Ljubljana. The name of this magical city rolls off the tongue like the word LOVE does from those of poets of old. Ljubljana is a must-see destination. In every possible way.
Situated in a beautiful expansive basin in the heart of Slovenia, our capital is the pride and joy of those who live here and all who decide to visit. It takes roughly thirty minutes to fall in love with the place. A short stroll down to the city centre, its lively embankment and its charming Old Town, and bam – you’re smitten!
This post presents the 10 things to see in Ljubljana, a place buzzing with activities. Although the list is of course considerably longer. But first …
A short history of Ljubljana
There’s nothing short about the history of Ljubljana. Historians and archaeologists suggest that the area of present-day Ljubljana has been populated by people for quite a few millennia. But we’ll get to that a little later on.
Julius Caesar’s desire to expand his empire brought about the establishment of the Roman castrum of Emona, which was Ljubljana’s first name. Emona’s remains, including a Roman wall, statues and other artefacts, can still be seen today.
During the Medieval period, Ljubljana was first mentioned in 1144. The Habsburgs invaded and took control of the city (and most of Slovenia), holding it in their possession until WWI. It was during the first few hundred years of the Middle Ages that Ljubljana developed the basis of its Old Town character. Although Ljubljana was hit by a major earthquake in 1895, the Old Town miraculously survived almost unscathed and the original layout remains the same to this day.
Ljubljana first received its title of “capital” with the arrival of Napoleon in 1809. The self-proclaimed French Emperor made it the capital of all his Illyrian Provinces. Not long after, in 1849, Ljubljana got its first railway. This marks the beginning of Ljubljana’s modern awakening. And the rest, as we say, is history.
1. Ljubljana Castle
Besides dragons, bridges, marvellous architecture, and more dragons, the Ljubljana Castle is the iconic representative of Ljubljana, and stands proudly on the list of top ten Ljubljana attractions.
The Ljubljana Castle has withstood the test of time with amazing elegance. Steeped with historic importance, this tourist attraction is straight out of a storybook. It offers visitors an invaluable insight into Ljubljana’s progress through the ages. The castle has seen it all. And from its cute hill overlooking the city it rules, visitors can marvel at the spectacular views of Ljubljana and its picture-perfect wider area.
2. Ljubljana’s Old Town
Spread out on the right bank of the Ljubljanica River, directly beneath the Ljubljana Castle Hill, is Ljubljana’s colourful Old Town centre. The cobble streets wind their way past a remarkable mixture of Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture, from the Mestni Trg (Town Square) area, Stari Trg (Old Square), and up to Gornji Trg (Old Square) – this neighbourhood of Ljubljana is the most picturesque part of the capital.
The Old Town features numerous top tourist attractions, such as the Triple Bridge, Prešern Square, the Ljubljanica Embankment, the Ljubljana Cathedral, and even the Town Hall. In addition to being so lovely to look at, Ljubljana’s Old Town has plenty of things to do and is packed with lively restaurants, cafés, bars and shops.
3. Prešeren Square
Named after Slovenia’s most famous poet, France Prešeren (his statue is there, of course), this place is a popular meeting point among locals and tourists. Friends, lovers, business partners, travellers – everyone meets at Prešeren Square. The whole of Ljubljana gravitates to this extremely gorgeous spot.
Over the Triple Bridge (Tromostovje), this central square connects + Stritar Street, which leads through the symbolic town gates towards the Ljubljana’s Town Hall at the foot of Castle Hill. Basically, any direction you choose to follow from Prešeren, you’ll get to another cool part of town.
4. Rožnik Hill
This wonderful 391-metre forested hill lies virtually in the centre of Ljubljana and shouldn’t escape our list of top ten Ljubljana attractions. Accessible by several footpaths from Tivoli Park, the hill has been a popular destination for Ljubljana locals. Recreationists and families walk, run or cycle up there regularly.
Rožnik is home to the 16th Church of the Visitation, the Pri Matiji Inn, opened in the early 19th century, which accommodated the greatest Slovenian writer, Ivan Cankar. In the house opposite the inn, the Ivan Cankar Memorial Room is on display. Oh, the views from Rožnik are magnificent. Check it out!
5. Ljubljana Marshes & the Oldest Wheel in the World
The stunning Ljubljana Marshes are located south of the capital and are a fantastic Ljubljana attraction. The Ljubljana Marshes were home to pile dwellers (an ancient swamp-dwelling tribe) around six millennia ago. This great wetland has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the most famous archaeological findings is the world’s oldest wooden wheel (5000 years old).
The Marshes cover 163 km2 and are home to dense vegetation and important biodiversity. It’s a natural reserve that doubles as a popular tourist attraction, especially in summer, when the place comes alive with outdoor activities, like cycling, hiking, horse riding, and kayaking.
6. Wine Tasting
Ljubljana has been a strategically vital crossroads of important trading routes that run through the town towards the Balkans (Croatia), Italy, Hungary and Austria. Among the goods that travel through and end up staying in Ljubljana is also wine. The excellent restaurants, wine cellars and wine bars offer Slovenia’s exquisite, high-end wines from all the main winegrowing regions of the country. And the world.
We wouldn’t be true Slovenes if we didn’t present you with the wonderful option of wine tasting, ranking high on the best things to do in Ljubljana. Join an expert English-speaking sommelier and try a selection of Slovenia’s best wines, learn a host of interesting facts, and take a peek into Slovenia’s deeply enrooted winemaking tradition. Cheers!
7. Ljubljana Zoo
Do you like animals? Who doesn’t like animals, right? Every capital has a special place where a bunch of nature’s creatures can be observed at and even petted. Yes, it’s called a zoo. But not many capitals have such a super-duper zoo like Ljubljana.
The Ljubljana Zoo is located underneath and on the slopes of Rožnik Hill. The location is absolutely incredible. Tucked in this forested pocket with streams, ponds, and a network of well-organized footpaths, the Ljubljana Zoo is truly a must-see Ljubljana attraction. It’s home to two striking tigers, lions, a variety of monkeys, birds, and hundreds of other exotic animals. The zoo has a spacious car park, its own bus stop, or you could simply walk there. It’s only a half-hour stroll from Tivoli Park.
8. Dragon Bridge
The dragon is the symbol of Ljubljana. Many myths and legends (some of them true?) revolve around this beast, with big and small dragons lying in wait all over town. Built in 1901, the Dragon Bridge is associated with two dragon legends. The first is about Jason and his Argonauts. The Greek mythological hero apparently founded the city of Ljubljana by killing a dragon. The very same dragon is now portrayed in one of the four sheet-copper statues that embellish the bridge. Which one? Who knows! The second legend claims that the quadruple dragons wag their tails every time a virgin passes by. It’s safer not to comment on that one.
9. Triple Bridge
Ljubljana is full of bridges. Beautiful, unique bridges. The Triple Bridge is renowned world-over. The main bridge was built in 1842, and bears the dedication to Archduke Franz Karl. The other two, smaller bridges, were added by Slovenia’s internationally acclaimed architect Jože Plečnik in 1932. Plečnik removed the metal railing from the main bridge and decorated all three bridges with huge stone balustrades and lamps. The Triple Bridge is the main connecting route between the Old Town of Ljubljana and the modern part of the city. It’s an unavoidable and very necessary tourist attraction in Ljubljana.
10. Ljubljana’s Central Open-Air Market
The Main Market stretches the entire distance between the Dragon Bridge and the Triple Bridge on the Ljubljanica River. It consists of the covered section, designed by Jože Plečnik, who, by the way, designed many of Ljubljana’s architectural splendours, between 1940 and 1944. Embellished by stone arcades, some transformed into cafes, restaurants, and galleries, the design reflects Renaissance-style architecture and was conceived as a two-story hall that follows the river’s curve with large semi-circular windows. The colonnade at the Triple Bridge houses stands selling herbs, spices, and arts and crafts. The locals crowd the open market stands on Saturday and flock to the venue of Odprta kuhna (Open Kitchen), where every Friday crowds of avid foodies gather to taste some excellent dishes by numerous Slovenian restaurants. Definitely deserves its place among the top ten Ljubljana tourist attractions.