A local’s guide to Slovenia’s capital
Welcome to Ljubljana, one of Europe’s greenest and most memorable cities, where cobblestone streets urge you to discover vibrant markets, delicious food and even a burgeoning microbrewery scene. Read on to find our tips on everything from the must-dos to the must-eats, and get ready to be charmed by this Slovenian jewel.
Culture abounds in Ljubjana and there’s so many fantastic spots to explore. A good place to start though is the City Museum Ljubjana. Established in 1935, the museum is housed in the Auersperg Palace – a building which offers an insights into the city’s transformation from a Roman settlement to it’s vibrant present-day form. Exhibitions here are varied and range from a focus on the history of female Slovenian artists to large-scale, contemporary murals.
To continue the artistic theme, next head to the National Gallery of Slovenia – a haven for art lovers, here you’ll find a vast collection of Slovenian art from medieval time to modern day. For some al-fresco design, make your way to Tivoli Park – a place where culture and nature unite, acting as an open-air cultural hub that hosts events and exhibitions amidst blooming flowerbeds and tree-lined pathways.
Ljubljana CastleLjubljana Castle interior
Food & Drink Market Days at Tržnice
A stroll through Tržnice, Ljubljana’s central market designed by Plečnik, is a must. Start your culinary adventure at Marjetka’s sauerkraut stand. There are plenty of sauerkraut stands in the market, but only one has a line in front of it, and that’s Marjetka’s. Her family is the last keeper of an indigenous type of cabbage, called Ljubljana cabbage. You can even pick up a bottle of sauerkraut juice, known for its stomach-soothing properties. Wander through stalls offering Styriaca pumpkinseed oil, and don’t forget to check out the section dedicated to slippers, a lightweight and unique souvenir worn indoors by Slovenians. The market is full of unexpected details, you’ll even find vending machines selling grave candles in jewel-coloured plastic candle holders, traditionally made to be placed on tombs.
Raise a Glass to the Alps at Nebotičnik Aerial panoramic view of Ljubljana and Nebotičnik skyscaper
While Nebotičnik may seem modest by today’s standards at 13 stories and 70 meters tall, it was once Yugoslavia’s first skyscraper and the ninth tallest building in Europe when it was unveiled in 1933. Architect Vladimir Šubic drew inspiration from New York’s art deco skyscrapers, much to the initial scepticism of more conservative locals who deemed it a “freak.” Today, the wraparound rooftop terrace cafe offers breathtaking vistas of the Alps to the north and the nearby Ljubljana Castle. To reach the top, ascend a spiral staircase from a lobby clad in black marble. Once there, treat yourself to exquisite Slovenian wines; the buttery Rebula, still or sparkling, is a great choice.
Coffee and Cake Spots
Ljubljana has embraced the speciality coffee movement, with one of the city’s best cups served by Colombian expat architect Alex at Črno Zrno. This hole-in-the-wall café, less than two meters wide, leads to an elevated bar adorned with arabesque tiles, where Alex crafts each coffee with a personal touch. STOW 2 GO, the newest location of Stow Coffee Roasters, is located just in front of the Triple Bridge in Prešeren Trg, in Ljubljana’s main square. It’s a great spot to take in the sights while getting your caffeine fix. And when it comes to cakes, the city’s finest awaits at Zvezda, a sweetshop that sparkles with an array of baked goods. Slovenian specialities like kremšnita and gibanica are must-tries, but don’t miss local favourite čokoladne sanje, or “chocolate dream”. If cheesecakes are more your thing, make a sweet pit stop at Soba 102. We recommend their ‘Brownie Cheesecake’ for a serious chocolate hit.
Café Črno ZrnoStreet Food at Odprta Kuhna
On Fridays in Ljubljana from March until the end of October, the central market transforms into a massive outdoor food fair known as Odprta Kuhna, drawing crowds of up to 25,000 people and a gateway to a diverse array of culinary delights. For a true taste of Slovenia, visit Klobasarna behind the cathedral, where you can enjoy the Carniolian sausage—a locally protected pork sausage—served with a pot of mustard and a warm roll. Fun fact: this sausage has even made its way to space, carried by American astronaut Sunita Williams, who has Slovenian roots.
Once you’ve had your fill of the market, carnivores will also delight in a ćevapi crawl around the city. Ćevapi – described as “the hamburger of the Balkans” – is by far the most popular fast food here. It’s ground meat, rolled into oblong meatballs and it’s well worth visiting a few ćevapčići’s during your trip.
In recent years, Ljubljana has quietly crafted a name for itself on the global craft beer map with a blossoming microbrewery scene that caters to both locals and inquisitive travellers. These small, independent breweries are redefining the city’s drinking culture, one brew at a time. From pioneers like Union and Laško, which have been brewing beer for over a century, to contemporary craft beer revolutionaries like Human Fish, Bevog, and Pelicon, Ljubljana’s microbreweries offer a delightful range of flavours, from rich stouts to hoppy IPAs. These establishments are often nestled in trendy neighbourhoods where modern and historic Ljubljana effortlessly coexist, making them perfect places not only to enjoy a cold one but also to engage with the city’s vibrant culture. Visitors can chat with the brewers, indulge in intriguing beer pairings, and partake in tasting events. For a deeper dive into this craft beer scene, brewery tours and guided tasting experiences are readily available across the city.
Artistic Treasures at Trubarjeva Ulica
Ljubljana thrives on artistic individuality, and the city’s alternative energy comes to life as you stroll along the vibrant Trubarjeva Ulica. This lively street embodies a unique blend of creativity and counterculture, offering a window into the city’s artistic soul. A visit to the Trubarjeva Antikvariat is a must for those seeking a glimpse of Slovenia’s past. Here, you’ll uncover a trove of Yugo-nostalgia, a homage to the country’s socialist history. Among the treasures are busts and portraits of Tito, a figure of immense significance during the Yugoslav era. These relics serve as poignant reminders of the nation’s complex journey through history. But the allure of Trubarjeva Ulica doesn’t stop there. The street also showcases industrial-design classics that captivate with their retro charm. One such gem is the sleek Lamborghini-red ETA 85 rotary telephone, a design marvel crafted in 1979 by Davorin Savnik and produced by Iskra. This iconic telephone, reminiscent of a race car with its bold aesthetics, once graced the walls of countless Yugoslav homes. Its distinctive allure transcended borders, earning it a coveted spot in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, a testament to the artistic ingenuity that thrived even in a bygone era.
Exploring Beyond Ljubljana: Memorable Day Trips
While Ljubljana has an abundance of charm to offer, the beauty of Slovenia lies in its compact size, making it easy to venture beyond the capital for memorable day trips. A short drive will transport you to Lake Bled, a postcard-perfect jewel nestled in the Julian Alps. Its emerald waters cradle Bled Castle, perched on a cliff, and the iconic Bled Island with its charming church. Kamnik, a historic town at the foot of the Kamnik-Savinja Alps, beckons with its medieval ambience, colourful facades, and imposing Kamnik Castle offering panoramic views. Nearby, the Kamniška Bistrica River Valley unfolds as a nature lover’s haven, with the surreal Velika Planina plateau resembling a scene from a fairy tale. For an underground adventure, journey to the Postojna Caves where you can hop on an electric train and explore the vast network of tunnels and chambers carved out by the Pivka River over millions of years.
Getting Around Eco-friendly Ljubljana
Ljubljana earned the title of Green Capital of Europe in 2016, and it takes pride in its “zero waste” recycling program (with a goal to improve its recycling rate to 78 per cent by 2025) and the highest percentage of pedestrianised streets of any European capital. Enjoy the city’s eco-friendly vibe by strolling through medieval Stari Trg and Gornji Trg, alongside the riverbank, free from the clutter of traffic. Ljubljana’s Old Town is also walkable and well-worth spending a few hours touring by foot. For a convenient ride within the city, hop into what looks like a green golf cart, the Kavalir electric taxi. There’s also Urban, a miniature electric train on wheels that weaves through the streets with zero emissions.
Where to stay
Located in the heart of Ljubljana is your perfect historic hotel stay, the Antiq Palace Hotel. Housed in a meticulously-restored 16th-century palace, this opulent space welcomes you with open arms and makes for an ideal base for exploring this enchanting city.
When to visit
Ljubljana is lovely year-round but does get busy in the summer months. Out of high-season, May and September are a particularly nice time to visit.