Ljubljana – pretty, green and must be seen


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Hard to pronounce but easy to fall in love with, Slovenia’s tiny capital means ‘beloved’ in the local lingo. Find out what’s so special about this exotic sounding Central European beauty.

On my mini-tour of Slovenia, I fell head over heels in love with the chicken-shaped country’s mountains, lakes and rivers. The natural wonders are so drop-dead gorgeous you might forget how perfect charming Ljubljana is, with its baroque architecture, cobbled streets and riverside setting.

Slovenia or a chicken? Photo credit www.broadsheet.ie

Slovenia or a chicken? Image credit http://www.broadsheet.ie

With a population of 275,000 – about the same as Walsall – Ljubljana is one of the smaller capital cities you will find. It’s also one of the greenest in both senses of the word. Most of the centre is car-free, while there are plenty of trees and grassy areas alongside the emerald green Ljubljanica River, which meanders through the centre.

It’s the only place I’ve been to where I’ve not ran around like a blue-arsed fly, trying to see the sights as quickly as possible. I got infected by the city’s laid-back vibe and was happy to make the most of the café-culture.

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As a result, I didn’t see anything of Tivoli park and zoo, the Metelkova alternative area or the quirky attractions you might expect from abitofculture. I didn’t even realise there was a nice town hall and cathedral until I read about them when I’d got home.

Instead, I enjoyed the al fresco life, spending three days sitting outside pavement and riverside bars and coffee shops, as well as seeing Ljubljana’s big three:

1. Castle

Like many Central and Eastern European cities, Ljubljana is dominated by a castle on a hill. This particular hill is very steep and very green – we walked there and back, but probably would have taken the glass-cubed funicular if we’d have been able to find it.

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There are fabulous views from the viewing platform at the top of the castle’s tower, but the best view in the city is of the castle itself lit up at night from a riverside bar.

2. Bridges

I do like a good bridge – if you do too, you’re in the right town with three of Europe’s more characterful crossings within a half-mile stroll of each other.

i. Cobbler Bridge

In medieval times, shoemakers made this bridge their home, living and working here to exploit the passing trade and to avoid paying city taxes. With its tall columns and balustrades, this elegant footbridge crosses the river at one of its narrowest points.

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ii. Triple Bridge

Just as Antoni Gaudí shaped Barcelona, local architect Jože Plečnik’s work dominates Ljubljana, and the Triple Bridge is his most celebrated creation. Crossing the river into Prešeren trg, the city’s focal point and most beautiful square, Plečnik put two side footbridges next to an existing road-bridge and decorated all three with ornate stone balustrades. Nowadays, the whole bridge is for pedestrians only, and rivals Prague’s Charles Bridge for being one of the busiest and most photographed bridges in Europe.

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iii. Dragon Bridge

This road-bridge opened in 1901 and is a little way out of the centre, but doesn’t take long to find and is well worth seeing. According to legend, Jason and his Argonauts slayed a dragon on the banks of the Ljubljanica after stealing the Golden Fleece, and the dragon is now the symbol of Ljubljana. There are four scary looking green dragons on the bridge’s corners to mark this myth.

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3. River cruise

In a city without many ‘must do’ attractions, a boat cruise up and down the Ljubljanica River stands out as a way to get your bearings, see the sleepy suburbs and appreciate just how tiny the place is. Barely a river, it looks more like an Amsterdam canal – you could almost jump across it at times. Glass covered boats are moored downstream from Triple Bridge, and for a few euros you’ll get a relaxing multi-lingual guided tour.

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So what of that café culture? Although my trip was in 2009, two places stood out enough for me to remember them.

Cacao (Petkovškovo nabrežje 3; http://cacao.si/en) has seats by the water’s edge directly facing the castle, and specialises in scrumptious chocolate cakes and drinks. And being married to a cat-lover, I was never going to be allowed to avoid Maček (Krojaška ulica 5; http://sobe-macek.si/en/macek) – a popular café bar with a massive outdoor area in the best location in town. Maček is Slovenian for cat, so the walls are decorated with paintings of felines in various poses, while our wine glasses had cute cat logos emblazoned on them.

Getting there

There are direct flights to Ljubljana from Stansted (easyJet) and Luton (Wizzair). Alternatively, do what we did – fly into Trieste in northern Italy and take the two-hour bus ride over the border (timetable here). If it wasn’t such a chore to get to for non-Londoners, I’d go every weekend.

Daytrips

Ljubljana is located inland and is a good base from which to see the rest of Slovenia. Don’t pass on the chance to see Lake Bled, the single most gorgeous place on the planet – an eighty minute bus ride away (timetable here), the amazing Vintgar Gorge (the Grand Canyon of Slovenia) or the country’s 46km stretch of Adriatic coastline.

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Categories: SloveniaTags: , ,

43 comments

  1. It is also the wettest capital in Europe. Thanks for the memory nudge!

  2. Have long been wanting to go to Slovenia and Ljubljana. You’ve just made sure it stays on the must do list. Love the chicken!

  3. Looks incredible.So many places to visit, so little time and money!

  4. Ljubljana is amazing! To be honest, I had no real expectations for the city, mostly because of it’s small size. Thought a day or two would be enough. But I LOVED the city. We were there on a friday, where we went to the big food market (definitely recommendable), with a lot of different Slovenia food and drink stores. Then we took our food with us to the castle, and sat there with our food and wine and looked at Ljubljana. Such an underrated city.

  5. Ljubljana is one of my favorite cities, with great Art Nouveau architecture, that fantastic Triple Bridge, and some surprisingly excellent food. Great place!

  6. It’s a lovely town, yes! But Maribor is even greener:)

  7. Wish you’d stop reminding me of places I want to go! In my book this tops Bratislava, though I’ve not been to either. That hill does look on the steep side! Good for the thighs 🙂

  8. We visited this area almost 50 year ago, in 1967, when it was still part of the former Yugoslavia. If you are ever in the area again I would recommend a trip to the Postojna Caves. Living in Derbyshire we have impressive caves in our own area but Postojna Caves are certainly the most impressive caves I have ever visited. The area was beautiful then and certainly your pictures , especially of Lake Bled, show little has changed in those years.

  9. One of my favorite cities ever. I did write a post on it, but I try to keep it a semi-secret because I don’t want it to change and get packed with tourists! I’d love to go back.

  10. Also just done a post on this amazing city 🙂 great blog! X

  11. I’m so keen to get out to Slovenia – it was a ‘not quite’ last year and I’m trying to find a spot for it this year with a bit of Lake Bled thrown in too!

  12. I love that dragon picture especially. Nice pictures!

  13. Haha big fan of the title! Cobbler bridge looks gorgeous, really need to see this city and then onwards to Lake Bled!

  14. Ljubljana really is a beautiful city 🙂

  15. Oh, how lovely. I worked in the city for a few days some years ago and have always meant to go back. I did get too visit those caves and agree they are fantastic but I seem to remember the lack of ANY health and safety….unlike the pristine Cheddar caves close to home. I also went to Lake Bled – beautiful and ate at the most amazing places – goodness knows where! I’m putting it right back on my travel list….

  16. Wow! Someday I will be there! 😉 thanks for sharing!

  17. Sometimes a relaxing, al fresco trip is just what you need! I’m quite keen on getting to Ljubljana and Lake Bled. They look beautiful and unexplored and I think it is the perfect place to wander around without rushing to see the sights!

  18. Thanks for the memories. I loved Ljubljana too. Such a pretty place and I agree the mountains and lakes of Slovenia make it one of the best countries in all of Europe to visit. The city has lovely and unique architecture, like the dragon bridge. I remember spending most of my time hanging around in the cafes too.

  19. Looks beautiful! I am passing by Slovenia and most probably stopping in Ljubljana there this summer on a roadtrip from Poland. 🙂

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