Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia and, with a good 280,000 inhabitants, also the largest in the country. Its central location could not be more fitting, as Ljubljana is the economic, political and above all cultural heart of Slovenia. Politically, Ljubljana has been tossed around quite a bit, having belonged at one time to Austria, France, Italy and also the German Empire, before finally coming to rest in 1991 and becoming politically bound to Slovenia. The different affiliations have also left their mark on the city, because Ljubljana is not only reminiscent of beautiful Austria in some corners, but also has a Mediterranean flair. An extraordinary combination!
Tip 1: Prešeren Square
Prešeren Square is the heart of the city. Like a kind of architectural trinity, the Three Bridges, the pink Franciscan Church and the sculpture of the poet France Prešeren meet here.
Right on the square there is also the Urbanc House, perhaps the most beautiful building in the whole city. It was built in 1903 in the Viennese Art Nouveau style. Then, as now, it housed a department store. Take a look at the beautiful entrance hall, with its elegantly curved three-part staircase.
Prešeren Square, so architecturally charming today, was just a simple, muddy fork in the road in front of the city walls in the Middle Ages. Since the 17th century, the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation has stood on this spot. The redesign really took off in the 19th century, when the old city wall was demolished. Street paving, lighting and new bourgeois houses followed.
Tip 2: Tromostovje
They are perhaps the most famous work of the Slovenian star architect Jože Plečnik: the Three Bridges.
In the Middle Ages, only a simple wooden bridge stood on this spot. As a trade link between the countries of the North and the Balkans, it had high strategic importance early on.
Pedestrians and carts crossed the bridge, more and more stalls settled there. At some point, the streetcar was also added. In short: the bridge was a bottleneck and blocked the flow of traffic in the center.
Reason enough for the city planners to come up with a new bridge concept. Instead of simply building a larger, wider bridge, architect Jože Plečnik added two pedestrian bridges to the left and right of the “main bridge” between 1929-32. Funnel-shaped, they now connect the Old Town with Prešeren Square. Instead of a metal railing, each of the bridges received stone balustrades and chandeliers.
From the pedestrian bridges, stairs lead down to terraces by the river.
Tip 3: Central Market
The Central Market stretches from Vodnikov Square to Pogačarjev Square. The market hall between the two squares and the market halls along the Ljubljanica River are also part of the central market. All around are smaller inns and stalls with street food.
The central market is a fantastic place to get in touch with Slovenian cuisine. Local food producers sell their wares here – from farmers to fish farmers. Unlike, say, the Viktualienmarkt in Munich, the square is not just a backdrop for tourists: Ljubljana residents do their daily shopping here. From simple vegetables to seasonal specialties, everything that bubbles in a Slovenian cooking pot can be found here.
The icing on the cake at the Central Market is the so-called Open Kitchen, which takes place here every Friday from mid-March to the end of October (though not in rainy weather). Professional chefs prepare food from very different regions of Slovenia at numerous stalls. Nowhere else can guests sample the country’s culinary diversity so easily.
Practical: everything is prepared in relatively small portions. So hungry people can try and feast at several stands at once. The casual, relaxed atmosphere on the riverbank is a treat in itself. You can easily get in touch with locals over a glass of wine or beer.
Tip 4: Dragon Bridge
“Mother-in-law Bridge” is its popular name: The Dragon Bridge is one of the most popular photo motifs in the city – although pedestrians have to share it with cars.
In 1819, a wooden structure called “Butcher’s Bridge” stood on this spot. However, it fell victim to a major earthquake in 1895. In 1900, construction work began on a new, innovative bridge: The newly developed reinforced concrete was used for the first time. This had two advantages: The bridge was stable and at the same time cheaper than stone bridges. Not only was the reinforced concrete innovative: for the first time in Slovenia, a road section was covered with asphalt.
The Dragon Bridge is considered a masterpiece of Art Nouveau architecture. As such, it was dedicated to Emperor Franz Josef I on the 40th anniversary of his throne. Therefore, it was originally called “Jubilee Bridge”. After the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy, however, it has officially borne the name “Dragon Bridge” since 1919.
Curious: instead of the dragons, double eagles and wreaths were originally planned – emblems of the Habsburg monarchy. However, this design variant was too expensive. So the city planners decided quite pragmatically for a cheaper dragon version.
Tip 5: Ljubljana Castle
Ljubljana Castle is a mighty fortress on a hill next to the center of Ljubljana. It is by far the largest and most striking structure in the capital of Slovenia. The top sight can be reached both on foot on a steep path, and by cable car.
On the Ljubljana Castle Hill, a fortress complex already stood in the Middle Ages, in the late first millennium AD. The foundation walls and the church of the present castle are from the 15th century. However, many parts of Ljubljana Castle were built later, especially in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the 19th century, Ljubljana Castle housed a prison. In 1905 it was bought by the city. After that, ordinary citizens lived in the castle. Gradually, the castle was renovated and became a tourist attraction. Since 2006 there is a small cable car to the castle complex from the city center. In recent years, the castle has had more than three million visitors and is one of the most important sights in Slovenia.