Europe – Slovenia
Ljubljana –46.0569° N,14.5058° E
Castles… Dragons…Cobbled Streets
Why this location
When scrolling through her Instagram feeds 72hrJetsetterGirl was always in awe of the stunning pics of Lake Bled and added this destination to her ever growing wish/bucket list. Not sure where Lake Bled was; knew if was somewhere in the Balkans (she thinks) but if playing “who wants to be millionaire” 72hrJetsetterGirl would have had to phone a friend for the exact country, somehow not sure if her friends knew where Lake Bled was either! After a quick Google search, it was discovered that Lake Bled is in Slovenia near its capital of Ljubljana. Now how do you say that!
Making the Booking
Jumping on to Expedia 72hrJetsetterGirl snagged a 3 night adventure to one of the six member socialist republics of the former federated nation of Yugoslavia. Just a side note, Slovenia gained independence on 25 June 1991. This will be enough time for 72hrJesetterGirl to explore Ljubljana, Bled and the Slovenian coastline. 72hrJetsetterGirl did want to include a few days, more like a week exploring Croatia however due to work commitments, Croatia had to be added to the travel wish list which seems to grow and grow. Now time to explore Slovenia, not to be confused with Slovakia which used to be part of Czechoslovakia.
Unfortunately there are no direct flights to the petite capital city of Ljubljana (population of 282,000) from Washington, DC so 72hrJetsetterGirl had a brief layover in Zurich en-route to Slovenia which has a population of 2 million inhabitants.
Two hours after touching down in Ljubljana 72hrJetsetterGirl was getting acquainted with the city that has been crowned the “European Green Capital” on a walking and canal boat tour. Yes, there was an option to explore the city’s waterway via Stand Up Paddle-board. Mmmm 72hrJetsetterGirl gave this option a wide berth, as her last SUP experience ended in a very embarrassing fall from grace in the Caribbean. The canal boat tour will be just fine this time!
Medieval Centre Point
The small walking tour started where else but at centre of this very pedestrian friendly city – Ljubljana’s Town Hall. The town hall was first built in 1484 and rebuilt 1718 with the famous Fountain of the Three Carinolan Rivers (Robba Fountain) near by. When 72hrJetsetterGirl hears these dates, she really realizes that Australia is still a “newborn” country. The persevered memorials inside town hall provide a history lesson of Ljubljana’s past from its days under the rule of the Austrian Hapsburg Empire (hence why one of the favorite Slovenian dishes is schnitzel) to holding off an invasion by the Ottoman Empire in 15th Century. The only area of the Balkans that managed to do so. Sounds like a little country with a very big patriotic spirit!
Dome and Twin Towers
Next stop along the cobbled streets of Ljubljana was the Baroque style of St Nicholas’ Church (Ljubljana Cathedral) with its green dome and twin towers, which was erected from 1701 to 1708.
An unique feature of this cathedral is its bronze sculptured doors to mark 250 years of Christianity in Slovenia (1996). The front door is now named the “Slovene Door”.
Inside the Cathedral, frescoes of Giglio Quaglio adorn the ceiling, absolutely beautiful. Touring the cathedrals of Europe certainly gives 72hrJetsetterGirl a stiff neck as she always seems to looking to the heavens to admire the amazing artwork.
Leaving the Cathedral, the tour party made its way along the banks of the Ljubljana River and crossed over the triple bridge to Preseren Square, the heart of the city where everyone meets. This square is named after the great Slovenian poet, France Preseren, whose work “A Toast” is Slovenia’s national anthem.
Art Deco Influence
As 72hrJetsetterGirl is keen Art Nouveau fan, Preseren Square has two facades representing this architecture style. The Hauptmann and first department store in Ljubljana “Galerija Emporium” with its exquisite flower designed awning.
As Ljubljana can get quite warm in the summer months, in the centre of the square in front of the 17th Century Franciscan Church was a ground level water fountain that shot nice cold water into the air to cool the atmosphere, which is very popular with the city’s young children. However, 72hrJetsetterGirl was pretty keen to get a nice cool feeling as the day of her visit Ljubljana recorded one of its hottest day on record; a whopping 40 degC, for those who still use the imperial system around 120F. Yes southern Europe was experiencing a heatwave, but for an Aussie it was hot, but at least it did not have the humidity element.
Show must go onto
As the tour guide navigated the group under shaded alleyways, the next stop attraction was another square. 72hrJetsetterGirl came to the realization that Ljubljana could be also be named the City of Squares.
Under the shade of the trees, the walking group had a bird’s eye view of Ljubljana Castle sitting high up on the hill overlooking the old town. Congress Square, today one of the most important squares in the City, was reconstructed for the Congress of the Holy Alliance in 1821 (Just for the record Australia has been discovered by this time!). Once again the architecture of the building lining this square are very impressive – the Slovenian Philharmonic building, the seat of the University of Ljubljana and the Baroque Ursuine Church.
A short detour from Congress Square is the National and University Library. The home to the archives of medieval prints, was built between 1936 and 1941. This building is to be considered one of architect’s Joze Plecnik’s most important work in Slovenia. 72hrJetsetterGirl appreciated the different materials Plecnik used in his architecture masterpiece.
Crossing the Ljubjlanica River to the other side, the walking group meandered down a lovely cobblestone street, filled with open air restaurants and shops. The pedestrian friendly old town allows for the opportunity to wander around without worrying about being collected by motor scooters. Many Slovenians do ride bicycles to get around the city, however they are far more courteous than the pushbike riders of Amsterdam.
As 72hrJetsetterGirl was wandering with the tour around this part of the old town, she knew would have to come back and spend more time discovering the shops and taste the many ice cream stores along the way.
Canal Scenic Boat Ride
Time to rest weary feet and spend 30 minutes admiring Ljubljana from its waterways. The canal boat (yes very similar to the Amsterdam canal boats with its see through roof) provided a different perspective of Ljubljana.
During the tour, we cruised along the river passing under landmark bridges and getting a great photo opportunity of Preseren Square’s Franciscan Church and Hauptmann with the Triple Bridge in the foreground. 72hrJetsetterGirl will admit it was rather difficult getting a picture of all of the Triple Bridge. A photographic drone would be the best way to capture its uniqueness. However, you can always Google to get the picture – sorry for the punt!
As the boat made its way downstream along the Ljubjlanica River, the first bridge sighting was Cobblers’ Bridge. This bridge was constructed between 1931 and 1932 and designed by Joze Plecnik. it was formerly a wooden covered bridge linking Mestni trg and Novi trg Squares (more squares – see it should be the City of Squares). The bridge got its name as it provided space for cobblers workshops.
Making a gentle U-turn, the river boat headed upstream. The boat passed under the Triple Bridge, which is a special architectural feature of the city. The bridge is made up of an old stone bridge (1842) and two more bridges. Guess who was the architect of this bridge?? I am sure you know… Joze Plecnik. Designed in 1931, this bridge provides an elegant entrance to the Old Town of Ljubljana.
72hrJetsetterGirl was sitting back and enjoying the scenic boat cruise as the next overpass was Butchers’ Bridge. Yes, in the past this is where butcher shops were once located and today is the bridge of love, no pork chop in sight only padlocks. Constructed in 2000 countless lovers padlocked their love to the bridge and then drop the key in the Ljubjlanica River. Oh how romantic!
The iconic symbol of Ljubljana adorns the final bridge on the tour – Dragon Bridge. The famous dragon statues are located on each corner of the bridge. The bridge is considered to an extraordinary piece of technical heritage and a wonderful example of Art Nouveau architecture. Constructed between 1900 and 1901 it was Ljubljana’s first reinforced concrete structure and was designed by no not Plecnik, but rather Jakov Brdar.
Time to explore solo
After bidding farewell to the other tourists on the walk, 72hrJetsetterGirl made her way to the distinct symbol of the City for the past 900 years – Ljubljana Castle. As the temperature was hitting 40degC, 72hrJetsetterGirl opted for the funicular ride to the top. In hindsight, she could have walked as it was not such a steep incline, but the admission fee included the return funicular ride and admission to the tower.
The Castle, at first was a fort, then the seat of the regional governor and later a barrack and even a prison. Today, visitors can walk the circular staircase to the top of the tower for 360 panoramic view of Ljubljana. Yes, the cool breezes at the top were definitely well received on this scorcher of a day.
Nearby the funicular station, is Ljubljana’s Central Markets where locals meet and enjoy themselves. Unfortunately, by the time 72hrJetsetterGirl arrived the market was closing up. The market is an open air-market, covered market and a series of small food shops along the Ljubjlanica River. These markets are also referred to as Plecnik’s Covered Markets, as they are located in a colonnade designed by Ljubljana’s famous architect. You guess it Joze Plecnik.
Art Nouveau Find
As 72hrJetsetterGirl made her way back to her centrally located hotel in the Old Town city centre to refresh before heading out for dinner, she mistook a street, which proved to be a good thing and stumbled upon the Art Nouveau Miklosic street. This street was established 10 years after the earthquake of 1895 and is known for its Art Nouveau facades.
Ljubljana at Sunset
The ambience of the Ljubljana certainly comes alive with sunset approaching. The sunlight gleeing off the medieval building, friends meeting in Preseren Square, diners enjoying the summer time in the many open air restaurants along the Ljubljanica River, Ljubljana is certainly a hidden gem in Europe. 72hrJetsetterGirl joined in on the relax and social atmosphere of the City of Ljubljana and enjoyed a Slovenian pork dish, washed down with a Lasso beer and finished off with a chocolate and orange fondant ice cream. A great day was had buy all.
#FunFacts – Slovenia
- Only country in Europe that combines 4 diverse geographical regions – the Alps, the Mediterranean, the Pannonia plains and the Karst.
- Slovenia has one of the purest tap water supply in Europe and there a many water fountains located around the city to enjoy nice and cool drinking water – no need to purchase bottle water. Just bring along your water bottle and you are set. 72hrJetsetterGirl was certainly surprised how cool the water was from the fountains given the temperatures were around 40DegC mark.
- Everyone speaks English. 72hrJetsetterGirl had wondered if she would have trouble navigating around Slovenia due to the language barrier. She was very pleasantly surprised that everyone (shopkeepers, wait staff, people in the street) speak English – not issue what so ever. During a day tour 72hrJetsetterGirl commented this to her guide and was advised that there is no dubbing of television programs/movies in Slovenia which has helps the population to speak English.
Nuts and Bolts of this Hidden Gem Adventure
Why this destination?
- 72hrJetsetterGirl had not visited any of the Balkan countries and having seen so many gorgeous picture of Lake Bled it was time to explore this country.
- Ljubljana (yes it did take 72hrJetsetterGirl quite a while to get her tongue around pronunciatting this city) is certainly a very beautiful city to visit. However, given the size of the city, exploring Ljubljana can be achieved in one day, so plan activities accordingly, it is not like a Prague or Budapest where you need 2/3 full days to explore. 72hrJetsetterGirl had organized two full day tours from Ljubljana – one to Bled and another one along the Slovenian Coastline. (Blogs to follow)
- 3 nights, with 2 1/2 days for sightseeing. Departed Washington DC on Wednesday evening, arriving into Zurich Thursday morning with about 2 hour layover and then into Ljubljana around 11.30am. Departed Ljubljana very early on Sunday morning. A 7am flight to Munich with 4 hour layover before returning back to the US. Ljubljana airport is small and therefore not a big selection of flights available especially with a US connection.
- Shuttle to and from airport/hotel. 72hrJetsetterGirl had the shuttle to herself, about 40 minutes from Airport to city centre. 72hrJetsetterGirl’s hotel was located in the Old Town City Centre, could explore everywhere on foot. Most of the accommodation is located within a 5 minute walk from the city centre, with a few being 10 minutes away. There are no metro/subway services in Ljubljana, bus are available however 72hrJetsetterGirl did not experience any Slovenian public transport service. There is a train station, where intercity trains run from. 72hrJetsetterGirl felt very safe wandering around the streets of Ljubljana.
What to take
- Definitely check the weather guide before going as 72hrJetsetterGirl adventure occurred during an extreme heatwave. For females would not recommend wearing any form of heeled shoe as the cobble street makes walking a little bit more challenging. Casual attire would be more than approach.
72hrJetsetterGirl really enjoyed her time exploring Ljubljana. it is certainly a hidden gem in Europe. Locals are very friendly, English is widely spoken.
If you elect to rent a vehicle and go exploring outside of Ljubljana, 72hrJetsetterGirl does not foresee any major concerns with sign posting (main tourist attractions are well sign posted) and the highway network system is good. Traffic is fine except when roadworks are occurring or there has been an accident, yes the highway traffic does back up but that is no different to other cities. 72hrJetsetterGirl did organized small tours to Bled and the Slovenian Coastline and some of the side roads are a bit tight. The guide did take some back road to avoid highway traffic delays and it was nice to see local village life, however did not see any visible street/road names.
At this stage, the tourist bubble has not erupted in Ljubljana, so go now while the crowds are low. Tourists are certainly out and about exploring but nothing like the crowds of Prague, Milan and Budapest in the summertime. 72hrJetsetterGirl did not realize how close (ie driving) Ljubljana is to other popular European destinations – 2 hours to Venice, 1 hour to Croatia, 2 hours to Salzburg and 2 1/2 hours to Vienna just to name a few.
Slovenia is very economical for the dollar conscious traveller. Beer is the drink of choice, cheaper than soft drinks/sodas. A traditional Slovenian meal at a restaurant is generally priced somewhere between 9-12 Euros, tipping for wait staff is 10-15%. Ice cream is very affordable (meaning can have several serves per day – 1 large scoop of ice cream around 1.40 euro). Credit cards are widely accepted.
72hrJetsetterGirl would certainly recommend a stopover in Ljubljana for anyone visiting other Balkan countries, or as 72hrJetsetterGirl, had a 72hour adventure and enjoyed every minute of it.
When have you found a hidden gem?