We can barely spell it but oh how beautiful and romantic Ljubljana is! Ljubljana (pronounced Loo blee ah nah), the capital and largest city of Slovenia, is an off-the-beaten-tourist-path city that stole our heart from the second we arrived. Bubbly Tourist traveled here in early May which, from our perspective, was just ideal. The weather was warm and sunny and it was so quiet and uncrowded that it felt like we were the only tourists enjoying this hospitality-driven city! English is widely spoken so communication is easy. Read more to find out why we absolutely adore the old town of Ljubljana and find its surrounding castles so enchanting.
Things to see and do in and around Ljubljana
Ah, the list is numerous but the allure of Ljubljana is definitely the old town where everything is within walking distance. Strolling about this pedestrian-only and bicycle friendly area, the first thing you'll notice is its romantic charm. Peer up and down the cobblestone streets that run along the river and you'll find a very clean and safe environment with beautifully terraced homes that look and feel rich in history. Stop and take in the fresh air and be grateful that you're virtually alone in this precious city.
The river Ljubljanica cuts right through the heart of the old town so you're never very far from it. Notice the people leisurely strolling along the river, crossing the bridges and taking in a coffee. Grab a bite to eat or have something to drink at the numerous restaurants lining the river. The area is chill so gone are the hustle and bustle of city traffic and quickly you realize how any worries and/or stresses have seemed to dissipate. If you're in the mood for a short river walk, head along the river for 10 minutes or so to the Spica Park and just relax or grab a coffee at the café there. You'll know you've reached the park when the Ljubljanica river splits.
Regardless where you are in the city, it's hard to miss the castle perched atop its highest point. The Ljubljana Castle has its origins in the 12th century and today is a venue for cultural events, concerts and gala receptions like weddings. It is accessible via funicular, car or by footpath. Walk the path as it will take you first through the city and then through the woods where you can see and listen to the church bells from below before finally reaching the castle. It is, however, quite steep so caution to those without proper footwear or challenges with very steep inclines. Once on top, take in the history of the castle and some of the most beautiful views of the city, hills and mountains that surround it. It's free to walk the castle grounds but there is a fee to enter the watchtower and Chapel of St. George. There are also three restaurants from which you can dine and drink that range from a simple courtyard cafe to more gastronomic options.
Take a walk at night and see how beautifully lit up the city is. The castle, bridges, river and (of course!) the town are all aglow. So, whether it's just a nighttime stroll or you're heading out to dinner, take advantage of the old town at night. It truly is gorgeous.
As you would expect, there are plenty of restaurants and cafes right along the river from where one can dine and/or socialize. We had dinner and wine with friends right in the old town and it was very reasonable. One of the untold perks of this beautiful country is its affordability. That's right, in addition to it being absolutely gorgeous country, your money will go far. And the service, well it's downright fabulous. Ljubljana is a very hospitality forward city. Add friendly waitstaff and dining becomes quite the experience to remember. At the recommendation of a local, one of the restaurants we ate at was Spajza. It was a short stroll down an adorable side street and is highly recommended. Keep an eye out for the stairs in the floor leading to the restrooms.
Drink the local wine and try some bubbly! As oenophiles, Bubbly Tourist loves to drink wines. Pictured below, you'll see us trying the local bubbly and pinot noir. You will rarely hear of us passing on the opportunity to enjoy local sparkling wine! It is a relatively new venture for some of these vintners so give it some time and who knows, maybe one day they'll become world renowned. One bottle in particular that we highly enjoyed was the 2018 Carolina Rdeca. It's a medium-bodied, smooth, red blended wine mostly of cabernet sauvignon that pairs well with veal, poultry and/or mushrooms.
See the dragons. As the city of dragons, the dragon is the symbol of Ljubljana and has been proudly placed on the city coat of arms. Take a minute to look around and you will start to notice dragons throughout the city and in particular on the Dragon Bridge. The bridge is a major draw for visitors of the city and it is well worth carving out time to explore it and its dragons. But why the dragon? Legend has it that when Jason and the Argonauts fled they eventually found themselves at the Ljubljanica river. As it was winter, they decided to camp near the spring of the river where the dragon lived and hunted. Jason heroically fought and killed the dragon and Ljubljana was founded. Or so the story goes....
Bike through Tivoli Park. Our hotel provided bicycles and therefore made it incredibly easy to bike to nearby Tivoli Park. This beautiful park is adjacent to old town and only five minutes to reach by bike. There are numerous bicycle and walking paths within the park for you to explore. TripAdvisor gave it a Traveller's choice award for things to do so please don't just take our word for it.
Visit the parks of nearby Bled Castle. It's a 45 minute drive but trust Bubbly Tourist when we say this is a must-see! We spent a few hours just walking the forest trails that lead down to and around the lake and back up to Bled Castle.
Once down to the lake, you'll find paved walking and biking trails around it as well as relatively easy dirt hiking trails that lead through the woods. The views of the island church known as Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary are simply stunning as seen in the photo below. There are also swimming and boating areas and a cafe within a short walking distance.
In the Bled Castle itself, there is plenty to see and do. For one, the views down over the lake, the island church and the town of Bled with its surrounding forest are stunning. Secondly, the audio tour marked by its QR codes provides an interesting historical view of this 1000 year old castle. In addition to the historical tour of the castle, you can also see The Old Vine of Lent in Maribor which is a certified descendent of the oldest grapevine on the planet and head to the tasting room to taste some local wines. Finally, you should take advantage of the delicious food and have lunch or dinner at the Bled Castle Restaurant. We were shocked at how amazing the food was at a tourist stop like this. The views through the window of the restaurant present you with constant scenic beauty over the courtyard of the castle and down to the lake as you take in the savory dishes. Highly recommended! Pro Tip: If you make a reservation at the restaurant for at least a three course meal, entrance to the castle is free.
Other Important Information
Where is Ljubljana and for that matter Slovenia? Ljubljana is centrally located in Slovenia and is accessible by car from Austria to the North (3 hours to Salzburg), Italy and the Adriatic Sea to the West (1 hour to Trieste), Croatia to the South and East (1.5 hours to Zagreb) and Hungary directly East (5 hours to Budapest). Ljubljana is also conveniently accessible via plane and the airport is only 30 minutes from town. One of our Bubbly friends flew directly from London to meet us in Ljubljana.
How many days should one spend in Ljubljana? Including a trip to nearby Bled Castle, a minimum of two days is needed but we spent three nights here and we thought it was absolutely perfect to do everything above and still have time to just relax and in this stress-free enchanting city.
Where should one stay? Without question, stay in the the Old Town of Ljubljana and ideally the pedestrian area. We stayed at the Zlata ladjica Boutique Hotel where, in our experience, service was literally second to none. And that's worldwide. We don't typically recommend specific hotels (and our opinion is not influenced or sponsored in any way), but when you stay at a place where everything is perfect and service is their number one priority, then we feel it's our job to make sure others know about it. The hotel is conveniently located along the river in the pedestrian zone by the Cobbler's Bridge. We called as we arrived and were met by one of the hotel staff who entered the code to allow our car to move into the old town near the pedestrian zone for free parking. At check-in we learned that each unique room came with its own historic inspiration and a view of the old town. If you do stay here, be sure to be ready for the hearty made-to-order breakfasts. The restaurant is also open for meals and cocktails with outdoor seating. The hotel is somewhat pricey (comparatively) but for two to three nights, it's well worth it. Click on the photo below to see more video of the pedestrian area just outside the hotel's door.