Last updated on February 14, 2020
Ljubljana is Slovenia’s sensationally charming and green capital city and offers instant immersion into this blessed nation’s unique culture.
So here it is, your convivial guide to the best things to do in Ljubljana!
Life here is extremely agreeable and revolves around the emerald-green Ljubljanica River, which wends its way through the heart of the city and is fringed by a seemingly endless array of idyllic cafe terraces, restaurants and scenes of joviality.
No, really, I can say this without any sense of hesitation: Ljubljana is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. And Slovenia as a whole is a country the rest of us should be looking to for guidance.
But although it may be tempting to while away your days ambling along the river, from cafe to cafe, there’s plenty to keep you entertained for at least 5 days or a week.
Here are the best things to do and see in Ljubljana!
1. Stroll the River and Old Town to Gawk at Ljubljana’s Vibrant Architecture
A series of bridges allow you to traverse the river and soak in the colourful architecture from all angles. You could easily spend a whole week doing nothing else.
Many of the Ljubljana’s Old Town’s postcard-worthy buildings were dreamed up by Slovenian design icon Jože Plečnik, who was also responsible for the urban utopias of Vienna and Prague.
Strolling the leafy embankments, squares and open-air markets here is like losing yourself in an oil painting.
Tip: If you love architecture then I would highly recommend visiting Plečnik House, which celebrates the life and work of Jože Plečnik. It definitely makes sense to buy a Ljubljana Card (roughly €30 if you buy online here), as it also includes entry to Ljubljana Castle and 20 other museums and galleries.
2. Admire One of the Greenest Cities in the World
Ljubljana’s laid-back way of life is bolstered by the government’s commitment to protecting the environment.
Much of Ljubljana’s urban core is reserved exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists – this is a city designed for people, not cars.
In fact, Ljubljana is such a liveable and green city that it was awarded the title of European Green Capital in 2016 and continues to be celebrated for its eco-friendly initiatives.
Today, over 70% of apartments in Ljubljana are heated by the city’s innovative natural gas heating system. It was also the first European capital to foster the Zero Waste program, a sustainable development strategy that aims to go beyond recycling and embrace the reduction of materials and energy overall.
Tip: For a chance to connect with a local and see all the best bits of the city through their perspective, I’d recommend talking taking a walking tour like this one. Do it on your first day in the city so you can get a feel for the place and learn a few tricks to put into practise for the rest of your time in Ljubljana.
3. Chomp Kranjska Klobasa (Sausages) and Guzzle Beer
In New York you eat hot dogs, in Slovenia you eat kranjska klobasa (carniolian sausage).
This hearty sausage is named after the geographical area it comes from and has become something of a cultural symbol of Slovenia. So much so in fact that it’s also become a sort of nickname for Slovenian people.
The best place to eat kranjska klobasa in Ljubljana: Klobasarna is a tiny little place housed in an old watchmaker’s shop and serves nothing but kranjska klobasa – served with mustard (and/or horseradish) and a warm roll (half €3.50, whole €5.90). I ate here a few times and my mouth still waters when I think of it! Perfect with a cold can of local beer.
Tip: If you travel to eat and want to get better acquainted with the traditional fare of Slovenia, definitely consider taking a local food and wine tour like this one. As well as learning about the history of the local people and their food, you’ll also likely discover a few local places to eat and drink, so be sure to go on one of your first couple of days in the city.
4. Nibble Your Way Around the Odprta Kuhna Market
Every Friday from spring to autumn, the elegant Pogačarjev Square transforms into a trendy open-air kitchen market (or Odprta Kuhna Market).
The stalls are run by the best restaurants, wineries and breweries in Slovenia, who show off their wares and, hopefully, win over new customers.
The locals love it and make something of a social event of lunch there.
Talking of markets…
5. Meet Slovenian Farmers at Central Market
Open more or less every day of the year, Ljubljana Central Market is an altogether more rustic affair.
This is where farmers, florists and various other traders come to hawk their fresh produce to locals at fantastic prices.
Pick up a few things to cook up in your Airbnb, or do as I did and take it as an opportunity to observe daily life in this impossibly charming part of the world.
6. Climb Up to Ljubljana Castle
Perched atop a hill overlooking the Old Town, this 16th century fortress is Ljubljana’s crowning glory and offers spectacular views over the city.
The grounds of the castle are free to enter, although it’s worth paying the entrance fee to go inside and explore the Watchtower, Chapel of St. George and Slovenian History Exhibition.
Tickets are €13, or €15 with the funicular ride up from the city, which might be a good idea on a hot day as the hike up is quite steep.
Tip: If you’re going to visit Ljubljana Castle then I would highly recommend investing in a Ljubljana Card (roughly €30 if you buy online here). As well as the funicular ride and entry to the castle, it also includes entry to the National Art Gallery, Plečnik House (dedicated to architect Jože Plečnik), the Museum of Illusions, a guided city tour, a boat cruise, travel on city buses, a 4-hour bicycle hire, and more.
7. Pose for Photos on the Dragon Bridge
Ljubljana’s emblematic Dragon Bridge is one of the city’s most photographed landmarks.
It was built between 1900 and 1901, and was Ljubljana’s first concrete structure. At the time, it was also one of the largest concrete bridges in Europe. So, yes, a must-see for sure!
Talking of bridges…
8. Declare Your Love on Butcher’s Bridge
Known as Ljubljana’s ‘love bridge’, Butcher’s Bridge is peppered with padlocks and also a series of bizarre statues and sculptures by artist Jakov Brdar.
The larger statues depict a ghastly disembowelled Prometheus (his punishment for showing men the way of fire), as well as a creepy take on Adam and Eve being banished from Paradise.
On the bridge itself you will also spot series of macabre looking skulls and creepy creatures.
Yes, very romantic!
9. Explore Ljubljana’s Cultural Centres
Dig a little deeper into Slovenia’s past at the Museum of Natural History, and schmooze around The National Gallery and Museum of Modern Art to enjoy works of art by the country’s most celebrated painters – both new and old.
As mentioned above, Plečnik House is a beautiful space that showcases the life and work of Jože Plečnik – a must for all design and architecture lovers.
Families with kids will also love the Museum of Illusions and Puppet Theatre. There’s also a zoo, but I am still not sure where I stand on the topic so I won’t recommend it.
Tip: If you’re planning on visiting the castle, galleries and museums then I would highly recommend investing in a Ljubljana Card (roughly €30 if you buy online here). It’ll save you money as well as time.
Talking of culture…
10. Discover the Other Side of Ljubljana at the Metelkova Mesto
Housed in an abandoned army base, Metelkova Mesto is an illegally occupied squat and alternative cultural centre.
This makeshift village of ancient military buildings is plastered in politically-charged graffiti and hosts regular art exhibitions, theatre performances, music concerts, workshops and, apparently, some of the wildest parties in Ljubljana.
Although it’s a fairly sleepy affair during the day, only a few local punks smoking and drinking under a tree in the midday sun, things get pretty wild here by night.
Tip: I’d like to point out that Metelkova Mesto is not a tourist attraction, per se. To be honest, when I visited in the middle of the day I didn’t feel entirely welcome. There are signs up reminding you that it is not a zoo and that the resident squatters would rather not be photographed. But I must add that I felt completely safe and would definitely recommend visiting if you have time.
11. Linger in Ljubljana’s Sprawling Tivoli Park
After seeing the sights head to the glorious Tivoli Park, which was designed in 1813 by French engineer Jean Blanchard and spans some five square kilometres (it’s bloody massive!).
What’s really beautiful about this verdant community centre is how much life it attracts. Runners, picnic-ers, salsas dancers, slack-liners, jugglers, canoodlers, paperback page-turners, dog walkers and cyclists…
I spent a whole afternoon here and could have easily returned for more the next day.
Talking of cyclists…
12. Rent a Bike and Cruise the River
Ljubljana is one of those cities that is just perfect for exploring on two wheels. Not only is it a relatively flat city, but it also has more than 200 miles of designated bike paths.
Follow the river, get lost in the Old Town and pick up a picnic to enjoy in the sprawling Tivoli Park.
Tip: Join a bike tour like this one to see more of Ljubljana in less time.
13. Dine at the Best Restaurant in Ljubljana
For a real treat, book a table at the fabled JB Restavracija. This elegant but unpretentious space is home to renowned chef Janez Bratovz, who celebrates and innovates Slovenian cuisine.
Chef Bratovz starts every day at the local farmers markets, where he hunts for inspiration and the highest quality seasonal produce.
Chef Bratovz’s daughter Nina is the house sommelier and is the perfect person to teach introduce you to Slovenia’s blossoming wine scene.
Tip: Be sure to explore Slovenia’s natural ‘orange wines’, which pair beautifully with the menu’s sophisticated flavours.
14. Spend Your Evenings Sipping Beer Along the Petkovšek Embankment
As the sun begins to sizzle out, there’s only one place to in Ljubljana and that’s at one of the countless bars lining the leafy Petkovšek Embankment.
I was impressed by the diversity of people here. From old timers to backpackers, couples to stag-groups, there was always a great mix of people and a warm, open atmosphere.
There are too many great bars to list, but generally speaking I would recommend heading to the strip of bars just by the Butcher’s Bridge. Petkovšek is a nice little vibey place to get you started – live music, cocktails and Slovenian craft beers.
What beers to drink in Slovenia: The biggest brewery in Slovenia is Laško Brewery, while Union Brewery follows shortly behind. Both make fantastically crisp and gluggable beer and are available pretty much everywhere from bus stations to fancy hotel bars. But Slovenia also has a thriving craft beer scene, so be sure to go inside and have a look at what the bar has on tap, or at least ask your server for recommendations.
Tip: Talking of craft beer… If like me you’re a bit of a beer nut then consider joining this fantastic Slovenian craft beer tour to learn about and taste what the local brewers are up to.
15. Take a Day Trip to Lake Bled
Slovenia’s iconic Lake Bled is just a 40-minute drive away from Ljubljana – it’s an extremely scenic drive and arriving there in my rental car was one of the highlights of my time in Slovenia.
Book your car here and pick it up from the train station.
Tip: As much as I enjoyed driving myself, I was ever so slightly miffed that I couldn’t enjoy a beer or two at the many idyllic bars and waterside cafes I stumbled across on my stroll around the lake. I’d suggest joining a day-trip tour such as this one, which includes a a boat ride on Lake Bled, a visit to the fairy tale Bled Castle, a visit to the breathtakingly scenic Vintgar Gorge and the medieval town of Skofja Loka. Great value at €60, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to grab a bite to eat and tip back a few cold Laškos!
Speaking of day trips and tours…
16. Take Another Day Trip to Velika Planina
If you have time then I would also highly recommend visiting the Velika Planina plateau, a historic shepherds’ settlement that brings together the best of Slovenia’s outstanding natural beauty, history and culture.
I also had one of the best/heartiest meals of my whole trip and the little wooden cabin-come-restaurant here. The perfect place to refuel after your hike.
Tip: Again, it only takes about 1.5 hours to get to Velika Planina from Ljubljana, so it’s easy enough to do it in your rental car (I booked with Discover Cars). However, I think part of the magic of Velika Planina, for me at least, was having the opportunity to meet local shepherds at their huts and get a feel for their way of life. A tour like this one will take you all the way there and will also stop off at the stunning little town of Kamnik, as well as the Kamniska Bistrica River and a local brandy cellar.
17. Explore Even More of Slovenia
The beauty of Slovenia’s diminutive scale is that you can see quite a bit of it in no time at all.
In fact, you could quite easily set up base in Ljubljana and take day trips to the rest of the country (although I’d recommend moving around a bit if possible).
Make it Happen
Best Time of Year to Visit to Ljubljana (and Slovenia in General)
Ljubljana is small so the summer crowds can be a little maddening. Instead, aim for late spring or late summer, when the crowds are more manageable and the weather’s still great. I’ve also seen photos of Lake Bled in winter and am inspired to visit again to photograph some snowy winter magic.
How to Get to Ljubljana/Slovenia
By air: Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport is the main international airport and is conveniently located just 16 miles out of the city. I actually found it easier and cheaper to fly to Trieste in Italy and then bus it to Ljubljana (find the cheapest flights and bus tickets here).
By train and/or bus: Yep, it is possible. I use and recommend Omio to find the quickest and cheapest modes of transport.
Where to Stay in Ljubljana
Best hostels in Ljubljana: Celica Hostel is an exceptional hostel housed within the walls of a converted prison (yes, really!). As well as dorm rooms, many of the cells have been converted into plush private rooms. There’s also a nice café/restaurant and garden terrace, which plays host to music concerts and art exhibitions from time to time. I would also highly recommend Most Hostel, which has great staff, clean dorms and private rooms located mere footsteps the Dragon Bridge and bars of Petkovšek Embankment (which definitely comes in handy).
Best luxury hotels in Ljubljana: The 4-star Antiq Palace Spa Hotel is housed within a renovated 16th century palace and is located in a prime position right in the heart of the Old Town. The InterContinental Ljubljana (5-star) offers five-star double deluxe living, with suitably plush rooms and an enviable rooftop terrace with sweeping views over Ljubljana, its castle and out to the Julian Alps.
Best apartments in Ljubljana: Airbnb has a great selection of apartments located right in the heart of the Old Town.
Getting Around Ljubljana
Ljubljana’s compact scale and traffic-free Old Town makes it ideal for exploring on foot. It’s also an extremely bike-friendly city, so it’d definitely be worth renting a bike.
If you’re planning on exploring the surrounding areas then you can rent a car from the offices near the trains station – I always look for car rental deals and book online with Discover Cars.
How Long to Stay in Ljubljana
Ljubljana is a tiny city but I’d say you need a good 3 full days to do it justice. If you’re planning to do day trips out to Lake Bled and the like then you’ll ideally need a full week or more.
Tip: If you’re flying through Slovenia as part of a larger European trip and short on time then definitely consider joining an action-packed day tour from Ljubljana, like this one which includes a boat ride on Lake Bled, as well as a visit to Bled Castle, Vintgar Gorge, the medieval town of Skofja Loka, and a lunch at a traditional alpine restaurant.
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Are you planning a trip to Slovenia? Or have you already been? Leave your travel tips, stories and questions in the comments below!
Note: I was invited to Slovenia by Visit Ljubljana. All recommendations, opinions and gushing reviews in this post are however my own. I truly can’t wait to return!