There are so many things to do in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, and largest city. It’s a town that’s best explored on foot. It’s not a large city, but when you do tire from walking, you’re never too far away from one of many riverside bars or cafes.
Ljubljana owes much of its current charm to a catastrophe. In 1895, a devastating earthquake reduced much of the area to ruins. Fortunately, Jože Plečnik, a 20th-century Slovene architect, designed many of the gorgeous Art Nouveau buildings you see today from the rubble.
In 2016, Ljubljana was voted the European Green Capital. The city centre today is mostly car-free. If you don’t fancy walking, there’s a new cycling network, and if you’re going a little further afield, the public transport is low-emissions.
Take A Walking Tour
We love taking walking tours whenever we visit a new city. It’s such a great way to get your bearings, learn a little about the place you’re visiting and see the highlights.
Visit Prešeren Square
Prešeren Square is located in the heart of Ljubljana. The square is named after France Prešeren, a celebrated 19th-century Slovenian poet whose work “Zdravljica” became Slovenia’s national anthem.
His statue faces the window where Julija Primic, his unrequited love, and muse used to live. It was at a church in Trnovo in 1833 that Prešeren first laid eyes on the rich, pretty and ‘out of his league’ Julija Primic.
Six years later, Julia married another man and Prešeren himself, married and had children with another woman, but Julija always remained the love of his life.
I love stories about unrequited love; it’s like Jonathan and me.
Cross The Triple Bridge (Tromostovje)
Just off Prešeren Square is a group of three bridges decorated with lanterns and stone balustrades.
The middle bridge of the three is the oldest and dates back to 1842. Jože Plečnik added the other two pedestrian bridges in 1930. It’s now one of Ljubljana’s iconic landmarks.
Four rather scary looking dragons stand guard on each corner of the Dragon Bridge. The dragons symbolise power, grandeur, and courage. As you walk around Ljubljana, you’ll see dragons everywhere and not just in the tourist souvenir shops, but on the city flag, car number plates, and buildings.
So Why Are Dragons So Important To Ljubljana?
The story of the Ljubljana dragon can be traced back to the legend of Jason and the Argonauts. Jason was a Greek hero. He stole the Golden Fleece from the King of the Black Sea. Instead of fleeing to the Aegean Sea, Jason and the Argonauts fled to the mouth of the Danube River on a ship called Argo. Eventually, they reached the Ljubljanica river.
As it was winter, they decided to set up camp near the spring of the Ljubljanica river. Near Ljubljana, they came across a large lake and marsh where an evil swamp monster (or dragon) lived. Jason being the brave hero that he was, fought this monster and killed it and so became the first citizen of Ljubljana.
According to a more recent legend, it is said that when a virgin walks across the Dragon Bridge, the dragons will wag their tails.
While We Are On The Subject Of Bridges
In the past, when local bakers got caught cheating their customers out of quality bread, they were dunked into the icy cold canal water at Cobbler’s Bridge. Our guide, Kaja, assured us that no longer happened. Not sure if she was referring to bakers being hurled into the river or bakers producing low-quality bread.
For the romantics amongst you, head to the Butcher’s Bridge. Not the most romantic of names, not even the prettiest but this footbridge is Ljubljana’s version of a love bridge.
Explore Ljubljana Castle
Ljubljana Castle has dominated the city’s skyline for about 900 years, and is undoubtedly Ljubljana’s main attraction. Inside the castle, there’s an exhibition on Slovenian history, the Prison, the Chapel of St George, and a puppet museum to explore. Don’t forget to go to the top of the Outlook Tower for great views across the city.
Many events take place throughout the year in the castle grounds. As we passed through, there were singers and dancers in medieval costumes. We avoided making eye contact and rushed up to the top of the tower.
The castle is easy to reach from the city on foot, but you could always take the funicular up.
Opening Hours For Ljubljana Castle and Funicular
- January, February, March, November: 10 am to 8 pm
- April, May, October: 9 am to 9 pm
- June to September: 9 am to 11 pm
- December: 10 am to 10 pm.
How Much Does It Cost To Visit Ljubljana Castle?
Castle ticket including return funicular fare:
- €13.00 for adults
- €9.00 for under18s, students, senior citizens, and groups of more than 15 people
- €31.00 for families of up to two adults and at least one child aged 7-18
- Castle ticket only
- €10.00 for adults
- €7.00 per person for under 18s, students, senior citizens, and groups of more than 15 people
- €24.00 for families of up to two adults and at least one child aged 7-18
Get The Best City Views From The Top Of The Skyscraper (Nebotičnik)
Not exactly skyscraper by today’s standards but when this 13-storey tower was built in 1933, it was the tallest building in the Balkans and one of the top ten tallest buildings in Europe.
Take the lift to the top, and you’ll be rewarded with great views of the city, Ljubljana Castle and the Šmarna Gora mountains to the north. It’s a nice spot to have a coffee and enjoy the view.
Go Shopping At Ljubljana’s Central Market
I love wandering around markets when we travel. Jonathan, however, is not quite so keen.
In the early 1930s, Jože Plečnik also designed this market. It hugs the riverside between the Triple Bridge and the Dragon Bridge. Here you will find Market stalls selling dried fruit and nuts, cured meat, cheeses, herbs, spices, and handicrafts.
The market is open daily, except for Sunday. However, wander around the city on a Sunday like we did and you are sure to find a Sunday flea market.
Running in Ljubljana
Are you feeling sporty? The Ljubljana Marathon is Slovenia’s largest running event. The two main races are the full and half marathon, but there are several other events to join in too, such as as the half marathon in-line skating race. The Volkswagen Ljubljana takes place in October every year.
Another interesting run or walk is the “March Along the Barb Wire” which takes place in May. The 34-km Path of Remembrance and Comradeship attracts thousands of people, who walk the perimeter of Ljubljana as it was during the World War II occupation.
You can take part in the unique Three-Member Team Run. Unique because the threesome has to run together the whole event and it’s the time of the last member crossing the finish line that is taken into account. Outside of May, this is a lovely area for a walk or run.
If you’re interested in running in Ljubljana, see https://mateja-travel.com/alltours/ for more details.
Just Writing About Running, Makes Me Hungry. Here Are Some Recommendations For Lunch Or Dinner.
- Gujžina Prekmurska Gostilna – We ate here on our first night in Slovenia after a long train and bus journey from Munich. What a lovely introduction to Slovenian food. The cuisine is from the Prekmurje region of Slovenia which is in the very northeast of Slovenia. People say that Slovenia resembles a chicken so based on that theory, Prekmurje would be the chicken’s head. Caters for vegetarians.
- Gostilina Sokol is located in an old townhouse in the heart of Ljubljana. But as the sun was out, we sat outside. The restaurant looks a bit touristy so wasn’t expecting much from the food, but as with all the Slovenian food we had, it was surprisingly good. The restaurant serves traditional Slovenian cuisine and beer. Caters for vegetarians.
- Sarajevo 84 – By the end of the trip, we fancied some non-Slovenian food, so we headed to Sarajevo 84 for some Bosnian food. It gets busy and is filled with locals as slightly off the tourist belt but very close to the Skyscraper. We had the čevapčiči v pol lepinje (no idea how you pronounce that) but don’t worry the menu is also written in English. Basically, it’s Bosnian bread with ten sausages!!! Here is not recommended for vegetarians.
Best Times to Visit Ljubljana
The best time to visit Ljubljana is in the spring or autumn. Spring and autumn offer comfortable (albeit occasionally cold) weather, perfect for sightseeing.
June, July, and August boast warmer temperatures (think: mid- to high 70s during the day), but that attracts many tourists and accommodation costs are at their peak.
November to March (or late autumn to early spring) sees lower prices at hotels (except for Christmas and New Year’s), but daytime temperatures rarely climb out of the 30s and 40s. Too cold for us!
How To Get To Ljubljana
The nearest airport to Ljubljana is Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport which is around 25 km from the city centre.
Other airports with easy access to Ljubljana using shuttle services like GoOpti include Graz Airport, Klagenfurt Airport in Austria; Zagreb Airport, Croatia and Trieste Airport and Venice Airport in Italy.
By car, train, and bus
Ljubljana is easily accessible from neighbouring countries- Italy, Croatia, Austria and Hungary using car, train, and bus.
Getting around the city of Ljubljana
We walked everywhere as the Ljubljana city centre is small. It’s also possible to rent a bicycle. Apparently, it’s really cheap to rent a bike, but I’m dangerous on two wheels.
More information on what to see throughout Slovenia, click here to see our Slovenia Country Guide.
Disclaimer: We explored Slovenia as guests of Mateja Travel. However, all opinions are entirely and genuinely our own. We wouldn’t recommend anything that we hadn’t enjoyed and experienced firsthand.