Exploring Ljubljana: 16 Things to Do in Slovenia’s Charming Capital City

Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia, was honestly never on my travel radar until planning a road trip from Munich to Lake Bled, which arguably attracts far more attention.

Franciscan Church of the Annunciation, one of the best things to do in Ljubljana.

I’m glad I didn’t skip it—the city center is sleepy and charming. The best things to do in Ljubljana touch on the city’s medieval history and architecture and aren’t overly strenuous (which was much appreciated after two days of dancing on the benches in Oktoberfest tents).

In my experience, these are the best things to do in Ljubljana:

Welcome sign for tourists in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

About Ljubljana’s History

Surrounded by the Julian Alps, Ljubljana is the result of a Roman encampment built in the 1st century BC. Other peoples had lived there before, dating back to 1000 BC, but according to Britannica, it was the Roman settlement that eventually developed into Emona before being destroyed in the 5th century.

Slovene Slavic tribes rebuilt the city, which was named Laibach in 1144 AD and Luvigana in 1146. In 1220, Ljubljana gained city rights.

Eventually, the city was the capital of the Habsburg-Austrian province of Carniola, changing to French rule in 1809. In 1918, foreign rule ended as Slovenia became part of Yugoslavia, only for it to start again in 1941 when Italian troops entered the city.

Finally, in 1991, Slovenia gained independence and named Ljubljana as the capital of the fledgling country.

Today, Ljubljana is one of the most underrated destinations in Europe for a city break. Its medieval architecture, quaint small-town feel, and a plethora of pedestrian-only streets make it easy to explore.

Best Things to Do in Ljubljana

1. Tivoli Park

Tivoli Park is to Ljubljana what Central Park is to New York City. The largest park in Slovenia, Tivoli Park is over 200 years old, according to the Ljubljana tourism board.

Walk the Jakopič promenade for an idyllic view of the Tivoli Mansion. Designed by Jože Plečnik, the notable Slovene architect who conceptualized Ljubljana’s urban layout, the promenade serves as an outdoor art gallery.

Funicular railway to Ljubljana Castle, one of the best things to do in Ljubljana.

2. Ride the Funicular Railway to See the City From Above

Though you could walk up to Ljubljana Castle, riding the Funicular Railway is much faster. It isn’t too expensive, either. Adult tickets are 3,30 € ($3.50 USD) one-way or 6 € ($6.40 USD) round trip and can be purchased online in advance. Families, children, students, and retirees receive discounts.

From Krek Square, opposite the Ljubljana Central Market, the cable car climbs up the hill, giving tourists a beautiful view overlooking the city.

Ljubljana Castle.

3. Ljubljana Castle

Ljubljana Castle is one of the city’s grandest landmarks. Perched on a hill, the medieval fortress is anything but old. Inside its historic walls are contemporary hotspots like the Jazz Club Ljubljanski Grad, where live performances are 7 € ($7.45 USD) per person on Friday nights, and internationally acclaimed restaurants like Strelec and Gostilna na Gradu.

You don’t need to buy an admission ticket to walk the castle’s courtyard. However, you will need one to go inside, explore the observation tower, and see the puppetry museum.

Adult tickets can be purchased for 16 € ($17 USD) including the funicular, or 12 € ($12.75 USD) without it online. Children, students, seniors, and families receive discounted admission.

Julija, one of the best restaurants in Ljubljana.

4. Dine at Ljubljana’s Best Restaurants

Dining in Ljubljana could mean sitting at a sidewalk bar along the river or having dinner inside of an actual castle. Several of the best restaurants in Ljubljana have reached the attention of the Michelin Guide and World 50’s Best Restaurants, serving elevated approaches to Slovenian cuisine.

JB Restaurant serves thoughtfully curated plates while Pop’s Place, a gastropub, gets crowded with locals seeking the city’s top burgers and beer (we found rare bottles at this bar that are tough to find in most parts of the world).

In the Old Town (staro mestno), kitschy Julija’s authentic Slovenian food makes for a romantic night out—I loved trying the Istrian-style pasta here.

5. Saint Nicholas’s Cathedral

Outside, the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas doesn’t look like much, just another European church. Inside, Ljubljana’s main cathedral is an elaborate Baroque dream. It’s one of the finest examples of the architectural style in the city, but it wasn’t always this way.

The Church of Saint Nicholas was originally a three-nave Roman church dating back to 1262. Following a fire in 1361, the building received a Gothic transformation. This transformation wasn’t terribly long-lived—in 1469, the church was burned down again, states the city of Ljubljana.

The church’s current iteration began between 1701 and 1706 when the Baroque cathedral was constructed based on designs by Jesuit architect Andrea Pozzo. A dome was added in 1841, later painted with a fresco by Matevž Langus in 1844.

Several frescoes and statues completed between 1703 and 1844 can be seen at Saint Nicholas’s Cathedral today.

Visiting the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas is free. Tickets are not needed, but visitors should note that services are held daily Monday to Saturday at 6:00, 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, 10:30 and 18:30. On Sundays and on national holidays, worship is at 6:30, 8:00, 9:00, 10:30, 11:30, 12:30, 16:00 and 18:30.

Dragon Bridge, one of the best things to do in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

6. Dragon Bridge

Dragon Bridge is one of the most iconic things to do in Ljubljana. Walking across the bridge is practically unavoidable, especially if you’re visiting the city’s Old Town.

Suspended across the Ljubljanica River, the bridge connects Kopitar Street and Ressel Street. As its name suggests, it is decorated with large dragons.

Dragons are the symbol of Ljubljana. As the city’s tourism board explains. ”Legend has it that Ljubljana was founded by Jason, the hero of Greek mythology who stole the golden fleece from King Aeëtes and then fled aboard the Argo with his comrades, known as the Argonauts, across the Black Sea and up the Danube and the Sava until they reached the Ljubljanica.

“There they dismantled their ship in order to carry it overland to the Adriatic coast, where they rebuilt the vessel and set sail back to Greece. On their way to the coast, they stopped at a large lake in the marshes near the source of the Ljubljanica, where a dragon was said to dwell, whereupon Jason fought, defeated and killed the monster.”

Dragon Bridge wasn’t always meant to represent the city’s mascot, however. The bridge was originally named Franz Joseph I Jubilee Bridge. When architect Giorgio Zaninovich drafted plans for it in 1900, winged lion statues replaced the dragons on the bridge today.

Dalmatian architect Jurij Zaninović is credited for giving the bridge its Art Nouveau appearance, while Professor Josef Melan, an engineer specializing in reinforced concrete bridges, designed the construction plans.

Walking Dragon Bridge is free. If you want to experience it without crowds of tourists, go in the morning as the bridge gets busy quickly.

7. Take a Tour of Ljubljana

Though you could easily stay two or three days in Ljubljana, for many, the city is a day trip from Lake Bled or Zagreb nearby.

You really don’t need to be on an organized tour to experience all that this city has to offer, but going on one can be helpful for getting the most out of your visit if you’re short on time.

You can take a walking tour of Ljubljana with a local, try Slovenian wine on a wine-tasting tour, or go on full-day tours complete with transportation from Zagreb or Trieste.

Street art in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

8. Discover Ljubljana’s Street Art Scene

Ljubljana isn’t just Baroque architecture. Between the artistic, autonomous zones of Metelkova and the Republic of Rog, vibrant murals decorate old military barrack buildings, mashed with sculptures and stickers like an outdoor sketchbook.

In Metelkova, there’s a basketball court where spray painting graffiti is totally acceptable, even if it’s illegal elsewhere in Ljubljana.

The neighborhood also hosts live performances and other cultural events in these colorful buildings, one of which is a hostel.

If you decide to visit Metelkova and the Republic of Rog, exercise caution. Though Ljubljana is safe overall, these autonomous zones have reputations for being a little dodgier than the Old Town.

Istrian pasta, traditional Slovenian food, at a restaurant in Ljubljana.

9. Try Slovenian Food

Slovenia’s previous days in the Austrian Empire still influence its cuisine today. The humble cuisine focuses heavily on rustic seasonal produce such as cabbage, potatoes, and turnips, along with rich meats and grains.

Ljubljana is one of the best places in Slovenia to sample the country’s cuisine, both contemporary and traditional.

While you’re in the city, keep an eye out for the following dishes:

  • Golaž (goulash): Meat stew
  • Idrijski žlikrofi: Regional pasta dumplings filled with potatoes served with a lamb or vegetable sauce
  • Kranjska klobasa: Traditional sausage, semi-cured and slightly smoked
  • Potica: Slovenian nut roll with regional variations
  • Prekmurska gibanica: Slovenian layer cake made of shortcrust, phyllo, poppy seeds, walnuts, apples, raisins, and quark (similar to cottage cheese)
  • Štruklji: Slovene rolled dumplings

I’m typically anti-tour, but after going on a tour of street food in Saigon, I’m officially a believer in food tours.

Culinary tours are a really easy (usually cost-effective) way to try several authentic dishes at local places you wouldn’t discover on your own. There are several food tours in Ljubljana that make trying traditional Slovene cuisine easy—many include wine samples from local vineyards also.

Shopping in Ljubljana's Old Town for souvenirs.

10. Go Shopping in Ljubljana’s Old Town

Handmade Slovenian lace, salt from Sečovlje Salina Nature Park, pumpkin seed oil, and honey are littered across Ljubljana’s Old Town.

The Old Town naturally has the best shopping in Ljubljana, as it is a hub for tourists. Few places in the country offer a wider assortment of quality souvenirs to bring home.

Shop around before purchasing. I found prices to vary significantly based on the store and quality. After much perusing, I picked up a beautiful dragon lace Christmas ornament, while my boyfriend got salt and pumpkin seed oil.

While you’re in Ljubljana, look for these souvenirs:

  • Honey and beeswax/beehive products
  • Pumpkin seed oil
  • Idrija lace
  • Ceramic goods
  • Schnapps
  • Salt from Piran or Sečovlje Salina Nature Park
  • Wooden goods (spoons, cutting boards, etc.)
  • Wine
Prešeren Square, one of the most popular things to do in Ljubljana.

11. Stroll Prešeren Square

Prešeren Square, Ljubljana’s central town square, isn’t built to honor some conqueror or war hero. Instead, the small square pays tribute to France Prešeren, a prominent Romantic poet.

Originally, the square was just an intersection. It wasn’t until the city walls came down in the 19th century, two centuries after the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation was constructed next to the junction, that it was paved and turned into a square.

I visited the square for its proximity to Tromostovje (Triple Bridge) and to visit the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation, which is what draws most tourists to it. An open market sets up during the day selling produce and Slovenian food, becoming even denser with stalls around the holidays.

A baroque church, one of the top things to do in Ljubljana.

12. Franciscan Church of the Annunciation

Saint Nicholas’s Cathedral received the hype, but personally, I prefer the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation. Built in 1660, this pink church in Ljubljana has an interior covered in lovely frescoes. 

It wasn’t always covered with these works of art. Originally painted with frescoes in the mid-19th century, the ceiling frescoes weren’t added until the mid-1900s after the earthquake of 1895.

Visiting this scenic church is free and unticketed, though you will need to be mindful of worship times.

13. Take a River Cruise

If seeing picturesque Ljubljana from the river has crossed your mind, you’ve not alone. The city of Ljubljana operates a 32-person tourist boat daily, allowing visitors to see the city from the Ljubljanica River.

Cruises leave from the Ribji trg pier and last 45 minutes. In the winter, boats are heated—this is an all-season activity!

Tickets are €14 ($14.90 USD) for adults and €7.00 ($7.45 USD) for children up to 17 years old. Purchase yours online in advance.

14. Go on a Ljubljanica River Walk

You don’t need to risk motion sickness to see the Ljubljanica River. Well-paved sidewalks line the river, creating a peaceful riverwalk.

We walked this path and came across tons of sidewalk cafes and bars with great views. For a leisurely afternoon or sunset drink, grab a table at one—they fill up fast.

Triple Bridge, one of the best things to do in Ljubljana.

15. Cross Triple Bridge

Prešeren Square is connected to the Old Town via the Triple Bridge. Like the name suggests, three small bridges meet to make up this recognizable landmark.

In the modern day, Triple Bridge is a little baffling. Why on earth would three pedestrian bridges be built next to each other like this?

Looking back to history, it makes more sense. Originally, Triple Bridge was singular. In 1842, the central stone bridge was designed to replace a medieval wooden bridge that was previously located at the site.

The new stone bridge wasn’t designed to be pedestrian only. To divide the traffic, between 1929 and 1932, two additional bridges were added for pedestrians based on designs by architect Jože Plečnik.

Eventually, Ljubljana banned traffic on the streets and in the squares around the bridge, turning Triple Bridge into the peculiar walking bridge it is today.

Lake Bled, a popular day trips from Ljubljana.

16. Go on a Day Trip from Ljubljana

Ljubljana’s central position in Slovenia cements it as a great home base for exploring the rest of the country and neighboring Croatia and Italy.

There are several amazing day trips from Ljubljana that will allow you to explore nature, small towns, and Slovenia’s wine-growing region.

If you have a couple of days, there are even more locations that are easily accessed for weekend trips from Ljubljana.

For day trips from Ljubljana, check out the following:

  • Iški Vintgar: Breathtaking gorge formed by the Iška river
  • Lake Bled: Picture-perfect blue lake with tons of outdoor activities near Triglav National Park
  • Kamnik: Medieval Alpen town
  • Kranj: One of the oldest Slovenian settlements near the second-largest canyon in Europe
  • Maribor: Second-largest city in Slovenia
  • Škocjan Caves: Regional park with a limestone cave system
  • Škofja Loka: Tiny, colorful town with scenic views
  • Trieste: Port town in Italy on the Adriatic Sea
  • Zagreb: Capital of Croatia rooted in Roman history

In all honesty, most places you could travel to from Ljubljana are close enough that they can be day trips, but some destinations demand a little more time to see it all. These are the best weekend trips from Ljubljana:

  • Bovec: Adventure travel capital of Slovenia known for the Mangart Saddle and Velika Korita
  • Lake Bohinj: Largest natural lake in Slovenia
  • Piran: Small seaside Venetian town known for its salt
  • Ptuj: Oldest Slovenian city, known for its carnival
  • Velika Planina: Biggest and oldest settlement of shepherds in Europe
  • Vipava Valley: Winemaking region with tons of vineyards
Baroque cathedral in Ljubljana.

Best Time to Visit Ljubljana

The best months to visit Ljubljana are in the spring, from April to May, or in the fall, from September to October. The weather tends to be temperate during these months, and you’ll avoid huge crowds from summer tourism and Christmas tourism.

I visited Ljubljana at the end of September after going to Oktoberfest in Munich. Unfortunately, we had a rainy, cold few days, but the city was surprisingly empty despite Germany being packed nearby.

For the warmest weather, visit from June to August. Though you’ll experience more crowds, day trips to Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj become much more interesting with opportunities for swimming and doing other water sports.

Ljubljana is coldest in the winter. If you visit during the winter, stick to December, when a Christmas market pops up in Prešeren Square. Pair Ljubljana with Austria and Bavaria in Germany for a full Christmas market tour!

How Much Time Do You Need in Ljubljana?

Ljubljana is a small city—it really doesn’t take much time to see it all! One or two full days is enough to accomplish everything.

If you’re using Ljubljana as a home base in Slovenia and taking day trips to Lake Bled or Zagreb, plan on staying three or four days.

Getting Around Ljubljana

Walking is the best way to get around Ljubljana. Many of the city’s streets are closed to cars, which makes renting one pointless if you’re not taking several day trips. Walking is the only way to access many top things to do in Ljubljana like visiting Prešeren Square and the Old Town.

We had a rental car as we drove from Germany to Slovenia and back again. After parking it in Ljubljana at the hotel, we never took it out again until we started our return trip to Germany.

Ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft aren’t available in Ljubljana yet, and taxis don’t have a great reputation in the city. If you need one, never get in a random or unmarked taxi. Instead, call a taxi from a reputable company in the city such as Taxi Metro or Taxi Laguna.

Kavalirs are an alternative to taking a taxi if you’re staying in the Old Town. These golf cart-like vehicles are free and designed to shuttle the elderly, disabled, and tourists around. They are available from April to October, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

For budget travelers, Ljubljana doesn’t have local trains but city buses. To hop on one, you’ll need an Urbana card, which can be purchased at Ljubljanski potniški promet (LPP) offices, tourist information centers, newspaper kiosks, and post offices.

A single bus fare is €1.30 to €2.70 ($1.40 to $2.90 USD) for up to 90 minutes of travel, depending on which zone you’re traveling in, regardless of how many buses you need to take.

Best Western Premier Hotel Slon, one of the best hotels in Ljubljana.

Where to Stay in Ljubljana

As cars are banned on so many streets in Ljubljana, picking the right hotel is really important. Pick something central, in or near the Old Town that is walkable to Prešeren Square and the funicular station for Ljubljana Castle.

I stayed at the Best Western Premier Hotel Slon and loved its location on Slovenska cesta (Slovenska Boulevard), a pedestrian road with plenty of shopping and dining options.

Below are a few of the best hotels in Ljubljana:

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