How to build my perfect European town.
Add to one part old world history a dash of chic modernity. Let it age into a unique culture. Drizzle in a beautiful river and sprinkle with romantic night lights. Top with an epic castle. Keep cool with comfortable weather and serve at reasonable prices.
Order up: Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.
After departing from the dreamy lake town of Bled, I was ready to switch back to urban adventuring. Ljubljana is the perfect transition between relaxation and city life, offering anything you’d want from a city without the chaos.
The best place to begin exploring Ljubljana is in Prešeren Square (Prešernov trg), the meeting point of several main streets where you’ll find the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation (Frančiškanska cerkev Marijinega oznanjenja), the Prešeren Monument (Prešernov spomenik), the Galerija Emporium (a department store, if you’re into that sort of thing) and the Triple Bridge (Tromostovje).
Crossing the Triple Bridge brings you to the Town Square (Mestni trg), in which sits the Fountain of the Three Carniolan Rivers (Vodnjak treh kranjskih rek), also known as the Robba Fountain (Robbov vodnjak), a fountain by Italian sculptor Francesco Robba, inspired by the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in Rome’s Piazza Navona. Here you’ll also find the Ljubljana Town Hall (Ljubljanska mestna hiša), otherwise known as Magistrat, which you can visit for free. Finally, there’s the Ljubljana Cathedral (Ljubljanska stolnica), otherwise known as St. Nicholas’s Church (Cerkev sv. Nikolaja) and its beautiful interior.
In Vodnik Square (Vodnikov trg), located across the famous Dragon Bridge (Zmajski most) with its emerald beasts of legend, you can find an expansive piazza that hosts the Ljubljana Central Market (Osrednja ljubljanska tržnica). This is a great place to pick up some fresh produce or to have an affordable outdoor meal at one of the many street food vendors.
South of the Town Square is the Old Square (Stari trg), an area dense with restaurants and shops. Head farther down and you’ll reach the Upper Square (Gornji trg), a more peaceful area of the historic center. If you want to dine downtown but would like to get away from any crowds, this section of the city is a good bet.
As with any city with a river, you could simply walk along the banks of the Ljubljanica for some of the best views. Aside from the aforementioned bridges, there are also the Butchers’ Bridge (Mesarski most), a bridge with lots of odd sculptures and love locks, and the Shoemakers’ Bridge (Čevljarski most) or Cobblers’ Bridge (Šuštarski most), a bridge that offers great photo opportunities.
I should also mention Congress Square (Kongresni trg), a large square lined by eateries and nightlife locales. Pro tip: There’s a public restroom underneath.
To top off your adventure in the historic center (no pun intended), head up to Ljubljana Castle (Ljubljanski grad). The admission ticket gets you into the museums and the tower for an unobstructed view of the city. You can’t get such a view without ascending the tower (believe me; I tried), so if you want to see the city from above, you have to buy a ticket.
Ljubljana is a culturally rich city, and it offers a good number of museums. Of its offerings, I visited the National Museum of Contemporary History (Muzeju novejše zgodovine Slovenije) and the National Gallery of Slovenia (Narodni galeriji) to learn more about the history of the city and to see some fine art, respectively. I highly recommend both.
For more art and culture, visit the neighborhood known as Metelkova, an artists’ district completely covered with street art. I heard they have some fun parties here at night, though when I walked by, nothing seemed to be happening. (I guess not everyone wants to go crazy on a weekday night.)
To escape into some green, visit Tivoli City Park (Mestni park Tivoli), an expansive park in which you could spend the entire day. There are numerous paths to choose, so if you like hiking, plan a visit here.
Lovers of beer should check out the Pivnica Union Beer Brewery, where Union and Laško are brewed, the two predominant beers of Slovenia. The Union Experience is the brewery tour that leads guests through the brewery’s history and beer-making process, concluding in the brewpub where a wide variety of beers and typical Slovenian foods can be acquired. I visited on a weekday and was the only one on the tour, so, lucky me, I was alone with my guide, Tja (if you’re reading this, thanks!).
In terms of food, there’s plenty to try in Slovenia, and I’m probably not the best person to showcase the breadth of it. A popular street food is burek, an Eastern European savory puff pastry item filled with meats, vegetables or cheese. It’s both cheap and filling (read: really heavy). You can find them in most bakeries. For local sausages at reasonable prices, check out Klobasarna, a modern and casual eatery. Frks in Congress Square sells healthy wraps, burgers and salads. For desserts and coffee, check out Cacao Cafe for comfortable, riverside cafe-ing. Finally, if you’re looking to dine really cheaply, I’d recommend Restavracija Skriti kot, a no-nonsense tavern that’s popular with students. I had a steak here with an all-you-can-eat salad and two glasses of wine for about $15.
For nightlife, a friend recommended Pr’Skelet. It’s definitely a great place to let loose with a group, as they offer buy-one-get-one-free college-style cocktails and shots. If you’re looking for something less neon and underground, however, opt for one of the fancier locales along the river.
Looking for unique souvenirs? Visit Fox Boutique in the historic center, a little shop that sells handmade Slovenian gifts, or Flat, a shop offering higher end home and lifestyle items.
All of the above only scratches the surface of what Ljubljana truly offers, and it surely isn’t a complete representation of all the places I visited. It serves only as a starting point if you’re considering what to see first. If you’ve been to Ljubljana before and have a favorite attraction/restaurant/shop I haven’t mentioned, please let me know in the comments below.