Protect your lips by applying a balm with sunscreen. >Get one of the best lip balms here
- Wide Brim Hat – A wide brim hat is a great way to protect your scalp, face, and neck. The ones manufactured by FURTALK come with an anti-UV function. >Buy this amazing hat here
- Hand Sanitizer – Do not forget to pack hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.
- Sunglasses – These are another must when it comes to protecting from the sun. A polarized, sporty pair works better outdoors. >Take a look at this wonderful pair
- Water Bottle – Do not forget to bring water! Keep yours cold by taking a beautiful Hydro Flask water bottle. >Check out the insane options here
- THERMOS Tumblers – I have been a fan of the THERMOS brand since I received a tumbler as a gift. The tumblers keep drinks hot for hours. >>Buy THERMOS insulated tumblers here
- Camera – I have never gotten used to taking pictures exclusively with my phone. I prefer to use the Sony Alpha a6000. It is compact and takes gorgeous pictures. >Buy Sony Camera here
- Tripod – A compact tripod to take your photos and videos to a different level. >>Check out this popular option here
- Portable Power Bank – It is a pain to keep phones charged on trips (more if you are taking pictures, posting on social media, and navigating). Having a power bank is a lifesaver. The Anker portable charger can charge a phone 5 times. >Buy this incredible power bank here
Ljubljana Sightseeing – Things to Do and See
Ljubljana has a compact center. If you start your day early (not later than 9:00 a.m.), you will have enough time to see the sights at a pleasurable pace, add one or two activities and spend a nice amount of time devouring good food or having cake next to the Ljubljanica River.
Most of the historic center of Ljubljana is a pedestrian zone (don’t you love that?). As a consequence, a taxi, bus, or ride-sharing service will leave you here or in a nearby spot at Slovenska Cesta (Slovenia Street).
So, it makes sense to start your walk around the city here. This square or plaza takes its name from the ceremonial events the Congress of the city has celebrated in there. Several beautiful buildings can be found around. For example, make sure to check the Church of the Holy Trinity, the Kanzina Building, and the Slovenian Philharmonic Building.
In addition, there is a park, fountains, and monuments in the square.
Museum of Illusions
Since we are discussing Congress Square, I cannot move on without mentioning the super fun Museum of Illusions.
This two-story institution features more than 40 exhibitions, optical illusions, and holograms. In short, you can leave the place with pictures of yourself defying gravity and looking way taller than you really are. Your friends will not believe what they see!
The entrance is about 10 Euros. Discounts are given to families visiting with kids.
Now, if you visualize Ljubljana in your mind, chances are a pink church will start to materialize in front of you. That is because the Franciscan Church of Annunciation at Prešeren Square has become one of the symbols of the city.
The beautiful church dominates the landscape of the city’s most prominent square. It is here where everybody seems to meet. During your visit, you are going to walk by more than 10 times.
The square takes its name from France Prešeren, Slovenia’s greatest poet. Remember to pay your respects to this illustrious man by stopping at the monument dedicated to him.
Keep in mind the square is surrounded by palaces. Therefore, get a good 360 degrees view to see how many you can spot. Hauptman House and Filip Mansion (across the river) stand out.
The famous Triple Bridge is located in front of the square. As the name implies, this architectural feature consists of three bridges crossing the Ljubljanica River.
The center bridge has existed since medieval times. In the late twenties – early thirties, Jože Plečnik, another of Slovenia’s most brilliant minds, added the side bridges, stone balustrades, and lamps. By doing that, he created something that is as unique as the city itself. Have some fun crossing all three parts of the bridge!
Note: The Touristic Center is located across the square. Stop by for maps, information, and bus tickets.
This street starting (or ending, depends on perspective) in one corner of Prešeren Square is full of grand buildings and it would be a nice addition to the itinerary of architecture buffs.
For example, Galleria Emporium, a luxury department store, occupies a palace (Urbanc House) featuring a glass and wrought iron canopy and a statue of Mercury, the god of commerce.
A short walk will take you to the Grand Hotel Union and Vurnikova House or, officially, the Cooperative Business Bank Building. The structure was designed by architect Ivan Vurnik in an Art Nouveau style. Because of its decorative elements, it has been called “the most beautiful building” in Ljubljana.
A chocolatier and wine shop are located on the street too.
It is impossible to miss the Cathedral (Church of St. Nicholas). Seems like its dome and towers follow you everywhere in the city.
There has been a church in the spot since the 1200s. The original design has been altered due to fires (or attacks from the Turks). The current Baroque design is from the early 1700s and the interior is covered in frescos.
Since I love markets, I was very excited to stop by Ljubljana’s Central Market. Now, this is not your ordinary market thanks to Jože Plečnik (the same architect who designed the Triple Bridge).
The market consists of an open-air market, located in Vodnikoc and Pogačernev Squares, a covered market between the squares, and several small shops located along the river. The area occupied by the small shops is known as “Plečnik’s Covered Market.” The architect designed stalls, in a two-story building, following the curve of the river.
The fruits and vegetables here are as fresh as they can get. By looking at the hands of the sellers, it seems like they cut the produce in the morning and then transported the goods to the market to sell. Cheese, nuts, meat, olive oil, and other artisan products can be found at the market too.
Plus, if you are looking for souvenirs, this is the place for you.
Note: Do not miss the vending machine dispensing milk. Yes, you read that right! For some coins, you can enjoy a glass of fresh milk.
Butcher’s Bridge (Mesarski Most)
This modern bridge does not gather as much attention as other bridges in the city but I think it is very pretty and deserves a bit of time. Anyway, it is located super close to the market. Therefore, it will only take a few minutes of your time to reach it.
I see this bridge as the bridge of contrasts. The name “butcher” conjures images of knives and dead animals. On top of that, it is adorned with some creepy statues (I do not understand what they represent).
But, for some reason, this is the place locals and visitors have chosen to place love padlocks. Some call it the “Love Bridge.” See how Ljubljana keep getting more and more interesting?
It is time to move to the city’s most famous bridge!
Some say that if you have not taken your photograph in front of Dragon Bridge, you cannot claim you have visited Ljubljana.
I walked by this bridge many times and enjoyed seeing the four dragons referenced by the name. As me, many pay attention to the dragons but the actual structure is considered a marvel of engineering since it was the city’s first reinforced concrete structure.
Do not leave without taking your picture with one of the dragons. Also, try to capture the dragons with the castle in the background.
Mestinic or Town Square
Mestinic Square was one of the centers of Medieval Ljubljana. Buildings from that era are long gone but the square features Renaissance and Baroque pieces such as the Town Hall and the Robba Fountain.
A walk along the street of the same name will take you to even more examples of these architectural styles. This is probably one of Ljubljana’s most beautiful streets. I highly recommend you take the time for a stroll.
It is not only about beauty. The street is full of cafes, restaurants, and stores. In short, it is a win-win situation.
Visiting the Ljubljana Castle was one of my favorite experiences in the city. Europe is full of castles, palaces, and manors but I find the ones I visit interesting and unique. The Ljubljana Castle was not the exception!
The visit starts by walking to the lower funicular station (access thru Ciril-Metodov Street, you will see signs at Mestinic Square). A ticket includes the funicular ride, entrance, and an audio guide. I love when I do not have to climb to castles!
Once at the top, you pick up the audio equipment and start your self-guided tour. The visit may take two to three hours. Plan accordingly.
At the castle, you will be able to enjoy the following:
- Castle’s miniature representation
- Spanheim Tower
- Water Deposit
- Jails and cells
- Saint George’s Chapel
- Virtual Castle – 12-minute video explaining the architectonic development of the castle
- Slovenia’s history exhibition
- Puppet Museum
- Panoramic Tower – to me, this is the best part of the visit. The tower affords impressive views of the city and surrounding mountains
The castle has an information center, café, restaurant and gift shop. Do not miss Ljubljana’s most popular attraction!
This is another creation of Jože Plečnik. This bridge distinguishes itself from others because it has two kinds of pillars: Corinthian and Ionic.
The name derives from a covered bridge that existed during Medieval times. It used to protect cobbler’s stalls.
Walk the River Banks
Even though seeing the sights will allow you to see a good chunk of the river banks, I recommend taking a walk focused on the river shores.
A walk from the Dragon Bridge to the Cobbler’s Bridge will expose you to colorful houses, hanging branches and turquoise (almost unbelievable) waters.
It is better if you walk all the way to Zoisova Street. The farther you go from Prešeren Square, the less crowded the river banks get and the prettier the views.
Church of Saint James
If you make it all the way to Zoisova Street, do not miss the Church of Saint James. You can return to the center through Mestni Street.
Take a Boat Ride
The other way to get awesome views of the city is from the water. Close to the center, you are going to notice multiple people offering boat rides. Prices range from 10 to 15 Euros. Shop around to get the best deal (in terms of price, length of ride or tour type, some tours offer commentary).
Sunset rides are available too.
As you have noticed, Ljubljana is a very scenic city. There are glorious views from many points. I do not want to bore you to death with more scenic viewpoints, but I need to share one more spot.
Nebotičnik (Slovenian for “skyscraper”) is a thirteen story building located at the heart of town. The height may not sound impressive but the views from the observation deck are too good to pass up. The neat thing is that you have great views of the city and the castle. Of course, you can see way more than that.
Once you arrive at the building, walk towards the elevator and ride to the top. The doors are going to open at a café. Walk a short set of stairs and you are going to arrive in the observation area. Entrance is free of charge but it would be nice to buy something at the café. Also, take into consideration the people who have paid to eat at the place. Try not to invade their space.
Note: there will be fewer people if you visit early.
Metelkova seems to be the hipster area of Ljubljana. It is full of street art and other creative demonstrations. A lot of blogs recommend a visit to the area. As a loyal blogging fan, I followed the lead.
Well, after a long walk, we ended up taking a couple of pictures and leaving. We didn’t feel safe and there were several individuals under the influence of a depressant.
I urge you to gather the proper information before visiting. Use caution if you choose to visit. Another good idea is to visit in a group (with two or three friends).
The green lung of the city is full of walking/running trails, a promenade, fountains, and sculptures. Ljubljana does not feel suffocating at all but I understand if you need to be a bit closer to nature.
Remember you can hire a bike through the Ljubljana Bike Project and ride it around the city and park. Bikes are usually available during the warmer months of the year and pick up location is at the Tourist Information Center.
Free Walking Tour Ljubljana
It is no secret that I am a huge fan of free walking tours. The Ljubljana Free Tour company offer daily, 2-hour tours covering most of the sights mentioned in this article. This is a great option for those who want to get the city guided by a local. No reservations are required. Tours meet at Prešeren Square.
Food Tour and Cooking Classes
Ljubljananjam offers 3.5 hours food walking tours. The objective is to show you the best food, beer, wine, coffee and dessert spots in the city. If you love food (and who doesn’t), this experience will not let you down.
Another way to get to know the flavors of the city is to take a cooking class offered by companies such as Cook Eat Slovenia or Slovenia Eat.
Being the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana is full of museums and cultural institutions. You have many choices in here. Pick your favorite!
- City Museum
- National Museum of Slovenia
- Plečnik House
- Museum of Modern Art
- National Gallery of Slovenia
As mentioned, Galleria Emporium houses luxury brands and services. Slovenska Cesta, Čopova Ulica, and Nazorjeva Ulica have a good selection of local and international brands.
What to Eat in Ljubljana
The food in Ljubljana blew my taste buds!
It is easy to find the hearty dishes of Central Europe (goulash, dumplings, etc.) and a wide range of wonderful, international options.
We ate breakfast at Slovenska Hiša. This popular eatery offers an excellent selection of cheeses, charcuterie, bread, and wines. Most of the products are local and seating is next to the river.
We had the opportunity to try two (different) goulash dishes at Mediteraneo. We still dream about those flavors. Another option is to visit Mediteraneo’s sister restaurant Aroma.
If you are a fan of burgers, Pop’s Place is the right place for you. The ambiance is great there!
Other recommended restaurants include Klobasarna, Most, Kavarna, Divine, Julija, Spajza and Robba.
And, I am not done with food yet!
While in town you have (the actual word is “need”) to have ice cream at Cacao. The flavors are incredibly good! Also, you have to stop by Lolita (or Dessert Shop). This place sells mouthwatering ice cream, cakes and any imaginable sweet you can think of.
Mini pancakes topped with flavored syrup and fruit are sold on the streets. Just saying. Not that I tried them or anything.
How Much Time Should I Spend in Ljubljana?
The amount of time spent on a destination is a personal choice. However, if you are short on time, you can see a lot of Ljubljana’s main sights in a day (if you start early). Using the table of contents as a reference, you can experience activities 2.1 to 2.16, in a day, without feeling rushed. Several “things to do” outlined in this article can be combined on a walking tour.
Now, I have professed my love for the city more than once. If time allows, plan to stay for 2 or 3 days (even more) in the city. Day 1 can be spent seeing the main sights. Day 2 can be filled with a specific tour (for example, food tour), museum hopping and shopping. Day 3 can be used for a day trip (Lake Bled is the most popular option).
How to Get to Ljubljana
The Joze Pucnik Airport is located about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from the city. Many budget airlines fly to Ljubljana so, start searching for some deals!
Shuttle buses will take you directly to your hotel (have the address handy) for 8 to 10 Euros.
Ljubljana’s Main Bus Station is located close to Old Town. In my opinion, it is within walking distance of the main sights but others may differ (more when you are carrying luggage). Depending, where you are staying, you may need to arrange transportation to your hotel.
Transportation Within Ljubljana
Since Ljubljana does not have subway or tram services, moving around in buses is the most cost-effective option. Bus network maps can be obtained on the tourist office and schedules are posted on stops.
To ride a bus, you will need an Urbana Card. This “payment method” is similar to London’s Oyster Card. You buy the card (2 Euros) and load it with money. Then, you scan the card on the bus. All the members of your party can use the same card. Just tell the driver how many people you are paying for.
You can get back the cost of a card (the 2 Euros, at the tourism office) but you cannot cash out the money loaded. Keep that in mind when adding money. You will not be allowed on the bus if you do not have a card.
Ride Sharing Services
The Uber network is not available in Ljubljana, but the Hop in Taxi app operates on the same concept. It is easy to use and the rides are affordable.
More of Slovenia
Do not miss my post about Lake Bled if you want to keep discovering Slovenia’s outstanding beauty.
Have you visited Ljubljana? What do other sightseeing ideas you suggest?
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