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.


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.)

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

  1. Great post! I think you hit the head on the nail. Ljubljana is a uniquely gorgeous and vibrant city. My mother is Slovene, so I had the fortune to live and work there for five years and had some pretty unforgettable times.

    Ljubljana has become quite international and diverse since achieving its well deserved independence in 1991. What you may not know is that Slovenia represented only 10% of Yugoslavia’s population, yet produced over a third of revenues for the entire Federation. Slovenians are well known in the States and elsewhere around the world for being smart, hardworking and innovative.

    I put together a Best of Slovenia photo collage on my Two Halves blog: http://thetwohalves.com/2011/09/best-of-slovenia-photo-collage/ that includes photos of Ljubljana, have a look. Glad you had a great time!

  2. Nice to see so great articles about my country. You are welcome to visit also the other parts of country not only Ljubljana and Bled. Also eastern part with 17 spa’s, with Maribor as European capital of culture and city where is the oldest wine tree in the world (more than 400 years old) growing, with nice Pohorje hill with mountain wellness and good point for adrenalin addicted people and not to forget Ptuj the oldest Slovenian town…so then you can imagine how is to live in country where you can in 240 km come from sea over Ljubljana, wine growing regions to Panonic basin and taste good food and very good wine in slovenian wineyard regions. Welcome!

  3. In which language exactly Ljubljanica literally means “Loved nicely”?

    quote: “(bonus fact: Ljubljanica literally means “loved nicely”). ”



    1. Most likely some Slovene tourist guide’s little joke. I’ve heard these tourist guides explain to people on several occasions the “Ljubljana-ljubljena” theory, even though it’s got absolutely no etymological backing.

      But that’s tourism for you. Most romantic tourists will also know the Venetian “bridge of sighs” for some love-related story, in spite of its actual naming history being a much crueller tale. 🙂

    1. First of all…this is an amazing article…u made me realize as someone said before…u just opened my eyes again…because I was born there and I am definitely going back, but in the meanwhile I forgot how beautiful it is…
      Second of all…why are u people so obsessed with Balkans and not Balkans….who cares???We are not Austrians, we are not Germans, nor Russians….we are from the Balkan area (whether it exists or not)….I am proud to be a Slovenian… a person who know how to enjoy and relax after a hard day at work….
      My opinion is that you people should just relax!The girl wrote a beautiful article about our capital and please just leave it be….Discuss ur unresolved issues about Balkans and what the name of the city should be somewhere else…Create ur own forum where u can express all your frustrations without causing depression to the rest of us…such a Slovenian thing to do!

      1. If you would have read our comments carefully, you’d notice we were all very pleased about the blog post and the kind attention Ljubljana is getting. Thumbs up for that.

        If you feel you are from the Balkan area, then you, of course, have the right to that opinion. But, please, do not pull those of us that are proud to be central-european Slovenians there with you.

        If you like Serbian or Dalmatian music, burek and tchewaptchitchi, by all means, enjoy them, they’re nice. 🙂 It is also your right to not know history well and be as opinionated as you like. Just don’t be judgemental if some of us prefer central-european composers like Gallus, Mozart, Dvorak, Liszt, the architecture of Plecnik, Hundertwasser, Podrecca, and central-european foods form Czech knedli, through Viennese Sachertorte, to Slovene prsut, zganci and kranjska sausage and do not like to be associated with the Balkans, which according to any serious evaluation, is really a “political” term, associated with countries of ex-Yugoslavia. And while Slovenia WAS a part of ex-Yugoslavia, that is not ALL it was. It was and still is also many other, historic, fun and interesting things.

        And that is the only reason why some of us object every time our Western colleagues refer to Slovenia as Balkans. Slovenia has very little to do with what Balkans mean to Westerners. Balkans there mean mainly chaos, war, destruction, irrationality, etc. Apart from nice nature and some warm people very few positive connotations. Is that how you like to imagine Slovenia? I would hope not.

        Have a very nice day.

  4. a legend said that when a virgin pass a dragon on the dragon bridge it will hit her with its tail 🙂
    Cheers from Ljubljana

  5. who cares already about the balkans and austrians,,,we were probably here before either came along…steph wrote a really lovely article about our town and you’ve got nothing better to do but talk about something that only has any relevance if you want it to be important…

    1. Hi, I am from Slovenia but I have been living in Asia for a year and a half now and you made me miss home for the first time… I especially miss drinking coffee by the river and talking with my friends for hours 🙂
      I am glad you enjoyed it and have a great trip!

  6. Ljubljana is nice little town. Not like Zagreb (Croatia) but very nice. I always enjoying go there. Girls are also very beatiful there. Must see

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