Ljubljana, Slovenia is a small (272,000 person) city where, thanks to extensive initiatives which earned it the moniker of Europe’s Green Capital, you can truly breathe in the city’s beauty.
Ljubljana’s mayor for the last 10 years, Zoran Janković, has implemented an aggressive environmental plan for the city and the payoff is impressive.
One of his early moves was to eliminate cars in the city center. This was clearly something he could do without much of anyone else’s approval as it was not exactly unanimously supported at the time. To aid residents – primarily senior citizens – who are not able to navigate the 15-minute walk from one side of the downtown to the other a free electric car service ferries them to errands or appointments. (We learned that it won’t offer to drive you back to your hotel if you’re tired and look wistful.)
A large underground car garage was built near the city center for those who still must drive in. Bike lanes and a bike-sharing program have also been implemented. Tourists would be advised to keep an eye out for the cyclists – they don’t have the discipline or skill you see from riders in places like Amsterdam.
Ljubljana is also going green in terms of low-emission buses and even underground waste management. And it’s not only new initiatives but making better use of existing things such as the parks that circle the city. Tivoli Park and Tabor Park have been revitalized for increased recreation and for uses such as urban gardens.
When you go to Ljubljana from a more traditional, larger European city the difference is refreshingly palpable. You get all of the pluses minus the honking horns, crazy drivers and fumes.
It would be even better if someone could cut down on the number of smokers but there’s only so much a mayor can do.
Things to do in Ljubljana and the surrounding area
Enjoy the river
The Ljubljanica River separates the Old Town from the medieval part of the city. There are a number of famous bridges crossing the river with the most famous being the Triple Bridge (and BTW there are clean public toilets down the stairs under the bridge). The Triple Bridge was built of wood and consisted only of the central bridge in the 1280s. After an earthquake, it was replaced with a limestone and concrete structure in 1842. The two side bridges were intended for pedestrians and were built between 1929 and 1932. All three bridges are for pedestrians now and they are all home to selfie-taking tourists.
It’s very easy to get a cruise on the river and we recommend doing just that. You can either go to the tourist center (on the medieval side of the city at the end of the Triple Bridge) or just walk down some of the stairs that lead to small boat docks. If you want English narration you would do best to check on that at the tourist office and to also not have overly high expectations. Fortunately, you don’t need skilled narration to see how much joy the locals and visitors get from the river. We saw paddle boarders, canoeists, kayakers, lounging lovers, other boats and several extremely large river rats (which are somehow blamed on Americans).
Take the funicular to the castle
In the medieval part of town you can easily walk to the entrance of the funicular that will take you up the hill to the castle. The castle and fortress were not all built at the same time. It’s documented that the fortress was originally built in the early 11th century and has looked over the town for more than 900 years.
The ride up is worth it for the views but while you’re there check out the Puppet Museum (a major historical interest in Slovenia), art exhibitions, a Slovenian history exhibition, two restaurants and possibly even the nightclub . In the summer months you can enjoy cultural events, family entertainment, dance evenings, and open-air film screenings held under the stars.
Check out the market
We were in Ljubljana with our tour company and they offered an extension to Slovenia. Their local guide took us to the market some of which is open-air and some covered. There is a market Monday through Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. but go on a Saturday if you can as that’s the big market day.
You can get all kinds of goodies – both edible and otherwise – made locally. There is organic produce, an array of ready to eat foods that can satisfy anyone from a devoted vegan to a determined carnivore, locally made and EU protected crafts, baked goods, oils, honeys and cheeses.
Visit Postojna Cave Park
Go Ahead Tours offered a day trip to Postojna Cave Park so getting there was easy for us. The caves are about 30 miles from Ljubljana. Our tour was well timed to avoid the hordes of tourists (but hardly any Americans) who visit this mammoth system of caves – more than 12 miles, of which 3 miles are open to the public. The caves have been operating as a tourist attraction since 1819.
It’s cold in the caves – around 45 degrees Fahrenheit and sun doesn’t get in to make it feel warmer. Blonde got overly stressed about how cold it would be and rented one of the large dark green wool cloaks that are available for visitors to rent. Not only did it keep sliding off but a fellow traveler said it made Blonde look like an extra in a Polish war movie so, overall, not a tip for others to employ. Just wear any sweaters you have or a jacket.
You go through the caves partly by an open train (don’t sit on the left side if you’re tall) and walk about a mile and a half on foot. There are so many formations your eyes risk exhaustion. The tour moves quickly – this is not a leisurely stroll. One place – the Concert Hall – can hold 10,000 people and has amazing acoustics. It’s fun to look at all the stalactites and stalagmites and come up with your own opinions of what they look like. Be careful when sharing your thoughts as giggles really echo.
After the caves go to Predjama Castle
The castle dates back to the 13th century but most of the story of it is focused on the knight Erazem Lueger who holed up there for a year to avoid his captors. Erazem was kind of half of Robin Hood. He was the half that stole from the rich but not the half who gave to the poor. One of his exploits was killing a Marshall he believed had insulted one of his friends. (This strikes us as perhaps excessive loyalty).
That prank led to the pursuit of Erazem and his holing up in Predjama Castle which, conveniently, was owned by his family at the time. Those trying to capture him were sure he would have to surrender after he ran out of food. They didn’t know that he had a way (and a horse) to escape through the cave at the back of the castle. He easily replenished his food supplies and engaged in a number of fairly childish taunts of his pursuers.
As always the servant who can be compromised appeared in the story (legend is more accurate). The servant told the would-be captors that Erazem used the facilities about the same time each evening (impressive) and that when he was doing so he was unguarded. A candle was lit in the window of the room when he was in there. Guess what? They fired a cannonball and got him in flagrante toiletto.
There were many more centuries of occupation of the castle but none have as good a story line. It’s quite interesting to walk through and see the surprisingly large and even comfortable looking rooms. It’s also interesting to note that the priest slept in the bedroom next to the owners. So much to think about.
Ljubljana and the surrounding area offer lots to do or the perfectly acceptable option of just wandering around enjoying a still lively medieval city. We found Ljubljana to be one of the delights of our trip and recommend it to lovers of everything European.
Required disclosure: We were the guests of Go Ahead Tours on their tour of Croatia and Slovenia but they did not force us to learn to pronounce Ljubljana or even tell us we needed to say nice things about it.