The Ultimate Guide to Ljubljana, Slovenia
Earlier this summer, I spent a few days in Ljubljana during the beginning and end of my bike trip around Slovenia. Knowing nothing about the city before arriving, it has since become one of my favorite European capitals, with its beautiful architecture, green parks, walkability, car-free city center, proliferation of bikes, and abundance of outdoor cafes and restaurants lining the river Ljubljanica. I have no doubt you will fall in love with Ljubljana, too.
Here is some of my favorite things to do and places to eat and drink during your visit.
Where to Stay
Located in the heart of Ljubljana, just up the street from Prešeren Square and the photogenic pink Franciscan Church of the Annunciation, the Grand Hotel Union has played a key role throughout the history of the country. Built in 1905 in the Secession-style of the day, the hotel has hosted key figures from the world of politics, film, music and royalty, even Queen Elizabeth. If only those beautifully decorated Art Nouveau walls could speak.
What to Do
Guarding the city from its perch high above the river, Bled Castle is a must-see on any Ljubljana itinerary. While you could take a funicular to the top of Castle Hill, the hike up through the cobblestoned back alleys is an adventure in itself. From the lookout at the top of the Viewing Tower, you are treated 360-degree views of the city, reaching all the way to the Julian Alps in the distance.
As a huge library nerd, I try to visit the local libraries when I travel and Ljubljana’s did not disappoint. The National and University Library was built between 1936 and 1941 to designs by famous Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik. The reading room's most outstanding details are Plečnik's chandeliers and the large glass windows at either end that allow natural light to reach the wooden reader desks and books lining both sides. Be sure to check visitation hours as the library is only open to tourists when the students are not using it.
Ljubljana is a great walking city and that’s the best way to explore her charms. Be sure to stroll along Triple Bridge, Dragon Bridge, and the Butcher’s Bridge where everyone hangs their love locks -- sorry, but why is this still a thing? For a more modern take on the city, wander the Metelkova neighborhood, an alternative culture centre that developed from a squat in a former army barracks, and admire the plethora of unique street art.
Where to Eat and Drink
While not extremely well known on the global market, Slovenian wine is absolutely delicious. With three main wine regions, the country is home to 28,000 wineries, producing upward of 80 million liters of wine annually from its 22,300 hectares of vineyards. While exports continue to grow, the vast majority of the wine remains consumed locally. I spent a couple of days riding my bike through the Primorska wine region in the south west of the country and you would be hard pressed not to believe you were in Tuscany. The vineyards, architecture, food, climate, and even language are all similar.
If you don’t get the chance to visit some wineries in Slovenia, head to the Šuklje Wine Bar on the banks of the Ljubljanica River. Here you can partake in a wine tasting or sip on a glass of your favorite varietal, choosing from an extensive wine menu with over 300 labels from Slovenia and a wine-by-the-glass menu that changes every month. My personal favorites were the Slapšak sparkling wine whose brut crispness was refreshing on a hot summer evening and the Pinot Noir from one of the country’s most popular producers, Movia.
A couple doors down from the wine bar, you’ll find Pop’s Place Pizza. Continually bustling from the minute they open at lunchtime until the wee hours of the morning, this casual restaurant’s Neapolitan-style pizzas made with 100% sourdough crust rival anything I have ever eaten in Italy. The menu includes other items for those not wanting to indulge in a pie, such as its sister restaurant’s signature burger, along with an extensive drinks list of local microbrews and wines. It’s a great place for solo diners as a variety of communal tables invite you in to relax and feel like you are part of the crowd.
Yes, there are some award winning restaurants that serve exquisite modern Slovenian food such as Gostilna na Gradu from Chef Ana Roš and JB Restaurant from Chef Janez Bratovž, but if you don’t want to drop a ton of money on dinner, wait for Friday and Open Kitchen. Every Friday from mid-March to October, this open air market lining the Central Market and Pogačar Square, offers you an opportunity to meet Slovenian chefs, taste Slovenian and international dishes, and learn about different methods of food preparation. Many of the local restaurants, including JB Restaurant, open food trucks where you can taste their most popular dishes for just a few euros.
The coffee scene in Slovenia is growing with places like Stow, Tozd, and Kvarna Moderna offering great cups. But each morning I would head up the street to R&B Roastery. Located a bit off the main tourist beat on a busy street, the inside offers a cozy respite for your daily caffeine hit. When you order, you first pick your freshly roasted bean of choice — light, medium, or dark roast — and then watch the skilled barista turn it into a delicious work of art.