Photograph by Matej Kastelic, Alamy Stock Photo
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Ljubljana paints a fairy-tale scene at sunset.
Photograph by Matej Kastelic, Alamy Stock Photo

A Local's Guide to Ljubljana, Slovenia

Visit the European Green Capital 2016 with tips from the ultimate insider.

Cars once clogged the center of Ljubljana, Slovenia, but now it’s mostly devoted to pedestrians and cyclists. New parks took over parking lots and public transportation improved. Ljubljana’s efforts and fresh outlook earned the coveted title of European Green Capital 2016. Find a yearlong celebration of natural beauty with themed activities and events under way.

Ljubljana-born Liza Nagode thinks her city is “one of the least explored and yet one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.”

Here are her local tips for an authentic trip:

When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is Prešernov trg (Prešeren Square), which is the major meeting point for locals in the heart of the city. Sit on the square’s namesake statue of the greatest Slovenian poet, France Prešeren, to observe surrounding architecture and those passing by. 

Spring is the best time to visit my city because Ljubljana and its residents are blossoming again.

You can see my city best from the Ljubljana Castle on Castle Hill. Besides being the best lookout point, the castle is also a host of numerous cultural events, including my personal favorite, the summer Film Under the Stars series. 

Locals know to skip crowded and pricier bars in the city center and check out the places away from the classic tourist trails instead. Try Sax pub in Trnovo, which is also a hostel.

Ljubljana’s Central Market is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs. While open during the week, the market especially comes alive on Saturdays when locals gather to buy fresh produce and to catch up with friends on weekly gossip. 

In the past, notable people like natural historian Janez Vajkard Valvasor and renowned architect Jože Plečnik, whose work strongly influenced Ljubljana’s image, have called my city home.

My city’s best museum is National Museum of Slovenia because it embodies Slovenian history and cultural heritage through a rich collection of archeological artifacts.

If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that the best way is on foot. If you wish to visit some of the more remote places you can always rent a bike outside of the tourist office.

The way to spend time outdoors in my city is to ascend Šmarna Gora in the northernmost part of the city. After a 30- to 45-minute hike you will be rewarded with an astonishing view, comfortable chairs, and a small restaurant. 

My city really knows how to celebrate December holidays. Every evening Cankarjevo nabrežje is packed with chattering locals and visitors sipping on mulled wine.

You can tell if someone is from my city from the way they speak. Compared to the other Slovene dialects, Ljubljana’s slang is quickly recognizable.

For a fancy night out, I have a cocktail with friends at one of the bars in the old town, like Čupiterija Hijo de Puta.

Just outside my city, you can hike or ski down the slopes of one of the Alpine peaks. The nature is absolutely breathtaking.

My city is known for being the hidden gem of Europe, and I couldn’t agree more.

The best outdoor market in my city is the Christmas Market that takes place every December on Cankarjevo nabrežje. You can buy anything from local food to crafts.   

Čajnica Gallus is my favorite place to grab breakfast, and Burek Olimpija and Nobel Burek are the spots for late-night eats.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read this Visit Ljubljana page or simply ask a local.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I go to Semafor for one-euro beers. This bar is one of the main student hangouts.

To escape the crowds, I hike Nanos with my dad. Located an hour’s drive from the city, Nanos is part of the karst limestone plateau. After a 1,262-meter (4,140-foot) ascent, continue your drive toward the Slovenian coast to grab a lunch. Piran is particularly beautiful and worth a visit.        

Union beer is my city’s signature drink. Sample it at any local bar or restaurant.

The most random thing about my city is Metelkova Mesto, a cool art district that awakens every night, buzzing with youngsters hungry for late-night adventures. 

Križanke, a famous summer festival venue, is the best place to see live music. But if you’re in the mood to dance (and have some great cocktails), check out Pr'Skelet Disco Bar located by the Kongresni trg (Congress Square).

The largest annual Graduates’ Quadrille Dance Parade could only happen in my city. The event has set numerous Guinness World Records.

In the spring you should take a trip to Lake Bled. Its picturesque appearance, complete with a small island in the middle and Bled Castle perched on a rock overlooking the lake, will make you feel like you woke up in a fairy tale.   

In the summer you should buy a beer and enjoy it at Trnovsko nabrežje while watching tour boats pass by. 

In the fall you should take a stroll in Tivoli Park through golden and crisp leaves.

In the winter you should go ice-skating in Tivoli Park and enjoy the warm and festive atmosphere of the Christmas Market.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the House of Experiments. Located just around the corner from the famous Dragon Bridge at Trubarjeva 39, the site's mission is to provide fun, hands-on education. 

The best book about my city is Plečnikova Ljubljana (Plečnik’s Ljubljana) by Peter Krečič because it best explains the impact that this famous architect had on the development of the city.