Ljubljana, the small city that’s big on charm

October 26, 2014 (Last Updated: May 5, 2023)
by Carolyn
Ljubljana Slovenia panorama

With a population of just 280,000, Ljubljana is one of the smallest capital cities in Europe, but what it lacks in size it certainly makes up for in charm. The Slovenian capital is regarded as one of Europe’s undiscovered gems, with Lonely Planet ranking it at number two on their ‘Best in Europe’ list in 2014.

That’s no small title to live up to but Ljubljana does it with ease.

After a fabulous Slovenian lunch at Bled, Andrew Villone from Roads Less Traveled Tours and Savor the Experience Tours continued our day with a visit to Ljubljana, about 45 minutes’ drive from Bled.

Why not include Ljubljana as part of a one week self-drive holiday in Slovenia?  See my suggested itinerary HERE.

The first thing I noticed about the city was its relaxed, friendly feel and, being a university town, there was a real buzz about the place. It’s a wonderful city to explore – as you’ll read below – but it’s central location also means you can visit many other destinations in Slovenia on one of the many day trips from Ljubljana.

Wandering along the Ljubljanica River, you couldn’t help but notice the number of cafes where locals and tourists alike enjoyed a drink or a meal on this warm summer’s day.

Our first stop was Prešeren Square, named in honour of one of Slovenia’s favourite sons, romantic poet, France Prešeren. Prešeren’s statue takes pride of place in the square which is a popular meeting place for locals.

Preseren statue Ljubljana The Preseren statue honours one of Ljubljana’s favourite sons and it’s also a popular meeting place in the capital.

Beside the Square is another of Ljubljana’s famous sights, the Triple Bridge, which makes an impressive entrance into the Old Town. Made up of an old stone bridge built in 1842 and two side bridges added by Jože Plecnik (another favourite son of Ljubljana) in 1931, the Triple Bridge is a unique feature of Ljubljana’s architecture and a much-photographed sight.

With limited time to spend in the capital, Andrew suggested we skip the regular tourist sites like the Castle, Dragon Bridge and Franciscan Church as he had some local haunts to show us. We readily agreed.

Stall holders at Ljubljana’s Central Market were just packing up as we made our way there later in the afternoon. Held daily, the market is where Ljubljanians buy their fruit and veggies, bread, cheeses, meats and other food items.

The Market square, another of Plecnik’s designs, is surrounded by pretty, multi-storeyed houses with red terracotta roofs and, according to Andrew, is especially busy on weekends. We managed to buy some local cherries and apricots from a lingering stall holder and they were delicious.

Ljubljanica River The Ljubljanica River flows through the city. River cruises give tourists a different view of Ljubljana.

Having already sampled some delicious Slovenian food, Andrew then took us to a nearby shop that sells only Slovenian produce. “Krasevka’s” owner is a passionate Slovenian (we’d met so many on this trip that it was no surprise) and was more than happy to tell us about the products she sells and offer us some samples.

Local honey, olive oil and biscuits were just some of the tastings we enjoyed but it was the locally produced chocolate with a range of different fillings (including pumpkin seeds and apple and cinnamon) that we added to our ever-growing stash of souvenirs (these, however, wouldn’t make it home to Australia!).

All these tastings had made us a little parched so our next stop was at one of the wine bars that are starting to pop up around the city. Located on a quiet, pedestrian-only street in the Old Town, the bar was the perfect place to rest our weary feet and learn more about Ljubljana and Slovenia in general, from Andrew.

A locally produced beer, Bevog, went down well with the boys, whilst I opted for a Slovenian white wine which was very nice.

Ljubljana Ljubljana’s Old Town is lined with pretty pastel-coloured buildings and cobbled streets. Despite being the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana has a very friendly and relaxed feel to it.

Despite our huge culinary lunch in Bled and our tastings throughout the afternoon, we were getting a bit peckish as it was now about 8pm. Andrew suggested a nearby cafe/restaurant that employs lots of disabled workers and we happily agreed. Our meals were huge, the prices cheap and the service was great.

As we wandered back along the river beside the thriving cafes to our car, Andrew insisted we try a gelato from his favourite vendor and we weren’t disappointed. It was a fitting end to a fantastic day.

Slovenian architecture Plecnik’s architectural designs can be seen throughout the city.

You might also like: Things to do in Piran, Slovenia

Need to know about Ljubljana

Ljubljana is located about halfway between Vienna and Venice.

Getting to Ljubljana

  • Frequent trains operate between Ljubljana and various destinations in Austria, Italy and Croatia.
  • If driving, travel time from Villach (Austria) is around 1 hour 20 minutes, from Zagreb 1 hour 45 minutes, whilst Venice is around 3.5 hours away.
  • Ljubljana is also serviced by numerous airlines who fly to and from a large number of European cities.

Ljubljana Airport

Ljubljana Airport is located about 30 kilometres from the city centre – if you think you are driving into the countryside, don’t panic!  The airport is small compared to many other European airports and eating and shopping options are limited, but adequate.

If you are returning a hire car to Ljubljana Airport, the drop off point can be a bit difficult to find as it’s not very well sign-posted (July 2018).  Rental cars should be returned in the multi-level car park across the road from the terminal building.  

Where to visit

  • Krasevka Homemade Products is situated at Ciril Metodov trg 10.
  • Repete bar/pub, Gornji trg 23.
  • Drugi Violina restaurant, Stari Trg 21.
  • Ljubljana Castle, one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, can be reached by foot (a 10 minute walk from the Old Town) or on one of the frequent tourist train or funicular services.

For more info, visit the Ljubljana Tourist Information Centre’s website.