As we started planning our Eastern Europe itinerary, we didn’t know much about Slovenia. After a little research, though, it quickly emerged as a much-anticipated part of the trip. In fact, its capital, Ljubljana, now ranks as one of our favorite cities in Europe.
First off, let’s make sure you know how to pronounce Ljubljana. I know it looks a little difficult, but it’s really not that bad. The correct pronunciation is “loo-blee-ah-na.” Interestingly, this is not actually how Slovenes say it; they say “lyoo-BLYAH-nuh.” Hear the difference for yourself with this quick tutorial from Ljubljana Info.
Regardless of how you pronounce it, you should go… Seriously!
I have never before fallen in love with a city, but I have now. Ljubljana, which is just shy of 300,000 people, has all the culture of a large European capital, but the small-town charm of a mountain town. It is surrounded on all sides by mountains and the river valley is awesome. Even the leftover Communist apartments somehow suck less here.
Simply put, Ljubljana is frickin’ amazing!
Note from Grant and Bonnie: Please forgive the lack of pictures and details. We originally wrote this back when we were just writing for our friends and family. We’ve updated it some, but we know it is still missing a lot.
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Updated December 2018
Getting to Ljubljana
Slovenia is nestled between Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Italy, with Ljubljana right in the middle of the country. We arrived by train, spent one day in town, rented a car for a road trip through the mountains, then took a train to Rijeka, Croatia after returning the car.
The rail and road networks in Slovenia are fairly extensive and there is an airport in Ljubljana. You should have no problems getting in or out of the city or around the country.
We took a train from Budapest to Ljubljana. At a little more than 8 hours, it was a long ride, but, wow, was it scenic!
The Hungarian countryside was nice, but the Slovenian countryside was GORGEOUS! Throughout the day, we saw many hills and small towns. The architecture in Slovenia has much more Austrian and German influence than some other parts of Eastern Europe.
We arrived in town fairly late and went straight to the hotel, the Best Western Premiere Hotel Slon while in Ljubljana. For us, this was a bit of a splurge because we were in town on our anniversary.
The hotel was an easy 5-10 minute walk into the heart of the town. From our room, we had a great view of the city – one benefit of staying slightly outside of town!
Things to Do in Ljubljana
My top recommendation for how to spend one day in Ljubljana is to just wander around and enjoy the ambiance of the city. Honestly, there are not a ton of museums or other attractions so this is a perfect place to relax and slow down a bit.
The River and Bridges
We spent most of the morning wandering the streets and bridges. The River Ljubljanica runs through the heart of the city. Several interesting and unique bridges cross the river, including the Triple Bridge, Dragon Bridge and Butchers’ Bridge.
Cafes dot the sidewalks along the river, which provides a great atmosphere for relaxing with a meal and a drink.
The Central Market
The daily Central Market includes an open-air market, a covered market and several small food shops along the river. At the market, you’ll find fruits, vegetables, flowers and homemade goodies.
We lucked out by being in town on a Friday, when the Open Kitchen is in full swing. This weekly food festival brings chefs to the square to prepare various dishes from around the world. The options were seemingly endless and, honestly, a bit overwhelming!
The festival included restaurants from all over town and was a foodie’s dream. Add in the craft beer, and we were in heaven! Seriously, tons of local craft beer.
Located on the hilltop overlooking the city, Ljubljana Castle served as a defense fortress against the Ottoman invasions. You can reach the castle by foot, bicycle, tourist train or funicular (cable car).
When we went to the castle for our initial visit, we hiked the relatively easy trail from Vodnick square. The trail takes only about 10 minutes and is a pleasant walk, albeit uphill. We did return to the castle for dinner, at which time we took the funicular. If you can’t handle the hike up, the funicular is a quick and inexpensive ride.
At the castle, you will find a short film on its history, the Gothic Castle Chapel of St. George and a viewing tower with a 360-degree panorama. Additional attractions at the castle include a puppetry museum and the Museum of Slovene History.
While the castle is interesting, the view is the real draw here.
Following a late lunch, we chose something a little different: an escape room. Back in 2015, escape rooms were still a relatively new thing (at least to us).
If you’ve never been to an escape room, it is basically a game where you put your problem-solving skills to the test in order to escape a room. This was our first experience and we really enjoyed it!
I will admit, this was a somewhat unique activity for us, especially while traveling. At the time, though, it was new and different. It may not have been anything authentically Slovenian or even European, but it was fun.
We can’t give away too many details on the room, but I will say that we did escape and loved every minute of the challenge.
Dinner at The Castle
As mentioned previously, we were in Ljubljana on our anniversary; our 5th anniversary to be specific. As such, we splurged on dinner at the Restaurant Na Gradu at the castle. Na Gradu is rated one of the top restaurants in Ljubljana on TripAdvisor and it is certainly deserving of that honor.
The restaurant is located in the castle courtyard and includes inside and outside tables. We enjoyed a five-course tasting menu of exquisitely prepared traditional Slovenian fare and a lovely Slovenian red wine.
To this day, this meal ranks as one of our most memorable for the food, drink and ambiance.
Following dinner, we walked the streets of the town, enjoying the nightlife. What a damn fine way to spend our anniversary!
Final Thoughts on Ljubljana
While there may not be many things to do in Ljubljana, it is a great place to spend a day or two relaxing. Your time is best spent wandering the streets, bridges and squares. There is plenty of charm packed into this one little town. I promise you will not be disappointed.
Ljubljana also makes a great starting point for exploring the Slovenian countryside. From here, we did a road trip through the Julian Alps and Triglav National Park and onto Lake Bled, one of the top vacation spots in the area.