As one of Europe’s greenest cities, a city break in Ljubljana is a ‘must-do’ for those in the know. Read our guide to Slovenia’s capital to learn more.
Relatively speaking, only a handful of people think of a city break in Ljubljana when choosing a European city to visit. However, it is precisely because it is not as obvious a choice as cities like London, Paris, and Rome, that it is a ‘must-visit’ destination for those in the know.
Slovenia’s capital won the European Commission’s coveted Green Capital of Europe title in 2016. It is a city that is easily explorable by foot, thanks to its size and traffic restrictions in the centre. The Ljubljanica River flows through the heart of the city and its leafy banks are lined with cafés, bars, and restaurants. You will struggle to find a spot which is not suitable for sitting and watching the world go by.
Ljubljana is a truly beautiful city and this is largely due to the architectural genius of Jože Pučnik. Born in Ljubljana in 1872, he was educated in Austria and spent a decade renovating Prague Castle before beginning work on his home city in 1921. As a city planner and designer he transformed the city, combining elements from classical Greek and Roman architecture with ancient Egyptian influences and baroque.
Read on for ideas for what to do during a city break in Ljubljana.
What to Do
Explore the Old Town
Ljubljana’s Old Town, otherwise known as Staro Mesto, is on the banks of the river and comprises three squares: Mestni trg (Town Square), Stari trg (Old Square), and Gornji trg (Upper Square). Spending time wandering and getting lost amongst the cobbled streets is blissful.
Another square, Prešernov trg is the link between the Centre district and the Old Town and serves as the city’s favourite meeting point. Near the square is the famed Triple Bridge and the salmon façade of the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation. These are two of the most photographed features in Ljubljana, with good reason.
The bridge was originally a single span over the river, built in 1842. In 1929 and 1932 Jože Pučnik added two pedestrian side bridges, balustrades, and lamps, and the Triple Bridge gained its celebrated status. The Church dates from the 17thcentury and contains the remains of St. Deodatus in a glass-fronted coffin. A somewhat gruesome task is scrutinising the remains to make up your own mind about whether they are actually human.
Keep wandering along the banks of the river and you will soon see the magnificent sight of Ljubljana Castle atop Castle Hill. Along the banks of the river you will find many bars, restaurants, and cafés to people-watch and refresh yourself. After all, what is a city break without the opportunity for rest stops? If you have a sweet tooth head to Café Romeo for pancakes. However, be warned that reading the menu alone is enough to induce a sugar coma! With flavours including Ferrero Rocher, Raffaelo, and Toblerone, these pancakes are definitely for sharing. Trust us!
Visit Ljubljana Castle
Atop a 375-metre-high hill is Ljubljana Castle. Most of the castle dates to the 16th century when it was rebuilt following an earthquake. To get to the castle you can take the 70m-long funicular or, if you’re feeling more energetic, climb the hill via one of the three walking routes. If you have eaten a Café Romeo pancake make the most of the sugar rush and walk up. You won’t regret it, especially once the leg burn disappears, as the views are stunning. Although using the funicular in this situation is perfectly understandable, and possibly more sensible.
Once you have made it to the castle you can wander the grounds for free. Alternatively, if you want to see more you can pay to enter the Watchtower and St. George’s Chapel. The Chapel dates to 1489 and is one of the oldest surviving remains of the castle. There are guided tours or you can explore under your own steam. In a subterranean hall beneath the castle you will find the Ljubljana Castle Jazz Club, a unique live music venue. Concerts are held on Friday evenings and the ticket price includes the cost of the funicular.
Relax in Tivoli Park
Any city break worth its salt will include the opportunity to relax in beautiful green spaces and a city break in Ljubljana is no different. Tivoli Park is the city’s largest park, covering 510 hectares. Make the most of the space by walking or cycling, choosing from a myriad of pleasant spots to have a picnic. One of the highlights of the park is the Jakopič Promenade, designed by, you guessed it, Jože Pučnik. The Promenade leads to the Tivoli Mansion and is a popular space for photographic exhibitions.
Get Your Exercise Fix
Slovenia is a fantastic country for getting an exercise fix and the capital provides ample opportunities for the same. On the edge of Tivoli Park you will find the Kopališče Tivoli outdoor pool. When it was built in 1929 it was the most modern pool in Yugoslavia. We visited it whilst we were there (making the most of the warm weather) and whilst it is now somewhat dated, it is worth a visit. Another outdoor pool which is definitely worth a visit is the Kopališče Kolezija. This 50m pool dates back to 1878 and after falling into decay it reopened in 2015 following extensive renovation. Whether you are a serious swimmer or not, it’s tough to resist a fantastic facility such as this.
Forr ideas on how to use your annual leave to get even more time off for work for experiences like this read How To Maximise Your Annual Leave.
If you prefer an indoor pool, back in Tivoli Park you will find the Tivoli Recreation Centre run by Sport Ljubljana. The pool is open from mid-September to June. Alternatively (or additionally) if you fancy yourself a contender for Rafael Nadal’s clay court tennis crown you can get a practice in on the clay courts at this centre. Or perhaps you fancy using the roller-skating rink, which turns into an ice-skating rink in the winter.
Get Your Museum Fix
From the physical to the cerebral, Ljubljana is home to Slovenia’s most important museums. Visit the National Museum of Slovenia, the Slovenian Museum of Natural History, the National Gallery of Slovenia, and/or the Museum of Modern Art. All are found in the Museum Area which is a short distance from Trg Republike. Other museums in the capital include the Railway Museum, the museum at the Union Brewery, and the Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia. You are spoilt for choice for museums in Ljubljana!
Day Trips from Ljubljana
If you have the time to see more of Slovenia the capital works well as a base for day trips. The excellent bus network makes it convenient for many people to combine day trips with a city break in Ljubljana. For example:
- The classic trip is to Lake Bled. If you’ve seen photos of Slovenia the chances are that you’ve seen photos of Lake Bled: the impossibly scenic lake with a church on an island in the middle. For more on Lake Bled, read our article: How To Make the Most of a Trip to Lake Bled.
- Slovenia is home to some magnificent cave systems and two of the most famous are easily reachable from Ljubljana: Postojna and Skocjan.
- Škofja Loka, about 40 minutes away, is one of the oldest and best-preserved medieval towns in Slovenia.
- You can spend a significant amount of time arguing whether Bohinj Lake is more or less stunning than Lake Bled. Between 1 and 2 hours from Ljubljana (depending on whether you drive or take the bus), both lakes are easily reachable from the city so visit both and argue away!
Alternatively, make Ljubljana part of a longer trip to Slovenia and see more of this exquisite country. For trip ideas and inspiration read our two-week itinerary for Slovenia, Croatia, and Italy.
Where to Stay
As to be expected from such a beautiful city, there are some excellent places to stay. No matter what your city break plans are, you’ll find something to suit your tastes and budget in Ljubljana. Unlike cities such as Paris and London, it is possible to find accommodation you’d actually want to sleep in without the cost of it stopping you sleeping!
We stayed in an Airbnb in the heart of the old city and cannot recommend it highly enough. The DZ Aristocrat apartment is seconds away from the Ljubljanica River, in one of the oldest buildings in Ljubljana. It is in a fantastic location for exploring the Old Town with many bars and restaurants nearby. The apartment itself is light, airy, spacious, and immaculately clean. Able to accommodate five people, it combines period features with all the mod cons you could want on a city break, including a gramophone and records. We were particularly grateful for the thoughtful local information and recommendations that the host provided.
Whilst there are many excellent restaurants in Slovenia, if you like Asian food you must visit Shambala. The restaurant is on the same street as the apartment and the food is truly excellent, although not cheap. Having turned up on our first night to find that they were full, we learned that booking is essential. We were pleased we persevered and booked for the next night because it was definitely worth it!
If you’d prefer to stay in a hotel, these three regularly appear on ‘best places to stay in Ljubljana’ lists:
- Vander Urbani Resort – A member of Design Hotels™, the Vander Urbani Resort is perfectly located in the Old Town. Four townhouses have been renovated to form this luxury boutique hotel, nestled under Castle Hill on the Ljubljanica River. Owned by a couple from Ljubljana and Australian, the 20 rooms are designed to epitomise ‘perfect living comfort’. The owners describe the hotel as ‘old and new meet in a passionate embrace’. With facilities including a rooftop terrace and pool, a champagne bar, two restaurants, and a yoga studio, it’s the perfect base. Although there is every chance you will want to spend your city break in Ljubljana ensconced in this beautiful hotel!
- Antiq Palace Hotel & Spa – This hotel is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, a brand we use over and over again. Located in the heart of the Old Town, this boutique hotel occupies a palatial 16thcentury residence. Its 18 rooms and suites are individually designed, combining period features with contemporary touches. Facilities include a spa and wellness area, a buffet breakfast, and a hotel bar. The hotel can arrange luxurious extras, such as private dining and wine tasting, on request.
- Hotel Cubo – Hotel Cubo has a reputation as Ljubljana’s slickest hotel and it occupies a stunningly refurbished 1930s building. The building is protected by the Institute for the Protection of the Cultural Heritage of Slovenia and opened as the Hotel Cubo in 2011. Its 26 rooms are decorated in muted shades of grey with king-sized beds and enormous bathrooms. The hotel takes pride in paying special attention to each and every guest and excellent service is its priority. Facilities include free bike rental, a gym, and an onsite restaurant.
How to Get There
Flights to Ljubljana land at Jože Pučnik Airport, 25 km from the city centre. The airport is well-serviced with direct flights landing from a number of European airports. If arriving from outside of Europe you will, however, be on an indirect flight. Although with connections to Ljubljana from major hubs (e.g. Amsterdam, Istanbul, London) you can fly from pretty much anywhere in the world with only one stop. To get between the airport and the city on public transport you will need bus route 28. The journey takes around 50 minutes and the city’s bus station is immediately adjacent to the train station.
If landing at Jože Pučnik Airport does not suit, a number of other European airports are close by. For example:
|Airport||Distance and driving time to Ljubljana|
|Graz, Austria||115 miles, 2 hours|
|Trieste, Italy||77 miles, 1 hour 20 minutes|
|Venice, Italy||145 miles, 2 hours 20 minutes|
|Zagreb, Croatia||93 miles, 1 hour 30 minutes|
Ljubljana is extremely well-connected to other places in Slovenia via the bus and train network. Click here for the train network map. Excellent information about the bus network can be found on getbybus.com.
In addition to travelling within the country, you can get to almost anywhere else in Europe via the bus and train network. There are many excellent transport websites available but our favourite for railways is seat61.com. This is a fantastic resource, both for inspiration as well as information. Click here to find the information relating to travel to and from Ljubljana.
You won’t need a car for a city break in Ljubljana and the bus network is excellent for day trips. If you do wish to drive, remember that the centre is car-free.
When we visited Ljubljana we made the most of its proximity to Croatia and flew into Pula. We created a two-week itinerary taking in the three countries and you can read all about our trip here.