Ljubljana just may be one of the most over-looked European capital cities. Competing with the likes of Vienna and Budapest for popular tourist destinations, it’s situated right in the heart of Slovenia. The compact size of the city makes it feel like a comfortable destination to spend a good amount of time in, as well as being a great base for exploring some of the country’s other delights.
Get your bearings in the centre of the city with a nice morning stroll up and down the Ljubljanica River which divides the old part of the city from the new. Ljubljana is famous for its excellent supply of Baroque and Art Noveau architecture so your eyes won’t be at a loss for beautiful things to see. Be sure to also take in the iconic pink Franciscan Church, which towers over the town’s main square Prešernov Trg.
Directly in front, sits another icon – the Tromostovje or “Triple Bridge”. It is designed by local architect Jože Plečnik, who is well-known for a long list of Ljubljana’s top sights including its Central Market, the Križanke outdoor theater, and Cobbler’s Bridge.
Another absolute must-see is the whimsical Zmajski Most (Dragon Bridge), which sits between Kopitar Street and Ressel Street. There are plenty of atmospheric cafés along the way such as the Bazilika Shop & Café or Kavarna Union, perfect for a quick refuel before discovering the city in further detail.
Once you’ve digested a bit of energy, head straight to the Ljubljana’s most visited attraction, Ljubljana Castle. Seated atop the appropriately named Castle Hill (Grajska planota), it dates back to the 16th Century and can be reached by either funicular or a short, leafy hike.
Here you’ll enjoy several great views of the city though from the top of the Outlook Tower. Inside there is also a short 12-minute film about the castle worth taking a look at, not to mention a small art gallery and a permanent exhibition on Slovene history within the grounds.
After you make your descent down Castle Hill, head back to towards the centre for a quick lunch at the Tržnica food trucks near the Central Market. For something a little more filling, head to the popular Aroma restaurant located in one of Ljubljana’s oldest houses, for your fix of traditional Slovenian food.
While there is plenty to keep you occupied for several hours, visiting museums such as the National Gallery Museum, Slovenian Ethnographic Museum or even the National Museum of Contemporary History, another alternative for the afternoon is to head out on a short day trip.
Postojna Caves and Predjama Castle are about a 45-minute drive south of Ljubljana and are both unique sights to see. Situated only about 10 kilometres apart, both are found in one of the largest karst regions in Europe. Postojna Cave is the most visited show cave in Europe with a network of some 20 kilometres of stalactites and stagmites to admire, complete with an underground electric train to get you around. The whole experience takes a minimum of 1.5 hours depending on which tour you choose. Predjama Castle’s cave system is also impressive and possible to tour for those looking for more of an adrenaline rush.
However, if caving doesn’t sounds like your cup of tea, pay a visit to the Renaissance castle, which is built into a 123-metre high cliff. Additionally, legendary Lake Bled and the only island in Slovenia is 45-minutes north of Ljubljana. With its rich history and breathtaking setting at the foot of the Julian Alps, you may want to consider staying for a night or two.
Spend your evening in Ljubljana exploring its dynamic restaurant scene. Although one of the smallest countries in Europe, Slovenia boasts 25 different culinary regions. With neighbouring influences coming from Italy, Austria, Hungary and the Balklans, there is a variety of eating establishments to satisfy your palette.
One of the best (and moderately priced) restaurants in town is Güjžina, offering traditional cuisine from the Prekmurje region that is near to the border shared with Hungary. Staples there include bograč (a meaty goulash) and for dessert gibanica (multi-layered cake with apple, poppy seed raisin and walnuts).
For more upmarket you can make your way back up to Ljubljana Castle to the restaurant inside, Gostilna Na Gradu, for some Slovenian comfort food prepared by some of the best chefs in the city. And if you’d like a change of scenery, JB is great for a refreshing glass of wine to accompany seasonal offerings such as bear and dear.
Keep it classy with a nightcap at Dvorni wine bar which serves up samplings from all over Slovenia (the tiny country contains three different wine regions), or head over to the alternative neighborhood of Metalkova for something a bit grittier.
What once served as old military barracks has now been covered with graffiti and turned into an autonomous culture centre filled with art installations, galleries, sculptures, bars, clubs, and the popular prison-turned-hostel Celica. For a night of full-on clubbing until the wee small hours head to Cirkus or Klub K4 both located just outside the city centre.