Ljubljana is the perfect day trip city! Slovenia’s capital offers the charms of a small town with the amenities of a major city.
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We live only two hours from Ljubljana, but because of pandemic problems, it took me two years to go visit! But once I went, I fell in love with Slovenia’s capital.
Ljubljana has this great balance of being an old-world city with plenty of modern charm. The architecture is lovely and historic, with cute shops and restaurants lining the bottom floors of each building. Much of the old town is pedestrian-only, making it an easy city to navigate. Being a country capital, there are plenty of amenities you want in a city, but it somehow maintains the feel of a small town.
In short, if you’re planning any kind of road trip or backpacking adventure, add Ljubljana to your list!
What to See in Ljubljana
Ljubljana is small enough that you can hit the highlights in a day without rushing. It’s a great city for meandering; it’s small and beautiful, full of cafe patios and outdoor seating at restaurants.
While you’re walking, make sure to check out the bridges! The city is full of beautiful bridges, many named after their descripton. Most famous is the dragon bridge (Zmajski Most), guarded by sculptures of the city symbol.
If you arrive in the morning, head straight for Central Market. It’s a great example of a classic European market. Farmers sells fruits and vegetables, and there are a few food and drink stalls if you want to pick up a cheap lunch.
Ljubljana has two particularly beautiful churches. The first is the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, sitting on the main street of the old town. Its gorgeous ceiling alone is worth a visit. The second is the Franciscan church, recognizable by its unique red color. The inside is beautiful, but I love the striking exterior most.
During summer 2021, there was an art installation of rain in the Preseren Square just outside the Franciscan church! It was really cute and fun, and a great way to cool off on a hot day. If you’re there in summer, look for it!
The obvious thing to see in Ljubljana is the castle! It sits above the old town, making it hard to miss. To reach it, you can either walk up the hill or take the cable car. The walk is steep but beautiful, offering wooded paths and beautiful city views. The cable car entrance is here and costs 2€ per ride, so it’s a good deal if you don’t want to work for it.
The castle isn’t anything crazy, but you should definitely head up there. It’s free to enter the main area, where you can get a feel for the place and eat at the cafe. Tickets are required to enter the exhibits and viewing areas.
The tower has a great view of the city, river, and surrounding countryside. I did really enjoy the 6-minute video they offer explaining the history of the castle and Ljubljana, and why the city’s symbol is a dragon! They also have a great kids program within the museum – there’s a storyline about a mouse living in the castle.
When planning your trip, tickets to the castle feel optional. Not a waste, but if money is tight, this isn’t the only castle I’d visit.
Of course eating well matters on every trip! If you only have one meal in Ljubljana, eat at Julija. It has a bit of a Parisian bistro feel, but with amazing Slovenian dishes. Slovenian food has a big Italian influence (historically the border here has wobbled quite a big geographically), so you’ll see lots of filled pasta and probably a risotto.
Everything we ordered here was excellent! I went with zlikrofi, a traditional dumpling pasta with pancetta and mushrooms. The wine list is long and runs on the dry side, so if you want help, ask the staff for a recommendation. We ended up with a rose that was lovely on a warm day.
The runner-up lunch option for those of you who haven’t been in the US for a while: Pop’s Place. Pop’s is known for its burgers, and I know folks who will drive to Ljubljana just for lunch at Pop’s. Quality burgers are really hard to find here, which I find baffling. But it’s true – I rarely order a burger in Europe, even when I’m craving them because they’re rarely good. Pop’s is the exception with great burgers and a long beer list!