Our commute to Ljubljana from Split was stressful to say the least. 10 hours on a coach without a toilet or A/C, one missed coach, a long 5 hour wait at Zagreb’s dusty bus station and another 3 hours on a second coach made up our incredible journey. (Read my tips on travelling Croatia to find out how to avoid making the same mistakes we did.) We eventually arrived in the city that no-one can pronounce and being welcomed by a hot shower and a bed after a week of camping made the journey almost worth it. The next day we woke up pretty late in the morning due to our long and tiring day of travel – why is it that travelling is so exhausting when you hardly move?! Our Airbnb was quite far from the centre of town and it was about half an hour walk before we reached it. We went into the tourist office on the way past and hoarded all the free maps (I love collecting maps) to help us route our day. As usual, I was a little clueless about what Ljubljana had to offer despite wanting to visit it for a long time.
I loved Ljubljana’s architecture. The streets were flanked with high Renaissance buildings with the same red roofs as Croatia. There were so many colours to enjoy in the town centre: the mint green of the Ljubljana Cathedral dome, the creams of the smooth stone walls, the many shades of stunning pink that painted the Franciscan church (one of my favourite buildings). In the walls of the cathedral there were incredible engravings, the whole building was unbelievably grand, the three bridges were impressive but interwoven amongst all of this were adorable little cafés that tempted me endlessly with their aromas of pastries and coffee.
We had a wander around the market for a while, taking in all of the colours of the fresh fruit and veg before deciding to climb up to Ljubljana Castle. A funicular serves the castle but the queue was long and we felt like that was the lazy option anyhow. The climb up was extremely steep and harder than I anticipated but the views over the city grew more and more impressive as we climbed higher- you could really get a sense of the old and new- the cathedral, the churches, the red roofs, Renaissance architecture… but scattered around there were tall skyscrapers with billboards and company logos hogging the skyline. I quietly felt like these buildings were a blemish on the cityscape; the perfect shapes and colours were spoilt by grotesque metal towers. It always makes me sad to think how drastically architecture has changed throughout history- Notre Dame Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel… no one would take the time to create these works of art anymore. It’s all about efficiency and economy these days. The Cathedral de Saint-Julien in Le Mans took 800 years to complete, who would initiate a task that vast now? But I digress.
The castle was surrounded by pretty green grounds with benches, flowerbeds and statues. Couples lounged about reading or talking as we walked through, approaching the castle gates. We were allowed into the courtyard for free- it was quite pretty, pink flowers everywhere, a tall tower bearing a massive clock and the Slovenian flag proudly. However, it had been modernised a lot: glass panelling, automatic doors, metal wire bridges were all over the grounds. It didn’t feel at all like a Medieval castle. They clearly had made no effort to retain its original essence during renovations. I was a little disappointed. Having visited Mont-Saint Michel that summer and other amazingly conserved medieval old towns, I wasn’t blown away by Ljubljana castle one bit. We attempted to see the interior of the castle, but their prices were extortionate (for our budget). We tried to climb the tower to see the views it boasted over Ljubljana, but again you had to pay. We wanted to explore the exhibition of Slovenian history but alas, once more, those pesky prices. Budget travel does indeed have its restrictions. I was again disappointed that Slovenia had put a price tag on its history. We managed to see a small chapel for free, which was quite cute with a beautiful painting ceiling. After that, we left the castle pretty quickly and scaled back down the hill, put off by all its price tags.
We crossed the dragon bridge on the way to Trubarjeva cesta. We headed that way to find a museum that Josh was interested in but we couldn’t find it. Instead we found a cool street full of art studios, music shops and cafés. Hanging from the telephone wires were lots of shoes tied together. Upon researching the origins of the shoes, I came across a lot of conflicting stories. Some say that throwing your shoes over the wires brings you good luck, whilst others say it means that drug dealers are operating in the area. I’m not sure which one I believe. We wandered around a beautiful studio for a while full of bright colourful paintings- there was a sign saying that you could pay what you liked for the artwork, which I thought was a nice touch. We stayed for a couple of hours in a café planning our next few days in Slovenia and taking in the gorgeous weather.
We walked along the Ljubljanica river for a while after our coffee and I was shocked how blue the water was, nothing like the grey sludge that wades down the Thames. Lovely wooden boats floated down the river and dotted around the city centre were loads of interesting brass statues. Crossing Ljubljana’s version of the lovelock bridge we sat on a grassy verge to eat our packed lunch, entertaining ourselves by throwing scraps to a pigeon.
We took a slow stroll to Tivoli city park, on the outskirts of the city. The grounds of the park were pretty, with a large path leading up to Tivoli mansion. That day, there was a photography exhibition by National Geographic in the grounds with absolutely stunning travel photography that I was mesmerised by, but Josh dragged me into Tivoli mansion, where the International Centre of Graphic Art was nearing its closing time. We got a reduced fee into the museum and spent a while wandering around some gorgeous artwork. I remember it being extremely bright and colourful. There was also an exhibition of Lino prints that I found interesting- I loved seeing the original engraved Lino and then all the prints that had been made out of them, the creativity of some humans astounds me. Once we’d thoroughly exhausted the museum, we wondered around the park for a little longer and explored the forest that it backed onto. Once into the forest, it was hard to tell that you were in the centre of a capital city, the trees were so thick and tall- it felt as though we’d been transported into a different land altogether. Back in the park, Josh whined that he wanted to climb some trees but I said that it was unfair for him to do so while I was stuck in my flimsy sandals.
From the park we took a strange route back to our Airbnb which included running across a train-track and passing by an estate with large crates of beer- not exactly the scenic route, that’s for sure.
At the Airbnb, the four French girls that were also staying there were cooking up a feast all together, including a lot of cheese. Meanwhile, we folded a frozen pizza in half and stuck it in the toastie maker to cook because there was no oven. After being humiliated by our shameful English eating habits, we got ready to explore Ljubljana’s nightlife, getting slowly a little too drunk on a bottle of cheap wine.
Once we finally left the apartment at about 11pm, we realised it was a little too late for Ljubljana- everywhere was nearing closing time and finishing up. It’s not our fault that evening starts at midnight at universities in England. We walked to Metelkova, where apparently we could find some bars and €1 pints of beer but by the time we found it everything was shut there as well. Our host told us a couple of days later that Metelkova was in low season during summer as all the students go home, but I was still mesmerised by the art there and we came back the next morning to explore further.
Metelkova is an abandoned Yugoslavian military barracks that has since been turned into a squat community and breathtaking mosaic of urban art. The walls were multicoloured tiles and painted brightly, there were sculptures everywhere- someone had even made a music machine from a wheel that strums guitar strings when you spin it. In the centre was a large metal climbing frame where people gathered and sat about. I was mesmerised by the whole place and also a bit bummed that we couldn’t see it in full throng during term time, where all the bars and clubs would be alive and buzzing. Anyone else feel like whenever they see somewhere they always just feel like it makes them want to come again? The bucket list never shrinks it always doubles and triples.
Ljubljana is a gorgeous capital city and I definitely recommend it as a stop on a European road-trip. It’s also a great place to stay for a longer visit as it is surrounded by so many natural spots, perfect for day-trips and weekends away. On our second and third days in Ljubljana, we spent time in Predjama to visit the cave castle and at Lake Bled. Both of these were wondrous adventures and I’ll be posting about them in full in the next few days, so stay tuned. If you enjoyed this post, please give it a share or a pin.
Read more: If you need any more persuading, here’s why Slovenia should be on your travel list, courtesy of Monika at Bewildered Slavica!
Much love <3