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17 June 2019

nine things you must do while in ljubjana (updated!)

i adored slovenia. like, absolutely adored it. i adored it so much in fact, that i've been having a really hard time writing this post. because, i want everyone i come into contact with to adore it as much as i did, but i'm not sure i have the words to describe why. equally though, i'm not sure i want the word to get out about just how beautiful, friendly, cheap, sunny, green, and close slovenia is, in case all the goodness is ruined by tourists, or lads on stag dos, or starbucks (because there wasn't one, anywhere). but, i also want to tell you about how great it was, so.. rock and a hard place. really. the solution: simply describe all the fun things we did while in slovenia's capital, ljubljana. and go:

take a walking tour

we only had one full day to spend in the city and so we figured the best way to see it all was on one of the city's free walking tours. totally obvious, but for good reason. we started at the city's prettiest and most iconic building - the pink church in preseren square, and then wandered the tiny city for the next few hours. our volunteer guide was also one of the city council's consultants on green-friendly architecture, and he also a history professor at the city's university. learning all about the one-yugoslavian, once-hungarian, once-austrian city, from someone as learned on the topic as him was a really incredible experience; i'd say we got pretty lucky!

the tour was probably about an hour too long for me though, as there was a lot of standing and talking, rather than walking and talking, which is my preferred delivery of tour information. he was quite funny though, and it was more the quirky trivia and local history that kept me listening, than anything else. this particular tour hit all the popular spots including congress square (where slovenia's involvement in the war of independence ended after 10 whole days), the city's foursome of bridges, the central market, the town hall and national library (that apparently looks very harry potteresque)(we didn't go in), and st. nicholas' cathedral. not santa. trust me, i learned about him. 

the tour runs daily from 11am and is freeeeeeeee. well, tip your guide, but mainly free.

visit the central market

the tour took us past the central market, which is where my attention slowly began to slide. mainly because i was hungry and hadn't eaten since breakfast (this was toward the end of the tour, around 1pm i guess), but also because we were surrounded by the city's tastiest and locally produced food. the central markets are where the local farmers come to sell their wares to customers who aren't bothered by supermarket quality produce. 

and it's not just fruit and veg, we're talking dried tropical fruits and cured meats, flowers, leather products, handicrafts... the list goes on. the biggest takeaway i had was cherries; the local cherries were so red and so ripe and curvy that i had to buy some. 6 euros later and that was lunch sorted. expensive, but soooooo worth it.

open daily except sundays from very early, and totally free to walk around. 

ride the funicular to the castle

i've been inside a lot of castles in europe, and honestly, they don't tend to get any more interesting than the last. but. the view from the terrace at the top of the funicular was incredible. you could literally see out beyond the city's surrounding farms and villages, all the way to the mountains on the horizon. the alps? i dunno, maybe! who could say (probably google). all i know is that whenever i'm in a new city, i like to try and get to the highest point in it and check out the view. and this one: was top notch. 

as was the chapel (which you can access with just a funicular ticket), which - if i'm honest, had one of the prettiest ceiling murals that i've ever seen. gilded and pastel and as high as the sky, it was well worth the trip up the hill with russia's answer to the kardashian's trying to take #selfies while the rest of us wanted to take pano shots.

funicular and castle grounds return ticket from 4euro!

check out the metelkova district

ok so, i'd heard rebekah and andrea talking about metalkova in passing, and the guide mentioned an "area by the train station with lots of street art" and so i was intrigued. we headed there after the tour had finished, and basically, it's the shady end of town. to get to metalkova you have to walk through the red light district, down alleys with trainers strung from the street lights, past sex shops and shut down shops, and all that fun stuff. we walked through a flea market that seemed to come out of nowhere, that had an emcee singing along to a boombox on the grass, and locals laying their goods out on blankets to sell to passers by. it reminded me a lot of freetown christiana in copenhagen as we walked through, and - let's just say, i was glad i wasn't by myself.

"metalkova city" is a small district in ljubljana, and is the product of squatters moving into the site of a former military barracks in the early 90s and never leaving. there are seven or so buildings that have been artfully decorated by its residents, who also open the buildings up as art galleries, bars, studios, design spaces, and live music venues, among other things. the main takeaway is: it's bloody beautiful. eclectic. and positively colourful.

totally free to wander through, stay for a drink and some tunes and pay what you pay.

walk through tivoli park

this one was sort of inevitable for us, as our hotel was on one side, and the city was on the other side of it. the morning we walked through and chatted about how nice it was and how it would be easy to get lost in there, on one of the many walking trails, but then we saw a cordoned off lane. why? a casual fun run, with thousands of ljubljanans running for their jollies. by this time it was already like 20 degrees out and we were sweaty, so lord knows how they felt. regardless, it was so green, and leafy, and shady, so they were probably ok.

the park is the largest in ljubljana, and it has a 17th century castle in its grounds.. which we totally stumbled upon accidentally, of course, but were fascinated by its doggo statues guarding the facade. also in the park is a man-made pond, a children's playground, a beautiful rose garden, some weird statues, and another giant house. so, it's worth the walk, because you never know what you'll find! a note: there's not a lot of light after dark, so aim to be out before sunset because scary.

totally free, but check opening times for the castle and mansion if you're keen to explore more.

enjoy a boat ride on the river

because why wouldn't you when it's as freaken beautiful as the river ljubljanica? aptly named, sure, but it's surrounded on both sides by the prettiest pastel buildings, green, leafy trees, and spots of street art when you make it up to the metalkova end of the river. there are a few different boat companies that operate on the river, so don't bother trying to find a good deal; they're all the same really. there is one that the tour guide recommended that is an original wooden boat, versus a modern metal boat, but seeing as you're in it and not looking at it, i'm not sure it really matters that much. the best part is: there are bars (and loos) on board each of the boats, so you can go for a cruise, drink a local wine (1.20 euro a glass, i shit you not), and take in the sunny sights all at the same time. marvellous!

about 6 euros per half an hour boat ride, all day, every day.

pretend to be mother of dragons

the dragon bridge is probably the unofficial symbol of ljubljana. the image of the dragon appears on almost all the postcards, souvenirs, and literature, and if you don't have a photo of the dragons on your camera roll, did you even go to ljubljana? there are four life-like dragon statues adorning the bridge so cleverly called "the dragon bridge", which is pretty spectacular anyway. it's a brilliant example of art nouveau architecture (according to the guide), and was ljubljana's first reinforced concrete structure, and one of the largest in europe. but also: dragons. four dragons. that were supposed to be winged lions apparently, but somehow.. turned out as dragons.

freeeeeeeeeeeeee, all freeeee!

(read on for the 2019 update!)

head to predjama castle

on my most recent trip to ljubjana, i wanted to make sure to get to do the things i'd missed out by only having the one day in the city last time, and first thing on the list was to visit predjama castle. it's about a forty minute coach ride out of the city (for about a tenner, return) and soooo worth the trip. the castle looms up out of the side of a fricken mountain, and is every inch the fairy tale set-up. the castle is more than 800 years old and 120m high (the world's largest!), and the audio-guided tour takes about an hour and a half to get through, but is definitely worth the ticket price (we got a combo with the caves, below). the views from the castle's terrace make the climb into the mountain so worth it, as does the history that unravells with every door you open.

castle only tickets from 13,80 euros in low season

visit the underground caves at postojna

while at predjama it would have been a mistake to miss the postojna caves, which are only a few kilometers away. there are only a few tour times everyday, and you have to join an organised tour as the cave system is way too vast to tackle alone; we opted for the 10am tour, and in our group were probably fifty others, and our group was one of maybe five. yep, there were a lotta people wanting to see those caves. we were taken deep into the caves by an electric train - more than 2km inside before taking the rest of the 1.6km by foot. it was insanely impressive, especially considering the age of some of the stalectites and stalecmites. considering that in your lifetime a stalectite or mite will only grow about the size of a fingernail, and some of these ice formations were upwards of five meters long.. just the sheer age of these caves was mind boggling. - and definitely should not be missed.

combo ticket for castle and caves from 35,70 euros in low season

so, there you have it. honestly, ljubljana blew my mind, and it's now definitely in my top three city breaks of all time. if this city is even just a "maybe" on your list, then i urge you to book it. book now while the sun shines. book now while the leaves are green. book now while the water is worth cruising on. because come the colder months, that place is going to be totally different to how i saw it.

actually, that excites me. know why? because then i have a reason to go back. again!

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