If I compare Ljubljana now with Ljubljana 20 years ago, I can talk about a 'black duckling turning into a white swan' or 'the beauty and the beast', in this case meaning Ljubljana turned a beauty out of a beast.
Let me add a bit of personal touch to this story.
I first came to Ljubljana on my own at the age of 18, kind of willing to study.
Study yes, but not the university program that much.
I decided to study Ljubljana's life.
Then, I simply felt into it.
It bedazzled me, a curious boy, with its grace, people from everywhere, dishes I've never seen before, parties I've never attended before, options and chances I've never had before.
Since then, Ljubljana in my mind.
Located in the middle of Slovenia, its tiny capital with about 300.000 inhabitants will not amaze you with massive monuments and enormous buildings.
Not even with rainy weather, which in the summertime gets really nice and enjoyable.
Ljubljana will amaze you with its character.
With its vibe.
With its potential.
With its essence, spirit, and love.
Ljubljana is located at the crossroad between the mighty Alps, laid-back Mediterranean, romantic Pannonian plains, and the wild Balkans.
On every step you will absorb that specific, babbling, intriguing energy emerging in the proud inhabitants, always keeping an eye on their beloved city.
Ljubljana is a clean city.
In 2016 it was chosen as the Green Capital of Europe due to the improvements in terms of less pollution and the introduction of several environmental-friendly regulations.
It has been one of the European cities with the highest percentage of recycled waste.
Bins are everywhere, we all proudly walk around its clean streets.
You can imagine not just a bad look, but some of the not nice words too in case you miss one of the bins and your litter ends down on the floor.
It is easily reachable from the neighboring countries Austria, Croatia, Hungary, and Italy.
The geographical position and simple access make Ljubljana a strategical destination in terms of congresses and conventions.
Ljubljana day trip became one of the most desired tours for the cruise ship guests when docking in the port of Koper, the only port of Slovenia.
Let me add at this point the Port of Koper is among the best rated Europe's cruise ships destinations.
Ljubljana is a relatively small city but the cultural fusion is amazing.
Already the locals contribute a lot to it, brought together by the winds from the country's furthest parts.
Recently, Ljubljana has been chosen by many foreigners who's work does not depend on location, and are seeking a calmer city environment.
Ljubljana has almost everything you can find in a big metropolitan city, just on a smaller scale.
You can consider it at the highest level though in terms of quality of living.
Green areas, parks, tranquility, cleanliness, safety are just some of the advantages of why the Slovenian capital is so inviting.
It is a friendly city also for the ones who move around with the wheelchairs.
The floor in the city is mostly even, there are ramps in most of the places they are supposed to be.
Let's do a step back in time now.
The history of Ljubljana as a fortified city started in Roman times when it became one of the important forts on their way towards the east of Europe under the name of Emona.
We don't have many proofs and remainings from the time between the Romans and the 11th century when the area of Ljubljanan was officially integrated to the Holy Roman Empire of Germanic Nations, led by the Ceasar in Vienna, and the pope in the Vatican.
In addition, some two hours an a half drive from Ljubljana, there another wonder is taking place, Venice.
In the past, Venice was the seat of La Serenissima or the Venetian Republic, the only state of the time with no king with the inherited title but elected doge.
By improving its fleet and consequently gaining power on the sea, not interfering too much to the interests on the continent, smartly having the monopoly on trade with precious spices and salt for a long time, La Serenissima or The Serene was expanding its size, wealth and power until the time of Napoleon.
Ljubljana had been gaining more and more important in those days as a hub between Venice and Vienna, some of the most important European centers of power of the time.
The vicinity of other important European cities, such as Budapest in Hungary, Graz, Salzburg, Vienna in Austria, Trieste, Venice in Italy, Rijeka and Zagreb in Croatia additionally contributed to the growth of Ljubljana.
The 19th century brought industrialization and modernization in many fields, including the introduction of the train and later trams, the foundation of the legendary Union Brewery by the Kosler brothers, City Saving Bank, and many other institutions and industrial sites.
The 20th century was a century of changes, especially political and demographic ones.
In its beginning, Ljubljana was one of the cities of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, in its end it became the capital of independent Slovenia.
A bit further on, in the 21st century, Ljubljana is one of the European Union's capitals.
Let's focus now on the features of Ljubljana, that in my opinion is the base of its identity.
Which is a bit snobbish lady from Central Europe; but just until you break the ice of its Germanic seriousness in a Romance way with the Balkan charm.
How to get to Ljubljana
Even if Slovenia is not your main destination, you can easily integrate it into your travel itinerary as it lies at the crossroad between North, South, East, and West.
For many, it is the starting or final point of their European holiday.
Due to Ljubljana's geographical location in the middle of Slovenia, you can get there either by bus, car, plane, or train in a quite simple way.
Ljubljana Airport is the only international airport in Slovenia.
From there, you have some 45 minutes drive to the city center by taxi or a shuttle bus.
If you arrive in the day time, there are quite frequent local bus connections.
Both the bus and train stations are located at the same spot on the edge of Ljubljana's old town.
There are good connections with all main travel destinations in the vicinity, such as Graz, Klagenfurt, and Vienna in Austria, Split, Rijeka, Zagreb in Croatia, Lake Balaton and Budapest in Hungary, Trieste with further connections to Milan, Rome, Venice in Italy, even Munich with further connections in Germany.
Getting around Ljubljana
Once in Ljubljana, it's very easy to get around.
Beside traditional taxis, you have a nice assortment of other options, as it goes with the title Green Capital of Europe in 2016.
One is Urbana Card for the city bus or even Ljubljana Card with included attractions.
All the busses are wheelchair accessible.
Public bicycles are available after the registration and using Urbana Card.
You can also rent the bicycle at the Tourist Information Center or some of the rental shops.
Many accommodation places have bicycles as optional or even included.
There is also a car-sharing option available besides the rent-a-car one.
The basic road system of Ljubljana is quite simple to understand.
Around the city area, there is a 40km (about 25mi) ring, from where the four main avenues have been leading towards the old town.
Avenues are named after the destinations they historically lead to.
To the northwest the Celovška (Klagenfurt) Road, to the northeast the Dunajska (Vienna) Road, to the southeast the Dolenjska (Lower Carniola) Road, and to the southwest the Tržaška (Trieste) Road.
Progressive, always in touch with the latest trends, Ljubljana has a pedestrianized Old Town.
Because of the same trends, it's better I warn you to mind a bit the guys on the cycles, kick scooters, and scooters.
They are the most dangerous animals in Ljubljana.
Where to stay in Ljubljana
As a rising star among the European capitals, Ljubljana offers a wide variety of accommodation places.
Whether you are a backpacker or a traveler with more specific demands, Ljubljana is supposed to satisfy your wishes.
You can choose between the simple hostels with dorms, apartments, boutique hotels, camping sites around the city, and even a glamping site a bit out of it.
It's quite surprising that Ljubljana has just one 5 stars hotel, the Intercontinental one.
The prices are comparable with the prices of the same range of accommodation in the neighboring countries.
There is a tourist tax of about 3 eur, which some include in the price, the others charge at the spot.
Below some of the accommodation places, just to have an idea.
Turn Hostel (Mala ulica 8)
A wood-spirited hostel in the city center, a stone throw away from the bus and train stations.
A trendy boutique hotel where they make you feel good, a short city bus drive away from the city center.
Hotel City ***
One of the traditional hotels of Ljubljana, just opposite to the Turn Hostel.
Grand Union Hotel ****
A brilliant example of Vienna Secession architecture from the beginning of the 20th century and one of the remarkable buildings of Ljubljana city center.
Where to eat and drink in Ljubljana
Slovenians, in general, are meat-eaters.
But in the past, they were not so much.
Slovenians were mostly poor farmers and hunters, living in the cultivated and forested areas, rich in all kinds of plants, trees, and animals.
They bred the animals, but strictly controlled by the nobles, to whom it was dedicated.
Then, after WWII, with Yugoslavian industrialization and modernization of farming, meat became accessible to the masses. And all went for it.
If we speak about the traditional dish and delicacy of Ljubljana, that would be the frog legs in many versions.
Ljubljana is located in a marshy area, there always have been many frogs.
On some of the menus around Ljubljana even bear's steak or goulash as a traditional delicacy.
Ljubljana has brilliant vegan restaurants too, and even a festival.
The vegan 'creme de la creme' event is Vegafest.
As a destination at the crossroad of cultures, Ljubljana boasts a large choice of almost any kind of restaurant and inns, highly appreciated by foodie lovers.
There are plenty of food festivals, ranging from organic homemade food to food from all over the world.
In Slovenia, we consider wine as food.
Therefore I have to mention wine bars, where you can please your taste buds on a wine tasting of the best wines from all Slovenian wine regions.
Let me mention some of the popular food and wine places of Ljubljana.
Druga Violina (Second Violin)
A restaurant with brilliant Slovenian dishes, in a special context and management by the association which helps the people who are often treated as 'second violins' in the society, to prove they can simply be the first ones.
An inventive and progressive approach to the traditional Slovenian kitchen makes it one of the foodie temples in the city.
One of the restaurants that brought Ljubljana as a culinary destination to the world map.
A vegan foodie place that doesn't let down even the proudest meat-eaters.
Wine Tasting Ljubljana
Ljubljana Basin is one of the very few regions in Slovenia with no vineyards.
It was always an important market though.
In this wine bar, you can enjoy a delightful wine tasting of wines from all the wine regions of Slovenia.
Olimpija Burek (Slovenska 58)
Burek is a Balkan traditional pie.
In this place, they still make a pie and cut it on 1/4, not roll it into a roll as most of the others.
And the taste is still the same as the one of more than 20 years ago when I had their unique 'sirni' (cottage cheese one) for the first time.
What to see in Ljubljana
Talking about the architecture, Ljubljana doesn't host many remarkable buildings from before the year 1895.
That year, a devastating earthquake struck the central part of Slovenia, causing severe damage in Ljubljana.
After that, a huge city reconstruction began.
Ljubljana was a city of many merchants, thus the style which followed was eclectic Vienna Secession, the Central-European branch of Art Noveau, sponsored mainly by the rich citizens who were not the descendants of nobles, to glorify their successes and partly to oppose the Church with its neo-historical styles.
The most known Slovenian representative and influencer of the Vienna Secession style and period was the architect Jože Plečnik.
He was one of the most gifted students of the syle founder Otto Wagner, mentioned as an example even for the moguls such as Hundertwasser.
Considering the fact the population of Ljubljana in 1910 was still just about 50.000, the historical center is relatively small.
The medieval Old town is nestled between the Castle Hill and Ljubljanica River, which were connected by the two walls, where today the roads are marking the end of a pedestrian zone.
The Ljubljana Castle is a reconstruction of the castle, built by the Spannheims back in the 12th century.
At that time, in 1144, Ljubljana was mentioned for the first time in the documents as Laibach.
After that, in the time of Ottoman invasions, the castle was turned into a fortress and shelter for the inhabitants in case of attack. Fortunately, not much needed.
Later it became a city prison and because of that not really appreciated by the people.
In the last, roughly 150 years, it had different roles.
More recently it was turned into an event place and a marvelous panoramic spot with a restaurant, sweet shop, and a cafeteria.
The Town Square and the Old Square were two major squares in the Old Town.
Within it, you can admire some of the beautiful examples of Baroque architecture.
Sure not Baroque as in Rome, but almost there.
One of the reasons why is that Baroque churches in the area of Slovenia associate to the ones in Rome, but are less decorated or decorated with different materials, such as wood.
Also, architects of the time were mostly coming from the area of present-day Italy.
Andrea Pozzo's cathedral in Ljubljana was made on the base of the Vignolo's church Il Gesu in Rome.
The renovation of the former small Gothic church was sponsored mainly by the Fishermans Association, thus the patron is St Nicholas.
The interior is particularly decorated in wood and marble.
There is an entrance fee of 2 eur, if you decide to visit it.
Another interesting example of a Baroque church is the St Jacob's church.
The Monastery of the Holy Cross, the Franciscan church of St Mary's Assumption, and the St Trinity church were some of the very few buildings on the other side of the river and outside the city walls, in the part called New Ljubljana.
The exterior of the St Trinity church was reconstructed by Jože Plečnik in his eclectic way.
To see the Baroque interior, you have to step inside.
This church is one of the best examples of architectural transformation through the time in Ljubljana.
Crusaders Street takes you down from the Monastery of the Holy Cross to the Ljubljanica River.
With its decoration, is a picturesque street not to miss in Ljubljana, today home to several art and culture organizations and circles.
The Old Town and so-called New Ljubljana are connected by the bridges.
The most known is the Triple Bridge.
Once a wooden bridge was the guarded entrance to the town for merchants and farmers.
At the beginning of the 20th century, when the population expanded and the vehicles were introduced, Jože Plečnik created a three-bridges entrance to the Old Town.
The wider bridge was dedicated to the vehicles while the two separated ones of pedestrians.
It is the only bridge of this kind in Ljubljana.
Dragon Bridge, ceremonially opened in 1901, was one of the first bridges of reinforced concrete in Europe and first in Ljubljana, and the first with a tarmac road in this part of Europe.
The dragon is one of Ljubljana's symbols.
It is related either with the Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts or the pagan tradition, by which the dragon is considered a protector, especially of the places near the waters.
You can find it also in Ljubljana's coat of arms.
Butcher's Bridge is a new glass bridge, popular among the ones in love.
They can lock their love on it, and they will live happily ever after.
Cobbler's Bridge is another Plečnik's reconstruction, where shoemakers were selling shoes back in time.
The Fish Footpath is connecting the New Ljubljana with the former Fish Market in the Old Town.
It was made in the 90s', out of recycled wood used in the reconstruction of the Triple Bridge.
New Ljubljana was not limited by walls, Castle Hill, and the Ljubljanica River.
Outside the compressed Old Town, there was enough room to create vast squares, parks, palaces, and monuments.
Prešeren Square is the main and historical meeting point of Ljubljana.
It's named after our national hero, poet France Prešeren, the hero of love.
You can simply feel a different vibe than in other public places in the city.
In the past, the visitors, merchants, and farmers met there, went to pray to the Franciscan Church for a good business, and then entered the Old Town over the bridge where now the Triple Bridge.
Congress Square is the largest in Ljubljana, close to Prešeren Square.
It was created at the site of a former Capucine Monastery for the purpose of the Vienna Congress conference in 1821, which was held in Ljubljana in order to restore the monarchies of the time before Napoleon.
Ironically, it was designed in French Style.
Congress Square is encircled by some of the greatest Ljubljana's buildings, besides already mentioned St Trinity Church.
You could not miss the University of Ljubljana palace (Kongresni trg 12).
Once a regional government building in Austrian times, built 1898, became the headquarter of the first Slovenian university in 1919 and is one of the greatest examples of Vienna Secession in Ljubljana.
Just next there is the home of the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra or Accademia Philharmonicorum (Kongresni trg 10), one of the oldest philharmonic orchestras in Europe, founded in 1701.
In the Slovenska Matica or somehow Slovenian Home Base (Kongresni trg 8), the first Slovenian culture and science association was founded in 1864.
The neo-classical Kazina Building (Kongresni trg 1) on the other side of the Congress Square, next to the Ursuline Nunnery, was a meeting place and social hub for more demanding visitors.
That's where our national hero Prešeren allegedly saw for the first time his beloved and never loved Julija Primic.
Square of the French Revolution may have a strange connotation for some, but in Slovenian history, that period is considered a period of reforms.
After the Reformation in the 16th century, the time of Napoleon's occupation was actually the second time in history when Slovenians were culturally free, and the Slovenian language one of the official ones.
Not just that, Ljubljana was even chosen as the capital of Illyrian Provinces.
This is one of the reasons why on this square you will find even a column dedicated to Napoleon, which is one of very few on the continent.
Besides these peculiarities, two other important complexes are located here.
Križanke (Trg Francoske Revolucije 1), a reconstructed part of the Monastery of the Holy Cross, is one of the most known Slovenian concert venues.
Narodna Univerzitetna Knjižnica or NUK (Turjaška 1), the national library, is located just few steps away.
It is an architectural masterpiece of Jože Plečnik, keeping over 2.600.000 priceless books.
There are at least two squares in the center of Ljubljana, interesting for the lovers of post-war architecture, partly leaning even towards the Brutalism.
Metalka Tower (Dalmatinova 2) on Ajdovšina Square was designed by a well-known Slovenian architect of the time, Edo Ravnikar, who was inspired by the Seagram Tower in New York.
It was one of the first in the wider region, coated in aluminum.
Close, and not post-war, there is the Nebotičnik (Štefanova 1), or Skyscraper.
When erected in 1933, it was the highest building in Central Europe, and until WWI the highest in the Balkans with its 70m (about 230ft).
Today you can have a pleasant stop in the cafeteria and restaurant up at the top plateau, with a superb view over all the city.
Republic Square is home to the Slovenian Parliament (Šubičeva 4) and the majestic building of NLB bank (Trg Republike 2).
What to visit and what to do in Ljubljana in 1, 2, or 3 days
In the following articles, you will likely figure out what I already mentioned, so that your Ljubljana itinerary will suddenly become too short even if you add another day, or even two.
Day 1 itinerary
If you visit Ljubljana at a glance, just go around and see above mentioned Old Town, the Castle Hill, and New Ljubljana.
Even though it's not a big city, with a walk around with some shopping, a coffee here, some food there, you will make yourself busy for that day.
If you'll be in Ljubljana on Fridays from April to October, you will have a chance to attend the Odprta Kuhna (Open Kitchen).
At this foodie festival, the restaurants of all tastes from all over Slovenia are presenting their delicious dishes in the form of snacks. An explosion of tastes.
Any day of the week in the same period of the year, there is also Open Air Library available on different spots around Ljubljana, besides the brass bands marchings, street artists performances, random parties, and many other entertaining events.
On Saturdays usually, all year round, you could not miss the 'stag' and 'deer' nights and parties with all belonging craziness.
On Sundays, you will be amazed by the variety of antiques, exposed on the flea market along the Ljubljanica River.
You can also take a boat ride, with Ladjica for example.
If you decide to stay for at least one more night, the evenings in Ljubljana are magic.
You can opt between indulging yourself at the bars and pubs with craft beers and delightful snacks along the Ljubljanica River, absorb live music in bars such as Prulček, or take a trip to Metelkova City close to the bus and train stations.
Metelkova City is a former military area, which was squatted in the 90s', and turned into an autonomous culture zone with great galleries, event places and parties, where you shall not be surprised about the smell of the funny things and funky artistic creations on every step.
Day 2 itinerary
You can start your day in a slow-paced way, with a visit to Ljubljana Market.
Except for Sundays, when the marketplace is turned into a parking lot, in the early morning farmers from all over Slovenia are gathering there to provide us fresh, local, kilometer-zero fruits and vegetables.
Some stalls are also resellers with some exotic stuff.
You can see who is who by the informative boards on their stalls, or you simply ask.
If you had a stormy night, a relaxing walk around the green areas of Ljubljana might be perfect to soothe the body and mind.
Besides the Castle Hill, which is intersected by many hiking trails you can enjoy the Tivoli Park, just some 5 min walk away from the city center.
The biggest public park in Ljubljana is hiding innumerable paths, free open-air gym, exhibitions, and the way up to the Rožnik Hill, where the most 1st May celebration is taking place.
On the other side of Rožnik Hill, there is Koseze pond in the middle of a quiet neighborhood.
This pleasant area is often visited by gracious swans.
Speaking about the green areas of Ljubljana, on the southern side of it, under another jogging paradise Golovec Hill, you can visit the Botanic Garden of Ljubljana.
The oldest scientific institution in Slovenia was founded in 1810.
Today, in cooperation with over 270 botanic gardens from all over the world, the park contains over 4500 species and subspecies, about one-third endemic to Slovenia.
From there, if you are cycling, you can continue down south towards Ljubljana Marshes and figure out why frogs are the region's main delicacy.
There are other options if you didn't go for any of the above mentioned.
For the ones who like intriguing enigmas, there is a board game cafe Dobra Poteza (Železna cesta 14), escape rooms such as Mindmaze, or even escape-from-the-room Unlock Ljubljana.
Illusionists will dive into alter-reality in the House of Illusions.
Virtualist is the first room-scale virtual experience in Slovenia.
Ljubljana ZOO (Večna pot 70) might be a suggestion for families with kids, the same as Kindergarten City, trampoline park, Adrenaline Park and and Aquapark (both on Šmartinska 152).
For groups, a funny thing is a paintball, while the creative ones can go for a fun painting party.
In the evening you can explore the city vibe.
Ljubljana is rich in art and culture, which is confirmed by plenty of festivals.
Festival Ljubljana is a traditional international festival of top world performances and shows, including concerts, opera, ballet, musicals, and theatre.
Druga Godba is a celebration of World Music.
Jazz Festival Ljubljana hosts world-known performers of this musical genre.
Under the name Ana Desetnica, the street theatre groups from all over are amusing the spectators on different spots around the city.
Movies Under the Stars are the open-air cinema events for almost everybody, as they have the English subtitles if the film is no English spoken.
If it is, then subtitles are in the Slovenian language.
The breathtaking Opera and Ballet House is a place to go for both opera and architecture lovers.
There are at least five professional theatres in Ljubljana. It's true though, that the plays are mostly in the Slovenian language.
Day 3 itinerary
Let the day 3 in Ljubljana be easy-going, with some SUP or canoe ride on the Ljubljanica River and its tributaries.
Related with the rivers and ponds, you can forget about the time by fishing.
The best birds perspective shot of Ljubljana you will take from a hot-air balloon.
Hey me, what about the museums?
Hullalla, a bunch of them.
The Ljubljana Castle hosts the Museum of Slovenian History.
The oldest wheel in the world you can see in the City Museum of Ljubljana.
National Museum of Contemporary History in the Cekin Mansion, Tivoli Park, gives an overview of events and happenings, which brought the independence of Slovenia in 1991.
There are two departments of the National Museum of Slovenia.
The right place to discover Slovenian folk culture and art is the Slovene Ethnographic Museum.
The Museum of Natural History explains the diversity of flora and fauna in Slovenia.
Jože Plečnik's House reveals the curtains of life on one of the greatest European Vienna Secession architects.
An astonishing Vienna Secession palace is the one of National Gallery of Slovenia.
Tivoli Mansion is home to the International Center of Graphic Arts.
Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova is located by the already mentioned cultural zone.
The Museum of Modern Art with Modern Gallery houses the permanent collection of masterpieces of 20 century Slovenian Art, besides the temporary exhibitions and performances of new art.
Maybe just one more thing, apart from all.
BTC, one of the biggest shopping malls in Europe with over 450 shops, may take you the entire day in Ljubljana.
So, aren't there enough reasons to stay a bit more than just 1,2, or 3 days in Ljubljana?
Day trips from Ljubljana
By its centrally located position in Slovenia, Ljubljana is a perfect starting point for the day trips around the country.
Because of its shape, you have roughly the same distance to the borders from Ljubljana, about an hour and a half.
Except for the northeast, which makes the way to the border about an hour drive longer.
The most popular day trips are the ones to Lake Bled, Lake Bohinj, Kranjska Gora, and Vršič Mountain Pass to the northwest, Brda Wine Region, Vipava Valley, Soča Valley to the West, Coast and Karst to the southwest, Logar Valley, Maribor and Ptuj to the northeast, Prekmurje to the far northeast, Bela Krajina, Kostanjevica na Krki, Novo Mesto to the southeast.
* Feel free to contact me for more information regarding the restrictions on traveling Slovenia now.
What's up in Ljubljana?
How to spend 1, 2, or 3 days in the capital of Slovenia
If I compare Ljubljana now with Ljubljana 20 years ago, I can talk about a 'black duckling turning into a white swan' or 'the beauty and the beast', in this case meaning Ljubljana turned a beauty out of a beast.