You would be forgiven for not knowing where Ljubljana is. Or that it’s the capital of Slovenia. Or how to pronounce it: Loo-blee-yah-nah. I didn’t know any of these things until Ljubljana appeared on my itinerary for a recent European tour. After the brief stopover in this charming, little capital (with a population of only 300 000), I can highly recommend a visit.
The old town is relatively small, so it’s easily walkable, which is convenient if you’re only visiting for a short period of time. I joined a free walking tour which departed from the steps of The Franciscan Church of the Annunciation(also known as the Pink Church). In Prešeren Square in front of the church is a statue of the square’s namesake, Prešeren, a Romantic Slovene poet who’s central to the country’s cultural history. From here the tour crossed the famous Triple Bridge, designed by Joze Plečnik, to replace the single wooden bridge that originally crossed the Ljubjanica River, which flows through the centre of the city.
The tour then took us through the Greco-esque columns of the central market place, another of Plečnik’s projects, where shoppers can buy fresh produce, meat products, flower,s and baked goods during the week. Since it was Sunday, the market was closed, but there was a beer and burger festival taking place and the delicious aromas were irresistible. An aside: I selected a gourmet burger that was literally overflowing with tasty toppings: crispy bacon, cheese, bourbon mayonnaise, onion marmalade, and pear slices. A little on the pricey side at €7, but well worth it.
Two other important bridges in the city are the Butchers’ Bridge and the Dragon Bridge. The former is a more contemporary, unveiled in 2010, and features two glass panels on either side, providing pedestrians with a view of the flowing river below and enabling them to feel more connected to nature. The bridge also features a number of sculptures by Jakov Brdar and is lined with thousands of padlocks, attached to its railings by couples promising each other an eternity of love.
The Dragon Bridge, guarded by two imposing dragons on either side, is probably the most famous in the city. The dragon is an important symbol of protection, power, and greatness in the city’s mythological and cultural history. You’ll also find countless souvenirs featured with it.
The National and University Library was another fascinating stop on the tour. Considered to be one of Plečnik’s most important works, the exterior of the building resembles a carpet, with the red bricks and limestone made to look like a woven tapestry of red and white, while the top of the building is adorned with ripples to recall the tassels of the carpet.
The interior was designed to symbolise a student’s journey through academia, with a dark entrance hall (representing the darkness of ignorance), an imposing staircase (to represent the hard work a student must put in to reach enlightenment), and finally four massive windows that allow light in to the reading room, representing the light of knowledge.
After the tour concluded, I took a funicular to Ljubljanski grad (Ljubljana Castle), located on a hill top in the city. You can also walk up the hill, but if you’re a little tired the €4 funicular ticket is definitely value for money. The castle is more than five centuries old and is described in the official visitors’ guide as “a powerful fortress, a city symbol, the most visited tourist attraction in Ljubljana, a green oasis above the city, a venue for diverse cultural experiences and unforgettable gatherings…”
The viewing terrace offers visitors panoramic views of the city below and opportunities for stunning photographs, especially around sunset. Parts of the castle are free to explore, including the courtyard (featuring a coffee shop and restaurant if you feel like a drink and a bite to eat). St George’s Chapel, the museum of puppetry and the penitentiary, while other sections like the Viewing Tower, require an entrance fee.
I concluded my time in lovely Ljubljana by taking a leisurely stroll through the cobbled streets of the old town, its bars and cafés filled with locals and visitors all enjoying the more laid-pack pace of the city. Ljubljana is a city with a rich history, an undeniable charm and an unassuming ethos that makes you pause and say “yes, life is good.”