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First things first – even after I’d booked our trip, I didn’t know how to pronounce it. It’s Loob-lee-ah-nah.
I had kept seeing the capital city of Slovenia, Ljubljana, popping up in articles about (not so) hidden gems and places you must visit this year if you a true sophisticated travel lover. Most of all, in the more personal blog posts I’d read, it seemed that everyone who has been, has fallen a little bit in love with the city. And so, it turns out, during our week in the city, we did too!
It has an almost dream-like quality to it, in that it’s pretty and walkable and fresh and the food is great and there’s art – but it is also fairly cheap, pretty efficient and easy. Because it is on the cusp of three regions, it has an interesting mix of Mediterranean, Germanic and Balkan. To be totally stereotypical, for example – that means great food, efficient services and refreshing forthrightness, but of course, it’s history and mix is way more interesting and complex than that ‘description for dummies’.
It just felt like one of the nicest places I’ve ever been to. When you’re talking about many things (particularly potential boyfriends), being described as nice, or pleasant, seems a bit bland, but it really is the aptest description for this city.
1.giving pleasure or satisfaction; pleasant or attractive.
synonyms: enjoyable, pleasant, pleasurable, agreeable, delightful, satisfying, gratifying, acceptable, to one’s liking, entertaining, amusing, diverting, marvellous, good
We started our stay in a city centre hotel, and then later moved out of the centre to an Airbnb that had caught my eye.
During checking at this old fashioned, slightly basic hotel, we had both respectively decided that the grey bunned lady that welcomed us must have had a gingerbread house in the woods (but pre-evil transition). Then we met her son (obviously of a decent middle age himself). He was the chirpiest man I have ever come across and looked like one of the smiling, round-cheeked characters from the Happy Families card game.
The hotel also had the cutest kettle I have ever seen.
The city centre of Ljubljana centres around the river. Virtually all the riverside is pedestrian and is surrounded by gorgeous buildings and weeping willows. It’s very much known as a green city, on the environmental front, as well as the aesthetic side and the cleanness of the air, compared to many other, particularly land-locked cities, was clear.
There are many quirky touches you come across as you wander about. The little area below a man-made rain cloud – where it always rains and you can just step in and out, an old printing press shop, a shop selling music boxes which has models you can play with any time out front.
Food and Drink:
Oh, such important factors in our enjoyment of a city and Ljubljana ticks every box. They have embraced craft beer in a big way and the Slovenian wine is surprisingly wonderful.
We didn’t have a bad meal and the food was often really interesting. I’m a big fan of grains such as spelt, barley and buckwheat (admittedly that may remain a one-person fan club), and there was loads of food incorporating these, including a fantastic barely risotto in a ropey looking Italian restaurant that turned out to be a delight. There’s lots of lovely seedy bread in the many bakeries, which if in London would be called artisan, but really are just good old fashioned bakeries. They pride themselves on their cake too. I’m not much of a cake person but enjoyed a few slices to try the exotic sounding treats – strawberry buckwheat pie, gibanica, zvezda. Be warned though, in the touristy cafes overlooking a nice square, these can be overly pricey.
We quite often seek out some Asian food when we hit a new city, as it’s something we don’t get a lot of where we are based. The Shambala restaurant had a mixture of Asian styles of foods, which I’m not always a fan of but they did it extremely well. The building is beautiful, on the prettiest street in town and they have a lovely garden at the back, if the weather is fine – as it was for us. The summer rolls and Thai green curry practically made us weep with joy. Yes, we probably should get out more.
Another place which surprised me with something new and amazing was Tokyo Piknik. We’d walked past this a few times and kind of dismissed it, as I think it described it was Japanese fusion or something. However one night we ended up here and I had a burger which had a rice bun and the most amazing almost rare beef in the centre as the burger. I still dream of this meal – it’s something I’ve not encountered anywhere else.
Favourite spots for food were were Le Petit Cafe – a little out of the centre, on a leafy corner and unsurprisingly, Parisien style. Paninoteka – we ate here a couple of times. Lovely spot and interesting menu. Dried flower petals sprinkled over my omelette – yes, please! We went to one of the touristy Slovenian food places Aroma, which was so good we went back. Mark was quite obsessed with their sausage which came simply with bread, mustard and horseradish. Honourary shout outs also go to Namaste Indian restaurant and Pop’s Place burger bar. There were tons of other great places with simple, local food. I also regret we didn’t try out one of the taster menus offered in a lot of the higher end restaurants.
There are a plethora of great bars here, pretty much all serving craft ale and great wine – there was St Michaels, which did an amazing selection of craft – in particular, we both loved a cucumber ale they had there – so refreshing in that summer heat.
The Vintage Bar, on the lower side of the riverside, had amazing decor, with old barbers chairs to sit in and lots of interesting things, particularly tins on the walls. It seemed to be quite popular with biker types and they had teapigs tea – so an interesting place for sure.
Some of the breweries we liked were Reservoir dogs, Human fish and Loob lah nah (see what they did there).
This shouldn’t be important to me, but it really was an added extra for me – you could pretty much always get a decent cup of tea here. Sorry to be so British, but it did feel a treat.
I had heard about the milk vending machines and they didn’t disappoint. I don’t know what it is exactly, but this milk tastes freakin’ amazing. Once you’ve got a bottle, which you get from another vending machine, you can go back and refill – as I did often. There are supposedly quite a few of them about the city, but I only spotted the one near the central market. There was also another vending machine here which sold yoghurt and cheese. I strongly approve of the concept of a cheese vending machine!!
Corn on the cob stalls
There was nearly always corn on the cob being sold from a cart which we actually never partook of but always looked delicious
Apparently, Jaffa cakes are a thing here. They had masses of them in the grocery stores and in jumbo packets. No idea what that is about.
Our retro Airbnb apartment
For the majority of our stay, we were out of the city centre, in the Kino Siska area, in an incredibly designed Airbnb apartment. It was in a pretty standard, uninspiring block of apartments, as is common when you move outside from the centre, but the job they had done designing the place was incredible. We were a 5-minute bus ride from the centre with a bus stop right outside and a little grocery store across the street, so the location was great as well.
There were some sweet extra touches also like the jar of ‘mom’s jam’ and ‘home-made honey from my uncle’s neighbour’.
The apartment block was next door to a famous music venue Kino Siska.
They had a bar in there which had a penchant for metally music, not really our bag, but had some good beer and wine as well as these cool characters in the toilets.
The flea market was quite small but did have some interesting and very specific things. I picked up an old chocolate/biscuit tin, which was a design which is apparently famous in Slovenia. We had seen it in two museums and two cafes displayed.
The whole city revolves around the river and walking in either direction brings you to some lovely places. The south area is a bit more chilled out and there are some great restaurants and bars along an off-shoot of the river.
The boat trips are short and to the point, but a pleasant way to spend a little time in nice weather. You pass paddle boarders and rowers as well as people chilling on the riverside. I love places that have those mini free book libraries, as they do sprinkled around the city. Nothing better than seeing people sit by the river having a read.
Metelkova Art Center
You went get a travel blogger or in particular an Instagrammer who goes to the city and doesn’t visit the Metelkova area. Described as an ‘autonomous social and cultural centre’, I guess it’s a bit like Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen, but don’t quote me on that. It’s based in an old military headquarters, though it looks like there is another old abandoned building down the road being set-up as a rival to this. Apparently there are bars, though there was no sign of this in the daytime and to be honest it felt a bit intrusive walking around. The artists don’t seem to be selling anything so it just feels a bit like you’re just staring at it all like you’re on safari. But as I said, I can see why people go – the art is interesting and it doesn’t half make a good selfie backdrop. A bunch of Instagram chicks were getting their shots there and they couldn’t have looked more out of place. It’s not somewhere I’d go again and I wonder what it is going to morph into as I’m sure there is tension around it being commercialised in some way.
City Park Tivoli
This huge green space on the western edge of the city centre contains a normal city style park, some more countryside-like trails, as well as lots of sports facilities, cafes, a museum and gallery.
The Slovenian History Museum
This was a great place to start on our trip as in all honesty, I get quite confused with the Balkan history and the split of the former Yugoslavian country. It was great to be educated on the political history but also a not to the social history with an area showing products and decor from the communist era. There was a large set of blackboards used with visitors, particularly school and colleges where they could write about freedom. We were heart warmed to see some messages about Brexit and so we decided to leave our own too!
Art in the park
There is a gallery in the park, which we never made it to, but I loved the walkway up to gallery building, which was lined on both sides by artwork from the national gallery (I believe. What a fantastic and inclusive idea.
Another city with a lot of amazing sculptures – particularly around the bridges. We literally stumbled upon the bizarre trough of 700 little bronze faces running through a little alley away near the river. This is one of quite a few sculptures sprinkled around the city by Jakov Brdar.
There was also some impressive communism era buildings with sculptures incorporated which were quite stunning.
Right in the city centre, there is a small modern gallery, the City Gallery. This had a couple of interesting modern installations. As you walked around and looked at certain works, the sounds of snarling wolves or dogs were played directly above your head. There were also some incredible animations and the sets on display.
Tips and practicalities:
The buses here are brilliant – cheap, regular and efficient. You can buy re-chargeable cards at most of the big bus stops. The city centre is pretty small so you walk most of the time in there. We only got a taxi once, when we’d had to make a trip to an emergency pharmacy quite far out of town and it was a fair price.
Taking the FlixBus from Trieste to Ljubljana, Slovenia could not have been easier. The tickets were on an app, and those lovely open boarders meant we didn’t, as had expected, even have to stop on the way for passport control.
The bus drop off was fairly central so you can walk to most things in the city centre.
I loved this city!!!! I can’t imagine not going back and think would like to try it next time in wintertime, as I reckon it’s probably quite cosy and may bring even more magic to it. This is a place I’d highly recommend to the non-travelly-traveler. It’s easy, it’s beautiful. I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying spending time here. Even though we were there in the middle of the summer holidays, it wasn’t crazy busy. It’s small enough so that most of your time can be spent walking it. You will never struggle for something to eat or drink. There’s plenty of art and parks. It really is a treasure. Oh and there are dragons. Musn’t forget the dragons.