Things to Do in Ljubljana
Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia, is one of the most charming cities in all of Europe, and is filled with museums, theatre, historic sites, and many other attractions.
Arguably the best part of town to spend a day in, Ljubljana's Old Town is filled with churches and buildings dating all the way back to medieval times. The old world charm continues in Ljubljana Castle, whose tower provides a magnificent view of the city.
At the city center lies Prešeren Square, which features the famous statue of Slovene national poet France Prešeren. Right off of the square is Cop Street, one of the main shopping streets in the city.
For history buffs, the Square of the Republic and the Roman ruins are a must, as well as the turn of the century Dragon Bridge. Subculture thrives in Metelkova, a section of the city autonomously declared as an alternative gathering place for artists and other youths, and is replete with bars and nightlife.
For the young at heart, take in the Ljubljana Zoo and the Water City of Atlantis Water Park, as well as Tivoli Park. Museums of all kinds are the main attractions of the city, including the Architecture Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery, the National Museum, the Slovenian Museum of Natural History, and many more.
Between Ljubljana’s medieval hilltop castle and the Ljubljanica River lie the narrow cobblestone streets and charming pastel-colored buildings of Old Town. The neighborhood’s impressive architecture, picturesque bridges, riverfront walkways, and heaps of cafés and bars with terrace seating help make Ljubljana a true jewel of Central Europe.
Spanning the Ljubljanica River in the heart of Old Town Ljubljana, the Dragon Bridge is one of the most popular landmarks in the city. Four menacing bronze dragons guard the bridge, two at each end, with 16 smaller dragons adorning its span. These mythical beasts are symbolic of the city’s founding and have become the emblem of Ljubljana.
Perched on top of Castle Hill overlooking Slovenia’s capital city, the mighty medieval Ljubljana Castle (Ljubljanski Grad) dates back to the 11th century. This well-preserved fortress is visible from most everywhere in town and is a must-see for unbeatable views of the city. Tour the castle’s Museum of Slovene History for a fascinating introduction to Slovenia’s past.
Since 2006, the Ljubljana Castle Funicular has been transporting passengers between the city center in Slovenia’s capital and Ljubljana Castle, perched on top of Castle Hill. Featuring a modern design, the glass-enclosed cable railway also offers spectacular views over Ljubljana, as well as the ruins of a medieval defensive wall.
Located at the foot of the iconic Triple Bridge over Ljubljanica River—and dedicated to beloved national poet France Prešeren—Prešeren Square is one of Ljubljana’s most famous public spaces. Perched by the riverside, the square is connected to many of the city’s main thoroughfares, making it the perfect spot from which to explore the city.
Ljubljana’s Congress Square (Kongresni Trg) is an historical Baroque piazza uniting some of the city's most beautiful buildings and popular attractions—yet it's best known as a place to relax. Built in 1821 just a street over from the main area of old town, the peaceful square and verdant Star Park (Park Zvezda) that sits in its middle offer locals and visitors a quiet place to eat, read, and soak in views of the city's iconic hilltop castle.
The University of Ljubljana and Slovenian Philharmonic line the southern flank of the square, while the Baroque-designed Ursuline Church of the Holy Trinity and popular Kazina are found on the square's north end. Also nearby are excavations of the Roman settlement of Emona.
Though most popular in summer when an open-air cinema plays free movies in the park in August, the square's surrounding Biedermeier-style architecture, convenient cafes, and beautiful scenery make it a major stop on most walking and cycling tours of Ljubljana.
With its enormous green dome and twin clock towers, the St. Nicholas’ Cathedral (Stolnica Sv. Nikolaja) towers over Ljubljana Old Town and is one of the city’s must-see attractions. The cathedral’s lavish interior is its biggest draw; nearly every inch of the inside is covered in art from the baroque-style frescos and portraits to the magnificent carved altar and bronze doors.
The Ljubljanica River has indelibly shaped the city of Ljubljana from its origins in prehistory as it wound its twisting course, acting as a trading route and bringing wealth to the early settlement. Today Ljubljana is often nicknamed "City of Bridges," and one of its most spectacular river crossings is the Art Nouveau Dragon Bridge, completed in 1901 by Dalmatian architect Jurij Zaninovic; it is guarded by an intimidating pair of bronze dragons – symbol of the city – at either end and connects the modern, working city with the Baroque charms of the Old Town across the Ljubljanica.
Although the river was first spanned by bridge in Roman times, the oldest crossing still in existence today is the 13th-century Cobblers’ Bridge; originally this was a simple wooden construction but it was replaced by a striking ballustraded affair in 1931 by Jože Plečnik. This Slovenian architect was also responsible for shaping much of the modern city before he died in 1957, designing the fine Art Nouveau Triple Bridge over the river from Prešeren Trg (Square) and also helping to wrench the waterfront back to life with the construction of tree-lined bankside promenades along the Ljubljanica. Today the riverbanks are home to countless smart bars and restaurants, with terrace seating for balmy summer evenings. A daily produce market sprawls along the river and there’s a Sunday flea market along the waterfront at Cankarjevo Nabrezje.
One of Ljubljana’s most recognizable landmarks, the Triple Bridge over Ljubljanica River connects the city’s historic center with the popular meeting point, Prešeren Plaza. The bridge’s three interconnected pedestrian-only pathways are the inspired masterwork of Slovene architect Jože Ple?nik and stand among his many humanist architectural gems in the city.
The twin peaks of Grmada and Mount Saint Mary (Smarna Gora) are both swathed with oak and beech forest and sit in northern Slovenia; their humps are clearly visible from its enticing capital city of Ljubljana, which spreads out into a giant basin below the mountain. Mount Saint Mary is the eastern of the two peaks and reaches up to 669 meters (2,194 feet); woven with 15 hiking trails, it is one of the most popular weekend destinations for the folks of Ljubljana. They flock out to the forest to enjoy walking, jogging, mountain biking, and climbing through narrow craggy limestone gorges and canyons; while in winter Mount Saint Mary becomes a snowy paradise for Nordic skiing and tobogganing. It is also a haven for wildlife, with foxes, martens, squirrels, buzzards and hawks commonly spotted; sightings of deer and brown hare have been recorded but are rare.
Depending on fitness, it takes between 45 and 60 minutes to climb Mount Saint Mary, which is topped by the 18th-century Baroque church of the Virgin Mary – although a pilgrimage church has existed in this site since medieval times – from which there are spectacular views over the city to the Julian Alps. A popular restaurant shares the same spectacular panoramas, sells typically Slovenian treats such as puffy donuts called miske (mice) or stuffed dumplings, and gets rammed every summer weekend. Close by is an ancient bell, reputed to bring good luck to anyone who rings it.
More Things to Do in Ljubljana
Located in Ljubljana’s vast cobbled square of Mestni Trg, the Baroque Magistrat was built in 1719 by Slovenian architect Gregor Maček and today contains the office of the mayor as well as being a popular landmark with visitors to this elegant, pocket-sized city. The town hall is approached by an impressive flight of steps, has an ornate whitewashed façade incorporating an arched Venetian-style balcony, and is topped with a fancy pediment and clock tower. This incarnation replaced the previous Gothic town hall, which was built in 1418 but subsequently destroyed in a violent earthquake in 1511.
A monument to Yugoslavia’s first king, Peter I, was erected in the entrance hall in the mid-1920s but this was destroyed by Italian Fascist troops when they occupied the city in 1941 – nowadays a 17th-century statue of Hercules the lion has taken its place. The walls are covered with oil paintings and there are often a couple of art or history exhibitions on the go in the pretty inner courtyard. Outside the Magistrat stands the Robba Fountain, one of the city’s best-loved Baroque monuments. It was the last masterpiece of Ljubljana sculptor Francesco Robba, completed in 1751 and depicting three river gods representing Slovenia’s main rivers.
With pretty landscaped gardens, shaded woodlands, and peaceful walkways, Tivoli Park is Ljubljana's most popular green space. The 2-square-mile (5-square-kilometer) expanse features walking and cycling trails, mini golf courses, and playgrounds as well as important cultural institutions such as Tivoli Mansion and the Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia.
Uniting Ljubljana’s historic and colorful Baroque center with Jurčič Square, the 13th-century Cobblers' Bridge (Cevljarski Most) is an integral part of Ljubljana, past and present. Once a point at which to collect tolls on foodstuffs, spices, and textiles, today, theoldest bridge in the city is a gathering point for street artists and stallholders in summer and a popular stop on many city walking tours.Redesigned by Slovenian architect Jože Plečnikin 1931, thestone bridge is adorned with six pairs of pillars and crosses over the Ljubljanica River, connecting to the imposing Three Bridges (Tromostovje) by walkway along the Ljubljanica.
Explore the city's most famous bridges and architecture on a guided day tour of Ljubljana and the Alpine town of Lake Bled, with included round-trip transportation departing from most nearby cities.
Established in 1774, the National and University Library of Slovenia (Arodna in Univerzitetna Knjiznica) is one of the country’s most prestigious institutions. Tucked away in Plečnik Palace on the edge of the medieval center of Ljubljana, the Jože Plečnik-designed, four-story building is patterned with contrasting limestone and brickwork and centered around a pair of internal courtyards. The impressive library reading room fans out around a monumental marble staircase scattered with 32 gray and black marble columns.
Open to guided tours, the library holds some 1.3 million books, 8,700 rare manuscripts, and other multimedia resources. It also contains five major collections of Slovenian artifacts, from medieval manuscripts to maps, all of which are available to view in a series of ornate exhibition rooms. The National and University Library is included on many walking tours of Ljubljana, and a visit can be combined with a cruise down the Ljubljanica River or local beer tasting for an experience that's one for the books.
Ljubljana’s funky, graffiti-strewn enclave of Metelkova is the alternative epicenter of the city, an area stuffed full of grungy clubs and bars that lies north of the Ljubljanica River. Whether they’re into rock, punk or folk, gay bars or beery dives, this is the place of choice for party animals amid the harsh military architecture of Metelkova’s former army barracks. These were abandoned by the defunct Yugoslav army in 1990 and were on line for demolition when a band of squatters moved in to save them; now they are run as an autonomous cultural center, along similar lines to Christiania in Copenhagen. In addition to being a mecca for late-night revelers, Metelkova is the destination for flea-market fans, pop-up street entertainment and edgy art exhibitions; the streets are packed most days of the week but the action really kicks off over the weekend, when kids flock in from all over Central Europe.
One of the city’s coolest hotels, the Hostel Celica, has its home in Metelkova, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova, which opened in 2011, is on its fringes in the newly christened Museum Quarter; it offers exhibitions of avant-garde European works, pop art and photography.
Butchers' Bridge (Mesarski Most) may not be the most romantic sounding attraction in Ljubljana, but it's certainly popular among lovers. Since its construction in 2010, couples from around the world have adorned this footbridge over the Ljubljanica River with hundreds of locked padlocks to symbolize their eternal love. The city's answer to Pont des Art in Paris, the bridge is locally known as 'lovers' bridge,' and is the most recent of the 17 crossings over the river, connecting the Petkovšek Embankment to the Central Market.
More modern than Ljubljana's more famous bridges, Butchers' Bridge features a simple design, with two glass walkways, steel wire railings, and several bizarre bronze statues by Slovenian sculptor Jakov Brdar. Though recently built, the bridge gets its name from its first incarnation in the 13th century, when it occupied the area now covered by Shoemaker's Bridge. Home to the city's meat markets, the original bridge was moved out of the city after hundreds of complaints about the stench around the stalls. Romantic! Given new life in the 21st century, this bridge is now smell-free and an integral part of city walking tours.
The mid-20th-century Slovene architect Jože Plečnik was responsible for much of Ljubljana’s rebirth as a cultured, elegant city; he built bridges over the Ljubljanica River as well as pathways along it and in the 1950s was also given the remit to design the Križanke Summer Theatre (Poletno Gledalisce Krizanke). It is located in the former Monastery of the Holy Cross, which dated right back to medieval times but was sacked by Yugoslav Communist leaders in the aftermath of World War II.
Plečnik set about creating a Renaissance-style entertainment venue with a vast entrance courtyard, paved with patterned cobbles and surrounded by arcaded walls etched with sgrafitto; his bust is also found here as a memorial to his designs, while some artifacts from the monastery are on display in a small museum next to the church. Today the complex offers four spaces, ranging from the Courtyard of Hell, where chamber-music concerts are held, to a sizeable stage where orchestral concerts and full-blown theater productions are held as well as rock concerts – it has a retractable roof in case of rain. The theater has a total capacity of 1,270 and is administrated by the Ljubljana Festival as the city’s most popular outdoor venue.
Housed in a restored 16th-century Renaissance castle, the Ljubljana Museum of Architecture and Design is one of the city’s most intriguing museums. The museum’s vast collection of design plans and model structures of Slovenia’s most celebrated buildings draw visitors interested in architecture and design. An exhibition of works by celebrated Slovenian architect Jože Ple?nik is the museum highlight.
Named after the Slovene writer and political activist Ivan Cankar, the Cankar Centre (Cankarjev Dom) is Ljulbjana’s arts and cultural hub. Designed by postmodernist Slovene architect Edvard Ravnikar, this vast complex features several performance venues and hosts hundreds of annual events such as the Ljubljana Jazz Festival and the Ljubljana International Film Festival as well as numerous conferences and other cultural events.
Challenge your mind and test the limits of your perception at Ljubljana’s immersive Museum of Illusions. The museum—which features a series of interactive exhibits, mind-bending optical illusions, stereograms, and holograms—provides an entertaining and educational experience for all ages.
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