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The lovely city of Ljubljana is somewhere you’ll visit during your trip to Slovenia. While researching, it’s probably photos of Lake Bled that’ll blow you away. I had few expectations of the capital but I was impressed to find lots of find things to do in Ljubljana and plenty of fantastic things to eat.
What is Ljubljana like?
Don’t expect a sprawling megacity! Although it’s the capital, Ljubljana has a small population of 280,000. As you’d expect, the city centre is relatively small and most of the key places to see in Ljubljana can be explored on foot.
It reminded me of Zagreb, Bratislava and Sofia: mid-sized, low-rise cities with communist history. In the distance, you can see the Kamnik-Savinja Alps, sometimes capped with snow. To be in a city and see mountains feels like the best of both worlds!
Getting to Ljubljana
- By air: Slovenia is well connected by air. I use Skyscanner to compare flights and get the best prices.
- By bus: it’s easy to travel from Zagreb and other European cities by Flixbus and other local networks. I arrived from the small Slovenian city of Piran where I’d recently crossed the border from Croatia.
- By train: trains often take longer than buses in this region but if you’d prefer to travel by rail, use Trainline to find the cheapest tickets.
- By car: from other countries, you can arrive by road. Note that Slovenia borders countries like Croatia not in the Schengen zone meaning you’ll have to stop for customs. Use Rentalcars.com to hire cars in Europe.
- Ride shares: I use BlaBlaCar to get around cheaply in Europe. You can browse existing journeys and get alerts when someone lists a new journey for your dates.
Getting around Ljubljana
- By foot: The Old Town is pedestrianised so the best way to get around is on foot.
- By bike: Use the BicikeLJ bike system for a fee of €1 a week, allowing you to hire bicycles for free for up to an hour. There’s a small charge for additional hours.
- By kavalir: these electric vehicles seating five offer free rides around town. They run between 8am and 8pm so simply hail one when you need a lift.
- By urban train: this green electric train stops at 10 tourist sights in Ljubljana. A ticket for €10 will allow you unlimited use for a day.
- By bus: these are best used to travel further afield or to the airport. Buy an Urbana card for €2 and top it up. Journies cost €1.20-2.50.
Cultural things to do in Ljubljana
Like many European cities, the centre of Ljubljana is a historic one. Around Prešeren Square, you’ll find many buildings of historical and cultural importance. To better understand Slovenia, do the following…
Learn about Prešeren Square
In most European cities, you’ll see a statue of a war hero on a horse in the central square. In Ljubljana, the statue is of France Prešeren, the national poet. This indicates that Slovenia sees language and literacy achievements as more integral to their identity than war. Very refreshing!
Many of Prešeren’s works were dedicated to his unrequited love, the much younger Julija Primic, who can be seen immortalised as a statue behind him holding a laurel leaf. Across the square, you’ll find another statue of her poking out of the house where she used to live.
I can’t help but feel pretty creeped out by this story. Dude, if Julia said no, why the poems and statues? Leave the gal be.
Fun facts about Prešeren Square:
- A nude angel was built beside Prešeren’s statue, prompting angry priests to plant trees that would block its views from the church
- The Roman figure on top of Gallery Emporium possesses a strange detail coming out of his left foot: the face of the architect! Someone clearly couldn’t resist a humble brag 😉
Climb or ride to Ljubljana Castle
Ljubljana Castle is not a contender for Europe’s most impressive. Still, it’s a key attraction of Ljubljana, with a history going back to the 13th century. Towering over the city, it’s visible from almost everywhere.
There are several entry packages and experiences at the castle from €10 including guided tours, an escape castle experience and wine tours. If you have cash to splash, have dinner in the castle vineyard.
The Old Town to the summit is a pleasant 20-minute walk through the forest. It’s slightly steep but not overly taxing. If you don’t fancy it, ride the funicular (€4 for adults, €10 for families).
Get cultured at the museums & galleries
Ljubljana is a cultural city with plenty of opportunities to learn about the rich history of Slovenia. Visiting the museums is one of the best things to do in Ljubljana for culture lovers. Although there are more museums than you can shake a stick at, here are a few options:
- The National Gallery – the main art museum in Slovenia displays art from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. It’s also home to the original Robba Fountain, one of the largest pieces of Baroque art in Ljubljana, the replica of which can be seen in the city. Entry is €10.
- National Museum of Slovenia (Tivoli Park)- the largest and oldest Slovene museum is packed with relics including the world’s oldest musical instrument, a 55,000-year-old flute! Entry is €6.
- Contemporary History Museum (pictured above) – I spent an informative afternoon here learning about Slovenian involvement and experiences during WWI, WWII and the former Yugoslavian era. Find the museum in a pink pavilion in Tivoli Park. Entry is €5.
- Slovenian Ethnographic Museum – creative exhibits celebrate Slovenian history. Entry is €4.50.
- Museum of Modern Art – fans of contemporary art will appreciate this collection of art from the 1960s until today including exhibitions dedicated to the postwar period in Eastern Europe. Entry is €7.50.
- International Centre of Graphic Arts (Tivoli Park) – this collection of modern graphic art celebrates colour and print. Entry is €6.
Note – most museums are closed Mondays.
Cross the historic bridges
Set beside the river, Ljubljana is characterised by multiple bridges, many with quirky features and unusual histories. A few worth strolling across include…
- Tromostovje (Triple Bridge) – in 1842, the central part of this bridge replaced its predecessor and was later joined by two additional bridges based on designs by Jože Plečnik, the most famous Slovene architect.
- Butchers’ Bridge – on the site of former butchers booths, this bridge built in 2010 is decorated with modern art sculptures. These days it’s also adorned with lock locks like many bridges in the world.
- Sluice Gate – this unusual-looking bridge designed by Plečnik is located slightly east of the city on a peaceful stretch of the river. There are some lesser-visited Ljubljana attractions nearby like Cukrarna art gallery.
- Cobblers Bridge – named after shoemakers who worked here, this distinctive bridge has tall pillars with balls on top. On Sundays, it hosts a lively flea market.
- Dragon Bridge – flanked by four dragon statues is this art nouveau structure shockingly designed by someone other than Plečnik! Jurij Zaninović is the architect.
Admire the famous Robba Fountain
Modelled on Roman fountains, this impressive construction by architect, Francesco Robba, is dedicated to three rivers: the Sava, the Ljubljanica and the Krka.
The statue – inspired by the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Rome – is actually a replica. The original is in the National Gallery of Slovenia.
Glimpse history on the Cathedral door
Like other European capitals, Ljubljana Cathedral is historically one of the most important buildings in the city. St Nicholas’ Cathedral is certainly more impressive inside than out with ornate details including angels on the altar designed by local architect, Robba.
However, the most impressive feature may be the bronze doors which, from the outside, tell the story of 1,250 years of Slovene Christianity. The complex carvings show all kinds of details including historical figures and buildings.
Be studious at the National & University Library
Designed by Jože Plečnik, the National & University Library was built on the site of a Baroque palace destroyed by an earthquake in 1895. With a mix of red brick and slate tiles, it’s a striking building with unusual details like Pegasus door handles, indicating the knowledge inside.
During a free walking tour, our guide told us that the original chairs had been built in uncomfortable shapes to keep the students awake and working! I believe they’ve now been replaced with normal ones, however.
For a cultural thing to do in Ljubljana, visit the staircase, entrance hall, Plečnik Hallway and cafe from 10am-6pm, Mon-Fri and 2.30-6pm Saturdays.
Spot the quirky Vurnik House
One of the most impressive things to see in Ljubljana is the Vurnik House, designed by Ivan Vurnik in 1921 and decorated in Slovenia’s national colours. It’s now the Cooperative Business Bank.
I could have included a prettier photo without the brutalist block beside it but I like the sense of contrast.
There’s not much to ‘do’ but it’s worth swinging by Miklošičeva Street and taking a photo since it’s just around the corner from Prešeren Square.
Admire Art Nouveau architecture
If you have the time, I think an architecture tour would be a fun thing to do in Ljubljana. It’s easy to tour the quirky buildings independently on foot. Hauptmann House (above) can be seen on Prešeren Square. Republic Square, known for hosting Slovenia’s declaration of independence in 1991, is the place to see striking brutalist architecture.
Learn about Ljubljana’s key architect at the Plečnik House
From the Central Market to the Franciscan Church, you can’t turn a corner in Ljubljana without seeing Plečnik’s designs. In fact, many consider his impact on Slovenia as great as Gaudi’s on Barcelona. To learn about his life and art, visit his preserved former home and tour a permanent exhibition of his work.
The Plečnik House property encompasses two houses and a charming garden located a 15-minute walk from the old town. Visit from 10am-6pm, Tues-Sun. Entry is €6.
Fun things to do in Ljubljana
If museums and architecture seem a bit serious for your trip to Slovenia, there are plenty of other attractions in Ljubljana I think you’ll enjoy. Let’s start with some activities and foodie stops before moving on to the alternative things to do in Ljubljana.
Take a free walking tour
If you’ve read my blog before, you already know I live for a free walking tour (or anything free for that matter). We took the Ljubljana Free Tour recommended by our hostel at 11am, although there’s also a 3pm departure from 15 July-15 Oct and a 6pm one from 1 July-31 Aug.
Our guide was funny and informative with a vast knowledge of Ljubljana and infectious enthusiasm. The starting point is the pink Franciscan Church in Prešeren Square. Booking is only required for groups of over 10 people.
Relax on ‘Cafe Street’ (Petkovšek Embankment)
This lively street comes alive in good weather when cafes and restaurants spill outside. Petkovšek Embankment is the riverside promenade between Triple Bridge and the Butchers’ Bridge. Given its selection of quality cafes and restaurants, it’s the number one spot to relax with a beer or coffee when you’re tired from Ljubljana sightseeing.
It actually only looked like this ^ once during my May trip. My friend and I spent a rainy afternoon hiding in Cacao cafe eating cake. There are worst places to be stuck, to be fair!
Browse & eat at Central Market
The heart of the city (well, maybe the stomach) is the Central Market. You can expect an open-air farmers market happening every day except Sunday, an underground fish market, a covered market and outdoor stalls selling deli goods from honey to local cheese.
Visit from Wednesday to Sunday for an organic market and Fridays from May-September for the famous Open Kitchen with cool pop-ups. Basically, you won’t be short of things to see, smell and EAT!
Spot nutrias in the river
Say what? I was amazed when our tour guide pointed out these animals swimming in the river, the likes of which I’d never seen before. Kerrie told us they also have them in Prague, where she lives.
Nutria, also called coypo, are large rodents with webbed feet that can swim for up to 5 minutes. Native to South America, they were once widespread in Europe and farmed for their fur. Their wild population is declining in Europe but they can still be seen swimming in the Ljubljanica. Very cute!
Go dragon hunting
Once you’ve ticked off the main Ljubljana attractions, pay attention to the details. Ljubljana is awash with dragon statues, the most obvious being the large statue on the Dragon Bridge.
Legend goes that Jason, a Greek mythological hero believed to have founded Ljubljana, defeated an infamous dragon. The mythical creatures must have had a great PR team because, gradually, they became portrayed not as monsters, but powerful protectors of the city.
Now, Ljubljana’s mascot is the dragon, seen as roaring statues on bridges and cuddly souvenirs at gift shops. See how many you can find!
Walk in Tivoli Gardens
Not to be confused with the famous Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, this 200-year-old park is the largest green space in Ljubljana. You can easily walk to Tivoli Park from the Old Town to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Things to do in Ljubljana’s Tivoli Park include strolling Jakopič Promenade (often lined with art exhibits), visiting the International Centre of Graphic Arts inside Tivoli Castle (which is more of a manor house than a castle, to be honest) and browsing the Museum of Modern Art and the Contemporary History Museum.
There are countless forest trails to wander and lawns for picnics. Stop at Čolnarna for a drink by the lake.
Drink with a skyline view
At the top of Nebotičnik, one of Ljubljana’s few skyscrapers, there’s a bar and sightseeing deck. Kavarna serves various beers, cocktails, wines and snacks without overly inflated prices: I believe I paid €6 for an Aperol Spritz.
I went here for a drink by myself, met another solo traveller in the lift and enjoyed a drink together. Solo travel always works out!
Bag a bargain at the Sunday Flea Market
One of Slovenia’s top flea markets is held on Cobblers’ Bridge every Sunday. From jewellery to paintings, trinkets and antiques, there are probably several things you’ll want to buy and hundreds you won’t… But that’s part of the fun!
The market begins at 8am and wraps up around 2pm. If you’re feeling fresh at that time on a Sunday, it’s worth a rummage.
Meet new people on a bar crawl
I can vouch for Ljubljana having a lively nightlife. In one night, I went to a concert in Metalkova (more on this place next), an Irish pub and a techno rave!
To meet new people while travelling, bar crawls are a great idea. Pub Crawl Ljubljana offer one for €19 including 5 shots, games and club entry. They run from January to October starting at 10pm.
Quirky things to do in Ljubljana
Although they’ll never compete with the quirky things to do in Berlin and other larger European cities, there are several alternative attractions in Ljubljana you might like.
Ljubljana is small enough that you can easily reach these places on foot from the city centre.
Wander Ljuljana’s coolest street, Trubarjeva Cesta
For craft beer and alternative eats from Korean to Middle Eastern, take a trip to Trubarjeva Cesta. Splattered with graffiti and frequented by hipster types, it has a young and energetic feel. Although there are a few antique shops and book stores, most of the venues are bars and cafes.
Best eats on Trubarjeva Cesta:
- Abi Falafel – here we had an absolute feast of hummus, baba ganoush, tabbouleh, dolma, falafel and cheesy filo pastry followed by coffee and baklava. Everything was amazing!
- Rikša Curry & Wok – I went here to try the famed garlic momos but, after ordering a drink, learned they were finished for the day 🙁 luckily, I had a very tasty paneer curry instead.
- KSF (Korea Street Food) – where Korean food is, I’ll be! This small takeaway doesn’t look much but the food is great. Sit and enjoy it by the river.
- Pinsa Rustika – even if you’re not hungry, these giant pizzas will catch your eye. Order various flavours by the slice. They’re a bit expensive at €5 a piece but super tasty.
Escape from the Castle
You might be interested to know that a ticket for the ‘escape castle’ experience at Ljubljana Castle only costs €3 more than the basic entry ticket. Delve into the history, complete trials and rescue a dragon!
Visit the website and email them to reserve your time slot.
Wander the ultimate alternative hood, Metelkova
If you Google unusual things to do in Ljubljana, I guarantee Metelkova will be at the top. This old army barracks often compared to Copenhagen’s Freetown Christiania is a curious place that I can’t vouch for as highly as other people have.
As a street art superfan, it’s undeniably a cool cultural centre splattered in vibrant urban art. But some pieces are looking a little tatty these days and there’s not much to ‘do’ there apart from wander around and snap a few photos.
I visited in the day to see the street art and again at night to attend a concert. It was a couple of Euros entry with cheap beers and an outdoor DJ deck playing house music. I preferred this experience because it felt like a community, unlike in the day when it was relatively empty.
Just a note to my fellow female travellers – I felt hassled by a group of men hanging around at Metelkova. They got annoyed when my friend and I didn’t want to talk, even following us down the street. It’s worth noting they weren’t affiliated with the venue; hopefully they’ll move on soon.
Feel spooked at the abandoned Bellevue Hotel
It’s not the #1 thing to do in Ljubljana, or even #10, but if you’re walking through Tivoli Park and want to see something alternative, find this abandoned hotel.
You’ll see photos on the internet taken inside Bellevue Hotel but I’d only recommend viewing from the outside: it looks pretty hazardous. It’s a cool spot for photographers with vines creeping up the pale yellow stone. An abandoned pavilion in the grounds is just as eerie.
Find the weird statues
If you’ve been to Prague, you’ll be no stranger to weird and wonderful statues. Ljubljana can certainly compete especially on quirky Butchers’ Bridge where you’ll see an arty representation of Adam & Eve, grotesques of frogs and shellfish, and goat heads where the butchers stalls once stood.
If your wardrobe could use a revamp and you’d rather avoid high street chains, I feel you! There are several vintage shops in Ljubljana including Divas Vintage Store boasting elegant garments at bargain prices, Moje Tvoje selling clothes by the kilo and Sahara, a small emporium near the city centre.
Day trips from Ljubljana
Since you can tick off the main things to do in Ljubljana in 1-2 days, you might want to take a day trip into Slovenia. I took one to Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle but chose to stay overnight in the famous Lake towns. It depends how much time you have.
The top attractions near Ljubljana are…
Beautiful Lake Bled
If there’s one super hyped and famous place that doesn’t fall short, it’s Lake Bled. With brilliant blue waters, towering snow-capped mountains and a tiny island accessible by paddleboat, it looks too perfect to be true. But it’s real!
Things to do include walking around the lake, hiking up to Osojnica viewpoint, hiring a boat to paddle across the lake, or boarding the taxi boats destined for the island. Nearby Vintgar Gorge is a dreamy location to feel at one with nature.
The winter months can be a snowy and enchanting time to visit but the ultimate window is shoulder season: April-June and September-October. It gets swamped by tourists in summer with few accommodation options available.
Getting there: Drive, catch a bus from Ljubljana bus station or book an organised day tour. GetYourGuide offer a Lake Bled & Bled Castle tour or a Lake Bled & Vintgar Gorge tour.
Equally beautiful Lake Bohinj
Although Bled gets all the hype, I was just as blown away by Lake Bohinj. There are plenty of things you can do here like taking boat rides across the water, hiking along the north bank (and continuing to Savica Waterfall if you have the energy), hiking at Mostnica Gorge and riding the Vogel Cable Car for fantastic aerial views of the lake.
Although I spent nearly a week around Bled and Bohinj, you can even see them both during a lakes day trip from Ljubljana if you’re in a rush. Otherwise, drive or ride a bus from Ljubljana bus station to Bohinj for a day trip. Stay on the bus until Camp Bohinj for Savica Waterfall and Vogel Cable Car.
Postojna Cave (one of Europe’s largest)
Although there’s some debate as to which is Europe’s largest cave, Postojna is up there. This vast complex is 20km long and 155m deep with countless chambers, passageways and animal species inside.
A unique feature of Postojna is the mini railway that runs through it. A ticket includes a guided tour in which you’ll spot notable formations and hear stories about the cave’s history. If you’re lucky (sadly we weren’t), you may spot a proteus: a blind salamander that can live to 100 and has evolved to only need food once every 10 years. Certainly not my spirit animal!
A short drive from the cave is another key attraction near Ljubljana: 800-year-old Predjama Castle built into the face of a karst cliff. The knight, Erazem of Predjama, used the network of secret tunnels to set out on his expeditions.
Tickets cost €16.90 for the Castle, €27.90 for the caves or €40 for both.
Although Postojna Cave can be visited by public transport from Ljubljana during a day trip, there’s no transport connecting it to Predjama Castle. To see them both during the same day, a car or day tour is required.
Foodie activities in Ljubljana
This may as well be a continuation of fun things to do in Ljubljana because, after all, what could be more fun than eating and drinking yourself into a coma? That’s right, NOTHING.
Try traditional food
Have you ever tried Slovenian food before? I hadn’t but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s hearty with lots of meat, soups, sauerkraut and moreish desserts.
Best Slovenian dishes to try:
- Štruklji – I fell in love with these in Zagreb so was thrilled to find them in Slovenia although they’re slightly different. Doughy dumplings are stuffed with sweet or savoury ingredients
- Kranj sausage – this traditional pork and bacon sausage is geographically protected and can only be made by verified manufacturers
- Jota – a hearty stew made with meat and fermented cabbage
- Prekmurska gibanica – a tasty layer cake made with poppy seeds, walnuts, cream cheese and steamed apples
- Potica – a festive pastry made of rolled dough with walnuts and butter.
- Slovenska Hiša – Figovec: this is a lovely, atmospheric restaurant with shelves of books, a spacious garden area and – most importantly – hearty Slovenian dishes. The menu includes fun facts about the dishes like which local celebrities love them! They also serve famous orange wine.
- Gujžina (veggie): there’s no need to miss out on traditional Slovene cooking because here you can try all the dishes without meat, washed down with excellent local wines.
Wine tasting in a 300-year-old cellar
For a fun foodie thing to do in Ljubljana, head to this atmospheric wine cellar to enjoy traditional Slovenian wines including my new favourite, orange wine! Although it’s new to me, it’s been produced in Europe for over 6,000 years.
The fantastic team at Wine Tasting Ljubljana are super knowledgable and personable. To spend a few hours doing something a bit different and learning about Slovenia’s culinary scene (with delicious snacks), I highly rate it.
Take a food tour
I love taking food tours wherever I go. They’re particularly good for solo travellers who want to try multiple dishes in a short space of time without getting full. Take a 4-hour food and wine tour sampling 9 dishes from different regions of Slovenia while exploring the city with a guide.
Eat cakes you will dream about
Cacao serve some of the best cakes in town along with ice creams and milkshakes. My friend and I spent several hours working our way through the menu. This cafe is phenomenal! I can recommend the pistachio chocolate cake.
Sample famous dumplings
Beside the Central Market, My Dumpling is a gem of a cafe famed for its štruklji dumplings. These come in a wild array of flavours including cheese, garlic, tarragon, chocolate and strawberry. Yum!
Support a social enterprise – for €5!
For a super affordable meal that benefits staff with disabilities who might otherwise struggle to find work, bag a table at Druga Violina (Second Violin).
The food is simple but tasty and the prices are ridiculously affordable. I paid €5.50 for stew, bread and cake!
Shop for truffles
Famously from the Istrian peninsular home to parts of Croatia, Italy and Slovenia, truffles are my new favourite treat, along with orange wine. Best paired with eggs, pasta and meat, they can be bought in jars to take home.
The best place to buy truffles (and other local deli goods) in Ljubljana is Tartufi Deli Shop. As well as truffles, they sell famous Slovene pumpkin seed oil, honey, regional liquors and more. Prices aren’t super cheap but, considering its all quality local produce, you should treat yourself!
Craft beer tasting
I spent a fun afternoon drinking beer (for cultural reasons obviously!) at Lajbah Craft Bar. It’s a relaxed venue with indoor and outside seating and friendly staff who can advise you which bevs to try. I didn’t know Slovenia had a big craft beer scene so I was pleasantly surprised. The 3rd Pill IPA was my favourite.
Another fun option is an organised craft beer tour with a small group and local guide.
Union Beer factory tour
Definitely not craft beer, Union is the classic Slovene larger. The factory near Tivoli Park offers Union tours covering 150 years of beer history and finishing with a tasty mug to try. Tours depart four times a day and cost €14pp.
Where to stay in Ljubljana
On a budget: we stayed at Hostel Tresor which was a decent base with dorm & private rooms, laundry facilities and social areas, right in the heart of town. Book from €25. I also heard great things about Hotel Celia inside a refurbished prison! It’s had a funky refurb and hosts events and activities.
Budget hotel: for a clean, spacious hotel with indoor & outdoor seating, White House Bela Hiša has coffee machines in every room and fantastic reviews. Book from €75.
Splash out hotel: treat yourself at uHOTEL with its rooftop wellness centre, swimming pool, fitness centre and renowned buffet breakfasts. Book from €150.
Apartments: check out Stella Sky with equipped studios and swimming pools with city views and Castle View Apartments with hot tubs and private parking.
Enjoy these things to do in Ljubljana!
More Europe city guides:
- How to spend a day in Bratislava, Slovakia
- Things to do in Zagreb, Croatia
- 3 perfect days in Budapest
- 3 day Vienna itinerary
- How to spend 3 days in Copenhagen
- 2 day Sofia, Bulgaria itinerary
- 2 week Romania road trip itinerary
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TRUSTED RESOURCES FOR VISITING SLOVENIA
Getting around by air – I use Skyscanner and search by month to see the cheapest dates.
Driving in Europe – use Rentalcars.com to compare car rentals in European countries (and all around the world).
For trains, I use Trainline. The search feature allows you to compare prices, and they show live departure times on the website.
For buses, I use Flixbus. Find journeys between European countries from €1!
Use Omio to compare trains and buses in one search. It’s so handy!
For hotels and self-catering apartments, I use Booking.com. You can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.com.
To save money on accommodation, I use Trusted Housesitters, a website that connects homeowners going away and travellers who can sit their homes & pets.
Browse tours and activities on GetYourGuide and Viator.
Need travel insurance? I use World Nomads. They cover 150 countries and have 24-hour emergency assistance.
Check out my resources page for more travel discounts and budget tips from my 10+ years on the road!