While Slovenia had been on top of my travel list for years, its capital never appealed to me as much. It was only after I came to the country that I started hearing stories about this little city.
‘It’s like a mixture between Vienna and Budapest’, someone told me.
‘It’s very small, but it’s very cool’, someone else said.
And, to sum it up, ‘Dude, you’re gonna love Ljubljana.’
In the tiny Slovenia, even its capital – the biggest city in the country – is small with only 280,000 inhabitants, but it has a big heart. I spent a weekend exploring its medieval streets and learning about the quirky little stories that the city hides within itself, and even after having heard the hype, I was not disappointed.
Ljubljana is like that one friend you have who makes friends with everyone: kind, fun, uncomplicated. There are many reasons to get infatuated with this small capital; here are a few.
1. It’s green
Slovenia is one of the greenest countries in the world, and it translates to greenness in its capital, too. Whether you want to chill with a view on the castle hill or spend a relaxing day at the large city park Tivoli, the city isn’t short on green areas.
But greenness doesn’t only come from closeness with nature; Ljubljana is also taking action on becoming more environmentally conscious. In 2016, it was chosen as the European Green Capital. One of the most significant changes they’ve made is building a better infrastructure for public transportation to decrease private driving and encourage pedestrian and bicycle traffic. There are also many parking spots for electric cars around the city.
2. It’s beautiful
Architecture in Ljubljana has been strongly influenced by the Viennese style; strolling along the lively riverside, you might think you’ve stumbled into some sort of a miniature Paris.
And if you needed any more convincing of the romantic nature of the city, just remember that the statue on the main square is not dedicated to some great war hero but the national poet Preseren. In fact, his statue is placed so that he is able to gaze upon the statue of his lover, Julia, on the other side of the square.
Oh, and the city name is derived from the Slovenian word ‘to love’ and basically means ‘the beloved city’. How freaking cute is that.
3. It’s weird
If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for anything strange and unusual. (When I’m planning a trip to a new place, I usually never google ‘things to do’ – I google ‘weird things in X’.) And Ljubljana’s art scene is definitely on the stranger side.
If you take a stroll around the river near the Dragon bridge, you will encounter various strange statues posing on the riverfront. All sculptures are the handiwork of the Slovenian artist Jakov Brdar, and they depict legends from Adam and Eve to Prometheus. (Not sure about the man with the tail, though.)
The art district of Metelkova should also not be missed. Decorated with large murals, mosaics and more strange statues, Metelkova is a great place to snap some cool pictures or just take in the atmosphere. When I visited, I stumbled onto a guy practicing juggling and some sort of a feminist choir. It’s also a popular venue for more structured events.
4. It takes care of you
Ljubljana understands that as a tourist, you have some basic needs, and she is here to help you.
Drinking water? No problem, just fill up your bottle at any of the various taps located around old town. Or if you can’t find one, just get water from any public toilet. Tap water in Slovenia is among the cleanest in the world.
Oh, and speaking of public toilets – they’re free and they’re clean. Rest of the world, take notes.
And for all your insta-Instagram needs, free wifi is widely available all around the old town, and it’s fast and reliable.
5. It’s got good vibes
You know how some things can’t be explained by concrete facts? (Like loooove.) I fell for Ljubljana, not even fully understanding why. The city just felt right. Perhaps it was the lively bars on the river; perhaps the strange legends of a dragon that guards the city and Greek heroes that supposedly founded it; perhaps it was for the lack of crowds. But Ljubljana has an overall welcoming atmosphere.
On top of it all, Slovene people are extremely friendly and hospitable, and their English is in general great. Hitchhiking in Slovenia has been very easy, and in most cases I have been able to catch a ride in less than ten minutes.
Still not convinced? If you didn’t get a crush on the city like I did, you’ll be happy to know its location on the map is so fantastic that getting out will be easy. The famous lake Bled is only about an hour away; Italy and Slovenian seaside (they have it!), maximum two hours; Croatia down south an hour and a half away.
Have you been to Slovenia or are you planning to go? Is Ljubljana on the list?