The Slovenian capital offers much to tempt the city break stalwart.
If you’ve done Prague and already been to Budapest, visited Vienna and taken in Krakow, chances are you’ll be thinking you’ve exhausted the classic city break destinations of Central Europe. Yet there is one stunning destination that quietly sits alongside its neighbouring city contemporaries, smaller in size yet which packs plenty of punch when it comes to the short break essentials – Ljubljana.
Often described as an undiscovered ‘mini-Prague’, Ljubljana – ‘beloved’ in Slovene – is a city abundant in Baroque and Art Nouveau splendour, where historical richness and a contemporary cosmopolitan culture happily co-exist. Meaning ‘beloved’ in Slovene, Ljubljana resides on the banks of the Ljubjanica River and, named after the city’s symbol, the turn-of-the-20th-century Dragon Bridge (Zmajski Most) is one of the city’s best examples of Art Nouveau architecture. It’s also, thanks to its four imposing dragons standing sentry on either bank, one of Ljubljana’s most popular and photographed landmarks.
Another photo essential is Triple Bridge (Tromostovje), linking the Old Town with Prešeren Square. This bridge formerly served as a strategically important crossing point connecting the north-western European states with south-eastern Europe and the Balkans. Today, boasting attractive stone balustrades and lamps, Triple Bridge remains one of the city’s most distinctive and striking landmarks.
Mentioned above, Prešeren Square (also known as Prešernov Trg) lies at the very heart of Ljubljana and serves not only as the connecting point between the Old Town and Centre District but as a favoured meeting point for both locals and tourists alike. Renowned for its architectural splendour and bridges, particularly the Baroque-style, pink Franciscan Church of the Annunciation, the square is dominated at its centre by the Prešeren Monument, paying homage to Slovenia’s greatest poet, France Prešeren.
Meanwhile in the heart of medieval Ljubljana, Mestni Trg is a charming and atmospheric square abounding in character and history. Lining the cobbles you’ll find glorious Baroque buildings, rebuilt following the 1511 earthquake and today playing host to the Town Hall, City Art Museum and the photogenic Lichtenberg and Souvan houses. In addition, you’ll find the Robba Fountain, also known as The Fountain of Three Carniolan Rivers, situated here, one of Ljubljana’s best known Baroque monuments.
Another Ljubljana star attraction is the hilltop castle, Ljubljanski Grad, to give it its official title. Dating back to the early 16th century, the castle has served in its time as a former royal residence, prison and army barracks and today plays host to a number of permanent exhibitions including Slovenian history, 310-million-year-old fossil rocks and the prison wing of the castle. What’s more, visitors can take a tourist train or funicular ride up, all the while taking in the wonderful views over the city and surrounding region beyond.
Other Ljubljana essentials? The Central Market of course, a bustling and colourful riot of vendors, produce, local shoppers and milling tourists. Visit on a Wednesday and the market turns organic, visit on a Sunday and it will be closed! Whilst you’re there, you won’t fail to miss the striking 18th-century Cathedral of St Nicholas, dedicated to the patron saint of fishermen. Modelled on the church of Il Gesù in Rome, the Cathedral is renowned for its green dome yet it’s the interior which boasts a wealth of decorative treasures, from pink marble and white stucco to exquisite carvings and stunning frescoes. And of course, as you explore the streets of Ljubljana, you’ll literally be walking on the remains of the Roman city of Emona.
Last but by no means least, as you put your explorer’s hat to one side for a few moments, take time to relax in the very lovely Tivoli Park, Ljubljana’s largest and arguably most beautiful park reaching right into the heart of the city centre.