Slovenia’s capital city is equal parts adorable and equal parts cool. It’s a fairly modern city that offers plenty of beauty and fun. Though it’s fairly small, it packs a lot of things to do. These activities are the very best of Ljubljana that are not to be missed.
Have a drink at Skyscraper
This adorably-named building wouldn’t be considered a skyscraper anywhere except the small city of Ljubljana. I’m a big fan of rooftop bars and Skyscraper (Nebotičnik) is a great one to end your day and watch the sunset on the city. Despite its prime location, the cafe on the 12th floor with its 360-degree outdoor terrace isn’t expensive at all. But even if you don’t want to enjoy the atmosphere and have a 3 euro glass of wine, you can go up there just to take pictures; no one really cares.
Do some urban exploring at the abandoned Rog factory
Rog used to be the most popular brand of bikes in Yugoslavia. But when its giant factory in Ljubljana shut down, it became popular for another reason. Since 2006, it’s been home to over twenty artist collectives. Rog now serves as a cultural event space and outdoor gallery that you can explore at your leisure. Don’t be creeped out by the abandoned element of it. The sculptures and graffiti are all outside in the courtyard, and even families come to check out the art. Inside the building, you’ll find a skate park and concert hall among the artist studios.
Walk or boat on the Ljubljanica
The Ljubljanica is a small river that passes through the center of the city. The area around the river is surrounded by restaurants and cafes where you can sit outside and take in the romantic surroundings. The winding river is very narrow; you can cross over any of the bridges in about 10 seconds, so you can easily hop from one side to the other. Some of the bridges themselves are highlights to see, like the Dragon Bridge, which is adorned on either side with dragon statues; and the Butcher’s Bridge, where people leave love locks and buskers play music for passersby.
Aside from walking, you can enjoy the river by riding a boat on it. Cruises on the Ljubljanica are offered all day for just 10 euro per person for an hour-long trip that will take you past all the city’s main bridges and squares.
Metelkova is another cultural and artistic hub in town which provides an diverse and affordable nightlife. During the day, the area is generally fairly empty save for a couple of people skateboarding and tourists taking photos. Visiting during the day allows you to see more of the graffiti, art and sculpture that fills the area, and if you’re lucky, you may also stumble on a couple of open artist studios. But Metelkova really comes to life at night when the different bars and clubs open their colorful doors to partygoers.
The atmosphere is similar to Friedrichshain in Berlin, so you can expect a lot of live music, a diverse crowd, and cheap drinks. Because there are so many different kinds of spaces, you have many nightlife options just a few steps away from each other. You might stumble upon Latin night at Gala Hala or go dance with the gays at Club Tiffany. There’s something for everyone. If you’re not sold on any particular club and you want to just have a beer on one of the giant playground sculptures in the center of it all, you can do that, too.
The hilltop castle that overlooks the city is one of Ljubljana’s most popular attractions. Ljubljana Castle is accessible on foot from the east and west side and by a glass funicular that goes up in about a minute from the area around the Central Market. If you happen to be on the opposite side of the castle from the funicular, you can hike up to the castle which takes about 15-20 minutes.
The area of the castle is fairly open with only a few exhibits and the viewing tower requiring ticket access, which is 10 euro and includes access to everything and a round trip ride on the funicular. Unless you’re especially interested in castle history, I don’t think the ticket is necessary. Though the view from the tower is considerably better than the free one from the bastion beneath it, many of the castle exhibits are free. The only reason I wasn’t pissed about paying to get in is because of the temporary exhibit dedicated to costume designer Alan Hranitelj. Everything else about the castle exhibits was forgettable.
Eat and shop at the Central Market
Ljubljana’s Central Market is open every day except Sunday from 7 to 4 pm (until 2 pm on Saturdays). The market sprawls out over a wide area in the center of town. Part of the market is inside a long promenade that sits on the river and is made up of fixed delis and eateries where you can pick up fresh ingredients or sit outside and dine at. The other part of the market is made up of temporary stalls in the large square behind the promenade, selling fruits, veggies, flowers, and a whole lot of Slovenian specialties like honey, wine, wooden products, and small crafts. The outer edges of the market are more like a flea market, selling shoes, clothes, handbags and souvenirs.
Walking distance from the center, there is a massive city park that’s almost bigger than Ljubljana itself. It offers a green escape from the concrete constraints of the city. Inside the park you’ll find a lot of shady spots to sit down, complete with fountains, gardens, and even a pond full of lilypads. Here you’ll also find Tivoli Castle which currently houses the International Centre of Graphic Arts. The best way to enjoy Tivoli Park is to pick up a bottle of wine and some snacks and have an afternoon picnic there.
See Ljubljana’s churches
If you’re interested in seeing some of the city’s religious sites, they’re mostly free and always open to the public. The only one that you have to pay (2 euros) to see as a tourist is the Ljubljana Cathedral, unless you want to attend mass which is free and held several times throughout the day. The baroque interior is impressive and worth seeing if you only see one church in Ljubljana.
Another church to visit in Ljubljana is the pink Franciscan Church that is located in the popular Prešeren Square. Inside the colorful exterior you’ll find intricate woodwork and frescoes on the ceiling. The Orthodox Church near Tivoli Park (Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church) is also free to enter and worthwhile for a different kind of religious architecture.
Visit the city’s museums
Most of Ljubljana’s museums are clustered together near Tivoli Park and near Metelkova. Near Tivoli, you’ll find one of the buildings of the National Museum of Slovenia, the Natural History Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art. If you prefer your art a little more traditional, the National Gallery is also in the area. Just outside the artsy commune of Metelkova, you’ll find the Museum of Contemporary Art, the other building of the National Museum of Slovenia, and the Slovenian Ethnographic Museum. At these museums, you can see a bit of art ranging from the 12th century up to the 21st century and learn about Slovenian history and culture.
You can buy a combined ticket for the National Museum buildings or you can pay a lower entrance to visit just one. If you happen to be in town, there’s free admission the first Sunday of every month. You can also get a combined ticket if you want admission to both contemporary art museums. Even if you don’t visit the museums themselves, the outdoor cafe (Kavarna SEM) of the Ethnographic Museum is a lively place day and night to lounge and have a drink or eat barbecue. It looks like it’s even more popular with locals than tourists.