Ljubljana is the capital and largest city in Slovenia. Though the city flow the river Ljubljanica. Ljub means “to love” in Slovenian. During Middle Ages both the city and the river were known under the German name, Laibach, from which the famous Slovenian industrial band took its name. North of Ljubljana flows the Sava river, that also flows through Zagreb.
Ljubljana lies 295m above the sea, and has a picturesque inland setting between green mountains, with the Old Town and its historical buildings as church towers to the South and East of the river, and the more modern part with highrises and wider roads to the West and North of Ljubljanica. In the outskirts there are more modern highrises and churches, the tallest building in the city is in the Northern outskirts.
The most common statement you will hear about Ljubljana is “it is so small”. With everyone saying that you will expect it to be really tiny, so yes it is not large, but it is not that small. Yes, the city center is compact but many buildings are large, and it can take some time to walk from the West part to the Northeast part, especially considering all amazing and picturesque architecture you will see on the way.
In the Old Town is the Cathedral, the Town Hall, Franciscan Church and the University, all very beautiful buildings. Along Ljubljanica River you find historical buildings and all along the central part of the river there are outdoor seatings with views of the river. In 1895 there was a large earthquake in Ljubljana, that destroyed parts of many historical buildings, including bell towers. In 2020 there were two large earthquakes in Croatia, that could be felt in Ljubljana as well.
Here you also find the many beautiful bridges that goes over the Ljubljanica River; Dragon Bridge (Zmajski Most) - the symbol of the city is a dragon and on the bridge there are a lot of dragon sculptures. It was completed in 1901 in Vienna Secesson style, Slovenia had just became part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Today it is for motorized traffic, but you can also walk across it. Triple Bridge (Tromostovje) – three concrete bridges right next to each other, above the river. The area around it is a pedestrian zone and the bridges are pedestrianized.
Next to the Triple Bridge is Prešeren Square (Prešernov trg), a central square on the medieval town’s entrance, that was renovated in 2007. Here you find the Prešeren Monument, a monument to the national poet France Prešeren (that also named the square), the Galerija Emporium department store with a statue on top and a classic interior, and the Central Pharmacy and the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation (Frančiškanska cerkev), a red and white baroque church built 1646-1660 (bell towers built later). The church is one of the symbols of the city. On the opposite, South side of the river, is another landmark church of Ljubljana, the cathedral.
Ljubljana Cathedral, also named Saint Nicholas's Church (cerkev sv. Nikolaja) is a baroque catholic church that replaced the original gothic one in the early 1700s. It is yellow, white and have significant green domes. This church was opened during our visit, so that we could go inside and see the very beautiful interior with all the paintings (there is a small entrance fee). Statues and baroque frescoes can be found in the building. Pogacar Square is situated in front of the church. On the other side is Cyril and Methodius Square (Ciril-Metodov trg) that is more a pedestrian street then a square. Here you find historical, beautiful buildings, special stores and restaurants with outdoor seatings. Ljubljana Central Market (Osrednja ljubljanska tržnica) is situated along the riverside, a market building designed by Jože Plečnik and built 1940-42. In 2010 the Butcher’s Bridge was built next to it in 2010, fullfilling the architect’s dreams. Part of the bridge has glass floors, so you can look down on the boats and the river. Along the sides of the bridge there were numerous love padlocks. There is a bizzare but very cool Satyr sculpture on Butcher's Bridge, and also a Prometheus sculpture. Everywhere in the Old Town there are grotesque Lovecraft inspired half human sculpture, a dark but lovley contrast to all the light baroque buildings! Another sculpture is one of Adam and Eve, expelled from paradise.
The Ljubljana Town Hall (Ljubljanska mestna hiša)is nearby. It was originally built in gothic style in 1484, but was renovated to a more baroque style in 1719.
Town Square (Mestni trg), one of the city’s major squares, is facing the town hall, and the pedestrian street/square Ciril-Metodov trg goes in the other directon. Here you find the baroque replica of the Robba Fountain (the original is in the National Gallery). The ground is cobblestone.
Gornji Trg (Upper Square) is actually a street where just part of it is a square, that as many other pedestrian streets are called “square” for some reason. Along Gornji Trg you find historical buildings and open-air restaurants, it is a cobbed stone street and very charming. This area really comes alive after dark. The tallest church in Slovenia is the 69m tall St Joseph’s Church (Cerkev sv. Jozefa) from 1922, in the Southeast edge of the Old Town.
Between Gornji Trg, Levstikov trg and Rozna ulica you find the 2nd tallest church, the 65m tall St James Church. Karlovska cesta is a busy road with buildings passing over like a bridge.
Right above Ljubljana’s Old Town is the Ljubljana Castle (Ljubljanski grad or Laibacher Schloss), that stands on a high hill, and is one of the city’s major landmarks. It can be reached by modern funiculare (a kind of diagonal tram or elevator) that goes up the hill, or stairs. On top of its Panoramic Tower, is an observation terrace with a clock and a flag with a dragon on top of the castle, the coat of arms symbol of Ljubljana. It was originally a medieval fortress, probably built in the 11th century. It was the seat of the lords of Carniola, a historic region in today’s Slovenia. Today the building is used as a major cultural venue, after centuries of various purposes. Canons are preserved that used to defend the city. The structure has been heavily modernized with modern glass parts and there are museums and terraces with amazing views over the city. There are also modern elevators and stairs inside the building. Unfortunately much of the building’s historical feeling have been lost. A cool feature though, is that parts of the rock are visible from the interior and you can see the pillars that holds the castle. The castle has its own chapel, St George. Surrounding the castle are defense walls and in the center is a spacious courtyard. Today there is a restaurant, Rock Hall –where the rocks are visible and a jazz club.
The main building of University of Ljubljana (formerly the Carniolan State Mansion) is a large and very beautiful baroque building at the Congress Square (Kongresni trg) with an imposing fountain/statue in front. Kongresni trg is a park like square with lost of greenery on the West riverbank, and here you also find the unusual sharply roofed baroque church (the backside is more traditional baroque) Ursuline Church of the Holy Trinity, officially the Holy Trinity Parish Church in Ljubljana, built in 1718-26, the Anchor Monument, the Slovenian Philharmonic, the Casino Building (one of the few neo-classical buildings left), the Slovene Society Bldg and the Museum of Illusions. A few blocks further West is a very modernist square, Republic Square (Trg Republike). Here you find the TR2 and TR3 1970s highrises in typical grey modernist style, but still landmarks, the Cankar Hall (Cankarjev dom) that is Slovenia’s largest convention, congress and culture center and was built 1977-82 and the National Assembly Building from 1959, that is Slovenia’s parliament building. This 6th storey modernist palace would look rather anonymous, if it wasn’t for the dark sculptures surrounding the entrance, designed by Kalin and Putrih, filled with naked working men and women. Today the square is popular among young skateboarders. Republic Square was originally called Revolution Square. Here Slovenia was declared independent from Yugoslavia in June 26th in 1991. During the construction of Cankar Centre remains of the ancient Roman town Emona was found, the Roman wall was destroyed and remnant were moved to the National Museum of Slovenia (Narodni muzej Slovenije) near Tivoli Park. The museum is neo-renaissence, features a beautiful staircase with a celing with paintings and is Slovenia’s oldest scientific and cultural institution. There is also a modern glass annex. Roman Emona ruins can be found on different places in the city.
In these quarters you find the Government Building, a large 3-storey neo-renaissance palace that houses the President’s office, many foreign embassies and large beautiful villas. The beautiful orthodox church Sts. Cyril and Methodius is also here, built 1932-36 in the small Trubur Park and is famous for its Serbo-Byzantine style with five domes with golden crosses. This is the area were we stayed, at Vila Veselova. This is a hostel, in a yeloow villa at Vila Veselova, next to the Japanese embassy. The architecture is nice, but the building has seen better days. Breakfast was mediocre. We got a large room, but without the bathroom that we paid for.
The West part of the city center (of Ljubljanica) has a major road, Slovenska Cesta – or Slovenian Road – that has a quite large amount of highrises, or skyscrapers as the Slovenians call them, for a midsized European city. At the Northern end of Slovenska Road, near the railway station, you find the two tallest highrises in the city center; Hotel InterContinental Ljubljana, a 24-storey, 81m tall luxury hotel built in 2017, and A-Tower Hotel -a 81m tall, 22-storey glass building recently completed, in 2021. Further along the road you find the historic Neboticnik, that simply means “Skyscraper”, built 1930-1933, despite being just 70m and 13 stories high. It was designed by Vladimir Subic and was Slovenia’s first highrise building. On the rooftop there is a 360 degree outdoor café were you can enjoy views of the whole city, for free or the cost of a cup of coffee, that is really inexpensive in Slovenia, or drink. Neboticnik is a fine example of Chicago school architecture, with an art deco inspired interior with sculptures, a few elevators and a spiral staircase. The indoor bar on the 12th floor was currently closed (2021). Telekom Slovenije (Slovenian Telecom Bldg) is another classic highrise along Slovenian Road, built in 1965, with a circular rooftop floor.
There are also lots of expensive brand stores, other stores and restaurant along Slovenska Cesta. Nama is the largest department store, where you find the entrance to Čop Street (Čopova ulica) the main pedestrian street that goes to the Old Town and the river, where you find brands as H&M, Spar and McDonald’s. Cop St leads to Preseren Square.
There are even more highrise clusters in the outskirts, for example the country’s tallest building, the 21-storey glass scraper Crystal Palace (Kristalna palača) from 2011, is situated in the Northeast outskirts. Situla, just North of central Ljubljana, is another modernist highrise project, a strange brown 21-storey building from 2013. Radisson Blue Plaza Hotel is a modern black glass highrise with black diagonal lines, built in 2012 in the Northern outskirts.
Just to the west of the city center is the very large Tivoli City Park close to were our accommodation was. It is Ljubljana’s largest park and features the Tivoli Castle, other notable buildings like the Cakin Mansion (Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia), fountains and artwork, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit this park.
Metelkova, or just AKC is an autonomous social and culture center (since 1995) in the North part of central Ljubljana. It could best be compared to Christiania in Copenhagen. Metelkova was the military headquarters in the Austrian-Hungary Empire, later the Slovenian HQ of the Yugoslav National Army. The buildings, former military barracks, are situated on an area of 12,500 m². Metelkova has been squatted since 1993 and is a small neighbourhood of bohemian life, with lots of punks and hippies hanging around. At the facades of the buildings there are beautiful graffiti and murals everywhere, as well as advanced sculptures, anarchist inscriptions and alternative art. Artist studios, offices and night clubs can be found here. Tourists occasionally wander around, but the inhabitants don’t seem very happy with people walking around and filming. We had a small meeting with one of their dogs. The people were fairly friendly but you have to pay respect and keep you eyes open. Drugs are common in the area. During our visit in Metelkova, a local Slovenian metal band, Razvalina, was rehearsing for a gig, on the roof of one of the main buildings. The band had a nice atmospheric sound. 40% of Ljubljana’s music concerts are in Metelkova.
The Ljubljana Train Station is very small and is situated to the North of the river, just as the central bus station. Masarykova road goes along the tracks. Just as in Croatia, there are not many train routes in Slovenia, compared to the large number of bus routes. There are also many guided day tours to beautiful settings from Ljubljana, for example to Postojna and Predjama –that we travelled to with a guide, or Bled. They are situated less then an hour from Ljubljana.
We stayed in Ljubljana for about a half day and one evening, arriving about 1PM from Trieste, Italy, after Venice, and took the daytrip to Postojna and Predjama the day after. We arrived back in Ljubljana (from Postojna) in the afternoon, spent a few more hours there before returning to Zagreb were our trip started, to travel further to the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia the next day. A really busy schedule, but worth it!
The highest mountain surrounding the city is Mount St Mary (Šmarna gora) is 676m.
Ljubljana and Slovenia in general is really beautiful, clean and modern. It reminds of Austria and there are very few traces that Slovenia was part of the Soviet controlled Yugoslavia about 30 years ago. Slovenia is more expensive then Croatia, hotels are a lot more expensive, but food and beverage are about the same. In Slovenia the currency is euro (while it is still kuna in Croatia). Slovenian people in general are kind and polite and talk good English. Many people are relaxed with a hip mentally and alternative style. We were visiting during the covid-19 pandemic in 2021, so just like in Croatia and Italy masks were mandatory inside all buildings, but not outside. Naturally, we chosed outdoor seating at restaurants. The weather was nice, it was warm and sunny during our visit in September.
In the Northern outskirts you find many large and modern shopping malls, as well as IKEA and Bauhaus stores. BTC City is a business, shopping and entertainment center and has more then 450 stores and 70 restaurants, here you also find Slovenia’s tallest building, Crystal Palace (Kristalna palača). Citypark has 120 stores and is Slovenia’s largest shopping mall. Supernova is a mall with more then 70 shops in the Southern outskirts. The Northern residential areas are mostly modernist lowrises and highrises, while in the South part, there are mostly lowrise villas and private residences.
Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport is situated 24km Northwest of Ljubljana and opened in 1963. Since we flew via Zagreb we never visited the airport.
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