Why you’ll absolutely love Ljubljana
Slovenia’s compact capital is an absolute gem!
Ljubljana was the third stop on our six-month adventure around Eastern Europe – we booked to stay in the Slovenian capital for a full week. By all accounts – blog posts, articles, podcasts, even recommendations from our Airbnb host – a week was too long to spend in Ljubljana. But it wasn’t.
We’re enjoying travelling slowly and Ljubljana is the perfect capital city to slow down in. It’s big enough, diverse enough, and has enough to do, but it also takes you away from the usual hustle and bustle and over-saturation of selfie sticks that some other capital cities offer. We visited at the beginning of September, so just coming into the shoulder season, but it was still busy with tourists. Just not so many that it makes it impossible to get a flavour of local life.
I won’t go into a list of things to do (although you can read it as that if you want) – I just want to share some reasons why we loved the city, and why I’m sure you will too.
Vigò Ice Cream
Listen, this list isn’t in order from one to whatever, because all of Ljubljana was great. Apart from this one. Vigò Ice Cream is absolutely number one on this list, and on every other list that I write in the future. Best walking tours? Start and end with a Vigò. Best books to read on holiday? Grab any book at all and have a Vigò with it. Best spa experiences? Convince a stranger to give your shoulders a wee squeeze and go for a Vigò instead. Imagine how many Vigòs you could have for the price of a massage!
I’m not even into ice cream. And I had 8 of them in 7 days thanks to Vigò. For somebody who has never been into ice cream, and recently found out I have a dairy intolerance, I think that’s pretty good going.
Vigò regularly gets voted as the second-best ice cream shop in Ljubljana, next to Cacao. We went to Cacao too. It was good, but it wasn’t Vigò. I’m not even going to go into what it tastes like – you just have to try it for yourself. I had their signature ice cream (appropriately called Vigò), and it changed my life. I also tried their Pino, which is something like salted caramel and peanut. It was bloody good too, but it didn’t blow my mind the way their Vigò did – I quickly reverted back to type! Grainne had some vanilla ones and a lemon tiramisu or something. They were all excellent, but Vigò ice cream in Vigò Ice Cream is the winner of everything.
If you’re at a loose end for a couple of hours, do yourself a favour and get on a flight to Ljubljana. Fly straight home afterwards if you want. But really you should be staying for at least a couple of days in order to enjoy multiple Vigòs. There’s no such thing as too much Vigò.
Grainne actually preferred Cacao. I like her a little bit less now.
The view over the city from the castle
If you’ve read anything about Ljubljana, I’m sure you know that taking in the view from the castle is an easy win. The views over and beyond the city are excellent. We got a really clear night and watched the sunset from up here, which I can absolutely recommend.
There is a handy funicular that takes you up to the top of the hill that the castle sits on, and a big tower that you can pay to go up, in order to really savour the views. We didn’t bother with either. Our legs work perfectly fine, so we did the short hike up to the castle – We ended up very sweaty, but it’s very manageable. And we didn’t feel like we needed to pay to go up the tower, because you can enjoy the views from the castle walls and gardens for free. We saw a few small groups of people sitting on the garden walls with some snacks and a bottle of wine, taking it all in. They had the right idea.
There are different bits and pieces to see inside the castle itself, including loads of stuff on the history of the castle, and an obligatory coffee bar. But the view is the main attraction here. If you’re into good views and good sunsets, give yourself an hour or two up here – it’s time well spent.
The markets – especially Odprta Kuhna
Ljubljana has a sprawling market that operates every day of the week (except Sunday, I think). I like markets. I think they add a bit of charm and local spice to a city, and Ljubljana’s market is no different. You can pick up fresh fruit and veg, souvenirs, local crafts – all the good stuff. I don’t actually think we bought anything at all from the market, but we had a stroll around it almost every day we were here. And I love that it doesn’t just operate on weekends, or on a set day or two.
Speaking of markets that only operate on certain days, every Friday, Ljubljana opens its Odprta Kuhna (Open Kitchen) – which is exactly what it sounds like. Scores of market stalls cooking and serving fresh and delicious dishes, from local Slovenian fare, to continental and international delights. We made a point of stopping for a bite to eat and a drink – they set up loads of communal tables and benches right beside the market, so it’s easy to enjoy a couple of hours here.
The aesthetic of the river, and its cafes and bars
Life in Ljubljana seems to be more or less centred around the Ljubljanica River – and rightly so. It’s just gorgeous. There are loads of places to stop and sit – loads of squares and open spaces, loads of benches, loads of cafes, bars, restaurants. There are really clean public toilets you can use for free, up and down the length of the river. I know this seems like a small thing and a strange thing to mention, but it’s small things like this that make spending time along the Ljubljanica such a pleasure. The whole central area along the river is all pedestrianised too, which really adds to the charm. Just watch out for the little small electric golf-cart-style vehicles that offer transportation for locals who are elderly, physically impaired, or who have young children. All part of the charm.
You could easily spend a weekend just walking up and down the river, stopping for a coffee, stopping for a burger, stopping for a beer. Just stopping for whatever you’re into. It’s an absolute pleasure to sit and watch life go by – with boats going up the river, local and tourist lives happening around you, and the atmosphere that the cafes and bars offer – bring all of this together and it’s difficult to drag yourself away from the front of the river. Which is why I’m so glad we had an extended stay here rather than just a weekend.
The streets and spaces away from the river
When you manage to pry yourself away from life by the river, Ljubljana opens up a whole other side of itself. Or just an equally charming, slightly different angle of the same aesthetic that makes the city so beguiling. The streets and alleys and churches and buildings that are just off the river are like something straight out of Beauty and the Beast, just without the kidnapping and the hairy prince. Or choose whatever favourite Disney film of yours that takes place in a quaint little town. It’s a bit like walking into a postcard.
And then you get to Tivoli Park – Ljubljana’s huge open green (literally, rather than environmentally. But the whole city is really environmentally green) space. We spent a couple of hours here on a Sunday morning and it was just great to find such a green space so close to the heart of the city. It’s about a ten minute walk North of the city centre, and it’s well worth it. There was a brass band playing a free concert on the morning that we went there. I’m not sure if it’s a thing every Sunday morning, but it was such a lovely way to spend an hour and a half on a Sunday morning. The highlight was absolutely Gangnam Style!
It can be difficult, but do try to drag yourself away from river life for at least an hour or two, because it is equally, if not more charming, and a nice way to see an extra dimension of this brilliant city.
Honourable mention to the Union Brewery – only because I’m into local beers, and love trying unfiltered beer, and different versions of the local beers that you can pick up in local bars and supermarkets. Bonus points because it was just a fifteen minute walk from the city centre. This won’t change your life, but if you’re into beer or breweries at all, it’s definitely worth a visit.
It would really be remiss of me to write about the capital of Slovenia without commenting on what is possibly its most special feature – the fact that it acts as a gateway to the rest of this beautiful country. Of course, Ljubljana is well worth a visit itself, but with this being our second visit to Slovenia in 12 months – I can’t recommend a visit to other parts of the country enough. We went on to visit Bohinj, Bled and Piran (more on these to come in other posts), and although the country was already special for us, these places just emphasised why it is so special. The country is so full of natural beauty and diverse landscapes – it will always be somewhere that we come back to. And although Ljubljana is such a pleasure to visit, Slovenia’s other main attractions are main attractions for a reason. They are absolutely unmissable, so clear your calendar a bit more, and allow yourself to indulge in some extra time in stunning Slovenia.