Ljubljana is on the up-and-up with travellers. It seems you can’t surf travellers’ social media accounts these days without seeing the streets of the capital of Slovenia lighting up the screen with their ageless beauty.
If you ask me, Ljubljana easily falls into a top spot as one of the most beautiful European cities you’ve never thought of visiting. Just about everything you’d want in a classic Central European city is here—and in spades.
From traditional Slovene restaurants and bustling riverside pubs to the cobblestone-kissed streets of Old Town and the medieval castle looming high overhead, Ljubljana is just about the perfect place for your next European trip.
What are you waiting for? Get planning your Slovenia itinerary and explore this incredible capital city with this guide to the best things to do in Ljubljana…
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What to do in Ljubljana: The top attractions & best places to visit
For travellers, the beautiful city of Ljubljana packs a fierce punch. Comfortably-compact Ljubljana is one of the easiest European cities to navigate, and with the sheer number of tourist attractions concentrated in the centre, this is a huge blessing. (And let’s not forget all the awesome day trips from Ljubljana!)
The best attractions in Ljubljana range between stunningly-perfect and serene to quirky and gusty—and about everything in between. In fact, the city itself is probably one of the best reasons to visit Slovenia!
Get started on planning out your own steps with these 10 best Ljubljana attractions.
Ljubljana Old Town
Few city quarters charm the pants off of travellers with the same force as Ljubljana Old Town. The minute you set foot into deliciously-medieval Old Town, you’re hooked. Stroll among the tidy streets and narrow alleyways, swaying between traditional shops and cafés, as you explore Old Town.
The best way to experience Ljubljana’s old quarter is simply to wander without any semblance of a plan. Along the way, you’re bound to slip into a yummy gostilna (restaurant), shop in a street-side market or run into any number of the other Ljubljana attractions listed below.
Located just south of Prešeren Square, the unofficial main square of central Ljubljana, Triple Bridge is an impressive piece of architecture with roots as far back as the mid-1800s. The bridges have a certain Venetian feel—even if the origins don’t support the theory.
Many of Ljubljana’s most famous postcard images feature the iconic Triple Bridge. Spend a little time here to soak in the lively atmosphere and snap a couple of your own shots before heading over the bank to continue your Ljubljana itinerary exploring Old Town.
So, Ljubljana Castle isn’t Neuschwanstein or even Predjama, an absolute must-see when exploring Slovenia. But this medieval fortress, shadowing Old Town Ljubljana below, is well worth the trek up to admire its sweeping views of central Ljubljana and relax in its blissful grounds.
Ljubljana Castle’s roots are in the 15th century when the Habsburgs built it to repel Ottoman invaders. Over the centuries, Ljubljana Castle morphed into what you’ll see today, serving many functions over its history including a military hospital and a jail.
Poking around the castle and the grounds is free. Grab a quick beer or glass of wine in the courtyard to rejuvenate yourself from your journey before rummaging around the traditional Slovene crafts at Galerija Rustika. The best time to traipse around Ljubljana Castle is in the evening when cultural performances and concerts often take place under the warm lights of the castle.
From Stari trg or Central Market in Old Town, it’s a steep 10-minute uphill walk to Ljubljana Castle. Alternatively, slide up with ease on the funicular railway departing from Krekov trg at least every ten minutes from morning (9-10am) until night (8-11pm), depending on the time of year.
Any city with a dragon as its mascot must be pretty bad-ass. See them roaring in action at Dragon Bridge, a eye-popping Art Nouveau bridge that features four dragon statues perched upon the balusters. Besides the architecture of the bridge itself, the dragons are incredibly-detailed with features leaning more towards frightening than cute. (Think: The evil step-brothers of Wawel Dragon in Krakow.)
Be patient if you want to snap a picture with your new unnerving friends: Dragon Bridge is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ljubljana. You might need to wait your turn to get up close and personal with these dreaded beasts.
There’s no better mini-escape within Ljubljana than sneaking into the shade of chestnut trees at Tivoli Park. Don’t tell a New Yorker this: Tivoli Park actually trumps Central Park in size. And for a capital city as small of Ljubljana, the enormousness of this greenspace is immediately noticeable.
Stretching all the way down to the eastern fringes of central Ljubljana, Tivoli Park is the best recreation spot in the city. Visiting during summer, undoubtedly the best time to travel to Slovenia, is particularly popular when hordes of Ljubljaners beeline for Tivoli Park to bask in the sunshine. Give your step counter a workout and trek up Rožnik Hill. Pouring into Tivoli from the northwest, Rožnik Hill is the perfect, quiet green-escape from the city.
National Museum of Contemporary History
I’m not crazy about museums. The thought of perusing through ancient artifacts instead of eating local grub or testing out regional beers turns my stomach. I do, however, make exceptions for museums like the National Museum of Contemporary History.
Twentieth-century history always revs me up. Perhaps growing up in an era of upheaval and placing the events in a shared temporal space inspires it; frankly, I’m not sure. Either way, if you ever wanted to learn more about contemporary Slovenian history, here’s your chance.
The National Museum of Contemporary History digs all the way back from WWI to Slovenia’s independence. Interactive and immersive exhibits tread through the many regime changes and political ideologies that Slovenia endured throughout the 1900s. Most interesting is the exhibit on Slovenia’s independence from Yugoslavia. The exhibit walks through the declaration of independence to little-known Ten Day War and the (mostly) peaceful resolution that escaped Slovenia’s neighbours for the better part of the decade.
Cathedral of St. Nicholas
Throughout the medieval centre, Ljubljana’s architecture is incredible. But the title of most impressive building—especially considering the interior—might just go to the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, or Ljubljana Cathedral, as it’s often called.
The grounds of St. Nicholas Church date as far back as the late 13th century. Before reaching its 100th year, the original Romanic church burned and was renovated in Gothic style. This, too, wouldn’t last long, barely surpassing the century mark (108 years) before getting torched by invaders.
The beautiful Baroque structure we see today sprouted up in the early 18th century. Over the following century and a half, the Cathedral of St. Nicholas was perfected with additions. The interior frescoes, statues and paintings—the church’s most compelling features—dawn from this era. Step inside Ljubljana Cathedral to marvel at the bronze sculptured doors, incredible baroque-era ceiling frescoes, gold-leafed supports, and imposing pipe organ.
What better way to see Slovenia’s capital than cruising down the Ljubljanica River? Rolling and bending through central Ljubljana, Ljubljanica River offers a new perspective on the city that has, surely, already captured your heart from above.
Some Ljubljana’s most picturesque moments lie along the banks of the Ljubljanica. The river has a storied past, concealing artifacts left over from the Romans and Celts in its depths. With that history long washed away, what awaits is the beauty of the city’s medieval core stretching up from its banks.
Book yourself a two-hour Romantic Evening Ljubljanica River Cruise—or pick up a Ljubljana Card for a free ride—to experience Ljubljana from the water. End off with a tasty snack or a drink at one of the many cafés and restaurants perched upon the riverbank in Old Town.
Compared to the Stalinist funk of the decommissioned zeppelin hangers of Riga Central Market, Central Market Ljubljana might not appear so interesting for visitors. But what Central Market lacks in dystopian style, it certainly makes up for in selection.
If you’re into saving money by self-catering, Ljubljana’s Central Market is the perfect place to stock up. Delicious and fresh local vegetables, fruits, meats (cured and raw), cheeses, baked goods and cooking oils spread around the market’s open-air and covered sections. The Central Market is open from morning (6 or 7am) until the afternoon (2 or 4pm) every day except Sunday.
Ljubljana’s answer to Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen or Užupis in Vilnius, Metelkova, is one of those quirky and offbeat communities that are so rare in a normally austere Central Europe. Back in 1993, youth subculture and a group of artists crashed a former military barracks with new hopes and ideas. Metelkova was born.
Underground bars, art galleries, studios and offices dot the seven buildings comprising Metelkova. Even if your dreadlocks are still growing in, this funky and colourful corner of Ljubljana is well worth the visit. For a taste of the raucous independent music and clubbing scene, pop down to Metelkova on a Friday or Saturday.
Summary: The best things to do in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Still stumped on which Ljubljana attractions to visit? Here are my picks for the best things to do in Ljubljana:
- Love modern history? Hit up the National Museum of Contemporary History to learn more about your new favourite country.
- Need a moment of serenity and relaxation? Slip away from the bustle of Ljubljana in the greenery of Tivoli Park.
- In search of the wonderfully weird? Spend an afternoon—or even better—a Friday or Saturday night schlepping around Metelkova.
- Feeling impulsive? Wander around Ljubljana Old Town with absolutely no plans. Plop yourself along the river at a comfy café for a coffee or a traditional gostilna for a hearty Slovenian meal.