Despite being located in the heart of central Europe, Ljubljana is one of the continent’s most hidden treasures. Taking its name from the Slavic root word, ‘to love’, the Slovenian capital has been inhabited for 5000 years, and over these five millennia has blossomed into a city of romance, beauty and intrigue.
The city is framed by The Alps, and contains within its mountainous embrace some of the world’s finest examples of Baroque, Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture. In the center stands Ljubljana Castle, a striking medieval fortress that traces its origins back to the 12th century BC. Surrounding this grand central feature are gingerbread streets of Venetian-style art work and architecture, wafting with the scents of cured pork sausage and bean stews.
Visitors are spoilt for choice, with over 10,000 cultural festivals taking place in and around the city. The most celebrated event is the Ljubljana Summer Festival, where musicians from genres as varied as opera, rock and jazz hold all manner of concerts in the city’s streets and theatres. Museums and art galleries are also in great abundance, while the Slovenian National Opera and Ballet Theater is worth experiencing for both the quality of performance as well as the splendor of the building itself.
Another Ljubljana essential is a visit to the city’s bridges. The Triple Bridge connects the city’s central districts, and was originally a main throughway linking Central Europe and the Balkans. Other crossover highlights include the Vienna Secession style Dragon Bridge, and The Butchers’ Bridge where couples profess undying love by attaching padlocks to the bridge’s steel wires.
While the city has something to offer throughout the year, some of the most exciting highlights happen between June and August, and throughout Christmas. The hot months see the aforementioned Ljubljana Festival, as well as the city in full color as the flowers and trees that line the streets emerge into full blossom. In mid-June, the castle shuts-off its lights to allow for a starlit dance festival inside its inner courtyard, with a whole host of other festivals happening each and every week.
Winter is when the magic happens, with the Christmas period affectionately known as ‘Happy December’. And not without reason, for the whole city is lit-up in soft and complementary colors, with the trees offset by fairy lights. The Christmas Market is a Hansel and Gretel fairytale bursting with food, music and art, while live music and dance events occur almost every single night.
Ljubljana is served by a wide-reaching bus network, and can be paid for in single or return trips, or by purchasing an all-access Urbana Payment Card. Trips can also be paid for via a mobile phone. The free Kavalir is another option, operating as an electric car holding up to five people that can be stopped anywhere in the city center. Walking is also an option, with the city designed to cater to pedestrians.