Nestled between the Julian Alps is Ljubljana, Slovenia, which was once part of Yugoslavia. Its position as a crossroads between Central Europe and the Mediterranean was cemented long ago by the creation myth of Jason and his Argonauts fighting a dragon along the river.
Ljubljana’s strategic position made it a settlement for Slavic, Celtic, Illyrian, Roman tribes and the Habsburg-Austrian Empire. It is also the site of destruction by Attila the Hun in the 5th century, an earthquake in 1895, and Italian occupation during World War II.
Its history provides the features visible today: the mountains that surround it, the bridges that cross the river, a castle up there, and the small boats that navigate these waters with passengers who wave at you and you wave back. This setting invites visitors to contemplate the meticulously designed squares that lead to the winding river that partly gives the city its name. Ljubljana means “flooded river” from the Roman word alluvial.
For me, Ljubljana was a place to take a break and relax. Relaxation came around my third night at Lajbah, a craft beer bar. My experience left me with a craving for pizza. As I made my way towards Hradeckega (Hradecky Bridge), the sounds of couples laughing accompanied by their partially completed conversations caught my ear. Clear in my aim, I arrived at Gostilnica 5-6kg to devour my pizza while making horribly cheesy jokes as the crew started to clean up and close for the night.
When I got out and made my way back to the river, the sounds I’d heard earlier were still close and getting louder. When I started anticipating a group of teenagers playing and making noise, the real vision was the opposite.
Two retired couples were holding hands and kissing, while one of the gentlemen carried a bottle of wine. As they passed, one of the gentlemen shouted back that they were enjoying their golden years. As if that comment was part of an inside joke I didn’t know about, everyone laughed and went into the shadows, leaving a trail of sound behind. It took that moment for me to look back over the last few days and realize that this wasn’t the first such interaction I’d encountered. In fact, it was common.
Maybe it was the warm lighting of the cafes and restaurants that lined the river’s curves, the flow of wine available on almost every corner, or the walled ruins of the Roman Empire that had discreet places for couples to spend a few minutes alone. However, it could also have been the perfect combination of all that that made Ljubljana one of the most romantic destinations most travelers had never considered.
Let me explain.
An ideal day in Ljubljana should be spent relaxing, taking a light walk and enjoying your time enjoying the scenery with someone.
It is best to start with breakfast at Cacao in the Old Town before walking…
1. Prešeren Square
Prešeren Square is named after the national poet France Prešeren, whose statue forms the centerpiece and is juxtaposed with a statue of his lover, Julija Primic. Your time in the Old Town can be spent walking around this square. Redesigned after the 1895 earthquake, the square now serves as a gathering place, pedestrian area, entertainment venue, protest venue and general introduction to the area.
Surrounding it are other landmarks such as the Hauptmann House, Urbanc House, Mayer Department Store and Seunig House, which serve as examples of the architecture that was popular in the mid-20th century.
During your stay here, there is no doubt that you will pass through this area often, specifically given the number of cafes and restaurants around the square.
Look to the river to see…
2. Triple Bridge
Along one of the Old Town’s most popular bridges, the Triple Bridge, you’ll find a few vendors selling goodies, as well as the option to take a ferry up and down the river. This bridge is a physical representation of the three main periods in the city’s history, connecting historic, medieval and modern Ljubljana. There has been a bridge at this location since 1280. Proceed to…
3. Medieval City
Slow down and take a walk. After passing a few shops, you will arrive at the Town Square and its centrepiece, the Robba Fountain, which was inspired by the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Rome. As you look around, there is no doubt that you will see spiers on your left. When you’re ready, head in that direction to visit Ljubljana’s Roman Catholic Cathedral.
This area can be explored, so stroll along the river and observe the details on the bridges that take you back to the Old Town. Eventually, you will enter the open-air Central Market.
From Monday to Saturday it hosts the local market, while Fridays from March to October feature local chefs and special dishes from around the world. When the market ends, you’ll find the Dragon Bridge, which is a reminder of the creation myth related to the Argonauts’ battle.
When you’re done exploring, you should head back to Vodnikov Square. From there, you can choose to walk the path or take the funicular to…
4. Ljubljana Castle (Castle Hill)
Perhaps one of the most romantic spots in Ljubljana, from Ljubljana Castle you have several views of the city. My personal favorite is the observation tower, where the staff will mention the great view of the skyline.
On the day I visited, there were several vendors and artists as part of a rotating calendar of activities. Undoubtedly, something interesting will happen on your own visit. Start by exploring the castle before participating in what is happening.
The area can get busy at times, so if you’re looking for more privacy, go outside and walk around the surrounding gardens. There is a tour that will take you through the small forest overlooking the city. Breathe on one of the park benches facing the city and enjoy some time in solitude.
You can find small meals and drinks inside the castle grounds or from a vendor in the area. Turn your time there into an impromptu private picnic.
When you’re ready to move, head to Avenida do Castelo, which is an avenue lined with chestnut trees that connects the castle to Šance, which are the remains of the old fortress that served as a precursor to the current one.
There’s also a vineyard that occasionally features a pop-up restaurant hosted by a local chef. Tables reserve quickly, so it’s best to book in advance. Browse Slovenian wine selections.
Take your time before you decide to head back down the hill. When you’re ready, head towards Prešeren Square, which might be hosting an event if it’s the weekend. Follow the river on the Old Town side to reach…
5. Congress Square
Mainly populated by locals and an ideal place for people watching, Congress Square features medieval ruins and the site of two declarations of independence by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Yugoslavia after their dissolution.
Several buildings surround the square, including a university – but most importantly, the Philharmonic Hall. If the box office is open, you can probably buy a ticket for that night’s show.
Ljubljana has several parks, but its most impressive park is just a short drive from Congress Square. Take Šubićeva ulica, which starts at the northeast corner of the square, and follow it to the end at Bleiweisova basket. On the other side is…
6. Tivoli Park
With a series of walking trails that offer a brief respite from the city, you can wander aimlessly, see the numerous statues or stop at one of the cafes located on site. If you want to see local art, head back to Bleiweisova Basket and head to the Cankarjeva Basket connection to the Museum of Modern Art or the National Gallery in Prešernova Cesta.
Ljubljana: Simple Romance
Despite all these suggestions, the best part of Ljubljana is its simplicity. Ideally, you can see it all in one day, but why would you?
What makes the city an ideal romantic destination is its slower pace. She returns to the waterfront with her own bottle of wine and her partner and sits down. Let the sun go down as you wander through the landscape.
Stop by the Gostilna Sokol restaurant, which serves local dishes, and choose that moment to breathe out and relax. You don’t have to be somewhere or do something.
Take a moonlit walk up and down the river. Visit Vigò for the ideal iced sponge cake for two. Savor every moment.
Central Europe has a lot to offer, and Ljubljana’s scenery is tranquil. You can escape other travelers and find space to taste a piece of the country for yourself.