Ljubljana may be hard to pronounce (say it with me, Loo-Blee-Awn-Ah), but it’s not hard to love. When I first laid eyes on this quaint European capital, I had just emerged from the train station at night. It was loud, busy, and a bit of an eyesore. I was ready to shrug my shoulders at the city, my mind focused more on Slovenia’s natural beauty. But after a short walk into the city center, I went from ‘meh’ to ‘more please’. In fact, it’s easy to spend two days in Ljubljana. You may even want to extend your stay!
We were there during the holidays, when the city, known for its creativity and arts, was sparkling in a very interstellar manner. A local artist, Zmago Modic, the lucky citizen tasked with draping the city in holiday glamour, has continuously opted for a scientific twist. His display gets deeper into the cosmos each year, including foggy meteor showers, the rings of Saturn, comets, and even DNA helices.
My favorite part of the festivities, however, will always be the Good Fairy. I love a little superstition, a creative legend, a good luck charm. So seeing the Good Fairy, perched high on her silver throne, bursts of stars erupting from her seat, I was sold. I stood in line with, mostly, children, staring in awe. She never spoke. You didn’t need to hear her voice, only feel the bundle of baubles hit your head, her positive vibes for the New Year absorbed into your spirit. I love a quirky tradition! Can you see why I think Slovenia is a winter paradise?
And my love for Ljubljana only strengthened the longer we spent in the city. The food is traditional, comforting, and delicious. There is a strong craft beer scene. A castle sits atop a hill in the middle of the city, its river dancing around it in one long twist. There’s a hipster vibe at every turn. It was named Europe’s Green Capital in 2016. And the list goes on… so let’s get to it!
How to Spend Two Days in Ljubljana
Where to Stay in Ljubljana
With so many different accommodation sites, trying to find a place to stay in a city can be overwhelming. Personally, I always use Airbnb or Booking.com. They are my go-to’s because I can easily search within my budget and include any extra needs I may have (kitchen for cooking or washing machine for longer trips). If you’ve just emerged from a rock and have never used these services, you can get a referral discount on your first stay. Here is one for Airbnb and one for Bookings. (I have no shame.)
Luckily, Ljubljana is a small city, so as long as you stick to the city centre, you are easily within walking distance to everything. My absolute favorite place to stay is a budget hostel and B&B called Atticus B&B. The location is basically the castle’s next door neighbor, it’s modern and comfy, and you get a free breakfast buffet with as many cappuccinos as you can handle. Other options include:
Budget: Hostel Celica. This is a derelict prison turned hostel/bar/art space. It’s super hipster, super cool, and definitely worth the experience. You can’t get much more alternative than sleeping in an old prison cell, if that’s your thing.
Mid-Range: This Airbnb (we were welcomed with traditional honey liquor) or Antiq Palace, where the rooms are huge and chandeliers hang in nearly every space.
Luxury: Grand Hotel Union. If my wallet could handle this place, I’d stay here in a heartbeat. Both its exterior facade and interior rooms are… art nouveau! It’s a dreamland where you can either feel like Gatsby or in a Wes Anderson film. The best part is that (at least on Bookings) breakfast is included. So you can start your day full and in style.
What to do in Ljubljana
Day One: Historical Ljubljana
→ Triple Bridge: After settling into your accommodation, it’s time to hit the city center. You can’t miss it: plant your feet on the Triple Bridge and gaze up at the bright, pink church. They say all roads lead to Ljubljana at exactly this spot – at least historically. You can see why as you spin around and count all seven roads, taking you in every direction throughout the country.
→ The Pink Church: Also known as the Franciscan Church, it’s the focal point of the city, the color sparking intrigue, and a peek inside (and up to the ceiling) will give you gorgeous frescoes.
→ The Dragon Bridge: As you cruise the riverfront, hang a right at the Dragon Bridge, which highlights the city’s mascot and symbol. The dragons watch over the river, carefully guiding each passerby from one side to the next. As you wander toward the castle, it’s an easy tangent to the Cathedral or through the Central Market (open on the weekends). The market is a total treasure hunt: produce, herbs, oils, meat, flowers, trinkets, leather, and even used clothing.
→ The Castle: In my opinion, the best way to reach the castle is by walking up Študentovska street. First, it’s adorably curved and, hopefully, you’ll get a cute hello from the old bikes resting against graffitied brick. And second, you get a little exercise and great views. Catching your breath is encouraged, as the city sprawls below, the red roofs forming a sea that eventually meets the snow-capped peaks across the valley. Or for those looking for a more entertaining way to reach the top, you can take the funicular.
→ Riverfront: You hiked up one side of the castle, so why not make your way down the opposite side, through a little alleyway called Reber. There are more picture-perfect moments and it leads you straight to the main pedestrian zone. Take a left for some cute views up Gornji Street, or a right to wander the cobblestones down to the river. Cross at the Cobblers Bridge for an Instagram-worthy view of the Pink Church.
→ Museums: The University is situated on this side of the river, which means plenty of side streets and cafes. Plus, pretty much all of the city’s museums hang out on this side. Take your pick, but my suggestions include: the Museum of Illusions, Museum of Modern Art, and the National Gallery.
Day Two: Artsy and Outdoor Ljubljana
→ Trubarjeva Road: This is my favorite street and one of Ljubljana’s most artsy corridors. Here, the challenge is to discover all the hidden street art, but the entertainment lies in the numerous quirky cafes and shops. Antique shops, vintage stores, and local crafts line the cobblestones while shoes sway in the breeze, clenching the power lines above. The perfect place to mosey.
→ Metelkova: Remember Hostel Celica mentioned earlier? It’s located here in Metelkova, which is the name for the area that has turned into a hostel/art space/theater/music venue/bar. It’s really interesting to wander during the day, to check out all the outdoor art, but save some energy for the nighttime. You’ll find yourself feeling extra cool while sipping craft beer and listening to music that you have definitely never heard before.
→ Congress Square: Remember, Ljubljana is a very arts-centered city, and a lot of it is presented outdoors. Congress Square always has something going on, whether it’s an art display or a free concert. Plus, after a leisurely stroll to the top, your jaw may immediately drop at the castle views.
→ Tivoli Park: If you enter the park via Cankarjeva Road, you’ll see a large photography display. The first time I went, it showcased photos of the effects of climate change. The second time, worldwide poverty. It’s always an eye-opening piece, which is perfect before for a long, quiet hike through the park. The park is enormous, so it’s totally up to you if you want to walk for an hour or work up a sweat for an afternoon. Either way, it’s an excellent reprieve from the city.
→ Craft Beer: Now it’s time to transition from art to craft and enjoy the art of a good craft beer. (Is that a tongue twister?) Ljubljana beer is gooood. Like coconut-vanilla-stout good. There are two amazing microbreweries in the city that have all the musts: Tektonik and Pelicon. Tektonik has the aforementioned coconut-vanilla stout, also known as coconilla, as well as a few good IPAs and a dreamy saison/farmhouse ale. As for Pelicon, my favorites included the Veliki IPA, Imperial Coffee Stout (be still my heart), and a hoppy red ale called Out of China. You can get these beers at most bars, or scour the entire selection, and then some, at Pivoteka Za popen’t.
And if you can extend your stay…
Optional Day Three: Day Trip to Lake Bled
Now that you know how to spend two days in Ljubljana, have you considered adding a third? And, have you heard of Lake Bled? Of course you have! It’s famous for very good reasons. I wrote a whole bitty about it here, but it’s definitely worth a day trip if you have the time. Buses run regularly from the main station or you can catch a train that takes you to the more rural end of the lake. The best way to do it, however, is by renting a car. If you rent a car, you can add a few more spots to your adventure, including Vintgar Gorge, Lake Bohinj, and the adorable little town of Škofja Lora.
Where to Eat in Ljubljana
Did you think I forgot to talk about food? Do you even know me?? Eating is the main reason why I even travel, so here are my recommendations for the very delicious foodie scene in Ljubljana.
So there you have it: your ultimate guide to two days in Ljubljana! Talk to me – are you putting Ljubljana on your list, or have you already been? Did I miss your favorite something? We all travel in different ways, so please share your favorite things about Slovenia’s capital. I know I’ll go again (it’s that good), so I’m all ears!