Ljubljana, the city of… music because I say so
This destination is part of a 10-day itinerary in Slovenia, check it out HERE.
Hello there! For my first post in 2021, and in the hope that more travelling will be possible in the near future, I wanted to talk about Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.
With a population of over 275’000 people, this city is rather small compared to other European capitals but that doesn’t mean less interesting!
If you are flying for a trip in Slovenia, you will most likely land at the Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport (LJU), from where you can rent a car and do a similar road trip as ours or (given everything is relatively close to Ljubljana) you can decide to embark on several day trips using the capital as your base.
Whatever you do, it’s worth spending a dedicated day (or half-day at least) in the city!
❗ NOTE: Unfortunately, this post in particular has less pictures than others… As mentioned before (I think), we did our trip to Slovenia before the idea of this blog was born (😍 ) and while in Ljubljana, we didn’t really pay much attention to our phones and we barely took photos – but hopefully I will make this post convincing, useful and digestible for you!
🎶 Ljubljana rhymes with music
Why “the city of… music”? Well, I haven’t read anywhere about Ljubljana being world-renowned for its live music, but during the evening we spent there, we ran into different open-air concerts, offering from classic and jazz music to hip hop, both on stage and by independent musicians playing their music along the Ljubljanica River.
This was just our experience from one evening, but I had to check it out!
It turns out that the city is home to the Ljubljana Festival, and the summer edition runs from early July to end of August every year with concerts mainly taking place at the Congress Square, although lots of other activities are organised around it. There is also the Summer in the Old Ljubljana Town Festival with classic and jazz music concerts in churches or open-air.
Moreover, during autumn, in the Ljubljana Castle every Friday night there are concerts of jazz, soul, funk, rock and blues through the Ljubljana Castle Jazz Club.
You can feel Ljubljanians have a passion for and culture of live music, which conquered us (me more than H) – our visit was literally music to our ears!
🛏 Where to stay in Ljubljana
But let’s talk about practicalities, and the first question when travelling is usually where to stay.
When we travel to a city with a car, and especially for a short time, the most important thing to me is a place that is centric and offers parking, although these two things can be often at odds!
We were happy to find a reasonably priced option at the Central Hotel (map location) with parking included (70€/night for a double room in high season). We cannot tell you how the place is (although it has a high rating on Booking: 8.8) as we were relocated due to COVID-19 to another hotel from the same group a bit higher-end: uHotel (map location).
Both hotels are very centric, and at the uHotel, the staff was very nice, the room clean and modern – just perfect after and before a few nights of camping! 😴
🤩 What to visit in Ljubljana
Ljubljana Castle 🏰
The first attraction of the city is maybe the Ljubljana Castle given its protagonistic location on top of the hill (the Castle Hill) and the numerous paths taking you to its fortress from the old town. It’s an ideal spot to watch the sunset over the city.
For those who might not want to hike up, there is a short funicular that takes you to the Castle (it costs 2.20€ one-way or 4€ return).
The Castle Hill already had prehistoric settlements and became a Roman fortification under the name of Emona. It’s believed that the castle complex started as a medieval fortress in the 11th century, although it had to be completely rebuilt in the 15th century, with its main function being to protect the town from Ottoman invasions (and revolts by peasants).
When these threats vanished, the Castle started losing its importance and was used as a military warehouse, hospital and/or prison through several episodes of history (the Napoleonic Wars, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, World War I and II).
The Castle had to go through substantial renovations to look as it does today and it now offers tours, a Viewing Tower, two restaurants, a cafe and a bar (including the Ljubljana Castle Jazz Club I mentioned before) – you can check out its gastronomic offer here and information about visits/tickets here.
Old town 📷
The old town of Ljubljana has two main squares: Prešeren Square, where a colourful 17th-century Franciscan church stands out, and Congress Square. The latter is not named after the fact that the Slovenian “Congress” is located there but rather because many years ago (in 1821) it witnessed the celebrations following the Congress of Laibach (the German name of “Ljubljana”) as part of the Congress System established by Austria, France, Prussia, Russia, and the United Kingdom after the Napoleonic Wars.
Moreover, the old town is also known for its peculiar bridges, starting with the Triple Bridge at Prešeren Square, which is basically a 19th-century stone bridge with 2 adjacent footbridges from the 20th century that decorates the Ljubljanica River very elegantly.
💬 FACT: The Tripe Bridge was designed by Jože Plečnik (1872-1957), a prominent Slovene architect who worked in Vienna, Prague and Ljubljana and whose house in Ljubljana is currently a museum for those who love design (if interested, details to visit the Plečnik House can be found here).
The Butcher’s Bridge on the other hand is known for the amount of “love” padlocks it has on its sides – H and I aren’t the romantic type so we didn’t pay much attention to it but I guess it adds it’s charm to the city!
Last but not least, the city features its Dragon Bridge which dates back to 1901. It follows an Art Nouveau/Vienna Secession style and has these famous and impressive dragon statues (the symbol of the city).
Between the Butcher’s Bridge and the Dragon Bridge, you have the Central Market, a lively street market open from Monday to Saturday, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. – worth walking by it if you would like to buy some local products.
You can then continue your visit of the old town along the river and through the following venues: Ciril-Metodov trg, Mestni trg, Stari trg and Gornji trg. One thing I really liked about this city is the amount of concept stores it has! And note this, if you wish to buy any souvenir from Slovenia, do it while in Ljubljana (we didn’t see that many shops in the other places we visited afterwards and unfortunately came back home almost empty-handed).
Also, we didn’t do the typical free walking tour in Ljubljana because the starting time was not very convenient for us, but I have to admit I usually like these tours (I always end up learning a lot!). 😅 So I had checked this out before, and you have a tour starting every day at 11 a.m. from Prešeren Square in English and it lasts for two hours (more info on the link).
Ljubljana City Museum 🏛
Ok, so it’s time for a #geek moment in this post! 🤓 H is passionate about Prehistory and Ancient history, and this city hides a relic; or more precisely, the Ljubljana City Museum does.
First of all, you need to know that in the south of the city, you have the Ljubljana Marshes which cover 0.8% of the whole country’s territory, and they were inhabited since prehistoric times (back then it was a shallow lake).
This area actually has ruins of a few prehistoric pile dwellings which have been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and there they found in 2002 the oldest wooden wheel yet discovered. This wheel made of ash wood is believed to be 5,150 years old (!!), and it was found with an axle of oak wood – pretty amazing, isn’t it?
If you wish to see the wheel and axle or find out about other interesting events of this city so rich in history, the Ljubljana City Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and costs 6€/adult. I have also included it on the map of recommendations at the end. 😉
Metelkova Art Centre 🎨
One last curious spot worth a visit is Metelkova Mesto, a neighbourhood and alternative art centre that was born in 1993 from a squat in former Austro-Hungarian army barracks. The occupation took place in order to avoid the demolition of this site and it’s often compared with Copenhagen’s Freetown Christiania, although on a smaller scale.
It’s interesting to visit this place during the day to appreciate its colourful paintings and sculptures, and it gets very lively in the evenings, with often a full programme of events and concerts that include international underground artists and DJs.
🥗 Where to eat and have a drinkWe found two main areas in the city with many options for eating: the streets along the Ljubljanica River (Cankarjevo, Gallusovo or Hribarjevo nabrežje) and the central venues in the old town (Ciril-Metodov, Mestni, Stari or Gornji trg). As mentioned, the Castle area also has a few nice restaurants and bars! For instance, before leaving the city, we really enjoyed having a rich breakfast along the river in Slovenska Hiša (map location), which has a pleasant terrace and offers plates of local products and nice breakfast formulas. For dinner, we were looking for a lively atmosphere, and the old town’s central venues were just perfect as you could enjoy the concerts in the background. We ended up eating in Robba (map location), a very nice restaurant with a diverse range of local dishes using fresh ingredients and at a very reasonable price (main dishes were between 10-17€ depending on the specialty). After dinner, we felt like having a drink… still in the old town, we went to Pavin Caffe (map location), serving hot drinks and cocktails, ice-cream and cakes, and its terrace faces Hercules fountain where there were also some performances! This cafe was closing around 11 p.m. and we then found Solist (map location), a bar next to the river serving nice cocktails until 1 a.m. – hey, when we aren’t camping, we like our night out! In case of interest, outside the old town but still in the centre, you have the Neboticnik (map location), a 70-m “skyscraper” that was built in the 30s with a Neoclassical and Art Deco style featuring an amazing spiral stair. For a time, the building was the tallest residential tower in Europe! The top three floors include an observation desk, restaurant and bar – definitely a nice place to have a drink while enjoying a beautiful view of Ljubljana and its Castle. You can check these different options and opening hours here.
📍Map of recommendations in Ljubljana
I just want to share a random fact with you! At 60 km of Ljubljana, the Trbovlje Power Station has the tallest chimney in Europe, 364 metres of concrete and steel that were built in order for the gas emissions not to get stuck in the valley. The contrast of the chimney with its surroundings is quite striking.
If you want to appreciate its dimensions, you can watch the video of Flaviu Cernescu climbing the chimney! It’s thrilling… but unfortunately I am afraid of heights and watching the video turned my stomach! 🙈
These are 2️⃣ places we were not planning to visit in Slovenia initially, and what a mistake that would have been! The Logar Valley is beautiful in itself and hides a stunning waterfall and glacial cirque… 🏔 And not so far from it, a historic mine currently offers incredible tours to visitors. Need more reasons?
Highly recommended, these three places in the Karst Plateau will leave you amazed! 😲 Read here why you should visit the Škocjan Cave, Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle during your trip in Slovenia 🇸🇮 – get some tips and learn about a few other suggestions for this region!
Make the most of your trip to the 46-km Slovenian coastline and visit the colourful town of Piran, swim in the hidden Moon Bay and watch the sunset from Socerb Castle. 🌅 I am not a beach lover but this was just what we needed before kicking off our trip to the rest of Slovenia and combat our paleness. 😎