Ljubljana is the largest city in Slovenia. It is the capital of Slovenia, but also one of the smallest and greenest capitals in Europe – it has been voted Europe’s green capital in 2016. It looks and feels much like other European cities, but it has a nicer, more chill vibe to it. It has that idyllic old town center, and a lack of tightly packed downtowns, full of skyscrapers.
It’s also one of the most touristy places in Slovenia. It’s one of Slovenia’s few internationally known places of interest, so many visitors to Slovenia will at least make a stop in Ljubljana.
Since Ljubljana is so popular among the tourists, there have already been countless articles written about it. I kept that in mind while making this post, and decided that the world doesn’t need another mainstream tourist guide. Instead, I decided to describe Ljubljana from the resident’s perspective. I’ll try to keep things light and interesting, and include some quirky places of interest you probably wouldn’t find elsewhere. I’ll still go over the most well-known sights though. After all, you definitely should check them out while you’re in Ljubljana.
The title of this post is things to do in Ljubljana, and that’s what we’ll talk about. But before we dive in, I want to mention two very helpful sections:
I put them at the bottom of this post, since they don’t talk about things to do in Ljubljana, but I wouldn’t want them to go unnoticed either. Now back to the topic!
Things to do in Ljubljana
Visit the Prešeren square
In the very center of Ljubljana lies the square, named after Slovenia’s greatest poet, France Prešeren. And he doesn’t hold that title in vain – one of his poems later became the anthem of Slovenia. He wasn’t from Ljubljana, but his great contribution to Slovenian culture earned him this honor. There’s also a statue, built in his memory, and it stands at the side of the square.
Prešeren square (or Prešernov trg in Slovene) makes for a great meeting place or a starting point for sightseeing. It’s conveniently located in the middle of the city, so it’s close to many bars, restaurants, and sights. In fact, one of Ljubljana’s most renowned sights is located right at the square:
Tromostovje (or Triple bridge in English) is one of Ljubljana’s defining features. It is exactly what you think it is – after all, it does have a pretty self-explanatory name.
The bridge lies at its place since medieval times. Then, there was only one wooden bridge leading over the river. It was a fairly important strategic point, as it was a part of the road, connecting the Balkan regions to the rest of Europe.
The triple bridge we see today was built in 1842 under the guidance of Jože Plečnik, a famous Slovenian architect. You’ll see this name several times in this guide, as his work had a great impact on Ljubljana’s modern image. He designed many iconic buildings in Slovenia as well as in other European cities.
When revamping this important bridge, Plečnik decided to add an extra pedestrian-bridge on each side, as the main bridge was used as a road at the time. He also replaced wood with stone, giving it that majestic look we can still admire today.
Explore the old town
When I find myself in an unknown city, my favorite thing to do is simply to explore it by wandering around. This way, I get to see the city as it is, get to know its vibe, and indulge in the local culture. Sure, this way isn’t so effective, but I don’t want my travels to feel like a speedrun through the local sights.
If you find yourself in Ljubljana, I suggest you do the same. A great starting point would be the Prešeren square since it lies in the very center of the city. From there, pretty much any way you go will take you to the old town.
You can find most of the sights in only a couple of hours. The main places of interest, such as Robov vodnjak (the famous fountain by the sculptor Francesco Robba), the Dragon bridge, or the Cobbler’s bridge are all within a walking distance from the Prešeren square.
Shop at the central market
A few minutes’ walk from Prešeren square lies the Ljubljana’s open-air central market. This is the place where locals go to buy fresh produce, but also meet and hang out. It is a great place for a tourist to feel the local vibe, and to find some great souvenirs. And if you have any means od cooking, I suggest you buy some local food and cook a meal. Most food you’ll find there will be fresh, local, and natural.
The central market operates every day from 8 am to 4 pm, except for Sundays and holidays.
Walk up the castle hill
Many castles throughout Europe were built on a hill overlooking the city, and Ljubljana castle is no exception. The medieval fort lies on the castle hill, which is conveniently surrounded by the Ljubljanica river. The origins of the castle date back to the 12th century, when it served as a fort and protection to the settlement underneath it.
The Ljubljana castle is where you’ll get the best views of the city. The land Ljubljana lies on is mostly flat, which makes the castle hill really stand out. To really see the city from above, simply stroll around the castle and enjoy the 360-degree views.
But the castle isn’t only about the views. This medieval structure has many things to offer:
- Castle museum
- Escape room
- Open-air events
And more. For more thorough information about Ljubljana castle, check their website.
This site lies at the south-east end of the old town. The castle hill is fairly steep, but not too high – it takes about 15 minutes walk to reach the top. And if you’re not in the walking mood, you can simply take the funicular. It is a convenient (and scenic!) way of reaching the Ljubljana castle. The lower station is located at the north end of the hill, near the dragon bridge. The return ticket costs 4€ (price last checked in May 2020).
Stroll along the Ljubljanica river
A great thing to do in Ljubljana is simply to stroll down the Ljubljanica river promenade. The river flows right through the city center, so you can stroll along it as a part of discovering the city center.
The river banks are brimming with bars and restaurants, where you can take a break from the exhausting sightseeing. And if you’re not keen on sitting down in a bar, you’ll find many benches under a cool shade, where you can gather your energy.
Špica – a peaceful spot Ljubljanica
The promenade, that runs through the city center, is fairly short – you can walk along in about 15 minutes. But don’t just walk down the promenade, make a check on your list, and move on. Instead, you can continue walking along the river, outside the city center. Ljubljanica has many cute spots at its banks, and most of them are outside the main tourist area.
One of these spots is called Špica (pronounced shpitza). Its name means the point in English, and that’s what it is – it the point, where Ljubljanica splits in two. There, you can simply lay down and relax, or have a drink at the nearby bar.
Špica is only one example of a nice, relaxing place at the riverbank. There are many interesting spots along Ljubljanica, and all you have to do is find them. Now I don’t want to ruin the fun of exploring, so I’ll end the section here and let you find your favorite place at the riverbank of Ljubljanica.
Boat down the Ljubljanica river
If strolling down the Ljubljanica promenade isn’t a thing for you, then boating along it might be. There are many boats that can take you for a ride, and if you’ll walk along the river in the city center, someone will probably approach you and try to sell you a trip.
Though it does sound a very touristy thing to do, it’s still something o would recommend. For instance, a ride down Ljubljanica is a great way to admire some of the creations of Jože Plečnik, such as the Triple bridge. Most of the tours will also include commentary.
While you can join a boat tour right from the city center, there are some alternatives, like:
Ladjica Ljubljanica is a traditional wooden boat. They offer guided tours, but you can also rent it, and have a private boat party.
Bober marine is a boat renting service, located south from the city center, or just across the river from Špica. They offer boat trips, rent canoes, and run a cozy bar.
Have a drink at Nebotičnik
The Nebotičnik (pronounced nebotichnick, or The Skyscraper in English) is one of the most iconic buildings in Ljubljana. Built in 1933, it was Ljubljana’s tallest building, and it kept that title for a long time. Now, it’s not the city’s tallest, but still one fo the most charming buildings.
If the best view of Ljubljana is at the castle hill, then Nebotičnik definitely has the second-best view over the city. And as a bonus, the view from Nebotičnik has the castle in it.
At the top of the Skyscraper, you’ll find a cute rooftop bar, where you can wind down, have a drink, and enjoy the views. And underneath that bar is a restaurant, where you can do exactly the same, but while enjoying a tasty meal.
Their official website contains lots of useful information but is unfortunately only available in Slovene (last checked in May 2020).
Stroll around the Tivoli park
Just a couple of streets away from the city centre lies the Tivoli park, the green area that pushes out for several kilometers.
The park begins with elegant gardens and walkways, landscaped in 1813. If you enter the park from the city centre, the way will lead you straight towards the Jakopič promenade. It is a sort of open-air museum – a wide walkway with photos at the sides. The exhibition is not permanent, so if you visit Ljubljana at different times, you can enjoy the walk as if it was the first time.
At the end of the promenade, you’ll find the prestigious Cekin mansion, a beautiful remnant from the baroque era. It now houses the Contemporary History Museum.
As you get further from the city centre, the Tivoli park starts to turn into a forest. If you’ll walk long enough, you’ll reach Rožnik, a small hill with a lovely church on top of it. Now, like with Ljubljanica, I wouldn’t want to ruin all the fun exploring brings. I’ll provide you with a proto for motivation and let you find the way to it.
Visit a museum
Visiting a museum is a great way to learn about the city you’re visiting, its history and culture. In Ljubljana, you can visit multiple different museums, where you can learn about history, admire art, or simply spend an enjoyable afternoon.
In Ljubljana (and around it), you’ll find:
- National Museum of Slovenia
- City Museum of Ljubljana
- National Gallery
- Technical Museum of Slovenia
- Natural Museum of Slovenia
- Slovene Ethnographic Museum
- Contemporary history Museum
- Museum of Illusions
Eat at the open kitchen
At least for me, local food is a big and important part of traveling, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to try some local cuisine. Ljubljana has numerous restaurants, cafes, and diners, where you can have a delicious local meal.
But there’s also a great alternative to restaurants, and it’s called street food. While there isn’t much street food to be found around Ljubljana, there is still this weekly food event you absolutely need to attend.
The event is called odprta kuhna. It means open kitchen in English, and it’s exactly what you’d expect an open kitchen to be. There are many stalls around the square, each offering their own type of food. So whether you’re after some traditional Slovenian food, some innovative Asian fusion experiment, or just craving a dessert, you’ll find what you’re looking for there.
But even if you’re not a foodie, I’d still advise you to visit the Open kitchen. It is an event that attracts all sorts of people from everywhere and has a relaxing and chill vibe to it. So even if you’ve already eaten, you should still stroll around the place and enjoy the atmosphere.
The event is held in Pogačarjev trg, which is just next to the Prešeren square. Just cross the Ljubljanica at the triple bridge, turn left, and you’re there. It takes place every Friday from Spring to Autumn, provided the weather is nice (which it usually is).
Besides their regular Friday food market, they also host other events, like Beer and Burger fest, or their regular Odprta kuhna, but in other towns around Slovenia. Check their events section to learn more.
Visit the botanical garden
A few minutes’ walk from Špica lies the Ljubljana’s Botanical garden. It operates since 1810 and is the oldest cultural, scientific and educational institution in Ljubljana. It features over 4500 different plant species, over a third of which originate from Slovenia and its close surroundings.
The botanical garden in Ljubljana operates in collaboration with over 270 other botanical gardens from all over the world. Besides being a place of interest, it also works as an educational institution and is a part of the University of Ljubljana.
To commemorate its 200th anniversary, a tropical greenhouse was built to complement the existing exhibition. There, you can admire over 380 species of tropical vegetation.
Visit the Ljubljana Zoo
If you prefer animals from plants (or if you like both), you should visit the Ljubljana Zoo. It is located outside the city center, just under the Rožnik hill, or a bit further behind the Tivoli park. It is too far to walk there, but the bus number 18 will take you straight to its entrance.
Have some mulled wine at the Christmas market
Like in most other cities across Europe, Ljubljana also houses a Christmas market in its centre. Despite being outside, it is a great way of warming yourself up, and one of the best things to do in Ljubljana, if you find yourself there in December.
Having a cup of hot mulled wine on the Christmas market in December has almost become a tradition in Slovenia. You’ll find many stalls in the Christmas market in Ljubljana, most of them offering this winter beverage, but many will stock much more than just that. The Christmas market is also a great place to grab a bite and try some local winter specialties.
And lastly, you can admire the mesmerizing Christmas decoration at the Market. Each December (or perhaps a bit sooner) Ljubljana gets a magical makeover in the form of lights, Christmas trees, and holiday decoration. Though most of Ljubljana gets decorated, you’ll find the nicest ornaments in the centre.
Enjoy the Ljubljana’s nightlife
We talked about what to do during the day, but what about the nightlife?
Well, if nightlife is your first priority, then Ljubljana might not be exactly the right choice. But if you want to enjoy yourself after a busy day of sightseeing, then you have more than enough options.
There are plenty of pubs and bars in the center, where you can have a couple of evening drinks. Instead of writing a long list, I’d advise you to simply stroll around until you find something that suits your taste. Perhaps you’re not looking for a pub, but, say, wine tasting? You will find that as well.
But if you’re looking for an actual party, I’d suggest you download the Tonight app. You’ll find all sorts of useful information there.
And lastly, if you’re more of an alternative person, then Metelkova mesto is the place for you. Though it is a place for going out, it is not just that. And I’ll talk more about it in the next chapter.
Visit the Metelkova Mesto
Metelkova Mesto Autonomous Cultural Centre (or just Metelkova or AKC) is an autonomous social and cultural centre. It is the biggest center of alternative culture in Ljubljana as well as in Slovenia. It lies just south-east from the train station, and it was formerly the military headquarters in the Austro-Hungarian times.
Metelkova mesto dates back to 1993 when it was sort of occupied by activists, who declared independence. Since then, Metelkova was a place for the alternative people, who couldn’t really fit in elsewhere. The place also isn’t exactly legal – there were attempts to shut it down, but the authorities slowly switched to tolerating it.
Al in all, it is a very interesting place. You’ll find clubs, bars, and galleries in Metelkova. It is a great place to experience the alternative nightlife and to meet interesting people.
Check out the architecture at the Žale cemetery
The Žale cemetery is another magnificent creation of the renowned architect Jože Plečnik. He didn’t want to design just another generic cemetery. He wanted it to be a great-looking, but peaceful resting place.
The entrance to the Žale cemetery is its most defining feature. It acts as a magnificent gateway to the eternal resting place of many. You can also walk beyond the gates, and admire numerous monuments and shrines you’ll find within.
Hike up the Šmarna gora
If you need a quick break from the city and want to go for a quick hike in nature, Šmarna Gora might be your best option. It’s fairly close to the city, not too difficult to reach the top, and makes for a great afternoon hike.
Šmarna gora has a distinct appearance – one hill, but two peaks. The western peak is the highest, but only for a few meters.
On the eastern peak, you’ll find a lovely baroque church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. And besides the church, there’s a bar and a restaurant, where you can catch your breath and have a drink or lunch, all while enjoying a nice view over Ljubljana and its surroundings. I would specifically recommend the restaurant – they serve fresh Slovenian traditional food.
The hill rises about 350m above its surroundings. The way uphill is quite steep, but not too long, and takes between 30 minutes and one hour.
You can reach the summit of Šmarna gora by the Ljubljana city bus. You can take the bus route 8, and get off at the Tacenski most station. From there, you’ll need to find the way up. Don’t worry if you get a bit lost, just keep walking towards the hill and you’ll eventually find a path, leading to the top.
Shop in the BTC city
Yes, I know, shopping malls aren’t really made for sightseeing, but I still wanted to mention this part of Ljubljana. To be exact, it’s more than just a mall. It is, as the name suggests, more of a city within a city.
While is does mostly consist of countless shops and stores, there is more to it than just shopping. Besides the shops, BTC City has:
In short, BTC City is the place to go if the weather’s bad, or if you need to buy that thing you forgot to bring on your trip.
Take a day trip
Last, but not least, take a day trip from Ljubljana. Though this isn’t something you’d do in Ljubljana, it’s definitely something to consider if you’ll spend more than just a few days here.
There are numerous ideas where to go or what to do on those day trips, such as:
- Lake Bled
- Lake Bohinj
- Vintgar gorge
- Predjama castle
- Soča valley
- Wine tasting
And the list could go on and on.
Getting around Ljubljana
In this section, we won’t talk about things to do in Ljubljana, but how to navigate between them. Ljubljana is flat and fairly small, so getting around is very easy. Especially if you only aim to explore the inner city, you could easily do that on foot. But we can all agree that only walking can quickly get tiresome, so let’s explore what alternatives Ljubljana has to offer.
Like almost every other city in the world, Ljubljana, too, has buses driving people around. But unlike many other European capitals, buses are the only form of public transport in Ljubljana.
You can check the map of the bus routes here, but I suggest using google maps. The bus service is connected to Google’s database, so you can simply input your destination and choose the bus icon. The app will then suggest the best route, and list the bus lines you can take.
Riding the bus costs 1.3€ per ride, but you can change buses and ride them for up to 90 minutes. Unfortunately, there are no daily, weekly, or similar passes. Besides a one-time pass, there are only monthly and yearly passes, but those are meant for the locals.
To use the city buses, you’ll first have to purchase an Urbana card (it costs 2€). You can get those at vending machines at several (but not all) bus stops. You can use the same machines to purchase credit you’ll use for bus fares.
Ljubljana has a self-service system of renting bikes called Bicikelj. This service has stations scattered all across the city (and not just in the center), where you can simply take a bike, and leave it at another station.
It’s a great alternative to buses for many reasons:
- It’s much much cheaper
- You don’t depend on a schedule
- It’s available 24/7
- You get to see Ljubljana on the way
Bicikelj is almost free to use. First, you need to create an account which costs 3€ per year. Then, you can use the service whenever you need it. The first hour is always free, you only pay a small fee when you rent the bicycle for longer.
Kavalir is a unique service Ljubljana offers to its visitors and is meant mainly for those who have trouble walking.
This service consists of six electric vehicles, that drive around the city center and help people reach their destination.
If you need their help, you can simply stop a Kavalir when you see one. And if there are none around, you can call them and ask for one. You can find more information, including the phone number, here.
Going around Ljubljana by car does count as an option, but (for me, at least) it is the worst of them. A car will only take you places outside the center, but there isn’t really much to see there. And even if you’d like to drive to the center, you’d have a problem finding a parking space. Or worse, you’d get stuck in a traffic jam.
To summarize: if you can, leave your car parked, and use one of the other options.
In Ljubljana, taxis aren’t really expensive, and scammers amongst them have become rare. To give you an idea, a 10-minute ride at night will cost you between 5 and 10€.
Uber (and similar apps) are not available in Slovenia at all. The closest you can get to Uber is calling the taxi company and ordering a cab. There are countless taxi companies in Ljubljana, but I usually use Metro, Laguna or Cammeo, and they’ve all proven to be reliable. Since recently, Metro and Cammeo also have an app, which makes ordering a taxi even easier.
Still, if you do take a taxi, do ask about the price beforehand, or make sure they’re using the taxi meter.
General tips about Ljubljana
Though this does not fit the title, I figured some general tips about Ljubljana would still come in handy. I’m talking about small tips you wouldn’t even know you were missing or some trivia that will make your sightseeing just a bit more enjoyable.
How to pronounce Ljubljana?
Pronouncing Slovenian words can yield some quite weird results, especially from English native speakers. In Slovene, “J” is pronounced similarly to “I” or “Y” in English. Knowing that, Ljubljana should be pronounced something like Liubliana. This may come in handy when asking locals about Ljubljana – you won’t be understood, if you mispronounce the name too badly.
How many days do you need in Ljubljana?
When it comes to giving travel advice, the how many days question is one of the hardest to answer, because it depends on so many factors. But still, there usually a general answer to that question.
Short answer: 3 days
Long answer: depends on your preferences and travel style. Since Ljubljana is fairly small, you could visit the most famous sights in only one day, though I would advise you to stay longer. However, if you plan to stay just in Ljubljana, you’ll probably get bored after a couple of days.
But instead of letting yourself get bored, you should take a trip outside the city. Ljubljana is conveniently located in the middle of Slovenia, making it a great starting point for exploring Slovenia.
Is Ljubljana safe?
Generally speaking: Yes, Ljubljana is safe. Like in the rest of Slovenia, robbing, violent crime, and other mishaps are fairly rare. Strolling around the city center is completely safe, and even if you find yourself there at night, you shouldn’t encounter any problems.
But that doesn’t mean Ljubljana is completely crime-free. You should still use your common sense and avoid shady-looking places and people.
The city center is car-free
Keep this in mind when planning to visit the old city center. Having a car would mean more of a burden than help, so I suggest going on foot or taking public transport. You’ll find that not allowing cars in the city center gives it a special vibe, making the city more welcoming for the visitors.
The city provides free WiFi
Ljubljana has a program called WiFree, providing free WiFi to visitors and residents. This service covers the most frequently visited areas, such as main streets, parks, city center, etc… The service is free one hour per day, but lets you use it longer for a fee. You can check the prices, coverage, and other info on the official website.
Dragon is the symbol of Ljubljana
The Dragon of Ljubljana has been in the coat of arms of Ljubljana since the times of Baroque, symbolizing power, courage, and greatness. Its image can be found throughout Ljubljana on many prominent locations – the Dragon bridge, for instance.
The dragon has been in the coat of arms of Ljubljana for fairly long, so its origin is kind or uncertain. There are three stories, that talk about its origin. They aren’t very likely to be true, though, as they talk about medieval heroes slaying a horrible beast – a dragon. Though all three legends might have been altered throughout history, they all portray Ljubljana as a great and important city.
I hope you found this guide helpful. It should contain all the information you need to discover Ljubljana. If you still have some questions, go ahead and post a comment and I’ll try to answer it.
Read also about other destinations in Slovenia…
- 20 best things to do in Ljubljana – guide for 2020
- Piran, Slovenia’s part of Venetian heritage
- Slovenia travel guide 2020: general tips about Slovenia
- Soča River Valley – The Ultimate Guide (2020)
…or other topics about traveling in Slovenia.