I must admit I didn´t plan to go Slovenia on the first place. It sort of happened. I got one of those Eurail tickets (a total scam, I wouldn’t buy them again and I’ll make a post soon) and Slovenia was part of a 5×4 promotion. I still had a few free days before starting my job in Croatia, so I though “why the hell not?”.
When I arrived to the city I had no expectations at all. I had marked down a few attractions in a map and I was planning to mainly get some rest after two months of non-stop travel. However, I was wrong. I immediately fell in love with the country and soon I wished I had booked more days to explore the city and its surroundings. I was so charmed by it that I couldn´t pass the chance to write some of the best reasons to visit Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital.
The beauty of Ljubljana (which accordingly means “beloved”) goes beyond words. It is a city with a bit of everything to please the pickiest traveller. It is a foodie’s paradise, but it also caters to outdoorsy visitors. Additionally, It has some nice architectural gems and it is also small enough to see in a few days and explore some other nearby places.
There are many reasons to visit Ljubljana, but here is my top 10. If you have some others, don’t forget to write them in the comments!
1. The Honey Brandy
I don´t know what it says about me that this is one of my first reasons to visit Ljubljana, but I still can’t get over how good this thing was. Slovenians make pretty good honey, so they escalated their ability to a whole new level and added this sugary goodness to an alcoholic beverage. You can have it chilled or warm, spiced up with cinnamon or, my personal favourite, with a bit of hot chilli pepper (I’m Mexican, remember?).
Although I was really fond of the honey-flavoured brandy, Slovenia has plenty to offer in the spirit’s department. You can just wander around its street markets and shops and sample some of the most typical brandies. I even encountered one bottle with a full-grown pear inside it. The clerk told me the Slovenian monks came with the idea and that there was only a 50% chance to grown the pear inside the bottle. I couldn´t get to sample it for obvious reasons, but if you are looking for a unique souvenir, search no more! If it’s got a fruit inside it can´t be that bad for you, can it?
2. The food culture
It is no secret that I’m a foodie, so when I discovered Slovenia’s food scene it only made me fall even more head over heels for the country. If you are looking for reasons to visit Ljubljana, the culinary culture must make it to your list. A whole range of cafés and bistros line up next to the river. As well as several street shops and tiny hidden restaurants. The coffee, the cheese, the bread and the seafood are amazing and so-bloody-conveniently-priced! You can get entire cheese and nuts board for less than €5.00 and a full dinner for less than €10.00. I’d definitely recommend Slovenska Hisa. A yummy and budget-friendly café right next to the river. It stole my heart.
Once you make it there the main problem will be to decide where to eat! I usually had a breakfast package with eggs, bread, homemade jams and honey, vegetables and coffee. Then, a bit later, I would wander around and stop for a roasted corn with chilli at a street stall or a wonderful gelato (Slovenians have a lot of Italian influence in their food) and then in the afternoon I’d stop at another restaurant to get some pasta or a seasonal soup with vegetarian sausages (I’m drooling already). And yeah, in case you were wondering, I also walked like 20km per day so I’m allowed to eat like Bridget Jones during pregnancy.
3. The Castle
Ok, so one the subject of food and drink is covered, let’s get real. One of the reasons to visit Ljubljana has to be the castle
Granted, is not particularly big and part of it has been renovated so it look a bit more modern than your typical fairy-tale like, but the concept is lovely. First of all there’s the hell of a hike to get there. Although it is within walking distance from the city centre, you need to climb of a hill first. It might not be very tall, but the road gets steep and it can let you out of bread a couple of times (or maybe it was all of that cheese and brandy, I guess we’ll never know).
However, the sight is breath taking and the surrounding woodsy area is great to take a stroll and snap a few shots. It is free to get into the castle, although you do have to pay to get into certain areas. Nevertheless, it is hard to get bored. There are two coffee shops inside of it and a gift shop. Additionally, they have several exhibitions and shows running around the place. When I went there I found this amazing photo gallery displaying pictures of African tribes. And, my personal favourite, the castle has a reading zone with bookshelves that visitors can borrow and enjoy during their visit.
Also, especially during the summer, the castle also hosts movie screenings, concerts and other special events. It’s sort of the heart of the city and it really can´t be missed if you are looking for things to do in Ljubljana.
4. The River Ljubljanica
Ljubljana’s river, Ljubljanica, kind of frames the entire city. You find the best restaurants, you get to appreciate the triple bridge and you can even hire a boat tour and sample some wine while you get to know the city. Ljubljana is a small, walkable city, so taking a boat tour really gives you another perspective of the place. Don´t forget to add this to your list of reasons to visit Ljubljana!
5. The fake rain
This might seem like a weird one. I was casually walking around the city centre when I felt some raindrops. For a moment, I thought it had started to rain so I walked fast to the nearest shop, but before getting there, it was dry again. I turned back and I discovered some droplets still wetting the pavement behind me, but my new spot and the rest of the street was waterless. It took me a while to decipher, but I found out that Ljubljana has its own personal rain right in the middle of the city. Just in from of the triple bridge, there´s a perfect circle of cobblestones where it rains all day long. There are some sprinklers on top of the area and they drizzle the visitors every now and then. I might sound like a child, but how absolutely awesome is it? Clever, fun and free!
6. The architecture
Most of Ljubljana’s signature look was designed by renowned architect Joze Plecknik. The cohesive appearance of the city and the super interesting buildings are something not to be missed. The colours, the forms and the statues are definitely great reasons to visit Ljubljana.
The triple bridge is the most obvious and famous landmark. It crosses Ljubljanica and connects the old and the new town. There is a main path, but Plecknik decided to add two new pedestrian crossings when he was designated to repair the original bridge. Also, the National Library is a must. Designed by Plecknik again, the windows give you the impression of being open books and the reading rooms in the inside could have been the set of any Harry Potter movie. They let you in free of charge, but to get into the reading rooms you need to be a register student. However, you can get a peek whenever one of the actual students leave the room and I promise, it is worth it.
The people in Slovenia’s capital were one of the best surprises I could encounter and they should definitely be in your list of reasons to visit Ljubljana! Slovenians are incredibly warm and friendly. The chat with you easily and they are kind and helpful. I ended up talking with almost every clerk in every shop and they offered me tips and local advise on the city. Also, while I was enjoying some wine next to the river and old lady came to me and offered some of her biscuits. And I can´t even begin to talk about my Airbnb hosts, who were super nice and even gave me a lift to the station.
If you are looking for a place with a friendly and safe environment, this is definitely your city. The only exception I can add is The Metelkova Area, next to the Hostel Celica. I went there on my own to have a look since the street art is very popular there. While I was taking some pictures I was approached and cat-called by a group of young men. I’m pretty sure they were foreigners, but I still got uncomfortable and decided to return to the city centre as quickly as possible. I would definitely say that the Hostel Celica is worth a look (it is a former prison turned into a hostel), but just try to go with someone and avoid having bulky cameras on sight.
8. The market
Can´t remember how many times I’ve said how much I LOVE street markets, and Ljubljana’s doesn´t disappoint. The Central Market is one of the coolest reasons to visit Ljubljana. Especially if you are a foodie or a shopaholic (or both). You can find everything from candles, jewellery and clothes, to fruits, vegetables and street food.
You can get typical bread and honey and some delicacies like gasps, horse meat (I didn´t try it, but if you did, please do tell). The market opens Monday to Saturday from 7am to 4pm and Sundays from 7am to 2pm. It is great to have some breakfast, shop for a souvenir or just wander around to absorb a bit of the local culture.
9. It is super affordable!
Granted, when I convert to Mexican peso, I still end up loosing. However compared to most European capitals, Slovenia is incredibly budget friendly.
I booked an Airbnb room (BTW, get a discount code on your first trip), private, double bed and shared bathroom. It was just 15 minutes away from the city centre by foot and you know how much I paid per night? €18.00 bloody euro! You know what I could have gotten in a place like Venice for that amount? A park bench. Full breakfasts were around €6.00 and you could find small bottles of brandy for as much as €3.00, what else is there to ask?
Additionally, there are plenty of free things to do around the city. Ljubljana’s Free tour was grand, they take you everywhere and explain you the city’s history. No need to pay, just make sure to tip at the end. Additionally, you can even get a discount voucher for one of the boat rides. Also wine and liquor tasting are practically gratis. They let you sample different flavoured brandies and spirits with no obligation. Although it is always nice to buy at least a small bottle just as an attention.
10. It is not excessively touristy
Considering that Slovenia is a super young country (26 years, we’ve got the same age, yay!), it means that hoards of tourists haven’t invaded its cities yet. Although it is becoming more popular every year, you can still wander around its streets and enjoy some of the local experiences without being scammed or overwhelmed. However, it also has an international flair. A lot of the citizens speak English, so you don´t need to worry about language. The lack of overcrowded streets and touristy fares is definitely one of the greatest reasons to visit Ljubljana.
To be honest, Slovenia was like a breath of fresh air. Especially after the madness of more populated cities like Paris and Venice. I felt so welcomed and so comfortable that I really don´t need more reasons to visit Ljubljana again. Honestly, this wasn´t on my main bucket list, but I’m so glad I got the chance to visit it. I would really love to take Conor there some day (he LOVED the honey brandy I got him). Also, visiting lake Bled and other surrounding cities would be amazing.
If you have been to Slovenia before don´t forget to tell me everything about it and share your best tips!
I guess I’ll see you on the road.