Ljubljana, the capital and largest city of Slovenia is what our fellow day tripper described as “Europe’s best kept secret”. And he had just finished travelling around every country in Europe. He’s right too, it is genuinely one of our favourite countries to visit in Europe. And we’ve been to quite a few!
We spent three nights and three and a half days in Ljubljana in October 2017, the fourth stop on our Interrail holiday after three days in Bern, Switzerland. It felt like just the right amount of time to experience the variety of sights that Ljubljana has to offer including the Old Town, lakes, castles and caves.
How to get there
We caught an overnight sleeper train from Zurich at about 8:45pm, arriving in Ljubljana around 8:15am. The rooms are small but all you really need is a bed so with Harry on the bottom bunk and me on the top wearing a belt to avoid falling out, we managed to get some sleep. Perhaps me more than Harry as he described the journey as feeling like we were winding up and over mountains. Expect to pay a reservation fee for the sleeper additional to your Interrail ticket which for us was around 70 euros each.
Where to stay
Don’t stay at Hostel Sleeping Beauty. We booked on the booking.com website and their rating was almost eight out of 10. Do yourself a favour and look at other review methods like Google and TripAdvisor. The reason we booked it was because it’s in a good location, it’s cheap and includes breakfast. Total cost €150 for three nights including city taxes. But unfortunately it is not very clean and despite the friendliness of the staff working there, their English is not very good so they were not able to tell us tips on things to do in Ljubljana. Also while their location is good, so are many others given that Ljubljana is quite small.
Things to see and do
Ljubljana was a pleasant surprise for us. There was much more to see and do than we realised. You’ll need at least two days to see the suggestions below, ideally three days at a more comfortable pace.
- Lake Bled and Postojna Cave full day tour with Roundabout Travel which includes Predjama Castle
- Free walking tour to learn the history from a local and get your bearings
- Walk around the Old Town at your own pace and admire the architecture by Jože Plečnik
- Dragon Bridge, built in the beginning of the 20th century when Ljubljana was part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy (that Habsburg family again!)
- Ljubljana Castle and the views of the Old Town as you walk up the hill
Where to eat and drink
- Klobasarna for the best carniolan sausage paired nicely with a Cviček wine
- Centralna Postaja (Central Station) for cheap food and musicians playing live on local radio
- Kavarna Mačkon café for their coffee and graffiti covered café
- Čolnarna café by the lake at Tivoli Park when the sun is shining
- Open Kitchen street food markets on a Friday during summer
- Local Union brewery for an unfiltered beer
- Park Café on the shore of Lake Bled for original bled cream cake
Note: horse meat is common in Ljubljana.
- Recommended budget minimum €250 for two people over three full nights and days
- You can walk everywhere as Ljubljana is quite small and there are no cars allowed in the centre
- The easiest way for us to remember how to pronounce Ljubljana was ‘loo – blah – nah’
- Ljubljana is close to other countries including Austria, Croatia, Italy and Hungary so if you’re interested in visiting those countries and have time, you could visit them in the same holiday
Day 1 – Free Walking Tour
We arrived at around 8:15am on our sleeper train from Zurich and decided to walk to our hostel as it was only about 10 to 15 minutes away. The hostel wasn’t open yet (due to open at 9am) so we took a seat out front of the nearby café Kavarna Mačkon and warmed ourselves up with a coffee. The streets were quiet and it was nice to peacefully observe and take in our surroundings.
Unfortunately our accommodation at the Sleeping Beauty hostel was not so enjoyable. Our travel style is generally quite basic and anything nice is a bonus. This place whilst basic felt unclean and uncomfortable. Examples include the bed with no mattress protector or fitted sheet, bin full of water dripping from the roof on the tiny balcony with no view, blinds pinned onto the bracket instead of properly installed and regularly running out of toilet paper in the communal bathrooms. I’ve never experienced bed bugs but if I was going to I felt like this would be the place! Thankfully not except for a scratch now and then because of the thought of it.
Instead of staying at our hostel any longer than we had to, we headed straight to the free walking tour. It started at the Franciscan Church which is the pink building on the main square known as the Prešeren Square because of the Prešeren monument of a poet from Slovenian history. The square is surrounded by beautiful European architecture similar to Vienna and Prague and the three bridges by Jože Plečnik. During the walking tour, the guide will point out the most famous architecture by Jože who had a big impact on not just Ljubljana but also Vienna and Prague. See the connection?
On the walking tour we learned that after World War II, Ljubljana became part of Yugoslavia until Slovenia became independent in 1991. Ljubljana’s history even includes being a capital of an Italian province. Told you it was close to Italy! At the end of the tour we gave our guide a tip and asks for some tips of our own, places for lunch. He suggested the mushroom soup at a place called Six and when we eventually found it, it looked a bit fancy for us! But, the mushroom soup is delicious and reasonably priced. The only reason our bill got bigger is because you may as well try some Slovenian wine while you’re there, especially when your walking tour guides tells you that in the past, almost all of Slovenian wine was made to be consumed domestically with only a small amount exported. Another glass? Yes please!
After a nap in the afternoon to keep us going for the evening, we did some grocery shopping for an early breakfast the next day and to save money. Once we were done there was still a bit of sunlight left so we took a stroll down to the Old Town waterfront, on the lookout for a place to eat or have a drink. There are lots of restaurants to choose from though it is a popular area for dinner so they were all quite busy. Instead, we decided to try a burger and local Union beer back near our hostel at Centralna Postaja which in English is ‘Central Station’. If you’re on a budget and like a hipster vibe, give this place a try. We’d left it a bit late to go there so it was a bit quiet but we promised ourselves we’d go back during our stay in Ljubljana.
Day 2 – Day tour to Lake Bled, Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle
Today we had an 11 hour tour with Roundabout starting at 8:30am and returning at 7pm. The first stop was Lake Bled where from the edge we stepped onto a large wooden row boat. Once we’d all boarded the boat and waited to see if any other passengers would be joining us, a man physically rowed us along using oars at the back of the boat. The view was stunning at this time of day and we could see Bled Castle on the hill and the island with a church on it getting bigger as we got closer. After the short time we needed to walk around the island, we found the café with lots of cake to try. We chose a traditional Slovenian cake called Potica and after sharing a piece, returned to the boat.
That fairytale castle up on the hill was our next stop. It’s a medieval castle overlooking Lake Bled and the oldest Slovenian castle. The views from here were my favourite in all the land. I mean, Slovenia. It really does feel like a fairytale with cobblestone pathways and orange coloured turrets. We explored the different areas of the castle with our free time before finding the others back at our meeting spot.
Back down the hill our guide showed us the way to the Park Café where we tried the famous original Bled cream cake. If we were judges in a cake competition and Potica and Bled cakes were in the finals, Bled would be our winner. They make it strictly to the original recipe which dates back to 1953. It’s big enough to share between two people and is made up of puff pastry on the top and bottom and cream in the middle.
Next stop was Predjama Castle, a castle built sometime around the 12th century into a cliff face cave. It looks like it is part of the rock. The rooms are restored so you can see how Knight Erazem lived there back in the day before the bats took over. As part of the tour you’ll hear about the Knight’s war with the famous Habsburgs and how being betrayed by one of his servants resulted in his final moments sitting on the toilet.
Apparently there are secret cave tunnels from Predjama Castle, which wouldn’t surprise me after seeing the Postojna Caves next. The Postojna cave system is so deep that you catch a train into the cave for around 10 minutes before you even start. We got pretty excited along the way as the stalactites and stalagmites that surrounded us looked so impressive. Turns out we hadn’t seen anything yet! We got off the train to walk inside and the guides shared their knowledge about the caves and pointed out the most marvellous formations. Although pretty crowded with tourists this place is a must see. Photos don’t do it justice.
After our tour bus arrived back in Ljubljana at 7pm, we headed to a sausage place called Sokol which we thought was the best sausage place in town recommended by our walking tour guide. It wasn’t, but it was still a nice restaurant for dinner to end the day over yet another glass of wine. Oh and the food was pretty good too.
Day 3 – Markets, the REAL best sausage in town and a walk around Tivoli Park
Our hostel included breakfast next door at Skuhna so we took our coupons next door to see what was on offer. This was the highlight of our accommodation. It was basic food but with African flavours and a concept of providing employment for migrants to help them integrate into society. We eavesdropped on other tourists having breakfast there as they talked about what they’d already seen and what else they were planning to see.
Despite our eavesdropping we still didn’t have any set plans for the day so after breakfast we headed towards Ljubljana Castle. Along the way we found some street markets called Open Kitchen and decided we’d go back there for lunch. The walk up to the castle is steep but doesn’t take too long and the views are worth it. It’s free to go inside the castle except for the tower which our walking tour guide said didn’t have a better view, so we didn’t bother.
Before returning to the Open Kitchen street markets we found the REAL best sausage place called Klobosarna so had to stop and try it along with the Cviček wine, which is a light red colour. They DID go well together so that was yet another helpful tip from our guides so far. Anyway NOW it was time to weave through the markets and make another food choice for lunch. Don’t you just love holidays?! Harry had a burger with a black bun and I had a fried banana sandwich with chicken and vegetable fillings from Skuhna. Yep! The same place as breakfast earlier today. Their food is delicious and whilst breakfast is usually my favourite meal of the day, the lunch choice was my favourite. We also tried another local beer called Human Fish which was actually started by an Australian.
Full of food we decided it was time for more exercise so we walked over Dragon Bridge, made a quick stop at our hostel and continued onto Tivoli Park. Apparently there are bears in Tivoli Park and while others were probably trying to avoid them, as animal lovers we were intentionally looking for them. Instead there were lots of mosquitos and path options that made us feel like we might get lost if we continued and the sun was already starting to go down. So, we made our way out of the park from our current location within the park and came across Čolnarna café by the lake. It was still quite busy so we decided to join the many others and have a drink overlooking the water as the sun went down. This place would be buzzing on a sunny day.
For dinner we walked through the Old Town to a restaurant called the Second Violin. Another tip from one of our guides and another with a community project concept, this time employing people with disabilities. Unfortunately the veal ragout I ordered which came in a soup seemed to have a second type of meat that tasted so terrible I couldn’t physically eat the rest. Hopefully it wasn’t horse! The place gets good reviews and being recommended by a local guide must normally be good, so don’t let that put you off giving it a try if you want to. We all have different taste buds!
Day 4 – More breakfast at Skunha, lunch at Central Station and train to Zagreb
It was our last few hours in Ljubljana and we spent them having breakfast at Skunha, wandering around the streets one last time and having lunch at Central Station before catching the train to Zagreb. It was a glorious sunny day and we were feeling grateful for our time in Ljubljana.
Ljubljana was our favourite country so far on our three week inter railing holiday. Could our next few days in Croatia top that?