Let’s be honest, if I asked you about cities that you most wanted to visit in Europe, it’s very unlikely that you would say Ljubljana. In and around central Europe, there are the likes of Prague, Budapest, and Vienna to compete with, so it is no surprise that this picturesque city is missed by many travellers.
Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia, one of the least populous mainland countries in Europe. Ljubljana itself only has a population of just under 300,000, making it one of the smallest capital cities anywhere.
Although it has long slipped under the radar for many travellers, this guide will show you why Ljubljana, Slovenia has to be on your list of European cities to visit.
Things you need to know before visiting Ljubljana:
- Slovenia is one of the Schengen countries. This means that if you are travelling from one of the countries requiring a Schengen Visa, any time spent in Ljubljana will count towards your 90-day limit. To reset your visa, head to one of the non-Schengen countries for the equivalent time spent inside the Schengen zone.
- The currency is the euro (€). Unlike neighbouring Croatia, Slovenia is part of the EU and has adopted the euro. This however does not mean that prices are very high. Compared to other European countries, Slovenia is still one of the cheapest.
- Slovenia is in the Central European Time Zone (CET), two hours ahead of GMT.
- There is a mix of cultures throughout Ljubljana and Slovenia as a whole. You can see Austrian influence from the years under the Holy Roman Empire, Italian architecture from the beginning of the 20th century and, of course, features dating back to when the country was under Communist rule.
- Tourists can buy a Ljubljana Card. This can be purchased for periods of 24, 48 or 72 hours and offers a range of benefits across the city. These include free rides on city buses, guided city tours, free boat cruises on the Ljubljanica River and free entry to some of the other popular attractions.
Where to stay in Ljubljana
The city of Ljubljana has a range of interesting and affordable accommodations to choose from. Most rooms cost between 15 and 20 euros for a shared dorm and go up to 45 euros for a private room.
1. Hostel Celica
Hostel Celica is truly one of a kind as it has been transformed from an old military prison into a funky accommodation option. It is the winner of countless awards including the hippest hostel in the world by Lonely Planet and it is ranked in the 25 ultimate places to stay in the world by Rough Guides.
If you have always wondered what it is like to stay in a prison cell, then this is the place for you! And if you like more comfort when you travel, don’t let the prison thing put you off. This is a modern hostel with all of the amenities. They also run plenty of activities and you can buy food there for a reasonable price.
It is very close to the train and bus stations but around a kilometre walk from the centre of the old town. I personally don’t think that the walk was a problem at all, and I found the stroll through the Ljubljana streets very enjoyable.
2. Tresor Hostel
If the 1km walk from Hostel Celica to the city centre sounds too far for you, then look no further than Tresor Hostel. This is another interesting hostel built in a former bank just next to one of the busiest squares in the city.
The hostel offers a host of different activities including an in-house hairdresser on weekdays! The bar is lively and the perfect place to meet fellow backpackers.
3. Hostel Vrba
For a more chilled out, smaller hostel, check out Hostel Vrba. Just a short walk from the centre of the city, this hostel gets a lot of positive reviews for the friendliness of the staff and their willingness to help you find the best parts of Ljubljana during your stay.
6 Things to do in Ljubljana, Slovenia
1. Visit the Castle
Ljubljana Castle dominates the skyline of the central part of the city. Situated on top of a hill, the walk up can be quite tiring but luckily there is a funicular, which boasts the best views of the city and surrounding areas.
The courtyard itself is free to enter and from there, you have access to shops and a café. If you want to get the best possible view, then it does cost to go up the watchtower. However, this is included for free in the cost of the Ljubljana Card.
When you go up the watchtower, don’t miss out on the beautiful Grajski grič. This is the park area around the castle. It is the perfect place for a stroll or to watch the sunrise with your dearly beloved.
Also read: Romantic European Cities.
2. Go on a Walking Tour
In my opinion, a walking tour is the best way to get to grips with a new city. Not only does it help you to get your bearings, but you will have an incredibly knowledgeable tour guide willing to show you some of the best places to visit in the city.
There is a guided tour available with the Ljubljana Card, but I joined a free walking tour that started in Prešeren Square. If you are staying at a hostel in Ljubljana, ask the reception which tour they would recommend. You might find that some hostels offer their own walking tours.
The idea of a free walking tour is that it has no cost, but that you tip the guide at the end if you thought that they were good. The amount that you tip is totally up to you but when travelling on a budget, I usually tip between 5€ and 10€, depending on how much I enjoyed the tour.
3. Take a Boat Ride on the River
Ljubljana straddles the Ljubljanica River in the centre of the old town and many of the bridges are big tourist attractions. One of the best ways to get a real sense of the city and see the architecture and urban planning of Jože Plečnik is to take a boat ride on the river.
This is included for free with the Ljubljana card and the trip has commentary from a guide so that you know what you are seeing at all times. If you are feeling really adventurous, there are places where you can rent your own canoe so that you can paddle down the river yourself.
4. Go Shopping at the Central Market
Right in the heart of Ljubljana is the central market. It is open every day of the week, except Sundays, and is home to dozens of stalls selling everything from handicrafts to fish. The building is one of the most iconic in the city with colonnades running along the riverbank.
The central market runs right between the two most famous bridges in Ljubljana, the Triple Bridge and the Dragon Bridge. It also houses some of the best places to grab a bite to eat. There are open-air stalls in the square nearby as well as the only milk vending machine that I have ever seen!
5. Check out the Museums and Galleries
As the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana is home to many of the country’s premier museums and galleries. There are loads to choose from, but two highlights are the National Museum of Contemporary History, for history buffs like myself, and the Museum of Illusions. The latter even made it into our must-visit European museums list!
The National Museum of Contemporary History teaches you all about the complex and incredibly interesting history of Slovenia during the 20th century, right from WW1 through to the independence of Slovenia in 1991.
If history is not your thing, then the Museum of Illusions is a fun way to spend an hour or two in Ljubljana. There are 40 exhibits in all, and you are sure to come out with your head hurting a bit.
6. Go on a Day Trip to Lake Bled
Over the last few years, Lake Bled has begun to make its way onto the bucket list of many a keen traveller and European honeymooners. It is located around 90 minutes away from Ljubljana, so it makes for the perfect day trip. There are loads of organised tours that take you there, but I chose to make the trip by myself on public transport.
There are two easy ways to get there, either by bus or train. I took the bus. They start early in the morning, around 5 am, and leave Ljubljana bus station every 20 to 30 minutes for 12€ for a return ticket.
Alternatively, you can take the train which is a little faster but around the same cost. The key difference is that the train station is 4km away from the lake itself so unless you are willing to walk, there will be an expensive taxi once you arrive. In comparison, the bus station is a very short walk away from the lake, so there are no hidden costs.
Lake Bled itself is absolutely stunning and has a lot on offer. If you are into hiking, history, water sports or just beautiful scenery, then this is somewhere that you need to visit.
I started my visit to Lake Bled with a hike up to Bled Castle which is perched on the hill above the lake. From here, you can get some of the best views of the whole lake. The castle itself dates back to the 12th century and you can enter for a cost of 9€.
From there, I went for a walk around the lake, around 6km in total, and stopped off to swim at one of the designated swimming spots. After I’d finished swimming, I hiked into the woods for even more stunning views.
There is a path around most of the lake which can be easily walked or cycled around in an afternoon and plenty of signposted hikes for more adventurous visitors.
One of the most famous parts of the lake is the church that is on the island in the middle. This can be visited in a variety of ways. There are boat rides to the centre that cost 12€ per person. They take you right up to the steps of the Church of The Assumption of Mary.
If you have a bit more energy, then you can hire a rowing boat or, like me, a paddleboard to make your way to the centre of the lake. These can be rented from a variety of places at a cost of between 10€ and 20€ for an hour, which is plenty of time to get to the island and back.
It is important to note that you can only go in the church itself if you are properly dressed, swim shorts and toplessness is not allowed.
How to Get to Ljubljana
The city has an airport, Ljubljana Joze Pucnik, which is situated 24km northwest of the city itself, but it is also easily accessible by train or bus.
The train and bus station are in the same location, around a 10 minute walk away from the centre of the city. I myself travelled there via an overnight train from Budapest.
There are direct bus and train routes from all of the major cities in the region to Ljubljana. This makes it a destination that is easily accessible no matter where in Europe you are travelling from. Make sure you check out Flixbus for good value European services.
Where To Go Next…
Budapest, Hungary: If you are looking to move further north in Europe and fancy somewhere where there is a big party scene, Budapest is the obvious choice.
Zagreb, Croatia: These two cities are very close to one another, just over two hours by train or bus. Zagreb is the gateway to the rest of Croatia and its stunning coastline.
Venice, Italy: It is only about 5 hours on the train, or faster by road, so if you want even more of the bridges and boat tours than Ljubljana has to offer, this is the place to head to.