Nestled in a picturesque valley surrounded by hills, Ljubljana is often described as one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Ljubljana’s small size and pedestrian-friendly layout make it an easy city to explore on foot or by bike. No cars are allowed in the city center after 10 a.m. daily. There’s plenty to do in town and its central location makes for great day trips to nearby lakes and national parks. No trip to Slovenia would be complete without a visit to the picturesque landscapes Lake Bled, the former summer playground of the infamous dictator Tito. Today it is a popular vacation spot for Slovenes and tourists, less than an hour from Ljubljana.
To see and do
Start with a funicular ride to Ljubljana Castle. Perched on a hill overlooking the town, the castle offers a fantastic vantage point for panoramic views of the town and the surrounding Alps. The heart of Ljubljana is its easily walkable Old Town, on either side of the Ljubljanica River, with colorful baroque buildings, lively squares, numerous bridges and riverside cafes. A leisurely boat ride or stroll along the river banks is a wonderful way to enjoy the beauty of the city. Don’t miss the Dragon Bridge, considered the most beautiful bridge produced by the Viennese Secession. The remarkable dragon sculptures on the bridge refer to the legend that the mythological Jason was the founder of Ljubljana and that he and his Argonauts killed a dragon there.
For culture enthusiasts who want to learn more about Slovenian history and art, there are several museums and galleries, including the National Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art and the Ljubljana City Museum. And don’t miss Cukrarna contemporary gallery which dates from 1828, when it was a sugar refinery and the largest building in the city. The impressive warehouse space now hosts temporary art exhibitions from local and international artists.
Tivoli Castle, in Tivoli Park, which houses the International Center for Graphic Arts, is one of the venues for the 35th edition of the Ljubljana Graphic Arts Biennaleuntil January 14, 2024. The biennial, entitled From the void came the gifts of the cosmos, includes site-specific commissions located in other locations, including Cukrarna and MGLC Švicarija. Founded in 1955, during the Cold War, the Ljubljana Graphic Arts Biennial has always had an internationalist spirit. Since its inception, it has invited participants from the non-aligned partner countries of Africa and Asia, as well as artists from the Soviet Union and the West.
This year’s Biennale, led by Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama, looks at how visual culture, its dissemination and circulation have created spaces that transcend borders. The fascinating history of post-independence Ghana, the former Yugoslavia and Poland is a recurring theme in some of the exhibitions. Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, was a strong supporter of the arts. An exhibition presents a reproduction of a sculpture made in 1965 by Polish artist Alina Slesinska for a Ghanaian coastal town, it is a monument dedicated to President Nkrumah. The monument was destroyed a year later in a CIA-backed coup that removed the president from power. Elsewhere, Slovenian artist Tjasa Rener’s installation, The Place We Call Home, reveals the forgotten stories of students and professionals who left Ghana for Ljubljana in the 1960s.
The annual Ljubljana Fashion Week is open to the public, so if you visit in the fall during Ljubljana Fashion Weekyou will enjoy the catwalks which constitute a brilliant showcase of established and emerging Slovenian designers.
Ljubljana’s Central Market is a great place to taste fresh produce, local cheeses and artisan products. There are also plenty of cafes to grab a snack or drink.
Further afield: Day trips
Day trips from Ljubljana to Lake Bled, Postojna Cave and Triglav National Park are easily achievable. Start at President Tito’s summer residence, Villa Bled, now a chic lakeside hotel. After seeing Tito’s Memorabilia, climb the steps to the waterfront and board a traditional pletna boat to cross the beautiful glacial lake to the island of Bled with the Church of the Assumption of Marie and Bled Castle on top of a hill.
Visitors can hike up to the castle or spend the day strolling around the lake. Bled Castle offers fantastic views of the lake and a fascinating museum on Slovenian history and artifacts like those dating back 60,000 years. Neanderthal flutethe oldest recorded musical instrument in the world.
Where to eat
Ljubljana’s culinary scene is varied and interesting, from traditional Slovenian dishes served in cozy local restaurants to its emerging, modern gastronomic scene.
Club Pen, in a 19th century villa near the opera, is the former meeting place of writers and intellectuals. Today it is a trendy restaurant spread over three rooms, yellow, blue and white, with original artwork and delicious food. Award-winning chef Igor Jagodic and Mojmir Šiftar offer four-, six- or eight-course tasting menus including unusual dishes like scallops with chestnut cream and black garlic and roasted cauliflower soup with mussels. The violet cream dessert is not only a must but also delicious.
Lana’s corneris a relaxed and welcoming bistro offering excellent pizzas and an outdoor terrace, right in the heart of the city.
Kavarna Rog is a trendy cafe with great food and a great atmosphere near the new cultural center, Center Rog, on the river. It’s a great place for lunch, with excellent salads and burgers as well as a fantastic selection of cakes (the baked cheesecake is amazing.)
For vegan travelers, Grashka Deli in the new Rog Center is a good choice. For carnivore enthusiasts, Sarajevo 1984 is a typical Bosnian “ćevabdžinica”, a café serving “ćevapčići” (mini sausage-shaped burgers) with “kajmak” (Balkan-style clotted cream) and “lepinja” (flatbread), as well as a choice of Bosnian “burek”. pastries and other delicacies typically served in Sarajevo. Decorated in the authentic style of the Bosnian capital’s cafés, Sarajevo ’84 vividly evokes the nostalgic atmosphere of the city of the same name.
Where to stay
THE Grand Union Hotell in the heart of the old town has lots of character and a fantastic location. The hotel dates back to 1905 and features sumptuous Art Nouveau architecture while offering all the modern comforts you would expect from a four-star hotel.
Further on, on the outskirts of the town, among the pine trees, lies the calm Four Points by Sheraton with spacious and comfortable rooms and a beautiful swimming pool with bay windows opening onto a grassy terrace. If you’re planning to explore Slovenia by car, this four-star hotel is an ideal starting point.