A Guide to SloveniaEastern Europe — By Kristen P on May 25, 2011 at 12:00 pm
By James Rathmell
Although often shoehorned into the ‘Eastern Europe’ volumes of popular travel guides, the people of Slovenia beg to differ, preferring to think of their country as sitting right at the heart of our continent. This opinion is fully justified if you actually examine a map and note its central position, sandwiched between four neighboring countries, the mountains and the sea. Slovenes are rightly proud of their small, but beautiful patch of the continental European quilt, which boasts an enticing mix of sprawling, diverse rural landscapes interspersed with colorful, cosmopolitan cities – none more so than its capital, Ljubljana.
After a recent short break spent in the city, here’s my whistle-stop guide to the sights, bars & restaurants and accommodation options that Ljubljana has to offer for the ultimate Slovenian experience:
The compact city center means that everywhere is within easy walking distance and it doesn’t take long to get your bearings. The central reference points are the city’s Triple Bridge (Tromostovje) and Central Square (Prešernov trg), which houses the colorful Franciscan Church of the Annunciation.
Overlooking the city, Ljubljana Castle is worth a visit for the views alone. The uphill walk is not too onerous, but the tourist train and funicular railway provide some lazy alternatives (both 3 Euros return). Most of the castle is free-entry, but for a 5 Euro charge, it is possible to access the chapel, virtual museum and 19th Century tower.
The helpful tourist information office is located in a prominent spot next to the Triple Bridge. There are a number of guided tours available, with the Walking & River tour coming highly recommended. For 8 Euros, you get an informative tour of the Old Town, incorporating the medieval squares (Stari trg and Gornji trg), Town Hall and historic Cathedral of St Nicholas, before boarding a boat to see the city from the Ljubljanica River, passing under its numerous bridges in the process, each with its own intriguing back-story.
Bars and Restaurants
A few recommendations are listed below, but if you do get chance to visit the city, much of the fun comes from seeking out your own favorite haunts, with every new street concealing another bar or restaurant tucked away.
- Metalkova – Graffiti-daubed former army garrison which now houses a selection of ultra-hip underground clubs. Visit at the weekend and after midnight.
- Pr’skelet – Skeleton-themed cellar bar with an extensive cocktail list.
- Fabrika – Buzzing student spot with top tunes and cheap beers.
- Ljubljanski Dvor – Riverside pizzeria, serving up huge pizzas at decent prices.
- Delikatesen Ljubljana Dvor – For a quick snack, try the meat burek (a bit like a Cornish pasty).
- Sokol – Offers traditional, rustic cuisine and charming interior. Surely one of the best places to eat in Slovenia!
By all accounts, Hostel Celica is a superb choice for any discerning backpacker or budget-conscious traveler. Located in the Metalkova area, the building is a former prison, with converted cells making for a selection of quirky rooms. If this popular hostel is fully booked, an excellent alternative is Vila Veselova, located to the west of the city center near Tivoli Park. Within easy walking distance from the main train and bus stations, this sociable hostel comes fully equipped with color-themed rooms, free breakfasts, free internet and smiley staff. For those with a more generous budget, the city has its fair share of mid and top-end hotels such as the Grand Hotel Union Executive, with its ornate décor and prime location.
Hopefully some of my suggestions above will inspire others to visit this vibrant city, which remains somewhat of a hidden gem, despite its location – at the heart of Europe.
James Rathmell is a Geography graduate currently working in Manchester as a Transport Planner. He can often be found city-hopping across Europe or gigging with his band at a venue near you.
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