Why go now?
The balmy summer air brings everyone out into the Baroque streets and riverside cafés of Slovenia’s jewel-like capital. It’s like walking into the most civilised street party in Europe, with the bonus of exquisite architecture and top-notch cuisine.
Until 28 September, the Ljubljana Summer Festival (ljubljanafestival.si) runs a varied programme of classical concerts, opera, ballet and theatre in venues around the city. On a different note, there’s techno, blues, retro pop and club nights during the Gala Hala Summer Stage festival at the Metelkova Mesto (1) alternative culture centre (metelkovamesto.org) until 31 July. And on 28 August, the Biennial of Graphic Arts kicks off, with three months of projects, exhibitions and events across the city (mglc-lj.si).
Looking further ahead, the city will be Europe’s Green Capital 2016, taking up the mantle from Bristol (ljubljana.si/en/green-capital).
Ljubljana’s airport is 27km north-west of the city and is served by easyJet (0330 365 5000; easyjet.com) from Stansted, Adria Airways (00 386 1 369 1010; adria.si) from Gatwick, Southend and Manchester, and Wizz Air (0911 752 2257; wizzair.com) from Luton.
The shuttle bus from the airport to the bus station (2) costs €4.10, runs hourly and takes 50 minutes. Shared transfers can be booked with companies such as GoOpi (goopti.com) for about €9pp. Taxis cost between €40 and €45.
Get your bearings
The Ljubljanica river curves through the city, with the pedestrianised Old Town on its eastern bank dominated by the medieval Ljubljana Castle (3).
Three linked cobbled squares, Ciril-Metodov Trg, Mestni Trg and Stari Trg – more like wide streets than squares – follow the old medieval layout of the city to Gornji Trg.
On the western bank of the river is the cultural centre of the city, with the university (4), the Philharmonic Hall (5), one of Europe’s oldest, and the main square, Presernov Trg (6). The main tourist office (7) is by the Triple Bridge at Adamic-Lundrovo nabrezje 2 (00 386 1 306 1215; visitljubljana.com; open daily June to September, 8am to 9pm, to 7pm, October to May). Here, you can buy the Ljubljana Card, which gives free entry to museums, public transport and bike hire, plus various discounts. From €20.70 for 24 hours.
A few steps away from the river at Krojacka 6 is the chic Vander Urbani Resort (8) (00 386 1 200 9000; vanderhotel.com) run by a friendly Australian- Slovenian couple. Along with stylish rooms is a rare sight in Ljubljana: a rooftop plunge pool. Doubles from €109, B&B.
Cubo (9) at Slov-enska cesta 15 (00 386 1 425 6000;hotelcubo.com) has sleek modern décor in light-filled rooms. Doubles start at €130, including breakfast.
Hotel Park (10) is a solid budget option at Tabor 5 (00 386 1 300 2500; hotelpark.si). Rooms are simple but come with a few perks including free yoga. Doubles from €50, with breakfast.
Take a hike
Start at the tourist office (7), where just to the east is the Central Market (11) (weekdays 6am to 6pm, Saturday to 4pm). In front is the marble Triple Bridge – designed, like many of Ljubljana’s landmarks, by its celebrated native son, Joze Plecnik. It leads to Presernov Trg and the distinctive pink Franciscan church (12). From here, you can wander down pedestrianised Wolfova street, which goes past the plane trees of Kongresni Trg and handsome Baroque buildings, including the Philharmonic Hall (5).
Veer left towards the graceful columns of Cobblers’ Bridge (13) – another Plecnik production – into the Old Town and Stari Trg. If you turn right, you reach Gornji Trg whose low buildings have a more medieval feel. Turning left at Stari Trg brings you to Mestni Trg and the town hall (14). Carry on until you reach the Central Market (11) where, halfway along, you can spot the lovelock-infested Mesarski bridge over the Ljubljanica river towards a string of busy bars.
Lunch on the run
Grab some freshly cooked fish from one of the food trucks at the Central Market (11) – especially Ribica at the furthest end, which claims to sell the best fish in town. It’s not far off its boast. Generous plates of deep-fried whitebait cost €5.
Turn right on to Ciril-Metodov Trg and at No 15 you’ll find Klobasarna (15) (00 386 51 605 017; klobasarna.si), makers of the traditional kranjska sausage (€3.50-€5.90).
Check out the one-off boutiques in Stari Trg, including the creative handmade glass jewellery by Barbara Germ (16) at No 12 (00 386 1 425 4662; steklobkg.com). If you have a few days spare, have couture-style knitwear custom made for you (€130 to €800) by the family-run Draz (17) at Gornji Trg 9 (00 386 1 426 6041; draz.si).
Take a view
Ride the funicular from Krekov Trg (18) to Ljubljana Castle (3) (00 386 51 381690; ljubljanskigrad.si) and climb the 95 steps of the 19th-century Outlook Tower for panoramic views. A ticket to the castle via the funicular costs €10 and includes visits to the exhibition of Slovenian history and the puppet museum. Summer opening hours are from 9am to 11pm; times at other months vary.
The pull of the riverside bars is irresistible. Try the waterfront terrace at Solist Bar & Bar (19) (00 386 41 323 263; solist.si) at Kongresni Trg 10, where an Aperol spritz is €3.20.
Head further down the eastern bank to Tozd (20) (00 386 40 699453), a fun retro-themed waterside bar at Galusovo nabrezje 27, where you can try local craft beers, such as Human Fish, for €3.50. The bars along Petkovskovo nabrejze get very lively at happy hour (which is actually two hours, 5- 7pm), including Premier Pub (21) at No 17 (00 386 1 430 5231) for beers at €2.40.
Dining with the locals
Tucked away in an alley off Wolfova street at Copova 5 is As Restaurant (22) (00 386 1 485 8822; gostilnaas.si), which lives up to its name, meaning “ace”. On a beautiful garden terrace you can taste extraordinary dishes such as monkfish wrapped in octopus tempura for €25.
In an elegant 1920s building on Miklosiceva 17 near the train station, chef Janez Bratovz runs one of the city’s best fine-dining experiences at JB Restaurant (23) (00 386 1 430 7070; jb-slo.com). Here, the humble egg yolk is transformed into a wonderful dish with pork crackling and puréed parsnips for €10.
Traditional Slovenian cuisine is served in the cosy interior of Spajza Restaurant (24) at Gornji Trg 28 (00 386 1 425 3904;spajza-restaurant.si) or its courtyard garden. The creamy salt cod with truffles (€10) is the highlight.
Cruise control: a boat on the Ljubljanica (Adam Batterbee)Day two
Sunday morning: go to church
The twin-towered Cathedral of St Nicholas (25) (00 386 1 234 2690; lj-stolnica -rkc.si) is a splendid example of Baroque architecture, with ornate frescos by Giulio Quaglio. The sculptured bronze doors were an eerie addition to mark Pope John Paul II’s 1996 visit. Open daily, 10am to noon and 3-6pm, with services through the day.
Out to brunch
Indulge in a late breakfast from 10am till 2pm on Sundays at Cajna Hisa (26) (00 386 1 421 2444), a relaxed tea house with outdoor tables at Stari Trg 3. Ease into the day with a dish of fried eggs, ham and cheese for €4.80.
A walk in the park
Covering an area of about 5sq km, Tivoli Park (27) is Ljubljana’s largest green space and a cooling place to escape the heat. Chestnut trees line the avenues of the 19th-century gardens, which include an open-air art gallery, a café and a lake.
Take a ride
Attractive, handmade wooden boats make leisurely return trips along the Ljubljanica river every hour from 10am to 7pm.
Rides take 45 minutes and cost €8 (free for children) from the quayside at the bottom of Dvorni Trg (28) (00 386 41 386 945;barka-ljubljanica.si). As the boat heads south, it’s not long before it’s enveloped by a lush green landscape.
The National Gallery of Slovenia (29) near Tivoli Park at Presernova cesta 24 (00 386 1 241 5418; ng-slo.si; Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 6pm; €5) tells the story of Slovenian art from the 13th to the 20th centuries.
A few minutes’ walk away on Muzejska 1, the National Museum of Slovenia (30) (00386 1 241 4400; nms.si; daily 10am to 6pm, until 8pm on Thursday; €6) explores the country’s past including Neanderthal and Roman artefacts. A joint ticket for €8.50 gets you into the Natural History Museum (same opening hours, €3) in the same building.
The icing on the cake
There’s a Friday feast every week from March to October at Pogacarjev Trg beside the Central Market (11). From 8am until 8pm, the Open Kitchen Food Market (odprtakuhna.si) turns the square into a huge gourmet hotspot as dozens of local restaurateurs set up stalls in the open air.