As the capital and largest city in Slovenia you’re probably thinking that Ljubljana is a sprawling metropolis; but nothing could be further from the truth. Instead think of quaint cobbled streets, a compact but picturesque Old Town and a welcoming approach to foreign guests. With the Ljubljanica River running through its core, the expansive Tivoli Park providing ample green space and Ljubljana Castle sat imposingly on a hill high above the city, Ljubljana is undeniably one of Europe’s most aesthetically pleasing capital cities. That’s before you even consider that the stunning scenery of the Julian Alps and Lake Bled is within easy day-tripping distance on Slovenia’s easy to navigate roads. In fact, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous you could even choose to ski in the morning and swim in the Adriatic Sea in the afternoon using Ljubljana as your base (although I imagine Slovenia’s waters to be somewhat chilly during ski season). In all, whether it’s for a weekend city-break or a longer holiday exploring what Slovenia has to offer, Ljubljana is an excellent, and cost-effective, base camp.
Ljubljana Top Tips
Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport (also sometimes known by its old name of Brnik Airport) is fairly small for a European international airport and sits a mere 25km outside of Ljubljana. There are no rail options to get from the airport to town so your remaining selections are taxi, shuttle or public bus. A short 30 minute taxi ride is obviously going to be the most comfortable door-to-door experience and at around EUR 40 (at the time of writing) it won’t break the bank; especially if you’re sharing the cost between a few of you. The taxi rank is located directly outside the arrivals terminal. If you want to pre-book a taxi then you can find more information here. If you’re working with a more restrictive budget (or tight like me) then your next best bet is a transfer shuttle which can start as low as EUR 7 per person. If this sounds appealing than you should check out the four main options available: GoOpti, Markun, ZUP and MNJ. If you want to use a public bus then I found Alpe Adria Line the easiest to navigate. It drops you off at the central bus station in Ljubljana just north of Old Town within easy walking distance of most hotels.
In terms of getting around the city the easiest option is to walk. Ljubljana is a small city by European standards and nearly all of the ‘tourist attractions’ (I hate using that phase for some reason) are located within walking distance of each other in the Old Town. If walking isn’t your cup of tea then there are a number of other options for getting about:
- If you prefer to do your ‘touristing’ while seated on a classic hop-on-hop-off bus then I’m afraid you won’t find one in Ljubljana. However, what it does have is an urban electric train that ploughs a fixed route around the city hitting all of the major tourist hotspots; and it’s significantly cheaper than the classic tourist bus services operating in other big cities.
- If cruising along the waterway is more your speed then Ljubljana has you covered with its tourist boat cruise.
- If you’re lazy…and cheap…and don’t mind using a service that was actually intended to help the elderly get around town then you should check out Kavalir; a free electric-powered vehicle (let’s cut to the chase, it’s a fleet of golf buggies) service that runs around Old Town. Be aware that there are only 4 of them though, so if they’re in high demand you might have a bit of wait!
- For a greater sense of freedom and a relaxing workout you might want to consider one of Ljubljana’s bike rental schemes. The biggest of these (and one that operates 24/7/365) is Bicikelj. With over 50 stations and 500 bikes in the center of town you shouldn’t face any supply & demand issues and the prices are ridiculously cheap (rides less than 60 minutes are free once you’ve registered). The only problem with Bicikelj is that you have to register in advance with a credit card. However, even that isn’t too much of a hardship because the website is in English! If you don’t fancy registering in advance online (or don’t think you’ll need a bike at 4am on a Christmas Day) then you could instead rent a bike from the Ljubljana Bike Service hosted at the Slovenian Tourist Information Center in the center of Old Town on Krekov trg.
- If you’re completely against any the use of tourist transport, and wish to live like a local, then Ljubljana’s public buses are your only option. You really won’t need them to get around Old Town, but if you’re planning on heading further afield (to the zoo, for example) then I guess it might be handy. To use the public buses you’ll need to buy yourself a topped-up Urbana Card which can be purchased at the Tourist Information Center, Post Offices and a whole host of ticket kiosks dotted around town. Just touch the card on the reader when you hop on the bus.
If you’re planning on visiting a number of the attractions I list in the activities section below, and also plan to utilise a number of the transport options I’ve listed above, then you might want to consider purchasing yourself a Ljubljana Card. In my humble opinion it’s one of the best value-for-money tourist cards I’ve seen and can be purchased with a validity of 24, 48 or 72 hours. As well as ‘free’ entry into 19 attractions (including Ljubljana Castle and a whole host of museums) the most impressive part is that it also includes a guided walking tour of the Old Town, a 4 hour audio self-guided walk, unlimited use of public buses, one use of the Urban Electric Train, a 4-hour bike rental, free tourist boat ride, free use of the castle funicular, a brewery tour, and free Wifi…..that’s a whole heap of free stuff!
Ljubljana Castle: Visible from pretty much anywhere in the city, Ljubljana Castle is undeniably the tourist highlight of a trip to the city. Sitting on top of a small hill in the Old Town, the castle (and particularly its lookout tower) is a great place to get the best views over Ljubljana. Although it’s possible to walk up the hill to the castle, a much more enjoyable (and less strenuous) option is the take the funicular that runs from Krekov Trg. If you decided to buy the Ljubljana Card then the funicular is included (as is the electric tourist train, which makes a stop at the castle), but if not then at the time of writing it costs EUR 3 for a return journey. If you’re on a tight budget (or just tight generally) and just want to get a closer view of the castle and some scenic photos across the city then the good news is that portions of the castle, including the main courtyard and some of the art exhibitions, are free to enter. A full castle ticket (you can check out the various ticket package costs here) includes access to the outlook tower, return trip on the funicular, Puppetry Museum, Virtual Castle Exhibit, Punishment Exhibit and the Slovenian History Exhibit. You’ll also find guided tour options on the castle website; including the highly interactive ‘Time Machine’.
Tivoli Park: I usually advocate visiting city parks as a great way of escaping the hustle and bustle of the city for a few hours; but as Ljubljana isn’t exactly hectic it’s hard to claim that as a justification. Instead, I’ll advocate visiting Tivoli Park, the city’s largest, to enjoy the walking trails and to visit Cekin Masion and Tivoli Castle. Despite being called a castle, both are actually mansions with Tivoli Castle dating back to the 17th Century. Cekin Mansion, built in the 18th Century, is now home to the National Museum of Contemporary History and presents Slovenian history from WWI on. There’s a small entrance fee for the museum (EUR 3.50 at the time of writing) and the museum closes every Monday. The park is within easy walking distance from the Old Town just north of the Center District.
Central Market: If you’re a regular reader then you’ll know that I love visiting local markets, and Ljubljana’s is no exception. The Central Market building is on Vodnik square but it’s actually the square itself that plays host to the majority of the market stalls. Open Monday-Saturday the market is definitely geared towards locals (as well it should be) with numerous produce stands (think veg, meat, cheese etc. – the usual Mediterranean market staples); but it also has plenty of stalls selling tourist wares as well. The square sits nestled alongside the Ljubljanica river and is framed by the Plečnik Arcade; which is probably the most architecturally pleasing aspect of the square and acts as a great backdrop for photos. My advice is to visit in the morning when the market is at its most active and then, after a few hours of shopping, head across Dragon Bridge for lunch outside one of the riverside restaurants (which are usually buzzing by mid-day if the sun’s shining).
Dragon Bridge: No visit to Ljubljana would be complete without popping by to see Dragon Bridge; the symbol of the city. Let’s be clear, the bridge is nothing special – it’s literally a road bridge over the Ljubljanica River. Nevertheless, you’ll find hordes of tourists all wrangling for the best selfie with one of the four iconic dragons. According to legend Jason (of Jason and the Argonauts fame) founded Ljubljana and that one of the four dragons is a dragon he killed (they all looked identical to me, so it’s hard to tell which of the four it might be). More exciting is that there are a whole bunch of bars and restaurants along that same stretch of river alongside the bridge and at which you can enjoy a decent lunch and a few pints of Slovenian craft beer.
Triple Bridge and Prešeren Square: Prešeren Square is the beating heart of Ljubljana and where the entire population of the city seemingly nominates to meet each other (making it quite hectic at times). The square is home to a few points of interest, the most famous of which is Ljubljana’s Triple Bridge (which is exactly what it sounds like – three bridges spanning the Ljubljanica River). In the square itself is a statue of Slovenia’s national poet, France Prešeren, but the highlight is the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation. The Baroque style church, which is instantly recognisible due to being painted in a rather attractive shade of bright pink, dates back to the 16th-century. Although the church isn’t always open to the public, inside (if you’re there on a day when it is) you’ll find an 18th-century altar and frescoes.
St Nicholas Cathedral: From the outside St Nicholas Cathedral is nothing spectacular; a green dome and two towers looming over Old Town Ljubljana. But it’s the inside that’s the winner here; particularly the elaborate paintings and gold leaf. Also make sure to check out the bronze doors which were commissioned for the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1996. The cathedral is absolutely free to visit and a photographers dream on the inside.
Museums and Galleries: If you’re aching to learn a little more about Slovenia, or you’re an art aficionado looking for your latest fix of the work of Ivan Grohar (yeah, me neither if I’m honest) then Ljubljana has you covered. Some of the top options are the National Gallery (located in a Palace that is in and of itself worth the visit), the National Museum (which has two locations), the City Museum, and Tobacna 001 (the latter being a museum and art gallery in the city’s old tobacco factory).
Day Trips from Ljubljana: Being located slap bang in the middle of the country, Ljubljana has the distinct advantage of being a perfect base for day trips. That’s not to say that the city doesn’t have enough on offer to keep you entertained for a few days, but it’s certainly an added advantage that you can head out to see some of Slovenia’s stunning landscapes and UNESCO heritage sites. Two day trips you might want to consider are to either Lake Bled and the Bohinj Valley or Postojna Cave and Predjama castle. If you’re interested in visiting Lake Bled on your own then make sure you also check out my post here. Other easy options include Slovenia’s Adriatic coastline towns (including Koper and Portorož) for a dip in the sea and/or a day of skiing in the winter at Kravec or Vogel.
Ljubljana Additional Resources
Airport Bus Website: https://www.alpeadrialine.com/en/
Airport Taxi Website: http://airporttaxi.si/En/
GoOpti Airport Shuttle Website: www.goopti.com
Markun Airport Shuttle Website: www.prevozi-markun.com
ZUP Airport Shuttle Website: www.zup-prevozi.eu
MNJ Airport Shuttle Website: www.mnj.si
Urbana Public Bus Card Website: http://www.lpp.si/en/single-city-card-urbana
Ljubljana Card Website: https://www.visitljubljana.com/en/visitors/ljubljana-card/