Ljubljana, the second stop in my tour of the Balkans.
Prior to my trip, I had heard so much about the beauty and charm of this city from those who’ve been there. It didn’t disappoint.
Ljubljana used to be a swamp. It’s fought many battles, and has been conquered multiple times since the Middle Ages. It was once a Roman city called Emona, it was also part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and most recently, part of ex-Yugoslavia.
While the other former Yugoslavia nations descended into political and economic turmoil after the Yugoslavia Wars, Slovenia and its capital advanced quickly. Ljubljana is now a youthful, clean, and vibrant city with a big number of university students, as well as tourists who flock there in the summer. It’s a very small city and you can cover most of it by foot. If you’re too lazy to walk, you can also rent the city bikes to cycle around the city.
Clueless about this part of Europe? Here’s a beginner’s guide to the places you should check out, and activities you should partake in.
SIGHTS IN THE SUMMER SUN
The best time to visit Ljubljana is in the summer. Yes, there will be a lot of tourists there, but there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, you are also a tourist. Take part in the free walking tour that starts daily at 11am, from Prešeren Square, in front of the Franciscan Church. You’ll learn all about the history of Ljubljana, the main attractions, and local food. The guides will tell you everything you need to know about the city. Even though the tour is free, tipping is encouraged. Be nice.
Into street art? Join the graffiti tour. You can also join the communist tour for more insights into the political history of Slovenia. Check out the cathedral too, on your way to the Ljubljana Castle.
In front of the water fountain (which you can fill your bottle with) near the town hall, you will see buskers and street performers entertaining passers-by.
For a panoramic view of the city, head up to the Neboticnik Skyscraper. It is apparently the tallest building in Ljubljana, but at only 13 storeys, it isn’t very tall at all, and it’s easy to miss. Walk there from the main street, Čopova ulica, and turn into 1 Štefan Street when you see a grey high-rise building. Get into the lift and go all the way up to the al-fresco bar for a drink and a great view.
Because this is a very small city, you’ll soon run out of things to see and do by your third day there, so I suggest taking a day trip to Bled. It’s 1.5 hours outside of Ljubljana by bus/car, and the view is breathtakingly gorgeous. The water in the lake is crystal clear.
The entire trail will take you about 1.5 hours to cover by foot. It is tranquil, calming, and almost meditative. You can also swim in the designated swimming areas of the lake so remember to bring your swimsuit.
On your way back to the bus station, stop by Park Hotel for the Bled Cream Cake, made of cream and custard in between thin layers of puff pastry.
The first thing I noticed, walking into town, was the amount of people eating ice cream. That’s nothing surprising, considering the heat. But they were all having ice cream from the same ice cream parlour.
It must be good, right?
If there is one thing you absolutely must do (unless you’re lactose intolerant), get ice cream from Vigo. I ate a cup a day just to try as many of the flavours I could. They churn the ice cream in house, and they’re generous with the portions. One cup only costs €1.50, and a mix of two flavours, €1.80. The signature flavour, Vigo, is made of fresh mascarpone, nutella, chocolate, hazelnut. I also had a mix of cheesecake (fresh cream cheese, strawberry, dark chocolate bits, biscuits) and greek yogurt (yogurt, honey, sesame) on my second day, as well as Balli (coconut & passionfruit) and De Luxe (parisian cream, chocolate biscuits, raspberry).
Try some Slovenian food on the same street where the Town Hall is located. It’s hard to describe what Slovenian food is, seeing as its cuisine is influenced by its neighbours and conquerers: Italy, Austria, Hungary, and the rest of Balkans. Dishes from these restaurants start from 10euros and above, and can be a bit of a tourist trap.
There is however a small eatery called Klobasarna that serves only two dishes: sausages, and stew.
The stew is more like a porridge, made of barley. You can choose to top it with sausage for more of a crunch and bite. It’s simple comfort food that’s quite tasty and very affordable at only €4.90. Perfect for a light lunch, snack, or dinner.
If you’re on a budget and you prefer to sample smaller portions of different Slovenian dishes, go to the Odprta Kuhna (open kitchen) every Friday, where restaurants from all around Ljubljana set up stalls and serve traditional Slovenian food and desserts at lower prices so you get to eat more for less. There are even stalls serving African, Persian, Asian, American, and Italian food. The choices are endless.
I ate a traditional Slovenian dish called Idrijski Zlikrofi. Little dumplings filled with potato, topped with baby lamb sauce; tasty pockets of carby goodness.
With beautiful architecture, breathtaking natural landscapes, and tasty food, Ljubljana is a quaint, charming little pit stop for a trip across Europe, so put it on your bucket list now.