So much of Europe has become a tourist’s paradise, with visitors flooding in in their millions to see some of the world’s most famous landmarks. However, if you’re on the continent and you’re keen to discover a gem tucked away off the well-trodden path, head towards the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana.
Welcome to Ljubljana
Slovenia is a small, vibrant country nestled on the coast between Austria, Italy, Croatia and Hungary. Its capital, Ljubljana, (pronounced “loob-li-yah-na”) is home to just over 280,000 people.
Surrounded by mountains and split by the Ljubljanica River, legend has it that the city was founded by Jason, the mythological Greek hero. Bearing the Golden Fleece, and accompanied by the Argonauts, Jason made his way up the river, to a marshy river near Ljubljana. It was here that he was said to have vanquished the beast who lived at the lake, which, in conjunction with the legend of St George, is why you’ll see the dragon crop up around the city and on the local coast of arms.
Ljubljana was also the location of the Roman settlement of Emona, and came under Napoleonic rule in the early 1800s. It has remained throughout history an important connection the rest of Europe, and is blessed with both beautiful natural surroundings and a rich cultural heritage.
Breakfast and Preseren Square
While it might seem a little counter-intuitive to head to a French themed cafe in Slovenia, Le Petit Cafe on the left bank makes for the perfect breakfast spot. Decked out in a rustic, welcoming style, stake a spot in the sun outside and order a delectable breakfast – Croque Monsieur or eggs Florentine sound good?
Grab a coffee to go once you’re filled up, and head off to explore Preseren Square, an easy seven-minute stroll up the road. Amiably considered to be the heart of the city, this elegant open space is where the city hosts its important events and festivals throughout the year, and is bordered by beautiful buildings and cobbled lanes which span out in every direction.
Look to the east, and you’ll see Castle Hill looming across the river, while a 180 degree turn will reveal the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation, recognisable for its unique red and white stonework. Soak in the sights, and pay your respects to the nation’s prized poet (and the square’s namesake) France Preseren at his monument.
Speaking of Castle Hill, this is your next stop for the day. To get here, you can either take one of the ancient paths uphill from Vodnik Square, a gentle 10-minute walk with great views out over the city below.
Another option is to take the bus, or ride one of the city’s bikes for hire, but the preferred method for most visitors is a picturesque ride in the funicular. Simply make your way to Krek Square (look out for the puppet theatre) and you’ll find the entrance in Old Town.
After a leisurely ride up the 70-metre long funicular railway, you’ll alight at the foot of the great castle, reassembled over the years following a destructive earthquake in the 16th century. There is a range of tours to enjoy, with one of the most entertaining being the Time Machine tour, where costumed guides will take you through the castle, and indeed the city’s most decisive moments throughout the centuries.
Once you’re ready, come back down to ground level and pick a spot for drinks and dinner along the river front. Whether you’re after local or fusion cuisine, there are plenty of tasty options to choose from!
Start your day with a peaceful wander through the Central Market in Old Town nice and early before the crowds arrive. Historically, this has been a place for city dwellers to meet and shop, with the covered part of the market designed by Joze Plecnik in the 1940s.
Watch the stall owners set up their displays of produce and local delicacies, and maybe snag a treat or two to take with you.
Take a short day trip to what is arguably one of the most scenic sights in Slovenia, and perhaps even Europe. This lofty accolade belongs to the postcard-perfect Lake Bled, about 40 minutes from the city by car.
Breathe in the fresh air and marvel at the mirror-like surface of the lake, set against the picturesque mountains of the Julian Alps. We’ll wager you’ll love it so much here, you won’t want to leave, but when you to return to the city, make sure you finish off your stay with a night at the incredible opera house.