Recently we spent a long weekend in the beautiful capital city of Slovenia - Ljubljana. Pronounced lyoo-blah-nah, this relaxing and friendly city, with a stunning alpine backdrop, is well worth a visit any time of the year but seemed especially suitable for a pre-Christmas break with a hearty side of excitement and exploration. So here's what we got up to, alongside some of my personal favourite picks - things I'd highly recommend you check out should you be planning your own visit to this very destination.
MY FESTIVE LJUBLJANA TOP FIVE!
1. STROLL AROUND THE CITY AND JUST RELAX
Ljubljana is a fairly small capital city with a population of around 280,000. This makes it a very pleasant and pretty calm place to be, as well as being incredibly easy to cover a lot of ground very quickly. Nothing is particularly far away, everything is within reasonable walking distance. So one of the very best things to do is to get yourself out and strolling around this city of rivers, dragons and many bridges and enjoy it at your own pace.
There are some seriously beautiful buildings to step back and admire, especially within the old town - as well as pretty squares, museums and galleries to take your time to explore. Dotted alongside the river you will find plenty of bars at which to pull up a chair and partake in a little tipple! Even in the colder temperatures of early December, when we visited, you could sit outside, wrap up in a blanket and warm your legs by the heaters under the table as you sipped happily away at a glass of mulled wine - or two, or three. Mulled wine is very big here at this time of the year, with a stall on almost every corner just ready and waiting to serve!
Now the one set of landmarks that you can not fail to miss on any tour of this city are the many and varied bridges. From Dragon's Bridge to the Triple Bridge, they pave their way across certain points on the river Ljubljanica, running right through the heart of Ljubljana. Pictured below is Butchers Bridge - Ljubljana's version (kind of) of a love bridge similar to those found in places such as Rome and Paris. Given its name, and the slightly dark and somewhat grotesque sculptures on and around it, this seems something of an ironic idea for this particular bridge. Yet take a stroll across and you will notice the many love etched padlocks that couples have attached to it. To find out more about the other bridges that are worth wandering over, this post offers a quick and useful guide to help you out: The Bridges of Ljubljana, Slovenia from One Day in a City.
2. SOAK UP THE LOCAL FOOD AND DRINK
The food in Slovenia is so good! With hearty soups and stews, an abundance of fresh produce, traditional pastries, fresh bread, Carniolan sausage and much, much more, all guaranteed to make a mark on any foodies tastebuds. One of the very first things that we did when we arrived was to take a local food walk with Iva from Ljubljananjam. This really helped us get our bearings in the city, learn a little about the local food and drink culture and enabled us to experience some of the perhaps slightly lesser known, yet definitely best-kept secrets of the edible scene in the capital. Restaurants, bars and markets, there's plenty to seek out and enjoy.
This was such a brilliant tour to take to get a grasp on the local way of life. I believe that so much of a places past, present and future can be seen through the basic needs and joys of what we choose to put on the kitchen table - and Iva certainly knew exactly where to take us to show us what the foodie world in Ljubljana is all about. I won't give too much away as the details are best treasured by taking part yourself, but if you are in the capital anytime soon be sure to visit the Ljubljananjam website where you can find details of upcoming foodie events, or book yourself onto your very own food walk, craft brewery tour or a local cookery course. Well worth the time and highly recommended.
There are also many taste-tingling restaurants to visit whether you're looking for local cuisine with a twist or some truly fine dining. Noteworthy on our part would have to be the incredibly reasonably priced, but oh so delicious four (or five or six depending on how hungry you are!) course taster menu with local wines (Slovenian wine is oh so good!) at Atelje part of the Grand Hotel Union. If you're after something special, but still want to feel comfortable and relaxed, then this is definitely a spot worth checking out.
Another beautiful place with very friendly staff, a cosy atmosphere, and of course great food, sits right near the aforementioned Butchers Bridge. Most Restaurant is connected by the bridge to the market on the other side, allowing for the freshest of produce to be brought straight to their door on a daily basis. Expect a slightly more modern take on some Slovenian classics, as well as Meditteranean inspired themes and flavours.
Finally if getting a good vista of the city is your thing (and anyone who has read my travel related posts before will probably know that it's one of my favourite things to do) then a quick drink with a view can be happily achieved atop the balcony of Neboticnik. This is Ljubljana's prominent landmark, a skyscraper that may be small by comparison to other city heights, but that hovers proudly over an otherwise fairly low rise city. At thirteen storeys it stands out at just over 70 metres and provides a great spot from which to watch over the rest of the lower laying landscape below. A great place to grab a pre-dinner drink and observe as light turns to dark and the twinkling lights of the bustle below begin to shine.
3. TAKE TO THE SKIES OVER BEAUTIFUL LAKE BLED
Lake Bled is about thirty minutes by car from Ljubljana or between forty-five minutes to an hour and a half by local bus, depending on the route and therefore a good few more stops! Either way it's more than worth the trip out of town to take in some truly breathtaking scenery, wander around the lake and sample a lovely little delight known as Blejska Kremna Rezina - Bled cream cake, err yes please!!
We decided to do something a little different during our trip there and booked ourselves onto a hot air balloon ride to take to the skies, watch the day break over the lake and witness its picturesque scenery. What an experience! Both terrifying and thrilling at the same time - terrifying because in my excitement to book it I'd kind of completely forgotten that I have a fear of flying! However, this adventure was actually extremely peaceful, serene and beautiful and something that I know we won't ever forget.
We booked our flight with Balonarski Center Barje after reading some fantastic reviews about them on Tripadvisor and I'm so glad that we did. Filip and Zdenka who took care of us that day, were absolutely fantastic and made the whole experience simple and fun from start to finish. They picked us up at 6.30am from our apartment in Ljubljana and drove us to the lake. Here we helped in setting up the balloon - quite an experience in itself! Then we took to the skies for over an hour, before landing, packing up and taking part in a fun, short ceremony to celebrate our first time taking to the skies in a balloon, all washed down with a welcome glass of bubbly and followed by a very delicious and generous slice of Bled cream cake! If an experience such as this happens to be on your bucket list then I can't recommend them enough, especially here over the very alluring Lake Bled. I hope some of the photos I took from the comfort of our small but perfectly formed balloon basket will give you more of a feel for what to expect. Just make sure you wrap up nice and warm if you happen to be going at this time of the year - chilly stuff!
Once you've finished the balloon experience (or if the air balloon ride isn't your thing and you just want to explore the lake instead) then the lake itself provides a beautiful opportunity to stretch your legs and take in some of the breathtaking beauty of Slovenia. You can take a boat ride over to the church situated on the island in the middle of the lake, or take a climb up the mountainside and visit the picturesque Blejski Grad - Bled Castle.
4. GET CREATIVE AND DANCE UNTIL DAWN AT METELKOVA
If you read my Copenhagen post back at the end of this summer then you may remember me talking about Freetown Christiania, an autonomous neighbourhood in the capital that lives and works by its own set of rules and offers its inhabitants a very different way of life. Now I wasn't all too sure what to think of Christiania and it's certainly somewhere that's having some problems of late, but Ljubljana has a very similar sort of neighbourhood with fewer issues, a very relaxed and friendly vibe and an inviting creative outlook, a place known as Metelkova Mesto.
Metelkova is also an autonomous, independent area of the city, situated on the former site of some old and abandoned military barracks. It provides an alternative view of urban city life and culture, plays host to a number of musical, artistic and creative events, and is somewhere that locals and visitors alike flock at night to soak up the underground music and art scene, in a relaxed and laidback environment.
We visited both at night and during the day. In the evenings it's best to wait until around 11pm-midnight to arrive as that's really when the night gets started. Expect a lively and colourful music scene where you'll feel quite happy dancing and revelling until the early hours. During the day head back to shed some light on the beautiful street art and creativity that adorns every wall. Anyone who follows me on Instagram may have already picked up on my slight street art obsession, so as you can imagine, I was pretty happy to wander around here in the daylight and take it all in. Explore some of the images below to get a taste for what I'm talking about!
5. WATCH THE SUNSET OVER THE CITY
Finally on my list, and back into the heart of Ljubljana itself, I highly recommend taking a sunset walk up the banks of Ljubljana Castle and to the top of its tower to take in the landscape as the sun goes down. Or if your feet are too tired for more walking then you can hitch a ride on the funicular that will run you up to the top for a reasonable price and save those sore pins after a busy day of exploring!
Entry into the castle grounds is free but you do have to pay a small amount to enter the museums inside and go up the tower. It's not necessarily the most exciting of castles that I've ever been to, but it is worth the trip up to capture an extensive overview of the city - and if you time it right, then sunset is the perfect time to be there.
Getting There: We flew with Easyjet from Stansted Airport. Flights run once a day and take approximately 1 hour 45 minutes. The airport in Ljubljana is just a short 20-30 minutes by shuttle bus or taxi to the city centre. Our shuttle cost 9 euros per person. I believe that a taxi ride can cost around 45 euros.
Accommodation: We chose to stay in an apartment that we found on Airbnb and were very lucky to have a spacious, modern and affordable place to stay that was but a few minutes walk from the centre. Our hosts were also fantastic and I think this was a great way to experience the city. I'd highly recommend doing something similar.
So if you're looking for somewhere new to explore and are after an easy to get to and easy to navigate city, that's very friendly and also pretty easy on the purse strings, then you definitely can't go far wrong with Ljubljana and with Slovenia in general. Winter was a beautiful time to visit, especially with the amazing array of Christmas lights, however, I'm reliably informed it's equally as stunning all year round, especially during spring and summer when the beauty of the rich green landscape is in full force. So happy future travels everyone, I hope this post has been useful and whatever you do, with 2017 about to dawn, never stop exploring - at home or overseas, there's always something new just around the corner!