I consider Ljubljana to be a well-kept secret. Slovenia is a warm and welcoming country in the centre of Europe, bordered by Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Italy. It is a former winner of the European Green Capital and easy to get around and explore. Not only is there beautiful architecture, Ljubljana hosts many festivals throughout the year and has a laid-back and comfortable feel to it. We spent three nights in Ljubljana and loved it!Here’s my top things to do with 4 days to explore.
Magnificent 7 // Ljubljana, Slovenia
1. Dine out at the Open Kitchen
2. Take an Old Town walking tour
3. Triple Bridge
4. Ljubljana Castle
5. Admire Jože Plečnik’s architecture
6. Look up a festival
7. Day trip to Lake Bled
Getting there –
It takes just over 2 hours to fly from London to Ljubljana’s Joze Pucnik Airport. The airport is 20km north of Ljubljana and is easy to navigate. Getting to the city centre is straightforward, Bus number 28 is the cheapest option or you can get a shared minivan or taxi direct to your hotel. We took a minivan; a number of them are parked outside the arrivals hall. On our return to the airport we took the 28 bus which was just as easy.
Where we stayed –
We stayed at Hotel Lev. The location was good: 5 minutes to bus/rail station in one direction, 10 minutes to the centre of town in another direction. Free Wifi. Breakfast included in the price with a good choice of healthy and unhealthy options. Service was very good; all staff spoke perfect English and were courteous and informative.
The rooms were very clean (probably over-serviced as towels were replaced every day, even if they were hung up and could be used again, contrary to Ljubljana’s Green City credentials). We had a good-sized room with plenty of space for spreading maps out as well as great electric blackout curtains.
Whilst everything was solid and very efficient it did not have the warmth or style of some of the boutique hotels we have stayed at in other city centres.
To Eat and Drink –
We arrived on Friday and went straight to the Open Kitchen (more later). On our third night we ate at a restaurant at Lake Bohinj, so the only time we sat down for a meal in Ljubljana was on the Saturday night. Most restaurants were busy and we ate at an outside table at one of the many restaurants in the old town.
In Lake Bled we enjoyed the local cream cake, Kremsnita. On our walking tour of Ljubljana, I particularly liked the Carniolan sausage we sampled.
To note –
- A meat lover’s paradise! – Slovenians eat a lot of meat, especially pork, beef and poultry; nevertheless, vegetarian options are available at most restaurants.
- Green credentials – Ljubljana is truly a green city. Loads of green spaces including Tivoli Park. Natural drinking water available around the city without prior treatment; city centre for pedestrians and cyclists, 63 % separated waste and the first European capital with a zero waste program to name a few things we learnt on our city break.Green Wall outside the Town Hall
- Pumpkin seed oil – Slovenia is a large producer of pumpkin seed oil and we bought bars of dark chocolate infused with pumpkin seed oil and sprinkled with pumpkin seeds. Worth a try. I loved it, Sue, who usually loves chocolate, didn’t.
- Weather – We visited Ljubljana in September. The weather was perfect for us, low to mid-twenties Celsius. In general Ljubljana’s temperature is comfortably in the 20s Celsius from May to September.
- Transport – Slovenia is a small country and travelling is easy and inexpensive. The buses we took were on time, clean and safe.
- Wifi – Free wifi is widely available in the city centre for up to 60 minutes a day, and all day if you purchase a Ljubljana Tourist Card. We didn’t buy this card as we used our hotel’s wifi in the mornings and evenings.
- Dragons – There is a legend about Jason (of the Argonauts myth) slaying a dragon and founding Ljubljana. That’s why you will see statues and images of dragons all over the city, as well as an annual Dragon festival.
- Dine out at the Open Kitchen
We heard about this when booking into our hotel. From mid-March until October, every Friday there is a street food market. It is packed with both locals and tourists. The food is cooked at the stalls in front of you and the surrounding bars let you take food to the tables and order drinks (at least the one that we went to did!). Slovenian wine is also good. Cannot think of a better way to observe a city than sitting at a street market eating good food and wine in a convivial atmosphere. Followed by dancing (more later).
- Old Town walking tour
We love walking tours. This one was free and lasted just over 2 hours. You pay the local guide with a tip if you like the tour. Our tour focused on the main Squares, bridges and public buildings in the old town, starting at the Town Hall. We were in the Town Hall and the city mayor stopped to say hello to us, which is something that wouldn’t happen in many cities in the world!
- Triple Bridge
This and the Dragon Bridge have to be the most photographed sites in Ljubljana. The Triple Bridge basically connects the newer part of Ljubljana with the Old Town. What is really cool about this bridge is that it was originally a single bridge built in 1842. As traffic grew, Jože Plečnik (who has done so much to make Ljubljana the city it is today) was tasked to widen the original bridge. He didn’t; he added two pedestrian bridges instead, one each side of the original bridge and it looks stunning. You can stop on any of three bridges and get a great feel of the city itself.Triple BridgeDragon Bridge
- Ljubljana Castle
To get to the castle you can either take the funicular or walk up a steep hill. It is green and shady as you make your way to/from the castle and there are many places you can stop and take in views of the city. Entrance to most of the castle is free (funicular is not free) and there are cafes, shops and a lovely chapel. Whilst we were there, a wedding was taking place, which added to the visit. Although we did not take the Time Machine tour, we saw a group of costumed characters performing to what appeared to be an appreciative audience.
View from Castle Hill
- Jože Plečnik’s architecture
A Slovenian architect, Jože Plečnik’s legacy is huge. Plečnik tried to model Ljubljana on ancient Athens. Here are some of his Ljubljana masterpieces: Triple Bridge, Slovene National and University Library building, Cobblers’ Bridge, the Central Market halls, the Križanke Summer Theatre, the Ljubljanica river embankments, the funeral home at the Žale cemetery, Church of St. Michael on the Ljubljana Marshes, Tivoli Park’s scenic Jakopič Promenade and many more. Plečnik’s family home is also open to the public.
- Look up a festival
The two evenings we were in Ljubljana we joined in the ballroom and Latin dancing taking place on the street outside the Grand Hotel Union near Prešeren Square. This was in early September and we were lucky to be visiting when it was on. However there are many festivals all year round; simply look up Ljubljana festivals before you travel.
- Lake Bled
We allocated a day of our city break to visit Lake Bled. Lake Bled is a glacial lake fed by hot springs. The town of Bled contains a church-topped islet and a Cliffside medieval castle. Lake Bled has got to be one of the most picturesque lakes in Europe. It is an absolute gem.
Buses leave from the central bus station on the hour and take about 70 minutes. When you arrive at Lake Bled follow the other visitors down the hill to the lake. We walked clockwise and the first 15 minutes are uninspiring; too many hotels close to the water’s edge. However persevere, as the rest of the walk around the lake is stunning. It is only a 4 mile/6.5 km walk around the lake, however if you stop to take pictures, walk up to viewing platforms etc. it will take 2 hours at least. We also stopped to swim in the lake; there are no changing rooms on most parts of the lake, but it was fine, nobody cared. The water is deep, fairly cold and utterly refreshing. An absolute highlight of our City break. We did not visit either the island or the castle. Next time we will. It was so good that we will definitely go back! We then caught an afternoon bus to Lake Bohinj, took a boat trip around this vast lake, ate dinner and then got the last bus back to Ljubljana completely exhausted and exhilarated.
Goldenhorn statue, Lake Bohinj
1.) Buses are brilliant. Inexpensive, on-time and clean.
2.) From Ljubljana you can reach most of the country very easily, so it is a great place to stay for a longer visit
3.) Find out what festivals are happening and join in.
Fun Fact. About one in ten people who live in Ljubljana are students.