Top Things To Do On A Weekend in Ljubljana
Exploring Ljubljana – City of Dragons
If you’ve not yet visited Ljubljana, it is definitely a city to put on your bucket list! This pocket sized capital of Slovenia has so much to offer. During the past couple of months I’ve been lucky enough to visit it twice (you can read all about my experiences at Lake Bled here) and each time I have been totally enthralled! It boasts wonderful gastronomy, stunning architecture (you really can find everything from baroque, medieval to art nouveau and socialism), many pedestrianized streets and squares, leafy parks, interesting museums and boat rides down the Ljublanica river.
It’s also extremely clean and ideal for walking round on foot. Even if like me you have a terrible sense of direction, it’s almost impossible to get lost.
What’s more the city has a very interesting history. For decades it was a regional capital and part of the socialist state of Yugoslavia, but under Tito never actually joined the Soviet Union. The people are friendly and helpful and most speak English.
The Legacy of Joze Plecnik
Everywhere you go there are reminders of Joze Plecnik, the celebrated architect who transformed the buildings and the total look and feel of the city. He redesigned the river banks, created the unique structure of the Triple Bridge and also worked his magic on the National University Library as well as so many other notable buildings.
Ljubljana – City of Dragons
Another thing you can’t miss in Ljubljana is the presence of dragons. There is the Dragon Bridge, a multitude of dragon statues and they even used to have a dragon adorning the medieval coat of arms.
According to legend, Ljubljana was founded by Jason and the Argonauts. On his travels he stopped at a large lake near the source of the Ljubljanica River where he came upon a dragon which he fought, defeated and killed. Today, however, the dragon is seen as a protector of the city embodying power, courage and wisdom. Dragons are of course a very popular souvenir and the Tourism Office and the market are both brimming with them!
A Walkable City with Great Public Transport
There is a good public transport system – and even an electric taxi-bus service – but most of the time you can easily explore on foot, or you could do whatever we did and rent take one of guided bike tours offered by the Tourism Office in the marketplace square. Whether you visit for a week or a weekend away, I can highly recommend the suggestions below for top things to do.
Take A Stroll Through the City On Foot
Ljubljana’s Old Town is full of pretty squares with gorgeous baroque, art nouveau and medieval buildings. We were staying at the Union Hotel, itself an Art Deco icon, and just along from the hotel towards the bridge you pass umpteen beautiful buildings.
Grand Union Hotel above
Across from the bridge and turning right we found more impressive squares along with lots of shops, cafés, bars and restaurants. In fact it’s a joy to just to stroll along and discover something new around every corner.
We walked along Presernov Trg, Mestni Trg, Stari Trg and really enjoyed the beautiful architecture, the quaint shops and cafes and the pretty colours.
Later on Saturday evening, as we walked back to our hotel there were still people chatting and laughing, grabbing an ice cream, enjoying one last drink in one of the outdoor restaurants.
Visit The Saturday Market
We arrived on a Friday and one of the highlights was exploring the Saturday Market in the main square the following morning.
It seemed as if everyone was out (we even spotted the President of the European Bank, Christine Lagarde, at the market) and the square was really buzzing. Samples of fresh local produce was offered at every turn, (do check out the local honey it is delicious), and there were stunning flowers, local crafts, and lots more.
All around there were pavement cafes with people happily catching up with one another and enjoying the weekend sunshine. We also explored the covered inside markets where we found the meat and fish as well as an impressive selection of cheese and baked goods. The market dates back to the 1940s and the building is again a legacy of architect Joze Plecnik.
Visit Ljubljana Castle
One of the sights visible from practically all over, is the 15th Century Ljubljana Castle. This fairytale castle is located on a clifftop offering impressive views over the city. You can either walk up, take the train or go by funicular. I took the glass funicular and at the top there is small park to walk around with stunning views as well as a terrace where you can sit down and enjoy a coffee along with a beautiful vista.
The castle also houses a museum with lots of historical objects from the city’s medieval past.
Photo by Alen Kosmač, Sidarta
There are a couple of on-site restaurants, Gostilna na Gradu and Strelec, which were highly recommended by our guide. Afterwards you may prefer to walk down the path into town. It doesn’t take long and once again you are rewarded by fabulous views on all sides.
For more information on Ljubljana Castle: Tel: 00 386 1 306 42 93 or https://www.ljubljanskigrad.si/en/
Take A River Cruise
A trip to Ljubljana isn’t complete without a river cruise. As you take to the water you view some stunning waterfront properties as well as many bridges including one with a glass floor.
The river cruises are a relaxing way of taking in the views and getting your bearings. There are plenty of river cruise operators to choose from and I highly recommend the one that I took with Ljubljanaica Boat Cruises which was on a handmade wooden boat. You can find out more information on the Ljubjanica boat cruise here. For more information or reservations: Tel: 00 386 41 386 945.
If you don’t fancy a river cruise you might like to go for a Stand Up Paddle-boarding tour along the river, weather permitting.
Dine Out In Style in Ljubljana
We were bowled over by the gastronomy in Ljubljana. From the delicious ice cream at Vigò to the Michelin starred restaurant Atelje, photo above, (where they serve a 3 course lunch for 28 euros or 2 courses for just 24 euros) it was fabulous. We also enjoyed terrace dining at the AS Aperitivo. I simply adored the cuisine at the wonderful Restavracija JB where we had just a simply fabulous dining experience and met the chef Jabez Bratovz. More photos and information coming soon in a separate article on Slovenian Gastronomy.
Atelje, Nazorjeva ulica 2, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia Tel: +386 1 308 19 07
AS Aperivito, Čopova ulica 5a, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia Tel: +386 1 425 41 68
Restavracija JB, Miklošičeva 17, Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenija, 1000 Tel: +386 1 433 13 58
Vigò Ice Cream, Mačkova ulica 2, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Street Food Festival
Weather permitting, every Friday from early Spring to late Autumn there is a street food festival at the Ljubljana marketplace in Pogačar Square in Ljubljana. We missed this – but from what I hear it is one of the top things to do in Ljubljana on Fridays – so it’s definitely on my list for next time!
Visit Tivoli Park
We cycled to Tivoli Park on a bike tour organised by the Ljubljana Tourism office just off the main square. However, it’s easily walkable from the city centre. It’s a beautiful oasis of greenery with public benches, little gardens, a pond with lily pads and a café and even a 17th-century mansion.
lt’s the largest park in Ljublana and was designed in 1813 by the French engineer Jean Blanchard. There are also running trails and fitness stations and it’s a lovely place to simply admire the beauty of nature and chill.
Whilst we were there we visited the Jakopič Promenade where there was an outdoor exhibition about food, with giant placards. This outdoor exhibition regularly changes and it is, of course, free.
The Nebotičnik «Skyscraper»
A fun place to go for a coffee is the Nebotičnik “skyscraper”. Built by Vladimir Šubic in 1933, inbetween the two World Wars, it was quite a phenomenon. It was the tallest building in the Balkans and the ninth tallest building in Europe when built, but is now dwarfed in height by many other office blocks.
It houses a very stylish interior and wooden staircase and it also has a lift, which again was a real innovation at the time.
There is also a wonderful outside terrace with views right across the city. Service was rather relaxed here, but the views were great!
Address: Štefanova ulica 1, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Metalka High Rise Building
Another high rise building worth seeing is Metalka. Architect Edo Mihevc, a student of Jože Plečnik, designed this iconic office building for a metal company. It was modelled on the Seagram Building in New York and the facade was designed by Branko Kraševac. This novel facade was a real talking point when it was built as the cladding was made of sheet aluminium and cast aluminium and at the time it symbolised the advanced technological progress of Slovenian architecture.
Explore Ljubljana’s Art Nouveau Quarter
There is lots of German art nouveau, or Jugendstil architecture in Ljubljana and the area around Miklosiceva is the key place to explore. You will find plenty of ornate façades, stunning rooftops and best of all the Co-operative Bank building – which is right opposite the Grand Union Hotel where we were staying.
The iconic Co-operative Bank Building Ljubljana
Our bike tour of the city took us past some real gems and it was a great way to take in the character of the city.
For more information: Tel: 00 386 01 306 1215 or www.visitljubljana.com
Hippy Culture at Metelkova Mesto
We also visited Metelkova Mesto. It is a hippy type encampment and a leading centre of underground music and art. This urban squat occupies around 12,500 sq m in ironically what used to be an old military barracks. In its illegally occupied buildings, covid permitting, it hosts all types of events from street theatre and music concerts to disability workshops and LGBT nights.
Despite numerous attempts to have it closed down, it has still survived. It is a colourful area full of rebellious street art with bars and clubs and it even houses a hostel (like a prison cell!) which you can stay in! Personally, I was very happy to be staying in the Grand Union Hotel – but each to his own!
For more information: www.metelkovamesto.org
National Museum Of Slovenia
The National Museum of Slovenia (you can see the new part of the museum above) was highly recommend by our guide along with the Museum of Modern Art which focuses on 20th and 21st century Slovenian artists.
Hopefully this has whet your appetite for a trip to Ljubljana. As for me, I just can’t wait to visit this beautiful city once again!
How to get there
We flew Swiss / Helvetic on a direct flight from Zurich which takes just over an hour.
If you prefer to go by rail, you can also take the overnight train. The night train leaves Zurich at around 7.30pm in the evening and gets you to Ljubljana in time for breakfast.
Tours and Information
For general tourist information visit the Ljubljana Tourism website here
For more information on Ljubljana and Slovenia, please visit the Slovenian Tourism website here
Where To Stay
The hotel is very centrally located right in the middle of Ljubljana and is perfect for sightseeing. When it was built it was the largest and most modern grand hotel in Ljubljana.
Over the years it has hosted large numbers of prominent guests from the Queen of England and Prince Philip to Orson Welles, the Dalai Lama and Bill and Hilary Clinton to name but a few.
This brand new hotel (it opened in June 2021) is very close to Ljubljana airport and is located right next to a beautiful nature park and golf course. We also stayed here and really enjoyed exploring the beautiful parkland.
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