Have you ever fallen madly in love with a place and felt at home there instantaneously? Good, then you’ve already been to Ljubljana.
If not, then feel free to turn that question into a premonition. Whether you’re in Ljubljana for a short city break, an extended holiday in Slovenia, or are looking for things to do in and around our stunning capital, this city simply possesses a special kind of magic, and the top attractions in Ljubljana are its Cupid’s arrow(s).
The first thing you notice as you explore the cobblestone streets in the greenest capital’s traffic-free center is the casual fusion of modern meets old. It’s been an important crossroads in this part of Europe since it was called Emona during the Roman occupation, and time has only made it prettier. The second thing you notice is…
1. Ljubljana Castle
A short hike or funicular ride up Castle Hill is the number one place to go in Ljubljana. The Ljubljana Castle has been overlooking the capital for centuries. It houses a museum with an overview of the building’s history, including a quick-and-dirty virtual castle recap, and often an interesting exhibition or two. The views from this popular wedding venue are spectacular.
From the castle’s tower you can get a superb 360⁰ panoramic display of Ljubljana and its surroundings. There’s even an escape room up there and a lovely restaurant, while festivals and an outdoor cinema are organized during the summer.
2. Ljubljanica River
Besides the obligatory stroll and people-watching from the cafes that line its banks, a boat tour down the Ljubljanica River is a great way to see Ljubljana from a different angle. You can spend some time around Špica (trans. The Point), a gathering point with a café, where you can learn more about the spirit of the river, admire the local wildlife (nutrias, swans, ducks, cranes, etc.) or just sit under the weeping willows at Plečnik’s terraced embankment and relax.
Legend has it, Jason and the Argonauts cruised down the Ljubljanica, and now you can do the same in a kayak or on a SUP board. Really unique ways of sightseeing, by the way.
3. Prešeren Square
Slovenia’s most famous romantic poet was France Prešeren. We’ve even borrowed one of his poems to sing as our national anthem. It’s no wonder then that one of the top Ljubljana tourist attractions, the city’s main square, is named after him. Unveiled in 1905 and standing proud in Prešeren Square, the statue of the great poet faces a window of his unrequited love, Julia, and is basically Ljubljana’s version of Piccadilly Circus.
You can sit under the statue and observe life, admire the impressive ‘pink’ Franciscan Church of the Annunciation, or glance over to the river and the next thing to visit in Ljubljana…
4. Triple Bridge
The central bridge was built in 1842, with inscription dedicated to Archduke Franz Karl, while the other two smaller bridges were added by famous architect Jože Plečnik in 1932. Plečnik removed the metal railing from the main bridge and embellished the Triple Bridge with huge stone balustrades and peculiar-shaped lamps. Today, the Triple Bridge is still the main connecting bridge between the old and modern sides of Ljubljana. And speaking of bridges…
5. Dragon Bridge
The Ljubljanica River is crisscrossed with numerous road and foot bridges, but the most popular one is undeniably the Dragon Bridge. Built in 1901, this symbol of the city is a must-visit Ljubljana attraction. Tourists and locals alike love making selfies in front of the four sheet-copper statues that guard the bridge.
One legend says that Jason, the ancient Greek mythological hero, founded the city of Ljubljana by slaying a dragon. The second legend claims that the four dragons wag their tails every time a virgin passes by.
6. Central Market
Staying by the Ljubljanica River, another incredible design by Jože Plečnik that you simply must visit in Ljubljana is the Central Market. Built in 1939, the market consists of three parts: the covered area supported by pillars that houses butchers and sellers of traditional Slovenian products, such as cheese, pumpkin oil, bread, etc, the open market with tons of local produce, and the fish market on the riverbank. If you happen to be visiting from the US or Australia, make sure you check out the raw milk machine – it’s quite legal here in Slovenia.
7. Town Hall
Built in the 15th century, this lovely building is the seat of the Municipality of Ljubljana, and it’s doors are open to the public. Town Hall features four exhibition spaces: the Glass Atrium, the Historical Atrium, and the Central and Right Atriums. Interesting exhibitions are constantly on display. The façade reflects Venetian style architecture, while the vestibule has a late Gothic plaque with a coat of arms dating back to the 17th century.
In the Town Hall’s arched courtyard stands Francesco Robba’s Narcissus Fountain (Narcisov vodnjak) and another fountain, the Fountain of the Three Carniolan Rivers, is in front of Hall. This place is also a traditional wedding venue.
8. The Old Town
Stroll and (window) shop in the Old Town. It’s definitely the place to go in Ljubljana. You can buy traditional products (honey & beekeeping, sea salt – Piran fleur de sal with an over 700-year tradition, Idrija lace, Rogaška crystal, artwork, etc.). Try some authentic potica pastry at Le Potica boutique. Visit the 3muhe shop to support a good cause and in case you get hungry, you are on a strip with some fantastic restaurants and cafes.
Whether down by the riverside or walking along the adjacent promenade, you’ll get plenty of opportunities to try something new. And the architecture is beyond picturesque!
9. Tivoli Park
Among Ljubljana’s top attractions is Tivoli Park. Its gorgeous green surfaces with tall, ancient trees, fountains, a rollerblade park, a sports hall and numerous hidden corners make for an excellent breather. You can have a drink at the Čolnarna café or in front of Tivoli castle, which is also the International Centre of Graphic Arts.
The main promenade leading up to this manor features an ever-changing photography exhibition. This spacious park is minutes’ walk past the Opera House and the National Gallery. Once there, you can also venture up Rožnik Hill with the 16th-century Church of the Visitation.
10. Ljubljana Zoo
Spread out under the Rožnik Hill is the lovely Ljubljana Zoo. You can take a bus there or go for a half-an-hour-walk. Yes, everything is close in Ljubljana. The Zoo’s location is phenomenal. There are hundreds of interesting animals to observe, a petting zoo, playgrounds for children, and a restaurant with refreshments in the middle of it all.
11. Plečnik House
Admire the life and work of the most famous Slovene architect, Jože Plečnik. He left a prominent mark on Ljubljana’s cityscape and those of other Slovenian towns as well as foreign capitals like Prague and Vienna. A permanent exhibition is housed with numerous sketches, plans, models and photographs of famous creations are on display, like the National and University Library, the Triple Bridge, Cobbler’s Bridge, the Ljubljana Central Market, and the Church of St Michael in the Marshes.
Ljubljana’s centre for alternative culture and the arts, Metelkova is a quirky place everyone can enjoy. There are fascinating graffiti and art to enjoy by day, as well as lots of happenings, especially in warmer months, and when night falls, Metelkova becomes the concert hub of our capital. For some musical entertainment, the places to go in Ljubljana are also the Opera House, Cankarjev dom, Križanke, Kino Šiška or Slovenian Philharmonic.
13. Museums and other cultural institutions
The largest museums in Ljubljana include the National Museum of Slovenia, the Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia, the City Museum, and other specialised museums (ethnographic, technical, natural science). The National Gallery is where you’ll find a huge collection of artworks by renowned local and foreign artists.
14. Ljubljana Cathedral of St Nicholas
Impressive on the outside as within, the Ljubljana Cathedral has beautiful baroque frescoes, organs, statues, and paintings. It’s recommended to visit the church when there are no religious services taking place.
When it was built back in 1933, Nebotičnik, the literal translation of which is “skyscraper”, was the tallest building in Central Europe. Take the elevator to its classy terrace and enjoy a fantastic view of Ljubljana. There’s also a nightclub up there with thematic events throughout the year.
16. Botanical Gardens
Located close to Špica, Ljubljana’s Botanical Gardens are nice for a stroll. They have an open traditional beehive where you can see how the bees go about their daily lives behind a plexiglass screen. There’s also a lovely café and a greenhouse with various tropical plants.
17. Šmarna gora
If you want a proper hike, Slovenians will tell you that Šmarna gora or Mount St. Mary is a piece of cake but if you are unused to walking up steep hills, then give it a try. Besides wonderful views of the whole Ljubljana Basin and the Alps, there is a great traditional restaurant there, where you can replace all the calories you’d lost on the way.
And remember, thanks to its central location, Ljubljana is a great starting point for exploring the rest of Slovenia.