While on our road trip to Croatia, we made sure to stop at the capital of Slovenia for a day, Ljubljana! The name itself sounds intimidating, but once you learn how its pronounces, its as easy and friendly as the country itself! (Pronounced: Lub-lee-yana).
Ljubljana is one of the most hip, up and coming new destinations to visit that is mostly overlooked by the hordes of tourists. It is often said that this city ranks among the perfect mid-sized European cities and has all of the comforts of being a big city while still maintaining it’s small town charm and friendliness. Slovenia became the first former Communist country to join the Eurozone in 2007 and has since seen a slight increase in tourism.
Like most cities outside of the main city center, the buildings looks slightly rundown and sketchy, but not to be alarmed! The city center was bustling with life, music, tourists and locals all wandering around enjoying the banks of the river Lubljanica at one of the many cafés and restaurants hugging the river. I find it very interesting to see buildings that have not yet been renovated and made to look new again. I feel like these buildings still tell a story and you can read it on the face of the building. Some buildings, you wonder if some of the damage is still left over from WWII or just from neglect during the Communist era. Then I wonder what the city will look like 10 years from now once they have finally been renovated.
The first port of call was the iconic pink church, also known as “Franciscan Church of the Annunciation” which can be found in the main square called Prešernov trg (Prešernov Square). Inside, the church is decorated with early-Baroque frescos while the outside is designed in the early 17th century Baroque style.
Directly in front of the church is the main square where you can find people enjoying an ice cream or sitting on the steps of the cathedral or around the statue of the Slovene national poet France Prešernov. There you can find the famous Triple Bridge which is a group of three individually unique bridges clustered together connecting two parts of downtown Ljubljana together. Originally, there was only one bridge but in order to prevent the bridge from becoming too overcrowded, two smaller bridges were added in 1932 for pedestrians and bikers which the locals now called the “Little Venice of Ljubljana”.
When strolling along the banks of the Lubljanica river, you can find several different boat docks where you can purchase a ticket for a boat tour down the river. We found one for 5 € each for a 30 minute guided tour. The river is a continuation of several rivers that flow through Slovenia so the river is said to have seven names starting with the Ljublanica to Trbuhovica, Obrh, Strzen, Rak, Pivka and finally Unica.
While on the boat tour, the boats sail to another famous bridge called the “Dragon Bridge”, so called because of the dragons lining the entire bridge. All four corners are lined with massive dragons while in the middle are lamp posts with smaller dragons. The bridge opened in 1901 and was dedicated to the Jubilee of Franz Josef I when Ljubljana was part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Since then the bridge has become iconic to Ljubljana and the dragon has become the symbol of Ljubljana. There is a legend that says that the town was founded by the Greek mythological hero Jason who killed a monster with the help of his Argonauts. Now referred to as a dragon, the image of a dragon can be found on the Ljubljana coat of arms.
Further along we passed the Ljubljana Central Market which stretches along the banks of the river from the Triple Bridge down to the Dragon Bridge. It was built between 1940 and 1942 in a Renaissance fashion. The side facing the river has large-semi circular windows while the street side of the market is dominated by colonnades. The market is open daily except for Sundays and sells anything from fish, dried fruits, bread and meats. Unfortunately, by the time we walked around Ljubljana it was already Saturday evening and the markets had closed up for the weekend.
Just around the corner from the Central Market, there is another massive church called the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, also known as the Ljubljana Cathedral. It was originally a Gothic church before being converted into a Baroque cathedral in the 1700s. The cathedral’s green domes and twin towers dominate the skyline of Ljubljana. The doors to the cathedral were replaced with monumental bronze versions before Pope John Paul II visited in 1996.
While wandering around this cathedral, we ran into an elderly couple who were dressed in traditional Slovene clothing. Immediately, they were swarmed by a group of Asian tourists snapping up pictures of the couple. One man excitedly asked me to take a picture of him with the couple before running to the couple. Hans was nice enough to wait and ask if we could take a picture of them which they willingly let us do. Like in Bavaria, Slovene folk costumes vary depending on the regions where the people come from. In Slovenia, they can be characterized by Mediterranean, Alpine or Pannonian.
Perched high upon Castle Hill is the Ljubljana Castle which was originally built as a fortress sometime in the 11th century. It dominates the Ljubljana skyline and can be seen from everywhere! We could even see it from our hotel on the 8th floor! You can reach the castle by taking a funicular up to the castle which can be found near the Central Market. Ljubljana has always imagined having some sort of funicular up to the castle since 1897 but it wouldn’t be accomplished until 2006! It takes only a minute to reach the castle! Unfortunately, we didn’t make the time to go up to the castle and do this.
Instead, we settled down along the Ljubljanica river for dinner. Anywhere along the river is very lively with music, bands, bars and restaurants. We sat directly across from the Central Market. We enjoyed traditional Slovenian beer and I tried the Ljubljana Schnitzel which was stuffed with bacon and egg. Definitely different from any schnitzel I have ever had, but it was definitely good!
Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up before going for an evening stroll around the town. From our hotel we watched the most awesome sunset ever with clouds forming a heart backed by a gorgeous yellow golden sunset. Check out more of my Best Travel Sunsets!
Finally, we headed back out since it was evening and we had the perfect “Blue Hour” lighting. This is a new term for me as it is for photography. Apparently, it is mostly the hour after sunset and before sunrise which offers the best lighting.
While walking around, a young man stopped us and chatted us up. His name was Sean Parker and he was a professional photographer. He was in the process of filming a time lapse as we enjoyed random flashes of lightning in the distance. Check out his facebook page Sean Parker Photography. He was nice enough to show Hans and I some new tricks with our new camera.
Things to do or know before going to Ljubljana!
- The tourist boat departs from the Ribji trg pier near the Triple Bridge.
- The boat tours run from April 1st-October 31st
- The castle and funicular are open from:
January, February, March and November – from 10 am to 8 pm
April, May and October – from 9 am to 9 pm
June, July, August and September – from 9 am to 11 pm
December – from 10 am to 10 pm
- For the Funicular: Adults – 10€, Children 7€
- For the Castle: Adults – 7,50€, Students/Seniors/Children – 5,20€
- For more information on the castle click here.
What was the best meal you ate in Ljubljana?
For more blogs on Slovenia:
For more blogs about Croatia:
and a detour side trip to Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina!
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