7 Things to do in Ljubljana: The City Americans Never Heard of or Know How to Pronounce

I will admit that I’m one of those people who sometimes fulfill those stereotypes of Americans that we all try to avoid. You know, the ones that travel to foreign places, get a little boisterous (thanks, alcohol), and then manage to show their complete ignorance of contemporary international issues and culture (#Murica). When I arrived in Ljubljana (pron. Loob-lee-ya-na), Slovenia not only could I not even pronounce where I was going, but I also did minimal research on the city itself with the intent of getting local suggestions and eschewing the guidebooks. Thankfully, the people are incredibly hospitable and willing to tell you all about their town and country. But as a visitor, most importantly, there are many things to do in Ljubljana. Here are the top seven.

The symbol of the city. Green Dragon

View of the city again
View of the city from Ljubljana Castle

Take in iconic Ljubljana Neighborhoods

The city is small, for a capital, but still got a lot of diverse movements within. From the hipster artists to the upscale bankers. There’s a little bit of everything, no matter your preference in characteristics of a city unless you like constant crowds. For me, and most other travelers, there are two neighborhoods to focus on: Metelkova and Old Town.

View of the city from Ljubljana Castle
View of the Old Town from Ljubljana Castle

Like most European cities there’s a large, old part of the city near downtown where a castle sits on top of a hill and gothic style statues adorn bridges, crossing peaceful rivers.

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One of the bridges crossing the Ljubljanica River

Tour Ljubljana’s Markets

This river’s also lined with bars and restaurants (like most of the other European old cities). The central market also has an array of events from your traditional farmer’s markets to the art market that happens every Friday. There’s Austro-Hungarian architecture lining the cobblestone streets. What makes the place more unique is its proximity to everything not only within the city but also the rest of the country. Also, the fact that cars are banned from the city center makes it a relaxing place to saunter around.

Example of Austro-Hungarian architecture that lines the old town. With a view of Ljubljana Castle ath the top of the hill
Example of Austro-Hungarian architecture that lines the old town. With a view of Ljubljana Castle at the top of the hill
View of the castle courtyard and more of the city
View of the castle courtyard and more of the city

Catch a View (or Exhibit) at Ljubljana Castle

In the day, the best thing to do is take the trolley up to Ljubljana Castle and check out some of their museum exhibits (Torture, clock tower, and history of the castle’s usage).

Iron Maiden in the Torture Museum at Ljubljana Castle
Iron Maiden in the Torture Museum at Ljubljana Castle

Have a Picnic Outside Ljubljana Castle

Grab a few beers and view the whole city in the park surrounding the castle confines.

Closer look at Ljubljana Castle
Closer look at Ljubljana Castle

Hit the Clubs or Grab a Beer Along the Ljubljanica River

At night, you have two options depending on your preferences for a drinking scene. There’s hitting up the bars that line the Ljubljanica River. They’re probably the trendiest places in town and range from your pubs with large terraces like Cutty Sark to dance clubs like the famous Klub Cirkus. There’s a full range to choose from, and you can go all night if you want.

Old Town Square
Old Town Square

Party in the Cyberpunk Playground – Metelkova

The other option is the rougher around the edges Metelkova. The former military prison lives up to its original image; if you replaced guns with graffiti and soldiers with punks and metalheads. When you enter this part of this city, it’s like moving from this little Central European utopia to a scene from a Philip K. Dick and Hunter S. Thompson lovechild novel.

Metelkova mesto v Ljubljani, 6. septembra 2013 http://www.delo.si/assets/media/picture/20130908/Delo_Foto-20130906212525-38256500.jpeg?rev=1
Metelkova Mesto

Metelkova has got a lot more metal, piercings, and tattoos; but the locale has still got a beguiling atmosphere to people from all walks of life. The bars and clubs therein mainly consist of sticky plywood bars with tallboy cans stacked in mini fridges below. The people are friendly, and it was never packed to the brim.

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Outside is the middle school playground for adults you dream of in your cubicle.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f8/Metelkova_(13044694433).jpg/640px-Metelkova_(13044694433).jpgSource

There are sizeable freestanding metal structures that you can climb and relax with a view over the old barracks. There’s a three-story shell of a house held together by plywood, metal rods, and seemingly spray paint – not to mention a see-saw and other random equipment. It’s a great place to hang out for a night in a less judgmental environment. Not to mention the art on the outside of these bars and music venues vary from psychedelic – to surreal – to absurd.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/7/6182/6125579118_778d2209b3_b.jpg Outside of one of Metelkova's bars
Source Outside of one of Metelkova’s bars
https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7556/15274454814_3dd867a162.jpg Example of graffiti in Metelkova
Source
Example of graffiti in Metelkova

The music on the inside can include jazz duos all the way to noise rock spliced with some EDM/trance/trip hop.

What the sidewalks around Metelkova look like
What the sidewalks around Metelkova look like

Take a Class or See an Art Gallery in Metelkova

During the day in Metelkova, there are art galleries, studios with lessons on things like dance, painting or video editing, and even some non profit organizations. After one of these classes (most are for children, but there are some drop-in ones for adults) you can go to one of the many cafes and sit around drinking coffee until the night comes and you do it all over again. Also, you can just use Ljubljana as your home base to visit the other wonders of Slovenia. Like its alpine lakes, views, and hikes in the Julian Alps, or massive caves. Don’t just limit yourself to the city, but if you’re forced to, then you still have at least a few days you can keep packed.

The Slovenian way to spend an afternoon without coffee
The Slovenian way to spend an afternoon without coffee

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