Ljubljana is one of the hidden gems of Europe. It is not a big city, and it is nowhere near as famous as other European cities, but having been to 39 of them, I feel pretty confident saying that the capital of Slovenia is definitely one of the loveliest.
It is a small, charming city that is perfect for an easy-going weekend city break, or as a stop on a longer trip around Slovenia.
By the way, if you’re wondering how to say Ljubljana, think of each J as an I. A close approximation is to pronounce Ljubljana as ‘loo-blee-ahh-nuh’.
Now we’ve cleared that up, here are ten reasons why you should visit Ljubljana for a city break as soon as Covid restrictions allow and it is safe to do so.
1. There’s a Fairy Tale Castle!
Ljubljana is a very pretty, leafy city, surrounded by mountains with a fairy tale castle on a hill.
Ljubljana Castle was built in the middle ages, though most of the buildings that remain are from the 16th and 17th centuries. It overlooks the city like an ancient guardian – and really does conjure up images of legends and magical tales!
You can get to the castle by car, train or by walking, but the easiest and most scenic route is via a steep funicular from the town centre (€13/£12 for adults, including entry to castle exhibits). At the top, there are lots of things to explore including the watchtower and an exhibit on the history of Slovenia.
However, for me, the main attraction was the phenomenal views across Ljubljana and the surrounding mountainous countryside.
2. The River is the Life of the City
The Ljubljanica river is the vibrant life of the city. Most of the attractions in Ljubljana are close to the river and in the city centre, the river banks are lined with restaurants and bars, offering the perfect place for a meal or a spritz. The laid-back riverside vibes reminded me of Navigli in Milan.
You can also take a boat ride along the river. It takes around 45 minutes – and of all the city river tours I’ve done anywhere, I think this is the most scenic one. The river is lined with charming baroque buildings and gorgeous weeping willow trees. It hardly feels like a city at all! In fact, I think Ljubljana is it’s most beautiful from the water.
On my boat ride, which was in the off-peak season, I was the only passenger. I sat at the front of the boat and took in the lovely views like I was on a private tour, hehe.
3. A Green City – Literally and Figuratively
Ljubljana doesn’t just look green, with its tree-lined river and many parks. It is also legitimately environmentally friendly.
After making progress in shifting transit from cars to public transport, pedestrianising a lot of the city centre, and reducing waste, Ljubljana was named the Green Capital of Europe in 2016.
You will agree it deserves this accolade as you breathe the clean air and wander the atmospheric, car-free cobbled streets.
4. The Charming, Walkable Centre
At the heart of the city centre is the picture-perfect pink Franciscan Church of the Annunciation. The church looks out across a paved, circular square, and three pretty stone bridges (known simple as Triple Bridge) that take you to the charming old town, near the castle.
Ljubljana is a compact, walkable city. Both the old town and the more modern area on the left bank of the Ljubljanica are attractive, clean and easily navigable. The streets on both sides of the river are great for wandering aimlessly (one of my favourite things to do in any city).
If you’re a fan of architecture, you may appreciate the many handsome baroque buildings in Ljubljana. There is also plenty of Art Nouveau design, thanks to Jože Plečnik, a major Slovenian architect, who is a bit of a local hero. He designed Triple Bridge in Ljubljana and also buildings in Vienna and Prague.
Overall, the style and vibe of Ljubljana are not showy nor ostentatious – instead, the city exudes quiet confidence.
5. Not Overrun by Tourism
I hate it when you go to a city or an area and it feels like its soul has been sucked out due to hyperactive-tourism – it feels like a shiny, commercialised, inauthentic version of what it used to be.
A tell-tale sign of this can be all the stores are high-end international brands, with barely a sign of any local business. Another is that local people are scant because they’ve been priced out. London’s Covent Garden would be an example of this phenomenon. And Mykonos Town in Greece. They’re both really pretty places, sure – but they’re now far removed from the real, authentic communities that gave life to them.
Well, the good news is that Ljubljana isn’t like that! Walking around, I got the distinct impression this is still a city lived in by real Slovenian people. For example, the Central Market is a proper market where locals sell and buy produce. And throughout the city centre, it seemed lived-in and a little bit scruffy in a way that felt authentic (though not run down).
For me, this authenticity is a good thing – and something that I hope Ljubljana doesn’t lose (despite me encouraging more people to go there – I am aware of the irony!).
6. A Safe City
According to many sources including Numbeo and Travelsafe, Ljubljana is a generally safe place, with relatively low rates of crime. And that is also my experience: I travelled there as a solo female traveller and didn’t have any problems at all.
Of course, it isn’t crime-free, so you should always take precautions, including being careful with your belongings and avoiding walking in unfamiliar places at night, especially if alone.
But overall, it is the kind of city where you can feel pretty safe if you’re being sensible.
7. Affordable, but not overrun by stag trips
Like a lot of countries that were previously part of Yugoslavia, prices for accommodation, food and drink are generally cheaper compared to Western Europe – so Ljubljana is a relatively affordable destination for many.
To give you a flavour of the prices, on my trip, I took advantage of the low prices and had a pretty indulgent trip (I wasn’t scrimping and saving!). I stayed in a 4-star hotel for £79 a night, and one night I had a fancy six-course meal with wine for £68 including tip, which is a bargain. In the capitals of western Europe, I’d have had to pay way more than this!
However, unlike some other affordable eastern European cities, like Bratislava in Slovakia, Ljubljana is not overrun by rowdy, noisy stag trips taking advantage of low prices for booze. This is a VERY good thing in my opinion!
8. World Class cuisine
Ljubljana is great for dining out, with plenty of cuisines to choose from including Italian, Japanese, Indian, modern European – and of course Slovenian.
I had good food for every meal, but the highlight was that fancy meal I mentioned earlier. It was at Strelec, which is actually in the walls of Ljubljana Castle, with a view of the city – a very atmospheric location! I had a taster menu of Slovenian food, with wine pairings, as live music from a violinist accompanied my meal.
It was very good food and super-indulgent, but I like to treat myself when I travel solo!
9. A Culture-fest
There’s a lot for culture-lovers in Ljubljana.
Over the summer months, there are several festivals featuring music and dancing. The biggest is Ljubljana Festival, which features ballet, opera, theatre and symphony concerts – but there are many others including street theatre, alternative music and a wine festival.
10. Easy to do daytrips from Ljubljana, including Lake Bled
Because Ljubljana is small, it is possible to get a really good feel for the place in a short amount of time. This makes it perfect for a city & country mini-break. Even if you only have 48 hours there, you could spend two evenings and a day in Ljubljana and still have time for a day excursion into the Slovenian countryside.
Lake Bled is probably the top contender for days trips from Ljubljana: it is a lake in northern Slovenia, with another fairytale castle on a hill – as well as a tiny, picturesque island in the middle of the water.
You can get from Ljubljana to Lake Bled by train or bus (the bus and the train station are next to each other). I chose the bus even though it takes longer (1.5 hours vs 1 hour by train) because the bus stop in Bled is closer to the lake than the train station. If you go by bus, it’s worth booking a little in advance: although buses go every hour, they get busy so you may not get on the next bus if you turn up without an advance ticket.
I found Lake Bled to be serene and peaceful: I took a gondola to the island, then hiked around the lake and up the hillside to get a good view of the whole lake. Then I watched the sun go down over the water with a couple of spritzes in a waterside bar. It was bliss!
When is the best time to visit Ljubljana?
In normal times, you have a lot of choice of when to visit. It is warmest in the summer months of June to August, but Ljubljana is also lovely in Spring and Autumn (I went in October, and it was perfectly fine for wandering the streets with a jacket on). And in December, it has festive Christmas markets – so there are normally lots of good times to visit.
Of course, during the pandemic, when you can visit will be restricted by the regulations in your own country and in Slovenia. If you’re thinking about going, the Slovenia Tourism website has the latest info about what Slovenia requires of visitors during covid.
I hope this article helps and that you visit Ljubljana as soon as it is possible and safe to do so. It really is a special place!