Things to do in Ljubljana: Lots, so Bring Your Walking Shoes!
Not only has the Slovenian capital the honor of bearing the most tongue-twisting name of all European capitals, but Ljubljana is also one of the most livable and greenest capitals on the continent. With a historic center that is basically entirely car-free, this old city begs to be explored on foot. Without any cars—there are some buses, though—the entire Old Town is opened up to pedestrians and cyclists.
Ljubljana is blessed by its location. It lies on the crossroads between the efficient and disciplined Germanic cultures of Austria and Germany, and the relaxed and friendly Italian and Balkan cultures. These opposing influences make it an incredibly cosmopolitan and fascinating city for its size—Ljubljana is home to no more than 280,000 inhabitants. This also makes it an easily accessible city, especially from Croatia.
Often compared to nearby Salzburg in Austria, Ljubljana shares some similarities with this old city, yet it is distinctly different as well. There’s the people’s Slavic language, and the city has its own cultural heroes, most notably the architect Jože Plečnik and the poet France Prešeren.
Ljubljana, Slovenia is All About Atmosphere
Where Ljubljana may lack the major tourist attractions that other European capitals do have, it makes up for that by being almost impossibly charming and atmospheric. Sure, there are no Eiffel Towers, huge Parliament buildings or Colosseums, but there are a cobbled historic center, pastel-colored architecture, and lush riverbanks.
The Ljubljanica River makes its way scenically across the heart of the Old Town, its banks lined with greenery and, in summer, countless terraces of restaurants and cafés. Ljubljana is also a city of festivals. Even when there’s no festival going on, the riverside terraces give the impression of a continuous street party.
So, with a beautiful river running through its core and dotted with beautiful buildings and cozy eateries, Ljubljana sometimes feels too good to be true. This is a place where you can go on a Sunday stroll every day of the week.
An Alternative Side
While the overwhelming charm of Ljubljana’s Old Town enchants visitors, there is also an entirely different side to this fascinating city. When walking just beyond the old historic heart, you’ll quickly notice a different scene.
Ljubljana is also a city in repair. There are many crumbling buildings covered in graffiti around the Old Town. Surprisingly, however, Ljubljana seems to get away with that. Somehow, those graffiti covered façades have become an integral part of the city’s charm. These buildings appear atmospheric, even beautiful in their own right, rather than trashy.
The best place to see the graffiti-covered buildings in Ljubljana is Metelkova. The former location of army barracks, this area has grown into the city’s hotspot of alternative culture. Literally covered in graffiti, it is also one of the nightlife hubs in the city.
Things to do in Slovenia: What Not to Miss
Assuming that you’re visiting Ljubljana, Slovenia as a tourist, there are a few particular spots you do not want to miss. Metelkova, mentioned above, is one of those. The others are located in the pedestrianized Old Town. Less than half a mile across, Ljubljana’s Old Town is easily explored on foot. In fact, it’s arguably the most walkable of all European capital cities.
Even though it’s extremely compact, it does consist of many narrow cobbled streets. It may seem difficult to orient yourself at first, but, after some wandering around, you’ll soon figure it out.
Always-bustling Prešeren Square is the beating heart of Ljubljana. Named after Slovenia’s greatest poet, this square is exceptionally pedestrian-friendly. Prešeren’s statue is the centerpiece of the square while striking buildings surround it.
Just behind Prešeren Square lies the Triple Bridge, designed by Plečnik and one of the city’s most significant landmarks. The middle bridge already existed when the architect added the two other ones. He did so to help funnel traffic from no fewer than six streets on one side of the Ljubljanica River to the one street on the other side.
Banks of the Ljubljanica River
Winding its way slowly though the Old Town, the Ljubljanica River is a vital, impossible-to-miss part of the city. Flanked by tall, green trees and busy establishments, this is a superb place to go for a leisurely stroll.
Ljubljana’s Riverside Market is a fun place to explore any day of the week. The main highlight is the white, Riverside colonnade—again, designed by Plečnik. At this bustling market, vendors sell everything from fruits and vegetables to cured meat and bread, and from woodwork to candles and souvenirs.
A centuries-old symbol of the city, the dragon is featured most prominently in Ljubljana on the appropriately named Dragon Bridge. It’s been a symbol of the city ever since Jason (of the Argonauts) slew a dragon in a swamp near Ljubljana.
The Dragon Bridge is exceptionally photogenic. It’s located on the other end of the Riverside Market from Prešeren Square. Additionally, this is also the starting point of a steep trail leading up to Ljubljana Castle. If you don’t want to hike up, you can also take the funicular to the top of the hill.
The views from Ljubljana Castle over the city and the countryside beyond are nothing short of fantastic. They alone are worth the hike up the hill. The castle itself is, unfortunately, a replica.
While there has been a fortress on this prominent hill since Roman times, the actual 12th-century castle became subject to disrepair in the 17th century. What you see today is a completely rebuilt version of that castle. It lacks any real history.
That being said, even though the building is of no historic value whatsoever, there are some interesting history exhibits inside that might be worth visiting if you’re interested in that kind of stuff. There are also a number of pretty great restaurants.
It’s the amazing views that make Ljubljana Castle worth visiting—it’s why it was built there hundreds of year ago in the first place. So, what things to do on Slovenia will make your travel list?