It holds a special place in my heart. This was the first city where I ever backpacked. The gateway to my first tour in the Balkans, a trip that made me fall in love with that region and with the backpacking life. Ljubljana is lovely — I don’t use this word often, but it really is the right fit for this city.
Ljubljana is small. So small that you can even see it all in one day. If you want to rush. Don’t rush it though, it deserves more than that. But I believe its size contributes to make it special. You can walk the whole city, no need for metro or even bus. A bike is nice though, and you can rent one in several places (I rented mine at the Tourism Center for 10€ for a whole day).
Walking or biking really are the best ways to explore the city, since traffic is significantly reduced in the city center since 2013, making this whole area pretty much entirely pedestrian and contributing for the title Ljubljana earnt in 2016 — European Green Capital. Not only traffic is reduced but the city is green (hello Tivoli Park!), connected with nature (with the Ljubljanica river perfectly flowing through the city center), there are fountains with drinkable water everywhere and toilets are free. The whole city feels organic, tailored to humans and nature together.
Slovenians seem to eat healthily too. You can find vegetarian alternatives in most places, health food stores (or sections in regular supermarkets) and easily have your coffee with a plant-based milk — it might sound weird, but I hold it as a measuring standard of how veggie-friendly a city is.
Slovenes love the outdoors. It is no wonder, having a country with some of the most beautiful nature I have ever seen in my life. It’s hard to rank countries but I am sure about this one: Slovenia is on the top three of most beautiful countries I ever visited.
What to do
As in any city, I strongly recommend starting your time in Ljubljana with a free walking tour. You will have an idea of the history and culture of the country and learn about some interesting spots you can visit during the remainder of your time there.
The city center is definitely a place you should see, both during the day and in the evening, when daylight goes and lamp lights come alive by the side of the river, illuminating the many people sitting on terraces eating and sipping on the great Slovenian wine. It’s like a postcard, I swear.
The Central Market, near the center, is another place worth checking out. Most of the sellers are local people and the produce is fresh and delicious. If you want a light breakfast, start your day here with some yummy fruit. If you are lucky enough to be in Ljubljana on a Friday, you will also get to see the Open Kitchen, when several of the city’s restaurants are on the market square serving their food — there are several veggie options too.
Tivoli Park is a landmark of the city. 5km2 of green area which are perfect to walk through or discover by bike.
Finally, Ljubljana Castle is one of the main attractions of the city. I arrived there early, before it opened, and had a spectacular view of Ljubljana at dawn. It is totally worth it waking up early, trust me. Then, inside, the exhibitions provided me my first deeper contact with the history of Yugoslavia (of which Slovenia was a part of until 1991). I was immediately hooked, and I am still obsessed with finding out more about this. So, be careful…
A bit of history
In a nutshell, Slovenia became part of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1867. With the defeat of the empire in World War I, in 1918 Slovenia joined Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia on what would later be known as Yugoslavia (along with Bosnia and Macedonia). Slovenia was the first of the Yugoslavian countries to declare its independence, on June 25, 1991. Unlike Croatia and Bosnia, the country was able to gain independence quickly and in a relatively blood-free way, following a ten-day war against Serbia. The country joined both the EU and NATO in 2004 and it is the only former Yugoslavian republic to be both in the EU and the Eurozone.
Restaurants to try
Druga Violina — it’s a special place. With most of the staff composed by people with some sort of handicap, it is another piece of evidence of how Ljubljana just feels organic, with everything and everyone fitting together. The food is delicious, served in generous portions and they have a daily vegetarian dish (along with two non-veggie ones) and a whole “à la carte” menu to choose from. The food is typical from Slovenia, prices are cheap, and you will walk out of there with a happy tummy.
Cantina Mexicana — to be honest, I never tried the food here. But I heard it has a great reputation and several of my friends went and loved it. I took my family there and they said the food was delicious and the portions very big. The place looks cool too.
Cacao — the best ice-cream in Ljubljana (they also have stores in Portorož, Slovenia, and Prague, Czech Republic). A wide range of flavors, some of which are vegan.
Places not to miss
· Old Town
· Prešeren Square
· Congress Square
· Triple Bridge
· Central Market (Open Kitchen on Fridays)
· Tivoli Park
· Ljubliana Castle
· Cathedral of St Nichols
What to have in mind
Ljubljana is beautiful but the true gem of the country is Triglav National Park. Do yourself a favour and book some days in that area too.
Time of my trips
July 2017 & July 2019