The capital of Slovenia is a clean city with great Italian-style architecture. Ljubljana is young, and in 2016 it was recognized as the European Green Capital. The city center is car-free and public transport is low-emission.
What to do in Ljubljana
For lovers of history, nature or art, Ljubljana offers a visit to the Old Town with a perfect combination of Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau. It will be good in Tivoli Park — this is a quiet green space in the very center of the city.
Youngsters and fans of alternative culture will love visiting the eclectic Metelkov site, with its painted buildings that house art galleries, underground clubs and other entertainment venues.
Families with children will enjoy the Ljubljana Zoo, local cuisine at the central market, and a boat trip around Ljubljana. And in the city there is a museum of illusions and many parks where you can walk all day.
Art lovers will appreciate the museums, art galleries and unique architecture of the bridges and fountains of the Slovenian capital.
Fountains, bridges and squares
Almost all major events in Ljubljana take place in this space. A square with a rough triangular contour is located at the intersection of a number of large road arteries. The area got its present appearance after the earthquake. Today it is surrounded by medieval houses and the Baroque Church of the Annunciation, which dates back to 1795.
The square is named after Frans Prešeren, a 19th-century poet whose Toast became the Slovenian national anthem. The monument to the poet is installed next to the Central Pharmacy — opposite the house of unrequited love and Preseren’s muse, Yulia Primich.
A group of three bridges, decorated with stone balustrades and lanterns, greets tourists at Presheren Square. The central bridge is the oldest and dates back to 1842. It was built for traffic. The two side bridges for pedestrians were built in 1930 by Jože Plečnik, Ljubljana’s most revered architect.
Also included in this project are riverside terraces framed by poplars and a flower shop that connects to the colonnade of the Central Market on the right bank.
Ljubljana Robb Fountain
Even if you have seen the original sculpture in the National Gallery, you still need to spend some time on this copy of the fountain in front of the Town Hall, as it is the symbol of Ljubljana. There used to be a real fountain on the square, but in 2006 it was moved to the National Gallery, and an exact copy was installed in front of the Town Hall.
It is the work of the prolific architect Francesco Robb and depicts three male figures pouring water from jugs. The figures represent the three rivers of the Carniola region: Ljubljanica, Sava and Krka. The design, down to the obelisk above the fountain, is taken from the Roman Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona.
This austere communist-era square doesn’t have the lavish architecture of Preseren. It was laid out as a modern city center in the 1960s. Interestingly, during the construction of the square, the shopping arcade and the car park, many of the Roman artifacts that now adorn the collection of the National Museum were discovered.
A monument to the 1975 revolution, the Slovenian parliament and monolithic office buildings give the square an austere charm. And every winter, a large skating rink is poured here for the townspeople.
The Viennese Art Nouveau bridge opened in 1901. Four statues of terrifying dragons — the symbols of Ljubljana — stand guard at each corner of the bridge.
The realistic sculptures were designed by architect Yuri Zaninovich and made from sheet copper at a factory in Vienna. At the beginning of the 20th century, the bridge was considered a technical achievement, as it was one of the first reinforced concrete bridges in Europe.
The central square has become the venue for several significant events in the history of Slovenia. It declared its independence from Austria-Hungary in 1918. In 1945, Josip Broz Tito addressed the Slovenes from the balcony of the university building. Later, in 1988, the first free protest took place here, which again ended with the declaration of independence.
The square itself dates from 1821. From all sides it is surrounded by buildings and palaces, and in the center of it is the Zvezda Park.
The majestic stone structure was built 900 years ago. Since then, the castle has been renovated many times, and in the 16th century it became a regional stronghold against the Ottoman invasion.
Guests visit the main courtyard and the watchtower with an observation deck, which offers a fantastic view of Ljubljana and its surroundings. The castle has a cafe, a nightclub, galleries and a restaurant. You can climb to the walls of the castle on foot, take a tourist train or funicular.
St. Nicholas Cathedral
The architectural monument was built in the 13th century, but was reconstructed several times due to fires and war. The current Baroque design was acquired in the 18th century. The magnificent dome appeared later — in the 1840s.
Baroque masters contributed to the creation of the interiors: Francesco Robba, the Groppelli brothers, Angelo Putti and Giulio Qualio Jr. They created frescoes, paintings and sculptures that adorn the rooms of the castle. Later, an amazing fresco of the dome appeared, painted by the Slovenian artist Matevzh Langus. And the murals of the main doors depict the history of Slovenia.
Franciscan Annunciation Church
An early Baroque church has been adorning Preseren Square since the middle of the 17th century. Its façade is painted in pastel red, the symbol of the Franciscan Order. The temple is decorated with spiers, pilasters with Ionic capitals, niches and a statue of Our Lady and Child on the pediment.
The interior decoration is striking in richness, despite the fact that the baroque frescoes were covered with cracks after the earthquake. The 18th-century altar was designed by Francesco Robb, a stone cross by Jože Plečnik was installed in the side chapel, and new ceiling frescoes were painted by the impressionist artist Matej Sternen already in the 1930s.
In 1933, this 13-storey tower became the tallest building in the Balkans and entered the top ten skyscrapers in Europe. The skyscraper was equipped with the latest science and technology of that time: there were air conditioners, high-speed elevators and a central heating system.
Now the tower offers the most complete view of Ljubljana, the castle and Smarna Gora in the north of the capital are visible. There is a restaurant, cafe and night club on the 12th floor.
Ljubljana Town Hall
The town hall was built in the 15th century, and at the beginning of the 18th century the building was redesigned, giving it the features of the Venetian baroque designed by the Italian architect Carlo Martinuzzi.
In the lobby of the town hall there is a memorial plaque with the coat of arms of the city, there are sculptures of Hercules and the Nemean Lion of 1600. The highlight of the main courtyard is the magnificent fountain depicting Narcissus.
Entertainment, nature and parks
The park in the center of the capital stretched for almost two kilometers. It begins with elegant gardens and avenues, landscaped in 1813, and extends up the side of Wilder Rognik Hill, which is traversed by hiking trails. At the bottom is the Chekin Mansion, which houses the Museum of Modern History.
The park also has a tropical greenhouse, located next to a picturesque pond, and the neoclassical Tivoli Castle, to which the Jakopic embankment leads straight as an arrow from the eastern entrance to the park.
The capital of Slovenia stands on this river. Ljubljanica carries its waters through underground karst caves and through the city center. On the Brega embankment on the left bank of the river, you can take a cruise boat for a walk around Ljubljanica. This is the best way to appreciate the majestic urban design, architecture, Triple Bridge, arcade and colonnade on the busy riverfront.
If you go through Tivoli Park to the lower slopes of the Rozhnik hill, you can reach the city zoo. It is surrounded by forest and meadows. Animals from all over the world live here, but the emphasis is on preserving the wild nature of Slovenia.
In this unique region, the Alps meet the Pannonian Plain and the Mediterranean Sea. In total, 119 species of animals, birds and reptiles live in the zoo — more than 500 individuals constantly live on its territory.
The mountain is surrounded by a picturesque park where locals and guests of the capital like to walk. Smarna Gora is located at an altitude of more than 660 meters above sea level, but it is easy to climb one of the 15 hiking trails.
At the top, the traveler is greeted by a restaurant and a baroque church built in the early 1700s. But the biggest reward for climbing the mountain is the picturesque green Ljubljana at the foot of Rozhnik and Castle Hill.
Ljubljana Central Market
The building was designed by Jože Plečnik in the early 1930s. The market is located on the site of the old diocesan girls’ college, which collapsed in an earthquake in 1895.
Now a beautiful building on the edge of Preseren Square is filled with stalls selling herbs, spices and handicrafts. A little further on there are bakeries selling cured meats, dried fruits and nuts, dairy products, fresh fruits, vegetables and fish. The market is interesting not only for its architecture, but also for its indescribable atmosphere.
National Gallery of Slovenia
In front of Tivoli Park is Slovenia’s main historical and art museum, displaying works from the Middle Ages to the 1900s. The museum is located in a Renaissance palace. Several galleries were added to the building in the 1990s and 2000s.
The museum’s collection includes more than 600 works, from Gothic liturgical art to works by Italian painters and sculptors of the Baroque era. A separate exposition is devoted to Slovenian impressionists: Richard Jakopic, Ivan Grohar and Matija Yama.
Also in the building there is a glass dome, under which is the famous Ljubljana Francesco Robba fountain with the three Carniola rivers.
Shortly after independence, the former Austro-Hungarian-era army barracks on Metelkow Street were occupied by squatters to save the building from demolition.
This large space in the center of Ljubljana has become a stand-alone center of alternative culture, not unlike the famous Christiania Freetown in Copenhagen. Here, almost every wall is covered with graffiti and creative murals.
In the evenings, the building hosts concerts of bands and DJs popular with young people, and in the summer, open-air alternative music festivals are held.
National Museum of Slovenia
The museum dedicated to the history and culture of Slovenia is located in two buildings. The main exposition is located on Preshernova Street, and a new building for the Department of Applied Arts has been opened on Metelkova Street.
The first building contains a fragment of a Neanderthal flute carved from a 60,000-year-old bear femur, as well as ancient coins and household items. The exhibits of the museum at one time helped to establish that Ljubljana is the former Emona, the city of the Roman Empire.
The most interesting hall in the museum is the lapidarium, on the ground floor of which there are 200 painted stones in a glass pavilion.
National Museum of Modern History
The 20th century in Slovenia was an interesting stage in the history of the country. And the museum, located in the premises of the Chekin mansion, fully confirms this. The exposition tells about the First World War, the factional interwar period, the Second World War, the Tito regime and Slovenian independence.
Each period contains original documents, uniforms, costumes, furniture, weapons, medals, archival photographs, agricultural implements, ancient machinery and other evidence of the past.
Museum of Illusions
In a townhouse on Congress Square, there is an unusual museum that draws the traveler into the world of illusions and makes you think about the honesty of your own eyes. Illusions are very popular with children, but adults will spend at least an hour in the museum.
The guests move from room to room, in each of which something strange happens: in the anti-gravity hall everything floats in the air, in the whirlwind tunnel the walls circle around the visitor, and it is difficult for him to keep his balance. In total, 40 such «exhibits» of frivolous and educational topics are presented here.
House of the architect Jože Plečnik
Jože Plečnik reconstructed Ljubljana during the interwar period. The influence of the architect on this city is compared to that of Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona. Plečnik dreamed of turning Ljubljana into a modern version of Ancient Athens.
The architect’s house and studio are located on Karunova Street, next to it there is a garden with a lapidary collection. The architect’s furniture, tools and sketches, and household items have been preserved in the house. The museum tells about the buildings designed by Jože Plečnik in Ljubljana, and also reveals the unrealized plans of the architect.