Featuring a lovely historic center around a Venetian-like canal, lined with bars and restaurants, Ljubljana is a real gem of a city. Acknowledged as Europe’s first “green” city for adopting a pedestrianised center, the Slovenian capital Ljubljana is also so culturally rich it’s no surprise that it was voted number one in European Best Destinations 2022.
For 2022, Ljubljana is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest Slovene architects, Jože Plečnik, the designer of their city. His architectural imprint on Ljubljana has been compared to the impact Antoni Gaudí had on Barcelona. Landmarks that he designed have been recently included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. In designing Ljubljana, Plečnik tried to use modern approaches while modeling the city on ancient Athens. His innovative style features the use of classical architectural elements, such as pillars, lintels, balustrades and colonnettes, redesigned and combined in the master architect’s own special way. Jože Plečnik also designed many well known buildings in Vienna, Belgrade and Prague, including Prague castle.
What to See & Do
Quite plain on the outside, the exterior of J.Plečnik’s House belies the fascinating contents inside. The permanent exhibition in the Plečnik House focuses on the life and work of this great architect, while temporary exhibitions present Plečnik’s works and artefacts from the Plečnik Collection. Visits to Plečnik’s home are only possible with guided tours so check the website for details.
Ljubljana Castle on a hill above the city for about 900 years, is one of Ljubljana’s main attractions. The castle’s Outlook Tower and ramparts offer beautiful views while the castle houses a museum exhibition on Slovenian history, a puppet museum, plus several historical rooms such as the Chapel of St George and the Prison. Visitors can buy the castle’s very good wine produced in its own vineyard. And be sure to take the impressive modern funicular railway to the castle to enjoy views of the city while ascending. Designers Miha Kerin and Majda Kregar of the Ambient design studio won a Gold Medal for the design of the funicular railway at the 2008 Ljubljana Biennial of Industrial Design.
Along with the castle, a boat ride on the River that winds through the city center is a must. Try Barka Lea which you can pick up at the Butcher’s Bridge on the hour from 10 am.
Newly opened Cukrarna contemporary gallery dates back to 1828 when it was a sugar refinery and the city’s largest building. The impressive warehouse space now hosts temporary art exhibitions from international artists and a semi-permanent show of five Slovenian artists, Lia Perjovschi, Marko Pogačnik, Tobias Putrih, Miha Štrukelj and Andrej Štular.
If you visit in April during Ljubljana Fashion Week, tickets are available to the public. It’s a brilliant showcase of Slovenia’s established and fresh designers with some regional designers show too with brands and designers from Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Serbia, BiH, Czech Republic and Macedonia all presenting their collections. And this season, there was even a London-based Japanese designer.
The latest edition of the Ljubljana Design Biennial (the world’s oldest), organised by the Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO), is on until 29 September 2022. This year’s curator is British design consultant Jane Withers who has invited international designers to create imaginative responses to contemporary challenges such as water scarcity, waste and declining biodiversity. Hosted by Ljubljana’s Museum of Architecture and Design, the biennial is open Tuesday to Sunday with tickets 7 euros.
Where to Shop
There are plenty of independent design shops in the streets of the historic center. Check out designers like Princip, Kiss the Future and Made in Anselma who create handmade clothing upcycled from vintage materials. For an excellent manicure or facial, also in the city center, is Estetika Maja, kozmetični salon.
Where to Eat
For fine dining at its creative best, Chef owner Janez Bratovž’s restaurant is a visual and culinary delight. Launched in the late 1990s in a historic gem designed by Jože Plečnik, JB Restaurant was the first Slovenian restaurant to make the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and it continues to impress. The eclectic six and nine course tasting menus are based on the four elements of earth, water, air and fire, representing sweet, salty, sour and bitter tastes.
Slightly outside of the city center, Cubo’s Mediterranean-influenced menu features hearty pastas, excellent risotto and succulent leg of lamb. A popular choice with locals and worth a visit.
Kavarna Rog is a hip cafe with excellent food and a great vibe. It’s a top place for lunch, with great salads and burgers plus a fantastic cake selection (the baked cheesecake is incredible.)
For a lively atmosphere and fab cocktails, Nebo in the city center also has a good selection of seafood platters and Italian dishes.
Where to Stay
Grand Union hotel in the heart of the old town has always attracted well known politicians, actors, and royalty, even Queen Elizabeth II. With plenty of character, it dates back to 1905 and features lavish Art Nouveau architecture while also offering all the mod cons you’d expect from a four-star hotel.