I didn’t know what to expect of Ljubljana, but it’s safe to say it totally blew me away. My hostel set me up with some amazing tours that helped me get the feel of the city right away. Ljubljana was awarded as the greenest city in Europe this year. It’s trendy, forward thinking, sustainability centered, small-business minded, and all-inclusive, as I quickly learned exploring on my first day. They recently closed the whole city center off to any vehicles but methane-run busses and majorly solar powered little golf carts and trams to help people who cannot walk or bike. They have a ridiculously efficient underground garbage separation and disposal process, which encourages people to save.
The restaurant and cafe culture is edgy and trendy. There are no big restaurant chains – just small, cute shops and restaurants lining the cobblestone streets. It really is different than a lot of Balkan cities. It’s like you mix the trendy restaurant and cafe vibes of Melbourne into a forward-thinking Eastern European city, with a bit of ancient Roman history and edgy street art vibes of a recent country that just became independent from communism 25 years ago and has been through a lot. Throw in a lot of color, cobblestone, a bit of mediterranean flair, and baroque architecture… and you get Ljubljana!
As far as Bled and Bohinj, they would definitely both be awarded as some of the most scenic and beautiful places I have ever been… ever. Set a beautiful clear lake within tall dramatic mountains, and it’s hard to go wrong. I think the pictures will do these ones justice much more than any words!!
Like I said before, they recently closed off the entire city center to cars and taxis – the only vehicles that can operate are methane-run busses and little solar powered golf carts and tram things. This completely opens up the city, and there are pedestrians and bikes whizzing by every which way – much more room for activities.
Tivoli Park + Surrounds
Tivoli Park is a massive park on the side of the city, with tons of walking trails going up into hills beyond it. I went on quite a long adventure hike up into the forests. There’s a lot to explore! There are sports complexes, walking and biking trails, and exercise classes circling up on the grass. It’s definitely a good place to explore or relax in Ljubljana.
My tour guide told me that Ljubljana was the only city with a big market right in the city center. Apparently all of the dozens of market stalls are buzzing with life on Sundays – selling fruits, vegetables, flowers, and local produce, right in the city center by the river and along a massive arcade. They even have a milk vending machine that cuts out the middle man between farm and household, so you can get (very) cheap milk straight from the source.
On my first day, I did an amazing tour with CurioCity. They don’t run your usual, massive group tours following someone with a microphone and a flag. These are small group, “tailor-made” tours, as their tagline suggests, which go into more than just the history and landmarks of the town… they tell you all about it, its people, their stories, and its affairs going on NOW. Which, if you ask me, is a surprisingly obvious yet extremely undiscovered way to run a city tour. My tour ended up being 4 hours long simply because I was enjoying stopping for coffee, craft beer, chatting with locals and my awesome tour guide Dragan, who knows basically everything there is to know about the ins and outs of Ljubljana. He told me a lot of history, but again focused more on the now. We visited tons of socially responsible businesses here that strive to be inclusive and helpful of all groups. I’ll go into more detail about the restaurants and cafes below, but here’s the gist of a few places we saw:
We visited a cafe that employs people with learning disabilities, pairing them with others to serve food.
We visited the only 100% fair trade shop in Slovenia, with tons of amazing products.
We visited a fantastic restaurant that employs high school dropouts.
We visited a thrift shop was formed to support the homeless. They employ the homeless and donate profits to their cause.
We visited an amazing, fair trade cafe with coffee beans from all over the world.
SUP Tour of Ljublijanica River or Bled
I never thought to SUP on a river, but it turns out that it’s a fantastic way to see a city from another perspective! Ljubljana is one of the only cities you can paddle through this city center, and we got some fantastic views and not to mention a fantastic workout on tour with Bananaway and our fantastic guide Spela. I would recommend it to anyone! Bananaway does lots of other tours as well, in different locations too.. they specialize in kite boarding and SUP. You can do a SUP tour of Bled too, which I would have loved to have done. Check them out 🙂
You can’t not go to Bled if you’re in Ljubljana, or Slovenia really. It’s just over an hour’s bus ride from the city – you could day trip or even spend a few nights there if you love nature like I do. And it is by far one of the most gorgeous, jaw-dropping places I have ever been. I’ll let the photos do that talking on that one!
Something adventurous and a bit different to do in Bled is river rafting. I wouldn’t have thought of it initially but there are quite a few rivers stemming from/leading to the lake which are perfect for rafting when the water is right. Even in mid September it was awesome – the water levels weren’t the highest but there were absolutely stunning views of the mountains and countryside and I still managed to get catapulted off the raft at one point when we hit a rock… it was hilarious. Check out WhatsUpBled when you’re in the area – you raft 9km down the beautiful green river and it’s a great adventure. They do canyoning and SUP too – which I will definitely be doing next time!
Since Bled is surrounded by hills, there is plenty of hiking to do. I found my way up a peak called Mala Okojnica on the opposite side of the lake than the bus station. I highly recommend hiking up here… but not the way I went. I went some weird way and lost the trail a few times and traipsed through piles of leaves and broken branches for a while on a practically vertical hill before finding it again…. but! When I got the the viewpoint it was aaaaallll worth it. Just make sure that when you hike up here the trail is marked well the entire way with quite a few handrails. Then you’re doing it right!!
If you’re here, you gotta climb up to see the view from iconic Bled Castle atop a rocky hill overlooking the lake. Apparently you can also get a special Bled cake here too, which I didn’t get the chance to try but you definitely should!
Paddle, Boat, Swim
There are heaps of rental places for paddle boats, boards, and boats in bled, which is also a super fun activity here and cool way to see the lake and surroundings.
After Bled, we have Bohinj… a much, much lesser known but equally (if not more) flipping GORGEOUS lake. It’s only a 40 minute bus away from Bled too, and is nestled comfortably right in the dramatic Julian Alps in Triglav National Park. Unlike Bled, you can swim anywhere in Bohinj, and there are sunbathers scattered around the entire thing. It’s much bigger, too, with a 12km circumference to Bled’s just over 5. It’s very popular for skiing in the winter too! I didn’t have tons of time, so I trekked half of the lake (the northern half is supposed to be better for trekking) from Ribcav Laz to Ukanc, and bussed back from there. The last bus from Ribcav Laz is at 7:50, so if you’re doing a day trip keep that in mind!! You can also rent bikes until about 6pm.
There are actual treks here, up real massive mountains (the Julian alps) with fantastic views, on either side of the lake. On one side you have Mt. Triglav, set just a bit back from the mountains overlooking the lake, and many other high peaks. On the other side you have Mt. Vogel, which is also a ski resort in the winter, and surrounding peaks you can hike up. You can also walk around the lake – 12km total, all with trails with lovely views. So many possibilities!
Like I said, you can swim anywhere in this lake. A lot of people walk around it for a bit and locate a nice secluded bit of pebbles to relax in peace, or set up somewhere on the grass on either side of the lake. I saw kayakers, SUP’ers, and many different kinds of boaters cruising around the lake, and swimmers everywhere!
I also saw quite a few parachutes high up in the sky, of paragliders coming off the surrounding high peaks. You best believe I would have tried it if I was there longer!!
You can take a cable car up to the top of Mt. Vogel for 14 euro. This goes from the southwest side of the lake from Ukanc. The view was spectacular, and you can see all the surrounding alps and an opulent Mt. Triglav hovering in the clouds in the distance. In high season (and if you go earlier) you can eat at a panoramic cafe. The last cable car up in low season (September) was at 5:30 for me, and the last one down was at 6.
Castle/Castle Hill – Ljubljana
A visit to Ljubljana wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the castle on castle hill. Jutting up almost suddenly in the middle of the city center, you have a green hill with an amazing castle on top. Inside are restaurants, visitor centers, and a museum, and a fantastic view of the sunset over the city. The sunset view is better from outside the front so you don’t have to look out the windows!! But this is a cool place to check out nonetheless.
The fact that they call this the ‘skyscraper’ is a bit of a lol, but apparently it was the tallest building in the Balkans when they built it in 1920, and the tallest in the city. If you looked at it you would laugh, but actually there’s a really good view when you get up to the top (10th) floor. The sun sets right over the hills above Tivoli park, but the view of the city from there… my god! It is breathtaking, and you can really see the fantastic color incorporated into Ljubljana’s varied architecture. And castle hill juts right up in the middle of it, standing tall over the city. I recommend getting a drink or dinner on the terrace at sunset, and taking in the beauty around you. My truffle gnocchi was to die for!
At Bled, anywhere on the east side would be an amazing sunset over the lake. Try Bled Castle, or perhaps any of the shores along the south of the lake coming from Blejski park (if you can’t tell… I’m a map parson. If this is confusing look at the map :P). Or have a picnic in the park itself! I couldn’t be there for sunset, but I have no doubt it would be stunning.
I can’t really talk because I saw the sunset begin from the top of Mt Vogel all the way back to the bridge in Ribcev Laz, but it was phenomenal the whole way. I would say that the bridge in Ribcev Laz and surrounding areas are perfect for the sunset… perhaps any of the little beaches on that side of the lake. But I have no doubt it will be great from anywhere, that’s how stunning this place is.
A few more sunset pics, Ljubljana and Bohinj 🙂
Places to Stay
Hostel Tresor – I stayed in Hostel Tresor the whole time I was in Slovenia. It was rad. It had the absolute perfect, central location… legit right in the center of Ljubljana next to the three bridges. The staff were lovely, it was clean, the rooms were great (ranging from private to dorm), the atmosphere itself was very well-designed and trendy, they had cheap breakfast and a bar with cocktails, they had good wifi, and helped set you up with absolutely any activity or adventure you could want. They also had a few bands play a concert one of the nights I was there! All in all – everything you could want from a hostel & more.
Food & Drink – Ljubljana
A lot of the places I was shown on my CurioCity tour were amazing – here they are in more detail!
Druga Violina– this is the cafe that employs people with learning disabilities. Druga Violina means ‘second violin,’ playing off the fact that the first violin in an orchestra has precedence, but could never survive without the second violin. I was served my drinks and food by a lovely polite young lady with down syndrome, who was clearly quite happy to be where she was. It was heartwarming.
Gostilna Dela– a fantastic restaurant that employs high school dropouts, and gives them the opportunity to do a 6 month training certification for restaurant work that they can then take anywhere. This is amazing in a country where you cannot do much without some kind of certification, usually from school. Amazing food, and open till 4pm!
Cafe Cokl – A trendy little fair trade cafe with coffee beans from all over the world, each specifically used in different coffee drinks. The owner brews the beans himself and specifically visits the places and sources them. For real, I have never met someone so passionate about coffee, or tasted such an amazing cold brew or cappuccino! Tine, the owner, could talk to you about coffee for hours. He’s a legend.
Places I found or heard of myself:
Pop’s Place – Apparently they have some kind of burger wars here in Ljubljana, with places competing to be the best burger. I tried Pop’s, and, not that I tried any other burgers, but it was delicious! I also had my first craft beer in over 3 months, and I forgot how amazing beer can be! They have heaps of craft beer and good burgers…. they were upset I didn’t try the ‘California Burger’ which to me sounded like it was something like in-n-out… I’ll just get that when I go home! 😛
Cacao – If you want dessert, this is your place! I got an amazing iced cream but they also have tons of cakes, puddings, fudges, and everything in between.
Strudl (Bohinj) – this will be a bit out of the way on the bus, but if you find yourself in Bohinj town try this place for an incredible, as-authentic-as-it-gets Slovenian meal. I ended up meeting a few super cool people on the cable car, a Slovenian showing his Brazillian colleague around. I somehow ended up being shown around by him as well, and at dinner with them at this fantastic place. The food looks real strange on the menu but is actually so good. We got a huge Slovenian platter of meat, potatoes, and sauerkraut, some polenta with crackling to eat with sour milk (no joke), and for dessert a strudel and noodles with apple sauce, jam, and sugar crumbs. It was weird. It was awesome.
Hot Horse: I didn’t actually get the chance to go here, but apparently it is a Ljubljana staple and another famous burger place. And it’s not called ‘Hot Horse’ for nothin’… animal lovers, stop reading now! Yes, they are actually horse burgers. Burgers made from horse meat. It’s apparently some sort of fast food delicacy here, and something interesting to try. Next time I will, jut for the purpose of trying it. Why not!
I think that’s all for now!! I hope this helps your future visit to Ljubljana 🙂