I believe in magic in this world, and I am blessed enough to say that I’ve had the opportunity to visit places that prove my theory right. Places like the Paradise hike in Mt Rainier National Park and Halong Bay in Vietnam. And yeah, even Disney World (I don’t care what you say, that place is bursting with magic). After my first trip to Europe, I am happy to say I have another destination to add to my List of Magical Places: Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Finding a magical place isn’t something you uncover, it’s something you feel as soon as you step into it. I knew we were in a magical place as soon as we stepped off the bus at 5 AM. Maybe it had something to do with being relieved we made it here alive after a sketchy bus stop incident hours before, but I knew this place was going to be special.
We walked a mile from the bus station to the old town. The streets we took were warmly lit, sleepy, and inviting. We wandered the cobblestone avenues of the old town, the place completely to ourselves and didn’t once feel like we were about to get robbed or become victims of gruesome murder (two big pluses).
We watched the city wake up with the sunrise and this is how magical it was: I hadn’t eaten or slept in 12 hours, yet the city awoke in me some hidden source of happiness so I could actually enjoy that freaking sunrise over the growls of my stomach.
We hunted for food as soon as the cafes opened (where people were enjoying both beer and coffee at 7 AM… ) and nearly wept with relief when people spoke English. We nearly wept again when we saw how affordable the food was, then again when we finally ate. We were hot messes, my husband and I.
Anyway, that was just the beginning of our magical journey to Ljubljana. If I’ve convinced you to go, let me know so I can give myself a pat on the back. At the very least, take a moment to read the handy travel guide.
Before you go
- If you’re a US citizen, no visa is required to visit Slovenia. All you’ll need is your passport.
- Slovenia uses the Euro
- Ljubljana was named Europe’s Greenest Capital in 2016
- Ljubljana was voted the eighth most bicycle-friendly city in the world in 2017
- Public transportation is big in Ljubljana, but the city is small enough to easily get around on foot.
- In every shop/restaurant we visited, we had no trouble finding English speakers. The city is very tourist friendly.
- You could honestly spend a lifetime here, but if you don’t have a lifetime to spare, 3 days should be plenty to experience the city.
- Ljubljana’s flag is literally a castle with a dragon on top of it. I feel like that is important for you to know.
- Although there’s a big vegan/vegetarian scene, you can also feast on a specialty of HORSE BURGERS. Yes, made with real horse. OMG. Also horse filets for you fancier folks.
Where to stay
My husband, Jackson and I stayed in an Airbnb apartment in the heart of the old town.
There were plenty of affordable and nice options on Airbnb, and we were certainly not disappointed with our choice! If you have to choose, I highly recommend Airbnb over a standard hotel when visiting a new city because you get the chance to interact with locals, ask for advice on what to see, where to eat, etc, and live like a local. We stayed at The Bouquet residence in the old Ljubljana, hosted by Sijan. He was incredibly helpful and kind and his apartment was perfect. It was not only affordable, but it added to the charm of Ljubljana and even ended up being the convincing factor to spend an extra day in the city. If you would rather stay in a hotel, there are plenty of options. However, you will be staying in the newer, less charming part of the city. The old town is still an easy walk away, you just won’t be staying in the heart of it.
We stayed at The Bouquet residence in the old Ljubljana, hosted by Sijan. He was incredibly helpful and kind and his apartment was perfect. It was not only affordable, but it added to the charm of Ljubljana and even ended up being the convincing factor to spend an extra day in the city. If you would rather stay in a hotel, there are plenty of options. However, you will be staying in the newer, less charming part of the city. The old town is still an easy walk away, you just won’t be staying in the heart of it.
What to see
Bridges: There are some pretty cool bridges in Ljubljana that are very easy to find. The coolest and most iconic: The Dragon Bridge. There are dragons on it! Super cool. There is also a bridge that is slowly collecting a fair share of locks (think Paris, but less impressive), and the triple bridge, which is three bridges in one!
Prešernov Trg: The central square connecting old town to the rest of the city. It’s beautiful, complete with a pink church, cool statues, and cobblestone streets.
Cathedral of St Nicholas: A beautiful cathedral right in the heart of old town. Lovely murals and lots of nuns.
Town Hall: Take a peek inside town hall to check out the crazy amount of awards Ljubljana has won for frankly just being an awesome city. It’s a cool chance to see how proud they are of what they’ve become, so much so you start to feel pretty proud yourself.
What to do
Ljubljana Castle: A castle overlooks the city, and it is so worth the climb. You can take
the funicular up the hill for a couple of bucks, or you can walk. The climb is steep but manageable. Just follow the signs leading towards the castle and once you start to feel your quads burning from the hill’s incline, you’ll know you’re almost there! Entry to the castle is free, but tours and a few interior parts of the castle cost money.
Jackson and I decided to take the Behind Bars tour that explored the castle’s evolution of prisoners/prisons throughout the years. The tickets we 10 euros each and SO worth it. We thought our tour guide was just going to read us a few facts about the castle, but the tour ended up involving some seriously talented actors who played the roles of prisoners throughout the years. It was shockingly un-cheesy and totally captivating. Our tickets also allowed us access to climb the castle’s highest tower, which offered an outstanding panorama of the city. The tickets also included access to a puppet museum, which we did not explore… Additionally, the castle is home to some highly rated restaurants that smelled awesome. I think everyone in the world would agree that it would be cool to eat in a castle.
Shopping: Ljubljana’s old town is home to rows and rows of adorable little shops. Sure, some are pretty touristy, but you are a tourist after all… You could spend a few hours ducking in and out of all the unique venues (also a perfect activity for a rainy afternoon, we found out) Note: It was extremely difficult for me not to purchase an adorable stuffed dragon that seemed to be in every shop.
Central Market: Every day (except Sundays where there is a craft fair instead), a large open-air market is open from approximately 8 AM to 3 PM. Vendors sell all sorts of fruits and vegetables, homemade items, tourist items, clothes, you name it. It’s a great place to visit if you want to cook for yourself for a night, or just to stroll through.
Walking Tours: Tours meet every few hours in front of city hall. They are affordable and hit all the city’s highlights. We didn’t get the chance to join one, but we saw them all around town. If you are interested in the city’s history (and trust me, there’s a lot of it) you’ll certainly want to take this tour.
Bike Tours: It’s like the walking tour, only on a bike! I am not a bike person, but even I considered taking this tour because the city is so bicycle friendly. Rain or shine, it’s a great, and surprisingly safe way to see the city.
River cruise: The adorable Ljubljanica river runs through Ljubljana, complete with river cruises! The boats are covered, protecting you from sun and rain. Great opportunity for pictures of the colorful shops and houses by the river. This is an opportunity to explore Ljubljana from a different angle (and a good chance to rest your feet!)
Tivoli City Park: Ljubljana has a giant city park complete with miles of trails, cool graffiti, and tons of room for sports of all kinds. A great way to spend the afternoon (and people watch!)
Museums/shows: Check out the conveniently located tourist center (across the triple bridge, you can’t miss it) for all the latest exhibits and shows going on. Ljubljana is home to the National Museum of Slovenia, Museum of Contemporary History, Museum of Modern Art, Slovene Ethnographic Museum, and so much more.
Stroll around old town at night: After the sun goes down, people flock to the pubs along the river, street performers/musicians come out, and gelato and street corn vendors are plentiful. It legitimately feels as cheerful and non-threatening as Disney’s EPCOT.
Day trip to Bled: Bled is ridiculously charming. If you’re into the outdoors, stay in Bled and visit Triglav National Park, go white water rafting, explore waterfalls, ski… You name the activity, you can do it around Bled. I will certainly be back one day to discover all that for myself. Bled is extremely easy to get to from Ljubljana since so many tourists visit. Busses leave every hour and you can purchase roundtrip tickets at the bus stop or from the bus driver himself. The busses can get a little crowded with peak time being around 9 AM. Make sure you get near the front of the line if you want a seat because they are not guaranteed!
We only went to Bled for a day trip to see the iconic Lake Bled. Even with the cloudy day and the Master’s Rowing World Championships going on, the lake was still stunning. An island with a church sits in the middle of the lake. You can take a boat out there and ring the wishing bell. I heard the whole thing was a bit overrated, so we just admired it from the shore. One thing that was definitely overrated: The castle. It was 10 euros each just to get inside and it was the most disorganized, unimpressive castle ever. If you want a good view, climb the hill and look outside the castle. It’s essentially the same view and it will save you some money.
Where/what to eat
We stuck to cheap eats in Ljubljana, and they did not disappoint. If you’re looking for awesome AND affordable food, this is the list for you. *Note: Tipping is not standard practice in Ljubljana.
Abi Falafel: THE BEST FALAFEL EVER. Seriously, though. Vegan, and oh so delicious. The
staff is incredibly nice and the food is even nicer. We went twice and certainly contemplated going a third time. The food is plentiful and affordable. I cannot say enough good things about this place, especially since it’s just making want their falafel even more… The classic falafel sandwich is great, but an even better choice was the special falafel sandwich. It had all the wonderful things of the falafel sandwich PLUS FRIES.
Street Food Valentin: Amazing fish and chips at this place. You have to be bold here, maybe even having to wave down the cook’s attention, but if you go when it isn’t very crowded you shouldn’t have a problem. Their fried fish is perfectly battered and too greasy at all. The fries are ridiculously crispy and dusted with flaky salt. You can’t go wrong.
Hood Burger: Jackson loved this place with all his heart. It has the feeling of an upscale
fast food restaurant. The whole ordering process is very familiar and very straight-forward. I heard the burgers were fantastic and I can vouch for the fries- very tasty. Jackson was also extremely pleased with the extra-large ketchup packets. He’s convinced every restaurant should follow suit.
Zaziv Vegan Bistro: I have never been so full after eating vegetables. I had heard good things about the veggie burger and the polenta pizza. I decided, what the heck, I’m on vacation and I doubt either item is very big, so I’ll order both. Oh, and a slice of vegan chocolate cake, please. Yeah, the portions are HUGE. The polenta pizza came with a gigantic side salad and it took me a good 10 minutes of eating the burger topping before reaching the patty. It was a super fun experience, and the food was awesome. And the chocolate cake: you could never tell it was vegan.
Organic Garden: Crazy veggie (and salmon!) burgers here. The burgers are named after
the color of their buns. I got the red burger, Jackson got the black burger. They were tasty, gigantic, and had unique, flavorful toppings. Also, the tasty pre-made salads made great lunches the next day during our bus ride to Budapest.
Cacao: Gelato!! So many flavors and such an extensive menu! Cacao had several locations across Europe, but they clearly take their gelato very seriously. Two major perks about this place: It’s open really early (around 7 I believe) which is good for early morning bus arrivals and there is plenty of indoor seating. So if you need a gelato fix but it’s pouring rain… head here.