Ljubljana- The Cutest European Capital You Can’t Pronounce

Ljubljana is completely unreal.  As in, it literally does not seem like a real place. It’s too clean, too pastel and too nice- kind of like if Disney decided to build a European capital and give it a whimsical unpronounceable name. Except that unlike Disney, there’s actual character lying behind the sparkling façade.

Even the train ride into town was surreal. After the hot June air of Belgrade, the soft greenness of Slovenia was a refreshing splash of water. For the past few weeks in Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro I’d been struggling to process the harsh contrast between beautiful people and wrenching destruction. Right away I could tell Slovenia was different. While it was also a part of the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia managed to untangle itself from the genocidal mess with barely any violence at all. It was, and still is, the wealthiest of those states, and the only one that is a part of the EU.

After a sweltering 12 hour train ride, I spent my first 24 hours In Ljubljana wandering in aimless, disoriented awe, blueberry gelato in hand. It’s a tiny place (less than 300,000 people) but it’s also a microcosm of everything you would expect an old world European city to be.

Here are a few things that make Ljubljana such a tiny gem:

 

Gorgeous Architecture


I’m not a building buff, but I know beauty when I see it, and the old town of Ljubljana was full of it It’s a distinct mix of Baroque and Art nouveau architecture with intricate details, all in a palette of pastels. You would never ever guess this country used to be communist- none of those Eastern block style apartment buildings squat here. The centerpiece of the old town is the elegant Triple Bridge designed by Jože Plečnik, which seems to be a meeting place for beautiful young Slovenians.

Café culture

One of my favorite things about Europe, and the Balkans in particular is the enjoyable activity of doing nothing. A slew of pleasant little cafes lie along the banks of the peaceful green Ljubljanica river (bonus fact: Ljubljanica literally means “loved nicely”). You could sit in the shade all day with a coffee or a beer and watch the covered boats drift down the river.

Romance


I don’t just mean for couples (although it was the perfect spot to reunite with my boyfriend after three weeks apart). Whether exploring the back alleys, stumbling upon the weekly flower market or strolling along the river at night with the buildings lit up around you, there is a certain level of enchantment to the city, which is enervating.

 

Ljubljana Castle


Like Ljubljana itself the castle is small, tidy and pretty. It’s a true medieval castle dating back to the twelfth century (with older ruins scattered around). Perched on top of a large hill in the center of town, it’s visible from basically anywhere. It’s a hike up the hill but there are great views of the orange roofed city.

 

The Ljubljana Dragon

Every good fairytale city needs it’s own dragon. According to legend Jason and the Argonauts passed nearby on their way to the Adriatic. Near the city Jason fought and killed a monster- the dragon that is now the symbol of the city. Representations can be spotted all around the city: on the coat of arms, on t-shirts and on the famous Dragon Bridge.

While beautiful, Ljubljana is a tiny city, and it only took a few days before restlessness started to creep in. I spent a week total in Slovenia and was continually amazed by the sharp contrast between it and the rest of the former Yugoslavia.

(And for the record it’s pronounced lyoo-BLYAH-nah.)

86 thoughts on “Ljubljana- The Cutest European Capital You Can’t Pronounce”

  1. Hello Steph,

    First of all, I love your blog! It’s lovely. My question is one of a sensitive nature. I was hoping to visit Ljubljana this month because I heard that it’s so very beautiful. However, I read a review about a girl who suffered a terrible ordeal at the train station where a neo-nazi spat in her face. As a woman of colour, that terrified me. I was just wondering if you know much about how accepting Slovenians are and if it is indeed a racist country. thanks so much!

    1. Worry not hon. As far as I know this is an isolated example, only proving that stupid people exist around the globe. I myself have once suffered under the boots of these “people”, so if you’re looking for a risk-free place, scratch this planet altogether. As far as the rest of us go (and I’ve been around for quite a while), I’m pretty sure that the rule has been confirmed by this exception. Enjoy your stay, and let me know how it was. Should you so desire you can contact me for additional info or (since I work as a guide) a lookaround.
      Cheers

    2. Yikes! I’m afraid I don’t know much about that (I’m extremely pale and blonde) but I have read that neo-nazism is on the rise in Europe generally. I would guess it’s not an issue specific to Slovenia. Even so I’m confident that this sort of thing is extremely rare. Slovenia is a pretty cosmopolitan Central European country and I’m sure that lots of people of color travel and live there. Sorry I can’t be more help!

  2. I move to Ljubljana in September as part of a year exchange studying graphics/illustration at your university!! words cannot describe how much i am looking forward to living here. It looks utterly break taking.

    1. Great stuff, really! And what the Duck? I disagree with what he/she is trying to pass on as a general sentiment. I was born in Ljubljana and I proudly see it as the Balkans, though I don’t live there for years now. I don’t care about my (current not de facto) nationality, it is contingent I believe. What I do care is the beauty of this geographical area. Cheers to all willing to enjoy the nature and the people more than some bickering on whether it is more german or more slavic!

  3. A lovely read. Ir really made me long for my hometown as I’ve been away for quite some time now… The only thing I would like to add here is that while the article is beautifully written, words and photos can never quite do Ljubljana justice enough. Its unique beauty and charm simply have to be seen and experienced. Just make sure you visit during late spring, summer or early autumn as this is when it’s at its most captivating. 🙂

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