Slovenia

The Best Things To Do in Ljubljana Slovenia

I don’t think that Ljubljana is the first city that comes to most people’s minds when asked to list the great capital cities of Europe. But I’ve visited Ljubljana twice now, and it’s become one of my favorite places. A compact and historic town center, featuring a hilltop medieval castle and a tree-lined riverside promenade. An amazing collection of restaurants and cafes. Some unique sites that you won’t find just anywhere. And easy access to the rest of Slovenia – one of the most breathtakingly beautiful countries I’ve ever visited. What’s not to love? Let me show you some of the very best things to do in Ljubljana.

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Soak Up the Historic Town Center

Buildings in Old Town Ljubljana Slovenia with Ljubljana Castle in the background

Yep! Old Town Ljlubljana looks like that! So scenic!

Ljubljana’s Old Town is not large. A handful of streets at the base of a hill – a hill topped with a castle. The Ljubljanica River runs right through the center, dividing Old Town in half. A mix of classic Baroque and Viennese-style buildings. Streets lined with shops and cafes and restaurants. Always full of life…

A busy pedestrian in street in Old Town Ljubljana Slovenia

A street corner in Old Town Ljubljana

A view of Ljubljana Castle from Old Town below

So then obviously, one of the very best things to do in Ljubljana is just wander around Old Town. It’s small and compact, and you can easily see it all in a matter of hours.

But I would also recommend that you find your lodging in Old Town – so that you can soak up its ambience every single day you are there. We stayed at this great Airbnb just two blocks from the river during our most recent visit. We could walk straight out our door for regular access to all of this Old World ambience.

Enjoy The River Walk

I mentioned the river running through Old Town. Look at this……

A boat traveling down the Ljubljanica River in the center of Old Town Ljubljana

Again, Ljubljana is such a pretty place!

And strolling the riverside promenade that follows along the both sides of the river is another one of the best things to do in Ljubljana. The river is lined with trees and surrounded by picturesque buildings, and you’ll find plenty of places to sit and take it all in.

A view down the Ljubljanic River towards Ljubljana's 17th century Franciscan Church

You’ll also find a line-up of restaurants and cafes along these promenades. They always seemed to be some of the most popular places to hang out in all of Ljubljana.

Restaurants lining the Ljulbjanica River in Ljubljana Slovenia

And then of course, wherever there’s a river, you’ll find bridges. One of the most famous is the Triple Bridge. It was originally constructed in the mid 1800s as a single bridge. But it became such an important and popular thoroughfare, it required expansion by the end of that century. Rather than reconstruct it, Slovenia’s most revered architect, a man named Jože Plečnik, simply added another pedestrian-only bridge on each side of the original. A Triple Bridge.

The Triple Bridge in Ljubljana Slovenia

Another famous bridge that crosses the Ljubljanica River is the Dragon Bridge. It’s considered one of the finest Art Nouveau style bridges in all of Europe. And from this bridge you have views of the castle, the spires of Ljubljana’s Cathedral, and another important building designed by Jože Plečnik – the Ljubljana Central Market. In fact, this historic indoor market stretches along the river, from The Triple Bridge on one end, to the Dragon Bridge on the other.

A view of several Ljubljana landmarks from the Dragon Bridge

Hunt For Dragons

Here’s another photo from the Dragon Bridge. In fact, this is why it’s called the Dragon Bridge. A dragon statue sits on a pedestal at each of the bridge’s four corners.

A dragon sitting atop Ljubljana's Dragon Bridge

The dragon is an important symbol in Ljubljana, and Ljubljana is sometimes referred to as the City of Dragons. Legend has it that the ancient Greek hero Jason (and his Argonauts) killed a dragon just outside of Ljubljana on his way home to Greece with the Golden Fleece. Then in the Middle Ages, Ljubljana’s medieval coat of arms bore a dragon symbol. And now in modern times, you’ll find dragons on this Dragon Bridge, on top of the Castle tower, on tourist T-shirts, and elsewhere throughout the city.

Even on the sewer covers…..

A dragon atop a castle on Ljubljana's sewer covers

Another of the best things to do in Ljubljana is go dragon hunting at Ljubljana Castle.

When you visit Ljubljana Castle, you’ll discover that there are a few different castle admission options. One of these is an “escape room” option called Escape Castle. This is how we chose to see the castle.

The Escape Castle game board at Ljubljana Castle

We were given a series of 5 challenges that took us to various parts of the castle complex. At each location, we learned a little about the castle’s history while we also solved a series of clues. The ultimate goal was to locate and “rescue” a dragon from somewhere inside the castle within an hour.

You can tour the castle without playing Escape Castle, but it only cost a few Euros more than general admission, and actually turned out to be quite fun and challenging. I’d definitely recommend it.

(Important Note – be sure to reserve an Escape Castle time at the ticket booth located at the base of the castle hill funicular. You can also email a reservation request through the castle’s website.)

Take In the Views

No matter which type of castle admission you purchase, you’ll definitely want to climb to the top of the castle tower for views out across Ljubljana.

A view out across Ljubljana Slovenia from atop the Ljubljana castle tower

But checking out a lesser known viewpoint is another of the many great things to do in Ljubljana. I think it’s a better view than atop the castle tower. It’s from atop a building called The Skyscraper. We were first introduced to this view while on a food tour, the first time we visited Ljubljana 5 years ago. It was the final stop of the tour.

The Skyscraper is the actual English translation of the building’s name. At the time it was constructed in 1933, it was the tallest building in the Balkans. By today’s standards though, the name is pretty funny. The building is only 13 stories tall.

A Ljubljana city streeet that includes The Skyscraper

On the top few floors of this 1930s high-rise, you’ll find a restaurant and bar. And as you enjoy your food or drink, you can also enjoy perhaps the best view in Ljubljana.

A view across Ljubljana from atop the Skyscraper

Eat!

No matter where I travel, I consider eating the local cuisine one of the best things to do, and eating in Ljubljana is no exception. As I mentioned before, the river is lined with restaurants and cafes, and plates of high quality charcuterie seemed to be a popular riverside menu option in many of these. This is a plate from a small wine bar called Ala Pršuterija, not far from the Triple Bridge.

A charcuterie board from Ala Pršuterija - a wine bar in Ljubljana next to the Ljubljanica River

A great place to try some traditional Slovenian fare is at a restaurant called Druga Violina. This is where I ate the dish picture below – a dish called Idrisjksi Žlikrofi. It’s a potato-stuffed pasta, and my version was topped with mushrooms and sour cream. We first learned about both this restaurant and this dish during that food tour I referenced above (and I do recommend the tour – here’s a link). We also learned that Druga Violina prioritizes hiring staff members with special needs.

A plate of mushroom topped  Idrisjksi Žlikrofi at Durga Violina in Ljubljana Slovenia

And this is Gibanica…

A plate with the Slovenia dessert called Gibanica from a cafe called Slaščičarna pri vodnjaku in Ljubljana

Gibanica is one of Slovenia’s most beloved desserts. It’s a layered caked with alternating fillings of cheese, poppyseeds, apples, and walnuts. You’ll see it everywhere in Ljubljana and yes, it’s as delicious as it looks (though not as sweet as I expected). This version was from a small cafe directly across the street from Druga Violina called Slaščičarna pri vodnjaku.

Spend Friday Night in an Open Kitchen

A great way to sample several types of Slovenian cuisine is at a weekly outdoor food fair called Oopata Kuhna (Open Kitchen). In one of Old Town’s largest squares, many of Slovenia’s top eateries dish out some of their favorite menu items from rows of open-air stalls. It happens every Friday night from mid-Spring to mid-Fall, and is a one of the best things to do in Ljubljana when kicking off the weekend.

A view of an aisle of outdoor food stalls at Oopata Kuhna in Ljubljana

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t discover Oopata Kuhna until after we’d already eaten dinner on our only Friday night in Ljubljana. However, that didn’t keep me from seeking out dessert.

I ultimately settled on a stall selling Kaiserschmarrn. This is a dessert that originated in nearby Austria, but is popular throughout Central Europe. It’s a thick sweetened pancake that’s cut up and scrambled into many smaller pieces.

A vendor cuts up a big pan of  Kaiserschmarrn at Oopata Kuhna in Ljubljana

And then served with various toppings. I chose a berry compote and applesauce. Pretty tasty.

A container of  Kaiserschmarrn topped with berry compote at Oopata Kuhna in Ljubljana

Oopata Kuhna has a website which is a great resource for discovering opening dates and a list of vendors.

Go To Market

And Oopata Kuhna isn’t the only open air food-centric event held in Ljubljana. In fact, on every single day of the week except Sunday, you’ll find a huge outdoor market adjacent to Plečnik’s Indoor Market near the river. It’s called the Central Market and occurs year round. It’s huge – covering two adjacent town squares, the indoor market, and several spaces in between.

Tables and stalls set up at Ljubljana's Central Market

You’ll find all kinds of things at the Central Market. Fresh produce, housewares, food stalls, local crafts, souvenirs, and lots of people watching.

Produce vendors at Ljubljana's Central Market

Go To Church

After you visit Central Market, you’ll also want to step inside the nearby Ljubljana Cathedral – also known as St Nicholas’s Church. In keeping with the compact design of Ljubljana’s historic center, this early 18th century Baroque Cathedral is squeezed in along one of Old Town’s main thoroughfares.

A view of Ljubljana Cathedral from one of Old Town's streets

Inside, you’ll find all the opulent decor you would expect to find in a classic Baroque church. While not nearly as big as many of the Cathedrals you’ll find in other European capital cities, it’s still definitely worth a quick stop.

Inside Ljubljana Cathedral

Learn About Yugoslavia

In my opinion, one of the best and also most important things to do in Ljubljana is learn about Slovenia’s Communist history. One of the best ways to do this is via the Ljubljana Communist Tour. This inexpensive three-hour walking tour will show you a completely different side of the city.

Participants walk through a city square while taking the Ljubljana Communist Walking Tour

Before declaring its independence in 1991, Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia throughout a big chunk of the 20th century. While on this tour you’ll learn all about the formation of Communist Yugoslavia after WW2, its authoritarian leader Josip Tito, what life was like during this regime, and some of the factors that led to its dissolution.

(We found all this history especially useful since we also spent time in two other former Yugoslavian countries during this same trip – visiting both Dubrovnik Croatia and Kotor Montenegro.)

You’ll also learn about many important sites that were key parts of Ljubljana’s Communist history. This gives you a good chance to see Ljubljana outside of Old Town.

The Twin buildings at Ljubljana's Republic Square

Communist era sculpture on the facade of Slovenia's National Assembly Building in Ljubljana

Visit the Not Quite Legal Metelkova

Metelkova is a former army barracks located not far from the central train station. It was originally built by the Austro-Hungarian Empire back in the late 19th century, and then subsequently used by the Yugoslavian Army. After Slovenia declared its independence, the barracks were abandoned. Shortly thereafter, counterculture squatters moved in and established their own autonomous community named the Metelkova City Autonomous Cultural Centre.

Thirty years later, Metelkova still has no official legal recognition by the city of Ljubljana, and functions autonomously with the Slovenian government basically looking the other way. Visiting Metelkova is certainly one of the more unique things to do in Ljubljana.

Street art covering buildings within Ljubljana's Metelkova section of town

I walked through Metelkova one afternoon while we were awaiting a train connection back to Vienna. It’s a quiet place during the day. Mostly a few tourists walking through and photographing the former barracks which are all now completely covered in colorful graffiti and street art.

An empty outdoor cafe in Metelkova

Nighttime is when Metelkova comes to life. Its clubs and bars open up, and it’s the go-to destination in town for counterculture theater and concerts.

Get Out of Town

As Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana is well-connected to the rest of the country. Consequently, it’s pretty easy to take some great day trips from Ljubljana. In fact, I think that one of the very best things to do in Ljubljana is leave and visit Lake Bled. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

A scenic view of Lake Bled, Lake Bled Island, it's church and Bled Castle with the Julian Alps in the background

When you go, you’ll discover a crystal blue lake, an iconic island church, a hilltop castle, all surrounded by the Julian Alps. 

Lake Bled will always be the most special place on earth for Mrs. TT and I. We chose to have our wedding at Lake Bled a few years back. And we returned on this trip as well, hoping to finally ride a historic pletna boat to Lake Bled Island, so we could ring the church’s wishing bell – a tradition that bad weather denied us on our wedding day.

Honestly, Lake Bled is worth much more than a day trip. But if you only have a short time in your Slovenia itinerary, still be sure to go. Even if for only a day. It only takes 40 minutes by car or shuttle from Ljubljana. Plus there are multiple train and bus departures between the two cities daily, which take only a little longer. You can even find an organized tour with transportation included if you prefer – like this one on Viator.

Another great day trip from Ljubljana is visiting what is considered the best preserved medieval village in all of Slovenia. It too is only about 40 minutes away. In fact, I’ve written a post all about taking a day trip from Ljubljana to scenic Škofja Loka. So check it out to learn more about this beautiful little town.

A full view of Škofja Loka Slovenia

Final Thoughts

Now it should be clear why I love this city so much. And my own list of the best things to do in Ljubljana aren’t all you’ll find. VisitLjubljana.com is another useful resource to discover even more great things to do in this great city. Happy Travels!

If you want to learn about great things to do in other places we’ve visited, then check out these posts

Things To Do in Paros Greece – The Greek Islands at their Best

11 Photos That Will Convince You to Visit Buenos Aires

Some Great Things To Do in St Croix USVI

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