Ljubljana is one of those surprising European cities — a place you might not have heard much about, but upon visiting, is this secret little gem. I found the city so special, so unique and so surprising, I even went so far as to compare it to arguably the world’s most “hipster” city: Berlin. With Ljubljana’s charming city center, it’s alternative scene and its many cafes, bars and restaurants, there’s little doubt in my mind: Ljubljana is cool. Add in the fact that it’s a bit more difficult than other cities to reach and you’ve suddenly got all the makings for a cool, hipster city in Europe.
Things To Do
Ljubljana is a great place to be based in Slovenia for excursions outside of the city. With popular ride-sharing services, day trips and other local tour providers, there’s plenty of reason to stay in Ljubljana for more than just two nights. I stayed in Ljubljana for 4 nights and still somehow managed to miss many of the best sites — but here’s a rundown on the various things to do and see in Ljubljana.
- Ljubljana Castle — Ljubljana’s castle kind of towers over the city on a large hill. You can reach it by funicular in the old city or a short hike up. Best to visit in the early evening so you can catch sunset over the city. — ljubljanskigrad.si
- Dragon Bridge — Probably the most photographed site in Ljubljana, the Dragon Bridge is located between between Kopitarjeva ulica and Resljeva cesta streets. There’s a small plaque nearby explaining the history of the site.
- Food Walks — These unique food walking tours offer a peek into local Slovenian cuisine, plus they’re just a fun way to walk around and learn about the city. There are several different themed tours, from ones focused just on desserts to others which provide an introduction to Ljubljana’s craft beer scene! — ljubljananjam.si
- Boat Tour — You’ll find numerous companies offering boat tours down the city’s main artery, the Ljubljanica river. It’s nicest to join a boat tour in the early evening while the life along the riverside starts to come alive at night. — barka-ljubljanica.si
- Bike Tour — With bike lanes and a friendly population, getting around Ljubljana by bike is easy. It’s possible to rent one of the city bikes with a code from the tourist office, or else you can join one of the city’s bike tours. — ljubljanabybike.com
- Stand-up Paddle Boarding — Ever wanted to walk on water? This tour provider gives you the opportunity to paddle down the Ljubljanica River while standing on a paddle board. — bananaway.si
- Triple Bridge — Seemingly the heart of Ljubljana’s old city, the Triple Bridge and its nearby Prešeren square in front of the Ljubljana Franciscan Church of the Annunciation is a great meeting point in the city center.
- Metelkova — Ljubljana’s alternative cultural center is 100% cool. With street art and graffiti-covered buildings, regular events and street festivals, it’s great to visit both during the day and at night. During the day you can check out the graffiti as well as a small free tour of the Hostel Celica located on the premises. The tour includes a bit of history about the neighborhood and the small museum in the hostel’s basement gives you even more history of Metelkova. At night, especially on the weekends, the area is where you’ll find the best nightlife. There are countless bars selling cheap drinks, some food and occasional social events. Learn more on their website or just go see it for yourself. There are few places in the world like this. — metelkovamesto.org
- Tovarna Rog — This former bicycle factory once produced Yugoslavia’s most popular bicycle (called the Rog). Since 2006, the factory has been turned into a public art space and cultural center. The center isn’t in the best condition, though, as it’s still very much an abandoned space. So exploring this area should be done with caution (as a sign at the entrance rather ominously points out). It’s a good spot for some urban exploring today. — tovarna.org
Bars, Cafés and Nightlife
If you’re looking for Ljubljana’s best bars and nightlife, besides the Metelkova district, you can basically just walk along the river where most locals and tourists hang out. The following places are pretty cool, though — and almost certainly worth going out of your way to visit.
- TOZD — Just step inside this bar and you’ll immediately realize why it makes it on a hipster guide to Ljubljana. With fixie bikes and a totally unique decor, Tozd has an impressive beer list (including local craft beers) and a great patio.
- LP Bar — Located on the sunny side of the Novi Trg (New Square), this bar serves a decent coffee with a great atmosphere. Indoors you’ll find a wall of books as well as a surprisingly large collection of flyers promoting local festivals, events and other cool things happening in the city.
- Repete — This jazz bar and restaurant owned by a sweet local couple has (yet again!) a great patio for outdoor dining or just an afternoon drink. Try the local beers on tap!
- Lolita Cafe — This patisserie on the riverfront, near the Triple Bridge, serves Ljubljana’s prettiest (and tastiest!) cakes and pastries. The beautiful atmosphere on the inside is matched by the delicately designed and decorated cakes. It’s a great place to visit on a rainy afternoon, or on a sunny day. Try and grab a table on the riverside patio!
- Central Station — One of Ljubljana’s coolest bars, this place not only has great food and drinks, but excellent music (and their own radio station!). Check their website for events and DJ listings.
Gay Guide to Ljubljana
Ljubljana might not immediately come to mind as one of Europe’s most gay-friendly destinations, but thanks to a relaxed culture in the city, it’s an increasingly popular destination for LGBT tourists. The city also has plenty of LGBT-specific venues and parties, as well as an annual pride parade (ljubljanapride.org) and Pink Week (pinkweek.eu). Below are some of the city’s best gay places to visit. For more gay tips for Slovenia and Ljubljana check out the Gay Slovenia and Out in Slovenia pages.
- Kolaz Cafe — This gay-owned cafe is a popular meeting spot for the city’s LGBT residents and tourists. The small cafe and bar provides space for local artists and serves daily, healthy lunch specials. It’s an affordable place to eat in the city center and the patio is popular on summer evenings. Vegetarian-friendly, too!
- Club Tiffany — Located in the alternative area of Metelkova, this club (best on Friday nights) is probably Ljubljana’s best gay club. Though it’s without a doubt a gay club, it’s popular with all locals. The club also provides space for special parties, concerts and events. Check their website for a calendar of events.
- Pink Saturday at Club K4 — The popular techno club, KlubK4 hosts a monthly gay party called “Pink Saturday.” I haven’t been but it’s supposed to be decent. Check their website for the calendar.
- Q Cultural Center — Ljubljana’s LGBTIQ cultural center puts on events, debates and other programs for the city’s LGBT and queer residents. The cultural center is aligned with Club Tiffany and formerly Club Monocle. Check their website for specific events.
Food and Restaurants
Ljubljana might not be the place you’d expect to find some of Europe’s finest dining, but like everything else in the city, the food here is a total surprise. And thanks to the city’s relative affordability, you can get some truly great meals at great prices. The city’s food scene is a mix of both cheap street foods from the weekly Open Kitchen food market, to fine dining at affordable prices. And if you really want to get a taste of the local cuisine, try a food tour with Ljubljanjam or a cooking class with Culinary Slovenia. Also check out the Taste Ljubljana guide for restaurants serving local cuisine.
- Skuhna — This unique restaurant serves international food from far-off places such as South America, Africa, Asia and South & Central America. The menu changes daily and is partly developed by refugees and migrants living in the city. If ever there was a restaurant with a worthy cause, it’s this one!
- TaBar Restaurant — A trendy tapas and wine bar that serves Slovenian-style tapas. Local delicacies such as prosciutto, oxtail, sea bass and sausage are paired best with the local Slovenian wines available.
- JB Restaurant — This is an upscale restaurant but if you’re looking for somewhere to try contemporary Slovenian cuisine, you won’t do better than what’s on chef Janez Bratovz’s menu. There are several set menus available for those with varying levels of hunger.
- Gostlina As — One of Ljubljana’s more trendy restaurants, they’ve got one of the best outdoor seating areas in town. Under the treetops and also with a rooftop deck. It’s possible to go just for a drink (their cocktails are great!), but their food is great as well.
- Gostlina Na Gradu — Another one of Ljubljana’s more upscale restaurants, this 100% local restaurant is located on the grounds of the Ljubljana Castle. Their daily specials change based on the local ingredients the chef picks out from the nearby food market each day. Also open for lunch so if you’re already sightseeing, make sure you stop up here for a bite to eat!
- Open Kitchen — The weekly food market takes place every Friday from 8am to 8pm. Most vendors at this market serve international cuisine, though you’ll find a few places selling local cuisine (try the fried chicken!).
Art and Museums
I’m not sure what makes Ljubljana so creative, but whether it’s the street art or the city’s history, Ljubljana is home to more than enough museums. It’d be impossible to visit all the city’s museums and galleries on a single visit, so here are some of the ones I enjoyed the most.
- Slovene Ethnographic Museum — The museum calls itself a museum “about people, for people.” With cultural exhibitions and permanent ones on everything from how humans interact with objects (doors!) to displays about world heritage, it’s one of the more unique museums you’ll find in Europe.
- International Center of Graphic Arts — This museum (located in the middle of Tivoli Park) includes contemporary fine art exhibitions from the 20th century to today. Plus they’ve got a nice cafe.
- City Art Gallery — Located in the city center, this small museum & gallery regularly shows contemporary art exhibitions from Slovenian and international artists.
- Jakopič Gallery — Part of the city’s collection of galleries, this one usually has photographic exhibitions. It’s located on the site for the former Roman forum, which is reflected through the building’s architecture. Definitely a special site for art!
Where to Stay
Ljubljana has a wide variety of accommodation options available but because many of them are small, independent operations, it’s important to book early. The following options are ones I’d recommend:
- Hostel Celica — Ljubljana’s coolest hostel is built in a renovated prison in the independent Metelkova City. Each room was designed by different local and international artists and the building includes several themed restaurants and cafes on the ground floor. A small museum in the basement gives a brief historical overview of the Metelkova City, including information about Ljubljana during Yugoslavic times. There are private rooms and dorms available.
- Hostel Tresor — This boutique hostel is built on the former site of a bank. You can sleep in the former vaults! And a huge hipster bonus because this hostel accepts payment via Bitcoins!
- Hotel Cubo — This trendy, 4-star hotel isn’t the #1 choice on TripAdvisor for nothing. Its modern design and amenities make it a great boutique hotel for any kind of trip.
- Only Apartments — When I visited Ljubljana, I stayed at a holiday apartment booked through Only Apartments (this one to be exact). By having an apartment during your trip, you’ve got some flexibility and a bit more space to yourself. If you stay at the same property I visited, I’d recommend renting a bike during your stay to make getting around the city easier.
- Spend your Sunday in the Old Town, along the riverside. There are numerous flea markets, festivals, live music and generally speaking, a great ambiance.
- Buses are easy to use to get around the city and people are friendly enough that you can ask for directions if needed. Public transportation is included with a Ljubljana tourist card.
- Keep your eyes out for the Library Under the Treetops in parks across the city. The initiative started when Ljubljana was named the UNESCO World Book Capital in 2010 but has continued every summer since. Books are available in six different spots around the city where visitors can read for free. More information here.
- Visit during one of the many summer festivals (the Ana Desetnica street theater festival seems particularly cool) – the city comes alive with music and outdoor activities. With hundreds of cultural events each year, though, chances are you’ll be in town during some sort of unique event.
- Luxury Slovenia — The guys behind this website and travel agency are able to provide affordable luxury to visitors of not just Ljubljana, but Slovenia on the whole.
- Visit Ljubljana — The official tourist website for Ljubljana includes hundreds of pages of tips and resources for every type of traveler.
- Ljubljana Magazine — For local travel tips and the latest news & events from Ljubljana, use this site to find great ideas for your trip.
- The Travel Mob Guide to Ljubljana — During my trip to Ljubljana I helped to research and put together this digital guide and resource for travelers to Ljubljana. It’s available for free and includes lots of recommendations and cool travel tips!
- Slocally — This independent tourism website includes several alternative tour options, including an option to “rent-a-local” for a day for private tours.
- In Your Pocket Guide to Ljubljana — With free PDF downloads and specific Ljubljana highlights, this website provides a great guide to things to do & see in Ljubljana.
- Slovenia Times — The English-language news website includes a lifestyle section with local travel features.
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