Ljubljana is a city of fairytales, with dragon encrusted bridges being watched over by a majestic castle. But it's magical in other ways as well. Ljubljana is Europe's greenest city, where ecological projects and consumer sustainability go hand in hand with attractions, events and festivals.
Here are 8 things that make the Slovenian capital a green travel dream.
Farmers' markets aren't that unusual of an attraction in most European cities, but Ljubljana takes the humble market to an art form. Their Central Market is a mix of an open-air market and a covered market. It specializes in fresh local produce but visitors can also find more tropical produce, cured meats, cheese, flowers, bread, pastries, other desserts, nuts, honey and pumpkin oil (we'll talk about them in a moment). The area is also used for culinary festivals and other special events. When you're there, take a moment to check out the special vending machine specializing in raw dairy products, including fresh milk for about 1 Euro a liter.
In Ljubljana honey isn't just a treat you pick up at the market to accompany your fresh bakery bread. Slovenia is the only European country that affords legal protection for bees and Slovenian honey carries a legal protected geographic indication. Ljubljana even has it's own beekeeping trail that's part of an urban hiking network. If you want to make fast friends in Ljubljana, mention that you've never had such delicious honey! And be sure to pick up some beeswax candles as souvenirs.
Honey isn't the only delicious and eco-friendly product to shine in Ljubljana. Oil made from pressed pumpkin seeds is hugely popular. Even if you don't see it on the menu, don't hesitate to ask for some to try at a restaurant. Chances are excellent that the staff will be only too happy to oblige and proudly display their fine farm-to-table wares. And it's delicious with some balsamic vinegar and crusty bread for dipping.
Another must-try item is Slovenian wine. Grapes are grown within Ljubljana city limits, as well as very nearby in the countryside. You'll find familiar grapes like Chardonnay and Riesling, as well as more regional favourites like Zelen and Teran.
The beekeeping trail is just one of several urban hiking trails in Ljubljana, many which originate at or near Ljubljana Castle and later branch out. One popular route takes you past small patches of grapevines that were planted in 2016 as part of Ljubljana being that year's European Green Capital. It's part of the Fleischman's Parsnip Trail. Yes, Ljubljana has a hiking trail named after a parsnip! Alas, it's not quite the same as the veggie you toss in a stew pot. Fleischman's Parsnip is highly endangered, thought to be extinct in the wild, but specimens are preserved at the city's botanical garden, which is part of the trail network.
Ljubljana is filled with free public drinking fountains, which operate roughly from April to October (or when the temperatures are warm enough so the water doesn't freeze). Many of these are unremarkable fountains with typical designs - but not all. I absolutely adore the jaunty kangaroo fountain across from the Central Market. A close second is a long, slanted fountain on the edge of the market. It's designed so that any water overflow is channelled into long, narrow troughs where birds can perch and have a drink!
The Ljubljanica River winds its way through the city and is a major part of the city's recreation and culture scene. Events are held along the riverbank and the river is used as a transportation link. People kayak, canoe, and even employ stand up paddleboarding to get to work. Travellers who are looking for a slightly less adventurous experience will be reassured that there's plenty of motorboat tours that go up and down the river.
Ljubljana is a clean, well-organized city. In part, that's thanks to the city's comprehensive recycling, composting, and waste disposal system. You'll see collection points all over the city but they never smell. That's because the majority of the items deposited are actually in an underground holding container beneath what looks like ordinary recycling or garbage cans. Local residents who are throwing away non-recyclable waste have a special card they need to swipe in order to access disposal options for larger, household garbage bags. The card is tied to a municipal account and residents who throw away more have to pay more. How smart is that!?
User-friendly transportation links are a huge bonus for any traveller but they're especially welcome in Ljubljana, which is a very walkable city that does have its share of hills and some attractions are spread out from the city centre. But if riding city buses isn't your style, Ljubljana also has a bicycle sharing system, BicikeLJ, that costs a whopping 1 Euro a week provided rides are under 1 hour! If you ever needed an extra reason to explore even more, this is the perfect solution.
Photo Credit: Flickr / Jorge Franganillo