Ljubljana is like a mini-Prague, offering elegant central European charm and a medieval core peppered with several attractive bridges, and maze-like streets full of Baroque and Art Nouveau edifices. While the city boasts a few quality museums and galleries, its real charms lie outdoors. We’ve been to the Slovenian capital twice and fell in love with its zestful outdoor cafés, alternative culture, and youthful vibe. One day in Ljubljana accords you ample time to see the best sights in the city. Here are our recommendations on the 15 best things to do in Ljubljana in one day.
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How to Get Around Ljubljana
Ljubljana is a relatively small city and walking is definitely the best way to get around town. Most of Ljubljana’s historic sights are located in the Old Town, squeezed between Castle Hill and the Ljubljanica river. It’s unlikely, but if you don’t want to walk to get to the further lying attractions, you can use Ljubljana’s efficient and cheap city bus network. You’ll need to first purchase a stored-value magnetic Urbana Card and load money on it to travel on buses. Urbana Cards can be bought from ticket machines (Urbanomats), newsstands, tobacco shops, gas stations, and tourist offices. A single journey costs 1.20 EUR and is valid for 90 minutes, allowing you to change as many buses as you want.
Ljubljana’s mostly flat terrain, designated bike paths, and car-free center make it a great place to explore by bicycle. The best way to rent a bike is through the free city bike-share system BicikeLJ. You just have to register for a 1 EUR weekly subscription before picking up your eco-friendly bicycle at any one of the 40 odd bike stations around the city. Alternatively, you can rent a bike at the tourist information center on Krekov Square (2 EUR for up to two hours, 8 EUR for the whole day).
Taxis are another alternative to getting around the city, though it’s unlikely you’ll be needing them. There are several taxi companies to choose from, but Taxi Ljublana is probably the safest bet. Ordering a taxi by phone will be cheaper than flagging one off the street.
Your One Day in Ljubljana Itinerary: 15 Best Things To Do in Ljublana
This itinerary covers most of the important sights in Ljubljana. For your convenience, this post includes a free map of the top sights in Ljubljana. You can find addresses of the attractions by clicking on the icons on the map. We understand that everyone travels at a different pace so feel free to choose the destinations according to your own pace. The earlier you start your day the more time you’ll have to see the attractions. Below we have compiled a list of the best things to see (or eat) in Ljubljana in one day:
- Try Traditional Slovenian Pastries
- Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church
- Tivoli Park
- Gaze at Some Beautiful Art Nouveau architecture
- Triple Bridge
- Wander Around the Old Town
- St. Nicholas’s Cathedral
- Ljubljana Central Market
- Traditional Slovenian Lunch
- Ljubljana Castle
- Dragon Bridge
- Slovene Ethnographic Museum
- Metelkova Mesto
1. Try Traditional Slovenian Pastries
When spending one day in Ljubljana it would be a sin to not try some traditional Slovenian goodies. Start off your day by heading to the delightful Zvezda Cafe, one of the very best cafes in town. You can sample delicious Slovenian cakes and pastries like gibanica (Slovenian dessert pie with layers of filo pastry, poppy seeds, spiced apple, walnuts, and cottage cheese) and kremšnita (vanilla custard cake, whipped cream and two thin layers of puff pastry) here. I highly recommend that you try Potica – a highly popular festive rolled dough cake traditionally stuffed with walnuts and baked until golden brown. Fillings of potica are not limited to nuts, but can also include cottage cheese, raisins, poppy seeds, and even chocolate. Stick to the traditional nut based one, it is absolutely scrumptious!
2. Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church
The beautiful Saints Cyril and Methodius Church is a Serbian Orthodox Church that is one of the best places to visit in Ljubljana. It was built from 1932 to 1936, and its neo-Byzantine architecture immediately made it stand out from other churches in the city. After World War I, Slovenia was absorbed into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. As the Serbian population grew, the demand for an Orthodox church was increasingly palpable.
The exterior of the church is notable for its bulbous cupolas with golden crosses. The cavernous interior of the church was a treat to see. It is tastefully decorated with Orthodox frescoes portraying scenes from the New Testament, that are juxtaposed with friezes of Serbian saints.
The Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church is open daily from 08:00 – 19:00.
The American and Russian embassies are located just down the street from Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church. What makes this fact interesting is that they sit directly in front of one another making Ljubljana the only city in the world where the Russian Embassy and the American Embassy stand opposite each other.
3. Tivoli Park
Tivoli Park is the biggest and most beautiful park in Ljubljana lying west of the city center. The park is a lush expanse of greenery crossed by broad promenades, statues, chestnut tree-lined lanes, and landscaped with neatly arranged flower beds and thickets of trees. It was first laid out during the era of Napoleonic rule in the early 19th century and is named after the Jardins de Tivoli in Paris. Tivoli is beloved by Ljubljana natives for its recreation facilities and serene atmosphere, which make it a magnet for strollers, joggers, and dog-walkers.
Ljubljana is one of the greenest and most environmentally friendly capitals in the world and was even named European Green Capital in 2016. The tap water in the city is completely natural as it is not processed with any prior chemical treatments and is safe to drink.
Quicky make your way up Jakopičevo, the park’s main avenue that is lined with display stands of art and photography, towards Tivoli Mansion. This large villa was built in the 18th century for the local Jesuit hierarchy and has been used as a military hospital and barracks, and as a residence for city officials. It stands at the top of a stone staircase guarded by sculptures of pugnacious dogs. The local scuttlebutt has it that the creator of the cast-iron dogs by the staircase, Anton Fernkorn, was so perturbed by excluding their tongues that he apparently shot himself!
If you’ve ever wanted to try horse meat, you have a chance to do so in Ljubljana. There’s a small joint called ‘Hot Horse Tivoli’ outside of Tivoli Park that specializes in selling horse meat burgers. If your taste buds are up for something uncommon, you ought to give it a try.
Make your way down Stefanova ulica, Ljubljana’s main shopping street, to the iconic Nebotičnik (Skyscraper). Commissioned by the Slovenian Pension Fund for the purpose of housing offices and apartments, it was erected in response to the American Art Deco skyscrapers of that era. It’s termed a skyscraper despite rising only 70 meters in height and thus easy to dismiss as just any other building. Although it appears rather humble in comparison to the multistorey towers of today, this
The great thing is that the building is open to visitors and you can enter the lobby to admire the faux marble walls. Jacky and I are great admirers of Art Deco architecture and the Art Deco spiral staircase is a sight to behold, providing great opportunities for some Instagram action. It is usually accessible only to residents. However, you can get lucky like we did if access to the staircase is unlocked. A café occupies the top three floors of the building and its open terrace offers panoramic views of the city.
5. Gaze at Some Beautiful Art Nouveau architecture
Spurred on by a building boom in the early 20th century, numerous Art Nouveau apartment houses and office buildings popped up in Ljubljana around the center. The reason for this is that there was an earthquake in 1895 and the mayor of Ljubljana gave key projects to architects who were influenced by the Austrian Secessionist style. Art Nouveau is my favorite architectural style and Jacky and I actively seek out such architecture whenever we travel. These buildings tend to be overlooked by most tourist but we feel that they are one of the must-see attractions in Ljubljana. The majority of these magnificent edifices are located on Miklošičeva street.
The Cooperative Bank Building (Vurnik House) is probably the most colorful and flamboyantly decorated building in Ljubljana. It was the brainchild of Slovenian architect Ivan Vurnik, who was eager to formulate a national architectural style by merging geometric folk motifs found throughout the Slavic nations. Built in 1921, it represents a unique mixture of Art Nouveau, with dazzling chevrons and zigzags interwoven around the oriel windows on the facade. I was completely besotted with this building and so will you!
Other prominent Secessionist buildings in Ljubljana are the Krisper House, Grand Hotel Union, the City Savings Bank (adorned with allegorical statues symbolizing Slovenian industry and commerce), and the Centromerkur Building (renowned for its clam-shaped Art Nouveau canopy and the statue of the Roman god Mercury, standing atop the narrow frontage). Two buildings that we especially loved were the Hauptmann House (edged with green and turquoise tiles and creatively decorated with geometric shapes and floral swirls) and the flamboyant Cuden House (features wavy line decorations and elaborate use of gold under the cornice).
6. Triple Bridge
Now that you’ve seen some fabulous architecture, make your way to the popular Triple Bridge, Ljubljana’s most photographed landmark. It lies beside Prešeren Square, the city’s main square that serves as a major site for open-air cafés, street theater performers and buskers. The bridge was designed in 1929 by the prolific architect, Jože Plečnik, who was instrumental in transforming Ljubljana into an architectural and urban planning tour de force. Triple Bridge links Prešeren Square on the west bank of the Ljubljanica river with the Market on the east.
In 1929 Plečnik decided to broaden the original 19th-century bridge by adding two angled side bridges for pedestrians. This addition was needed to alleviate increasing traffic levels at the city’s chief crossing point. The bridge is decorated with curvy lampshades and elegant Renaissance balustrades giving it a strong Venetian atmosphere.
7. Wander around the Old Town
Ljubljana’s fabulous Old Town is situated between the medieval castle and the banks of the Ljubljanica river. It is characterized by its distinctive Mediterranean feel which is very palpable through the fountain-studded piazzas, Baroque mansions, and churches of its cobbled streets. On the two occasions that I’ve been to Ljubljana, strolling around the Old Town has probably been the most pleasurable part of the visits.
I really enjoyed probing the warren of narrow streets and checking out the refined red-roofed townhouses and offbeat shops. The eastern part of the riverbank is lined with shady trees, lively cafés, and restaurants. You will encounter a number of prominent Ljubljana landmarks as you weave your way through the Old Town such as the Town Hall and Fountain of the Three Rivers (Robba Fountain).
The Old Town is also home to numerous stalls selling handicrafts and goods that will make excellent souvenirs. Check out Trgovina IKA for presents and souvenirs. Laceware, painted eggs, crystal glassware from Rogaška Slatina and paintings or jewelry crafted by artisans, and seed oils are some worthy souvenirs to take home.
The tranquil, emerald-green waters of the Ljubljanica river have for eons harbored one of Slovenia’s most unlikely archeological sites. Over the past 3 decades, a remarkable number of ancient artifacts have been salvaged from the riverbed, including Bronze Age sickles and helmets, Iron Age spearheads, 2000-year-old Hallstatt Era bracelets, Roman pots, and medieval swords. This large find corroborates that the river was a thriving center of activity long before its zenith in the 17th and 18th centuries.
8. St. Nicholas’s Cathedral
The enormous twin bell towers and 24-meter-high dome of the Baroque St. Nicholas’s Cathedral cast an imposing shadow on the Central Market. It was completed in 1707 and has grown to be Ljubljana’s most important and best-preserved ecclesiastical building. The exterior of the church is rather spartan except for the two bronze doors added to commemorate Pope John Paul II’s visit to Slovenia in 1996. An impressive relief depicting scenes from over a thousand years of Slovene Christianity is encrusted on the doors.
The church’s interior is ostentatiously decorated with vivid frescoes extolling the many sea-bound miracles of St Nicholas, such as the one depicting him steering a ship full of sailors to safety during a particularly nasty storm. I’m not always the biggest fan of Baroque art but this time I was won over. The interior also features rich Baroque choir seats with gilded reliefs of Christ and the Apostles.
St. Nicholas’s Cathedral is open daily from 06:00 – 12:00 and 15:00 – 19:00. Free entrance.
9. Ljubljana Central Market
Ljubljana’s buzzing Central Market occupies a large space on the Northern end of the Old Town. We were there on a Saturday which is apparently the day when hordes of locals descend upon the open-air market to buy local fruit and vegetables, herbs and specialty foods. The Central Market also hosts Open Kitchen – an event where local chefs prepare various food dishes from over the world. Open Kitchen is held every Friday from mid-March until the end of October.
The market’s northern side is dominated by the sweeping Market Colonnade, a gently curving riverside structure that resembles a Greco-Roman temple. It is another one of Plečnik’s designs. The colonnade is home to a fish market filled with piles of fresh catch from the Adriatic.
The open-air market is open on weekdays from 06:00 – 18:00 in the summer and 06:00 – 16:00 in the winter. It is closed on Sundays and holidays. Opening hours of the colonnaded market are 07:00 – 16:00 (Mon-Fri) and 07:00 – 14:00 (Sat).
10. Traditional Slovenian Lunch
Slovenian cuisine has been influenced by its neighbors – Italy, Austria, Hungary, and the Balkan nations. Many popular dishes hark back to the country’s peasant past. No visit to Ljubljana would be complete without sampling Carniolan sausage, arguably the country’s most symbolic food. It is a fatty pork sausage that is finely seasoned with garlic and pepper. Klobasarna, in the Old Town, is famous for serving up this tasty delicacy. Wash it down with Laško – a popular Slovenian lager. You won’t be disappointed!
11. Ljubljana Castle
Ljubljana Castle looms large above the Old Town from its position atop a hill. Its first inhabitants were the Spanheim family of Carinthian dukes who settled here during the 12th century before the Habsburgs took over residence in the 14th century. Thereafter, the castle was used as a barracks, a provincial jail and as a refuge for the poor. Today, the castle and its irregular courtyard are among the best things to see in Ljubljana.
The castle’s main attraction is the Virtual Museum which is basically an enlightening 25-minute 3D visual presentation chronicling the city’s urban and architectural development and its cultural and economic growth. Besides the museum, there’s not much to see and you shouldn’t spend too much time here. Most visitors come here to stroll through the well-manicured lawns and to ascend the clock tower, built in 1848, for supreme views of the city and the Kamniške Alps to the north.
The fastest and easiest way to go up Ljubljana Castle is by taking the funicular. The castle is open for varying hours depending on the time of the year. You can check the opening times and prices here.
12. Dragon Bridge
The Dragon Bridge is probably the paradigm of a fairytale-like bridge more than any other I’ve seen. It spans the Ljubljanica river connecting the Old and New Town. Perched atop the chunky pylons at each corner of the bridge are four bronze, menacing, swirly-tailed dragons, which lend the bridge its name. It was built in 1901 replacing an old wooden bridge and is one of the earliest examples of a reinforced concrete bridge in Europe.
The bridge does exude a certain old world charm and is yet another grand example of Secessionist architecture. Watch out for the dragon figurines that festoon the bridge’s lampposts, they are beautiful.
The dragon is the emblem of Ljubljana and you’ll find dragons on the city’s coat of arms as well as several buildings across the city. It represents strength, moxie, and grandeur. There are a few explanations as to the dragon’s origins and why it is the symbol of the city. According to the most popular legend, Ljubljana was founded by the Greek mythological hero Jason, who had stolen the Golden Fleece. Jason and the Argonauts fought with and killed a dragon in the marshes south of Ljubljana before continuing on their journey towards the Adriatic Sea.
13. Slovene Ethnographic Museum
There are a couple of good museums in Ljubljana and the Slovene Ethnographic Museum is our pick of the lot. This excellent museum holds a mesmerizing collection of both Slovene and non-Slovene exhibits. Part of the museum is dedicated to the peoples of Asia, Africa, and the Americas, don’t miss the intriguing West African ritual masks. The Slovene collection comprises an engaging motley of artifacts and treasures, from folk costumes and items representing crafts such as pottery, blacksmithing, and clockmaking. Beehive panels, depicting scenes of daily rural life also shouldn’t be missed.
We really enjoyed this museum because of its use of documentary films, and top-notch audiovisual content. It’s also a great place to visit if you’re traveling with children because there are plenty of interactive toys throughout the museum. In summer, different craftsmen give demonstrations in the on-site workshops.
The Slovene Ethnographic Museum is open Tue-Sun from 10:00 – 18:00. Admission is a bargain at only 4.50 EUR. Free entrance on the first Sunday of each month.
14. Metelkova Mesto
We’ve saved the best for last. The alternative Metelkova art commune is definitely one of the must-see attractions in Ljubljana. Metelkova’s backstory is a fascinating one. Until the early 1990s, Metelkova had served as a barracks for over one hundred years. In December 1990, on the same day that the plebiscite for independence from Yugoslavia was held, artists and musicians expressed their desire to convert the former military zone into Ljubljana’s alternative cultural hub. After three years of futile negotiations with the authorities, the artists went ahead with their threats to squat and gradually established their own territories within the complex. Metelkova still consists of dilapidated and graffiti-strewn buildings hosting a bevy of bars, galleries, and independent societies.
Walking around Metelkova was definitely one of the highlights of our visit to Ljubljana. In some ways, Metelkova is very similar to the alternative Christiania commune in Copenhagen. Ljubljana was always in the vanguard of Yugoslavia’s intoxicating alternative cultural scene and Metelkova exemplifies these anarchist and progressive ideals.
You deserve a great dinner after a long day of Ljubljana sightseeing. If you’re in the mood for pizza, I’d strongly recommend Pizzeria Foculus – a moderately priced restaurant with a wide range of delicious pizzas and a decent selection of beer. Otherwise, another great option is Pop’s Place – a cozy riverside joint serving up juicy burgers and home to a great selection of craft beers.
Where To Stay in Ljubljana
Ideally, it would be convenient to stay in the Old Town or New Town as nearly all the major attractions are in these two areas and they provide a good base for sightseeing. There are plenty of good options here for all budgets.
Hostel: Hostel Tresor Ljubljana, a great choice in the New Town, just 2 minutes from the Triple Bridge.
Budget: Guesthouse Galeria River, quaint riverside option housed in an elegant 18th-century building.
Mid-range: Lesar Hotel Angel, a charming option in the Old Town, which is at the base of Castle Hill.
Splurge: Grand Hotel Union, sumptuous top-choice pick with a rooftop pool housed in a gorgeous Art Nouveau building in the New Town.
Now, what do you think? How would you spend one day in Ljubljana? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!