Our trip to Ljubljana came at the end of a very busy time at my day job. To those who don’t know this fact about me, I work in the crazy world of advertising—highly notorious for toxic hours. The month leading up to our Slovenia trip was also the countdown to the World Cup and one of my biggest project deliveries of the year. In fact, the day before we flew out to Ljubljana, I clocked in an epic 16-hour day. I was texting and emailing my team up until the point that the flight attendant asked me—very sternly—that I needed to shut off my phone as we were about to take off.
I was a zombie when we arrived at Ljubljana airport; the exhaustion finally set in and I felt brain dead. I would have aimlessly walked around the airport if not for my husband who dragged me to the shuttle service stop right outside the Arrivals exit. My husband pre-booked the shuttle—a van that fit 8 people. The passenger list that evening included both locals and tourists. Three locals got off in various residential pockets of the city, and as we headed to Old Town, the tourists were slowly dropped off at various hotels. It appeared that ours was the closest to the Old Town as we were the last ones left in the van. I booked our stay at Vander Urbani Resort which is right by the banks of River Ljubljanica which cuts through the city of Ljubljana and the Old Town. Vehicles are only allowed to a certain point so we needed to walk to our hotel. With the driver’s directions—cross the bridge, turn right, then left—we entered Old Town Ljubljana. And what I saw, as we approached the foot bridge, wiped away all the stress/exhaustion/aches/tension that accumulated the past month.
Ljubljana, on that balmy Friday evening of our arrival, was an absolute beauty.
The city was abuzz with a Friday night crowd that included a good mix of tourists and, to my surprise, a lot of locals. I immediately noticed the many foot bridges that crossed River Ljubljanica and that it was actually quite small—not expansive like the Thames or the Seine. In fact, with the many lamp posts that lined each bank of the river, and the beautiful arched bridges reflected on the water, the river actually reminded me of the Prinsengracht, the canal in front of my apartment in The Netherlands.
As we made our way to our hotel, I caught myself feeling quite impressed that Ljubljana mirrored one of the most beautiful sights of a beautiful city like Amsterdam. I didn’t know that in the next couple of days, Old Town Ljubljana will, in an effortless and decisive way, remind me of the loveliest cities in all of Europe.
10:00AM: At the tourist office
After breakfast the next day, we headed out to the tourist information office which was located at the end of the iconic Triple Bridge some 200m away. Ljubljana in the daytime is even lovelier—sunshine and blue skies, the cobbled streets, the pastel-coloured houses flanking the river, the weeping willows grazing the water—it was a picture of a quintessential lovely day. At the tourist office, we found out that one day should indeed be enough to see the main attractions of the city. We booked a walking tour for the afternoon, and left the tourist office with a plan for the day.
10:30AM: Ljubljana Castle – in Lisbon & Prague?
We made our way up Castle Hill to see Ljubljana Castle—one of the most iconic symbols of the city. Being the highest point in town, it’s also said to give the loveliest panoramic views. There are three ways to go up: 1) take the funicular, 2) do a scenic, winding climb for about 20 minutes, and 3) do a quick but steep climb for around 10 minutes. I was lured to walk up the (steep) beautiful cobbled streets that led up to the castle. It reminded me of the climb up to Castelo de Sao Jorge in Lisbon which also had steep, cobbled streets along the way. But unlike Portugal where there was a steady stream of tourists climbing up, that morning in Ljubljana, it was just my husband and I walking hand-in-hand.
Ljubljana Castle is fairly small, but what it lacked in size, it makes up for in charm: vine-covered walls, manicured grounds, draw bridges, and a tower that gives spectacular views of the city.
From the view point, visitors can see the Ljubljana roofscape, the river cutting through the town, and even the mountains in the distance. The tiled roofs and river reminded me of the view of Prague from high up in the Cathedral. But unlike in Prague where we stood amongst a pressing crowd of tourists with their cameras, my husband and I were in the viewing deck with just a handful of people—each one lingering for several minutes, taking their time to breathe in the fresh air and take in the lovely view.
1:00PM: Lunch at Sokol’s – in Firenze?
We made it back down to the Old Town (this time taking the winding, leisurely route) just after 1PM. We chose to have lunch at Sokol–enticed by the long row of patio parasols in front of the restaurant where diners seemed to enjoy what’s on offer. Bordering Italy, Slovenia has a huge Italian influence. In fact, Italian, together with Slovene and Hungarian, is one of the official languages in the country. I guessed that this il sapore or Italian flavor will translate to good Italian dishes, so I ordered the pasta al tartufo (pasta with truffles)… and I guessed right. The dish was so delicious that it reminded me of the best black truffle pasta I had in our trip to Firenze. I was so impressed that I ended up ordering pasta al tartufo for every meal the next three days—lunch and dinner.
2:00PM: Walking tour of Ljubljana – in Vienna, Nice, & Prague?
Just before 2PM, we headed to the entrance of the Town Hall for our walking tour. The sun was at its peak and we found our tour group huddled by the cool, shaded stone steps of the building. Ours was a small group of 8 adults and 2 kids—quite intimate. Starting from the Town Square, our very animated and knowledgeable local guide took us to Ljubljana’s main attractions covering every topic from the city’s history, to the legends of dragons and Jason & The Argonauts, to art and architecture and the influence of Jože Plečnik and Francesco Robba, to the day-to-day life of locals in Ljubljana. For €10, we got an informative and engaging tour, and even had a stop at one of oldest restaurants in town to sample traditional Slovene sausages and desserts. To our surprise, it was at Sokol’s where we just had our lunch.
In the hour-and-a-half walking tour, we were able to catch Ljubljana during the sleepy hours of the afternoon when the sun was at its hottest. The streets were practically deserted as you will see from my photos below. And as the streets lay quiet for our viewing pleasure, it wasn’t hard to take notice of how the pastel buildings of the Town Square looked like a peaceful version of Prague’s very own Old Town. I took a good, long look at the pink and yellow buildings and swore to my husband that I’ve seen the exact same in the beautiful city of Vienna. And whilst we walked along the Central Market, I got an overwhelming déjà vu of being in Cours Saleya in Nice. In a span of an hour and a half, tourist-free Ljubljana gave me reminiscences of the loveliest memories from my travels around Europe.
3:30PM: Boat cruise along Ljubljanica River – in Venice and Amsterdam?
We ended our tour at the banks of Ljubljanica River where a small boat was waiting to give us a quick tour up and down the river. For the first time, I saw Ljubljana’s iconic Triple Bridge from the river. The pairing of the white bridge and the greenish waters of the Ljubljanica immediately put Venezia in my mind. For a fleeting moment, I was standing at the edge of a calmer version of the Grand Canal and staring at a teeny, tiny version of the Rialto Bridge. During the quick cruise up-and-down the river, we passed many bridges—each one of course with a story. Being on a boat passing under a beautiful arched bridge and waving at random people sitting at cafes by the water reminded me of the many canal cruises I’ve taken in Amsterdam with visiting friends.
5:00PM: Quick dip at the rooftop pool
At 5PM we were back at the hotel and cooling down in the rooftop pool. It had been a very hot day so albeit really tiny, the cool waters of Vander Urbani’s hotel pool right at the heart of Old Town was a much welcome respite. We lazed around for a couple of hours and started to prepare for dinner just as the sun was starting to set.
That evening, we had dinner at Aroma (spaghetteria & pizzeria) and made sure to pick a table right next to the river. We walked to Butcher’s Bridge but not without grabbing a couple of to-die-for pistachio cakes at Cacao Cafe. We sat down at Butcher’s Bridge and people-watched whilst having our dessert. We followed other couples walking hand-in-hand all the way to Dragon Bridge which is the end of the pedestrian section of Old Town then circled back.
By the time we reached Triple Bridge, we noticed a small crowd of tourists and locals have gathered around a small make-shift concert stage where Mark Ruffalo’s doppelgänger is performing with his guitar. Before long, a makeshift dance floor was created and the little clusters of friends have started to dance with each other. To the side of the stage, a group of friends decided to simply lie down (yes, on the street) and watch the stars in the clear night sky whilst listening to the music. At another side, spectators just stood and watched—unconsciously bobbing their heads to Gin Blossoms’ Hey Jealousy. A bit away from the stage and the crowd, my husband and I leaned by the Triple Bridge, ice cream in hand, listening to the music, and completely smitten by the beauty, the flavours, and the overall vibe of lovely Ljubljana.