With cobbled streets and bridges guarded by dragons, Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, is a charming place for a city break. I must admit that when my travel companion suggested we visit this European city, I didn’t have a clue where it was. We both eagerly researched the best things to do in Ljubljana on a 3-night break and discovered a fairytale castle, medieval streets, a local market, riverside cafes and, of course, dragons!
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A 3-Night Stay in Ljubljana
Ljubljana is a pedestrian city and is perfect for a weekend break. The old town is small enough to wander around in one day, and trips to Lake Bled and Predjama Castle can be taken from here. As we were here for 3-days, it gave us a spare day to wander, eat, drink and enjoy all the city had to offer us. If you have longer to spare then, Ljubljana makes a great starting point for a Balkans trip.
You may be wondering about the dragons. They are a symbol of Ljubljana and displayed on the city coat of arms representing power, courage and wisdom. They are the mythical protectors of the city and sit at each side of the Dragon Bridge.
Walk around the Historic City Centre
Our hotel was in the modern part of Ljubljana, and so to enter into the old medieval side, we had to cross Preseren Square and the Triple Bridge. The great mixture of art nouveau and baroque architecture in the town is mostly down to Joze Plecnik.
He is one of the most important pioneers of modern architecture in the world, also shaping the cities of Prague and Vienna. His design influence on the bridges, buildings and facades in Ljubljana is unmissable.
Eat Authentic Slovenian Food
Our city break in Ljubljana started on a Friday, so we could check out the Friday Open Kitchen food market. Experience the delights of freshly cooked traditional food prepared by Slovenian chefs; all served from stalls.
Choose your dish, grab some cutlery, sit on the steps and tuck into some authentic food. Grab a coffee and try the Prekmurska Gibanica, a pastry similar to strudel, which was delicious. The market is a great way to experience local fare and open on Fridays from March to October.
Hike up to Ljubljana Castle
Ljubljana Castle is the main attraction of the city. Standing above the town for 900 years, the castle can be reached by foot or, for the less energetic, the funicular railway. We chose to take the scenic hike up to the top, which was quite hard going, and we kept hoping a friendly passer-by would offer us a piggyback ride to the top, but no such luck.
The view over the orange and red-roofed houses from the tower was worth our effort, and as we watched other visitors exit the funicular, we felt a real sense of resentment, sorry I mean achievement! Ljubljana Castle houses an exhibition on Slovenian history, a puppet museum and several medieval rooms that you can view. Still, our favourite was the restaurant where we sipped on a glass of chilled white wine before our slightly easier descent back down the hill.
Old Town Ljubljana
Back on terra firma, we checked out what was in the Old Town. We followed the lattice of cobbled-streets that took us to the famous Dragon Bridge. The bridge is a tourist hotspot, and you can’t leave Ljubljana without taking at least one photograph of the dragons.
Legend tells that Jason the Greek (of the golden fleece fame) founded Llubljana after fighting and conquering a dragon that had its home in a nearby Slovenian lake. Afterwards, the dragon became the city’s emblem. Whatever the true story, the dragons are a crowd-pleaser.
There are also plenty of cultural monuments to visit in the old town. On a Ljubljana walking tour, you will hear about the history and traditions of many of them. A boat trip along the Ljubljanica river is another way to see the beautiful buildings that sit along its embankment.
Discover Strange Local Delights
As we wandered along the streets, we saw things that fascinated us, things we had never encountered before and things that were just downright bizarre, including a machine that dispensed milk into bottles and a sign for human fish beer. Travel gives you the opportunity for new encounters, and it was the case here.
Ljubljana is so close to these tourist spots that you just can’t come all the way here and miss them. Lake Bled re-kindles childhood fairytales with its hilltop castle and medieval church seated in the middle of a glistening glacial lake. It is in a romantic and surreal location and certainly highlights the beauty of Slovenia.
Predjama Castle has a secret to tell, and the story will unfold once you are within its walls. Constructed into the side of a mountain and fortified to keep invaders at bay, this castle oozes with history and is worth exploring. I booked online to join a Lake Bled tour, Predjama Castle and Postojna Cave which took the hassle away from trying to get there by ourselves.
Postojna Caves will lead you underground, searching for stalagmites and the “dragons” that live in these caves.
Visit the Sunday Morning Flea Market
Held every Sunday morning along the riverside near Cobbler’s Bridge, a flea market comes to town selling antique goods and bric-a-brac from furniture to WW2 artefacts. Personally, this isn’t something I would typically enjoy, but as we were miles from home, I was quite interested to see what would be for sale.
We wandered along the banks of the river, quite mesmerised by what was on display, so much WW2 memorabilia, including military war guns, that we hoped were de-commissioned, bullets, Gestapo lapel badges and the like. We both preferred the calming vibe of the vintage jewellery, clothing and instrument stalls but found it a quirky place to visit on a Sunday morning. It gave us a slight insight into a past life in this area of the world.
Stay Overnight in a Prison (or visit for the day)
So right now, all sorts of thoughts are running through your mind. What did they do? Have they gone insane? Who would want to do this on a city break?
The thing about my travelling companion and I are that when we travel, we like to search out the strange, odd and sometimes just macabre. We are fascinated by graveyards, epitaphs, weird art and anything out of the normal, but Clare also has a hankering for prisons. I, on the other hand, had not bargained for a trip to such an establishment while in Ljubljana!
Celica Hostel is located near the rather run-down, or should I say the bohemian area of Ljubljana called Metelkova Mesto. This former area housed an artist squatters colony but is now a cultural and social centre spotlighting street art, music and creativity. Metelkova was reminiscent of Christiania in Copenhagen: an autonomous, alternative community.
Celica had previously held political prisoners but is now revamped as an art hostel, and you can pay to stay the night in a cell. It’s not as bad as it sounds as the building is full of art and has a great vibe, and I found the quirkiness of the place quite endearing.
There is an exhibition explaining the 100 years that prisoners were incarcerated here. If you are fearless, you can go into the solitary confinement cell to experience first-hand how it would have been. We did go in because we are tough old girls, but found it extraordinarily eerie and very thought-provoking. Whether or not you are planning to stay a night here, it is fascinating to visit.
My honest opinion of Ljubljana, Slovenia
What month did I travel? September
How was the weather? It was a mix of scattered showers and sunshine.
Would I recommend the hotel? Yes. Slon Hotel was a 5-minute walk to the historic city centre, so ideally located.
Would I recommend three days in Ljubljana? I think it is fair to say that for a small European capital, Ljubljana packs a punch. I loved the architecture, cafes and the Slovenian countryside. The flight is just 2 hours from the UK, making it one of Europe’s best countries to visit for a weekend.