With a charming historic center around a Venetian-style canal, lined with bars and restaurants, Ljubljana is a real gem of a town. Recognized as Europe’s first ‘green’ city for adopting a pedestrian centre, Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana is also so culturally rich that it’s no surprise it was voted number one in Best European destinations 2022.
For 2022, Ljubljana celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of one of Slovenia’s greatest architects, Jože Plečnik, the designer of their city. His architectural imprint on Ljubljana has been compared to Antoni Gaudí’s impact on Barcelona. The monuments he designed were recently inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. When designing Ljubljana, Plečnik tried to use modern approaches while modeling the city on ancient Athens. Its innovative style is characterized by the use of classic architectural elements, such as pillars, lintels, balustrades and small columns, redesigned and combined in the particular way of the master architect. Jože Plečnik also designed many well-known buildings in Vienna, Belgrade and Prague, including Prague Castle.
To see and do
Pretty simple on the outside, the outside of House of J. Plečnik belies the fascinating content inside. The permanent exhibition of the Plečnik House focuses on the life and work of this great architect, while temporary exhibitions present Plečnik’s works and objects from the Plečnik collection. Visits to Plečnik’s house are only possible with guided tours, so check the website for details.
Ljubljana Castle on a hill above the city for about 900 years, is one of the main attractions of Ljubljana. The observation tower and the castle ramparts offer beautiful views while the castle houses a museum exhibition on Slovenian history, a puppet museum, as well as several historical rooms such as St. George’s Chapel and the prison. Visitors can buy the very good products of the castle wine produced in its own vineyard. And be sure to take the impressive modern funicular to the castle to enjoy the view of the city on the way up. Designers Miha Kerin and Majda Kregar of design studio Ambient won a gold medal for the design of the funicular at the 2008 Ljubljana Industrial Design Biennale.
As well as the castle, a boat trip on the river that meanders through the town center is a must. Try Barka Lea which you can pick up at the Pont du Boucher every hour from 10 a.m.
Newly opened Cukrarna contemporary gallery dates back to 1828, when it was a sugar refinery and the tallest building in the city. The impressive warehouse now hosts temporary art exhibitions by international artists and a semi-permanent exhibition by five Slovenian artists, Lia Perjovschi, Marko Pogačnik, Tobias Putrih, Miha Štrukelj and Andrej Štular.
If you come in April during Ljubljana Fashion Week, tickets are available to the public. It’s a brilliant showcase of established and new designers from Slovenia with some regional designers also with brands and designers from Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Czech Republic and Macedonia all showcasing their collections. And this season there was even a Japanese designer based in London.
The latest edition of Ljubljana Design Biennale (the oldest in the world), curated by the Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO), is open until September 29, 2022. This year’s curator is British design consultant Jane Withers who has invited international designers to create imaginative responses to contemporary challenges such as water scarcity, waste and declining biodiversity. Organized by the Museum of Architecture and Design in Ljubljana, the biennale is open from Tuesday to Sunday with tickets 7 euros.
There are plenty of independent design shops in the streets of the historic center. Discover designers like Princip, Kiss the Future and Made in Anselma who create upcycled handmade clothing from vintage materials. For an excellent manicure or facial, also in the city center, is Estetika Majakitchen living room.
Where to eat
For fine dining at its finest, owner-chef Janez Bratovž’s restaurant is a visual and culinary delight. Launched in the late 1990s in a historical gem designed by Jože Plečnik, J.B. Restaurant was the first Slovenian restaurant to do the The 50 best restaurants in the world list and he continues to impress. The eclectic six- and nine-course tasting menus are based on the four elements of earth, water, air and fire, representing sweet, salty, sour and bitter tastes.
Slightly outside the city center, CubeThe Mediterranean-influenced menu offers hearty pastas, excellent risotto and a succulent leg of lamb. A popular choice with locals and worth a visit.
Kavarna Rog is a trendy cafe with great food and a great atmosphere. This is a great place for lunch, with great salads and burgers plus a fantastic selection of cakes (the baked cheesecake is amazing.)
For a lively atmosphere and fabulous cocktails, Nebo in the city center also offers a good selection of seafood platters and Italian dishes.
Where to stay
Grand Union Hotel in the heart of the old town has always attracted well-known politicians, actors and royalty, even Queen Elizabeth II. Packed with character, it dates back to 1905 and features sumptuous Art Nouveau architecture whilst offering all the modern comforts you would expect from a four star hotel.