Unusual Things To Do in Ljubljana, Slovenia

By Abi King | Western Europe

Jan 06
There are so many beautiful and unusual things to do in Ljubljana when you travel to Slovenia. From quirky historical tours to great food and interesting architecture, this guide to the best things to do in Ljubljana will help you plan your trip to Slovenia. #Ljubljana #Slovenia

Ljubljana was one of the cities of my dreams, my Atlantis.

Sure, the taxi driver left me stranded on the outskirts of town in the rain – but let’s write that one off as an occupational hazard. Thereafter, Ljubljana gave me enough experiences and inspiration to choke up my long-suffering hard drive. There are simply so many unusual things to do in Ljubljana, it’s a joy to write about the place.

Seatbelt fastened, tray tables stowed and seats in the upright position? All right, then. Let’s go.

Ljubljana: What it is and where it is.

Perhaps you know this, perhaps you don’t. To spare your blushes, I’ll tell you myself.

Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia, which was part of Yugoslavia when people my age were growing up. Before that it was part of the Habsburg Empire but before we disappear down the rabbit hole of history for this part of the world, let’s stop and make sure we’ve got our bearings.

Slovenia, Ljubljana - where it isThis is where Slovenia lives, landlocked between Italy, Croatia, Austria and Hungary.

Nicknamed “White Ljubljana”

Apparently, Ljubljana earned this nickname thanks to the pale churches & mansions that appeared during the Habsburg era – but I have another theory.

Wander along Ljubljana’s riverside Christmas Markets and you’ll find that the mulled wine scorns the traditional reds found across the rest of Europe – for an unmistakeable Ljubljana white.

Unusual Things To Do in Ljubljana

Unusually Striking: Ljubljana’s Art Nouveau

It’s not just about cobbled streets and medieval city centres. Ljubljana had a thriving art nouveau scene, with opaque glass and ornamental door work still easy to spot across the city.

Ljubljana, Slovenia Art Nouveau

Shop at Ljubljana’s Chic Boutiques

Slovenia Ljubljana Sleek Boutiques

Taste Ljubljana’s Fine Food:

fine food in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana’s gourmet restaurants offered up some of the best meals I found along the #IronRoute. Alas, there were too many to taste them all! Here’s Restaurant Spajza, which I’d highly recommend if you ever find yourself in Ljubljana…

Warm Yourself with Ljubljana’s Hearty Food…

jota - traditional dish from Ljubljana, Slovenia

The icy winter winds have really started to bite as I’ve travelled north. Arriving in Slovenia was the watershed. It is cold.

That’s what makes jota so perfect. Warm, hearty, bursting with flavour from beans, pork cubes and sauerkraut (don’t laugh, it tastes better than it sounds,) this dish of jota was enought to sweep out the chill from my bones and usher in an interesting chat with the chef.

Delicious.

Catch Ljubljana’s “Traditional” Street Art and Sleep in a Jail Cell (Last part optional)

Ljubljana Slovenia Edgy street art

Wander around the streets near Hostel Celica (which itself used to be a prison) to catch up with plenty of street art and edgy living.

Enjoy Ljubljana’s “Unusual” Street Art

Ljubljana Street Art in Slovenia

Yet you can find sweet street art like this as well…

Take on Ljubljana and the Dragon

Ljubljana Dragon, Slovenia

Ljubljana has not one but four dragons guarding the, er “Dragon Bridge” (one of the earliest asphalt bridges in Slovenia, if you’re into that kind of thing.) From paper dragons in China to scarlet flag-emblazoning ones in Wales, to patriotic dragon slayers called George in England and Jordi in Catalunya, I’ve never quite worked out why so many different cultures have such similar takes on this mythical, fire-breathing creature.

Discover Ljubljana and the Iron Curtain

Slovenia, Ljubljana History - military tank

OK, here’s where we get serious again. For all the above-mentioned frivolity, the iron curtain is the real reason why I came to Ljubljana on this particular trip. Apologies if you know this already, but I’d started in Istanbul and travelled by InterRail up to Berlin in order to zigzag across the former iron curtain, the barrier that carved up Europe while I was at school.

Slovenia, and hence Ljubljana, and to an extent all of the former countries of Yugoslavia, formed a vital part of this route. But not, perhaps, for the reason you might imagine.

To be continued…The story continues over here with The Cold War, the Iron Curtain & Somewhere In Between
. To put the iron route into context, visit the #ironroute page or watch the video.

Where to Stay in Ljubljana

Recommended place to stay: the Antiq Palace Hotel & Spa

Disclosure: #IronRoute was sponsored by InterRail at www.interrailnet.com. As usual, I had complete editorial control.

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About the Author

Abigail King is an award-winning writer and author who swapped a successful career as a hospital doctor for a life on the road. With over 60 countries under her belt, she's worked for Lonely Planet, the BBC, National Geographic Traveller and more. She is passionate about sustainable tourism and was invited to speak on the subject at the EU-China High Level summit at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.Here she writes about food, travel and history and she invites you to pull up a chair and relax. Let's travel more and think more. Welcome!

  • I enjoyed this story and really like the idea of the #IronRoute project. Haven’t been to that area since Tito-times but this makes me want to return. What;s interesting in many of these places is the mashup of the old and the new, the Art Nouveau vs the street art, for example.

    • Abi says:

      I’d be very interested to hear of your experiences during Tito’s time…

      • Hi Abi,
        I was in the Army at the time and was driving down to Greece and back, which was the reason most travelers drove across the country at that time. I entered (and returned) through what is now Slovenia.
        All of Yugoslavia back then was very impoverished although its people were much better off than they were in the other communist states. There were very few cars and the traffic on highways consisted mainly of trucks and a few tourists. The cities were drab although the countryside was beautiful.
        We had a big English sheep dog in our car, a breed they had never seen before, and it looked like a Greek flokati rug as it stretched out in the back. When I drove into the cities crowds would sometimes gather around the car to look at it.Unfortunately, at that time, I couldn’t have a lot of interaction with the people beyond that.
        Everything was quite cheap. Down in the southern part of Yugoslavia I had a brake problem with my car and brought it to a car repair shop which was part of some guy’s home. He didn’t have the part we needed but took if from another car and then spend about six hours filing in down by hand to make it the right size. He charged me $7.

      • Abi says:

        One of the most interesting things about this trip for me has got to be hearing people’s stories like this. Thank you SO, SO much for taking the time to come back and write that. I haven’t got much to add – and it’s difficult to just say “thanks” and make it sound sincere online – but thank you. That really helps me to get an impression of the place during those years and I really appreciate it.

      • Katja E. Rode says:

        Hello Abi
        I am actually slovenian, and I love how you’ve shown all the beautiful things Ljubljana has to offer. I hope you enjoyed your stay there! I just had to say my personal favorite thing about Ljubljana is the food, sweet stuff OF COURSE

  • What a beautiful city … these posts are making me want to head there so badly!

    • Abi says:

      And these were taken during the fog and drizzle of winter! Just imagine what Ljubljana would look like in the sun!

  • This is one of my own personal Atlantises as well. Glad to know it lives up to expectations.

    • Abi says:

      I always have a slight moment of nervous hesitation when I approach somewhere that I’ve longed to see…It’s as though I’d rather live with the dream of seeing it than to realise that the truth is disappointing. Luckily, that wasn’t the case with Ljubljana. It exceeded expectations!

  • Jarmo says:

    Ljubljana sounds like a lovely city. Looking forward for more posts on your #IronRoute

  • Margo says:

    this has been on my list forever.. can’t wait to go someday. I’m with you on the white wine thing – seems very obvious! ;)

    • Abi says:

      Argh – and I forgot the photo of the white hot chocolate. Now THAT would have strengthened my claim ;)

  • Eurotrip Tips says:

    Informative! But I would’ve hoped a little something on how to actually pronounce this tongue-twisting name, haha. Great photos, as always.

    • Abi says:

      Ha! You mean, you don’t already know?! You must be the only person on earth who doesn’t know yadda yadda yadda etc. Yes, alright, I only found out recently. LeeyOObliARna. Or something like that. Make sure to mumble with your hand in front of your mouth while coughing just to be on the safe side…;)

  • Kathy says:

    I loved Ljubljana when I was there in 2004, looks like it’s just gotten better and better.

    But a small nit about the dragons. In the west, they’re usually seen as dangerous (needing to be fed virgins, for instance), and have wings, whereas in the east they’re seen as powerful protectors, and don’t have wings. St. George slays the dragon in western churches, while dragons curl round the pillars of Mahayana Buddhist temples.

    • Abi says:

      You know, I’d never noticed the difference with regards to the wings! That’s something to look out for in the future. Certainly, many western dragons seem to be seen as villains to be slain (St George/Jordi etc) But the dragon on the Welsh flag? And the Ljubljana dragons? It seems as though it’s a little more complicated – although perhaps I’m reading too much into things…Then, of course, there’s the dragon in Shrek…villain turned lover. Intriguing…

  • Erica says:

    Any city that has a dragon statue is cool in my book. Your love for this place is genuinely reflected by your writing and pics lady.

    • Abi says:

      Then you should go to Wales! Dragons everywhere…;)

  • Federico says:

    Like Kathy, I was also there in 2004 and had a great experience, not only because of the city but because of some great locals I met, who became long term friends. Superb pics as usual!

    • Abi says:

      Making friends always makes a place seem better…Glad you liked it.

  • I will admit I am completely ignorant about this part of the world. You’ve definitely brought this place to life for me.

    • Abi says:

      Good to know! Tricky writing a series like this…Not sure whether most of you are going to read it and think, well obviously!

      • Spela says:

        Dear Abi,

        I really like your post and would like to share a certain curiousity with you … Since you have the picture of that tank in front of the museum and since I can see you like a good mystery, I have a feeling you would be thrilled to know that that tank misteriously turned pink on the night from March 7th to March 8th, the international Women’s Day.

        Noone knows who did it but you can check out the photos in this article, titled “A Pink Tank for All the Slovenian Ladies”:
        http://www.slovenskenovice.si/novice/slovenija/foto-video-roza-tank-za-vse-slovenke

        It even has some flowers stuck in it:)

      • Abi says:

        Ha! Very interesting – thanks.

  • Abby says:

    I love that Art Nouveau look! And their sense of style looks fun. I’d love to go!

    • Abi says:

      I was expecting the medieval history and 20th century conflicts…but the amount of art on display completely took me by surprise. From “alternative” to “mainstream” – nearly everywhere I looked had something interesting to look at.

  • jade says:

    It seems like everything in Ljubljana is centered around art- looks like a lovely place to spend a long trip!

  • Abi says:

    Yep, there’s beauty on almost every street corner. A complete contrast to Sofia, Bulgaria where I had to search heard to find something unusual or picturesque…

  • Violeta says:

    Hi, Abi

    I was born in Ljubljana and we just moved a year ago to San Antonio, TX from there. I was happy to find this about my hometown and I really recommend it to everybody, but not only Ljubljana as a capital but also other beautiful places in Slovenia.

    It is tiny country full of great places, very rich culture and amazing nature from the Adriatic Sea and Karst (Tuscany-like region) on one side to the Alps with beautiful National Park Triglav, lake Bled and rivers on the other side, to the hill country with numerous vineyards and by the way great wine and there is more and more. And what is the best , everything is very close because the country lies on the junction of different regions. From Ljubljana in the middle of the country you need about an hour to each direction and the scenery completely changes. It takes about 2,5 hours driving to Venice, Italy or about 3,5 hours driving to Vienna, Austria. Whatever time of the year you choose it is beautiful, people are nice and food is awesome.

    I recommend some links to see more images and get more information about Slovenia:

    http://www.visitljubljana.com/en/

    http://www.slovenia.info/en/

    or simply google Slovenia and view Images

    Wish you a great vacation if you decide to go and combine Slovenia also with next country Croatia (especially their coast and islands) if you are there during spring or summer.

  • Cristina says:

    I travelled to Ljubljana but I was much younger at a time when regrettably, I hadn’t learned how to travel well. I feel I need to go back to explore this city in more depth because it is such a treasure

  • Luisa Woodcock says:

    When I travelled to Ljubljana in 2008, I had never heard many people talk about it so it’s great to see the city getting the praise it deserves. I remember the street art very well, particularly as I stayed in Hostel Celica (a fantastic, fun and clean hostel by the way). What a beautiful city, this makes me want to go back!

    • Abi King says:

      Oh, Celica is so much fun! (For the uninitiated, it’s a prison turned accommodation block with great modern art installations all around and some of the best white hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted.) I loved Ljubljana and would love to visit in summertime…

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