I’ll be honest neither of us had even heard of Ljubljana until a colleague of mine said her partner had recently visited on business and described it as beautiful. We love beautiful places but as the saying goes ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ so we were eager to visit and check it out for ourselves. Whilst planning our trip we came into contact with some of the friendliest people ever, it seemed like nothing was too much trouble. We also ‘met’ so many other bloggers who couldn’t sing Ljubljana’s praises highly enough. We tried not to build our hopes up just in case it wasn’t as ‘beautiful’ or ‘magical’ or ‘from a fairytale’ like we had heard and therefore imagined.
Ljubljana is not a big city, in fact it is no bigger than an average English town meaning everything is walkable which, is a good thing as the main area of Ljubljana is pedestrianised. The only thing you need to look out for are bikes. Some of the pavements are not that wide, so if you hear a ‘ding ding’ jump out of the way. Recycling is also a big thing in Ljubljana and you will see recycling bins lining many of the streets. In fact, if you own a business or live in the centre of the city you need a pass for the residual waste bins as you get charged for using them, therefore encouraging people to recycle as much as possible. Ljubljana is an extremely clean city, we saw VERY little graffiti or rubbish. Therefore, it is no surprise that Ljubljana is the European Green Capital 2016. It’s known for its university population and green spaces, including the expansive Tivoli Park.
From the second we landed at the picturesque Ljubljana Jože Pučnik International Airport with stunning snow topped mountains on one side and rolling greenery on the other, we both instantly knew that we were going to love Ljubljana. For €9 each we used the MNJ shuttle service which took around 30 minutes and dropped us off as close to our hotel as possible. We checked into our impressive hotel, Antiq Palace Hotel and Spa which is ideally located right in the heart of the city. By the time we had unpacked and freshened up we only had a couple of hours of daylight left, so we hit the streets and were pleasantly surprised to see both sides of the River Ljubljanica lined with more bars and restaurants than we could shake a stick at.
I’ll be honest we didn’t get far, in fact the first pub we came across – Zlata Ladijca in order to sample the local booze. Slovenian’s are mad for craft ales, unfortunately, Mr ESLT and I aren’t. Therefore, we ordered the local lager – Union, which is part of the Heineken brand and was quite refreshing in the late afternoon sun. As the beers and the sun went down we realised that we had not eaten since breakfast back in London that morning. We had been told that pizza in Slovenia is just as nice, if not nicer than in Italy and who were we not to test that theory? A two minute walk later and we found Dvor Pizzeria where they sell no less than 100 different pizzas! The choice was hard but the pizza was delicious. Bellies full and eyelids heavy we decided on an early(ish) night to ensure we were bright eyed and bushy tailed the next day and ready to explore.
After a light continental breakfast (through choice) at the Antiq Palace Hotel & Spa we hit the streets once again to take in more of the beauty of Ljubljana. We had a food walking tour booked with Iva from Ljubljananjam at 11.30pm so we had a bit of time beforehand to admire the architecture of the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation (red church) and the nearby Triple Bridge in the bright April sunshine.
We met Iva outside the Ljubljana Tourist Information Centre. She took us on a fantastic tour through the city, showing us and explaining to us how food is a major part of Slovenian life, especially lunch. We visited markets, bars and restaurants and tasted many of the local delights on offer in Ljubljana including a lovely lunch at one of her favourite restaurants. Iva also took us through the streets pointing out the best places to take pictures from and giving us a lot of information about the history of the city and it’s major sites, making it a great all round tour and a fantastic and informative way to spend three hours.
We said goodbye to Iva at around 2.30pm and decided we had plenty of the day left to explore. So we decided to head back to the Dragon Bridge (we had briefly visited on our foodwalk). There are loads of bridges in Ljubljana but this was our favourite by far. It has a large dragon at each corner and is quite hard to miss. The dragon has a significant place in Ljubljana’s history, according to local legends, when a virgin crosses the bridge, the dragons will wag their tails. It is now the city’s emblem, even featuring on it’s Coat of Arms.
Our last stop of the day was Ljubljana Castle. The castle stands on castle hill above the city and you can see it from most points in the city centre. We had been told that the walk up the hill would take between 10 and 20 minutes, fitness depending. However, we decided it would be fun to take the funicular up to the top which cost us €10 each (return), including entrance into the castle. The journey to the top took only 1 minute and once there we looked around the impressive castle, enjoyed a bottle of Union in the courtyard then headed up the castle tower (narrow spiral staircase) and enjoyed the spectacular views over the city.
We had an early start (for us) as we headed to Bled with Roundabout Tours. Bled is only approximately 45 minutes from Ljubljana so a great day trip out of the city. The bright blue sky of the previous day was replaced with dark clouds and the threat of rain however as the day went on the weather cheered up considerably. We were stunned as we rounded the corner and the island in the lake came into sight. Having seen it a million times on TV, the internet and in books, nothing prepared us for seeing it in it’s actual glory. It is beautiful. We couldn’t wait to get over there.
We jumped on the boat, sat back and relaxed as our boatman rowed us over to the island. He made it look very easy but on a windy day like when we visited I imagine it was a tough job. Once at the island we climbed the 99 stone steps to the top. We spent half an hour on the island, which was enough time to admire the views and have a quick explore. The Church of the Assumption sits on the island, The 15th-century belfry contains a ‘wishing bell’ which, rumour has it, if you ring it three times and make a wish, it will come true. Entrance fee applies.
Next stop was Bled Castle which is nestled in the hillside overlooking Lake Bled. Once in the castle we found a prime spot, settled in, indulged in a Union and marvelled out the backdrop of the island in the lake, the town of Bled and it’s surrounding countryside all the way over to the mountains. Not the biggest castle we have ever visited but still very beautiful, more so perhaps from the outside than the inside. With time pushing on and our tour coming to an end we headed down the hike trail into the town of Bled, jumped back on the bus and back to Ljubljana.
Our fourth and last day was only a short one as we had to catch our flight home at 4.00pm. We indulged in a lie-in meaning we only had a few hours to occupy ourselves. We had seen boats cruising up and down the Ljubljanica during our visit and decided that we wanted to do it as well. Therefore, we researched where and when they ran. We jumped on the Ljubljanica River trip on a wooden boat from Špica to Livada Bridge. The cruise lasted 50 minutes and gave us the opportunity to see Ljubljana from a different viewpoint, we even ventured into the suburbs. The cruise was very relaxing and for €8 each a nice way to spend the best part of an hour.
Our last hour in Ljubljana was spent eating lunch at Paninoteka, a cute restaurant on the bank of the river. I must admit I am quite a wimp when it comes to food, even though I had tried a lot of Slovenian food on our food walk, so I ordered a burger. Mr ESLT however is a lot more adventurous than me and a true carnivore. He therefore ordered calves’ liver and potato, a traditional Slovenian dish and he loved every mouth full!
We absolutely loved Ljubljana from the second we stepped foot in the city. It is easily in our Top 5 European Cities list and somewhere that we haven’t stopped raving about since we landed back in England. Tourism is rising on average 20% year on year which is great for the local economy. However, with a raise in tourism comes a change. At the moment there aren’t many chain hotels or restaurants in town which gives you a very authentic feel. However, if (more than like when) they come Ljubljana may lose some of the magic it currently has. Therefore visit now….right now!