For anyone wishing to fly like the wind (or a Dragon) to the beautiful country of Slovenia, and more specifically its capital city Ljubljana, my travel guide will explain everything you need to know before you go. You’ll learn a bit about its history, mythology and some practical travel tips to make your journey a breeze.
A Little About Ljubljana
Capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana is a bustling, thriving city with a wealth of historical heritage and culture. Already the Green Capital of Europe in 2016, it has taken enormous steps to encourage both pedestrian and biking access in its beautiful city center. Ljubljana itself means “the beloved”, and is famous for its architecture and atmosphere that is both Central European and Mediterranean. Originally settled around 3900 BC by Lake dwellers, it later became the Roman city of Emona in 14AD, before being settled in the late 6th Century and referenced by name in the 12th.
Photo by Gilad Rom under the Creative Commons License
It’s famous for the Triple Bridge, designed by noted Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik, whose presence is felt throughout its many streets and buildings. Its castle, set high above the city on a beautiful hilltop, offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and beyond. It’s wonderfully preserved and stylishly updated for modern times, offering an extensive overview of Ljubljana’s rich history. From there you may just catch sight of a Dragon, a symbol which has become synonymous with the city.
Photo by Ville Miettinen under the Creative Commons License (feature photo)
The Legend of the Ljubljana Dragon
The city is famous for its Dragons which you can read more about here. But to be brief, it’s the story of a Greek hero who, with the aid of his warriors, kidnapped his lover, a barbarian sorceress. They came to the Ljubljanica River, home to a legendary river monster, AKA the Ljubljana Dragon. It was here they realized the water was too shallow, that they would have to dismantle their ship and settle on the banks through winter. So they built a village right in the middle of the Dragon’s hunting ground. Continue reading here and find out how the Dragon was slain.
Travel Tip: There’s a tour at the Ljubljana Castle called the Time Machine Tour. It brings you face–to–face with the man otherwise known as St George, the Dragon slayer. The tour also features many reenactors who help bring the history of the castle to life, from its early Roman settlers, to prisoners interned from World War I and political prisoners post Napoleon.
More Myths in Slovenia: There are myths from every town in Slovenia. There are even legends of unicorns (ask a tour guide and you’ll find out plenty on this) mythical and magical favorite!
Photo by Lorenzo Magnis under the Creative Commons License
Practical Tips to Know
- On foot: The city is very easy to walk around thus, you’ll want to wear comfortable walking shoes.
- On wheels: The (free and electric) Kavalir bus service will take you most places if needed.
- Ljubljana card: I would highly recommend buying one, in order to gain free access to the cities museums (of which there are plenty) and public transport for areas not covered by the Kavalir. They are readily available from the Tourist information centres, and offer additional benefits covered here.
- Drinking water: Should you grow thirsty, drinking water is safer than bottled. Go to one of many of Ljubljana’s charming and quirky fountains to fill your personal bottle. One particular fountain feeds a long channel with artifacts resembling faces lining its surface. NOTE: these are only open during winter.
- River Cruise: The Ljubljana River can be toured by boat for around €5.00, although this may vary by operator.
- Open air concerts: There are plenty of free concerts ensuring entertainment options are never in short supply.
- Funicular: Ljubljana Castle can be reached quite easily by the Funicular which acts a lift, bringing you up and down the Castle in a very efficient way while taking in the spectacular sights of the city beyond.
Photo by Artem Marchenko under the Creative Commons License
Things to do in Ljubljana (with Extra Tips for Winter)
- The BTC City: One of the largest shopping centers in Europe, offering all sorts of interesting gifts, foods, and delights, all of which can usually be bought at discounts prices with longer opening hours available during the festive time of the year. During Winter: The Land of Ice, an exhibition of unique ice sculptures also features at the center, which is visited by the figures of St Nicholas, Father Christmas, and Grandpa Frost, providing entertainment and enchantment for the whole family. Travel Tip: Festive lights and events in Ljubljana go through January 3.
- Tours: A number are available, on which one can see the statue of France Prešeren, a famous poet whose toast is now the national anthem. You can find a great list of tours in Ljubljana on their visitor’s site.
- Food: The markets in the area are plentiful, and are especially busy on a Saturday, with much good and fresh food to be found. The variety of restaurants is quite extraordinary. Many offer good food within a reasonable price and within good walking distance of most attractions in Central Ljubljana. Both Marley and Me and Ribca (a fish restaurant on the river), offer excellent meals for less than €20.00. The view from Ribca is particularly enchanting. Opposite my own hostel there is a bakery (Ava Roma) with coffee shops nearby and the Festive Fair itself offering all kinds of quirky and interesting food.
- The Cat Village: This quirky cafe offers good tea or coffee for the price of a few Euros. What makes this place unique is its feline companion’s intermingling and generally having free roam of the place, offering a relaxing and sometimes amusing alternative to your average cafe.
- Museums: The city has a rich variety of museums to visit; including the City Museum of Ljubljana, which possesses some beautiful displays showcasing original Roman ruins and the worlds oldest wheel. The National Museum of Slovenia also contains a 60, 000-year-old Neanderthal flute, thought by some to be the oldest musical instrument in the world. Well worth a visit all in all.
- Castles and Mansions: Ljubljana Castle, Polhov Gradec Mansion and Bogenšperk Castle all offer immense appeal and are well worth a visit. Polhov Gradec Mansion possesses a rich history of solidarity with its people and botany of the finest kind. Bogenšperk Castle lies further out from the city and boasts an incredibly well-preserved structure with many interesting artifacts and tours.
- Souvenirs: A variety of shops exist near the Slovenian Tourist Information Centre offering a wide range of gifts for the discerning traveler. After all, who wouldn’t want their own Dragon as a reminder of Ljubljana’s myths and legends.
Special Holiday Events in Ljubljana
The city is lit up by the Festive Fair and Christmas lights display with all manner of colorful lights, people and creativity filling the streets. The festive atmosphere is palpable as Dragons peer silently with a cold and constant gaze, lending a magical air to the place. Restaurants and bars cater to this magic serving traditional dishes of yesteryear alongside more modern food enterprises such as McDonalds.
The Christmas lights display comes courtesy of famous local artist Zmago Modic, whose designs now represent objects from the macro verse to the wider universe beyond, forming a visual feast that has to be seen to be believed.
Kongresni trg (Congress Square), is transformed into a fairy tale forest with lanterns adorned with quirky items offering a magical and almost homegrown feel to the place. Close to Congress Square is Trg Republike Square where the Moonalith sculpture (by Martin Bricelj Baraga) provides interactive fun, showcasing the constellations and the effect people’s movements have on them.
Mestni Square close to the Town Hall is where you will meet “the Good Fairy“ known to grant wishes should you wish to enter further into magical realms of wish-fulfillment.
Where to Stay in Ljubljana
Budget-Friendly: There are many different hostels available in the local area (for those on a budget) and most are centrally located for those who wish to get to places of interest easily. I stayed in Hostel Tresor, a former bank now converted stylishly into a unique accommodation spot. They also offer a complimentary drink in the Sokol restaurant, famed for its local cuisine.
For those seeking a hotel, The Best Western Hotel Slon is very close by and offers a fabulous breakfast which I sampled while there.
Manchester Airport in the UK runs regular Airbus services to Venice, whereby a GoOpti shuttle service can take you directly into Ljubljana, and in my case, a short walk away from the hostel I was staying in. Manchester is centrally located and can easily be reached easily by train from most destinations in the UK. It also has direct flights from Dublin. Of course you can do this from London as well, a main hub for international travelers from New York City, Boston, Atlanta, Miami and Ft. Lauderdale (to name a few).
Whether you’re planning to visit for the holidays or any other time of year, Ljubljana is a top city to visit. It’s a place where the environment takes precedence, where history and heritage (and even honey) are celebrated and where there’s no shortage of great food or things to see. Voted Europe’s “Green City of 2016”, it’s a place where bike riding is encouraged, walking is pleasant and holidays are festive. Guarded by Dragons and home to legends, Ljubljana is truly a magical place to be for myths and wonder.