With a historic past connected to the dissolution of Yugoslavia and a cosmopolitan vibe full of diversity, Ljubljana is a cultural capital with great cuisine, unconventional art, unique architecture, and a surprisingly hip nightlife.
Because of Ljubljana’s history as a one-time Roman city called Emona, there are many sites to discover Roman ruins. The best preserved along the Roman Trail of Ljubljana is the Emona House Archaeological Park (part of the City Museum). The first-century ruins were a one-time residential home and the museum features an exhibition on how the Romans lived during that time.
Be on the lookout for the Library Under the Treetops in parks and public spaces across Ljubljana. The initiative started when Ljubljana was named the UNESCO World Book Capital in 2010 but has continued every summer since. Books are available in multiple spots around the city where visitors can read for free in makeshift libraries, with books, magazines, and even international newspapers available to borrow.
In Ljubljana’s small but significant museum quarter, the city’s Ethnographic Museum features exhibitions on the Slovene culture and the local environment. Unique exhibitions take you through a brief history of the world through unusual stories such as how humans interact with objects like doors and other everyday objects.
Best Day Trip
The most popular day trip from Ljubljana, it’s easy to visit the iconic Lake Bled just 50 kilometers northwest of the city either by car, bus, or even train. Located in the Julian Alps, the lake is famous for its castle on an island in the center of the lake reachable by boat. Wandering the lakeside and the island (including the 90-plus steps up to the church at the top of the island) takes only a few hours, but many restaurants make it easy to linger longer. Don’t miss the local food specialty kremna rezina—a light cream cake from the region.
Off the Beaten Path
The walk along the Ljubljanica River is popular for evening strolls but wander to the farthest end of the river to the Špica Caffé for an escape from the tourist crowds. Located at a fork in the river, the outdoor café offers a wide variety of treats and stays open to midnight every day of the week for casual hangouts.
Most Iconic Place
Ljubljana’s most famed resident is the mythical dragon. It’s believed that centuries ago, a swamp-like creature lived in the marshes around the Ljubljanica River. The dragon has been immortalized in the city’s coat of arms, but also most famously on the city’s Dragon Bridge, which crosses the Ljubljanica River.
While Ljubljana’s city center and riverside is popular during the day, the best nightlife takes place on the outskirts of the city. The Metelkova district, a former military barracks, serves as the largest hot spot with people of all ages (locals and visitors alike) drinking on the public street and bar-hopping between the underground clubs and dilapidated bars seemingly built out of makeshift furniture and walls.
One of the city’s most important historical landmarks, the Ljubljana Castle sits atop Castle Hill and overlooks the entire region. The hilltop has been home to varying architectural degrees of a castle for the last 900 years and is reached by a small funicular or hike up the hill. Besides the on-site museum documenting Ljubljana’s long history since the Roman times, the castle serves as an event space for open-air cinemas and other special programming.
Ljubljana is very much a foodie city, and the locals take a lot of pride in their local cuisine—a fusion of Italian, Eastern European, and Germanic flavors. Every Friday (when the weather is decent), local Slovene chefs set up food stalls in the Pogačarjev trg square for an “open kitchen” called Odprta Kuhna. Outdoor seating makes it easy to interact with others and a jovial mood permeates the weekly festival alongside the city’s best food and drinks—much of it locally sourced from sustainable farms.
On the edge of Ljubljana’s city park, the Museum of Modern Art sits in an unassuming, classical building. Featuring works by Slovenian artists from the 20th and 21st centuries, the museum offers a peek inside Ljubljana’s unique artistic and creative culture—defined by the country’s unique past of several different identities and cultures mish-mashing over time. Inside, the Moderna coffee shop roasts its own beans in a cool and stylish setting.