The title of this post is a bit tricky - it doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy my time in Ljubljana or that it's an ugly city. I chose this title to be somewhat controversial because this is what attracts people nowadays. In reality, it's the opposite - Ljubljana isn't too big, it's pretty, with little winding streets and for me, has the same charm as Bratislava or Riga. However, Ljubljana was our last stop in Slovenia and after visiting such wonders as Piran and Koper with red roofs and Mediterranean coast, Soca river (which was so clear that it seemed just unreal) flowing through white gorges, spectacular Slovenian Alps, magnificent lake Bled with the famous island in the middle, nearby Vintgar Gorge, lake Bohinj - shores of which resembled tropical seas, the medieval Predjama castle built into the cave and Postojna cave - one of Europe's largest, Ljubljana appeared so bleak and ordinary.
How to get to Ljubljana
Slovenia is a tiny country surrounded by much more famous neighbors - Austria, Hungary, Italy and Croatia, all of which receive extremely high numbers of visitors. Slovenia seems more like a transit country or (similarly to Albania) is skipped whatsoever by holiday makers. This is probably the worst mistake you can make - this little country has so much to offer that it could share its all attractions with a much bigger state and still remain attractive.
Because of the tiny size of the country, Ljubljana doesn't have to be the first place you come to visit in Slovenia. Flights to Ljubljana can be quite pricey and often it's easier to fly to a neighboring country and take a bus into Slovenia. We flew to Trieste in Italy which is amazingly well connected with the Koper - a town in Slovenia on the Mediterranean Sea. The journey takes only 45 minutes! From Koper, you can take another bus to Ljubljana - it takes around 2 hours.
Do not come to Slovenia just to see Ljubljana, you'll miss what's best, just like in most Balkan countries, the capital cities are way less attractive than the rest - this is the case with Belgrade, Tirana, Zagreb etc... I'm not saying those cities are ugly, they are worth visiting, but when you set them side by side with the wonderful nature and the fairy tale towns with spectacular architecture; the capitals, unfortunately, pale in comparison.
I've heard people say they didn't like several Balkan countries (like Bosnia, Albania or Slovenia) and when I asked where they went - they replied they'd seen only Tirana or Ljubljana and that those countries were not interesting. Don't make the same mistake while traveling through the Balkans - go and explore more!
Is Ljubljana worth visiting?
In my opinion, every place is worth visiting, whether you like it or not. For me it's not just about liking a place, it's about experiencing it and even when I clearly didn't like a city (like Bangkok, for example), I do not regret visiting it.
Our first impression of Ljubljana was that it was a bit dirtier and less well maintained than the rest of Slovenia where all the little villages and natural wonders are completely spotless and free from any trash. Ljubljana, seemed a bit dodgier - some buildings were painted with graffiti and others were crumbling. I love old cities with crumbling buildings, bot those in Ljubljana, in places, weren't charming, they were just destroyed. Another thing is that the cityscape around the beautiful old town is ruined by absolutely ugly, communist era, grey concrete blocks. This is the case in almost all Eastern European cities, but in Ljubljana, those horrible constructions are way to close to the historical center and nearly mix with it.
Let this not discourage you, however, Ljubljana is definitely worth a visit, it's a nice place, similar to other medieval towns. It's just this contrast between Piran, Bovec or Bled and Ljubljana that makes Slovenian capital's attractiveness fade. It's not as big and famous as Prague, but it is cozy and cute. It has an old town district, a castle on the hill, many restaurants, cafes, churches and bridges. Just don't stay too long in Ljubljana, go and discover Slovenia, you'll be surprised how beautiful it is!
The strangest night ever
Ljubljana, although seemingly unoriginal, will always be a place that will always find a place in our memory. Traveling is not only about visiting, it's also about adventure and experiencing difficulties - otherwise what would be there to remember! As I've mentioned before, Ljubljana was our last stop in Slovenia, we arrived late from Bovec where we'd done a lot of hiking along the stunning Soca river and were completely wrecked. Our budget also suffered a serious damage as Slovenia (in contrast to other Balkan countries) is not too cheap.
We wanted to stay only one night in a hostel (even a bed in an 8 bed dorm without air conditioning was over 20 EUR - for this price you have an amazing, private B&B overlooking the Ionian sea in Albania), but surprisingly, all the hostels in the city were full. Desperate, we walked from one hostel to another and before midnight, at one of them, the receptionist said they had one free "emergency" room - without windows, but with air conditioning!
We were so happy as the price was very good and the summer was incredibly hot - reaching 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). The room was clean and new, there were no windows indeed but it seemed nice... until our "roommates" joined us. It turned out that "emergency" meant a homeless shelter! At first I thought: what have we done? But it was too late to go and look for another place so we decided to stay.
That night was one of the greatest life lessons. In the morning, we had a chance to have a conversation with one man - he spoke perfect English, was educated and intelligent. He told us about the history, differences and similarities between all the little countries of the former Yugoslavia. This is what traveling teaches: open mindedness and tolerance, never judge the book by its cover.
I understand that many people would say that this must have been the worst night ever, especially those who like to spend their vacation in 5-star resorts and hotels. But that's not real traveling - it's as "plastic" as fast food, pop industry and mass media. For me, this was one of the most memorable things and the reason why I love to travel so much!
What to see in Ljubljana
The Old Town has many beautiful, winding little streets, shops and restaurants. Although Ljubljana's history dates back to the Roman times, the modern city reminds more of Austrian or Czech towns. You can easily walk the entire area within a few hours, the Slovenian capital has the atmosphere of a small town rather than the largest city. The main landmarks of Ljubljana in the old town are the bridges: the "Dragon Bridge" and the "Triple Bridge" which consists of three separate bridges one next to another.
An interesting point is the street where the shoes are thrown over a rope hanging between the buildings - I have no idea what they mean, if you do, please leave a comment.
On the way to the castle hill, you can admire the 18th century Cathedral of Saint Nicolas.
The Ljubljana Castle is located on the hill right beside the city center, there's a funicular that can take you to the top but it's just a waste of money as it takes 10 minutes to walk up. The castle is somehow disappointing. The courtyard is free to enter, but the whole point to get there is to see the view over the old town, and to do that, you must climb a viewing tower and pay the 5 EUR (6 USD) fee.
However, in my opinion, the hill is not high enough and not at the right angle to offer the best views. It's not bad, it's just not as spectacular as in other similar towns.
On the opposite side of the Triple Bridge, you'll see the new part of Ljubljana. You can find here some fine examples of art nouveau architecture, like for example the beautiful building of Cooperative Business Bank. On the other side of the street, you'll see an impressive, 17th century red Franciscan Church of the Annunciation.
A couple of streets further, Slovenian tallest and first skyscrapers Neboticnik stands. On the top floor, there is a nice cafe and another viewpoint - now you can admire both: the old town and the castle hill in the background.
Continuing on, away from the old town, you'll find the communist era architecture: the Republic Square with its two twin towers, Ljubljana Parliament Building and many other grey concrete constructions. The Opera building and the US Embassy are extraordinarily pretty as many other squares and parks in the area. In one of them, you'll also find the Serbian Orthodox Church, located at the Park Tivoli.
Slovenia is so small that it is close everywhere from Ljubljana - even to the furthest corners of the country. This little tiny nation remains one of my favorite, have a look what you can see within just a few hour drive from Ljubljana!
The Mediterranean Coast
The towns of Piran, Koper, Strunjan and Portoroz have the feeling of French Riviera. Beautiful, colorful architecture, red brick roofs, perfectly maintained towns, resorts and subtropical climate full of palm trees - not what you'd expect to see in Slovenia! Visit in this tiny portion of Slovenian Mediterranean coast is a must! I'll describe in the future posts.
When you think about Alps, you think: Italian Alps, Swiss Alps, French Alps, but... Slovenian? I guess it never came to your mind to visit the Alps in Slovenia! And I can't emphasize enough how attractive this region is: from the famous lake Bled and Vintgar Gorge to the crystal clear Soca river and endless trails in the Julian Alps. One of the most beautiful corner in the world! I'll write about it as well as the hike all the way from Bohinj to Bovec over the Alps in the future.
Predjama Castle and Postojna Cave
Predjama castle is getting more and more famous - I've seen it on some sites presenting the most beautiful places to see. It's build into the cave and the exterior is stuck to the edge of the cliff. Near the castle, you can admire Postojna Cave - one of the largest in Europe, and the only one with a railway track inside. I'll also write about those attractions soon.
Have a look at Related Posts section below to find more information.
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