Slovenia wasn’t a country on my radar until early last year. Although it’s neighbouring nations, Italy and Croatia are firmly on the beaten path; avid holiday-goers have already been able to say they’ve eaten gelato in Rome and bathed in the clear water of the Adriatic sea in Dubrovnik, Ljubljana is not a place that is readily talked about by the everyday Euro-traveler, I suppose it isn’t too surprising considering the name doesn’t easily roll off our English speaking tongues. How do we get our mouths around this one anyway? ‘Lub-jubble… Loob-bilgg… Lub-jubbily-naa?’
In fact it wasn’t until I’d spent the whole week out there and then flown back to UK soil, that I’d found myself able to supply a more comfortable pronunciation, which I know is at least halfway there… Lyoob-leeya-nah. Now at least I can tell everyone where I’d been. Phew!
So what do you need to know about this relatively undiscovered gem? And why does this Slovenian capital need to be top of your wanderlust-list?
Ljubljana is clean, green and totally gorgeous.
Don’t go expecting your regular city break with this one, Ljubljana doesn’t have that big city feel; leafy parks and canal side views replace towering skyscrapers, there’s no hectic ‘hustle and bustle’, no need to engage your standard ‘tourist elbows’ to battle through crowds here.
Revel in miles of winding cobbled streets and beautiful buildings, and an old town that has all (if not more) of the fairy-tale charm of a town such as Prague, but minus the hordes, which makes it all the more attractive. This relaxed way of life is delightfully infectious; take a bicycle ride around the expansive Park Tivoli, catch the funicular up to Ljubljana Castle or just choose get lost in the old town, dabble in some shopping or take your pick of the bars and cafes by the river.
Love cafes with fantastic fodder and luscious views?
Ljubljana is a food lover’s paradise with oodles of restaurants to choose from, finding a restaurant to dine al-fresco underneath the Slovenia sun with views of the canal is too easy.
Don’t leave without sampling Prekmurska gibanica, a traditional dessert with layers of poppy seed, walnuts, cottage cheese and apple. You can also try Kranjska klobasa (a Carniolan sausage) or Štruklji (a rolled dough with a range of sweet or savoury fillings) – both of these can be found on the menu at ‘Klobasarna’ in the old town. You’ll also find many more international meat or fish dishes including some great ice cream and pizza outlets, taking influence from their Italian neighbours. Don’t forget to pair any meal with a glass of excellent Slovenian wine or a bottle of the local brew, Lasko or Union. And bonus – eating out is pretty affordable and won’t damage your budget!
Get on board with ‘SAP’.
After exploring the city by foot or by bike, you can opt to take a slightly more unconventional approach to sightseeing and look to discover Ljubljana from the river whilst gaining a new skill in ‘stand up paddle boarding’. It’s a water activity that is popular in the warmer months, it’s easier than it looks and it’s super fun!
Water Sports in the Julian Alps
Feeling slightly more adventurous? Sign up to throw yourself off cliffs into freezing waters, or fight rapids with a paddle! Adventure tour companies around the scenic Lake Bled area will offer Canyoning, Rafting or Kayaking trips for those looking to inject a bit of thrill into their travels. Visit the tourist office in Ljubljana for details on how to book.
Cats and Coffee
What’s missing from your coffee break? A cat to cuddle, of course! These quirky cafes are popping up in loads of European cities. This one in Ljubljana is kind to the kitty’s and there’s a short list of ‘to-do’s and to-don’t’s’ to make sure the cats are kept happy and content. The coffee is tasty and being in the company of a purring bundle of fur is sure fire way to boost your mood of a morning.
Park Tivoli is super central to the city and very easy to get to. In the summer, go via the market and pick up some bread and cold meats and prepare a picnic then hire a bike and spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the grounds. Whereas Park Tivoli is by far the largest green space within the city, there’s lots plenty of other smaller squares and gardens around Ljubljana, pull up a patch of grass or find a bench and enjoy the street music or just watch the world rotate around you.
Going solo? No problem.
Although I always travel as one half of a couple, I’m always being asked if places are safe for solo-travelers. Ljubljana was a city that had me completely at ease. This pocket sized city is simple to get around so it feels impossible to put a foot wrong. The locals are easy-going and friendly with English widely spoken; I’ll always remember the stories our cab driver recited to us when he took a group of us back to the capital from Lake Bled, the kindness of our Airbnb hosts and all of the smiling Slovenian’s who helped us make our travels unforgettable.
Postojna and Škocjan caves are both an easy day trip away from Ljubljana. Postojna boasts tens of kilometers of an impressive underground network of caverns and Škocjan hosts the largest underground canyon in the world and is a registered UNESCO site.
Piran is pretty coastal town worth a trip and it is actually (just about!) possible to do a fleeting visit to Venice and back from the capital city, or choose to do an overnight trip if you’re a bit more rich in time.
[Image credit: Sloveniatimes.com]
Lakes straight out of a fairy-tale
Most people will have heard (or seen photos) of Lake Bled, which again, is an easy train or bus ride away from the city centre. Head here for boat trips or swimming in the turquoise waters, walks around the water edge, hiking up the castle for show-stopping views or indulging in the original bled cake from Hotel Park Restavracija Rikli. If you have time, take a further trip to Vintgar Gorge for a trek down a beautiful canyon or continue further into Triglav National Park and discover the less touristy but no-less stunning, Lake Bohinj.
It’s now rather than later! Go, go go!
Ljubljana is popping up on many of the ‘must-visit’ guides for 2016, and it’s only going to get more popular from here. Slovenians can’t expect to keep this place under wraps for much longer!
It’s fantastic that this amazing city is gaining the recognition that it so deserves, but my advice would be to book up now before the tour-buses start storming in.