Ljubljana
Belles on Location

Raise Your Hand if You can Spell, Pronounce or Find Ljubljana

Welcome to Ljubljana, a city no-one can pronounce in a country no-one can find on a map.

This capital city sits centrally in the former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia. Bordered by Italy to the west, Austria to the north and Hungary to the east, this stunning country is often bypassed by travelers heading south to the largest country on its border, Croatia, on the way to Split, Dubrovnic, and the Dalmatian coast.

They are missing a lot.

Ljubljana, which straddles the Ljubljanica River, is a jewel. An initial glance reveals a sophisticated, urban landscape with ancient roots, but look deeper and you’ll find it fueled by a youthful population intent on transforming the city of their parents into a thriving alternative culture scene.

Not far from the train station, a group of young entrepreneurs have renovated a former prison into an art gallery and hip youth hostel known as Celica. In 1993, a group of 80 Slovene and international artists protected the building from demolition with their own bodies, transforming a space that was at one time used to confine, into an open arena where creative ideas are now exchanged.

Slovenes have long used healthy, locally grown ingredients, and instead of soda machines, these automatic milk vendors can be found all over the city.

The city’s emblem, a dragon atop a castle, can be found everywhere, even decorating manholes in the cobblestone streets.

The central market – a colorful mecca of fruits, vegetables and unique leather goods – wraps around a building designed by the Slovene architect, Joze Plecnik, where Ljubljanites can regularly be overhead saying, “Let’s meet by the river!”

One favorite meeting place is this recently constructed bridge, complete with a glass floor, whose modern design blends seamlessly with the city’s more traditional architecture.

Ljubljana residents have taken to decorating the new bridge with bicycle locks inscribed with messages, and hang them from the metal rails.

Slovenes are primarily Catholic, and on All Soul’s Day, families buy these large, colorful candles to place on their ancestors’ graves.

Everywhere you look, you’ll find a sophisticated city that mixes the best of the old world….

….with the new.

With chestnuts in season, a perfect way to end the day is with a slice of chestnut torte. Pair it with a cappuccino, take a seat at a sidewalk cafe, and savor the eclectic beauty of this uniquely European, yet little-known city that is just waiting to be discovered.

* all photographs by Amanda Summer ©

Amanda Summer is a writer and archaeologist who excavates in Greece. She has written for the New York Times, Islands, Archaeology and The Best Travel Writing. When not digging, she lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her family and Airedale terrier. For more stories, visit her website, Travels with Persephone.

This article has 24 comments

  1. Shannon O'Donnell

    He he – I can do all three! I spent two weeks in Slovenia and I loved the summer months in the capital city. Great photos, I haven’t seen the new bridge but I love that the locals have already started to put their mark in it!

  2. Caroline in the City

    Those photos are great! I met some Slovenian girls in London and they taught me how to say a bunch of words. Not an easy language. I should have gone there when I was in Croatia. Next time, definitely.

  3. Eurotrip Tips

    More and more people speak about Slovenia as the next big discovery in Europe (the last one being Croatia). Hurry and book something there before it’s spoiled!

    It really seems like a beautiful country. I think I might just add it to my next eurotrip!

  4. Tuula

    Very nice photos! I had no idea about Ljubljana either- looks like a wonderful city to visit & such a good location to tack onto a trip to Italy or Croatia – thanks for giving us more insight into the city & expect to be hearing much more about it!

  5. Scott

    Amanda, great read! I was there in September for three nights and stayed at Hostel Celica. the cells and the town are as cool as they look!

  6. amanda

    Shannon – What an exciting trip that must have been for you! And summer in Slovenia must be gorgeous……when you return be sure to bring your own bicycle lock for the new bridge!

  7. amanda

    Caroline – I agree – it’s not an easy language – I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t learn a word, even though I was visiting relatives! While Slovenia borders Croatia, it’s quite a different landscape, especially north, towards Austria. I hope you have a chance to visit sometime soon!

  8. amanda

    Eurotrip – I agree with you about Slovenia being the next big travel discovery — looking forward to reading your article about Ljubljana!

  9. amanda

    Tuula – It is so easy to get to Slovenia from Italy – it’s only a couple hours from Venice as well as the Istrian peninsula of Croatia — just be sure to buy a vignette for your car at the border. Slovenian roads are very good, but they require this sticker to be affixed to your windshield and they will fine you if you don’t have it!

  10. amanda

    Scott – How fabulous that you stayed at the Celica! I hope you got a chance to eat in the hostel’s cool cafe and check out the gallery as well– 😉

  11. Karen

    Amanda,
    Thank you so much for educating me about Slovenia! I wish there were a button on this post where I could hear you say the name of this city. I still don’t know how to pronounce it! But I am very intrigued after reading your story and I hope more people will like you make Slovenia their destination, rather than just passing through. 🙂

  12. Margo Millure

    Humm… I’m liking this pronunciation button idea 😉

  13. amanda

    Karen — I love your idea about the audio button! But even I’m not sure I’d be pronouncing Ljubljana correctly…..;-)

  14. amanda

    Margo – A fellow blogger has this cool feature on her website where she reads her own poetry out loud – so I know it can be done!

  15. Bobbi

    Great read! I love hearing about new places to add to my need to travel to list!
    Ljubljana sounds like a wonderful one.
    Loved the pic’s.

    Bobbi

  16. Margo Millure

    cool! Let me know the url.. I’d love to check out her site! 🙂

  17. Nicole

    To be honest, I hadn’t given Slovenia much thought before, but now I want to go! 🙂

  18. Scott

    You know I did peak my head into the gallery and was impressed. As far as the cafe, I stuck to the drinks and wifi! Ljubljana has to be the most manageable capital I have been to in Europe.

  19. Cailin

    Great post! I loved the photos.
    I see the locks on bridges all over eastern Europe. So cute, but think about how many keys must be in the water below. 🙂

  20. amanda

    Bobbi — Glad you enjoyed the article — and I hope you have a chance to travel to this wonderful city soon!

  21. amanda

    Nicole — You’re not alone! Until this past year, Slovenia wasn’t high on my “to go” list, but I’d return in a heartbeat, it’s that amazing…..

  22. amanda

    Cailin – These locks on bridges are a fascinating tradition, but I’m sure the city fathers (and mothers) aren’t so keen about the keys in the water part! 😉

  23. Gael

    Amanda – Wonderful article and I would love to hear about the relatives you visited. In the photos I see so many young people and the city is such a mix of old and new. Must go there next time I am in Europe and hang a lock on the bridge, then keep the key so to return one day to remove the lock after my prayer words have blown in the wind.

  24. amanda

    Gael – Ljubljana is a wonderful mix of old and new — as well as old and young! I like your idea of hanging a lock on the bridge and keeping the key instead of tossing it in the river. That way you’ll be destined to return one day to this fabulous city!

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