With quaint medieval and pretty Austro-Hungarian buildings lining the Ljubljanica River, the Ljubljana Castle and the 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 recently 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.
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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 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 Ljubljana Castle and the surrounding towns and villages. The ticket to Ljubljana cost 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.
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.
The good news is that 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 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 the city’s top attractions.
How to save money on transportation
Being flexible is what really pays when it comes to transportation and air travel in particular. Travel outside of peak season if you can. If you can't, fares might still be cheaper during certain times of the week and even hours of the day, so check websites like Skyscanner, and Google Travel that allows you to see a whole month and all the options on any given date.
If you have several airports in the vicinity of your home (or in the vicinity of your destination) compare the prices between the different options. For example, flying to Mykonos and taking the ferry to Santorini might still end up being way cheaper than flying from your home airport straight to Santorini.
We use and recommend the following online travel agents and service providers for all our travel needs:
To find good flight deals, we use one-stop travel sites or travel aggregators. Each shows the cheapest airfares on any given day, so you can choose to fly a day/week/month earlier or later, pending your flexibility.
If you find a good deal, book it there and then as prices change constantly. Ideally do your research with your browser in incognito mode, as cookies will show booking sites how keen you are to do a certain trip, which may affect the price quoted – that goes for all online travel bookings.
We tend to not actually go through the flight aggregators, but then book with the airline/s directly. The price is the same (sometimes cheaper), and we have a direct contract with the airline (rather than with the middleman) in case something goes wrong.
The best fares generally go first, so planning is important when it comes to transport. The same is true if you want to use air points/ miles, as there is only a very limited number of seats available for any given flight.
When we started our journey in October 2016, Paul and I took advantage of a special Qantas offer, paying only 25,000 frequent flyer points each from Auckland to San Francisco (one way). All we had to pay was the (unavoidable) taxes.
If you plan to travel through multiple continents, you may want to compare passes that offer several destinations as a package (such as around-the-world fares offered by One World or Star Alliance members) vs booking each leg of your trip individually.
If you are travelling during peak season those multi-destination packages may be a better deal than booking each leg individually. You can do overland sections on around-the-world tickets too, which means you could supplement your around-the-world ticket with cheap flights, bus and train rides in between destinations.
Vehicle rental (including relocations)
Unless your trip takes you across oceans, another way to save on transport is to look for vehicle/motorhome relocations. There are websites in many countries offering massively discounted rates (often including fuel and/or insurance) to those driving a vehicle/motorhome from A to B within a certain period. These deals are fairly last minute, and A and B are usually bigger transport hubs, but if that’s an option just search for vehicle/motorhome relocation at your destination.
Speaking of vehicles: If you are planning to hire a vehicle at your destination, it also pays to shop around. We use and recommend Discover Cars, an aggregator website that allows you to search across major car rental companies at once. And you don’t have to pay for the hire until you pick up the car.
A final option to save on transport costs is… to hitch a ride. While Paul and I did it safely in Dominica on a public holiday (when there was no other option), and we have taken plenty of people along in our campervan in New Zealand, there are many countries we wouldn’t feel safe hitchhiking. Judge for yourself where and when you can and can’t do it.
Day 1 – Walking Tour, Arts and Culture
Start your first day with the Ljubljana Free (walking) Tour. The meeting point is 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.
For lunch, we recommend that you sample Slovenian cuisine in one of the many traditional restaurants in town.
After lunch, head to the Metelkova Art Center to check out the street art and little hidden gallery spaces.
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 the Ljubljana Castle via Študentovska street.
Enjoy the views over the city and watch the sunset from the Ljubljana Castle. Then head back into town for dinner.
Day 2 – Nature, Culture and Music
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 for 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.
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 the 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 a beer garden).
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 are always MapsMe 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.
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 realised).
Interested in learning about the countries we explore through entertainment? These inspirational travel movies will allow you to go on your own virtual tour around the world.
How to save money on experiences
Free activities or experiences
Many activities (and some of our most treasured experiences) are free or cost very little. On our journeys, we have
- Visited many museums free of charge (including the Colosseum and Forum in Rome, Italy which is free on the first Sunday of the month)
- Joined Al Green’s Baptist Church Service in Memphis to experience local community life (rather than pay the exorbitant entry fees at nearby Graceland)
- Attended free guided walking tours through Buenos Aires and Merida (you pay a tip at the end based on your budget and how much you liked the tour) and a free guided walking tour as part of Auckland Heritage Festival (which even included coffee and scones afterwards)
- Did countless self-guided walks and used public transport to get to know a city
- Hiked in the Andes in Ecuador and climbed volcanoes in the Caribbean
- Swam and snorkelled at countless beaches, using tree shade rather than paying for parasols; and
- Attended free performances and danced with locals in Cuba.
Just search for free activities for your destination and chances are someone has made a nice list for you already. Here are some examples
Paying for experiences or activities can add up quickly, especially if you're travelling as a family. Make use of family passes (if available). Look out for special deals and discount coupons. If you travel in a group, you may also pay to book a private tour and share the cost. Definitely shop around.
We use and recommend the following service providers for all our paid experiences and activity needs:
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.
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 visited Ljubljana?
If you have visited Ljubljana in Slovenia recently, what was your experience like? What other tips can you share?
If you want to visit, what additional questions do you have about Ljubljana?