Historians and linguists have been discussing the origin of the name ‘Ljubljana’ for ages. Diverse and equally plausible theories have been proposed throughout the years but, without detracting at all from this heated debate, we would like to support the general, tender belief that the name originates from the Slovenian word ljubljena (beloved). And indeed, while wandering in the pretty streets of the city centre, and strolling along the Ljubljanica river, you will understand that Ljubljana is a city that cannot not be loved.
Ljubljana’s strategic geographical location made it a meeting point of Slavic, Austro-Hungarian and Italian culture, which have all left their marks on its urban fabric. The city centre got its outline during the Middle Ages, but it was rebuilt in the Baroque style after an earthquake damaged its buildings in the XVII century. The inspiration mainly came from neighbouring Italy, especially from the rich and influential city of Venice. Following a second earthquake that took place in 1895, Ljubljana was rebuilt according to the Vienna Secession style in fashion at the time. Under the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, large projects following the principles of modernism were built, but the city centre was spared from major reconstruction and to this day it has remained largely intact.
As the capital of a tiny state, Ljubljana is a small centre and counts less than 300.000 inhabitants. Nevertheless the city, as stated by our Spotter Tjaša, tries to offer all the amenities its European big sisters are famous for: not only big museums and a neat downtown area, but also comfy little bars and unconventional shops, unique street art and an alternative cultural scene. But that’s not all: Ljubljana is also extremely bike-friendly and boasts a lot of green spaces. And yes, being right in the heart of Slovenia, it’s definitely a great point to start exploring the breathtaking countryside and picturesque town of this little, beautiful country.
Are you looking forward to falling in love? The charming city of Ljubljana is waiting for you, and we promise it can conquer your heart in only two days.
Day 1: 09:00 – 13:00
In a snug courtyard of the city centre, there’s a place where you’d probably like to spend more time than just for a quick breakfast. Warmly furnished to look like an old grandma’s living room, Ziferblat brings together a colourful crowd who comes here to drink coffee, eat delicious cinnamon biscuits, work and play the piano. Plus, the peculiar thing about this welcoming place is that you do not pay for what you order, but for the time you stay. Right in the heart of the town, Ziferblat is a stone’s throw away from Ljubljana’s main tourist sights. If the weather is good enough, take some time to walk around Tivoli Park, the main public park in the city centre. In the park you will also find the Tivoli Mansion, which hosts the International Centre of Graphic Arts, a collection of fine art prints.
Day 1: 13:00 – 19.00
When hunger starts to kick in, you cannot miss Burek Olimpija. Burek, a legacy of the Ottoman Empire, is a type of filled pastry widespread in the Balkans. Olimpija has been in business for 30 years, and according to Miha it’s probably the best burek place in Ljubljana. Not far from here, for those of you interested in graffiti, illustrations and graphics, you will enjoy a visit to UAUU gallery. This street art atelier is a gathering place for a number of artists, creatives and thinkers who find it the perfect space to give shape to their ideas. It is run by the 1107 klan, a graffiti artist collective who has become pretty famous in the city’s cultural panorama for having sprayed its walls with colourful murals.
1107 are from Šiška, a vibrant district of Ljubljana north of the UAUU, famous for its multipurpose hall Kino Šiška. If you are asking for more street art, visit their toilets: the Zek e Mutipraktik Crews have drawn more than 70 figures ‘waiting’ on its external wall, and have transformed this space into an alternative graffiti exhibition venue.
In case you are interested in some shopping, stay in the centre and go to Lectarija. Now the museum shop of the Slovene Ethnographic Museum, Lectarija was designed by the famous Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik. Its interiors have been restored and it’s now selling contemporary Slovenian arts and crafts products. If you’re passionate about books, browse through the bookshelves of Azil, which offers a good selection of any type of literature in different languages.
Day 1: 19:00 – 23.00
Located south of the city centre, Pri Skofu is an alternative place to eat. In the neighbourhood of Krakovo, you will feel you have left the city for the countryside. Although the interior might not be very appealing, during the good season the outside area is very agreeable, and the restaurant offers a wide range of dishes at an extremely reasonable price. But before having dinner, follow the advice of our Spotter to sip a cocktail on the rooftop of Nebotičnik. Upon its completion in the 1930’s, this prominent high-rise was the tallest building in the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The restaurant/bar offers spectacular views of the city that you won’t easily forget.
And if you’re still unsure on what to do later on, just start by having a beer at ROG. While they once hosted a bicycle factory, the huge spaces have now been converted for different purposes: artist studios, a gallery, 3 skate parks, a concert hall; ROG offers a huge number of events. Just pop over, and you might decide to spend the whole night there.
Day 1: 23:00 – …
An alternative to ROG, BI KO FE has established itself as one of the cool spots of the Slovenian capital. Charming during the day, lively and packed with a young crowd during the night, it hosts DJ sets and exhibitions, and its terrace is the ideal place to hang out when summer comes. BI KO FE is also where our photo-lover Spotter Mankica and her friends organise their Lomo meetings, called LOMOnada, which are open to anyone who shares their passion or wants to hang out with them. If you want to experience a more traditional, Balkan night, head towards the outskirts and finish your first day at the “Golden Tooth” (English translation for Zlati Zob). Hosted in an 18th century mansion, this “ethno club” is the right place for listening to some great quality Gypsy music and drink rakija, a well-known spirit widespread in the Balkans.
Day 2: 09:00 – 13:00
Whether you had a rough night or a more quiet one, breakfast at Gostilna Dela will help you to get back on your feet and recharge your batteries. Their philosophy is based on sustainability: their menu offers food choices rich in vitamins and low in sugars, the interior is decorated with reused old furniture, and all their employees are formerly unemployed youngsters who struggled to enter the job market. It is located in the old city centre, just a quick walk away from Ljubljana central market. Built by the previously mentioned architect Jože Plečnik, whose contribution to Slovenian architecture is nationally praised, the market is the place par excellence to meet and have a chat with the locals. Here you will find fresh vegetables and fruits, meat and fish, and any type of flowers too! And be sure not to lose the small food shops that open onto the Ljubljanica river.
Day 2: 13:00 – 19.00
As you pass by Ljubljana’s cathedral, the big sausage sign hanging out of Klobasarna won’t pass unnoticed (as a matter of fact, klobasarna means “sausage place” in Slovenian). This traditional fast-food place is the right spot to go to if you want to try Slovenian cuisine (and of course, their forte is… sausages) and be on the go again right away. If your stomach is, understandably, asking for mercy, right next to Klobasarna you will find Trgovina Ika. This little shop has a good choice of products from emerging Slovenian designers – a nice gift idea instead of most kitsch souvenirs. On the other bank of the river, Kraš shop is a bonbonnière that sells delicious chocolate treats – Kraš is a well-known Croatian food company specialised in confectionery products.
Further north, Navje is worth a visit too: under these open arcades, built after WWII, rest some of the most all-worthy figures of the Slovenian history. As morbid as it sounds, this cemetery/pantheon is nevertheless a peaceful place to go for a stroll and some self-contemplation.
Day 2: 19:00 – 23:00
Before having dinner, based on your preferences – and on the weather too – you might want to have a glass of wine either outdoors or indoors. In the first case, Cielito Lindo is your place: hidden in the Little Square (Mali trg), Cielito Lindo has an excellent choice of wines and beers, and is well-known for having the cheapest price in the centre of the city. On the other hand, you’ll want to take advantage of Daktari‘s comfy, old-fashioned interior. The bar also hosts different events such as concerts and literary evenings. Later on, if you’re further willing to delve into local cuisine, upon reservation the Ljubljananjam team will take you for a food walk around Ljubljana and help you discover the best spots for food and drinks. Ljubljananjam organises four different type of walks, and you can be sure it will keep you clear from tourist traps and experience the real culinary scene of the city.
Day 2: 23:00 – …
As you might have understood, Ljubljana has managed to reconvert a good number of disused buildings into multi-vocational, innovative venues. Stara Elektrarna, an old power station, is now a venue for, again, events such as theatrical performances, workshops, readings and so forth. Check its lineup to see what’s going on there. But most importantly, don’t forget to leave Ljubljana without having stopped at Metelkova. Sharing a similar concept and purposes with its Macedonian equivalent AKSC (see the article “2 Days in Skopje“), Metelkova is an autonomous cultural centre hosted in a bunch of old military barracks. Art galleries and studios, a hostel, graffiti on the walls, parties and concerts – these are just a bunch of stuff that make up this vibrant creative cluster, where you might end up staying until early in the morning, chatting and partying with the locals.
Last tip: what’s the best way to say bye to Ljubljana, after a long night and right before leaving? In the old town there’s a street called Reber that ends with 90 steps. We know this is highly unlikely, but if you climb up all the steps early in the morning, you will be repaid with an amazing view of the city at dawn. No wonder the spot is visited (especially at sunset) by couples in love. Again, as the name suggests, isn’t Ljubljana all about love?