Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana might be tricky to pronounce but it’s easy to fall in love with. The pedestrianised old town stands elegantly on the banks of the Ljubljana River, with Baroque buildings lining the cobbled streets and weeping willows competing for space with café umbrellas. A generous smattering of dragon statues, countless picturesque bridges and a 15th century castle, sitting high above the town, complete the fairytale picture. It’s the perfect place to spend a few days exploring. Here are five of the many things to do while you’re visiting.
Watch the sun go down from Ljubljana Castle, 370 metres above the capital, with a glass of sparkling Slovenian wine in hand.
The castle itself is a hodgepodge of styles due to the number of different occupants. The Habsburgs did the main grunt work, constructing a fortress to keep out the Ottomans. The castle later served as a military hospital during Napolean’s stint in the area, and a prison during World War 1. The Nazis occupied the fortress in World War 11. After that it was used as temporary housing for the poor, until its renovation in 1970. Now, it’s a popular tourist destination with a restaurant that commands views of the city. A bar at the foot of the western wall, is the perfect spot to grab a beer or glass of local wine and watch the sun disappear behind the Julian Alps.
Access to the castle is via one of the three walking routes: Študentovska ulica runs south from Ciril Metodov trg OR Reber ulica (the steep one) starts in Stari trg OR Ulica na Grad runs from Gornji trg . If you’re not up for a walk, a 70m-long funicular starts near Vodnikov trg in the old town.
Dine at Julija, the capital’s most iconic restaurant, or take a sojourn to one of the many hot gastro delights outside the city.
The food in Slovenia is influenced by its neighbours – Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, but the country is proudly holding its own on the gastro stage, with local chefs making an international name for themselves and winemakers right up there with them. Julija is the capital’s favourite restaurant, so make sure to book if you’re hoping to dine there.
Hike, row and stroll on a day trip to Lake Bled.
Lake Bled – a forty five minute drive from Ljubljana, is one of the most picturesque lakes you’ll ever come across. The sparkling expanse of water is framed by mountains, overlooked by a castle, and right in the middle of it all, a Gothic church is perched on a tiny island. It doesn’t get more magical than that.
The 6 km path around Lake Bled is a popular place to stroll, but if you want to get a fantastic view, take one of the hikes on the western side of the lake. Follow the signs to Ojstrica. The trail winds up the hill, with a steep set of stairs at the top. Definitely worth the effort!
You can also rent a boat, row to Bled Island and visit the Church of the Assumption of Mary. After that, you’ll definitely be ready for lunch and a piece of Lake Bled cream cake!
Wander around town and end up at Petite Cafe, one of Ljubljana’s most famous coffee spots, just in time for brunch.
While Ljubljana has an abundance of historic sites, it has a modern attitude. The capital has strong green credentials and punches above its weight with a vibrant cultural and restaurant scene. Tiny Slovenia was ruled by the Habsburg Empire from the Middle Ages until the end of World War One, and was part of Yugoslavia until its independence in 1991. It’s no surprise that the country is keen to assert its own personality. The city is popular with students and so are the cafes.
Spend a lazy Sunday at the antique markets.
There’s not a single Bali sarong or Chinese toy in sight at the Sunday markets. But it is packed with antiques, stamp and medal collections, soviet-era badges and communist trinkets. Heaven for treasure hunters!
Images: John Fison