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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 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. My wife Sandra and I have turned our experiences into this little itinerary for everyone else who’d like to explore Slovenia’s cute little capital.
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 Zmajski Most (Dragon Bridge).
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, 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.
About 25km north of the capital, Ljubljana airport has good bus connections to both the capital and the surrounding towns and villages. The ticket cost us EUR3.60 per adult one way. You simply buy the ticket from the driver.
Ljubljana has an extensive public transport system consisting solely of buses (if you don’t count the cable car to the castle). To use the buses you need to have a rechargeable plastic card (called the 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. 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. Also, 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.
Start your first day walking around with the Ljubljana Free 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.
After lunch, head to the Metelkova Art Center to check out the street art and little hidden gallery spaces, like entering a different world.
As you head back towards the Dragon Bridge and Old Town, visit the House of Experiments, an interactive little science museum that's fun whether you’re travelling with kids or not.
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.
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) and enjoy a beer (and meal) at the old inn, which in summer also has a beer garden.
If you cycle, you could also include a loop along Večna Pot.around the Mostec ski jumping complex and past the Zoological Garden.