Meaning ‘beloved’ in Slovene, Ljubljana may be somewhat smaller in size than her capital contemporaries, yet thanks to her rich history and popularity amongst the student fraternity, the city abounds in cultural charm and cosmopolitan vibrancy and is well worth taking the time to explore.
Often described as an undiscovered ‘mini-Prague’, Ljubljana is a city resplendent in Baroque and Art Nouveau splendour, sitting on the banks of the Ljubjanica River, overlooked by an imposing hilltop castle – Ljubljanski Grad – which has served in its time as a former royal residence, prison and army barracks. Visitors can take a funicular ride up to the castle which offers wonderful views over the city and surrounding region.
Symbol of the city, the dragon dominates the aptly-named and rather impressive Dragon Bridge, built in 1900-1901 and unquestionably one of the city’s best examples of Art Nouveau architecture. Along with the Triple Bridge, a strategically important crossing point connecting the north-western European states with south-eastern Europe and the Balkans, Dragon Bridge (formerly known as Jubilee Bridge) is best appreciated on a cruise along the Ljubljanica, essential on any visit to Ljubljana.
From an architectural, archaeological and cultural perspective, be sure to take in the palatial City Museum of Ljubljana (MGML); the National Gallery, Slovenia’s foremost museum of historical art containing the largest fine art collection in the country; and the National Museum of Slovenia, a 19th-century neo-Renaissance palace, home to a wealth of archaeological treasures, including a 55,000-year-old Neanderthal flute. Literally right at your feet meanwhile, many remains of the Roman city of Emona are on view through the streets of Ljubljana.
Situated between Vodnikov trg and the architecturally-rich Pogačarnev trg squares, Central Market is a great place to meander and take in the vast array of locally-produced goods on offer (closed Sundays), not to mention some of the most attractive architecture in the city. Here, you’ll also find the Prešeren Monument, paying homage to Slovenia’s greatest poet, France Prešeren. Another essential photo stop is the Robba Fountain (also known as The Fountain of Three Carniolan Rivers), one of Ljubljana’s best known Baroque monuments, standing at the edge of the Mestni trg square where you’ll also find the 15th-century Town Hall.
If you’re looking for a spot of respite after all that architectural appreciation, why not turn your attention to the greener areas of the city? Tivoli Park is Ljubljana’s largest and most beautiful park, covering some five square kilometres and stretching right into the city centre. Designed in 1813, the park offers three tranquil tree-lined walks along which you can appreciate landscaped flower beds, statues and fountains. Established in 1810 meanwhile, the Ljubljana Botanical Garden is Slovenia’s oldest cultural, scientific and educational institution and offers offer 4,500 different plant species, one third of which are endemic to Slovenia.
If that’s not enough to whet your appetite, today sees the start of Ex Ponto, the 20th International Festival of Performing Arts (running from the 1st to the 8th of September) taking place in Ljubljana, considered one of the major international theatre festivals on the Slovenian cultural scene. Alternatively, if basketball’s more your thing, why not support Team GB at Eurobasket 2013, a European basketball tournament running from the 4th to the 22nd of September? Ljubljana is one of four Slovenian hosts to the competition, the grand finale of which takes place at the Stozice Arena in the city.
Be it architecture, performing art, basketball or green spaces, whatever the reason for your visit, a short break in Ljubljana is sure to leave you captivated by her countless charms.