Little Ljubljana, the tiny capital of teeny Slovenia packs a bigger punch than cities triple its size. A full day there doesn’t feel rushed and I was far from bored; there’s history, architecture and excellent food for an itinerary of wandering, and on a sunny Monday in September the crowds were thin on the ground too. Ljubljana was my gateway to a four-day road trip around Slovenia but thankfully, I’d made time to discover the city before picking up a car and setting off towards the mountains.
Breakfast at Le Petit Cafe
Bear with me with my suggestion of eating somewhere that is clearly not Slovenian in the slightest. We stayed at the Gami Ex-Factory Lofts, a stone’s throw from Tivoli Park (which we ironically didn’t have time to visit) and a less-than-10 minute walk to the centre of Ljubljana. Le Petit Cafe is on the easy stroll into town and on a 28° day, the al fresco seating was already full to bursting. We took a window seat inside and gratefully ordered iced coffee whilst deciding from the vast menu. I had the croque madame (because if you’re telling me you’re a French establishment then I’ll run with the theme!), which was buttery with the perfect runny yolk, and my fiancé had the crepes which were stuffed to within inch of their lives with Nutella and banana. Caffeine, carbs and sugar inhaled, we were set for a day exploring!
Find it at: Le Petit Cafe, Trg francoske revolucije 4, Ljubljana
The river, the bridges, the Old Town
Yada yada yada – you’ll know all of this from every other Ljubljana itinerary you read so I won’t dive into the specifics, mainly because the joy of this city is that it is small enough that you can’t really avoid these three pillars of its layout. They are recommended because they are all, of course, beautiful, and if you’re as lucky as us to get such wonderful weather, then you can soak up hours of meandering in between the various bars along the riverbank and the shops of the Old Town.
The buildings are Notting Hill pastel hues and have a Bavarian feel to them, but they stand out as not being particularly ramshackle or leaning like some of their western European counterparts. The quaint nature of them comes from the calm of a car-free centre, meaning you can walk with ease or pick up a mildly terrifying electric scooter by downloading the Flox app for free.
Lunch at Monstera Bistro
After popping in to the beautiful and peaceful Ljubljana Cathedral, we crossed the infamous(ly busy) Dragon Bridge to loop back on ourselves and eat at Monstera Bistro for lunch. The restaurant only seats about 20 people but is worth booking a table at for a fresh and unexpected offering; the menu changes every few days depending on which fresh ingredients are available to the chef.
I had the two course option: a fresh, sharp gazpacho with smoked cottage cheese, fermented cherry tomatoes and giant parmesan crisp for my starter, followed by baked octopus (a little tough for my liking), but with an excellent addition of squid and mussels, buttery polenta and crunchy fennel salad. Their zero waste policy means no change of cutlery, napkins and drinks are biodynamic wines and local craft beers – all without a painful price tag too.
Find it at: Monstera Bistro, Gosposka ulica 9, Ljubljana
Two ways to see Ljubljana from up high
Although everyone knows the view from the Castle is one not to miss (and it’s true; photos incoming), the receptionist at our hotel recommended the free viewpoint at the top of the Nebotičnik building (also known as the Ljubljana Skyscraper – but at 13 storeys high, don’t expect The Shard!). As long as you can stand the 10 second ride to the top in an extremely tiny lift, you’ll be rewarded with a wonderful of the Castle itself, being able to take in the building before going up to it.
From Nebotičnik, you can cross over the Triple Bridge (although one of them was closed when we got there, so I guess it was more of a Double Bridge at that point), stop for an excellent ice cream at Vigo (I went all in for a scoop of nutella and mascarpone AND a scoop of strawberry cheesecake made with actual cream cheese), and head for the funicular up to the Castle. If you catch it at a good time, you’ll miss a big tourist group who all cram in together, and you can take 30 minutes to look around and soak in the view – this time with added mountains for extra excitement!
Sample Slovenian craft beer
At the bottom of the Castle funicular is Daktari, an underground-ish, ramshackle sort of bar with a heaving craft beer menu. As we sought shade and planned what to do next, I tried a bottle of Iggy IPA by Tektonik brewery was refreshing, malty and very easy to sip in the sunshine. An electric scooter ride over the other side of the river and we found the Sir William’s Pub which offers a broad range of craft beers with a large selection of them being Slovenian. Always being a sucker for a good name, I had a bottle of Combat Wombat by HumanFish but it was too sour of an IPA for me; it was verging on tasting like a wheat beer (which is not a good thing in my book). A pint of Pregl NEIPA by Maister Brewery was a little citrusy for me, but better than the previous brew.
Find them at:
Daktari, Krekov trg 7, Ljubljana
Sir William’s Pub, Tavcharjeva ulica 8a, Ljubljana
Take a detour out to Metelkova
When I say ‘detour’, I just mean a maximum 20 minutes walk out of the main tourist hub. Ljubljana didn’t surprise me with any secret murals or unexpected ‘intermissions’ – the street art scene is seemingly non-existent and if that’s your jam (as it’s very much mine), you have to go and search for it. Metelkova is a student and arts hub that predominantly comes to life at night with gigs and concerts, and in the day it feels a bit sketchy. It’s not because of any dangerous people per se, it’s more that this is a place people live and work and the art is a part of that. The locals get tired of tourists visiting to take pics of themselves in front of pieces, but it’s OK because unlike other street art communities in Europe like Ehrenfeld in Cologne or LX Factory in Lisbon, you can probably only really spend 20 minutes in Metelkova in total because it’s pretty tiny. Venture, appreciate and leave.
Enormous Burgers for Dinner at Pop’s Place
Ordinarily I would avoid eating along the promenade of most riverbanks, based on the overpriced chains that dwell most of the Thames Southbank, but with a little bit of research before arriving in Ljubljana, I’d already touted the burgers at Pop’s Place as our dinner option for our 24 hours in the city. We were able to nab the last table outside while it was still warm enough to dine without a jacket, and both went for the burgers of which Pop’s is synonymous with. I had an enormous bacon cheese burger (a casual 180g patty) served in a brioche bun with fries as standard on the side. We also went in for a side of onion rings which was wholly unnecessary but worth every painful bite as I desperately tried to make room in my very full stomach.
Find it at: Pop’s Place, Cankarjevo nabrezhje 3, Ljubljana
Ljubljana, unlike so many Eastern European cities, does not yet seem to have fallen foul of stag do hoards and Ryanair-sale gamblers. The visitors there are as considered as the city planning seems to be, plus it’s able to tantalise you with a glimpse of nearby mountains which adds to its magic. 24 hours was simultaneously plenty and yet not enough.
The planning bits
Flight details: London Gatwick to Ljubljana with Easyjet. Flight time 1hr 55mins, arriving at 9.25pm local time.
Travel from airport: Pre-booked transfer with Holidaytaxis.com
Hotel details: Gami Ex-Factory Lofts – 1x apartment room with self-catering facilities and 10 minutes walk to the Old Town.
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