Ljubljana, Slovenia’s dinky yet thriving capital, is a near-ideal city break destination for those who like exploring on foot. Its compact centre, based around the Ljubljanica River, is completely pedestrianised, making it a lively hang-out well into the evening. Most major attractions are an absolute maximum of 25 minutes’ walk away, with plenty of places reachable within a 10 to 15-minute stroll.
Much like the rest of the country, it’s incredibly lush and green, plus perfectly pocket-sized. Though small, it still manages to pack in everything you’d want from a capital city, from sprawling parks and a diverse restaurant scene to quality museums and off-beat tours.
What to do
Visit the castle
Ljubljana Castle towers above the city on its own hilltop. Although there’s a funicular to take visitors there and back, if you’ve got a spring in your step hike up the well-signed path through the woods instead. The 900-year-old castle has been renovated and updated countless times, with the last major upheaval in the middle of the 20th century. Nowadays you’ll find 360-degree views atop the viewing tower, a “virtual castle” film showing the building’s history, a chapel and penitentiary exhibit, plus two onsite museums and a restaurant overlooking the city. Open 9am-10pm; entry €10 or €13 including return funicular journey.
Stand up and paddle
See the city from the Ljubljanica River on a stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) excursion with Bananaway. Participants can choose from an “urban” SUP tour, which takes them through the heart of the city, or an “into the wild” SUP tour that heads away from town, winding up in the countryside within a five-minute paddle. All equipment, guides and introduction to SUP included. (Just be warned – if it’s raining tours may be called off.) Two-hour tour: €39pp.
Follow the moustaches
Launched in recent years, the Moustache Tour takes visitors on a journey all around the city, framed through the lives of Ljubljana’s three most prominent men with facial hair: Jože Plečnik (architect), Ivan Cankar (writer), and Rihard Jakopič (artist). In this whirlwind bike tour, you get to see some of the city’s best attractions, drink a hot tea with rum and even get a free, snazzy moustache tee-shirt. The price of €45 includes bike rental, tour guide, a drink and cake and brief entry into six attractions. Runs every Friday at 3pm, lasting three to four hours, until 30 September.
Mix n match museums
Looking for an hour of the bizarre? The Museum of Illusions is as fun as it is ridiculous, offering a host of interactive exhibitions over three floors, many of which are set up to be captured on your smartphone. Open Monday to Sunday, 9am-9pm; entry from €5.95.
Elsewhere, hit up the Museum of Modern Art, which is dedicated to Slovenian contemporary art from the 20th century. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am-6pm; entry €5.
Where to stay
Hotel Cubo is a cool, contemporary four-star in a banging location, less than 10 minutes’ walk to the buzzing pedestrianised city centre. Design is dominated by an oceanic colour palette, all sea-foam blues and greys, with plants that look like sea-grass in the trendy lobby bar. Service is a cut-above too, with the suave young things at reception offering free welcome cocktails and retro-looking bikes to borrow. Doubles from £119, B&B.
Vander Urbani Resort is a design hotel plonked in an excellent position right on the river. Modern rooms are swathed various shades of grey, but the biggest attraction here is the rooftop terrace and pool. Doubles from £121, B&B
Where to eat
For laid-back but finessed fare, head to Monstera, where the concept is zero-waste with an aim to source ingredients from as near to the restaurant as possible. Tagliatelle with pan-fried perch in fennel sauce and elderflower baba with camomile ice cream hit all the right notes. Ask for the wine list too: it’s packed with Slovenian options, many of which are organic or natural.
Dinner with a side of conscience can also be found at Skuhna, which offers dishes from countries including Iran, Zimbabwe and India. Expect anything from Nigerian plantain accompanied by ginger and tomato to Zimbabwean chicken in peanut butter sauce. The best part? It’s a social enterprise, which trains up and employs migrants to work in the restaurant. On Friday nights there’s also free live music in the basement.
Slovenian fast food at its finest is on show at Moji štruklji. It offers a wide choice of filling soups alongside a traditional Slovenian štruklji – a baked roll of filo pastry – of your choice (tarragon is a typical flavour of the region).
Odprta kuhna (the Open Kitchen), a collection of stalls showcasing cuisine from some of the city’s best restaurants – happens every Friday in Pogačar Square. Buy street food from top Slovenian chefs to a soundtrack of live music. Open from mid-March to October, weather permitting.
Where to drink
Cafetino is where aficionados head for their caffeine fix. With the entrance tucked down a side street, it’s easy to miss, but inside lies a staggering array of coffee blends from all over the world.
For a home-grown beer, swing by Union next to Tivoli park. It’s on the site of the 155-year-old Union brewery and some of the libations they serve can’t be found anywhere else in the city. If you’ve got time to spare, don’t miss out on the brewery tour – the 90-minute experience takes you through the entire beer-making process with generous samples served along the way; €14.
Kolibri is known for its superior cocktails. Pitch up to the apothecary-style counter and let the mixologists whisk up concoctions such as the Broken Bijou (Broken bones gin, Green Chartreuse, Antica Formula and orange bitters).
Where to shop
The daily Central Market, consisting of an open-air market located in the Vodnikov trg and Pogačarnev trg squares, a covered market in between the two squares, and a series of small food shops along the river, is great for picking up fresh, local produce. Closed Sundays.
For traditional, artisanal products such as locally made jam, honey, liquor, pumpkin seed oil and syrup, head to Dobrote Dolenjske.
Tucked one road back from the river, Trubarjeva cesta is a surprisingly great shopping street. It caters to mainstream tastes at the more central end, boasting shopping mall Galerija Emporium, which stocks international brands, before offering up cute boutique and vintage stores further along. Pick up records at Jazz and Blues and recordslo.com and quirky souvenirs at Mladinska kniga.
Architect Jože Plečnik helped shape the city, and the National Library is one of his best known works. A giant block of a building, its distinctive façade is embedded with brick and stone.
Nuts and bolts
What currency do I need?
What language do they speak?
Slovenian, but English is widely spoken.
Should I tip?
As a rule, tipping isn’t expected in Slovenia – although rounding up to a convenient number when paying at a restaurant or for a taxi driver is appreciated.
What’s the time difference?
One hour ahead (CEST).
The quickest way to get around is by bike, and there are plenty of ride-sharing schemes, as well as hire shops. There’s a good network of buses criss-crossing the city too.
Hike up towards the castle and take a pause at Grajski gric on the way; this old fort has views down to both sides of the city.
The Ljubljana Card is genuinely excellent value, covering all public transport plus entry into 20 major attractions, including the Union brewery tour, plus an afternoon’s bike hire, a guided tour and all-day internet access. From €31 for 24 hours.
The city is also dotted with water fountains, so take your own reusable bottle along.