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Exploring Ljubljana: A Guide For Your Trip To Slovenia

Updated: Mar 23


At the centre of the city, the Triple Bridge and Prešeren Square offers the perfect view of Ljubljana

The picturesque Slovenia capital is an ideal city break for anyone wanting a cultured trip that won’t break the bank. With lots to see and taste, why not introduce yourself to the ‘Beloved City’, a gem of Eastern Europe?

 

Lauded by European Best Destinations and The Guardian, if Ljubljana isn’t on your travel list, it should be. We have a slight tendency in Britain and Western Europe to forget about or even disregard parts of central and eastern Europe; but with prices rising and travel becoming ever dearer, we’re going to have to expand our horizons.


The charming character of this small city means that if you’re there for a few days, and you’re efficient with your time, you’ll likely see whatever you could want to see. If you’re happier to take it easy and explore, Ljubljana can also suit your style.

 

My Trip


Back in December, two friends and I wanted to plan a little lads’ trip. But we had conditions:

  1. Somewhere we hadn’t been before

  2. Somewhere we probably wouldn’t go with our families

  3. We’re graduates, we’re tight on cash so it can’t be too expensive, so no more than £450.




Somewhere new. Somewhere outlandish. Somewhere cheap.


When we settled on Slovenia, it seemed to hit the sweet spot. We could get flights for £109 and five nights accommodation for £100.



Where in the World is Loo-blee-ahh-na?


Nestled in southern central Europe, on the banks of the Ljubljanica, lies what Slovenes call the ‘Beloved City’, on account of its beauty and importance to the Slovenian nation.

Slovenes have chosen to take particular care in naming their city in such a way as to purposefully make English-speakers quake at the idea of having to read the name in public, without having heard it first… So that any lucky reader might avoid this unfortunate fate, I have attempted to phonetically spell the city’s name for you. No need to thank me, just buy me a žganje…

 

Of course, this is not true.


On an interesting and informative free walking tour of the city by Ljubljana Free Tour, our tour guide, Tina, told us that Ljubljana is thought to derive from the Slavic words “to love”, to give ‘the Beloved City’ its name.


"it was only in 1991 that the Slovenes finally obtained a land of their own"

Ljubljana Cathedral's huge bronze door depicts important moments in the history of the Slovenes, from the assumption of Christianity to the end of the Cold War

The founding of the city has archaic connections to ancient Greek myth. It is said that the city was founded by Jason and the Argonauts on their journey back to Greece. In the myth, after sailing up the Danube and the Sava and onto the Ljublanica, the Greeks then settled by a lake to wait until the end of winter. However, a dragon living in the lake would attack then men so Jason would need to vanquish the monster for the safety of his crew. It is this story which gives Ljubljana a dragon on its coat of arms.


A confluence of European cultures, this appears time again in the history of Slovenia. Jumping between the control of great powers in Europe, it was only in 1991 that the Slovenes finally obtained a land of their own. In this, the buildings of Ljubljana show architectural styles prominent in both Rome and Vienna, Art Nouveau and Baroque.


Effects on buildings is one thing but flipping between countries has left a great impression on Slovenes. Tina highlighted this turbulent history through the story of her grandfather. She told us her grandfather had lived in the same village in Western Slovenia all his life and despite having never left the town of his birth he became a citizen of four countries throughout his life: Austria-Hungary, Italy, Yugoslavia and Slovenia.

 

Flights & Travel


There are two travel options from the Ljubljana airport to the city centre: the bus or a taxi.

The bus is the cheaper option, around €4. On the other hand, if you fancy that little bit of comfort and speed, the taxi will usually be around €30 each way. Both options can take you directly from the airport but the advantage we found with the taxi was that we didn’t have to figure our way around a new city, in a country we’d never visited after a flight.


The bus station is a 10-minute walk from the city centre, more than manageable if you don’t bring the kitchen sink on your city breaks…

 

What to Do



A view of Ljubljana Castle shows the city's coverng of snow, rarely so thick in January

Ljubljana Castle

This fifteenth-century fortress is an imposing feature of the skyline and from its ramparts offers beautiful views of the city and the snowcapped Julian Alps. If you’re visiting in winter, it's best to visit around lunchtime when the ice has had a chance to melt on the path up the hill. As Lewis found out, walking up to the castle on an icy path can get quite stressful if you aren’t wearing hiking boots.

 

Tivoli Park

For a city of just under 300,000, the people of Ljubljana care much for their green space. Tivoli Park is five square kilometres, larger than Hyde Park and Central Park combined. I would have loved to have seen the park in the summer when its flowers and gardens are in full bloom.

 

Slovenian Museum of Contemporary History

Situated in Tivoli Park, the Museum of Contemporary History tells the story of Slovenia from the start of the twentieth century. Winding through Austrian Rule right up to Slovenia’s admittance to the European Union, this museum offered much by way of educating us about Slovenia’s recent history. We wanted to learn about this country as part of our trip and this museum helped greatly in that end.

 

The Triple Bridge & Ljubljana Market

At the centre of the city sits a UNESCO Heritage sight, the bridges were designed by renowned Slovenian architect, Jože Plečnik, whose designs grace much of his home city. Now a revered figure, Plečnik strove to modernise his home city and make it fit to be the capital of a future Slovenian state. Even the Triple Bridge shows Ljubljana’s embrace of modernity, expanded by Plečnik to allow pedestrians space so cars could take over the now-pedestrianised centre bridge.



Next to the Triple Bridge, is Ljubljana’s central market, also designed by Plečnik. Cafés line the river next to the market stalls, interrupted only by seating areas to overlook the river. Plečnik felt strongly that the people of the city should be able to observe and enjoy nature to encourage a connection to both their city and their homeland.

 


Prešeren Square

After crossing the Triple Bridge, you enter Prešeren Square, in which stands a monument to the national poet of Slovenia, France Prešeren. Atop a lofty pedestal, Prešeren stands looking out across his square to where his unrequited love, Julija Primic, once lived; above him, sits a Muse grasping a laurel branch. Prešeren plays an important part in Slovenian national identity, the 8th of February being dedicated to the celebration of his works and now the celebration of all Slovenian culture.



The square is made all the more picturesque in the presence of Ljubljana’s Franciscan Church, an eye-catching site due to its imposing stature, columns and pink walls.  Inside the church, Plečnik’s influence is also felt, having designed a cross for one of the church's chapels

 

Klobasarna

This family-run former watchmaker's now-snack bar specialises in the Carniolan sausage. Served with a bread roll, horseradish and mustard, this sausage is a traditional Slovenian snack, first made when Slovenia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Klobasarna features as a key spot for any foodie visiting Ljubljana thanks to its superbly special sausage.

 

Sarajevo ‘84

On our first night in Ljubljana, we explored the city for a place to eat. Sarajevo ’84 stands right in the city centre, on one of the main drives, and seemed to be a great place to start ourselves on Eastern European food. The restaurant is underground and feels homely thanks to the bare brick and solid wooden furniture. Inviting and intimate, the welcoming mural reads “ovdje ima još mjesta” or “there is still room here” in English. The menu is hearty and affordable, perfect for the weary traveller!

 



Day Trips


To supplement your trip, you might want to take one or two excursions away from the city. For our trip, we knew Lake Bled was an especially beautiful summer destination but would it offer the same sights in winter?


Much as in summer, the sunlight glistens on the clear lake water, surrounded by mountains to create a portrait of nature at peace. Moreover, while summer draws herds of tourists to Slovenia, winter does not rouse so many and we saw few people around Bled.


Calm verging on eerie was Bled on our visit. The shops quiet and the paths empty. Nevertheless, I can’t picture Lake Bled being a better day out than how we saw it: peaceful and without people. Visiting the island was magical and I won't soon forget looking out onto the lake from the island’s café, enjoying coffee and potica, a local cake, rolled and often filled with crushed walnuts.


If you want to branch out beyond the standard trip to Lake Bled, I’d wholly recommend trips to these sights:


Postojna Caves

If the idea of being underground isn’t for you, this shouldn’t be your day trip Postojna Caves are one of Slovenia’s top tourist sites and with 5km of explorable cave in the    24km system, be sure to stick to the paths…

 

Vintgar Gorge

A stone’s throw from Lake Bled is the incredible Vintgar Gorge. This beautiful gorge offers stunning views of the serene water of the Radovna River, carving through the rock. The wooden walkway gives full vantage over the gorge’s rapids and waterfalls. Only four kilometres from Bled, I’m greatly disappointed I missed the chance to listen to the water and explore this gorgeous part of Slovenia.

 

Language?


From my experience going around Ljubljana, speaking English won’t cause much of a stir. Slavic languages can also be quite difficult for English-speakers to work their around.

However, picking up a few Slovenian phrases are always going to go down well. As such, here are some handy phrases you might want to note:


              Excuse me

              Oprostite

 

              Could I have a beer, please?

              Ali lahko dobim pivo, prosim?

 

              Naturally, Hans is wet, he is standing under a waterfall.

              Naravno, Hans je moker, stoji pod slapom.

 

Cost of the Trip: £373.12


"I still hear the siren song of un-skiied slopes, I feel the Adriatic summers faintly call me on a warm Balkan breeze."

For a budget trip, Ljubljana has lots to offer, winter or summer.  But here’s a breakdown of what I spent over the trip:

              Flights: £109.70

              Accommodation: £100.42

              Activities: £20

              Travel: £30

              Food & Drink: £61

              General Spending: £32

              Gifts: £20

              Total Spend: £373.12


Now, we had five whole days in Slovenia and we spent a lot of time wandering around and exploring this new environment. If I’m honest, we didn’t do as much as we could have done. In particular frustration, I kept getting recommended “BEST THINGS TO DO IN SLOVENIA” weeks after coming back home… Them’s the breaks…


Ljubljana’s nickname is well-earned but I don’t see myself visiting again in the winter unless I had the chance to show it off to other budding travellers. However, I’m confident this won’t be my last trip to Slovenia. In a poetic sense, Slovenes are deeply attached to their rugged mountains and while I still hear the siren song of un-skiied slopes, I feel the Adriatic summers faintly call me on a warm Balkan breeze.

 

 

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