Imagine you are looking for a beautiful European city break with cobbled streets and lots of cafes. Tree-lined streets and a river flanked by beautifully architectured bridges are overlooked by a fairytale castle sitting high on a hill. Food and drink aren’t too expensive. The city also is uncrowded, spotlessly clean and easy to get around. It exists, and it is Slovenia’s capital. Welcome to Ljubljana.
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A Mini-break in Ljubljana, Slovenia
As one of Europe’s smallest capital cities, Ljubljana can easily be seen and enjoyed in a matter of a few days. We spent about three days here and felt like we did most of what we wanted.
As I mentioned, it is a lovely, safe and clean city. I visited with my husband but I would have been more than comfortable walking around on my own, so it’s a great choice for a solo trip.
It is also great for those who appreciate sustainability. It has been named Europe’s green capital and is also the only capital in Europe to be included six times on the Sustainable Destination Top 100 list. This is due to a huge amount of green space, a car-free city centre, bee-friendly measures, and a commitment to recycling.
Ljubljana would have ranked top of my city breaks ever but for one thing. We had the unfortunate luck that the weather during most of our stay was torrential rain, flooding and thunderstorms. I feel this is a city to stroll, sit at cafes along the river and take in the architecture, rather than hiding from the rain. We made the most of it, but I admit to being grateful to climb onto the airport bus with my sodden luggage.
Check out Ljubljana Castle
Perched on a hill above the city is Ljubljana Castle, offering up the prettiest views of the city.
The history of the castle dates back to about the 11th century, but most of the castle has undergone extensive renovations over the years. You can find out more about its history here.
Make sure to climb the tower for a 360-degree view of Ljubljana.
There’s not a ton to see within the castle grounds so you don’t need too much time to look around, although Ljubljana Castle also serves as a vibrant cultural hub, hosting various events throughout the year, including concerts, theatre performances, and exhibitions. Inside, you’ll find exhibits on Slovenian history and a former prison. There’s also a cafe and two nice restaurants if you want to eat with a view. And apparently a puppet museum but we didn’t come across this.
To get to the castle, you can take the funicular and enjoy the view below or hike up the hill. Or you can drive up to the castle as there’s a car park at the top. We grabbed the funicular to reach the castle.
Castle tickets are €12 for adults or €16 if you get the castle + return funicular ticket.
See Ljubljana’s bridges
Ljubljana’s old town centres around the Ljubljanica River. And this city loves its beautiful bridges. Ljubljana is a city best enjoyed while strolling around, so make sure to cross the river a few times and admire all of the architecture.
You’ll see a lot of depictions of dragons in Ljubljana. After all, the mythical beast appears on the city’s coat of arms. And one of the most spectacular depictions is the large statues that flank Dragon Bridge. The bridge is probably the most recognised piece of architecture in Ljubljana. Built at the start of the 20th century in an Art Noveau style, the bridge was the first of its kind to be built in the city and was one of the largest reinforced concrete bridges in Europe at the time. And it has been capturing the imaginations of visitors for over a century now.
Not far from Dragon Bridge is Triple Bridge (Tromostovje), a group of three similar bridges crossing the river between the modern and historic parts of the city. When I visited, I didn’t know why there were three. A way to ease congestion? Because it looks cool and they seem to like cool bridges in this city? Perhaps. The bridges were designed by local architect Jože Plečnik in the early 20th century. The central bridge replaced an old wooden bridge over the river, while the side bridges were designed for pedestrians.
Prešernov trg square
This lovely pedestrianised square in the city centre is surrounded by cafes, shopping and close to the river and bridges. The statue in the middle depicts France Prešeren, one of Slovenia’s most famous poets. The square’s most striking building is the pretty pink Franciscan Church.
Robba Fountain, also known as The Fountain of the Three Carniolan Rivers, was designed by the Italian sculptor Francesco Robba. The fountain was completed in 1751 and is modelled after the fountains of Rome. I could see the resemblance between the Robba Fountain and those in Rome’s Piazza Navona.
Ljubljana has one of the highest percentages of green space out of any European City. That is in part thanks to Tivoli Park. Tivoli Park is Ljubljana’s largest park and is situated in the city centre, covering approximately five square kilometres.
The sprawling urban oasis is the perfect place to relax and stroll around as a break from the busier city. Especially if it is a lovely day. The park is adorned with beautifully landscaped gardens, scenic paths, and tree-lined avenues, providing a perfect setting for a leisurely stroll or a relaxing picnic. Although unfortunately when we went, it was raining a bit so we didn’t stay the afternoon.
You’ll also find a pond, cafes and Ljubljana Zoo within the park.
Shopping in Ljubljana
Plečnik Market and Arcades
Ljubljana’s Central Market is located along the Ljubljanica River. There’s an open market in which you can buy fresh local produce and an indoor market. On Fridays, there is a street food market (Open Kitchen) featuring various city chefs. There was a small craft market under the arches when we visited and we came home with a little glass dragon to commemorate our visit.
Find more shopping inspiration for Ljublijana here.
Other things to do in Ljubljana
Paddleboard on the Ljubljanica River
If you have read some of my other blogs, you’ll know that SUP boarding is my favourite sport and I’m always looking for spots to go for a paddle if I can find it. And I would have loved to have gone in Ljubljana, but some torrential rainfall meant the river was in no fit state to be on while we were there!
And unlike most rivers in cities, it looked very clean and clear which made the idea of boarding all the more inviting. After all, this is a very green city.
If you happen to visit in sunnier times while the river is flowing gently, you can take advantage of what I missed out on and you can take a paddle tour of the city.
Take a boat ride on the river
Prefer to sit back and enjoy the riverside views? You can take a boat cruise to see the sites. Tourist boats cost €14 for adults and €7 for children and the ride is about 45 minutes.
Visit one of Ljubljana’s museums and galleries
Ljubljana has a number of museums to meander, especially great on a rainy afternoon. A few you can visit include:
- National Gallery of Slovenia (Narodna galerija) – Features the largest collection of art in the country, spanning from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century. (€10 entry, closed on Mondays)
- National Museum of Slovenia (Narodni muzej Slovenije) – Features an extensive collection of artefacts from across the area’s history (€8 entry, open daily)
- Slovenian Museum of Natural History – Located in the same building as the National Museum, you’ll find
- House of Illusions – Looking for something a bit different? Stop by House of Illusions for a museum that will trick your senses and provide plenty of photo opportunities. (€5.95 entry, open daily)
Take a day trip
Lake Bled day trip from Ljubljana
We stayed in Lake Bled for a few days and you can read all about our wonderful break here. Lake Bled is stunning. The town is set around the prettiest lake I’ve ever seen, a vibrant turquoise body of water surrounded by the Southern Alps with a cute little island topped with a little church. I felt like my stress melted away as we explored, hiked, swam, paddle-boarded and relaxed.
Many visiting Ljubljana chose to visit Lake Bled on a day trip. Lake Bled is located about an hour from the capital and is served by regular buses. If you just have a day, prioritise visiting Bled Castle, taking a boat or SUP board over to the island and walking around the lake and exploring. Vintgar Gorge is also a great activity to add, but hard to fit into a day trip. The beautiful nature spot deserves a day trip of its own. You can find out more about the gorge in my Lake Bled guide here.
Other great day trips from Ljubljana
- Lake Bohinj – another Slovenian lake popular with visitors but very different from Lake Bled. Lake Bohinj tends to attract fewer crowds. The lake features more hiking trails than Bled but there’s less accommodation nearby and you’ll likely need a car to visit.
- Zagreb – Cross the border into Croatia for the day and visit the capital city. Zagreb is about an hour and a half drive from Ljubljana or two hours by bus or train.
- Triste – Another cross-border adventure, Triste in Northern Italy also is not far from Ljubljana and therefore doable on a day trip.
Where to eat
After all that rain, we were keen to have a cosy long lunch and headed to Julija. This little romantic restaurant is decked in vintage decor and features a Slovenian menu.
We tried the local cake for dessert, gibanica cake. Slovenia seems famous for its layered cakes, as you may remember from my post on Lake Bled. The Ljubljana version is less sweet and contains poppy seeds, walnuts, apples, raisins and quark.
El Patron is a cute and authentic-tasting hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant where we gratefully escaped the rain. Expect some delicious Try their homemade soft drink, Beach Horchata, it’s like a holiday in your mouth.
Other places to try
- Sarajevo ’84 – a simple Bosnian cellar restaurant with affordable food a big portions
- Cafetino – a great coffee shop that roasts its own beans
- Cacao Ljubljana – a popular spot for delicious ice cream, hot chocolate and desserts
- Nebotičnik Café – not cheap but worth it for the views, this cafe is located at the top of the tallest building in Ljubljana
- Burek Olimpija – in search of cheap eats/fast food? Pop in and grab some burek, a Balkan savoury pastry made with filo and filled with meat, cheese, spinach or potatoes. My favourite is spinach and feta.
- Gostilna Sokol – known for the famous Ljubljana cake, gibanica cake.
- Pop’s Place – good for a burger lunch and a craft beer
Where to drink
Not long after arriving in Ljubljana and my husband was on the hunt for the nearest craft beer bar. And we found a great one, Lajbah Pub. This friendly bar offers twenty-three different tap brews from Slovenia and abroad. Expect tongue-tingling sours, fruity IPAs and stouts that will satisfy any dessert craving. There’s a good mix of local brews and those from farther afield. We didn’t even look at the bottles but they have well over 100 different kinds stocked.
Settle down at a table and soak up the relaxed atmosphere with a selection of brews to taste. When you get peckish, there’s a small Asian-inspired street food menu to snack on.
We ended up staying there all evening, left a little bit drunk and swaying along the cobbled streets. We grabbed some much-needed Burak nearby.
Getting to Ljubljana
Ljubljana has a small airport with regular flights from London, Paris, many other European routes, Dubai, Tel Aviv, and many more.
From the airport, grab a bus to the city centre. Alternatively, shuttles operate in the main hall. Costlier, sometimes already booked up, but will take you right to your hotel.
Where to stay in LjubljanaBooking.com
There are plenty of hotels in the centre of Ljubljana to choose from and I would definitely recommend staying central to truly enjoy the city (plus the buses seemed a bit unreliable). We stayed near the river and enjoyed a view of the castle from our room and explored the city entirely by foot.