Ljubljana is understated and unassuming. The Slovenian capital is not a major European metropolis. In fact, with only 300,000 inhabitants, Ljubljana is one of Europe’s smallest capital cities with most of its major historical and cultural sites located in and around the quaint Old Town, making it easy to get around on foot.
There are no world famous landmarks to check off your bucket list in Ljubljana; no royal family to fawn over. Just an underrated treasure waiting to be discovered. Here are 5 things to see and do when visiting Ljubljana.
1. Sitting high atop Castle Hill is the city’s most popular attraction, Ljubljana Castle. The former medieval fortress is home to a number of museums and exhibitions, including a puppet museum, a prison and the Chapel of St. George. Some of the best views of Ljubljana can be had from the ramparts surrounding the castle complex and Outlook Tower. There are a couple of ways to get to the castle: a shuttle bus, the funicular or walk. I took the urban bus on the way up and the funicular back down. The shuttle bus is free, and goes (very sloooowly) from Old Town to castle, while the 1-minute funicular ride costs €2.20, providing great views of the castle along the way.
2. I love seeing churches in Europe, and the beautiful, pastel-colored ones in Ljubljana’s Old Town did not disappoint. Ljubljana Cathedral or the Church of St. Nicholas is the main church in Ljubljana. The Baroque building with the twin spires and green dome is easily recognizable and visible from all over Ljubljana.
The lavish Baroque interior is filled with paintings, gold leaf and beautiful frescoes, most notably the magnificent work of art on the ceiling.
The Franciscan Church of the Annunciation sits on the popular Prešernov Trg. Built between 1646 and 1660, the Baroque style church, with its pink façade – which I absolutely loved! – is one of Ljubljana’s most recognizable buildings.
Sts. Cyril and Methodius was built in 1936 for Ljubljana’s growing Serbian population. The church, more commonly referred to as the Serbian Orthodox Church, has five domes with golden crosses at their top and an interior covered in colorful frescoes. The pretty pale yellow church just on the edge of Old Town is St. James Church. Built by Jesuits between 1613 and 1615. St. James is known for the St. Mary’s Column (Marijin steber), which is adjacent to the church, and for its belfry, which is the tallest in Ljubljana.
3. Sit in Mestni Trg (square) where you will find the Hercules fountain, Stari, Dvorni or one of the many other squares or take a stroll around the center of Ljubljana and simply admire the architecture, so much of which is attributed to the architect Jože Plečnik that the city is often referred to as “Plečnik’s Ljubljana”. His architectural impact on Ljubljana is compared to that of Antoni Gaudí on Barcelona. Plečnik’s works include Central Market, Triple Bridge, the National and University Library.
The bridges along Ljubljana River are another example of the city’s architectural beauty. Hradecky Bridge was one of the first hinged bridges and is the only preserved cast iron bridge in Slovenia. Triple Bridge (Tromostovje) is a pedestrian bridge reminiscent of one you’d find in Venice. Cobblers’ Bridge dates back to at least the 13th century, though it has been relocated, and in 1931 was replaced with the current stone bridge designed by the architect Jože Plečnik.
Dragon Bridge is probably the most recognizable of Ljubljana’s bridges, and a picture next to one of the dragons is the must have Ljubljana photo-op. along with Jože Plečnik another architect that helped craft the distinctive appearance of Ljubljana was Maks Fabiani using the then new Art Nouveau style. A number of the city’s Art Nouveau buildings line the Slovenski Square and Miklošič Park.
Nebotičnik i.e. Skyscraper is another important landmark in Ljubljana. When built in 1933, Nebotičnik was one of the tallest buildings in Europe. Go to the roof of the Art Deco building for a coffee or cocktail, and panoramic views of the historical center, better even, than those from the castle in my opinion.
4. Tivoli park is the largest park in Ljubljana, and a great place to get a better appreciation of Europe’s 2016 Green Capital. There is a large pond, sculptures, historical buildings, including museum housed in a mansion, and Jakopič Promenade, a well-known outdoor exhibition venue for large photographs. There are also tons of trails great walking and running, several of which I enjoyed on a running tour of Ljubljana.
5. 2000 years before Ljubljana, there was the Roman city of Emona. While the Roman ruins are mostly buried beneath modern Ljubljana, there are still traces of the medieval city, such as walls, Wells and sewers scattered around Ljubljana.Taking an official tour, which is offered in English every 1st Sunday, is an excellent way to learn more about Emona.
Have you been to Ljublana?
What are some of your must-see sights?