It was a rainy November day and before we’d even found a parking spot in Ljubljana (pronounced “lyoob-lya-nah”) we were already enamored. This picturesque capital of Slovenia is situated about halfway between Vienna and Venice and is often compared to Prague for to its outstanding architectural beauty. In fact, Jože Plečnik, the great Slovenian architect and urban planner, designed numerous architectural masterpieces in both cities, so the comparison is apt. Although, Ljubljana can be seen as a cheaper, smaller, and less-crowded alternative to Prague.
As we walked into the central Prešernov Trg square I found myself blurting out words like charming, darling, and adorable almost as though I had no ability to suppress them. Yes, the town is truly that cute. The Old Town abounds with lovely Baroque architecture and the romantic ambience is palpable.
Ljubljana has a population of just under 275,000 — big enough to give it a cosmopolitan air and all of the conveniences of a city, while still small enough to make it feel very intimate and friendly. Cafés and restaurants line the banks of the Ljubljanica River while several bridges make crossing from one side to the other both a quick and aesthetically-pleasing experience.
The Triple Bridge, not one but three adjoining bridges designed by Plečnik, is one of Ljubljana’s most iconic landmarks. The city’s famous Dragon Bridge displays four green dragons, the city’s symbol, to guard the bridge and the city itself. Legend has it that Jason and the Argonauts killed a dragon on their way to find the golden fleece (in Pula, Croatia), then he later returned to found Ljubljana. Today, the dragon is part of the City of Ljubljana’s coat of arms and symbolizes strength, courage and might.
Ljubljana’s most prominent attraction is probably the Ljubljana Castle, which sits atop the hill overlooking the city. Visitors can take a funicular up the hill to take in some of the most beautiful views of the city. The castle houses several museum exhibitions and presentations including, among others, Slovenian History, The Prison and Virtual Castle.
Mingled along with the old, Ljubljana also offers an intriguing mix of new. The city has a youthful and green vibe that is in part because it is home to over 50,000 university students. Out walking, you will encounter whimsical pieces of modern art scattered throughout the city, often quite unassuming, as though left for viewers to stumble upon by chance. The Butcher’s Bridge is a strikingly modern contemporary footbridge that consists of a light granite center with glass walkways along both railings and then dotted with modern sculptures from Jakov Brdar.
In 2014, Ljubljana demonstrated it’s commitment to sustainability by becoming the first capital in the EU to adopt the Zero Waste goal. Zero Waste is a commitment to continuously reduce waste generation and increase recycling with the goal of eliminating waste altogether. Throughout Ljubljana you’ll find sleek recycling bins with underground storage, greatly increasing capacity and helping to keep the city looking clean and modern.
Ljubljana has also implemented 6 new public battery-charging stations for electric cars in the city centre. For now charging and parking are free of charge. However, the city can easily be managed on foot. In fact, the Old Town is largely a pedestrian only zone, so you won’t need a car to explore it. And, if you’d like to give your feet a break, you can also get around Ljubljana using their very user-friendly bus system and visitors can hire bicycles as part of the Ljubljana Bike project. Ljubljana Tourist Card holders are entitled to a free four-hour bicycle hire.
It’s no surprise that Lonely Planet’s editors listed Ljubljana at No. 2 on its Best in Europe 2014 list.
The best way to explore the sights of Ljubljana is to get the Ljubljana Tourist Card, which grants not only access to the city’s major sights and museums, but also free travel on public buses, a free guided city tour, unlimited wireless internet access throughout the city center and a number of other benefits at a price that may be up to €80 lower than what one would pay without the card.