An introduction to my hometown.
With less than 300.000 people, Ljubljana is the smallest capital city in the European union. It is also the city where I’ve lived my entire life, before studying abroad, so I can definitely tell you quite a bit about it.
Ljubljana is known as the city of dragons, as even our coat of arms features a dragon (why? here), which is right up my alley, because I love dragons. 🙂 The city is located at the heart of the Slovenian chicken – yes, my country is shaped like a chicken, which I think is awesome. Its central location makes it a great starting point for exploring the rest of Slovenia and pretty much everything is within a few hours driving distance. Since there are way too many interesting things to do in Ljubljana and you can read about them in my Local’s guide to Ljubljana guest post or the tourist pages, I’ve tried to condense this post down to my absolute favourites to give you a feel for the city.
First of all, Ljubljana is walkable and quite nice in any weather. Most of what visitors are interested in is located in the city centre, so there is little need to venture outside of it. The main Prešeren’s square is the heart of the city, named after France Prešeren, who is considered our most important poet. As he was madly in love with Julija Primic, who was his muse and did not return his love at all, his statue at the main square gazes towards a small sculpture of Julija on Wolf street, where she had lived until marrying someone else.
The most obvious other sights include the Ljubljana castle, the Old town and the (too) many churches, as well as numerous museums, which are sometimes free, so check their websites before paying for the ticket. My personal favourites are the recently renovated City museum, where you can see one of the world’s oldest wheels, the National gallery as we Slovenians have some very nice impressionist painters, and the fun Museum of Illusions. The National museum of Slovenia is also great for history enthusiasts – it houses a 46.000 years old Neanderthal flute, the swords found in the river crossing Ljubljana and a dugout canoe from the Ljubljana marshes (the entire Ljubljana region is built upon marshlands). In terms of alternative culture, there is also Metelkova city, a squat turned arts and culture social centre where I spent most of my teenage years.
A couple of years ago the central part of Ljubljana was declared traffic free, which had been a great decision as far as I am concerned, despite the hassle it has caused the residents of the Old town, and the city centre has been extensively renovated. Every time I visited home while studying abroad, the city looked a bit nicer. I know part of it was my missing home, but they’ve really done a good job.
Another thing I love about my hometown are all the charming Ljubljana cafes, as we quite like our social coffee times. I had to make a special post for all my recommendations in terms of treating yourself, because there were just too many to list here. There are also many beautiful fountains: my favourite is the Robba fountain; and shops, both retail and second hand, as well as the Sunday antique flea market near the Cobbler’s bridge.
Impressions of Ljubljana
Like everywhere, the city centre has many interesting architectural creations, with the most famous being the works of Jožef Plečnik, who also worked extensively in Prague. Among other things he designed Križanke, the outdoor theatre and the Triple bridge, which would be my favourite bridge, if it wasn’t for the Dragon bridge.
The Dragon bridge was initially built as an experiment: a newly discovered way to reinforce concrete was tested out in Ljubljana, rather than in Vienna, as the consequences of a bridge failing in Ljubljana were deemed less severe. It features bronze statues of dragons, which had turned green due to the exposure to the elements and these dragons have been my absolute favourite for as long as I can remember. One of my favourite childhood memories is sitting on one of the dragon statues, while my mother screamed at my father that I will fall into the river, which is conveniently called Ljubljanica.
Another Plečnik architecture favourites of mine are the National university library – NUK, which is a magnificent must-see inside and out and their cafe is quite cosy, and the Central market arcades. The entire Central market area is quite nice and walking down to the fish market in the lower levels provides some spectacular views of the river, as well as very fishy smells. During the summer you can also find the Open kitchen food festival there, which is a great way to try out some Slovenian restaurants.
As is proper for a city which calls itself a green and sustainable destination, Ljubljana has a large number of parks and little nature retreats within the city, as well as a zoo. The closest park to the city centre is also the largest, the Tivoli park, which features a promenade with a photography exhibition, a small hill named Rožnik with frequent seasonal events, and you can even feed some squirrels there if you are lucky. A bit outside the city centre is park Špica (“the Pointy tip” park), a recently renovated river bank area with nice terraces, where you can find many coypus, giant beaver-like rodents, which have decided to make the centre of Ljubljana their home. Most of us think they are cute, as long as they stay on the river banks and out of the streets. Even further out of the centre is also the pond of Koseze, a lovely small lake with a nice view of the mountains around Ljubljana.
The details of Ljubljana
Of course there are also many seasonal events, such as Christmas and Pust, and lots of outdoor festivals, like the Ljubljana festival and the Film under the stars summer movie festival. In the summer the main square also becomes a zone with separate weather, which is a quirky recurring art installation. In fact, Ljubljana is full of quirky details and little things, which make it special, so go explore and keep your eyes open!
Now, as I stated in the introduction, I’ve tried to keep this post brief to give you a taste for the city, but if you want a proper tourist guide, I recommend you read my Local’s guide to Ljubljana guest post. I hope you decide to visit and if you do, let me know in the comments below!