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A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

We had a brilliant short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia in autumn time. I’m not sure if it was the amazing food, the riverside café culture or the fairytale beauty of the whole city swathed in autumn light that made us fall in love with it, but we’ll definitely be back. On the way home, we declared it was our new favourite European capital city, which is high praise indeed.

We visited Ljubljana as part of a multi-destination holiday: three days in Ljubljana and three days in Zagreb, Croatia – with a brilliant train journey between them (posts on that coming soon).

So here’s a bit of an introduction to the fairytale city of Ljubljana, Slovenia and things to do there…

The green (and gold) capital of Europe

The first thing that appealed to us about Ljubljana was how green it is, both in leafiness and eco-friendliness.

To make a change from Scandi countries always hogging the title, Ljubljana did itself proud to be 2016’s European Green Capital. They’ve always nailed the green stuff though. Ljubljana was the first EU capital to do a zero-waste strategy and they also love making new green spaces from wasteland. The whole city was spotless, too.

When you’re wandering round the city, you’re always bumping into little electric golf buggy things known as ‘kavalirs’. These bad boys are free to use around the old town, which is pedestrianised otherwise. There’s also a real feeling of the city being at one with nature, as naff as that sounds. The way it’s set along the river with the mountains and trees rising up behind makes it feel like you’re not in a capital city at all.

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASESA fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

Exploring Ljubljana’s fairytale old town and the free tour

Ljubljana is really charming. I hate using that word but it is. The old town sees to that.

The gorgeous, cobbled part of the city is sandwiched between the imposing hill-top castle and the Ljubljanica river. It’s like someone decided it’d look nice as a backdrop to a city and so built it. There are loads of restaurants, cafés and bars along the riverbanks, where you can sit and do some people watching. There’s nothing better than sitting with a beer doing nothing on a sunny day.

Away from the river, inviting side streets lead to a big open square and tree-lined avenues. It was all very, very photogenic.

Ljubljana’s main man, responsible for a lot of the great architecture, is Jože Plečnik. He urban planned the shit out of it. His designs are everywhere, most notably in the form of the Triple Bridge (more on that later). He also features heavily in the brilliant free walking tour, which is a good way to kick off your explorations. All the architecture is an appealing pastel mix of Art Nouveau and Baroque buildings. We really liked the library in particular – Plečnik again – with a really interesting facade. I’ve deliberately not included our photographs of it because it’s one of those things that looks much better in real life.

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

The pink Franciscan church

This is the main eye-catcher when you’re exploring the old town. It’s a pretty Baroque church. And it’s pink. What more do you want?

It also looks beautiful at night.

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

The bridges – including the Triple Bridge

Ljubljana is strong on its bridge game. In front of the Franciscan church, there’s not one, not two, but three bridges. Together, they’re known as the Triple Bridge (how did they think of that name?!). We have our mate Plečnik to thank for this, naturally. It was originally one main bridge and he was asked to widen it to allow for more traffic without it collapsing. But instead, he added on two pedestrian bridges either side and a heap of pillars, which looks much better than just one boring wide bridge.

Another famous bridge is the Dragon Bridge. Legend has it that Jason and his Argonauts passed Ljubljana on their way to the Adriatic. Jason, momentarily distracted from his fleecey goal, decided to stop off at Ljubljana, probably based on TripAdvisor recommendations, and ended up fighting a dragon. Standard. Said dragon is now the symbol of the city. He has his own bridge and there are dragony things all over the old town.

There are plenty of other bridges over the river – and of course those bloody love locks have crept onto one. There are mixed feelings on these aren’t there? I fall firmly on the side of ‘tack’. But the bridge they’re on in Ljubljana is a good’un – the Butchers’ Bridge – another one Plečnik was involved in (obvs). It’s a very modern-looking one this time with glass flooring on both sides. It leads over to the central market.

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

Ljubljana central market

The market is mostly open air, but it has a stretch of covered halls lined by more pillars. Unsurprisingly, this was designed by, you guessed it, Plečnik. Never has someone been so obsessed with pillars.

As well as loads of local fruit and veg, the market also has fresh milk on offer. You get this from an udderly unbelievable milk vending machine. It’s like a normal vending machine but with milk. Actual milk. Chris is lactose intolerant so this was a treat only for me. You can bring your own bottle and fulfil all your milk-based dreams.

Cow juice aside, the market is well worth a wander round.

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

Inside Ljubljana cathedral (or Church of St Nicholas)

Another little Baroque number here for you. The cathedral isn’t massive but is worth a look inside. If you’re on the aforementioned free tour, you’ll get a chance to do this and hear some history about it. I immediately forgot the history but enjoyed the interior. White and gold. Or is it blue and black? #dressgate #outofdateculturalreference

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

Ljubljana castle

Watching over the city from a hilltop, you’ll find Ljubljana Grad (Castle). To get there, you can enjoy a relaxing stroll sweaty climb up the hill as you realise the autumn sun is actually quite warm and you’re wearing far too many layers.

It’s worth the effort for the castle though. It isn’t a particularly fairytale-looking castle up close, but it had probably the best city views I’ve ever seen from its clock tower. I really like the view from the top of the church in Reykjavik, but this was more up my street: golden rooftops, trees and river. You can even see the Kamniške Alps in the distance with a bit of snow on them. Perfect.

Aside from the view, you can walk round the castle and its grounds. There are plenty of museums and exhibitions inside, but as the weather was so good, we didn’t spend too long indoors.

You can get the funicular back down into the city. FUNicular.

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

Metelkova: alternative Ljubljana

Metelkova was reminiscent of Christiania in Copenhagen: an autonomous, alternative area.

It used to be a Yugoslav army barracks, then people squatted in it in the 90s. These days, it’s a place for all forms of art, live music and Bohemian nightlife. Our favourite bit of art was actually the pigeon graffiti pictured below: ‘take a shit on gentrification’.

Being horrendously uncool, we didn’t go at night but in the afternoon when it was quite quiet. The buildings are all absolutely covered in street art and you can wander into some that are art galleries. There was definitely an arty vibe over a touristy/druggy one, so I actually preferred it to Christiania.

If you just want to walk round it in the day, it won’t take long. Half an hour would do.

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

What to do on a rainy evening in Ljubljana: the Museum of Illusions

You know that bit of the day on holiday where the sun starts to go down and shops/tourist things start shutting, but it’s too early to eat? Usually between 4 and 6 pm? We call it The Difficult Period and usually end up going for drinks if we’re not going back to the hotel to get changed for the evening. But often, the best way to fill it isn’t with local craft ale (disputable) but with museums. Loads of them tend to be open until 6pm, or even later. This was the case in Ljubljana too.

We scouted out the Museum of Illusions for one of these evening slots, and as an added bonus it was pouring down with rain so we definitely wanted to do an indoor activity.

I bloody love this kind of thing so really enjoyed the museum. The whole thing took about half an hour and is spread over three floors. It was 9.5 euro each. Money well spent to briefly become a floating head on a plate.

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

Where to eat in Ljubljana

We ate really well and really cheaply in Ljubljana. But we ate a lot. So much so that I think it deserves an entire post dedicated to it. Splitting it off into a separate post will also help stop me from turning this blog post into War & Peace.

So I’ve done a ‘where to eat (and drink) in Ljubljana’ blog post separately. It includes Slovenian tapas, pizza, craft beer, orange (yes orange!) wine, homemade pasta and vegan cake.

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

Shopping in Ljubljana

If the eating wasn’t enough to keep us busy, then the shopping deffo was. I honestly could have filled an entire extra suitcase with all the stuff I wanted to buy, but alas EasyJet’s baggage allowance wouldn’t have been very impressed.

Some of the best little concept/design/trinket shops were on Stari Trg. Walking around there, you’ll stumble across some absolute gems. A lot of them sell local Slovenian products – handmade jewellery and homewares all with a bit of a Scandi look to them. Everything feels rustic and warm but effortlessly stylish.

These were some of my favourites that I remembered to note the names of:

  • GUD shop – one of the most gorgeous shops I’ve ever been in. Pastel-coloured homewares, geometric jewellery, Etsy-like accessories. I wanted it all. We bought one of our favourite souvenirs ever from here: a Ljubljana tote bag with a print of the city in pastel pink and blue. We both fight over it and it hangs on the back of the door of our spare room as a decoration when not in use.
  • SMILE concept store – they had so many gorgeous things, including unicorn necklaces and a stationery selection of dreams.
  • Formadoma – If we lived in Ljubljana (I wish we did), this is where we’d buy our furniture. It has some gorgeous stools, tables, lamps, etc. Sadly all too big for the suitcase.
  • Foxboutique – This was the first shop to catch my eye. We got a little haul of amusing and/or pretty postcards.
  • Babushka Boutique – They sold plates with cat faces on. I have serious regret over not buying some, even though they wouldn’t have fared well in our suitcase given that we had an onward journey to Zagreb. But they were so lovely.
  • Beer Shop Primožu – I had to pop this in. We bought some cans of local craft beer from here and they had a fantastic selection. 

There’s also the slightly grittier but no less interesting Trubarjeva Cesta. We didn’t have time to fully explore there, but seemed to have a lot of independent boutiques like the Agent Panda Concept Store. That’s the only one I can remember looking in, but we’d have nosed round more if we’d not been rushing to our river cruise…

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

How to round off a short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia: a river cruise

If a walking tour starts a city break, then surely a boat trip closes it? You’ve pounded the streets, got your bearings and feel like you’ve begun to really get to know the place. And if it’s Ljubljana and you have good taste, you probably don’t want to leave.

Seeing the city from a different angle is a nice way to finish your visit. We chose Barka Ljubljanica because out of all the river cruise boats, theirs was the only wooden one, which made it much cuter. We got a free drink too, by showing a ticket from the aforementioned free walking tour.

Unlike most city boat trips we’ve been on, when we end up with INSTANT regret as you’re wearing normal clothes and then you get on a boat on freezing cold, open, windy waters and want to curl up and die, this one was warm enough. Maybe we were well wrapped up after so many city breaks that ended in the instant regret of a boat trip. Or maybe the beer helped.

The cruise was 8 euro each and lasted 45 minutes. It starts out towards Špica where the Ljubljanica River splits into two, then loops back round to the old town so you can see the main sights from the river.

If the prospect of a nice 45-minute river cruise seems too calm and relaxing for you, go on it 55 minutes before your taxi is due to arrive to take you to the train station. Enjoy the rising sense of panic as it seems to be lasting forever.

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

How to pronounce Ljubljana and thoughts overall…

Lub-liana. But it’s loob-lana to the locals.

Overall, we had such a good time on our short break in Ljubljana. It’s compact enough to see plenty in just a short break, but varied and interesting enough to leave you wanting more. I still can’t get over how pretty and how clean it was. Visiting in autumn only added to the magic – the best season, of course, but I felt like it really suited the city.

It’s no secret that we’re both Scandiphiles. We talk about living in Sweden one day and we’re always longing for our next trip to the area. But Ljubljana is 100% up there with the Scandi cities for us now. It shares many of the qualities we love about them: green, clean, pretty, everything being good quality, a general feeling of calmness. And Slovenia as a country is definitely one we need to explore further. As an added bonus, as much as we adore our Scandinavian holidays, they do have a painful impact on our bank balance. We’re now really keen to see more of Slovenia and I know it won’t bring quite the same bankruptcy.

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia | PACK THE SUITCASES

A short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia: useful information

How to get there (and away)

The only downside to Ljubljana is that you can’t fly to it direct from Manchester or Liverpool or anywhere useful. You have to go all the way to bloody London, which is a pain. But if you can get through that horror, it’s totally worth it. The flight took just over 2 hours. We didn’t fly home from Ljubljana, but went on to Zagreb via train (post on that coming soon).

Where to stay

We stayed in Apartment House Trta. It was clean, had a good shower and was perfectly located on the banks of the river just a little walk into town. It was also above one of the best pizza places in the city (which was shut every night we were there – oops). We don’t really do hotels much any more because it’s more relaxing being in your own little apartment (and you don’t have to get up for breakfast) but there seemed to be plenty of hotels nearby too.

How to get around

Everywhere is walkable. It’s very compact. Ljubljana also has a well-connected train station, so is ideal for a multi-destination holiday – for example, we went on to explore Zagreb.

When to go

We went in early October, when it was beautifully golden everywhere and a nice temperature for walking round most days. So I’d definitely recommend autumn. Spring would be nice too, but it sounds like it gets busier in summer, so maybe avoid it then if you can.

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31 thoughts on “A fairytale short break in Ljubljana, Slovenia”

  1. I have never heard of this city before, but when you say “Fairytale” I can see why. It seems like they have the perfect mix of beautiful buildings, tasty food, and awesome things to do. I love places that can give you the perfect day.

  2. Ljubljana sounds amazing. I didn’t know there was so much to do! I love the milk fountain/dispenser at the market and the bridges! I honestly didn’t think that I’d want to go to Ljubljana so much after reading this- I love that it’s a green city as well x

  3. I love that this part of Europe is getting so much love lately! I’m hoping to make it out there before it gets packed like Iceland! Ljubljana seems like such a great place to start. It’s absolutely stunning!

    1. Me too! If you fancy another underrated place, try Sofia in Bulgaria. Another one we LOVE! Agree on Iceland… we posted about our trip there and how tourism had taken over and it went viral haha. Thanks for the nice comment x

  4. What a brilliant place! Zero waste and beautiful. I have to admit I’m still cackling at the thought of Trip Adviser for Dragons…”we found the flames to be particularly impressive and full of colour, although the roar was not deep enough and barely menacing”. But for definite this is now on my list, including the Museum of Illusions and the fine stationery you mention.

  5. Beautiful photos! Mark went to Ljubljana about 10 years ago and absolutely fell in love with the city – it’s one of his favourite European cities! We’re hoping to get there soon so I can finally see what he’s on about haha. Glad you also loved it 🙂

  6. I think Ljubljana is one of the prettiest cities I’ve seen so far! Sad I missed the views from up the Castle Hill because they seem amazing from your photos! <3

  7. Ljubljana is absolutely on my bucket list and your post just makes me want to visit even sooner. Metelkova is a new one to me and sounds really interesting – I thought Christiania was fascinating and thought-provoking so I suspect it’s right up my street. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  8. Gorgeous photos of Ljubljana! I visited the city in the summer and became obsessed with it. Your post makes me want to go back ASAP 🙂 It’s also great to see that the Slovenian city looks incredible during every season! Out of curiosity, how was the train between Ljubljana and Zagreb?

  9. Ljubljana is the next European city that i want to go to! It’s so so pretty and I’ve heard so much about it. Your photos make me want to go even more. The pink church looks stunning, especially at night!

  10. You had such great weather when you were there. We were rained out of Ljubljana 🙁 but we did manage to see the castle. Slovenia should definitely be on everyone’s Europe list! The cities are charming and the nature is absolutely stunning!

  11. Wow! I am amazed at the beauty of this city! I want to go so bad! As a matter of fact, I am looking for tickets to Zagreb and Budapest in order to travel around Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro (next year). The city reminds me be a bit of Prague. I think it is because of the river, churches and red roofs. Thanks for the inspiration!

  12. Loved reading your blog. We’re visiting Slovenia (from NZ) in June next year and will spend several days in Ljubljana using it as a base for day trips to other towns and villages. Can’t wait!

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