12 Essential Things to Do in Ljubljana, Slovenia (& Why You’ll LOVE This City!)

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When I first visited the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana in 2013, 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.

Wide street in Ljubljana with a view of the castle
Street scene in Ljubljana
Scenes along the Ljubljanica River
Along the Ljubljanica River

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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
Franciscan Church of the Annunciation in Ljubljana
Franciscan Church of the Annunciation AKA the Pink Church

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!

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 do all of the following:

1. Take a walking tour

The Prešeren Monument on Prešeren Square
The Prešeren Monument on Prešeren Square

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

Love locks on the Butcher's Bridge in Ljubljana
Love locks on the Butcher's Bridge

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.

Dragon on the Dragon Bridge
Dragon on the Dragon Bridge

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!

Outdoor stalls at Ljubljana Central Market
Outdoor stalls at the Central Market
Milk vending machine at Ljubljana Central Market
Milk vending machine!!

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.

Inside the Ljubljana Castle funicular
Inside the Ljubljana Castle funicular

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.

Inside Ljubljana Castle
Inside Ljubljana Castle

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.

Ljubljana Castle Viewing Tower views
Castle Viewing Tower views

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!

Inside Ljubljana Cathedral
Inside Ljubljana Cathedral

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.

Riverside dining in Ljubljana
Riverside dining in Ljubljana

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.

Boat tour on the Ljubljanica River
Boat tour on the Ljubljanica River

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.
National Museum of Contemporary History in Ljubljana, Slovenia
National Museum of Contemporary History

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

Beer at Pivovarna Union in Ljubljana
Beer at Pivovarna Union

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)
Kranjska Klobasa
Kranjska Klobasa
Cockta soda in Slovenia
Cockta 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.)

Outdoor dining at Moji štruklji
Outdoor dining at Moji štruklji

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.

Views from Nebotičnik rooftop bar
Views from Nebotičnik

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:

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.

Ljubljana view from the castle
Ljubljana view from the castle

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?

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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66 Comments on “12 Essential Things to Do in Ljubljana, Slovenia (& Why You’ll LOVE This City!)

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  1. Llubljana is a stunning city. I loved it there even though I was only there for the day, the brightly coloured buildings, the stunning river through the city centre and the amazing riverside cafes…Perfection!

      Glad you got to appreciate it, even if only for a little while!

    […] If you haven’t been to Slovenia yet, what the hell are you waiting for?? Seriously, though, this little country tucked between Italy, Austria, and Croatia is probably one of my favorites in Europe — as is its capital. Filled with bridges, pretty buildings, and laid-back people, I find myself often dreaming of Ljubljana. […]

    Fab photos of Ljubljana! I’ve longed to see this city for while.

    Slovenia is awesome, love the people, love the nature. Can’t wait to explore more of it, and ljubljana seems great.

      Ljubljana is indeed great! Definitely worth an extended visit!

    […] to the most this summer — and it did not disappoint. I fell in love with the capital city of Ljubljana, relaxed in the resort town of Bled, oogled some caves and castles, and went on a full-day […]

    […] turns out that this country is amazing, with a gorgeous capital city, a stunning resort town, all sorts of adventure activities, and some really lovely people. But the […]

    […] An Adventure on the Emerald River By DangerousBiz On November 28, 2012 · Add Comment Picture-perfect cities with dragon bridges and castles. Fairy-tale-like lakes. And now a body of water known as the […]

    Definitely on my list of places to visit and climbing higher after reading this article. Hopefully a 2013 trip is on the horizon for me.

      I sure hope it is! I hope another visit is on the horizon for me in 2013!

    […] Bled, Slovenia By DangerousBiz On November 26, 2012 · Add Comment After spending three days falling in love with Ljubljana, I wasn’t sure Slovenia would have anything more up its sleeve to charm me […]

    I keep hearing great things about Ljubljana but never have the time to head down there, it is a must for me next time I head east. Great photos by the way, that dragon looks tough!

      Definitely make your way down there if you can! If you’re already in Europe, it’s a no-brainer!

    Let me just say some things as a local.

    First of all photos really are amazing! You’ve done a very good job on them!!!

    Second…to all of you who said you’d like to spend a season in Ljubljana make sure it’s everything but summer because in summer the city is empty. There is a lot of students living in Ljubljana during the rest of the year but in the end of June they all go home or to spend their summer on the coast somewhere. The best season in my opinion is spring because everytihing is blooming but you do have to take a risk of having a week or two of bad weather. It is also very nice during winter if there is some snow. With all the new years decoration lights it can be very beautiful.

    And third…I don’t want to sound too pedand but Europe as an opose to US is a bit more colourfull and not just black and white so we don’t devide it only into East and West. Now Slovenia is in transition between Central Europe and Balkan which is South-Eastern Europe…but it is by no means a part of Eastern Europe! I know it may sound completely insignificant but the fact is that culture and architecture in Eastern Europe for example are completely different to those in either SE, Central or any other part of Europe.

    Otherwise it really is nice to read good things about your own country specially as sincere as the things in this blog and not something from the media…some of them I didn’t even manage to see myself anymore and I thank all of you for opening my eyes again.

    I wish all of you many more safe travels!!! 😉

    Lep pozdrav iz Slovenije!

      Thanks so much for the great comment, Mataj! And thanks, too, for the tip on when to spend some time in Ljubljana – I will definitely keep that advice in mind for next time!

      I’m glad you feel like I was able to capture your city and country well in this post! 🙂

    Like so many others, this was not on my “list” but now is, for sure. Photos are great, too. Happy Thanksgiving!

    I’ve actually never thought of visiting Ljubljana and now it seems that I’m really missing out. I can assure you this is going on my ‘to visit’ list.
    I was wondering: how are prices over there?

      If you ask me, you are definitely missing out! 🙂

      As for prices, Slovenia IS on the Euro. Because of that, it’s not super cheap – but it’s far less expensive than Western European cities!

        I thought about going to Romania but Slovenia sounds great although more expensive. How much should I expect to spend a day (hostels or cheap room on Airbnb, food, transportation.) I am a 53-year old, woman planning to go for 2 weeks at the end of June. Also, leaving from Montreal, is it worthed to fly to Italy (Venice) or Croatia (Zagreb) to safe money?

          Slovenia is indeed wonderful! It will be more expensive than Romania, yes, but still much cheaper than some other parts of Europe! It’s been a few years since I was there, so prices may have changed a bit. But hostels usually run $15-$30 per night, and a quick search shows Airbnb rentals in Ljubljana for around $60 per night on average. As for where you should fly to, I have no idea – I would do some flight searches to see if you can save some money! If you do fly into Zagreb, you can get to Ljubljana easily by train.

    Yes I would love to go there, on account of the blogs which have featured it over the last few months. And a year or so ago I don’t think I’d heard of Ljubljana! (Though I still can’t say I know for sure how it’s pronounced!)

      Well if you hadn’t heard of it a year ago but have been hearing about it a lot lately, then we are doing something right! 🙂

      (And it’s pronounced “loob-lee-ana” more or less.)

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