Tucked between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea, Slovenia’s capitol city of Ljubljana is surely one of central Europe’s most charming capital cities.
The country of Slovenia is bordered by Austria to the north, Croatia to the south, Italy to the west and Hungary to the northeast. Ljubljana lies in the center of the country, in the Ljubljana basin. Its symbol is the dragon, symbolizing power, courage and greatness. You will find the Ljubljana dragon atop the Ljubljana Castle and at the Dragon Bridge.
The city is the arts and cultural center of Slovenia with over 10,000 cultural events annually, including international festivals of art, theatre, and music. Ice hockey and basketball are popular sporting activities. Just 8 km outside of town, the Savan River hosts International whitewater canoe and kayak competitions.
With the Ljubljanica River flowing through the middle of the city, it seems as though you are in a cleaner, quainter version of Prague or Paris. The river’s banks are lined with cafes, pubs and gelato stands galore, and I have to say that the gelato we indulged in here was at least as good as any we found in Italy, if not better. Musicians and performers entertain the crowds that fill the café tables lining the Old City’s streets.
The center of town is known as the “Three Bridges”. Pick up a free city map at the train station or in the city center, and you will find that this small city is easy to navigate on foot, bicycle or skates. Home of the University of Slovenia, Ljubljana is a young and energetic town, with students making up around 7% of its population of280, 000.
Ljubljana’s hub of activity is the Presernov trg. (Trg means square.) The square is home to the Preseren monument, honoring the city’s greatest hero, as well as Franciscan Church of the Annunciation and its adjacent monastery. This area is a favorite place to people-watch, for tourists and locals alike.
Ljubljana’s Central Market is an open-air delight situated in the Presernonov trg. Pick up some local produce, or some honey to take home. The Cathedral of Saint Nicholas is a baroque palace well worth a visit, with its pink marble interior and ornately carved adornments.
Stari trg is the heart if Old Town, although really more of a street than a square. The buildings are a blend of Renaissance, Baroque, and Art Nouveau. With its cobblestone paths and old wooden storefronts, it is a charming part of this diverse city.
Among the many Baroque churches and palaces, green space surrounds the city. Rent a bike and ride around Tivoli Park for an afternoon. Ljubljana’s largest park has plenty to keep you busy, or not, if you prefer to just have a beautiful area to relax. There is a large playground and mini golf, as well as the Museum of Modern History, the International Center of Graphic Arts and a nature reserve.
Willow trees line the riverbanks and canals, and for those looking for more serious exercise, follow the 34 km “Trail of Remembrance”. Built during WWII, the trail (at the time) completely enclosed Ljubljana with German barbed wire. Today the trail is popular with joggers and walkers.
Built on a hill overseeing the city, the Ljubljana Castle is a highlight of the city. Built during the 15th and 16th centuries to defend against Turkish invasions, the castle affords the visitor to spectacular views of the city and the surrounding Julian Alps. Participate in a guided tour of medieval jails, an old gothic chapel and the castle’s dragon. Or simply sit in the courtyard and enjoy a beverage. Access to the castle is by foot, tourist train or funicular.
Whether you are looking for historical architecture, modern cultural events or breathtaking scenery, a trip to central Europe would not be complete without a visit to Ljubljana.
Photo by Shermozle for Wikimedia Commons