Don’t be fooled by the fact that Ljubljana is one of Europe’s smallest capitals because the Slovenian city is packed full of exciting things to do and sights to see!
Formerly part of Yugoslavia, much has changed in Ljubljana since the communist regime fell and Slovenia declared independence in 1991. Yes, you’ll find the socialist-style concrete tower blocks, and admittedly, one of the best places to visit (and to spend the night!) is a former political prison-turned art hotel, but modern Ljubljana has a colorful and artistic atmosphere, unlike any other European city.
You’ll love how the city is characterized by beautiful baroque and art nouveau architecture, while Ljubljana’s Old Town is known for its photogenic red-roofed townhouses and picturesque bridges. Those bridges span the Ljubljanica River, a river that’s guaranteed to awe with its striking shades of turquoise, blue, and bright green flowing water that carves a path through the city.
Brush up on your pronunciation before you land – it’s pronounced, Lyoo-bly-ah-nuh – and get ready for an action-packed trip as you delve into the petite Slovenian capital’s past and present. Chase after street art and graffiti, admire ancient fortifications on the castle hill, and if you have time, take a day trip to the equally astounding shores of Lake Bled.
With so many great things to see and do, we won’t be surprised if you don’t know where to begin. That’s why we’ve compiled our list of the best things to do in Ljubljana for you! Stick to these fun and unique Ljubljana bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt that you’re going to have an incredible time exploring Slovenia’s capital city.
Don’t forget to check out our web story: What to Do in Ljubljana: 15 Highlights of the City
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15 Best Things to do in Ljubljana
1. Ride the Funicular to Ljubljana’s Castle
Riding the funicular to the castle is one of the best things to do in Ljubljana. The city’s impressive castle is perched high on a hill in the capital, and you can see the standout towers, walls, and flags from almost anywhere in Ljubljana.
You can ride the short but sweet funicular railway 230 feet (70 meters) to the hilltop, where you can learn how the castle was first built way back in the 11th century to protect the growing city below. You’ll also learn that Romans used the hill as a fortress many centuries before this, when the settlement of Emona was founded around 50 BC.
As you stroll through the courtyards, climb the towers, and walk along the walls, you’ll discover that despite the long history, most of the beautiful castle you see today was built in the 17th century when the Baroque style of architecture was very much in fashion in Ljubljana.
The funicular is even younger, as it was only opened in 2006 to make it easier for tourists to visit the castle. That’s fine by us because the short railway ride not only provides wonderful views of the castle as you’re whisked upwards, but it cuts out the steep uphill walk to the gatehouse that was the traditional way to enter the castle in centuries past.
You’ll love the panoramas from the terrace and from the castle’s towers. The views are wonderful during the day but try to time your visit for sunset, and then wait until darkness has fallen to see the city lit up spectacularly in the nighttime!
2. Take a Walking Tour of the Old Town
From the heights of Castle Hill, you’ll see the colorful red roofs of the Old Town below. This is the historic heart of the city, and a walking tour is the best way to experience the best sights in Ljubljana!
In fact, you’ll have to walk whether you’re taking a guided tour or not, because much of the Old Town is completely pedestrianized. We love that, and we know you will too, as it allows you to explore the narrow streets and quaint squares without worrying about traffic.
There are many guided tours to choose from, but you can join free walking tours that depart several times a day from Preseren Square. If you like the tour, then you simply tip as much as you think the tour guide deserves for their work.
Preseren Square is one of the major Ljubljana attractions, as this has always been an important public meeting space where events, concerts, and protests are held. As you tour the Old Town, you’ll see baroque palaces, the city hall, and many buildings which were designed by Slovenia’s most famous architect, Joze Plecnik.
3. Cross Ljubljana’s Beautiful Bridges
As you stroll through the Old Town, you’ll quickly come to understand that some of the best sights in Ljubljana are its bridges, so much so that we’re listing them as Ljubljana bucket list items all by themselves!
Ljubljana is carved in two by the Ljubljanica River. It’s a beautiful river and one that’s renowned for its emerald-like sheen. Rightly so, the bridges built to span the Ljubljanica River are as beautiful as the waters that flow beneath them.
The most important bridges in the Old Town were designed by architect Joze Plecnik, who also landscaped the surrounding embankments and walkways that you can stroll along today.
The Triple Bridge can be found by Preseren Square and is one of the oldest bridges in the city. There’s been a crossing here for centuries, but then a new, single bridge was built in the early 19th century. Plecnik then had two adjacent bridges built in the early 20th century before giving it the name Triple Bridge.
The Cobblers’ Bridge, opened in 1931, was also designed by Plecnik, and is known for its distinctive Greco-Roman columns and elaborate motifs. Trnovo Bridge is another of Plecnik’s most famous works, while the Dragon Bridge – with its Dragon statues – is a unique symbol of the city.
One of the newest bridges in Ljubljana is the Butchers’ Bridge. It opened in 2010, although it was based on a design by Joze Plecnik that was made many decades before.
The Butchers’ Bridge might not be what you’re expecting. It’s actually where lovers come to leave padlocks above the Ljubljanica River!
4. Cruise Along the Ljubljanica River
The Ljubljanica River is one of the most aesthetic things to see in Ljubljana. You’ll quickly fall in love with the wondrous colors, the elegant bridges, and the slow pace of life that unfolds at the cafes and terraces along its banks.
When you’re in the city, there’s no better way to experience the river’s majesty than a cruise along the Ljubljanica. Small boats launch from the banks, taking visitors along the waterway and offering guided commentary of the Old town sights that surround you.
That’s the relaxing way to travel along the Ljubljanica River, but if you’re feeling active, then why not join a paddleboarding tour instead? In the summer, paddleboarding is one of the most fun things to do in Ljubljana, but in the winter, you might prefer the comfort and warmth of the tour boats instead!
5. Get a Culture Fix at Ljubljana’s Museums and Galleries
Culture vultures and history buffs will be right at home in Ljubljana. This is a city that’s packed with museums and art galleries. You can easily spend days discovering new snippets of historical intrigue or browsing through unique collections of art.
We recommend starting at the National Museum of Slovenia, where you can take a step back in time and learn all about the nation’s long and exalted past. This is Slovenia’s oldest museum, and perhaps fittingly, it’s home to the oldest musical instrument in the world!
You’ll see the famed Neanderthal Flute as you tour through the exhibits, but you’ll also see Bronze Age artifacts, Roman coins, and many more archeological treasures from across the country.
Next, move onto the Slovenian Museum of Natural History (which is in the same building as the National Museum of Slovenia). Here you can see the skeletal remains of wooly mammoths, ancient mollusks found in the mountains, and much, much more.
Just around the corner, you can then visit the National Gallery of Slovenia, which is home to the country’s collection of historical artwork. If you still have time left, there’s the National Museum of Contemporary History, which offers a detailed dive into Slovenian history from the First World War to the modern era.
6. Escape the City with a Visit to Tivoli Park
You don’t have to go far to escape the city. Not when Ljubljana has an enormous public space right on its doorstep.
Tivoli Park is set around Tivoli Castle, a historic mansion in the western suburbs of Ljubljana. The mansion was built in the 17th century, but the park itself wasn’t landscaped and made public until 1813, when the grounds of Tivoli Castle were combined with that of nearby Cekin Mansion to create a super park.
Visit Tivoli Park, and you have around 3 square miles of public gardens to explore. There are rose gardens, ponds, sculptures, playgrounds, and an ice hockey and basketball arena.
The park itself is protected as a nature reserve, and as you walk along the many trails, you’ll see and hear many of the rare birds that call Tivoli Park home.
7. Chase Street Art and Graffiti in Ljubljana
Ljubljana is one of the oldest cities in Europe, but there’s no doubt that it’s also one of the trendiest. A large part of this hipster image comes from the city’s love of art and graffiti, which you’ll see plastered all across the capital.
One of the coolest things to do in Ljubljana is a street art and graffiti tour, where you’ll be shown the best artwork in the city. Ljubljana is a giant canvas for street artists, and you’ll see everything from murals to political graffiti as you walk through the capital with a local guide.
Most importantly, you’ll also learn about why Ljubljana is home to an extraordinary number of street artists and artworks. The art first started appearing in the late 1980s, as counter-culture revolutions took hold across Yugoslavia. After independence, the art boomed, as Ljubljana’s creatives could finally express themselves as they’d always wanted.
8. Get Artsy in Metelkova
You’ll quickly come to love Ljubljana’s creative side. While there’s graffiti and street art all over the city, you have to visit the Metelkova District to see where it all began!
Metelkova is Ljubljana’s foremost art district, where you’ll find extravagant murals, contemporary art, pop-up galleries, and much more. The entire district is effectively one giant art installation and creative center, and the galleries and venues are all located within what was previously a Yugoslav army barracks.
When Slovenia declared independence in 1991, the barracks were vacated, and groups of squatters moved in. Over the next few years, they transformed the military zone into a place for creatives, attracting the best artists and intellectuals in Ljubljana who could create what they wanted to after the fall of communism.
You can explore the galleries and artwork during the day, but when night falls, Metelkova becomes one of the best places in Ljubljana to party. This is where you’ll find live music, raves, and DJ sets almost any day of the week.
9. Spend the Night in a Former Political Prison
Spending a night in a former political prison is one of the most unique things to do in Ljubljana. This is an experience like no other, as you voluntarily spend a night behind bars at Hostel Celica.
Hostel Celica is found next to the Metelkova Art District, and after the fall of the Yugoslav regime, the prison was taken over by squatters. The new government threatened to knock the building down. Instead, it was saved, and it grew into what is now an art-focused hostel that preserved the past in an extremely unique way.
The former prison cells have all been repurposed into hotel rooms and dormitories, but each has its own unique design and theme. Every “cell” has been designed by a different artist, many of whom spent time in the prison itself before Slovenia gained independence.
Even if you don’t care to spend the night behind bars, you can still take a guided tour of the hostel and former prison. Hostel Celica also has a lively bar and cafe and hosts many events and music nights that travelers are always welcome to join in on.
10. Take a Scenic Hike to Smarna Gora
Are you looking to escape the city? Then look no further than Smarna Gora, a towering twin-peaked mountain that’s within hiking distance of Ljubljana’s Old Town.
Hiking to Smarna Gora is one of the best things to do in Ljubljana. On a clear day, you’ll not only have expansive views over the capital but far-reaching views across the Julian Alps. The highest point is 2,178 feet (664 meters) above sea level, and you’ll find a baroque church and a small cafe serving up refreshments waiting for you at the summit.
The quickest route to the top takes around 45 minutes from the trailhead in the suburbs of Ljubljana. Drive or take a local bus to a place called Tacen and follow the signs upwards. You can hike any time of day, but Smarna Gora is particularly popular at sunrise!
11. Gorge on Farm Fresh Food at Ljubljana Central Market
Ljubljana’s Central Market is elegantly perched above the river, and like many of the city’s most famous buildings, it was designed by architect Joze Plecnik. You’ll find the market between Dragon Bridge and Triple Bridge in the center of Ljubljana. It’s a beautiful building in a beautiful location!
You’ll find all the food and drink you could ever need in the Central Market. There are so many stalls that they spill out from the covered area to fill up the adjacent square.
The outdoor area is where you can purchase fruits and vegetables, which have been delivered fresh from the farms around the capital. On weekends, the outdoor section is often taken over by food festivals and street food markets offering a taste of international, as well as local cuisine.
Head inside, and you’ll find many stalls and shops selling traditional Slovenian goods. You can try cured meats, local cheeses, wines, and freshly baked bread. Arrive hungry, and leave with a newfound appreciation for Slovenia’s excellent gastronomy.
12. Hike or Bike the Path of Remembrance and Comradeship
Avid walkers and cyclists will want to tackle the Path of Remembrance and Comradeship, a long-distance trail that traverses the circumference of Ljubljana.
This unique, waymarked trail is 20 miles long, and because it’s a circular route, you can join (and leave!) at any point along the route. It’s easy to cycle the entire route in a few hours and very possible to hike (or run!) the entire trail in a day.
The path was designed to commemorate the many Slovenians who lost their lives during World War II. The route follows the defensive perimeter of barbed wire and bunkers that surrounded the city during the conflict, and you can learn more about this as you make your way around.
Once a year, on the first Saturday after May 9, there’s an organized remembrance walk that many in the city take part in. It’s a moving experience to be part of if your visit to Ljubljana coincides with the event.
13. Learn All About Ljubljana’s Master Architect Joze Plecnik
There’s no way you can visit Ljubljana without coming across the name Joze Plecnik (and yes, we have mentioned him a lot, already!). Joze Plecnik is the architect who designed and shaped Ljubljana into the city you see today. Wherever you walk in and around the Old Town, you’re walking in the shadows of his work.
Born in 1872, Plecnik worked in Vienna, Prague, and Ljubljana, and his influence can still be seen in all three European cities. It was in 1930s Ljubljana that he left his largest mark, and you can learn all about his life and his work by visiting the Plecnik House when you’re exploring the Slovenian capital.
This wonderful museum is where Plecnik lived while he changed Ljubljana’s skyline forever. You’ll find that many of the rooms have been left as they were, with the original furnishings that belonged to the architect still in place. The museum is a lasting memorial to one of Slovenia’s most impressive historical figures, and it’s one of the best places to visit in Ljubljana!
14. Enjoy the Views from the Top of the Ljubljana Skyscraper
Do you love a spectacular panorama? Then the views from the top floor of the Ljubljana Skyscraper were made for you!
This is one of Ljubljana’s most distinctive buildings, and at 70 meters in height, it’s also one of the tallest. The Slovenian name for the building is Neboticnik – which means skyscraper – and while 70 meters might not seem very high in the 21st century, when it first opened in 1933, it was the tallest building in what was then the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
It was a lavish undertaking for its time, and you can still admire the marble finishing and art deco staircases today. Many of the floors are residential, but make your way to the top, and you’ll find the Neboticnik Cafe, complete with a restaurant, nightclub, and observation deck offering expansive panoramas of Ljubljana.
15. Take an Unforgettable Day Trip to Lake Bled
No trip to Slovenia is complete without visiting Lake Bled. Given that Slovenia is such a small country, it’s incredibly easy to visit on a day trip from Ljubljana. It’s just over 30 miles from the capital to one of the most gorgeous lakes in Europe, and it takes just an hour to get there.
You’ll be awed as soon as you arrive because Lake Bled is surrounded by the high peaks of the Julian Alps and offers you a beautiful escape from the city. At the center of the lake, you’ll spy a small island, where a tall church spire rises above the water. You can rent a small rowing boat and land on the island, or you can simply admire the views from the shore.
You can walk or cycle around the circumference of the lake, which takes around an hour and a half to traverse on foot. Along the way, you can visit picture-perfect Bled Castle, see the former holiday home of Yugoslavian dictator Josip Broz Tito, and stop for a specialty Bled cream cake at one of the lake’s cafes.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Ljubljana. What’s your favorite thing to do in Ljubljana?
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