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Ljubljana is the capital and largest city of Slovenia, which doesn’t make it particularly large – the population runs around 300,000, of which 50,000 are reportedly college students. It’s a rather charming, cheerful place that’s great for a long weekend getaway. We visited for Christmas, and really enjoyed the festive crowds, the entire old town packed with places to stop for a cocktail. Very family-friendly.

The historic center is pedestrian only, which is delightful. A major earthquake in 1895 did significant damage, and the forward-looking town leadership at the time took advantage to modernize the infrastructure (plumbing, sewers) during the rebuild process. According to the local history museum, the city was not hurt badly during the wars (at least architecturally; the people did less well), so the city you see today is rather well preserved and coherent. 

We ate and drank well – Slovenian wine is excellent, and the food is quite diverse and well executed. Pricing wise, it’s very reasonably priced for a European city (not cheap, but comparable to countryside France). People are friendly and generally speak English.

If you were to consider visiting, give it three days, including a day trip to the Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle. Lake Bled is optional – it’s fine, but not particularly unique. I think anything less would be too rushed, and just walking around the town for a few hours would miss its most charming elements. Our fourth day waiting to head home was too much, we ran out of things to do.

Transportation Notes: flying was easy (1:15 from Zurich), but we were told many people opt for the overnight sleeper train. There’s no Uber, and taxis are expensive – it ran about 70 Euros into Ljubljana. Traffic getting into the city was quite bad, and we were told driving around the country (summer especially) can be quite a slow experience, while the roads are in good shape, there are not many of them.

Museums & Activities

We covered a lot of mileage around the city, from Park Špica in the south (where reportedly you can see nutria, but we did not), to the Tivoli Gardens in the West, to Metelkova Art Center in the North. The museums are all what Galen described as “museums for people who hate museums” – reasonably compact, easy to digest, enough points of interest but not at all overwhelming. They were all also quite empty, weekends included.

  • **Tivoli is quite lovely – it’s a quiet getaway from the traffic surrounding the town, and quite huge (we didn’t make it incredibly far, just to the Mednarodni Graphic Arts center).
  • *Ljubljana Castle was a dud in my opinion – very expensively restored, but without much to see. I’d skip it as a tourist stop, but consider a meal in one of the several restaurants on site (book in advance).
  • *Metelkova Art Center is reportedly “graffiti-laden but entirely safe and welcoming.” We went mid-afternoon and found the nearly empty squalor just far too depressing and gritty (unfortunately not entirely empty, with a smattering of hard-drug users in various states of lucidity about). The description: Once a complex of barracks for the Austro-Hungarian and, later, Yugoslav armies, it is now home to bars, nightclubs and a former prison-turned-hostel. Its new life began as a squatters’ settlement on 25 June 1991, the day Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia. In 2005, Metelkova became part of a national cultural heritage list, but it remains on the edge of the law – raising its own funds, largely through concerts.
  • **Mestni muzej Ljubljana, the city museum, is a nice stop. On the top level, you can see the oldest wheel and axle in the world, and a variety of art on and from the region. In the basement, there’s an exposed archaeology site of roman finds directly there, and from surrounding buildings.
  • The **National Gallery was our favorite of the museums – a larger and quiet beautiful space, and a collection with many moments of beauty. Paintings and sculpture.
  • **National Museum of Slovenia, displays historic exhibitions – a timeline of habitation in the area, back to prehistoric times. The building also has a small Natural History museum, with collections circa 1850. It’s famous for its 60,000 year old flute (which is pretty remarkable).
  • Shopping: this article was useful for trinkets and local stuff; stores were clustered in a central area. https://wanderinghelene.com/slovenia-souvenirs-buy-local/. On the higher end we were excited to see the flagship Rogaška store (didn’t realize it was Slovenian) – beautiful crystal.

Restaurants

  • **Cantina Mexicana was definitely better than expected. It wasn’t amazing, but better than most Mexican we get in Switzerland, and the setting is good. Quite large.
  • **Jaz by Ana Ros was good – a fun night out. The menu is creative, the setting glamorous, service quite friendly. I appreciated the emphasis on natural and biodynamic wines. It wasn’t as good as JB, but they’re clearly going for something less formal. Prices were very reasonable. (NYT on Ana Ros)
  • **JB Restaurant was very good: “elegant dishes highlighting the natural flavors of local ingredients.” It was high end, formal, well-plated, excellent friendly service. Wine pairings were super.
  • LANDERIK appears on a lot of recommendation lists – they were closed for the holidays.
  • Wine bar Šuklje comes up a lot with recommendations for flights, tastings. We didn’t make it, but it’s a pretty spot, looks worthwhile.
  • **Zlata Ladjica Restaurant is a slightly reluctant two star rating. It’s quite good, and the setting is elegant, but the food is not particularly unique – it was a well executed version of a meal I could have in California, France, Switzerland – lots of places. Wine suggestions were not great, nor was the service (it was Christmas eve, they were short staffed). 
  • The riverside cafes are fairly similar in appearance, but the food is variable.
    • **Balthazar is high end, good cocktails. The place just to the south of it is far less appealing, everything in paper cups.
    • **Central Burger House has excellent burgers, with a big outside patio overlooking the river. 

Lodging

  • AS Boutique Hotel looked appealing for a very modern, new spot. It lacks the riverside location we liked, but it’s very central and would likely be quiet.
  • Zlata Ladjica Boutique Hotel appeared to be the nicest, and most expensive, hotel option. It’s a pretty building in a great location. After our meal there, I’m not really sure the service justifies the premium pricing, I’d try AS or stay at the Vander again next time.
  • **Vander Urbani Resort – where we stayed. Our room was great – a corner room with windows all around, big comfortable bed, excellent location right next to the river. Quiet, despite being right in the middle of the action. Breakfast was generous and the restaurant quite good, excellent wine recommendations and creative, more regionally-themed food.