A university city best known for its lush, green spaces and myriad museums, Ljubljana is conveniently nestled in otahe very center of Slovenia, offering breathtaking alpine scenery a short drive north — and a stunning seaside oasis an hour drive south. Lined with outdoor cafes and shops, the curving Ljubljanica River flows through the city, dividing the old town and the commercial hub. Though it has a humble population, it is Slovenia’s capital and largest city which — according to today’s city guide writer, photographer Ivana Krešić — remains an “old soul” and one of Europe’s hidden gems.
Having been born and raised in Ljubljana, Ivana spent years living away, mostly in Basel, Switzerland, but seeing her hometown from a distance only made her appreciate it more. If you ever find yourself in Slovenia’s capital, enjoy today’s guide for an ideal 24 hours in beautiful Ljubljana (which has me itching to make the trip myself)! –Sabrina
Ljubljana has an old soul. Over centuries — wars, governments and one big earthquake later — Ljubljana grew bigger and stronger, until it finally became a capital of independent Slovenia in 1991. Recent history saw Ljubljana literally reinvent itself. Numerous big, urban development projects and efforts to improve the environment not only gave the city a major facelift, but the vibe of the city changed for the better as well.
I personally believe Ljubljana’s best feature is that you can discover it gradually. While there are plenty of things to see and do – Ljubljana is a lovely mix of everything in moderation – you can feel the city, take in the sights, smells, sounds and tastes, without that common nagging feeling of missing out on something. So it is with little wonder that more and more people are enchanted with the vibrant dragon city.
7:30 am: My day usually begins with a coffee. However, I think a perfect day in Ljubljana begins with a nice morning run or walk. As you probably booked a place in the city center, you can stretch your legs up to the castle hill or you can check out many gravel paths that run across park Tivoli. If choosing the latter, don’t forget to bring along a few nuts to feed some very eager squirrels. Usually, I look for them near the statue of dancers.
8 am: Not a morning person and coffee is a must? Definitively look for Cafe Čokl and share their passion for fair trade coffee. They are located near the funicular entry point under the castle hill. Also, a farmers’ market is just around the corner, so you can easily grab some fresh fruit, delicious Slovenian yoghurt and cheese, and some warm bread for breakfast. Just remember that the best day to visit the food market is Saturday — and you better be ready to lose yourself in crowds of locals, who make it a weekly routine to visit the market! Even if you miss the regular hours of the market, a special vending machine with nice Slovenian dairy products and wonderful apple juice is a good back-up plan.
9 am: After a caffeine boost, I’d suggest taking a funicular to Ljubljana castle and climbing the tower for a breathtaking view of the city and surrounding mountains. Although this is one of the most photogenic views of the city, I love it even more without my camera: I just let my eyes wander over old town red roofs and through narrow, historic streets along the enchanting green river.
Next, walk back to the old town. Just ask someone for the path that leads to Gornji trg. There, you’ll find a bakery with amazing minimal design. Andrej at Pekarna OSEM makes best bread in town — I’m a huge fan of their baguettes. Trust me, you will be coming back for more!
10 am: Discovering Ljubljana is all about walking, since everything is easy to get to and close-by on foot. From the bakery, walk through old and lively cobbled squares filled with cute shops, cafes and restaurants all the way to Town Hall with an adorable, small-pillared courtyard. Old courtyards are scattered all around the city center and each one is the perfect little urban oasis — only taking a few steps in gets you away from the hustle and the bustle of the city.
Right next to the Town Hall is Pritličje, a great café and mini-center of urban culture that hosts a small comic bookshop as well. I absolutely love to sit in their huge windows with colorful pillows and observe the passersby, or just read a good book.
11 am: Continue your walk to the impressive Tromostovje/Triple Bridge (by architect Jože Plečnik, who is a big name in Ljubljana, as you will learn very quickly), near the Town Hall. There, look for a Tourist Information Centre (if you need it), cross the river to Prešernov trg and watch other tourists as they take their selfies. For a different view, climb those stairs leading to Franciscan Church and take in the magnificent sight.
I love to walk all the way up the river to Špica, and the best way is to cross a minimalist footbridge with transparent sides, another great point to enjoy the view of the city. Continue walking by both historical and recently-developed embankments all the way down to Špica and Ljubljana Botanic Garden. Ah, Špica… I can’t think of a better place to unwind after a long day; a place to enjoy the sun and serene feeling that only water seems to convey. A tour of Ljubljana from the river, in summer months, is something I totally recommend.
12 pm: As you are probably too tired to walk back, grab a bike from Bicike(LJ), Ljubljana’s public bicycle scheme. Cross the river and explore the other side of the city as well. Start with Trnovo and Krakovo neighborhood and take in their easygoing character all the way to Roman wall (Mirje), which was restored by architect Plečnik in the beginning of last century. He would probably be surprised to learn that the renovated wall became a popular practice ground for climbers and a great resting spot for students from nearby schools and faculties.
Going back to the riverside, you’ll pass Križanke, an old medieval monastery turned cultural venue, where I’ve enjoyed some of the best concerts in my life, and National and University Library, another Plečnik masterpiece. Nearby, in the shadow of a tall willow tree, is Le Petit Café (with friendly staff), so make some time for a delicious brunch. My all-time favorite, Križevniška ulica, is just around the corner from Križanke, featuring timeworn, cobbled streets with tons of inspiration and old courtyards that are just asking for a quick sneak peek.
12:30 pm: There are many memorable Instagram moments in Ljubljana, but make sure you visit Nebotičnik skyscraper on Slovenska cesta and take a photo of its spiral staircase. I usually take the elevator to the highest floor and look for the stairs. Don’t forget: once you’re almost up there with the clouds, take a moment to enjoy in a wonderful view of Ljubljana from Nebotičnik’s highest terrace.
1 pm: How about some lunch? Coming from Nebotičnik, around the corner on Cankarjeva, is a lovely place called Fejst meni. Besides delicious daily lunches, they always have a great selection of sandwiches, soups, pies, and salads and are my regular stop on a workday. Another adorable place for great vegetarian brunches and lunches is Bazilika Bistro. I love their casual atmosphere, and it’s one of a few spots in Ljubljana where I don’t mind if my friends are running late, since they have a nice selection of magazines and newspapers to browse through.
As Aperitivo and Sorbara Steak House are places to go to for really delicious burgers. With more time on your hands, try out Slovenian cuisine at Gostilna na gradu, which is located at Ljubljana’s castle. If by any chance you’re in Ljubljana during summer and it’s Friday, you must absolutely – I cannot stress this enough – go to Pogačarjev trg, where Odprta kuhna (Open Kitchen) takes over the market stalls. A food market with selections of the finest Slovenian and international cuisine — from various restaurants, bistros, organic food chefs and even street food vendors — is any food lover’s dream come true.
2 pm: Usually after a good lunch, something sweet is on my mind. I’m a bit of chocoholic, and my first thought is Dobnik chocolate atelier. Dobnik is located underground at Trg republike Square — Ljubljana’s monumental socialist architecture at its best — right across the street from Slovenian Parliament. Another place for lovers of all things sweet is Zvezda next to Kongresni trg Square. In the summer, I indulge in their wonderful homemade ice cream. And if it rains, don’t despair, take shelter and have some cake in charming Lolita, where the playful interior will keep your spirits up.
3 pm: I’m certain you’ll check beforehand to see what Ljubljana has to offer in terms of culture, so I’ll just point out MAO, The National Museum of Architecture and Design, which is worth an effort to visit in the suburbs of the city. As a photographer, I totally recommend that you visit Galerija Fotografija to get familiar with top Slovenian photographers and to browse through their selection of photo magazines and books as long as you like.
Urban art lovers will find interesting graffiti all around the city, however, check Metelkova, an urban squat for alternative culture, and Kino Šiška Center for Urban Culture underpass and toilets. I’m not joking.
4 pm: Make some time for shopping! First stop is Breg, a lovely embankment lined with old chestnut trees. I always like to drop in GUD shop and browse through their wonderful selection of local and international design brands.
Close-by is another small shop with big character, Niti niti, where you can find hand-knitted clothes and home accessories. Also on Breg’s embankment is a very special letterpress studio, tipoRenesansa, which is conceived as a living history museum. Furthermore, flea markets at Breg are a Sunday tradition, popular with tourists and locals alike, all looking for a good bargain. Any other day of the week, check out a lovely antique shop — Carniola Antiqua on Trubarjeva Street.
Ika shop (Ciril-Metodov trg 13) always has the best selection of Slovenian souvenirs. Piranske soline Ljubljana (Mestni trg 8) is another great store with all products made from — or with — traditionally produced Slovenian salt. All kinds of fair trade products, from chocolate to household items, can be found in 3Muhe shop (Stari trg 30).
The recently opened KulKul offers a surprising and refreshing mix of thoughtfully selected books, food and coffee. Flat (Miklošičeva cesta 18) is a perfect store to shop for original home decor. Among all the food shops, Hov-Hov (Nazorjeva 12) stands out, since they only offer homemade, special treats for dogs. Also, a luxury department store at Prešernov trg, Galerija Emporium, is worth a visit for its magnificent Art Nouveau staircase. With all the walking, your shoes might break down, and if this happens, pay a visit to Aleš and his shoe repair shop.
5:30 pm: Now do take some more time off, unless you are a freelancer who needs to do some work. If this is the case, absolutely look for Poligon creative center (Tobačna ulica 5). Or you can work in TOZD, a café/bar with big personality. They have a perfect table right next to a huge window with the best riverside view. However, it’s way better to enjoy in their unique interior and positive atmosphere with a cup of home-roasted coffee, or later in a day with a glass of the finest Slovenian wine or craft beer.
7 pm: Hungry by now? If you want something light for dinner, Tabar, a Slovenian tapas and wine bar, is a great place to taste Slovenian wine while munching on grilled octopus with lemon and thyme. Vander Urbani Resort design hotel doesn’t only accommodate with the best-looking rooms in the city, they are also known for their cuisine. One chef that really stands out in Ljubljana (and in Slovenia as a whole) is Janez Bratovž. He has his own garden, an upscale restaurant in the center, JB Restaurant, and an exceptional menu.
9 pm: Ljubljana is a very safe city, even late at night. Everybody is out by the river, restaurants and bars are full, tourists are mixed with the locals and the atmosphere is just great. Whether you decide to check out a trendy spot in town (Robba bar-café-restaurant with a wonderful interior and refreshing cocktails), or sip Slovenian wine on the stairs outside of Dvorni bar, you’ll probably discover that the city center feels like an enormous, open-space living room. By now, you can let go and just follow your gut feeling, or a new friend, to explore what Ljubljana’s nightlife has to offer.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, Airbnb offers a vast selection of great apartments all around Ljubljana. On the other end of the spectrum, the superb design hotel Vander Urbani Resort boasts a rooftop pool overlooking the old center.