One of the top sights of Ljubljana’s alternative scene is Metelkova Mesto (Metelkova City), which is usually referred to simply as Metelkova. The sizable art squat has become a hip hangout for artists, activists, and people looking for a good night out. It’s a site for street art, political action, underground music, and cultural events. As a tourist, Metelkova might seem like a neglected dump, even potentially threatening. But if you’re not afraid to do a little urban exploring, you’ll discover a world of acceptance, community, and art.
What is Metelkova?
Metelkova is one of the largest urban squats in Europe located in abandoned Yugoslavian military barracks in Ljubljana. After the dissolution of Yugoslavia, a large network of cultural and youth organizations petitioned the city to be granted the right to use the barracks for creative purposes. Under threat of demolition and reconstruction, the activists illegally occupied the premises of Metelkova to prevent its commercial redevelopment. Since 1995, the area has been a self-designated autonomous zone, becoming registered as a national cultural heritage site 10 years later.
Metelkova houses several cultural organizations and NGOs focusing on the rights of minorities, women, and social progress. Among these are artists, sculptors, musicians, and filmmakers that call Metelkova Mesto home. The area represents their creative efforts with elaborate displays of graffiti, crafts, and interesting sculptures that are usable for seating and shade.
How to see Ljubljana’s Metelkova
The area is open to visitors at any time of day. Many tourists come by on a weekday afternoon and wonder what the big deal is when they find it nearly isolated. But visiting during the day is still a great way to appreciate all the detailed artwork around its courtyards. You may find one of the numerious studios or galleries open for visitors. After dark, you can also enjoy the Pedestrian Night Exhibition, which allows you to see detailed artworks inside the building windows through binoculars placed in the viewing tower in Metelkova’s large courtyard.
If you want to learn more history about the area, perhaps the best way to do so would be to stay there. Hostel Celica in Metelkova offers affordable stays in a former prison. Each of the cells has been designed by a local artist for your comfort and enjoyment. Aside from being able to experience a little bit of what it’s like to be a resident of Metelkova Mesto, you can take one of their free daily guided tours at 2 pm. The tour gives you an insider’s look at the history of the area and the former prison turned hostel itself. You’ll learn about how the area repurposes materials and objects to remain sustainable and about some of the challenges the community has faced over the years.
Metelkova for nightlife
If you only see Metelkova on a Tuesday afternoon when everything is shuttered, you’re missing out on the best part of the cultural center. Metelkova truly comes to life at night when it serves as a diverse and unique nightlife destination in Ljubljana. Metelkova Mesto is home to several concert venues, clubs, and bars, which start to get busier later into the night and especially on weekends. The atmosphere is generally relaxed, with people floating from one venue to the other to explore the different clubs. You can expect cheap drinks and a party that lasts until the early morning.
Many of these bars and clubs are only open for scheduled events and often on weekends. So unless you’re there on a Friday, it’s unlikely that you’ll see the area fully open for business. But even on weeknights, you’re always sure to stumble onto something or other. If you want to plan ahead, you can find an event calendar online for some of the individual venues.
Channel Zero is Metelkova’s premiere rock and metal venue, organizing several major events and concerts per year, as well as offering bands a space to practice for free. Aside from rock concerts, you can expect to enjoy electronic DJ sets. They’re known for hosting 24-Hour Party People, an international live music festival that ran for a full day.
One of the other large live music venues in Metelkova is Gala Hala. This outdoor venue provides a more diverse offering of music that can range from hip-hop to dubstep. No genre is off-limits at this large outdoor venue. It’s definitely the first time I’ve seen a DJ spinning Latin music on vinyl.
This venue, which is in the heart of Metelkova, has been around since the area’s inception, originally designed to be a theatre. Klub Gromka is run by several NGOs, and still offers theatre and movie screenings on certain days of the week. Nowadays it also acts as club and music venue for experimental bands.
Menza pri koritu
This creative space is sometimes open throughout the day and is easily spotted as it has the web of creepy head sculptures out front. Menza pri koritu (Canteen at the Trough) holds concerts at least a couple of times per week, interspersed with other events like poetry readings, film screenings, and seminars. It’s sometimes open throughout the day and is used as rehearsal space by local and visiting performers.
Klub Monokel and Klub Tiffany
Ljubljana’s Metelkova is a welcoming space, so it was natural that it would become a hub for the city’s gays and lesbians. Among its other artsy bars, you’ll find lesbian club, Monokel, and gay club, Tiffany. Both of these are open only on the weekends, usually on Friday. When the club isn’t thumping under bright lights and loud music, you can find LGBT events including art exhibits, film festivals, and workshops.
Another centrally located bar that is open almost every night is Jalla Jalla. By day, you can come here for free language courses or bike repair. By night, it’s a loud bar with lots of lights inside and out, where you might hear reggae or electronic music. Each night is different and bringing a new unexpected vibe.