Don’t be shy, it’s pronounced lyoo-BLYAH-nah.
And, it’s the capital of Slovenia, a green and mountainous nation of two million people located just East of Italy and South of Austria.
Humans have lived on the land that now forms the capital city for more than 6,000 years, but with most buildings in the city center built after an 1895 earthquake, Ljubljana has one of the more modern historical quarters in Europe.
On a press trip in July I had the opportunity to take a guided walking tour with Miro, a guide from the Ljubljana Tourist Information Centre, and together we visited the major sights in the Old Town.
A Walk Through Ljubljana, Slovenia
Prešeren Square is the center of Ljubljana’s Old Town, named for Slovene national poet France Prešeren. Among other works, Prešeren is known for writing the country’s national anthem “Zdravljica,” originally conceived as a drinking song. This national hero is ever-present in the city and has a statue in the square.
Nearby Prešeren Square is Galerija Emporium, the first department store in Slovenia. It was built in the art du Mode French style. A step inside is worth the visit simply to see the original old staircase that looks like something straight off the Titanic. Jack, where are you?
This area is also home to a cathedral, shops, restaurants, and the terminus of the Triple Bridge. The Ljubljanski River flowers through Ljubljana, eventually joining the Danube and flowing to the Black Sea. Bridges play an important role in the landscape of Ljubljana, and the Triple Bridge is one of the most noteworthy, connecting the medieval town to the modern city.
Slovene architect Jože Plečnik designed the Triple Bridge in 1929 as an extension to an existing stone arch bridge that had become a bottleneck. Plečnik added two footbridges at an angle to the existing bridge, allowing the wide middle bridge to be reserved for trams. Since 2007, all three bridges are pedestrian only. Across the Triple Bridge is the old market and a farmer’s market, also designed by Plečnik.
Another bridge of note in Ljubljana is Butcher’s Bridge. Originally designed to be a covered bridge, the start of World War II prevented this from happening. Ironically, today the bridge is covered in material of a different sort – locks, left by lovers in a superstitious quest for ever-lasting love.
Of the many bridges in Ljubljana, my personal favorite, and the most iconic, is the Dragon’s Bridge. Four dragons guard this 1901 bridge, protecting the city’s inhabitants or perhaps simply reflecting their folklore.
These aren’t the only dragons to call Ljubljana home. More are found in Ljubljana Castle, which rests atop a hill and overlooks the city. With so many dragons, it should come as no surprise that the dragon is the symbol of Ljubljana and is found on the city’s coat of arms.
Ljubljana Castle is the most dominating sight in the city, and medieval towers here provide sweeping views of the city. The castle has an engaging and interactive tour with actors taking visitors through the castle’s diverse history.
The castle dates back to 1112 A.D. and the cathedral still contains chairs visitors can sit on that are almost that old.
Back in the lower Old Town sits Ljubljana Cathedral, also known as Saint Nicholas’ Church. This Baroque church received new bronze church doors in 1996 when the Pope made a visit.
A short walk from the cathedral is City Hall. A step inside rewards visitors with the sight of a charming courtyard, fountain depicting the three Slovenian ricers, and artwork that tells the history of the nation.
Compact and easily navigable, Ljubljana is also full of historical and interesting sights, making it an excellent choice for travelers looking for a great city to explore on foot.
Note: My tour was sponsored by the Slovenian tourism board. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.