A city we knew so little about before we booked our trip. And one we could barely pronounce, for that matter! (it’s pronounced Loo-blee-yana in case you were wondering)
But that completely changed when we decided that seeing Erin’s favorite band in concert (Garbage) was the perfect excuse to hop in the car and go for a drive. A 3 ½ hour drive from Salzburg to Ljubljana to be exact.
We’d only be going for 1 night, but we knew just how to make the most of it…
24 Hours in Ljubljana
Day 1: Road Trips and Dragons and Castles OH MY
Ever since we bought a car in Austria, we’ve been ALL about road trips. We made it a mission to explore the countries that surround us, and Slovenia was a definite road trip opportunity! There’s nothing like discovering and appreciating all the awesome scenery that exists right around the corner.
Most of our drive to Ljubljana was through Austria towards Graz. As we kept driving through this beautiful country, we realized just how much more of Austria we have to explore. We passed about a million castle and epic mountains on the way… (noted for later!)
…And then there was SLOVENIA!
After some traffic, we crossed the Slovenia border. Instantly, we were in complete awe. Slovenia actually looks like Austria. Nothing about the scenery changed. The mountains were still epic, the hills were still endless and green. Everything looked so taken care of!
We were excited to see a country that we never thought we’d see in our lifetime, but instantly felt so connected to. So far, Slovenia was really impressing us!
Highway Vignette – CHECK!
The first thing we did when we crossed the border was stop at a gas station off the highway. We had to get a highway vignette in order to drive to our final destination. If we didn’t have one, it would mean a 300 euro fine. Definitely not worth the risk.
Within minutes we had our 15 euro vignette – for a week of driving in Slovenia (2016) and were on our way.
Ljubljana, we have arrived!
After a little while longer on the road, we made it to Ljubljana and our Airbnb for the night. We had to wait to check in, so we parked our car, made sure we were in the right place and packed up for our day exploring the city. There was no time to waste!
It was the most amazing June summer day possible. 70s, sunny with no clouds at all! We were SO EXCITED to be here.
To the Dragon Bridge we go.
We wanted to start checking off some of the best and most famous sites of the city right away. So off we went, heading straight to the Dragon Bridge.
The Dragon Bridge crosses the river between Kopitar St and Ressel St.
This bridge is seriously awesome (anything involving dragons ALWAYS is!) There’s even a legend based off this bridge: if a virgin crosses the Dragon bridge, the dragons will wag their tails!
We didn’t see any tail-wagging, but we’ll go with the legends…
After that fun, we walked along the river, enjoying the beautiful colors of Ljubljana across the bright blue sky. We had a good feeling about this city from the beginning. The words pleasant and peaceful came to mind as we started strolling around.
The city has heart, and you can feel it.
After the bridge came Central Market. Here you’ll find fresh produce, bright and beautiful flowers, souvenirs and crafts. It’s the perfect place to get a feel and taste of the city!
There’s also food stands (that looked delicious) and places to sit and relax. We decided to breeze through, admire, snap some photos and keep on walking. There was so much to see in Ljubljana and so little time.
But first, we needed some delicious sausage. We’d read about a place called Klobasarna, on TripAdvisor. Here they serve Carniolian sausage, which is the most traditional and famous Slovenian sausage. According to TripAdvisor, it was fresh, affordable and delicious! That’s all the convincing we needed, so we headed there for some much needed lunch.
The man running Klobasarna couldn’t be nicer – a reoccurring theme that we experienced in Ljubljana.
Everyone is so friendly, welcoming and helpful. And they all speak really good English!
As far as the food here, it was definitely fresh, affordable and tasty. (We live in Austria, so sausages are a serious thing and our standards are probably way too high. So us liking Slovenian sausage was a good sign!)
To the Old Town Square
After our meal, we walked along the side streets off the main square. The buildings were really pretty and colorful. We shopped at souvenir shops, grabbed the Slovenian flag (that’s become our travel trend since we moved to Europe) and some other awesome finds.
The city’s symbol is a DRAGON. And since they are known for their ceramics, we got a ceramic dragon. The country is also famous for the art of painting beehive panels, a tradition in Slovenia that dates back to the 18th century!
After our dragon purchase, we picked up a map and headed back out to explore more of the city. We saw St. Nicholas Cathedral from the outside, but instead of going in, like most travelers would do, we got distracted by a giant dancing bear across the street at the toy store…
Just like the oh so responsible adults that we are, we walked across, pressed a bright red button right under the bear and enjoyed a little song and a dance! (You can see it in the Snapchat video below – at the end of our 24 hours in Ljubljana!)
Preseren Square and the Triple Bridge
The walk through the Old Town continued to Preseren Square, which is the main square of the Old Town. Here we found the Triple Bridge. Literally three identical side-by-side bridges that connect the medieval old town with the modern Ljubljana. It’s a really impressive structure – definitely unlike any bridge we’ve seen!
When walked around Preseren Square, enjoying ALL the sites and them stumbled upon Cacao,. AKA the most AMAZING ice cream in the city (maybe of ALL time.) Just as delicious as it looks…
Now, what’s the only activity worthy of following this life-changing ice-cream experience? A medieval castle!
Tickets for the castle and cable car together cost 10 euros/person (2016). You can also opt for just the castle tour or go crazy and get tickets for the castle, cable car AND guide. The choice is yours!
We chose to ride the cable car up and walk around the castle ourselves. We knew there would be lots to see, so we planned to stay up there for a while. And WOW – there was definitely a LOT to see!
The Archers Tower has BEAUTIFUL views. It’s from the 15th century, but now has been turned into a really nice restaurant.
The Castle Vine, located right next to the dungeon was planted in 1990 as a gift from Maribor. It’s actually the oldest noble vine in the WORLD, dating back 400 years!
At Ljubljana Castle, you can also walk the castle walls and admire the city below, which we did plenty of.
Then there’s the Puppet Museum. We’ve never had so much fun in a museum. EVER. You can put on shadow puppet, hand puppet and marionette shows whenever you’d like. Each of us put on our own performance for each other. It was a BLAST!
Bring on the VIEWS
The Viewing Tower is the best place to appreciate Ljubljana and Slovenia from above. We made the journey up and ended up being the only 2 people at the top of the tower the entire time. It was so relaxing (and romantic) to be able to enjoy that moment (and those views!) for ourselves.
On the way out of the tower, you can also sit and watch a brief movie about the history of the castle and of the city. The perfect opportunity to relax, and learn a little more about a place we were already loving so much. Plus, learning the history of a city can lead to SO much more appreciation!
Castle Chapel of St George and Calligraphy
Last but not least, we stopped in the Castle’s chapel.
Of course the chapel was really beautiful, but our favorite part was the calligrapher, Miro, who’s set up in the chapel.
Miro will write your name or a message in calligraphy, accepting just donations. We talked to him for almost an entire hour. About travel, his beautiful work and life in general. Calligraphy is such an art form, so it was interesting to learn all about what he does and everything he knows (which is a LOT!) He wrote our names in calligraphy and signed the back (totally frame-worthy!)
Down we go…
After lounging on the grass in the center of the castle walls for a few minutes, we headed back on the cable car for the ride down. We were ready for a drink and some FOOD!
We walked the city and chose a restaurant on the water, which there are many of! Boats were floating by, the cool night was approaching. We sat and relaxed, enjoying our environment and our pizza with a view. It was the perfect way to end our day.
After all, we had a concert to attend that night! Erin’s favorite band in the whole wide world is Garbage. And the reason we made the trip to Ljubljana was for him to fulfill his dream and see them live in concert.
And that was just about to go down…
A Concert Abroad
This was our first live concert in another country. So we were REALLY excited! The concert turned out to be a a BLAST. It’s a cool feeling to be in a place where you can’t understand the language, but can sing alongside all the locals!
That no matter what language you speak, music can be the common language.
Day 1 of our Ljubljana Adventure through Snapchat!
Day 2: Lake Bled, the most magical of lands.
We woke up early the next day. Ready for Day 2 of our Slovenian adventure! But first, we had to check out Tivoli Park.
Tivoli Park pit-stop
From what we read it was something we needed to see! So we got the car ready and headed there on our way out.
There are tons of activities. Tennis courts, mini golf, biking paths. People running, relaxing. The perfect spot for Slovenians who want to enjoy an active day. We sat down for few minutes for a morning coffee and croissant. (not the best croissant, but it did the trick..)
The park is absolutely HUGE. We walked around for a little, but our time in Tivoli Park was brief. We had to leave for our next Slovenian destination of the day…
Lake Bled for a Day
45 minutes north of Ljubljana is the famous lake paradise called Lake Bled.
Lake Bled is a place that’s hard to explain. Words cannot fully describe its beauty. The pictures you’ve seen are REAL. The water really is that turquoise. Bled Castle is that epic. And Bled Island looks like a fairytale.
Our First Moments
The drive to Lake Bled from Ljubljana could not be easier, and once we got there, all it took was 5 euros and 5 minutes to park for the day!
Most of the hotels have parking options for the public. Just look out for spots and someone will come to take payment and give you a pass.
Right when we arrived, we were in awe. It didn’t seem like this place could be real. And once we saw the clear turquoise water, we knew we had to rent a boat immediately.
Boat rental time!
There are no motor boats allowed on Lake Bled, but you can rent wooden row boats and paddle yourself or you can take a traditional boat called a Pletna over to Bled Island and back.
The Pletna Boat is made by locals and has been used since 1590! The oarsman operating the boats are very respected in the community. It’s a career that can only be passed down from generation to generation in individual families. How awesome is that?!
But instead of riding in a Pletna Boat, we decided to rent a wooden rowboat for 15 euros/hour (2016). We would row to Bled Island and back. Easy, right?
Well for me it was! Erin was the designated oarsman for our wooden boat. I provided the good company that is also very important for a successful lake journey…
After about 20 minutes, and a little bit of struggle, we made it to Bled Island where Bled Church sits right in the middle.
For 6 euros (2016), you can visit all the sites on Bled Island. The church, where you can ring the Wishing Bell (said to make all your wishes come true!) and the tower, for incredible views.
We decided to discover the island and church for ourselves, since we were still paying hourly for our wooden boat. Because we didn’t pay to ring the actual bell, we bought our own mini wishing bell from the shop. Hoping it would still prove its purpose!
The island has great paths and views in every direction, especially bordering the island. You can watch the fish swim in the see-through water. It’s magical!
When we felt satisfied with our visit, it was time to hop back in our boat, and row 30 minutes towards the tastiest of desserts…
Bled Cake Time
MAKE SURE YOU GET BLED CAKE during your visit.
It is the most famous dessert that comes out of this beautiful lake village. In fact, it is only made at the Park Hotel in Bled, Slovenia. Everyone that serves Bled Cake at their restaurant gets it from this exact hotel restaurant, and they only make a certain amount per year!
And ohhh was it delicious! Light, creamy, perfectly sweet. It’s one of the best desserts we’ve tried – really anywhere. They make it with fruit, chocolate and the original. The original is a MUST!
After we each ordered Bled cake (Erin NEEDED his own full piece – of course), it was time for Bled Castle. You can hike to the castle, which takes about 20 minutes and is supposed to be an awesome hike. Or you can drive, which takes about 10 minutes. Since a storm was rolling in, we opted for the lazier option and drove up.
Bled Castle adds to the fairytale magic of this destination as it sits high on a rock face above the lake. It also dates back to 1004, so has a great history as well. Entrance to the castle is only 5 euros (2016) and couldn’t be more worth it.
There is a museum at the castle to learn all about the history. It has has unique shops including a honey store, printing press and a blacksmith shop. The blacksmith shop was pricey, but worth it for the amount of work put into each piece. It’s a trade that’s passed down in families for generations!
The Castle Chapel is one of the most famous parts of Bled Castle. It was built in the 16th century and known for the painted frescoes on its walls. I couldn’t believe how intricate these paintings were.
Views, views, views
The views from Bled Castle are hard to describe, and easier to show:
Maybe even better than the view from the tower on Bled island that we passed on earlier that day! So if we had to choose between paying 6 euros for the Bled Church tower or the castle (with views), we’d choose the castle.
We then walked along the castle walls, and took in Slovenia for one last time (for this trip at least). This country is so beautiful – every view is worth seeing.
And just like that our trip came to an end. We hopped back in our car, heading straight home to Salzburg, Austria.
Day 2 in Lake Bled Slovenia through Snapchat
Sites we researched (and missed) during our trip to Ljubljana
1) Cathedral of St Nicholas
The prominent church of the city, dating back to the 1200s.
2) Metelkova Mesto
Prior army barracks that have turned into a trendy art district with great night life.
3) The Volčji Potok Arboretum
One of the most frequented horticulture centers in the country.
4) Ljubljana Botanical Garden
These gardens have existed since the 1800s, making them the oldest still-operating cultural institution in the country!
5) Congress Square
Another central square in Ljubljana.
6) Roman Wall, Ljubljana
The walls left from the Roman City Emona, that used to stand where Ljubljana stands today.
Slovenia: A Pleasant Surprise
Slovenia surprised us in SO many ways. The country looks VERY similar to Austria, which was a great discovery. But instead of giant mountains in every direction, there are hills and hills of luscious tree-filled forests. It’s like a blanket of trees surrounds you everywhere.
Ljubljana is quaint and charming, with lots of beautiful nature throughout the city. It was also named the European Green Capital 2016, so it’s priorities of improving the environment are on point!
The people are friendly, sincere and take nothing for granted. The food and sites are affordable and WELL worth it. As you walk its streets, you can feel the city’s history. The abandoned buildings sitting next to a bustling Old Town. The endless outdoor cafes along the river. The artistic graffiti. The crafty shops. The smiling faces of its people. All of the above make Ljubljana the unique capital that is today.
So now that you know a little bit about Ljubljana and Slovenia, and now that you can (maybe) say the name of its capital (Loo-blee-yana). It might be time to enjoy it for yourself.
Take a break from the big cities throughout Europe and get to know a country that is still fairly undiscovered by tourists. A place you just have to see to believe…