Maribor is Slovenia’s second largest city and occupies a strategic position on the Drava River. Despite being overshadowed by Ljubljana in terms of sophistication and cultural appeal, Maribor still offers plenty to enjoy. It is a city characterized by a long winemaking tradition, an Austrian style old core, an elegant confection of architectural styles, colorful squares and streets, monuments and churches. Furthermore, if you tire of the city, there’s plenty to see and do in the outskirts, including a couple of scenic wine roads to the north. Here’s our lowdown on the top things to see and what to do in Maribor.
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How to Get Around Maribor
Being such a compact city, Maribor is meant for walking. Nearly all of the city’s main sights are grouped around the city’s three principal squares – Grajski trg, Slomškov trg and Glavni trg, and the Lent district on the north bank of the Drava River. If you have to use public transport, bus tickets can be purchased on the buses from the drives (CASH only) and cost 2 EUR. You can get more information here.
Bikes also provide a handy option of getting around and it is possible to rent a bike from the local Tourist Information Center. Bike rentals for up to 3 hours cost 5 EUR per person and 10 EUR for rentals longer than 3 hours.
What to Do in Maribor
Maribor doesn’t get too many visitors and is often overlooked by travelers in favor of Bled and Ljubljana. This is a shame because this underrated city is a vibrant and superb getaway for those on a short break. Maribor is a very quiet little town and therein lies its charm. Jacky and I have visited Maribor twice and quite like the city. If you’re visiting Maribor for one or two days, these are the best things to do. For your convenience, this post includes a free map of the top sights in Helsinki. You can find addresseses of the attractions by clicking on the icons in the map.
- Check out the Main Square
- Maribor Cathedral
- Maribor Castle & Regional Museum
- Franciscan Church of St. Mary
- National Liberation Monument
- Explore the Lent District
- Old Vine & The Old Vine House
- Take a Stroll Through City Park
- Climb up Piramida Hill
- Go Hiking and Skiing in Mariborsko Pohorje
- Maribor’s Wine Roads
Check out the Main Square
The town’s cobbled, rectangular Renaissance Main Square (Glavni trg) has been around since the 13th century, when Maribor was emerging as a major commercial center in the region. The square is surrounded by a slew of stylish and venerable old buildings in pastel hues. It’s a lovely area to walk around and is one of the must-see attractions in Maribor. The city was badly bombed during World War II so some parts of the city centre are modern. As one of the most industrialized cities in the former Yugoslavia, you will stumble across examples of Tito era architecture (although you will be spared from the worst excesses of it). There are, however, sufficient classical facades which have been around since the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
The center of the Main Square is dominated by the Baroque Plague Column, originally raised as a wooden structure in 1681 as a memorial to the thousands that perished during an outbreak of plague that wiped out a third of the city in 1680. This second version was erected in 1743 and is one of the best monuments of its ilk in Central Europe. This Corinthian column was craftily sculpted by Jožef Straub and it is topped with a gold-leaf statue of Mary. The marble column is surrounded at the base by six saints, the protectors of the plague.
The northern end of the square is also home to the Town Hall, a fine Renaissance edifice originally built in 1515. It has undergone several reconstructions and in its present appearance, features an exquisite Venetian stone balcony emblazoned with a two lion-relief and an onion-domed clock tower.
The medieval Maribor Cathedral (Church of St. John the Baptist) is the city’s oldest church and premier ecclesiastical monument. It was originally built as a single-naved Romanesque structure in the 12th century, though it took on its present, predominantly Gothic and Baroque appearance during the course of several modifications. The interior is rather spartan apart from the exquisitely carved medieval choir stalls inlaid with reliefs showing scenes from the life of the patron saint. I quite liked the stained-glass windows depicting images of Pope John Paul II which were added on the occasion of his second visit to Maribor in 1999.
It is even possible to ascend the 57 meter high bell tower and enjoy the panoramic views over Maribor. Do not miss out as a visit to the Maribor Cathedral is one of the best things to do in the city.
Maribor Castle & Regional Museum
The Maribor Castle stands in the northeastern corner of Castle Square (Grajski trg). It is quite modest for a castle and looks more like a palace rather than a castle from the outside. Much like many of the buildings in the Old Town it represents a mishmash of architectural styles. It was built in the 15th century to buttress the city walls as a means to thwart attacks from the Ottomans. The castle became an aristocratic residence once the Turkish threat abated.
Today, many rooms of the castle are home to the Regional Museum, one of the best things to see in Maribor, and and it I really enjoyed the ethnological section that features displays folk costumes, fine rafts and cargo boats, beautifully painted chests, beehive panels and the famous carnival masks, and Gothic and Baroque religious art. The cultural history section, representing the multifarious regions of Slovenia showcases a military uniform that belonged to Josip Broz Tito (himself a half-Slovene). The building’s 18th century ornate Rococo staircase, ornamented with sculptures, is splendid, while the ceiling is artfully decorated with stuccoed swirls and vines.
The Regional Museum is open from 10:00 – 18:00 (Tue-Sat) and 10:00 – 14:00 (Sun). Entrance costs 5 EUR. There are excellent information sheets in English to guide you through your visit.
Franciscan Church of St. Mary
The twin spires of the massive red-brick Franciscan Church of St. Mary loom large over the Old Town. The church is one of the most important religious monuments of Late Historicism in Slovenia. It was commissioned by Viennese architect Richard Jordan in 1903 and built at the same time as the Franciscan monastery complex located behind the church. There was previously a Capuchin monastery and a church on the site. I quite liked the Neo- Romanesque exterior of the church. The cavernous interior is a bit dreary except for the high altar that features four statues in niches and some contemporary wall paintings.
National Liberation Monument
The National Liberation Monument is a rather odd, bulbous-shaped bronze memorial that is aptly located in the Freedom Square (Trg Svobode). It was erected in memoriam for the Partisans who stood up against German occupation and perished at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. By walking around the monument, you can gaze at the copies of public announcements of the 667 souls butchered by the Nazis. Despite its grim backstory, the locals of Maribor have affectionately nicknamed the monument ‘Kojak’, after the famous bald, lollipop-sucking New York TV detective played by Telly Savalas.
Explore the Lent District
The charming riverside Lent district is located downhill from the city center. The Drava river was Maribor’s principal transport artery until the construction of the railways in the 1860s, and Lent served as the chief docking station for the hundreds of rafts and small cargo vessels that would stop here en route to the Danube and the Black Sea. Nowadays, Lent is a bustling area, and I really loved the attractive and well-preserved Baroque houses lining its vibrant streets. There are several bars and cafes by the riverside and it’s the perfect place to unwind and gulp down some chilled suds or sip some espresso!
If you walk along the embankment you will encounter the rotund, whitewashed Judgement Tower, a defensive structure with a peculiar mansard roof. The famous 16th century Water Tower is also located here and is easily distinguished by its pentagonal ground plan and tapering roof. For best views of Lent, head to the Main Bridge (Glavni most).
Lent is also the venue of the celebrated Lent Festival, Slovenia’s biggest open-air festival. It kicks off annually in the last week of June and lasts for two weeks. The city really comes to life during the Lent Festival and offers visitors the perfect chance to indulge in two fabulous weeks of street theatre, comedy, modern and classical dance and jazz, pop and classical music along the waterfront and in the streets around town.
Old Vine & The Old Vine House
Growing along the facade of the Old Vine House is the famous Old Vine, one of the absolute must-see attractions in Maribor. A knobbly piece of wood may not sound like the most pulsating of tourist attractions. But this is no ordinary chunk of wood – it is the oldest fruit-bearing vine in the world (according to Guinness World Records) and has been producing grapes for 450 years. The vine is a resilient specimen that weathered through periods of turmoil and invasions, resisted the spread of phylloxera, and narrowly escaped several fires. It still produces between 35 and 55 kilograms of sweet grapes which are fermented and bottled in 100 small 250ml bottles. Unfortunately, these bottles are only handed out to special guests of the city.
Wine culture is so deeply entrenched in Maribor that the city has erected two statues of Bacchus, the god of wine. Locals joke that visitors can get drunk just by sniffing the air in the city.
The Old Vine House dates to the 16th century when it was part of the southern defence wall of the city. It has been converted into a small museum relaying the history of the vine, while it’s possible to sample some of the local vintages such as herbaceous zelen, pinot gris, and gewürztraminer for a small fee. I’m a poor judge of wines so I can’t really say which was the best one. The Old Vine House also plays host to two of the city’s important events, the pruning of the vine, and its ceremonial harvesting, that take place here in March and September respectively.
Take a Stroll Through City Park
If you’re tired of pounding the pavement, why not saunter through the scenic City Park (Mestni Park). This large, well-groomed green oasis was laid out in the 1870s and is split up by concrete strips of pathway. The park also features a children’s playground, sculptures, fountains, an aquarium-terrarium, and a pavilion, that serves as a venue for concerts. It’s a perfect place to chill out and watch the world go by.
Climb up Piramida Hill
The scenic Piramida Hill is a 386 meter tall hill rising above Maribor. This hill has played a significant role in the development of the city and was the location of the first Maribor Castle. Today, it is extremely popular with locals, making it one of the best places for sightseeing in Maribor. The most scenic way uphill is through the almost vertically pitched vineyard. This can be a bit strenuous but you’ll burn a few calories along the way. From the top, you’ll be accorded fine views of the bright red and terracotta-colored rooftops of the city, and the broad slopes of the Pohorje mountains in the distance.
Go Hiking and Skiing in Mariborsko Pohorje
The Mariborsko Pohorje massif is located only about 6 kilometers southwest of the Old Town. This is the last upland before the Alps and the verdant meadows and pine forest offer visitors a number of outdoor activities here. It is also a popular destination for walking, hiking, paintballing, cycling and simply relaxing in summer. During the winter, Mariborsko Pohorje is Slovenia’s biggest ski resort and hordes of Slovenes flock here to get their adrenaline boost. There are more than 60 km of trails, almost half of which are beginners’ slopes.
Getting to Mariborsko Pohorje is fairly easy, just take bus number 6 in the direction of Vzpenjača.
Maribor’s Wine Roads
Maribor is one of the Podravje wine region’s six wine-producing areas. The two main wine roads in this area are the Kamnica road to the west, and the Malečnik road to the east that leads all the way to Nebova. I loved the scenery of the lush green landscape here, and that alone is a good enough reason to go there, even if you aren’t a wine connoisseur. Although a few red wines are produced here, this is overwhelmingly white wine territory with Laški and Rhine Riesling, Chardonnay, and the blended Mariborčan being the popular varieties. There are many tourist farms to try here, Vineyards Horvat and Joannes Protner are two good options. It’s definitely handy to come here with a car, but it is feasible to walk at least part of these routes from Maribor.
If you’re short on time to head out into the countryside, you make your way to the Vinag Wine Cellar, located in the town center. It is one of the largest cellars in Central Europe; its 2.5 km of tunnels hold some 5.5 million litres of wine!
Where to Stay in Maribor
The Old Town is the best place to stay in Maribor as it is a good base to see all the major sights. However, since Maribor is a small city, a hotel outside the center is also a viable option. There are some good options for all budgets.
Hostel: 4Rooms, a great choice right in the heart of downtown.
Budget: Tourist Farm Joannes, lovely little three-roomed farm winery in a hillside hamlet, about 4 km from the Old Town.
Mid-range: Hotel Tabor, great family run hotel, just a 15 minute walk from the historic center.
Splurge: Habakuk Wellness Hotel, outstanding five-star hotel nestled under the ski slopes of Mariborsko Pohorje.
Now, what do you think? What are some of the best things to do in Maribor? And is Maribor on your bucket list? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!