Why go now?
With its superlative green spaces, car-free historic centre and impressive recycling efforts, Ljubljana is a fitting European Green Capital for 2016. To celebrate the honour, Slovenia’s capital has rolled out a programme of green-themed events (greenljubljana.com) that run through to the end of the year. Go now and you’ll also catch the tail end of the Ljubljana Summer Festival (ljubljanafestival.si), which wraps on 13 September.
Ljubljana’s Joze Pucnik Airport (1), 25km northwest of the city, is served by easyJet (0330 365 5000; easyjet.com) from Stansted, Wizz Air (0911 752 2257; wizzair.com) from Luton and, until mid-September, Adria Airways (00 386 1 369 1010; adria.si) from Gatwick, Southend and Manchester.
Bus 28 runs from the airport to Ljubljana’s bus station (2) hourly until 8pm, costs €4.10 and takes about 45 minutes. Shared or private transfers can be booked through companies including GoOpti (goopti.com) that’ll drop you to your hotel door (from around €7), or as close as possible to it if you’re staying in the pedestrian zone. Taxis cost between €35 to €45.
The city’s bus station (2) and train station (3) are located beside each other, less than 1km north of the centre, within walking distance of many hotels and guesthouses.
Get your bearings
Ljubljana’s historic and cultural centre straddles the banks of the Ljubljanica River that curves through the city. The medieval Ljubljana Castle (4) dominates the cobbled Old Town on the east bank; the more modern west bank houses cultural institutions and parks.
Stop by the Ljubljana Tourist Information Centre (5) (visitljubljana.com) at Adamic-Lundrovo nabrezje 2, next to the Tromostovje (Triple Bridge) (6) to pick up a Ljubljana Card (from €22.77 for 24 hours), which offers free entry to the city’s top attractions, free city bus travel, 24-hour access to the WiFree Ljubljana wi-fi network and other discounts. It’s open from 8am-9pm until 1 September, then from 8am-7pm until 31 May.
Earlier this year, the smart Hotel Park Ljubljana (7), at Tabor 9 (00 386 1 300 2500; hotelpark.si) became the became the first Slovenian hotel to be awarded a Travelife Gold certificate for environmental friendliness. Superior doubles from €110, including breakfast.
Housed in a former military prison, Hostel Celica (8), at Metelkova 8 in the artsy Metelkova district (00 386 1 230 9700; hostelcelica.com), scored its own green claim to fame by becoming the world’s first eco-certified hostel in June. Twin privates at this quirky budget option go for €66, with breakfast.
At the fancier end, the boutique Antiq Palace Hotel and Spa (9), at Gosposka 10, (00 386 8 389 6700; antiqpalace.com) occupies a 16th-century former diplomatic residence. Its 18 spacious rooms (€171 for a double, not including breakfast) are elegantly furnished – some with chandeliers – and there’s a good spa.
Take a view
Ride the funicular from Krekov Trg (10) to Ljubljana Castle (4) (00 386 1 306 4293; ljubljanskigrad.si) for panoramic city views from the ramparts. A ticket to the castle costs €10 and includes the funicular, visits to the exhibition of Slovenian history and the puppet museum. Summer opening hours are from 9am to 11pm; times during other months vary.
Take a hike
Start at the Ljubljana tourist office opposite the marble Triple Bridge (6) designed by Jose Plecnik, the Slovene architect credited with shaping modern Ljubljana. It leads to Presernov Trg and the salmon-pink Franciscan church (11).
From here, you can wander down Wolfova ulica, past shaded Kongresni Trg and the National and University Library (12) – another Plecnik masterpiece; enter through the main door on Turjaska ulica to admire the moody, black marble-pillared staircase leading to the industrial-styled Main Reading Room.
Head towards the river and cross the graceful Cobblers’ Bridge (13) into the Old Town; on Sundays, a flea market sprawls along the embankment towards the Triple Bridge (6). Continue through to Mestni Trg and make a left. When you reach the replica of the 16th-century Robba Fountain (14) (the original was moved to the National Gallery of Slovenia in 2006) in front of the Town Hall, veer left towards the Triple Bridge, and then head right at the tourist office towards the Central Market (15).
Lunch on the run
If you’re in town on a Friday between March and November, sample gourmet Slovenian small plates at the Open Kitchen Food Market (16) (odprtakuhna.si). From 10am to 11pm, Pogacarjev Trg next to the Central Market (15) transforms into a giant open-air restaurant with local chefs peddling everything from homemade gelato to plates of buttery zlikrofi (Slovenian dumplings).
On other days, a plate of fresh, fried calamari (around €6.50) served at the fish market (7am-4pm Monday to Friday, 7am-2pm Saturday), which forms part of the Central Market (15), should hit the spot.
In the spirit of Ljubljana’s eco status, seek out the city’s vintage fashion stores. Head to Divas Preloved (17) at Gosposka 3 (00 385 91 890 7366; divaspreloved.com) for pre-loved Chanel, and hunt for ethical bargains at Moje Tvoje (18) (00 386 40 127 973; mojetvoje-second-hand.si) at Mestni Trg 8, which only stocks high-quality garments that were not produced in countries with poor labour standards.
Doubling as an art space, Tozd (19) at Gallusovo nabrezje 27 on the east bank (00 386 4 072 7362; tozd.eu) is one of Ljubljana’s best riverside bars. It’s open 8.30am to 1am daily and offers a solid range of very drinkable Slovenian wines and craft beers (try Human Fish).
For cocktails, book a table on the rooftop terrace at Gostilna As (20) (00 386 1 425 8822; gostilnaas.si). Tucked behind Wolfova ulica in the Knafljev prehod passage, this popular Mediterranean-Slovenian restaurant slings a mean As Spritz (prosecco, vodka, elderflower liqueur; €3.90). Open 12pm-1am daily.
Dine with the locals
Indulge in the seven-course tasting menu for a very reasonable €50 at Monstera Bistro (21) at Gosposka 9 (00 386 4 043 1123; monsterabistro.si). Opened this summer by Bine Volcic, one of Slovenia’s best-known chefs, this small, stylish restaurant specialises in “zero waste” Slovenian fusion cuisine inspired by seasonal ingredients (think polenta with chanterelles, blue cheese and garlic flowers) and has its own-label craft beer on tap. Open 8.30am-5pm Monday to Wednesday; to 11pm Thursday to Saturday.
Sunday morning: go to church
Replete with colourful baroque frescoes and ornately carved choir stalls, the twin-towered Cathedral of St Nicholas (22) off Ciril-Metedov Trg (00 386 1 234 2690; lj-stolnica.rkc.si), is open from 10am-noon and 3-6pm daily, though there are services (in Slovenian) throughout the day.
Out to brunch
Linger over pastries at Le Petit Café (23) (00 386 1 251 2575; lepetit.si), which spills on to Trg francoske revolucije on the west bank (open 7.30am-midnight daily). Alternatively, if you’re just after a caffeine hit, sip on a fair-trade, single-estate brew (or a refreshing cold-press) on the terrace of Cafe Cokl (24) (00 386 4 183 7556; cafecokl.si) near the base of the funicular (10).
A walk in the park
Learn more about Ljubljana’s green efforts on one of 12 sustainability-themed events throughout the year; September’s Beekeeping Trail will offer an insight into the city’s beekeeping history on a wander from Ljubljana Castle (4) to the Ljubljana Botanic Garden (25). All guided walks cost €10 and are bookable through the tourist office (5).
Take a ride
Bicycles can be rented around town for about €5 per day, or you can register for Ljubljana’s bike-share scheme, BicikeLJ (bicikelj.si) for €1 and borrow a bike for free for one hour. Energetic cyclists will enjoy The Path of Remembrance and Comradeship (also known as The Green Ring), a 35km recreational path running along the course of the barbed-wire fence which surrounded Ljubljana during WWII.
Mobility-restricted visitors can hail free rides around the Old Town in one of several Kavalir – little green electric carts that that ply the pedestrianised zone from 8am-8pm daily, even in winter.
The National Gallery of Slovenia (26) near the lush Tivoli Park (27) at Presernova cesta 24 (00 386 1 241 5418; ng-slo.si; €7) spans Slovenian art from the 13th to the 20th centuries.
One block south, at Cankarjeva cesta 15, the Museum of Modern Art (28) (00 386 1 241 6834; mg-lj.si; €5) houses works from Slovene greats including expressionist France Mihelic and surrealist Stane Kregar. Both galleries are open 10am-6pm Tuesday to Sunday, with late opening until 8pm on Thursday.
Hop another block south to the National Museum of Slovenia (29) at Muzejska 1 (00 386 1 241 4400; nms.si; 10am-6pm Tuesday to Sunday; €6), which explores the country’s past including Roman relics and a Neanderthal flute. A joint ticket for €8.50 also gets you into the Natural History Museum (same opening hours, €4), in the same building.
All four institutions offer free entry on the first Sunday of each month.
The icing on the cake
Just 50km from the city, picture-postcard Lake Bled is a deservedly popular day trip; organised tours start from €39 (visitljubljana.com), but it’s easy to drive, or take the bus or train. Admire the emerald lake from every angle on a stroll around the perimeter (6km), or take a gondola ride to Bled Island (€12 return) to get a closer look at the baroque Church of the Assumption (€6).