Ljubljana, Slovenia was the first place I visited in the Balkans, back in 2002. My memories of that trip are very vague but I remember the charming little capital with the leafy embankment and interesting yet a bit neglected architecture.
It was the end of March, there were not so many people around and no one was in hurry. I loved the laid-back atmosphere of the city and I promised myself another trip to Ljubljana to get to know the city better.
Now, I’ve been to Ljubljana five or seven times (I lost the count really). Whenever I visit Slovenia I try to put the city in my Slovenia itinerary and even if over the years the capital has changed a lot (for the better, I believe) I still enjoy all the great things to do in Ljubljana.
And so today I’m sharing with you my favorite Ljubljana attractions that you can’t miss! Some of them are popular and Ljubljana must-see, others not really but all together they make Ljubljana a perfect place to visit.
Table of contents
- 1 How to pronounce Ljubljana
- 2 Where is Ljubljana
- 3 A brief history of Ljubljana, Slovenia
- 4 Why you should visit Ljubljana
- 5 How many days do you need for visiting Ljubljana?
- 6 How to get to Ljubljana
- 7 How to get around Ljubljana
- 8 Where to stay in Ljubljana
- 9 Best Ljubljana tours
- 10 Things to do in Ljubljana
- 10.1 Wander along the Ljubljanica river
- 10.2 Discover the Old Town
- 10.3 Cross all the beautiful bridges
- 10.4 Find dragons
- 10.5 Admire Jože Plečnik’s architecture
- 10.6 Go up to the castle
- 10.7 Fall in love with Art-Nouveau architecture
- 10.8 See Ljubljana’s brutalist architecture
- 10.9 Enjoy the alternative vibe at Metelkova
- 10.10 Visit ROG Factory before it’s too late
- 10.11 Enjoy the vibrant riverside
- 10.12 Go for a boat cruise on the river
- 10.13 Drink coffee with the best view
- 10.14 Relax at Tivoli City Park
- 10.15 See the abandoned Hotel Bellevue
- 10.16 Find cool street art
- 10.17 Enjoy the cafe scene
- 10.18 Visit museums
- 10.19 Shop at the flea market
- 10.20 Eat at the Open Kitchen
- 10.21 Go for day trips from Ljubljana
- 11 Final thoughts on visiting Ljubljana
- 12 Travel Resources
How to pronounce Ljubljana
But first things first, you might be wondering how to pronounce Ljubljana since this is not the easiest word really. The answer is “lyoo-BLYAH-nuh”. It’s not THAT difficult, isn’t it?
Where is Ljubljana
Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia, a small country located between Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia. The city is located in the central part of the country.
A brief history of Ljubljana, Slovenia
First traces of settlements in the area of what currently is Ljubjana date back to the year 2000 BC. Since the place was on the trading routes, in the 1st century Romans has established an encampment and eventually a settlement called Emona. It grew up to the 6 thousand inhabitants and was an important spot during numerous battles.
Since the 6th-century Slavic tribes are present in the area. Ljubljana developed nicely and already in 1220 got the city rights. At the end of the 13th century, the city got under the Habsburg rule but remained the center of the Slovenian culture.
After World War I, Slovenia became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and later on the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. During WW2 Ljubljana was occupied first by Fascist Italy and then Nazi Germany.
After the war, Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia and got its independence in 1991, with the capital in Ljubljana.
Why you should visit Ljubljana
Ljubljana is this perfect Central European city, with the beautiful architecture of different styles, vibrant atmosphere, amazing cafe and restaurant scene and long and interesting history. But Ljubljana also offers some cool alternative spots, like the iconic Metelkova.
The city can be also a perfect base to use for visiting Slovenia as there are so many great places you can go to as day trips from Ljubljana. There are so many great things to do in Ljubljana you won’t be bored for sure.
How many days do you need for visiting Ljubljana?
You can spend one day in Ljubljana (or even visit it as a day trip from Zagreb) and see all the main things. But you should stay there longer to visit more than just the center, see all the attractions in Ljubljana and to enjoy the cool, vibrant atmosphere of the city.
Ljubljana gets better and better with every hour you spend there. You can also use the city as your base in Slovenia and go for day trips from Ljubljana.
How to get to Ljubljana
Getting to Ljubljana is actually rather easy since the city is on the main transport corridors.
If you arrive by plane the local airport is located less than 30 km away from the city. After Adria, the national airlines of Slovenia, went bankrupt there are only a few airlines serving the Ljubljana airport.
There is a regular bus connection to the center, the bus stop is right outside the terminal and the journey takes between 30 and 50 minutes, depending on the traffic. You might also book a private transfer from the airport – click here for the details.
If you plan to visit Ljubljana by train there are direct connections from numerous European cities, like Zagreb, Vienna, Graz, Belgrade, Triest, Munich or Zurich. There are also many international bus routes that go through Ljubljana.
The train and bus stations, located next to each other, are some 10 minutes walk from the Old Town.
How to get around Ljubljana
Ljubljana is very compact and you will easily be able to walk everywhere during your Ljubljana sightseeing.
If you need to get to some more away places (although that’s very unlikely) you can use public transport, it’s included in the Ljubljana Card that I recommend getting.
Where to stay in Ljubljana
Since Ljubljana tourism is growing there are plenty of accommodation options, from budget hostels to luxury hotels, so everyone will find something for their taste and budget.
Here are some of the recommended places to stay in Ljubljana:
- Budget: Hostel Tresor (8,4/10) / Hostel Celica Art (8.7/10) / Turn Hostel (9.2/10) / Dežnik (9.5/10)
- Mid-range: City Hotel Ljubljana (9.1/10) / Hotel Mrak (8.8/10) / Atelier Hotel (9.0/10)
- Luxury: Urban Boutique Hotel (9.3/10) / Hotel Cubo (9.5/10) / Grand Hotel Union (8.9/10)
Best Ljubljana tours
If you would like to go for the tour in Ljubljana here are some best ones that are worth checking:
- Guided Walk & Funicular Ride to Ljubljana Castle
- Wine Tasting Ljubljana
- 3.5-Hour Ljubljana Food & Wine Tour
- Ljubljana and Ljubljana Castle Sightseeing Tour
Things to do in Ljubljana
Now, if you are wondering what to do in Ljubljana here is my curated list of all the best attractions you can’t miss, in no particular order.
Wander along the Ljubljanica river
Ljubljanica river flows through the city, cutting the center in half. You will find many of places to visit in Ljubljana along or near the river but start your Ljubljana sightseeing with the walk along Ljubljanica. This is a perfect way to get the feel of the city and its vibe as that’s where Ljubljana’s heart beats.
The Ljubljanica banks with numerous bridges and trees barging into the river are such a pleasant area to wander around or relax in one of the many cafes. I bet you will keep returning here during your trip to Ljubljana as this is simply the most charming part of the city.
Discover the Old Town
The Old Town in Ljubljana is just like the rest of the city – compact and very charming. It’s squeezed between the river and the castle towering about the city.
You will find the most interesting things to see in Ljubljana there, especially along and at Mestni Trg, Gornji Trg and Novi Trg and Presernov Trg. Places you can’t miss include the stunning St. Nicholas’s Cathedral, the Town Hall or the Franciscan Church (that looks very similar to St. George’s Church in Prague). There are also plenty of backstreets that might seem intimidating at first but hide some real wonders, such as backyards, art installations or nice views of the city.
Before wandering around the Old Town you might stop at the Tourist Information Center (across the river from Presernov Trg) to pick up the map of Ljubljana or you might just follow your instincts and see what you can find there. It’s almost impossible to get lost in Ljubljana Old Town but checking all the attractions is among the best things to do in Ljubljana.
Cross all the beautiful bridges
For such a small capital and such a narrow river, Ljubljana has surprisingly many bridges, especially in the center of the city. And each of them is more interesting than the other.
The most popular one is the so-called Triple Bridge, located in the very center, next to the Presernov Trg. The Triple Bridge actually consists of three separate bridges from the 1930s (the middle one was only redesigned then, it was originally built in 1842), designed by the most famous Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik and located right next to each other.
Other bridges worth checking are, from east to west, Ljubljanica Sluice Gate (the monumental bridge designed by Jože Plečnik in 1939), Dragon Bridge (built in the Vienna Secession style, famous for the sculpture of dragons), Butcher’s Bridge (with the love padlocks) and Cobblers’ Bridge (with Corinthian and Ionic pillars).
You might be surprised that Ljubljana is called “the city of dragons”. There is even a dragon in the city’s coat of arms!
The legend says the dragon, living near the spring of Ljubljanica River, was killed by Jason, the hero of Greek mythology who is known as the founder of the city. Over the centuries the dragon has become the symbol and the protector of Ljubljana and today you can find it all over the city.
The most popular dragons (four of them) are located on all sides of the Dragon Bridge and it’s very easy to find them. Others are a bit more difficult to spot, but keep an eye on the smaller dragons on the details around you.
Admire Jože Plečnik’s architecture
Jože Plečnik was the most famous Slovenian and world’s architect of the 20th century, the master of art nouveau and modernist architecture. His most notable works can be found in Vienna, Prague, Belgrade and, of course, Ljubljana. In fact, his impact on the look of the Slovenian capital is often compared to the influence of Antonio Gaudi in Barcelona.
You can find plenty of the buildings and structures he designed all over the city but the most famous one, those you can’t miss, include the Triple Bridge, the covered market buildings on the Ljubljanica River embankment, Ljubljanica Sluice Gate, Cobblers’ Bridge, or the National and University Library. You can find all of them in the center of Ljubljana.
Go up to the castle
To be honest, I’m not such a big fan of Ljubljana castle, there are some much better ones in Slovenia, like Predjama Castle. But when you visit Ljubljana you can’t really miss this attraction.
To get to the castle you can either walk up (it’s not that high but it can be a bit exhausting) or take the funicular, it’s located Krekov Trg, near the Dragon Bridge.
The castle dates back to the 11th century but the current look was given to the building in the 15th century. Inside you can see the exhibition of the Slovenian History, visit the Puppet Museum or go to the Outlook Tower to admire beautiful views of Ljubljana and beyond (most likely you will see Slovenian Alps too!).
Fall in love with Art-Nouveau architecture
Even if Ljubljana is a rather small capital, you can find some really stunning examples of Art-Nouveau architecture there. Fortunately, they are mostly located in the center so seeing them should be really easy.
While this style might look a bit different in each place, Ljubljana buildings were strongly affected by the Viennese Secession movement (after all, Ljubljana was part of the Austria-Hungary Empire when Art-Nouveau was at its peak of popularity).
The most splendid examples are Hauptman House at Presernov Trg, People’s Loan Bank building, Vurnik House (my favorite one), Urbanc House, or Municipal Savings Bank building.
See Ljubljana’s brutalist architecture
Former Yugoslavia, that Slovenia was part of, is really big on the brutalist architecture map. Ljubljana might not have as many spectacular concrete masterpieces as Belgrade (Serbia) or Skopje (Macedonia) but there are some buildings that will make each fan of brutalism content.
The hub of brutalist architecture in Ljubljana is Republic Square, probably the most important place in the city where Slovenian independence was declared on June 26, 1991. Besides the parliament building and the Canker Hall, you can find there two impressive concrete towers, NLB Tower and TR3.
Other places you might want to check if you like this kind of architecture include the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ljubljana and numerous residential buildings all over the city.
Enjoy the alternative vibe at Metelkova
Metelkova is the symbol of alternative Ljubljana. The Autonomous Cultural Center, located in the ex-Yugoslavia military barracks (just like Pekarna in Maribor, the second-largest city in Slovenia), this is where all the cool things happen.
The history of Metelkova starts when in 1993 squatters took over the place. Today, among all the institutions, you can find there numerous art galleries, bars, clubs or crafts workshops. There is even a highly rated Hostel Celica, located in the former prison – a perfect place to stay in during your trip to Ljubljana.
There seems to be always something going on in Metelkova but even if you are visiting the place on a lazy Sunday morning you will still enjoy the amazing street art that covers the area.
Visit ROG Factory before it’s too late
ROG Factory is another squat in Ljubljana that has been occupied since 2006. In the past, it was the bike factory of the famous brand ROG (hence the name), and eventually, the building was left abandoned for 15 years, until squatters took it over.
ROG Factory is located very near Old Town, at the banks of the Ljubljanica river. Like in Metelkova, there is plenty of things you can do in ROG Factory – visit art galleries, attend one of the cultural events, go skating (the biggest skatepark in the Balkans is located here), and more.
For a few years now the city was battling with squatters to get the property back so ROG Factory might be close anytime – visit this cool space before it’s too late!
Enjoy the vibrant riverside
Once you are done with all the Ljubljana sightseeing there is no better place to relax than at the riverside. Both sides of the Ljubljanica river, especially between the Dragon Bridge and the Cobblers’ Bridge, are packed with restaurants, bars and cafes and they are all full of cheerful crowds.
The area is vibrant and alive until late night hours and that’s where you can feel the true spirit of Ljubljana. Most of the places are good so just follow your intuition and choose the best one for you.
Go for a boat cruise on the river
If you would like to see Ljubljana from another perspective, a boat cruise is a good way to do so. The boats depart from near the Triple Bridge and the cruise takes less than an hour.
Besides the central part of Ljubljana, you will also see more regular parts of the city near the river. This is definitely a nice addition to your Ljubljana itinerary!
Drink coffee with the best view
Nebotičnik (skyscraper) is one of the most iconic landmarks in Ljubljana. When it was opened, in 1933, this was the highest building in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the 9th highest skyscraper in Europe, with a height of a bit over 70 meters.
This is a perfect example of neoclassical and art-deco styles and a real beauty all architecture lovers will surely appreciate.
The main reason to visit Nebotičnik is actually the cafe located on the last floor. It offers 360° views of Ljubljana and beyond (including the Alps) and is actually the best viewpoint you can find in the city.
You can sit there with a cup of coffee (at reasonable prices) and enjoy the beautiful scenery in front of you.
Relax at Tivoli City Park
Tivoli is the largest park, located near the center of Ljubljana. Once you are tired of the hustle and bustle of the center you can escape to this green space and relax in such a pleasant place. The park is actually really large, around 5 square kilometers, so you can spend here hours, wandering around or sitting at the bench enjoying the beautiful scenery around you.
There are also a few interesting spots, such as the Tivoli Castle (the mansion from the 17th century), Cekin Mansion (built in 1720), a greenhouse or the rose garden.
See the abandoned Hotel Bellevue
Hotel Bellevue, located at the edge of Tivoli Park, used to be an iconic accommodation in Ljubljana. The hotel was opened in 1909 and served as the important social and cultural venue in the capital of Slovenia.
Since its closure, the hotel has been decaying and is a rather poor condition but you can still find its former glory (and when you google some old pictures you will see how impressive it was).
It’s easy to get to the premises, the locals use the walking path next to the hotel (although there is a sign in Slovenian saying you are entering at your own risk) however getting inside the building is rather impossible (unlike in Kupari, Croatia or Tskaltubo, Georgia – my two favorite urbex spots). Still, every fan of exploring abandoned places will definitely appreciate Hotel Bellevue.
A few years ago the investor bought the place so it might actually be renovated/rebuilt but in the meantime, you can enjoy this fine urbex place in Ljubljana.
Find cool street art
Ljubljana is a real hub of street art in the Balkans but, unlike Zagreb street art, here you won’t find many impressive murals. Ljubljana street art is more about smaller pieces, stencils, stickers, and so on.
There are also way too many random writings that might spoil the overall look but that’s the problem with street art in many cities all over the world.
Two main places where you can enjoy fine Ljubljana street art are, obviously, Metelkova and ROG Factory. They are covered in works, some are better than others but in general, you can find some really great pieces there.
Other places worth checking include the shooting range at Dolenjska cesta, the bike park at Celovška cesta, the artists’ wall at Vegova ulica or the murals at Adamič-Lundrovo nabrežje in the center.
In 2019 the first street art festival took place in Ljubljana so hopefully there will be more and more good works appearing on the walls of the city.
Enjoy the cafe scene
Like every city with the Habsburg legacy, Ljubljana also has a wonderful cafe scene. You will find here both classical-looking cafes as well as modern ones, serving specialty coffee.
There are plenty of places to choose from, the central part of the city is packed with good cafes so you can easily find the one that fits your taste in the interior and you can be sure the coffee there will be fine.
My favorite ones are Cafe Čokl near the funicular, Kavarna SEM at the Ethnography Museum, Cafe Nebotičnik, and Tozd at the riverside.
Ljubljana has also some good museums that are worth checking: National Gallery, National Museum of Slovenia, Ethnographic Museum or Museum of Modern Art, just to name a few.
If you would like to visit a few museums during your trip to Ljubljana, it’s worth buying the Ljubljana Card that offers free admission to over 20 attractions, as well as free public transport, guided tour, funicular ride, and a boat tour. A few years ago I visited a couple of museums with this card and it was a really good investment so I can definitely recommend it.
Shop at the flea market
If you like flea markets and browsing through antics, crafts, and various random goodies you will definitely enjoy the flea market in Ljubljana. It takes place every Sunday between 8:00 and 14:00 at the embankment near the Cobbler’s Bridge.
You can find some really great things there, including ex-Yugoslavia memorabilia. Even if you are not planning to do any shopping it’s worth strolling here to feel the vibrant atmosphere of the market.
Eat at the Open Kitchen
Each summer, between June and October, you can enjoy the amazing street-food festival – Open Kitchen. It takes place every Friday at Pogačarjev Trg in the Old Town near the Tripple Bridge and is a must-visit place for all the food lovers and hungry tourists and locals.
The festival brings some of the best restaurants from the country, as well as local breweries and wineries and you can try all their amazing products in one place, in a cool and unusual setting. The Open Kitchen festival has been running for almost ten years now and is one of the coolest Ljubljana things to do!
Go for day trips from Ljubljana
One of the best things about Slovenia is that the country is rather compact and you can see some of the best Slovenia attractions as day trips from Ljubljana.
Within a short ride from the capital, you can find amazing mountains, with its main highlights – Lake Bled or Lake Bohinj, spectacular Postojna Cave, pleasant towns like Kranj or Skofja Loka or the Vipava wine region. You can even visit the Adriatic Coast or Maribor and Ptuj in the east of the country, even though they are located a bit more away.
If you don’t want to change your accommodation every other day you can plan your Slovenia itinerary with Ljubljana as a base! And don’t worry if you don’t travel by car, public transport is working well in Slovenia, there are also many tours that can take you to all these great places.
Final thoughts on visiting Ljubljana
Ljubljana doesn’t feel like the hectic capital city. The Old Town might be busy with people, a mix of locals and tourists, but it’s not overwhelming and the vibrant atmosphere invites you to join the crowd and enjoy the place. The variety of things to do in Ljubljana can attract all sorts of people and everyone will find something interesting to do there.
Ljubljana is one of those places that I really like returning to, to see how it is changing and growing but at the same time but remaining the same and to find new cool spots (mostly on the cafe scene).
Even if I’ve been there many times already I still come back there with the same curiosity and passion and I’m sure I will keep returning in the future too.
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