Talk about off the beaten path. Landlocked Ljubljana (pronounced “Lu-bla-na”), Slovenia, capital of this tiny nation the size of Massachusetts, isn’t a place many Americans visit. During the summer months, most locals leave the city and head for the beautiful beaches on the tiny Mediterranean coastal part of Slovenia. The city fills up with what few tourists exist, principally from Europe.
Most tourists arrive by train from Trieste, Italy. The only large port in Slovenia, Koper, a newish stop for some cruise ships, is about one and one-half hours away by highway. During the summer you have the city nearly to yourself and you can easily meet other interesting wanderers. For the timid traveler, this is a wonderful low-key place to experience Eastern Europe.
If you don’t mind cold weather and snow, one of the best times to visit Ljubljana is during the city’s hugely popular Christmas market. I got a taste of it when I visited the summer market, which is also quite nice. Interesting, year-round local specialties include a type of gingerbread that is made without eggs or oil. It is delicious. Also, honey combined with brandy is practical in Slovenian winters and scrumptious anytime. Merchants are happy to let you sample the goods. Handicrafts include brightly colored wooden carvings.
A river meanders through Ljubljana, and during warm months, boats take tourists on rides through its picturesque vistas from the water, or as locals say, “the frog’s view.” Four notable bridges can be seen from the riverboat or from street level. The Triple Bridge is touted as a main attraction, but it is really nothing more than an old bridge supplemented by two additional ones on each side. Cobblers’ Bridge leads to an area of the city where shoemakers used to congregate to do their work. Guess what the Butcher’s Bridge is known for? This is the bridge in town, like similar ones in many locations that lovers have chosen to place lockets on.
Finally, there is Dragon Bridge notable for the sculptures of dragons that decorate its entryways. If you are lucky (depending on your point of view), you might see locals on standup paddle boards on the river, enjoying a popular local warm weather outdoor sporting activity.
Town Hall occupies a prominent place downtown. The ground floor usually has some unique free exhibit about the town’s history. Down the street, the Cathedral offers superb frescos and bronze doors which is a feast for your eyes. Outside, the Cathedral the Central Market sells local produce as well as imported items such as bananas and pineapples.
Ljubljana itself has several main tourist attractions, primary among them is a nearly 1,000-year-old castle that sits atop a hill in the center of the old city. You can climb up stairs or take a funicular to the top. There are also many museums, a zoo and botanical gardens.
The unique thing about Ljubjiana is its recent city planning, which led to closing of most of the central city streets to traffic. A free minibus takes people where they want to go, but mostly people travel about on foot. Cars are further discouraged downtown by low cost parking options on the outskirts with free bus fare to downtown. For reasons like this, Ljubjiana has won awards as a uniquely green city.
Topping off everything else positive about Ljubljana, it is very inexpensive to visit without sacrificing any quality. The food offerings are delicious. I found coffee (and also cappuccino) for 1 Euro (about $1.20)! Slovenia borders Italy, and what we call Italian cuisine is as good as in Italy and just as popular. Expect to pay about 1 Euro for pizza.
In short, Ljubjiana is easy to navigate and most everyone speaks English in addition to the native Slovenian language. It’s not expensive and the many attractions lack long lines of tourists even in the high season.