Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia is nestled between Italy, Croatia and Austria and has been rising in popularity over the last couple of years. Mainly due to the instagram affect and its proximity to Lake Bled. However, mass tourism hasn’t hit this pocket of Europe just yet, and many people are still unsure about what this city has to offer. So I’m going to break down what I think Ljubljana has to offer, based on my experience of travelling there in early spring, and hopefully answer what many people have asked me….is Ljubljana worth visiting?
The day I arrived in Ljubljana I think I tweeted “OMG this place is so beautiful, I could cry”. I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but it really was a jaw dropping moment. The most charming part of the city centers around the river and the old town, with the almost Disney-esque castle on the hill as the back drop. If I could compare it to anywhere, it would be like Vienna, which as Ljubljana was developed under Viennese secession makes perfect sense. Much of the old town, including the iconic Dragon Bridge, were created in the Art Nouveau style. While the castle, which was built in the 11th century features some of the best medieval architecture around. Outside of the old town there is plenty of Soviet style grey concrete slab apartment buildings, which aren’t exactly pretty but any architecture and history buffs will probably find very interesting.
I wouldn’t call Ljubjana a party city, but they do have a lot of great bars. People spill onto the streets from the numerous café bars and high-end cocktail bars that line the river, such as Kolibri. Head to one of the British style pubs like the Cutty Sark for something a bit more relaxed. Ljubljanan’s are a pretty sophisticated bunch though, so even the dive bars seem quiet high end, even though the drinks prices are very reasonable.
One of the first things I look at when planning a trip to a new place is “what’s the food like?” Yeah, beautiful nature and interesting history is all very nice, but what’s the scran like? Lol. Luckily the food in Ljubljana is pretty epic. Of course, you can get all the usual foods that you get in most cities like sushi, noodles, McDonalds, pizza etc., but the local cuisine is to die for. Because of Slovenia’s close proximity to Italy there is lots of Italian culinary influence: pasta, gnocchi, risotto and amazing breads, cheese and gelato. My favourite meal in Ljubljana was in a traditional restaurant on Stari trg called Julija. Where I had local cheese dumplings in a mushroom and truffle sauce with a basket of fresh bread which you dip into pumpkin seed oil (very Slovenian!), followed by Slovenian style Panna cotta and washed down with a crisp local white wine. I’m salivating just thinking about it!
Slovenians are the nicest people. Everyone I met was happy, smiling, helpful and very keen to talk about their city and country. The level of English spoken is also very high in Ljubljana, so it’s really easy to communicate with everyone. Everyone I met from bus drivers to shop and restaurant workers, hotel receptionists and market stall holders were all really charming. I was even offered a rose in the main square as it was International Women’s Day, which gave me all the feels.
Things to do
Head up to the dreamy castle on the hill and get the most spectacular view of the city, you can get a little cable car up there or walk. Once there, they have a self-guided audio tour, plus loads of exhibitions and cafes, plenty to keep you entertained for at least half a day. Back down in the town there are multiple river cruises, I can highly recommend the sunset champagne cruise! Plus, there are a number of free walking tours that meet at the famous “Triple Bridge” every day which is well worth doing so you can learn more about the history of Ljubljana. However, the number one reason many visitors come to Slovenia is to visit Lake Bled, which is just a one-hour bus ride out of the city. The bus station is opposite the train station, and you can buy your tickets for the bus, plus castle entry and boat ride to the little island in the middle of the lake before you board the bus. Be warned that the bus home can get VERY busy even in low season, so don’t leave it till the last bus of the day to return to the city or you might get stranded!
Ljubljana is pretty cheap, especially for the quality and standard of food and accommodation. I did find touristy things like the castle entry, boat tour and Lake Bled tour a bit on the pricey side though. But to me I felt like Slovenia in general was a really inexpensive place…like Switzerland but without the eye watering price tag. Here are a few costs so you can decide for yourself.
Coffee = €1
Glass of wine = €2
Main dish in a restaurant = €7
Pastry from a bakery = €1
Mid-range Double room = €40 per night
Return bus to Lake Bled = €13
Castle entry with guided tour and funicular ride €15
Ljubljana was named the greenest city in Europe in 2016! Cars have been banned in the city centre, and instead everyone walks or gets around town on bicycle. They have a bicycle hire scheme, so you can pick up a bike too if you visit. Plastic bags are also banned, meaning that Ljubljana is just a really nice, clean and enjoyable place to visit by public transport.
So, Is Ljubljana worth visiting?
In a nutshell, Ljubljana is worth visiting. I really don’t have a bad word to say about it. It’s perfect for a long weekend away or combined with a trip to any of the surrounding countries of Italy, Croatia, Austria and Hungary.
How to get there
There aren’t a tonne of direct flights to Ljubljana unless you’re travelling from London, Paris or Zurich, basically another European capital. However, Slovenia is a tiny country and Ljubljana is really well connected to surrounding countries by public transport. I arrived by bus from Budapest and then headed to Venice afterwards, which was incredibly easy using Flixbus. Flixbus operate all over Europe and are cheap and comfortable, with free WIFI and power outlets onboard. You just download the app and buy tickets on your phone and show the QR code to the driver, so easy! It’s around a 3hr journey from Venice to Ljubljana, 2hrs from Zagreb, 4hrs from Vienna or 4,5hrs from Munich.
Where to stay
Staying in the Old town around the river is where you ideally want to be for easy access to all the tourist attractions, restaurants and night life. There are plenty of options for all budgets, including loads of backpacker hostels, Airbnb’s, guest houses and hotels. I stayed in Kva Hostel, which is in a beautiful old building directly on the river. I stayed in a private room with double bed and private balcony for £35 per night. The room was big, really comfortable and included a self-serve breakfast in the communal kitchen/dining room. Communal spaces are ideal for meeting fellow travelers, which is why I love staying in hostels even if I do choose the comfort and privacy of a private double room.
Do you think Ljubljana is worth visiting? have you been before and would recommend it?