Despite being voted one of the top European destinations to visit under Lonely Planet’s 2014 Travel Awards, Slovenia, and in particular, Ljubljana, still remains relatively untouched compared to other European capitals. But what is one man’s disadvantage is another’s reward, as Ljubljana’s picturesque streets, appealing gastronomy and friendly people make it somewhere well worth a wander without the crowds.
1. The Architecture
Featuring a pastel smorgasbord of Roman, Baroque, and Vienna Secession styles, Ljubljana owes its unique cityscape to what is possibly the only epic architectural battle in history between Slovenia’s two most famous architects, Jože Plečnik and Ivan Vurnik. Across the span of their careers, Vurnik and Plečnik are responsible for creating what is regarded as many of Ljubljana’s iconic buildings, with Vurnik preferring a functionalist approach for a large portion of his career, while Plečnik fully embraced a more classical design. Roam the city and decide for yourself who was the winner.
2. The food
Nestled between the culinary heavyweight that is Italy, and the cheese and sausage connoisseurs of Austria, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia’s taken elements of each culture’s culinary offering and given it its own original twist. Given that most of Slovenia’s produce is sourced from local, small-scale farms, much of the ingredients used in Slovenia cooking are incredibly fresh and organic than the fare you usually receive back home.
3. The bridges
Many capital cities have rivers and bridges running through them, but Ljubljana’s designs are a combination of the unusual, the fairytale romance, and reflective of the capital’s history. Whether it’s Plečnik’s Triple Bridge, the Dragon Bridge, or Cobblers Bridge, each has its own back-story that is well worth a gander.
4. The wine
Despite neighbouring Italy and sitting on the Mediterranean coast, few realise that Slovenia produces a large amount of its own good wine. In Ljubljana many restaurants, bars and shops stock all the variations of wine from Slovenia’s various wine regions, but overall bearing a distinctly light, dry taste. A good, large glass of wine will only set you back a few quid, while a decent bottle costs a measly six Euros in store.
5. The markets
Nearly every day of the week, Ljubljana’s riverside or market square will be bustling with food vendors, antique collectors, artists, and more for the capital’s weekly themed markets. With such a large variety of things for sale, from military memorabilia, to accordions, handmade beauty products and traditional Slovenian meals, it’s easy to see why people come out in droves for these events.
6. The archaeology
Present-day Ljubljana was once known as Emona, a Roman fortress that once served as an important stopping point on the trade route in the Roman Empire. Today many of the archaeological remains are intact, and several sites, including an early Christian church/Mithraic temple, a villa with Roman toilets, and city walls, all of which can be seen on a historic walk around the city. The City Museum also displays an impressive exhibition of Roman tombstones and inscriptions found throughout the city, as well as the eponymous golden Emona statue.
7. The parliament building
While Slovenia is a new country by today’s standards, it’s Parliament building provides an interesting account of its history throughout the ages, and is open for daily tours with a guide that also works for the government. What is most striking throughout the building though is the country’s national pride, with the building materials all found in Slovenia, and its efforts to strive for unity and togetherness with Europe and all its ethnic factions.
8. The Slovene Philharmonic Orchestra
The Slovene Philharmonic Orchestra is one of the oldest orchestral groups in the world, established in 1701 and counting Beethoven, Brahms and Paganini as their members. The orchestra frequently holds concerts throughout the year and it is possible to hear music students practicing in the buildings nearby. Tickets are fairly inexpensive compared to other national orchestras, but even if you are unable to see a show the building itself, is a sight to see.
9. The castle
Looming over the rest of the capital on a hilltop, Ljubljana Castle is only a short hike from the city’s centre, although a funicular is also available. With a long history stretching back to prehistoric times, today its ornately decorated chapel and remains house photography exhibitions, arts shows, and other cultural events. The castle even contains its own wine-producing vines! The venue is also a very popular destination for weddings, so don’t be surprised if you see a few brides wandering around the central court on your visit.
10. The arts and culture scene
Despite its small size, Ljubljana is bursting with arts and music festivities. Each year it holds the international Ana Desetnica festival, a week of free street art performances, and it is common to find free musical performances and art installations in the Old Town on the evenings and weekend. The capital also contains numerous theatres and museums, which have a range of events on during the summer period.