Ljubljana is the capital and largest city of Slovenia. With all of the conveniences of other capitals in Europe, plus the relaxed pace of a small town, I was completely charmed by this city that no tourist can pronounce. With so many fantastic adventures, unusual castles and outdoor experiences available outside the capital city, it can sometimes be easy to forget to explore the city.
Ljubljana is very easy to explore on foot once you get into the centre. Everything is relatively close to one another and the area is pedestrian free. Or, instead of exploring on foot, grab a bicycle. There were so many bikes whizzing in and out of pedestrians and there are bike lanes everywhere. While exploring, here are 7 free things to do in Ljubljana to make the most of your visit:
Ljubljana is celebrating 2000 years of Emona in 2014, which was a Roman city that once stool where Ljubljana is today. There are plenty of special events and activities happening all year that are worth checking out as well. Thanks to Mojca for pointing this out!
Free Walking Tour
Often, when I arrive in a new city, I like going on a walking tour to see what there is to do and where they are, plus a basic understanding of the country and city. Ljubljana had a great free tour available which takes you all over the city. The tour is 2 – 2.5 hours long and offers you a glimpse into the history of Slovenia and what makes the country what it is today. Like other free tours around the continent, you can pay our guide a tip at the end of the tour if you so desire.
Walk the Ljubljanica River
The Ljubljanica River is the main river that runs through Ljubljana. It divides the medieval centre with the rest of the city. As you walk along the river, you’ll encounter all of the city’s famous bridges – each one with its own unique character and story.
The river had becoming an area for lost treasures, with many relics and artifacts found within its waters. Why there are so many artifacts is unknown, but most historians believe it may be related to how the locals treated the river as a sacred place and offered their items to the river in celebration and times of trouble. The Slovenian government has now declared the river a site of cultural importance and have banned diving in the river without a permit.
Despite all this, the river is so nice to look at, as it winds through Ljubljana. The vast number of bridges that crosses the river are each so unique. It makes me feel like I’m in Italy – a little bit of Venice.
Ljubljana’s Central Market is located in and between Vodnikov trg and Pogačarnev trg squares. With three separate areas, you’re sure to find something to nibble on. There is an open air market, a covered market and a series of food shops running along the Ljubljanica River. If hungry, this is a great place to pick up an affordable meal. You can purchase local fruits and veggies, cured meats and bread, cheese and nuts. Everything you need for a picnic lunch.
The market is open Monday to Saturday, but hours vary depending on the day and time of year. Check the market website for the most up to date hours.
No, this park is nothing like the similarly named Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. Instead, Tivoli Park in Ljubljana is the biggest park in the city. Located slightly outside the city centre, but still within walking distance, Tivoli Park is the perfect place to head after grabbing some food at the central market. Take a walk around the pond, stroll the Jakopič Promenade, a popular outdoor gallery, or explore the Tivoli Castle and Cekin Mansion.
Ljubljana’s castle is perched on top of a hill in the centre of the city. It can be seen from all over the city. From the top, you can see all of the medieval centre and surrounding areas. The castle was built by the Habsburgs in the second half of the 15th century. Its main purpose was to defend against Turkish invasions and peasant revolts. It had a number of uses throughout its history from military hospital and arsenal to being used as a prison.
However, because no one lived there, and the need for fortification dwindled, the castle started to lose its importance and it started to crumble. In the 1950s, the castle was used to house poor families. But soon after, the castle was renovated to become a location for weddings and cultural events.
There are a number of paths that you can take that leads up to the castle. If you’re lazy (aka me), there is also the option of paying a few euro and taking a tram up. We were able to wander the grounds of the castle, but did not go inside any of the buildings as they were all museums and required a purchased ticket. From the top, you really can see all around the city. It quickly becomes very apparent how high the castle really is! Everything is tiny below you.
Within Ljubljana’s city limits is an autonomous region called Metelkova. This area became a communal space for many to exercise their free will and creativity. With a handful of different buildings in the area, there are many interesting and absurd installations, graffiti and art throughout. I went during the evening (more about that soon!), and the strangeness of it all coupled by the massive crowds of people, made for an uncomfortable experience.
I would have loved to go check it out during the day so that you can take in all the strangeness in daylight. In many ways, it reminds me of some of the offbeat ruin bars in Budapest. If you want something completely different and alternative, Metelkova is your place.
Not technically free, but a scoop of gelato is one or two euro and so worth it. Good enough to rival the ones I had in Italy. Grab a cup or cone and sit outside and people watch, or walk along the river.
Have you been to Ljubljana? Were you charmed like I was? What free things do you like to do in Ljubljana?