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

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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 ©

About the author

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.

24 thoughts on “Raise Your Hand if You can Spell, Pronounce or Find Ljubljana”

  1. 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. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

  7. 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– 😉

  8. 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. 🙂

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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. 🙂

  12. 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…..

  13. 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! 😉

  14. 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.

  15. 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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