When I first visited the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana more than a decade ago, I wrote this about the city:
“Ljubljana is still relatively undiscovered as a major tourist destination. I doubt it will remain that way for long, though, so go to this place, and go now.”
Ljubljana is a fantastic city; one of my favorite capital cities in all of Europe, in fact (and yes, I’ve visited a lot of them!). I assumed that social media and a growing number of global tourists would undoubtedly transform Ljubljana into a cringey, crowded hotspot before long.
But, a decade after I first shared that plea, I’m delighted to report that Ljubljana has not changed all that much, and is just as charming today as it was the first time I visited.
Sure, the city sees a few more tourists these days. And sure, you’ll find some Instagrammy spots and a few more things in the city geared towards visitors. But everything that made me fall in love with Ljubljana on my first visit remains shockingly almost the same.
Note: In case you’re really confused, Ljubljana is pronounced close to “LOOB-lee-ahn-uh” to non-Slavic-speaking ears.
Reasons to visit (and love) Ljubljana
Ljubljana is an old city, first being mentioned in history in the 1100s. Before that, though, a Roman city called Emona stood in roughly the same spot. Today, Ljubljana is a modern if small European capital, with a population of just 285,000 people.
First, a few reasons to visit Ljubljana (according to me):
- The architecture is beautiful – With colorful buildings, wide streets, outdoor cafes, and willow-draped riverbanks, Ljubljana is easily one of the prettiest cities I have ever visited. The architecture here is a gorgeous mix of classical Baroque and Art Nouveau.
- The Ljubljanica River – Cutting through the city in a canal-like fashion, life in central Ljubljana revolves around the Ljubljanica River. The riverside restaurants in the summer are one of my favorite things about the city.
- It’s pedestrian-friendly – The city center in Ljubljana is pedestrian-friendly. In fact, there are no cars allowed at all in the main areas that you’re likely to visit.
- It’s so green – Ljubljana is a very green city. Not only literally with its parks and trees, but also environmentally-speaking; Ljubljana was named Europe's Green Capital in 2016.
- The atmosphere is great – Life feels unhurried here. Locals and tourists alike soak in the sunshine and spend time outdoors, and Slovenian people are generally really welcoming.
Best things to do in Ljubljana
The great thing about Ljubljana being a small city is that it’s compact enough to see/do everything you could want in just a couple of days – and you can do it all on foot! Two days in Ljubljana is more than enough time to see all the highlights.
And as for what to do in Ljubljana, here's my personal must-do list:
1. Take a walking tour
The center of Ljubljana is very compact and walkable, and there are lots of pedestrian-only streets (in fact, cars have been banned in the heart of the city center since 2011). You can definitely explore on your own, but I would recommend starting at least one day with a free walking tour.
The Ljubljana Free Tour offers walking tours every day of the year, meeting in front of the pink church (the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation) on Prešeren Square. The 2-hour Classic City Tour covers the major sites and history around central Ljubljana.
No reservations are required, and the tour is free – though tipping your guide is expected!
2. Cross Ljubljana’s famous bridges
There are three well-known bridges in central Ljubljana, all within a short walk from one another.
The first is the Triple Bridge (Tromostovje), which connects Prešeren Square to the rest of the city across the river. There’s been a bridge in this spot since at least 1280, though that original wooden bridge burned down long ago. The central part of the current bridge dates back to 1842, while the two smaller bridges to either side of it were added by famed architect Jože Plečnik in 1929 to be footbridges to avoid traffic congestion. (Today of course all three parts of the bridge are pedestrian-only.)
The second bridge you’ll come to is the wide Butcher’s Bridge (Mesarski Most), which ironically is Ljubljana’s “Bridge of Love,” where couples affix love locks. The bridge is newer (dating back to 2010), and also displays several sculptures by Jakov Brdar. Cross this one to reach the city’s Central Market area.
Lastly is the famous Dragon Bridge (Zmajski Most). This bridge is flanked on each end by two dragons, which are a major symbol of Ljubljana. Legend has it that the Greek hero Jason (of Jason and the Argonauts) while on his mission to obtain the Golden Fleece passed through the Ljubljana Swamp. He killed a great monster there that was terrorizing the local people, and thus the dragon tales began.
All three of these bridges are right in a row across the Ljubljanica River, and you can cross them all in just a few minutes.
3. Shop at the Central Market
If you start in Prešeren Square and cross any of these bridges, you’ll be near Ljubljana’s Central Market. There’s both an indoor and outdoor component to this daily market during the warmer months, with the indoor portion found inside the market hall often called Plečnik's Covered Market since it was designed by Jože Plečnik.
Indoors, you’ll find a fish market, shops, and restaurants. And outdoors, you can find things like fresh produce and flowers for sale. There are also vending machines along Vodnikov Square dispensing fresh local items including eggs, cheese, and even milk!
Even if you don’t buy anything at the market, it’s a great place to get a sense of local life in Ljubljana, as this is by no means a kitschy tourist market.
4. Visit Ljubljana Castle
Another must-do is to visit Ljubljana Castle, which sits on a hill in the middle of the city. There’s been a fortification on this hill since medieval times, though the current castle structures are a little more recent, mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries (and of course they’ve all been remodeled and modernized since).
You can hike up to the castle on foot, but a much more fun (according to me, anyway) way to arrive is to take the Ljubljana Castle funicular to the top. The ride on this glass-enclosed funicular railway is quick (just a couple of minutes), and offers up some cool views as you ascend.
You can purchase castle tickets that include the funicular ride from the bottom funicular station at Krekov trg 4.
Once at Ljubljana Castle, there's a lot to explore. You can visit a museum-style exhibit on Slovenian history, the Castle Chapel of St George, and several other displays and exhibitions like the prison and the Museum of Puppetry. There’s also a cafe and wine bar on the castle grounds, as well as additional things you can pay for like the “Castle Escape” game experience.
The most popular thing to do at Ljubljana Castle is to visit the Viewing Tower, though. It does require climbing some extra steps, but from here you get the absolute best view over Ljubljana.
Budget 1-2 hours to see everything at the castle.
5. Visit a church (or two)
Back down at city-level, it’s worth visiting one of Ljubljana’s grand churches. You can go inside the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation (AKA the pink church) on Prešeren Square for free, while it will cost 2 Euro to visit the Ljubljana Cathedral (AKA the Church of St. Nicholas).
I highly recommend visiting the Cathedral, as the Baroque interior is stunning!
6. Dine along the riverfront
Especially during the warmer months, dining outdoors along the riverfront is a must in Ljubljana. There are restaurants and cafes with outdoor terraces on both sides of the Ljubljanica River, though you’ll find a larger number of them along Cankarjevo Nabrezje.
Whether you want to have a full meal or just enjoy a drink, hanging out to do some people-watching along the willow-draped riverbank is quintessentially Ljubljana in the summer.
7. Relax on the river
You can get on the Ljubljanica River, too, via a sightseeing boat cruise on the Ljubljana Tourist Boat. Cruises on this enclosed, glass-topped boat last about 45 minutes. You can get tickets at the dock, which is just beneath the Ribja Bridge, or book ahead online here.
For the more adventurous, you can also discover the river on a paddleboard. A couple companies offer stand-up paddleboard (SUP) tours through the heart of Ljubljana, which offer up a super unique vantage point of all those famous bridges. And since the river is so calm, this is something you can try even if you’ve never been paddleboarding before. (Book a paddleboard tour here.)
8. Spend time in a museum
There are some unique museums to visit in Ljubljana, depending on your interests. A few I would recommend include:
- City Museum of Ljubljana – This small museum has exhibits on the long history of Ljubljana, and even displays the world’s oldest wooden wheel with a wooden axle!
- National Museum of Contemporary History – This museum in Tivoli Park covers Slovenia’s more recent history, from WWI through WWII and the years when it was part of Yugoslavia. The museum exhibits are very well done, and it’s a great place to visit if you want to understand Slovenia as a modern country.
- Plečnik House – The former home of famed architect Jože Plečnik. His body of work in Slovenia is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and taking a tour of his house is very interesting if you want to learn more about him.
There’s also the National Museum of Slovenia, Museum of Modern Art, National Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova, the Slovene Ethnographic Museum, and Slovenian Museum of Natural History. Plenty of options if you run into a rainy day!
9. Stroll through a city park
Slovenia is an incredibly green city, both environmentally speaking and because of the number of city parks and green spaces.
The largest city park is Tivoli Park, which covers 2 square miles and has walking trails, sport courts, playgrounds, a mini golf course, and more. Other noteworthy green spaces include the Ljubljana Botanic Garden, which dates all the way back to 1810, and the Volčji Potok Arboretum north of town.
The Žale Cemetery is also a very beautiful green space, with well-kept sites and several war memorials. The cemetery is connected to the Path of Remembrance and Comradeship (also known as the Green Ring, or POT), which is a 20-mile-long recreation trail that encircles Ljubljana along the line where barbed wire surrounded the city during World War II. (Learn more about WWII history in Slovenia here.)
10. Have a local beer at Union Brewery
Slovenia – like most countries in Central Europe – has been making beer for centuries. In Ljubljana, beer making dates back to at least the 1500s, and you can learn a bit about it at Union Brewery (Pivovarna Union). The brewery offers a guided tour several times per day, and the Union Experience is very highly rated – and of course ends with a beer tasting!
Or, if you want to skip the tour, you can also just try their beer at Union Pub at the brewery, which has a small outdoor beer garden.
11. Try traditional Slovenian food
Speaking of Slovenian food and drink, there’s a lot to try in Ljubljana!
A few traditional things you definitely need to eat/drink include:
- Kranjska Klobasa (Carniolan Sausage)
- Štruklji (rolled bread dumplings)
- Gibanica (a layered strudel-type cake with fillings like nuts, apples, and cottage cheese)
- Cockta (a local cola-style soda)
And a few must-try Ljubljana restaurants I’d recommend include:
- Slovenska Hiša Figovec – For incredible traditional Slovenian dishes. There’s almost always a line here, and it’s worth waiting for.
- Druga Violina (Second Violin) – Another spot serving traditional food, but this one is unique in that it gives employment opportunities to people with special needs.
- My Dumplings (Moji štruklji) – To try some Slovenian dumplings.
You can also explore Ljubljana’s history and food scene together on a guided food tour like this one. (I love food tours, and would definitely recommend trying this if you’re spending more than just a day in Ljubljana.)
12. Enjoy a drink at Nebotičnik skyscraper
Lastly, no city guide would be complete without a good spot to go for rooftop cocktails… right? Well, Ljubljana has one of those, too!
The Nebotičnik building (Nebotičnik literally just means skyscraper) dates back to 1933, and has a restaurant/cafe/bar up on its top floor (which is the 12th floor). It includes some indoor seating near the bar, as well as an outdoor terrace that goes all the way around the building.
You can go up for a coffee during the day, or try for a table to enjoy a sunset drink. It can get busy, but it’s a unique spot to enjoy.
Where to stay in Ljubljana
Slovenia is so compact that there aren't really many bad places to stay around the city center. Places I personally recommend include:
- Hotel Slamič – Located near the Nebotičnik building, this family-run hotel/B&B is all sorts of cozy and welcoming. It has large rooms, and a beautiful terrace where you can enjoy a big cooked-to-order breakfast in the morning. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here)
- Hotel Cubo – The top-rated hotel in Ljubljana on TripAdvisor, Hotel Cubo is within walking distance of just about everything in the city. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here)
- Grand Hotel Union – Another good option in central Ljubljana, this hotel has large air-conditioned rooms, a free breakfast buffet, and on-site parking. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here)
How to get to Ljubljana
You can fly into the Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport, which has direct flights from several destinations across Europe.
The airport is roughly half an hour away from the city, though, and if you're not picking up a rental car at the airport, I recommend pre-booking a shuttle transfer into the city. There are taxis available, too, but they will quote you an outrageous price for the ride! Book ahead with GoOpti Airport Transfers – you can get into the city for about 15 Euro.
You can also arrive in Ljubljana by train at the Ljubljana train station, though there aren't a ton of direct or convenient train routes. Notably, the train station has a luggage storage room in case you need someplace to keep your bags for a few hours – just be aware that the lockers here are coin-operated only.
When to visit Ljubljana
Ljubljana is a year-round city, but it really comes alive during the warm months of the year, when people can spend time outdoors. May-September is the best time to visit in my opinion, with July-August being the busiest months. I’ve personally visited in both June and July, and loved it both times.
Ljubljana has a fairly mild and moderate climate. July is usually the hottest month, with high temps usually hovering around 80 degrees F. It can rain a lot even in summer, though, so be sure to pack a rain coat or umbrella!
How many days in Ljubljana is enough?
On my first trip to Slovenia, I spent 3 days in Ljubljana and spent one of them going a day trip. On my second visit, my friend Ashley and I spent 2 nights in Ljubljana and still ticked everything off our must-see list.
So you need.at least 2 days in Ljubljana, and 3 days would also be great!
Have you been to Ljubljana? If not, would you like to visit?