Ljubljana Castle from Cobblers Bridge

48 Hours in Ljubljana: The perfect getaway for history and nature lovers

Paul Ryken and Sandra Rosenau Last Updated: Sunday 1 March 2020 Slovenia Leave a Comment

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With quaint medieval and pretty Austro-Hungarian buildings lining the Ljubljanica river, its hill-top castle and surrounding Alpine mountains, Ljubljana is one of the most picturesque capitals in Europe. It is also one of the most advanced destinations when it comes to sustainability, turning congested inner-city streets into pedestrian walkways, and implementing bike and electric car-share schemes to get even more cars off the road.

We visited Ljubljana, Slovenia in May 2019 and discovered a proud, green and cheerful city. We’ve now turned our experiences into this little itinerary for everyone else who’d like to explore Slovenia’s cute little capital.

Dragons are everywhere in Ljubljana. They even have their own bridge.
Dragons are everywhere in Ljubljana. They even have their own bridge.

The first thing you notice when you arrive in Ljubljana are dragons. Yep, like the one in the picture above. As you walk past the souvenir shops in the airport, you see dragons everywhere: little soft toy dragons, t-shirts and jewellery with dragons, dragon statues for your office desk.

The dragon is also in the city’s coat of arms, and there is even a Dragon bridge. So what’s with all those dragons?

Why is Ljubljana the city of dragons?

Ljubljana’s origins can be traced to the legend of Jason and the Argonauts. Having seized the Golden Fleece from King Aeetes of Colchis (in modern-day Georgia), Jason and the Argonauts fled across the Black Sea. They couldn’t get through the Bosporus to return to Greece, so they entered the mouth of the Danube river instead. As they travelled up the Danube, they reached the Sava river (in present-day Belgrade) and finally the Ljubljanica river and a big marshland, where Jason and the Argonauts decided to camp. The marshland though was home to a swamp monster (or dragon), which Jason fought and eventually killed.

While Jason and the dragon are mythical creatures, the presence of a swamp is more likely: Some say Ljubljana’s name originates from the Latin word Alluviana (flooded river). And even the German word that was given to Ljubljana during Austro-Hungarian times Laibach refers to a marshland.

How best to get around Ljubljana?

If you’re asking yourself this question because you’re thinking about hiring a car to let me give you the answer right up front: If you’re planning to hire a car to travel around Slovenia (after you visited Ljubljana), save yourself a few Euros and only hire it once you leave the capital. You can explore Ljubljana very easily by public transport, by bike or on foot. Don’t worry, we’ll show you how.

To/from the airport by bus

While about 25km north of the capital, Ljubljana airport has good bus connections to both the capital and the surrounding towns and villages. The ticket to Ljubljana cost us EUR3.60 per adult one way. You simply buy the ticket from the driver.

Around the city

Ljubljana has an extensive public transport system consisting solely of buses (if you don’t count the cable car to the castle). To use Ljubljana’s buses, you need to have a rechargeable plastic card (called Urbana Card) as drivers do not carry cash.

The card can be purchased from various outlets, including newsagents and tobacconists, selected petrol stations and post offices, the main Bus Station and the Tourist Information Centres in Ljubljana. Apparently some bus stops also have ticket machines, but we didn’t come across any.

Ljubljana Tourist Information Centre

We recommend that you drop by the Ljubljana Tourist Information Centre located at Adamic-Lundrovo nabrezje 2, next to the Tromostovje (Triple Bridge) to check out what is on at city’s top attractions.

If you buy your Urbana Card from the Tourist Information Centre (and keep the receipt), you can return your card at the end of your visit (to the same centre) and get the EUR2.00 fee back.

Before you buy the Urbana Card, calculate the amount you might need over the time you’re there, as you won’t get any money stored on the card back when you leave Ljubljana. You can always recharge the card as needed.

BTW, one Urbana Card can be used between multiple people. Just tell the bus driver before you tap it on the card reader upon entering the bus. Purchasing a single ride allows you to change buses within 90 minutes at no additional charge. You can also use the card to pay for the cable-car to Ljubljana Castle.

In the city centre

Once you reach the city centre, it is best explored on foot (or by bike).

Ljubljana's city centre is best explored on foot | Photo by Rok Zabukovec on Unsplash
Ljubljana's city centre is best explored on foot | Photo by Rok Zabukovec on Unsplash

Day 1 – Walking Tour, Arts and Culture

11:00

Start your first day with the Ljubljana Free (walking) Tour. The meeting point are the steps of the pink church at Prešeren Square. The tour lasts approximately two hours and takes you through the parts of the Old Town that are flanking either side of the Ljubljanica river between the Dragon and Cobblers bridges.

13:00

For lunch, we recommend that you sample Slovenian cuisine in one of the many traditional restaurants in town.

Looking for a food tour full of historic insights that is affordable and supports the local community? bitemojo tours tick all the boxes – and they are right here in Ljubljana as well.

When in Ljubljana make sure you try some traditional Slovenian dishes | Photo courtesy of Moji Štruklji Ljubljana
When in Ljubljana make sure you try some traditional Slovenian dishes | Photo courtesy of Moji Štruklji Ljubljana

Afternoon

After lunch, head to the Metelkova Art Center to check out the street art and little hidden gallery spaces.

Visiting the Metelkova Art Center is like entering a different world
Visiting the Metelkova Art Center is like entering a different world

As you head back towards the Dragon Bridge and Old Town, visit the House of Experiments. This interactive little science museum is fun (whether you’re travelling with kids or not).

For a taste of Yugoslav nostalgia, pop by the Ljubljana and Idea tours and Nostalgia SFRY Shop (Študentovska ulica 13, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia, Open Monday to Friday 1100h to 1700h, +386 31 382 828) on your walk up to Ljubljana’s Castle via Študentovska street.

Evening

Enjoy the views over Ljubljana and watch the sunset from the castle. Then head back into town for dinner.

Enjoy (sunset) views from Ljubljana Castle | Photo by warpmike on Pixabay
Enjoy (sunset) views from Ljubljana Castle | Photo by warpmike on Pixabay

Day 2 – Nature, Culture and Music

Morning

We suggest you spend the morning of your second day in Ljubljana exploring the huge green space that sits smack in the middle of the capital: Tivoli Park, and the Rožnik and Šiška hills. You can walk/hike around the park and/or hire a bike at one of the many bike-share stations dotted all around the city. Signing up to the city’s bike-share scheme is super easy.

While Tivoli Park is nice and flat, inviting you to a stroll around its water lily covered pond, and along Jakopič Promenade with its open-air gallery, the adjacent hills of Šišenski Hrib and Cankarjev Vrh rise to 429 metres and 394 metres, respectively. The hilly park is crisscrossed by gazillion hiking and bike trails – you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Check out Tivoli Park with its open air gallery along Jakopič Promenade and its water lily covered pond
Check out Tivoli Park with its open air gallery along Jakopič Promenade and its water lily covered pond

A popular loop trail from/to Tivoli Park is Jesenkova Pot (marked blue on the map below). Named after Fran Jesenko, a Slovenian botanist, the educational trail explains the different tree species you encounter along the path.

Another loop trail (marked red on below map), also from/to Tivoli Park, takes you along Podrožniška pot to Cankarjev Vrh. There you can visit the Church of St Mary’s Visitation (Cankarjev Vrh 1, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia, +386 1 242 93 00) and enjoy a beer (and meal) at the old inn (in summer with beer garden).

Tivoli Park, and Rožnik and Šiška hills are crisscrossed by hiking and bike trails – you’ll be spoilt for choice
Tivoli Park, and Rožnik and Šiška hills are crisscrossed by hiking and bike trails – you’ll be spoilt for choice

From Cankarjev Vrh, you continue (along Pot na Drenikov Vrh and Tivoli) around Šišenski Hrib and back to Tivoli Park.

If that sounds complicated don’t worry. The same maps (as the picture below) are dotted around the park, and there are heaps of trail markers – you won’t get lost. Besides, there is always Maps.Me and Google Maps.

If you cycle you could also include a loop around the Mostec ski jumping complex and past the Zoological Garden, along Večna Pot.

Enjoy views like this from Rožnik Hill | Photo by traveldudes on Pixabay
Enjoy views like this from Rožnik Hill | Photo by traveldudes on Pixabay

Afternoon

Spend the afternoon of your second day in the Slovenian capital with a visit to the City Museum and/or Plečnik House. Both are located not far from Tivoli Park (and each other).

Housed in the historic Auersperg Palace, the City Museum is excellent if you want to learn more about Slovenia’s and Ljubljana’s history.

The City Museum is excellent if you want to learn more about Ljubljana’s (and Slovenia's) history
The City Museum is excellent if you want to learn more about Ljubljana’s (and Slovenia's) history

Speaking of Ljubljana’s history: Jože Plečnik is for Ljubljana what Antoni Gaudí is for Barcelona – the architect behind many of the buildings you have passed on your walks around the city (and the famous triple lane bridge).

Visiting Plečnik’s former home and studio, you can learn more about the architect who had such an immense impact on the development of Ljubljana as well as other cities in the former Austro-Hungarian empire, like Vienna and Prague. There are plans, sketches, photographs and models (including of projects that were never realized).

Plečnik House is full of plans, sketches, photographs and models (including of projects that were never realized)
Plečnik House is full of plans, sketches, photographs and models (including of projects that were never realized)

Evening

If you’re up for some live music or a dance theatre performance after dinner check out what’s on at Prulček and PTL (Plesni Teater Ljubljana). Both are conveniently located side by side in the Prule neighbourhood.

Want to carry on to Lake Bled the next day?

Map of Suggestions

Below is the map showing the location of all the suggested items above – to help you plan where to book your accommodation.

Have you seen our other articles about Slovenia?

Discovering the local cuisine is part of the fun of travelling. It also makes for a more immersive and authentic experience if you eat in a local restaurant, chat with the wait staff/chef and learn more about the food on your table. So, while in Slovenia, make sure you taste a few traditional dishes. In our food guide for (Western) Slovenia, we talk about dishes to look out for on the menu (and where to have them).

And if you're about to plan your trip and wonder how much to budget check out how affordable it is to visit Slovenia.

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Have you visited Ljubljana? What other tips can you add? Please leave a comment below.

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48 Hours in Ljubljana: The perfect weekaway away with things to do and see
48 Hours in Ljubljana: The perfect weekaway away with things to do and see
48 Hours in Ljubljana: The perfect weekaway away with things to do and see

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