Before heading to our holiday, Slovenia was a complete stranger to me as a country. Of course I had heard about Ljubljana before, but basically nothing more than the name of the city and a few random sentences here and there. For some reason, in my mind I had formed an image of an old and dusty, somewhat run-down eastern-European city that would not get to you in any level. All I can say is oh boy was I wrong, really wrong, the city had me at the first sight.
It is actually rather strange that before I was planning on our trip, I could recall only one of my friends visiting Ljubljana, but as soon as I started telling about our plans, I kept hearing even the most random people praise the city. If something, this got me really confused as I still had not found much information about things I’d want to do in the city – how could a city with just a handful of mediocre attractions be so amazing according to all these people? Eventually I decided to forget Ljubljana for a while and focus my planning enthusiasm to the cities that we would visit before Ljubljana first. For some reason, I never really went back to finding out more about the city in advance, so we arrived there without much plans, not really knowing what to expect.
It did not take me longer than the first night to understand what people had been raving about. It was true that the tiny capital did not offer many attractions to visit, you could easily see the main ones in a day if you wanted to, so there really was not that much to see – just as I had imagined. The secret lies in the lively center in the old town, spreading around the Ljubljanica-river.
The center is totally restricted from traffic and the only cars you will see in the narrow streets and large squares are those tiny electric cars that every now and then can be seen amongst the people. The lack of traffic does not mean that the center would be quiet though, actually it is anything but! There are people everywhere from early morning till late at night. This is strongly due to the huge number of bars and restaurants along the river and in the old town streets. The constant, lively ripple of conversation on the streets and from the restaurants and bars do make sure that the streets are just full of life around the clock.
The old buildings that frame these streets are both beautiful and well kept, so when walking along the narrow streets among the constant stream of happy people, it simply makes you happy as well. There was something happening on the streets all the time; marketplace was full of action during the day, the street performance artists and musicians were showing off their skills and there even was a yoga event on a square one day.
Also, coming from a country with probably one of the strictest alcohol-policies in the western world, a wine festival in the most central part of the city – the triple bridge area, was something that was really appreciated. The local wine producers were lined up on little booths along the street, you could get a glass for a 10€ deposit and buy as many tickets as you wanted (1 ticket = 1€ =1 glass of wine) and then walk to any of the booths to get a glass of wine in exchange for a ticket. Before you even noticed, you were walking on the streets with a wine-glass in your hand, just like everyone else around you, enjoying the music and the city, with hundreds of happy people around you. Not going into details about the Finnish alcohol-policies but I’m just saying there is no way anything even close to this would happen in Finland.
One day we did a little visit to Metelkova, an autonomous social center on the outer areas of the city center. Metelkova is built on former military barrack site and is often compared to Copenhagen’s Christiania. During the daytime, the area is rather quiet, and it is easy to get lost on the colorful graffiti and the most bizarre street art in the area. During the evenings, we were told the area’s nightlife scene is popular amongst the alternative music lovers, but as neither of us considered ourselves to be that, we did not get familiar with the nightlife scene in there. Metelkova sure was a weird but funny place, worth a quick walk across when in Ljubljana, but really nothing more.
It is no surprise that also Ljubljana had a castle in the center, being a popular attraction for the visitors – just like in all other capitals in the area. The castle can be reached with an easy 10-minute climb from the triple bridge, or alternatively one can hop on a funicular next to the marketplace and get to the top in just a minute or two. The entrance fee to the castle is 7,5€ or with a return ride on the funicular it is 10€ in total. However, I must say that visiting the insides of the castle might not be the best investments in the city as there is not much to see and the castle has been transformed into different, rather modern looking exhibitions, info-points and restaurants. I’d say it was a minor disappointment, even though some parts did offer some nice information of the history in the area. The best part of the castle was the current exhibition medieval torture devices that was running in one hall of the castle. You could not help but wonder how perverse mind it requires to even come up with an idea of such devices, let alone make, and use one.
We had a total of three days in Ljubljana, and most sights were quickly seen. As we wanted to spend more time exploring the sights rather than sit in a restaurant, we decided to do a little day tour to Postojna on the second day. Postojna is an hour from Ljubljana and famous for its caves, that are one of the largest ones in the world that travelers can access. The bad part about the caves is that you can only enter through a quided tour, in where you easily feel like you are treated like cattle with so many people around you, being guided through the path. The 1,5hour tour takes around 100 people at once into the caves. The tour starts and ends with approximately 1,5km ride on a little train (yes, a train in a cave!), in between there is a 2km walk deeper into the cave. The route is well paved and lightning is good throughout the tour, so there is really nothing creepy about the cave even for the timid ones. Thus, the tour is neither a huge adventure, but still I think the caves are worth a visit. After all, not that often you get a chance to see a cave that big.
The tours cost 22€ and the guiding is available in four different languages. The tours run daily on the hour from 9am until 5 or 6 pm during the summer time and in the wintertime little less often. The caves can be reached rather easily from Ljubljana by a bus or a train. Both run on an almost-regular interval around once per hour. The train station is around 2kms and the bus station around 1,5kms from the cave and the return trip is around 10euros from Ljubljana. If you do take the bus or train, do check the route to the castle from a map in advance to be safe, the signs to the castle are not that well available. Also, if you are planning on a visit to the caves, make sure you have enough clothes with you as the temperature inside is between 8-10 degrees (c) year round. The trip to Postojna and back did take us less than 6 hours, including a lunch break, so there is still room to explore Ljubljana even on the same day when visiting the caves.
To sum up, Ljubljana was nothing like I had imagined – it is far from an ugly little city that has seen its best days. The charm of the city is in the relaxed atmosphere and greenery. The city is rather compact in size, so it is easy to explore by foot in just a day or two. The city is just lively and lovely, best way to enjoy it is to have a cup of coffee or a cold beer in one of the many restaurants or bars along the river and just enjoy the unhurried atmosphere.