In all honesty, we weren’t expecting much of the Slovenian capital. Since the city is small, we thought we would check architecture and eat. How wrong we were, there are tones of things to do in Ljubljana! First and foremost, the city is a mix of Austro-Hungarian and Yugoslavian influences, and yet so distinct. Additionally, nature is everywhere, including downtown. Fortunately, Ljubljana doesn’t get the recognition it deserves! Since the city is still under the radar, there are no crowds to beat. You can do several things in just one afternoon! Now, why rush? Take your time and enjoy the chilled vibe of this fantastic capital.
Explore Metelkova, Ljubljana’s Commune of Peace and Art
Metelkova’s history is as impressive as its art. Originally the headquarters of the Austro Hungarian Empire, it was then the center of the Yugoslavian army in Slovenia. Following the country’s independence, artists and free thinkers moved to the dilapidated buildings to establish a creative center. Slovenian authorities have never fully accepted Metelkova. They’ve even demolished a couple of buildings. However, the place is alive, kicking, and an oasis of punk art and revolutionary ideas. You can visit all day long, and there will be something cool going on. Nights are especially interesting.
Go All the Way Up to Ljubljana Castle
Though you can go up the castle by bus or a funicular, we strongly recommend walking or biking there. Take any of the four lovely walking paths. Beginning next to Vodnik Square, Študentovska is the main one. The trail that begins in Reber Street will take you from old houses to the Castle Walls in a few minutes. If the weather is hot, walk under trees along the path that begins in Na Grad Street. To go through forests directly to the castle’s courtyard take the trail that begins on Na Stolbi Street. Take note that you can bike to, but not inside, the castle. No worries; tie your bike and enjoy the views.
See Killer Sunsets from Nebotičnik Skyscraper
Built in 1933, Nebotičnik was the tallest building in Slovenia and the Balkans. Hence, the building towered over all of the city’s bell towers changing the skyline forever. Though nowadays a couple of buildings are taller, Nebotičnik still offers the best views of Ljubljana. A club, a cafe, and a restaurant occupy the top floors. The place is very popular amongst locals, so book a table in advance for dinner. Though the café opens from 9 am, sunsets are truly special.
Bike along the Ljubljanica River
Ljubljanica River is Ljubljana’s lifeline. Begin your ride downtown in Krakovski Nasip. Bike next to the river admiring the architecture until you exit the city proper. You decide for how long you want to ride. Approximately one kilometer from the center you will find Špica, a lovely park where two tributaries meet. Though the ride is within an urban area, it feels like the countryside. Don’t worry about food or drinks. You can stop at any of the several cafes along the way. Bike along Grudnovo Nabrežje to go back to the city.
Rent a Private Boat on Ljubljanica
We did this together with my brother and parents and had a blast. All you have to do is to hop on a boat downtown to see Ljubljana’s historic quarter from the river. You decide the length of your trip. The farther you go, the greener the views. Notice how the city gradually ends and how the countryside begins. If you get hungry, you can stop at any of the several cafes next to the river. Insanis Lounge, behind the Conservatory, has a couple of floating platforms where you can sip cocktails and admire the river.
Relax in Tivoli
With an area of some 5 square kilometers, Tivoli offers just about everything for everyone. To access the park, walk along Cankarjeva Cesta until you reach Ljubljana’s Museum of Modern Art, in the middle of downtown. You have to go under Bleiweisova Avenue to enter the promenade designed by Slovenia’s own Jože Plečnik. The park boasts a top-notch sports complex (including an indoor pool). There are a couple of restaurants, many statues, monuments, fountains, and thousands of trees. Both the Tivoli and the Cekin Mansions are especially interesting. Don’t forget to check the International Center of Graphic Arts and the National Museum of Contemporary History.
Discover the Wonderful Street Art of Jože Plečnik
Plečnik is to Ljubljana what Gaudi is to Barcelona. What’s more, Gaudi’s works can only be seen in Spain, while Plečnik designed the Church of the Holy Spirit in Vienna, the church of St. Padua in Belgrade and oversaw the renovation of the Prague Castle. However, most tourists are unaware of Plečnik’s fantastic sculptures and candelabra. Begin your walk at the Cobblers Bridge where you will see pillars and candelabra. Continue next to the river all the way to Kongresni trg to see more art. Other places with these fabulous sculptures include Slovenska Street, Trg Republike, and Tivoli Park.
Search for Ancient Books in the National and University Library
The National and University Library is famous amongst the cultured due to its collection of medieval books and renaissance prints. To us, this is one of the most outstanding libraries in the entire world. No other than Jože Plečnik designed the building, considered by many his ultimate masterpiece. The building’s exterior is a combination of bricks and stone inspired by the Zuccari Palace in Rome. Go inside and prepare to be dazzled. The vestibule leads to a surreal central staircase and 32 pillars of black marble. The reading room is a book lover’s dream. Light filters through glass walls onto wooden desks and shelves!
Visit Slovenia’s Oldest Cultural Institution
The importance of nature in Slovenia is such that its oldest cultural, educational, and scientific institution is the Botanical Gardens. Established in 1810, the gardens hold over 4500 plants, a third of which are endemic to the country. Go inside the huge glass dome in the center. Built to commemorate the gardens 200th anniversary, it has 380 tropical plants from all over the world. You can bike or even better, go with a boat to the gardens. The coffee house within the gardens offers great cakes under trees overlooking the river and the monument to Gabriel Gruber.
Walk Through History along the Path of Remembrance and Comradeship
What better way to remember the past than walking? The Path of Remembrance and Comradeship is a 33km trail that begins in downtown Ljubljana and encircles the entire city. Italy occupied Slovenia during World War II and in 1942 fenced the city with barbed wire to cut communications between partisans. The path follows the former fence. Notice the octagonal memorial stones that lie on the ground. There are 102, and mark where bunkers where established. Though the path is mainly for pedestrians, you can bike as long as you are careful.
Food and Coffee
Food lovers will have a ball in Ljubljana. Though we ate delicious food everywhere, Gostilna Čad in Tivoli Park stood out. They serve top quality Balkan food under century-old chestnut trees! Coffee and cakes are another local obsession. Cacao, next to Ljubljanica River, serves homemade cakes and ice cream right in the middle of the city. Choose your favorite cake, order a coffee, and people-watch at the local runway. Fortunately, there are so many things to do in Ljubljana, that you won’t gain weight!
Day Trips from Ljubljana
Slovenia offers more than mountains! Go ahead and chill on the Slovenian Coast. Yes: the Adriatic is that close! Slovenian Railways has 5 daily trains to Koper, and the journey takes 2 hours 20 minutes. Countless buses take 1 to 2 hours. Of course, on your way to the coast you can stop at Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle. Another brilliant day excursion from Ljubljana is to Bled Castle and Lake. The oldest castle in the country hangs on a cliff 130m over glacial Lake Bled. The best of both worlds: surreal architecture and gorgeous nature! There are several buses a day, and the journey takes an hour and a half.
Where to Stay in Ljubljana
In Ljubljana, you have to stay downtown and walk all day long. At nights too! The Grand Hotel Union was the first modern hotel to open in the country in 1905, and it’s still the best. Designed by Josip Vancaš, the building is a magnificent example of the Vienna Secession style. Top-notch facilities include an indoor pool and three fantastic restaurants. Hotel Cubo, a historic building from 1932 on Slovenska Street, is a brilliant choice too. They have complimentary bicycles for their guests. When it comes to boutique hotels, Lesar Hotel Angel excels in service and location.