It happened so quickly – arriving in Ljubljana by bus, dropping our bags at the hotel and immediately hitting the streets.
Cool air, gorgeous blue sky and a multitude of trees ablaze in autumnal colour.
Did we just step into a living and breathing postcard?
This is Slovenia’s largest city, a place that’s home to less than 300,000 people and one that had me smitten from the get-go. In fact, I declared Ljubljana my new favourite European city within minutes of hitting the pavement of this vibrant and colourful capital.
The old town is an evocative web of cobbled streets, with the tree-lined River Ljucljanica cutting an emerald swath right through it. Everywhere you look you see Baroque and Viennese Secession architectural stunners with beautiful parks to meander through.
Sitting at one of the numerous riverside restaurants, bars or cafes is as popular with the locals as it is with the tourists. Everyone seems to be doing it.
Tour boats glide along the river, weeping willows and blooms cascade over stone terraces and the hum of chatter fills the air along pedestrian-friendly streets.
Pop’s Place – Cankarjevo nabrežje 3
Slovenska Hiša – Cankarjevo nabrežje 13
Bar Fétiche – Cankarjevo nabrežje 25
Everyone’s spoiled for choice along Cankarjevo nabrežje – one of many streets that were closed to traffic a decade ago. Here you’ll find local and international food, breakfast joints, plenty of bars and cafes. The precinct kicks right into party mode after sundown, too.
Go for a flight of craft beer at Pop’s Place – a bustling resto-bar with an American bent. The likes of burgers, ribs, wings and homemade apple pie help soak up that booze, and its riverside setting is ideal for people watching.
Nearby Slovenska Hiša is an eatery that’s open from breakfast time. It takes Slovenian tradition and modernises it with many of its dishes, and its coffee is bang on, too.
Can’t forget the gelato, either. How about lemon & basil, or black sesame from Bar Fétiche? There’s even a gorgonzola and walnut flavour.
Repæte Jazz & Okrepčila (Repete) – Gornji trg 23
Črno Zrno – Gornji trg 17
At the southern end of the old town is Gornji trg (Upper Square), which inclines towards the foot of Ljubljana’s castle hill. This part of medieval Ljubljana is very much residential, but there are some little gems worth seeking out.
Several traditional taverns can be found on Gorni trg close to the castle hill tunnel, and closer to Cerkev Sveti Florjana – the church on the corner of Ulica na Grad – more eating and drinking options present themselves.
Opposite the church is Repete (Repæte Jazz & Okrepčila), a cute little place that offers coffee, beer, vino and whisky, plus snacks and traditional cakes. Its occasional live accoustic jazz evenings are another draw to this Scandi-clad locale.
Slaščičarna – Stari trg 30
Keep walking down Gorni trg and you find Črno Zrno, a café that’s minuscule in size, but big on its exclusively-Colombian coffee offerings. The tiled interior is very easy on the eyes, and that coffee is top notch.
The eating options increase where Gorni trg meets Stari trg. Here you can take your pick from places that overlook Hercules Fountain, a modern interpretation of a Baroque original.
There’s the iconic Slaščičarna – a bit of a temple for cake-lovers. Opposite the cafe is Druga Violina, a lovely gostilna-style restaurant which serves traditional Slovenian dishes. The terrace seating fills very quickly, and its daily lunch special are generous in size and very budget-friendly
How about gypsy goulash and dessert for €4.50 or fried hake, potato salad and dessert for €5? Absolutely loved it.
Druga Violina – Stari trg 21
Stari trg (Old Square) is the medieval part of Ljubljana which hugs the base of castle hill. The narrow thoroughfare bustles with commercial activity, with gift and fashion stores filling the 17th and 18th century buildings, plus restaurants and plenty of cafés.
Coffee lovers ought to check out Cafetino for its vast selection of roasted beans that are freshly ground to order. Aside from the coffee – which is fair trade – there’s a rather impressive array of craft gins to get stuck into, and a dozen, or so, Belgian beers.
Cafetino – Stari trg 5
The heart and soul of the city, in my opinion, has to be Centralna Tržnica – or the Central Market. From Monday to Saturday the expansive Vodnik Square fills with colourful stalls selling fruit and veg, plants and a bunch of other produce.
While this may be the biggest part of the market, the official building for it is located just west of the square, right on the riverbank. Here you’ll find everything else there is on offer. The seafood and meat market, booze and other homemade and crafty items.
The pavement along the market colonnade is strewn with tables and chairs, and right by that, the incredible Open Kitchen – or Odprta Kuhna.
Each Friday between mid-March and October (weather permitting), Open Kitchen showcases local and international food from around thirty stalls. Whether it’s a local tavern, modern restaurant or independent chef, the food offerings from the stalls is incredible and the atmosphere is electric.
Bring an empty stomach, is all that I can say.
The capital’s crown jewel – the Ljubljana Castle – overlooks the city from its own lofty hill in the old town. The imposing building has been standing for almost 1000 years and is now home to Slovene history exhibitions, a puppet museum, restaurants and several historic rooms like The Prison, a chapel and video presentation room.
We were under the impression we’d need to pay to visit the castle to get views over the city, but the inner courtyard, ramparts and Outlook Tower are free to wander around. Had it not been so foggy the time we walked up there, you’d be seeing views of the city here, too.
There is a funicular that can transport you up there, and for its €10 price (adults), entry into the rest of the castle is included. Adult entry on its own is €7.50.
One of my favourite parts of town is Trubarjeva cesta, a road that starts from Prešeren Square right by the Art Nouveau Galerija Emporium.
Unlike the more gentrified Start trg in the old town, Trubarjeva cesta retains its gritty bohemian vibe with a wonderful array of businesses that line it.
Used and new bookstores, spice shop, bric-a-brac, bars, art and designer stores, sex shop and plenty of places to eat. It’s much cheaper on this side of the river, too, and less touristy, so the budget conscious can get more for their buck.
Hiša Začimb (House of Spices)- Trubarjeva cesta 41
Not too far away is Metelkova mesto, a precinct located in former Austro-Hungarian army barracks which is now a visual treat for anyone that loves a bit of street art.
There were plans to demolish the barracks in the 90s, but thanks to a large group of squatters – made up of intellectuals and underground artists – demolition never went forward.
These days the artists’ precinct has a regular line-up of concerts with DJs and musicians that perform in the several clubs. There’s also an art gallery, artist studios, LGTB spaces and even a hostel.
A little further down the road is the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova (MSUM), which displays a permanent national and international collection. There’s a nice sunny terrace to enjoy, plus a lovely little café, bookstore and library.
MSUM – Maistrova ulica 3
Libanonske Meze – Trubarjeva cesta 45
Food-wise, the only eating out we did that’s worth mentioning was along Trubarjeva cesta: both of which had a Middle Eastern flavour.
What, no Slovene food? Not really. We were needing some different flavours.
Libanonske Meze seems like a real crowd-pleaser that offers real-deal Lebanese food to those of us that crave it. Hot and cold mezze, meat or vegetarian; all served with warm flatbread. Loved the shawarma kharouf (12.9), beautifully spiced lamb sautéed with parsnip, onion, carrot, tomato and tahini.
Another joint worth checking out is Abi Falafel, a fast food-style set-up with wallet-friendly pricing. Very popular with students, too. We went for the abi meni (6.9), a plateful of bits like falafel, kibbeh, hummus and salad. The beer’s cheap, too!
Abi Falafel – Trubarjeva cesta 40
Buses from Bled to Ljubljana depart hourly on the half hour. Cost is €6.30 per person and it takes about 90 minutes.
To get there from Rijeka, Autotrans bus can get you there for 105kn per person for an 8.15am departure. There’s just one bus per day.