Are you wondering what to do in Ljubljana in one day? Never fear! I’ve put together this itinerary which will introduce you to the glamorous highlights – and grungey underground – of the Slovenian capital.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I visited Ljubljana in September 2019. It was really just a pit stop before heading off to Lake Bled, however I never like to skip over a city. So, we were sure to assign a day in Ljubljana.
What I discovered was a city that truly is full of juxtapositions. A couple of streets away from the fairytale-esque Old Town, you’ll find ultra-cool urban street art. One thing is for sure: it’s well worth spending a day exploring Ljubljana.
Ljubljana is a fairly small capital city with a smidgen under 300,000 residents. One of its proudest achievements was being named Europe’s green city in 2016. You’ll see Ljubljana’s commitment to green initiatives wherever you go – recycling is a big deal, and cars are banned from the city centre. This makes Ljubljana a beautiful, clean and safe city.
Getting around Ljubljana
As mentioned, Ljubljana’s centre is locked down to cars – yay! Because of its size, it is super easy to walk around the entire city. Another option is to hire a bike and explore the city on two wheels, however I stuck to wandering on foot.
Basic information – currency, language, etc
Getting around Ljubljana is easy and not just due to its modest size. English is widely spoken, although a couple of phrases of Slovenian don’t hurt. Slovenia is part of the Euro, and the currency is the Euro.
In terms of prices, I found Slovenia to be a mid-range destination – it wasn’t as cheap as other parts of Eastern Europe, but it’s definitely more affordable than places like France or the UK.
How to spend one day in Ljubljana
If you ask me, Ljubljana is a goldilocks city. It’s not too big and not too small – just perfect for exploring over a day. Sure, you could spend more time there if you had it, but in one day you’ll definitely be able to pick out the highlights.
In this one day Ljubljana itinerary, I’ll endeavour to show you more than just the pretty buildings of Ljubljana. One of my favourite things about the city is that it is a gorgeous place with a gritty underbelly – and you can even discover that in one day!
Start your day in Ljubljana a little bit out of the city, near Tivoli Park. It’s a nice welcome to Ljubljana, as it is the city’s largest green space and a very popular place with locals. Arriving in the morning, you’ll probably see plenty of people out enjoying the green space.
To fuel up for your day of exploring Ljubljana, I recommend stopping in at the café Čolnarna. In all honesty, the food isn’t blow-your-mind spectacular (that will come later), but it’s got one of the prettiest spots in Ljubljana overlooking the lake.
It’s certainly a warm welcome to this environmentally-conscious and green city!
Once you’ve had your coffee fix (or tea, if you’re like my husband!) then it’s time to dive in and start seeing more of Ljubljana.
You can’t get this close to Tivoli Park without actually exploring it! It was designed in the 19th century by a French designer (it seems in the 19th century, everyone wanted that French chic!), but it’s been added onto several times.
This includes the addition of the Jakopič Promenade as a space for outdoor exhibitions, and usually photographs. Don’t miss it!
St Cyril and Methodius Church
Not far away from Tivoli Park you’ll find St Cyril and Methodius Church, a Serbian Orthodox church that is very ornate and beautiful. Trying to find this church on Google Maps was quite the adventure – I was super confused to find an abudnace of “St Cyril and Methodius” churches scattered all around Eastern Europe.
The mystery was solved when I learnt that Saints Cyril and Methodius are known as the Apostles of the Slavs. So yeah, they’re kind of a big deal throughout the Slavic region, including Ljubljana.
The Cathedral was built in the 1930s, and inside you’ll see an amazingly decorated interior with plenty of gold leaf.
Walk down Cankarjeva Cesta
It’s now time to walk towards one of my favourite parts of Ljubljana, Old Town. There are a few ways to get there, but I recommend taking the walking route down Cakarjeva Cesta. Along this road you’ll be treated to lots of grand old buildings, including the National Gallery and the National Ballet.
If you have time and a particular interest, you could pop into the National Gallery – however, I personally skipped it.
Explore Old Town
When I first laid eyes on Ljubljana’s beautiful Old Town, I did a serious double-take. It looked like something out of a fairytale; maybe a little arrondissement of Paris but with distinct Mediterranean vibes. Oh, and there’s a canal. What more could you want?
Just wandering around Old Town is a total delight. The big name attractions here are few and far between (one is Robba Fountain), so the main thing to do is just wander around, admiring the architecture and stopping for a coffee (or six, if you’re like me.)
Lunch at Prešeren Square
There’s no better place for lunch than at Ljubljana’s central square. It’s the home of many festivals, events, markets and protests – so the real heart of the city.
It’s also a great spot to stop for lunch. We actually didn’t eat here so can’t give a personal recommendation, but Organic Garden has great reviews.
Cross Triple Bridge
Ljubljana’s most photographed landmark is a definite must-see while you’re in the city. Plus, as it connects two of the city’s most popular landmarks (the Central Market and Prešeren Square), it’s unlikely you’ll miss it.
The bridge was designed and built in 1929 after being designed by the famous architect Jože Plečnik. You might recognise his name, as he kind of single handedly created the look of Ljubljana. (Well, that might be an exaggeration – but he did do a lot.)
Don’t forget to turn back and take a photo, it’s another must-do in Ljubljana!
St Nicholas Cathedral
While standing in the Central Market, it’s pretty hard to miss St Nicholas Cathedral – another unmissable sight in Ljubljana. It’s so famous that it’s often referred to as Ljubljana Cathedral, as its one of the most iconic places in the city.
The Cathedral is unique due to its deep ochre colour. However, it’s most impressive if you go inside. If you’ve ever wanted to see true devotion at work, then be prepared to be dazzled by the level of detail in this cathedral. It’s absolutely beautiful, with Biblical images covering every inch of the interior.
The history of the Cathedral is really interesting. Most of the Baroque Church on view was built between 1701 and 1706, however the sight has been a place of faith for much longer. In fact, the earliest mention of a church there dates from 1262. It was badly damaged in 1341 before being restored, however it was finally destroyed in 1469 – probably by the Turks.
It’s certainly a fascinating place to see in Ljubljana.
Shop for souvenirs at the Central Market
After you’ve crossed the famous Triple Bridge (or one of its neighbours if it’s too crowded), then you’ll find yourself in the Central Market. There’s no way you can miss it – it’s unmistakably market-y, and really draws the crowds, especially in summer.
There are a range of different products, with some of the best being local produce and crafts. If you’re looking for some nice souvenirs, this is the place to find them! You’ll find that most stall holders speak English, which makes things easy.
Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s still nice to have a little poke around the stalls as there is a great atmosphere.
Optional: Museum of Illusions
To be honest, it won’t kill you to skip this one if you’re not a giant child like I am. However, if you’ve got time and an interest then the Museum of Illusions is a fun thing to do in Ljubljana. Plus, it doesn’t take ages so it fits easily into your one day in Ljubljana.
The museum is set over two floors, and is devoted to all kinds of optical illusions. There are a bunch of them on the walls, like lines that look curved but aren’t, and that weird moving dot picture that’s always tripped me out.
The highlight of the museum, however, are the more interactive exhibits. There are lots of fun ones, including the room of mirrors and the upside-down room. They’re all great for a laugh, and for some Instagram shots! But the best one of all is the ultra-strange vortex room… just maybe make sure your lunch is settled first.
Just as iconic as Ljubljana Cathedral is the Dragon Bridge, which is our next stop while exploring Ljubljana in a day. This bridge is hard to miss – just keep your eye out for the fiery green dragon, his mouth open in a terrifying roar!
The dragon has been a key landmark in Ljubljana since the bridge opened in 1907. One local legend says that it is depicts a dragon that was killed by Jason, the founder of Ljubljana. Another, more eyebrow raising legend is that he allegedly wags his tail when a virgin walks across the bridge… Sounds like a story parents tell to their misbehaving teenagers!
I’ll be honest, Rog is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, so this one is strictly on the ‘optional’ list. I know a few people who probably would have fainted just at the sight of this Mad Max-esque abandoned factory, but I seriously loved it.
Rog started off in 2006 when an ‘autonomous’ group took over an abandoned bicycle factory and turned it into… a lot of things. First and foremost, it’s a seriously cool street art “gallery” of sorts, but they also do other events and run a soup kitchen for vulnerable locals.
It’s all pretty disorganised and the Government’s official policy is that they don’t support it, but it’s an incredibly cool place. If you like urban photography like I do, you might have to be dragged out of this place after an hour or two.
Metelkova (if not going to drinks)
If you want even more street art, or you’d rather skip Rog and go for the on-firmer-legal-ground option, then the next stop on our one day Ljubljana itinerary is the famous Metelkova. Somewhat like Rog, this commune of sorts started when a group took over an abandoned army barracks in the city.
After some tense moments with the city of Ljubljana, it was eventually embraced and turned into a tried and true Ljubljana attraction. Well, that’s one way to deal with pesky anarchists!
Today, Metelkova still retains its gritty edge (there is some seriously weird art in there), but it’s also more socially accepted. On a Friday night, you’re likely to see suits sipping a drink alongside punks and university students.
By day, you get a good chance to admire the art and there are frequent events as well. However, if you are planning to go out for drinks, it’s even more fun at night.
You can’t spend a day in Ljubljana without catching a glimpse of Ljubljana Castle looking down over the city. The castle was originally built in the 12th Century, however it’s been substantially amended. Over its life, it’s been a jail as well as a home for the poor – today it’s a popular tourist hotspot.
As you might expect, it gets some pretty beautiful views so it’s a good place to visit for the late afternoon. It’s a quick and fairly easy walk up to the top, and there are a lot of cute little streets to look at – with an abundance of cats! However, if you’d prefer not to walk (fair call) you can take the funicular instead.
From the castle grounds you’ll get some nice views over Ljubljana. You can enter the castle for a bit of a museum on the history of the city and the castle, as well as to admire the architecture up close. Personally, though, I skipped it – and I don’t regret that choice.
For dinner, I highly recommend joining the locals and visitors enjoying some delicious food and drinks along the side of the river. I highly recommend sitting out under the festoon lighting if the weather permits – it’s just so lovely!
We dined at Slovenian House, and it was fabulous. The menu features lots of Slovenian classics, including beautiful platters of cured meats and cheeses. It’s very affordable and the service was quick. If you can, I recommend booking if you visit during high season – we got lucky with a table, but there really weren’t many available.
If you’ve got a night to spend in Ljubljana then it’s well worth exploring some of the city’s nightlife. Even though Slovenia’s capital is relatively small, it is a super cool place with a bunch of fabulous bars and drinking haunts.
The best of the lot is undoubtedly Metelkova. There’s just something so cool about having a beer or cocktail in an old army barracks, surrounded by amazing urban art. Even though it does look a little grunge-y, it’s totally safe and lots of fun. Be sure to take a look at what’s happening on the website, as they often have special events and concerts.