There are few cities which render me gob-smacked quickly. In fact, there are only a few I can count which had me fall hopelessly in love at first glimpse: Madrid, Berlin and Split. And, now Ljubljana is also on the I’m-crazy-about-you list. This gorgeous, whimsical capital surrounded by the Alps to one side and the Karst region to the other, is only one of the many gems tucked into the tiny country of Slovenia.
For starters, being in Ljubljana makes me feel like I could believe in fairy tales again, complete with the gorgeous and clear river running through the town to the castle topping the hill in the city center. I can just close my eyes and imagine snow flakes fluttering to the ground, donning an Elsa-inspired shimmery dress.
It’s that magical of a city.
Normally, I would just write about the reasons you should fall in love with Ljubljana. Today, I’m going to show you (and tell you!).
Why Ljubljana needs to be on your itinerary
Aside from the obvious (hello, less touristy European capital) and in-your-face (read: gorgeous), Ljubljana is one of those places that is quietly becoming the little darling of Central Europe. As I have traveled through the years, more and more people whisper the Slovenian capital’s name. I assume they whisper because really, they don’t want to give away the secret: an affordable city packed with culture in a country offering an array of options for most travel interests. And, honestly, I can’t blame them for wanting to keep Ljubljana a secret. When I mention the name, some people stare at me blankly, unsure if I have even uttered a real word.
Well, thankfully, Ljubljana is real. And, it is absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous.
So, why should you head to Ljubljana?
The cool history of the castle on the hill
Ljulbjana Castle, Ljubljanski grad, is only 80 meters above the city on the aptly named Castle Hill, Grajski grič, but hike up to the top (or take the funicular if the steep trek up isn’t your cup of tea) and that 80 meters goes a long way, treating people to a spectacular view of the capital, as well as the surrounding Alps and beyond.
This medieval castle first came to be in the 1200s, serving as a fortification to defend against the Ottoman invasion and peasant revolt, an arsenal, a military hospital and even a prison until World War I.
However, once it fell out of use, it lost favor with those in town. When, in 1905, the city decided to make it a place for the poor to settle. This was the norm until the 1960s, when it was time for the castle to undergo the necessary renovations.
Today, the historic fortress is mainly a tourist attraction.
To get there, either follow one of the routes which entail about a 10-minute trek up Castle Hill, or take the funicular.
The gorgeously preserved St. Nicholas’ Cathedral
It is so easy to get churched out while exploring Europe and its history, which often melds religion. I try to skip churches as often as possible because hey, you’ve seen one church, you’ve seen ’em all, right?
Ladies and gentlemen, the gorgeous St. Nicholas’ Cathedral, Stolnica svetega Nikolaja:
Originally a gothic church, today’s Cathedral is a baroque version dating back to the 1800s. Today, visitors can still see some of the history preserved. Some of the Baroque decor, like the frescoes painted by Giulio Quaglio, remain, as well as other items like the altar angels, the dome frescos and the statues of the four bishops under the dome beam.
The easy to spot cathedral is identifiable thanks to twin green domes and its location in the city center on the Cyril and Methofius Square and near the Town Hall and Central Market.
The other church, you know, the pink one
OK, so calling the it the “Pink Church” isn’t the way to go, but this historic church is one of those landmarks associated with the capital of Slovenia. Located in Prešeren Square, it is actually called the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation, Frančiškanska cerkev, and was built between 1646 and 1660.
Architecture transcending time
On a walk through Ljubljana’s city center, it is hard to ignore the varied architecture which treats visitors to windows of the past, thanks to the magnificent and well-preserved buildings. Buildings, bridges (Triple Bridge and Dragon Bridge included) and more can be attributed to the famous architect Jože Plečnik, who left his touch on the young city.
The heart of the city is largely Baroque-style and Vienna Secession … easy to simply fall in love with. Spend a day wandering the layers of the city center to discover hidden gems that have withstood earthquakes and the general test of time.
Numerous bridges connect the old city to the new, many which have come to life at the hands of famous designers. Popular ones (and easily recognizable) include Butcher’s Bridge with love locks dangling along its bars, Dragon Bridge and its namesake sculptures perched on it, and Triple Bridge featuring three bridges elevated about Ljubljanica River.
Sure, plenty of cities have rivers cutting through them, but they don’t have the Ljubljanica River. This gorgeous green-blue body of water, isn’t just a body of water; history flows through, too. The Ljubljanica has delivered relics from as far back as the Stone Age, including a spearhead.
Today, visitors to Ljubljana can hop aboard a boat tour and cruise down the sparkling waters.
Stay tuned. Part Two is coming up with even more inspirational images to entice you to come visit Ljubljana.
This post is part of the D Travels Europe (and Israel) series. Stay up-to-date on all of my adventures by following along on Twitter (#dtravelseurope), Instagram,Trover, G+ and Facebook. And, for a look at the health and wellness side of European travel, be sure to follow along at The Comfort Zone Project and on TCZP’s Facebook.