Things to do and see in Slovenia’s capital: sites, attractions, coffee shops, and restaurants
With a population of 280,000, Ljubljana (pronounced lyoo-BLYAH-nah) may seem like a sleepy capital. But don’t let the size fool you. Slovenia’s close proximity to Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia has given this former Yugoslav Republic and its main city an international feel. It is reflected in the cuisine, architecture, and the openness of the residents.
Ljubljana has seen an influx of visitors in recent years, but sometimes gets overshadowed by bigger regional neighbors Vienna and Venice. Those that do visit will be rewarded with all of the amenities of a metropolis, combined with a laid-back atmosphere.
From diverse farm-to-table restaurants, to historic buildings, to numerous cultural events year-round, Ljubljana offers something for every type of traveler. Furthermore, the city has put much emphasis on its environmental impact and has been named European Green Capital 2016 by the European Commission. It has walkable neighborhoods, bicycle-friendly streets, and abundant green spaces.
I first visited Ljubljana in 2001, then again in 2014 on a culinary trip with fellow bloggers from The Travel Mob. This time around, I was able to explore the city in more depth. Here are my recommendations.
BEST MAJOR ATTRACTIONS
The city’s Old Town is split into two parts on either side of the Ljubljanica River. From the main square (Prešernov trg, named after Slovenian national poet France Prešeren), you can cross the Triple Bridge to the medieval section. Mestni trg (Town Square) and Stari trg (Old Square) are two of the oldest preserved streets in the city. The left bank of the river, settled in the 12th century, is centered on spacious Novi trg (New Square).
After an earthquake in 1895 destroyed much of Ljubljana, new structures were designed in the Art Nouveau style, supplementing the Baroque buildings that remained. In the 20th century, renowned Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik* put his stamp on the city by constructing many of Ljubljana’s most celebrated landmarks.
In addition to the Triple Bridge, his works include the Dragon Bridge (adorned with statues of the city symbol, a green dragon), embankments along the river, Central Market halls (see Other Activities), and the National & University Library building. His style is associated with the Vienna Secession architecture.
*For a detailed exploration of the architect’s work, I recommend the Walking Tour of Plečnik‘s Ljubljana.
The medieval Ljubljana Castle is situated on a hill above the city and accessible by a funicular*. It houses art and museum exhibitions, a chapel with 15th century frescoes, viewing tower, and two restaurants. Visitors can learn about the history of the fortress by watching Virtual Castle, a 12-minute documentary (offered in several languages). Guided tours are also available.
If you visit in the evening, you may catch one of numerous cultural events held on the premises. In the past they have included concerts, theater shows, and open-air movie nights.
*The price (8€) includes a round trip funicular ride, plus admission to the Virtual Castle, Outlook Tower, Slovenian History permanent exhibition, and all temporary exhibitions.
Tivoli City Park is Ljubljana’s largest green space, a few streets from the city center. Laid out in 1813 by French engineer Jean Blanchard, the park has been expanded and re-landscaped throughout the years.
It features tree-lined alleys, fountains, and sculptures, as well as children’s play areas and bike rental stations. Nature lovers will enjoy the greenhouse, rose garden, fishpond and bird watching opportunities.
Plečnik designed the central Jakopič Promenade, leading up to the 17th century Tivoli Mansion. The promenade has been used as a year-round exhibit space for large-format photographs, and the mansion houses a café and the International Centre of Graphic Arts.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Eipprova Street runs along the Gradaščica channel in Trnovo, a residential neighborhood southwest of downtown. Lined with chestnut trees and a few pubs/restaurants, it’s more low-key than the popular areas.
Metelkova City is a social center that developed in the 1990s on the site of former military barracks. Named after a 19th-century priest/philologist, it’s now a hub of alternative culture. In addition to nightlife, you can find performance spaces, street art, and occasional outdoor festivals around the complex.
For the adventurous at heart, stand-up paddle boarding on the Ljubljanica River is a unique way to see the city. If you need a break, there are areas with concrete steps along the water, great for resting and sunbathing. To learn more about this experience, see how Duncan from the Travel Mob did on his paddling tour.
The Central Market has long been a place to shop and socialize. It includes an open-air market on the Pogačarnev and Vodnikov squares, an indoor section, plus several shops on the river. Other than produce from area farmers, you can buy dairy, fish, meats, imported food items, and flowers. Hours vary by season.
FOOD & DRINK
Slovenian cuisine has been shaped by the diversity of the landscape, as well as history (centuries of Austro-Hungarian rule) and neighboring countries (Italy, Croatia). There are 24 distinct gastronomic regions, and Ljubljana lies at the intersection of four of them.
Despite its small size, the city has an extensive and diverse dining scene. With farms, forests, wineries, and the Adriatic coast within a short distance, it’s commonplace for restaurants to use local ingredients.
Whether you’re looking for traditional Slovenian fare, modern fusion cuisine, or handmade desserts, Ljubljana delivers. And if you happen to visit in warmer months, many places have outdoor patios.
Špajza (Gornji trg 28), located on a quiet street at the edge of the city center, is a high-end restaurant serving Slovenian, Mediterranean and international dishes. It is worth a visit for homemade pasta and a large selection of Slovenian wines. The intimate candle-lit rooms feature cottage-style décor, complete with plaid table cloths, cast iron accessories, and wood floors.
Repete (Gornji trg 23) may have a small menu that’s written on a chalkboard near the entrance, but the items change frequently. You will find fresh soups, sandwiches, and vegetarian-friendly hot and cold dishes. Meat options include homemade burgers. Repete also has a full bar and hosts live music (jazz, acoustic) on select evenings.
Cafe Kolaž (Gornji trg 15) is an affordable spot downtown, offering healthy food items and beverages, such as homemade lemonade. The café hosts various events (live music, literary evenings, art exhibitions), and patrons can read from a selection of books and daily newspapers.
Čajna Hiša (Stari trg 3) doubles as a tea room and restaurant. Besides an assortment of specialty teas from around the world, the menu includes breakfast items, sandwiches, salads, desserts and alcohol (beer, wine). The spacious interior is decorated with dark wood furniture, and loft seating is set up in the back.
See also: Tasting Slovenian cuisine with Slocally.
Coffee / drinks
Cafe Čokl (Krekov trg 8) is a small coffee shop near the Ljubljana Castle funicular. Owner Tine describes himself as a coffee nerd, and it shows. Čokl features fair-trade, organic beans that are roasted on the premises, and then used within a few days to ensure freshness. Also available: cold brew coffee, cocoa, and homemade iced tea.
Bi-Ko-Fe (Židovska Steza 2, now closed) means “Would you like some coffee?” in Slovenian. This funky café in the city center attracts an artsy crowd, and its award-winning interior features recycled materials. In addition to coffee, Bi-Ko-Fe serves alcoholic beverages and light snacks.
LP Bar (Novi trg 2) is a coffee shop/bar, located inside a century-old building. It has a main hall with arched ceilings and plush seating, plus two bar rooms and a back courtyard. Besides drinks and coffee, guests can order tea, pastries, and sandwiches. LP often hosts live music and art exhibitions.
Desserts / chocolate
Domača peka (Igriška ulica 3) is a family-run cake shop (the name means “home baking”) and has been in operation since 1991. They specialize in traditional pies, but also have a selection of gluten-free and vegan desserts.
Zvezda (Wolfova 14 and other locations) is hugely popular for its quality cakes and pastries. The on-site deli also sells chocolate, marmalade, and homemade ice cream.
Čokoladni atelje Dobnik (Trg Republike 1) has 20 years of experience making gourmet chocolates, pralines, and desserts. All products are preservatives-free and manufactured by hand in a workshop near Ljubljana.
See also: Coffee and desserts in Ljubljana.
Ljubljana lies 54km/33mi from Bled, a resort town in the Julian Alps (northwestern Slovenia). Located alongside a glacial lake of the same name and near the Triglav National Park, Bled has drawn visitors since the mid-19th century. Main attractions are the 11th century Bled Castle and a small island in the middle of the lake.
The castle was built on a steep cliff above Bled, about 130m/426 ft. high. Its terraces have panoramic views of the town, lake, and surrounding mountain ranges, which alone is worth the 9€ admission fee (price as of September 2014). Inside the castle grounds, you can also tour a Gothic chapel and museum of regional history.
The island is accessible by a wooden boat called pletna (9€ round trip). 99 stone steps lead up to the Gothic/Baroque Church of the Assumption, where you can ring a bell for good luck. For up-close views of the lake, hike a trail encircling the hill.
See also: Visiting Lake Bled, Slovenia.
- Thanks to a central location, Ljubljana is easily accessible by air and rail from other European cities. A number of international airlines serve the airport, including low-cost carriers and Slovenia’s Adria.
- Ljubljana is generally safe during the day and at night. However, it’s always advisable to use caution and not flash valuables, especially in areas away from the city center.
- English is widely spoken and many restaurants feature multilingual menus (English, German, Italian).
- Visit Ljubljana – the official tourism website of Ljubljana and Central Slovenia
- The Travel Mob’s Guide to Ljubljana – our team’s favorite Ljubljana spots, plus useful resources (free e-book)
- Ljubljana Magazine – an online publication covering food, nightlife, arts, and entertainment
- Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport | Ljubljana Railway Station
I traveled to Slovenia as part of the #TasteLjubljana project, organized by The Travel Mob blogging team and Visit Ljubljana. All thoughts and opinions expressed on Jetting Around are mine.
Thank you to Fine Ljubljana Apartments for providing a studio apartment. It was modern, comfortable, and close to everywhere I needed to be. Also, thank you to Get Your Guide and our knowledgeable guide Barbara for showing us around the city.
About the Author (Author Profile)Pola Henderson is a travel writer, city explorer, expat, and event host. Traveling has been a part of her life since she was three. Pola grew up in Krakow, lived in Chicago for many years and is currently based in Paris, where she teaches Business English.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Slovenia: Lubljana is Hard to Spell | Your Daily Buzz | September 23, 2014
- 5 Invigorating Trips to Take This Spring - Jetting Around | February 29, 2016