LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA: Truly speaking, I had little expectation from Ljubljana, especially after reading this information from wikitravel on the city, “Ljubljana has no world-famous attractions, which is great: there’s no need to hop from one place to another, taking photos and crossing the items on your checklist. You have all the time to stroll around and enjoy the city itself”. I saw some Google pictures of Ljubljana and those looked nice but nothing extraordinary to me. Still, I wasn’t sure why my husband wants to put that city in our itinerary. But thanks to my husband that it was in our Easter break trip list. I am not exaggerating, but I truly, truly wished we stayed there longer than just one night.
Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia. It is one of the smallest capital cities in Europe. It may not have any world-famous attractions, but the city itself is so beautiful and picturesque that it doesn’t need any famous tourist spots. Ljubljana is a walkable city, all the main attractions of the city are very close to each other and can easily be reached within just a few minutes. It took us few hours to visit all the places that we wanted to visit. River Ljubljanica flowing through the center of town, Ljubljana may have a touch of Amsterdam-like look. But the better part is that, it is not a hustling-bustling city like Amsterdam…not at all. It is a peaceful and friendly city with stunning old architectures, beautiful small old city center, cozy squares, little bridges on Ljubljanica river, and a castle on the hill. I would love to go back there again and again just to enjoy its serene atmosphere.
TIME OF TRAVELING: We took a long road trip during the Easter break 2012, which was in the 1st week of April. Ljubljana was our 6th destination among seven in total. It took us about hour and half (150 km) by car to reach Ljubljana from Zagreb, Croatia. It was drizzling the day we arrived there, also was a bit cold. We reached there in the afternoon, checked-in at our hotel, ate something, and then started walking according to our to-do list.
OUR HOTEL: The hotel we stayed in, Best Western Premier Hotel Slon, was literally 1 minute walk from Ljubljana’s main square, Preseren Square. The castle was about 10 minutes of walk and other places were also within few minutes of stroll.
The legend of this hotel goes something like this: “The elephant is an extraordinary animal, hardly ever seen in Europe until public zoos were created (in Vienna in 1779). Possessing such an exotic animal as an elephant, tiger, lion or leopard… was considered a token of wealth and power and was the sole privilege of the highest aristocracy.
In 1552, Maximillian II was the Archduke of Austria and about to become the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. He was 25 years old and had recently married Mary of Spain. On his way from Spain, he was bringing one of his wedding presents: an elephant called Soliman. At that time, the Sultan Soliman the Magnificent was Austria’s most terrible enemy. Therefore, domesticating such a powerful animal under that name was a significant symbol.
Maximilian stopped at the best inn in Ljubljana with his escort and the wonderful animal, which impressed the population tremendously. The hotel Slon was later built on the site of this inn. The memory of Soliman the elephant was still very strong in the city, so the guesthouse, and later the hotel, were named Slon (the Slovenian word for elephant).” http://www.hotelslon.com/index_en.php?id=2
WHAT TO BUY AND EAT IN LJUBLJANA: A very traditional Slovene design that you will see in many souvenir items is red and blue flowers. Lots of wooden trinkets, like small paintings, kitchen wares, serving wares, can be found in the open market near the Triple Bridge. Also, make sure to buy honey from here as it is a big business in Ljubljana and protected under EU laws. You will find vendors selling honey in that market too.
We really didn’t try any local food in Slovenia. There was a kebap restaurant in between our hotel and Preseren square, that’s where we had our lunch. And for dinner, kids wanted to eat in the nearby McDonald’s, so that’s what we did. But there were few nice restaurants all around the old town and in Preseren square. But I am not sure if they have traditional Slovene dishes in their menu.
PLACES WE VISITED: We actually managed to see everything that we wanted to see in Ljubljana in about few hours. The city is very kid and stroller friendly. Also, most of the people speak very fluent English. Here are all the places we visited and enjoyed in Ljubljana.
1) PRESEREN SQUARE: This is the main square of the city where locals come together to meet and mingle. The square took it’s name from the statue that it houses of Dr. France Preseren, who was a famous Slovene romantic poet around 1800 A.D. This is a great spot for the tourists as well, where you will find cafes, view of Ljubljanica river, Triple Bridge, Ljubljana Castle on the hill-top, and if you are lucky, may be some live local music. The unique orange/pinkish building that can be seen from many part of the city is the Church of Annunciation, which also stands here.
2) TRIPLE BRIDGE or TROMOSTOVJE: This is definitely a uniquely designed bridge and one of the ways to enter Preseren Square. It was designed by Jose Pleznik, who was a famous architecture from the mid-19th century and influenced the look of Ljubljana by his amazing architecture around the city.
3) OLD TOWN: The charming, little old town contains the city hall in Mestni trg or City Square and Cathedral of St. Nicolas along with few local designer shops and cafes. There is an obelisk near the town hall. It is not as crowded or popular as Preseren square, but sure can keep you busy for some time with all the lovely boutique shops.
4) DRAGON BRIDGE or ZMAJSKI MOST: The bridge was built in 1901. The area is situated rather on a busy road just outside the pedestrian zone, 2 minutes of walk from Preseren Square. There are four dragons at four corners of the bridge. Dragon is the city’s coat-of-arms; therefore, you may find some dragon motifs throughout the city. The river and the colorful houses add extra beauty to the surrounding of this bridge. You can see Butcher’s bridge in one side within very short distance.
5) BUTCHER’S BRIDGE or MESARSKI MOST: The bridge opened not too long ago, in the summer of 2010. It is located in between Dragon Bridge and Triple Bridge. This is a pedestrian bridge, partially made with glass. There are some big and small unique looking statues on this bridge that can’t be missed. You will see lovelocks hanging on the both sides of this bridge. Newly-weds or young lovers put their names on locks and hang them there to symbolize their everlasting love.
6) LJUBLJANA CASTLE: The history of this castle goes back to the early 12th century. It is located on Castle Hill overlooking the old town. The recent renovation of this castle took place in 1960. This long and extensive renovation took more than 35 years. Now it is used as a place for weddings and cultural events. This is the main attraction of the city and a must see.
There is a funicular that takes up right to the castle. The access to funicular is near Vodnikov Trg or Vodnikov Square (a market place selling fresh produce and hand-made items). We paid 8 euros per person which covered 2-way funicular rides, the viewing tower, castle exhibition/museum, and a movie on Ljubljana Castle and free for kids 7 or below. There is another way which you can use to go up on the hill without using a funicular. It is free to enter Castle Courtyard and the Chapel of St. George. There is a café and a gift shop up there too. The castle is open from 9 am to late at night until 11 pm from April to September, which I though was very convenient for us tourists. From October to March, the castle is open from 9am-9pm.
I would highly recommend buying the ticket to go on top of the viewing tower. You have to climb 95 narrow steps to go all the way up. But it is very well worth. You will love the splendid 360 degree view of the whole city. Once you are done, come down and watch a 10 minutes long movie on the history of Ljubljana from a pre-historic settlement to Roman Empire to modern times. Audio of the movie is available in English too. The Chapel of St. George is under the tower, in the basement. It a very old and small chapel from 1489 A.D.
7) REPUBLIC SQUARE or TRG REPUBLIKE: This is the place where crowds gathered as Slovenia announced their independence from the Yugoslav Federation in 1991. This has been an important place for the locals for important public gathering and demonstrations in the past. There are few monuments and statues in this square. Across the road is the Slovene Parliament, with a façade decorated with nude statues of Slovenes at work and leisure.
This is very close to Congress Square. Unlike other squares, there are no shops or cafes in Republic Square, and nothing much to do other than taking some pictures.
8) CONGRESS SQUARE or KONGRESNI TRG: This is rather a lovely square to hang out and spend some time. It is surrounded by some historical and important buildings. At one side, Church of Holy Trinity is situated, facing that on the other side is the Slovenian Philharmonic building (the yellow building), and if you are facing Philharmonic building, you will see University of Ljubljana (with fountain in the front) to your right side. You will find some souvenir shops and cafes in this square. Also, don’t forget to look up to the hill to check out one side of Ljubljana Castle.