Nestled between the Julian Alps sits Ljubljana, Slovenia, which was once a part of Yugoslavia. Its position as a crossroads between Central Europe and the Mediterranean was cemented long ago by the creation myth of Jason and his Argonauts battling a dragon along the river.
Ljubljana’s strategic position made it a settlement for Slavic tribes, Celts, Illyrians, Romans, and the Habsburg-Austrian Empire. It is also the site of destruction by Attila the Hun in the 5th century, an earthquake in 1895, and Italian occupation during World War II.
Its history provides the characteristics visible today: the mountain range that surrounds it, the bridges that crisscross the river, a castle high above, and the small vessels that sail these waters with passengers who wave at you, and you wave back. This setting invites visitors to take in the meticulously designed squares leading to the winding river that partially lends its name to the city. Ljubljana means “flooding river” from the Roman word alluviana.
For me, Ljubljana was a place to pause and relax. Relaxation came on about my third evening of rounding my night at Lajbah, a craft beer bar. My experience left me with a craving for pizza. As I made my way toward Hradeckega most (Hradecky Bridge), the sounds of couples giggling accompanied by their partly completed conversations caught my ear. Clear on my objective, I made it to Gostilnica 5-6kg to devour my pizza while making horribly cheesy jokes as the staff started cleaning and closing for the night.
As I exited and made my way back toward the river, the sounds that I heard earlier were still nearby and getting louder. As I began to anticipate a group of teens goofing off and making noises, the actual sight was the opposite.
Two retired couples were holding hands and kissing, while one of the gentlemen carried a bottle of wine. As they passed by, one of the gentlemen yelled back that they are enjoying their golden years. As if that comment was part of an in-joke that I was not privy to, they all laughed and made their way into the shadows, leaving behind a trail of sound. It took that moment for me to look back at the past few days and realize that this was not the first interaction of this type that I had encountered. In fact, it was commonplace.
Perhaps it was the warm lighting of the cafes and restaurants that lined the curves of the river, the flow of wine available at almost every corner, or the walled remains of the Roman Empire that had discreet places for couples to have a few minutes alone. Yet it could also have been the perfect combination of it all that made Ljubljana one of the most romantic destinations that most travelers had never considered.
Let me explain.
An ideal day in Ljubljana should be spent relaxing, taking a light stroll, and using your time enjoying the landscape with someone.
It is best to start with breakfast at Cacao in Old Town before walking over to…
1. Prešeren Square
Prešeren Square is named after national poet France Prešeren, whose statue forms the centerpiece and is juxtaposed with a statue of his lover, Julija Primic. Your time in Old Town can be spent walking through this square. Redesigned after the 1895 earthquake, the square now serves as a meeting location, pedestrian area, entertainment venue, protest location, and overall introduction to the area.
Around you are other landmarks, such as the Hauptmann House, Urbanc House, Mayer Department Store, and Seunig House, all of which serve as examples of the architecture that was popular going into the mid-20th century.
During your time here, there is no doubt that you will be passing this area frequently, specifically due to the number of cafes and restaurants around the square.
Look to the river to see…
2. Triple Bridge
Along one of the most popular bridges in Old Town, Triple Bridge, you will find a few vendors selling treats as well as the option to take a ferry up and down the river. This bridge is a physical representation of the three major periods in the history of the city, connecting the historical, medieval, and modern Ljubljana. There has been a bridge in this place since 1280. Onward to…
3. Medieval Town
Slow down and take a stroll. After you walk past a few stores, you will arrive at Town Square and its centerpiece, Robba Fountain, which was inspired by Rome’s Fountain of Four Rivers. While looking around, there is no doubt that you will see spires to your left. Once you are ready, go in that direction to visit the Roman Catholic Ljubljana Cathedral.
This area lends itself to exploration, so wander around near the river and notice the details in the bridges that take you back to Old Town. Eventually, you will walk into the open-air Central Market.
Mondays through Saturdays host the local market, while Fridays from March to October feature local chefs and specialty dishes from around the world. As the market ends, you will run into the Dragon Bridge, which is a reminder of the creation myth relating to the Argonauts’ battle.
Once you are done exploring, you should head back towards Vodnikov Square. From there, you can choose to take the walking path or take the funicular up to…
4. Ljubljana Castle (Castle Hill)
Perhaps one of the most romantic locales in Ljubljana, from Ljubljana Castle you have multiple vantage points of the city. My personal favorite is from the viewing tower, where the staff will mention the great view of the horizon.
On the day I visited, there were multiple vendors and entertainers as part of a rotating calendar of activities. Undoubtedly, something interesting will be taking place on your own visit. Start by exploring the castle before taking part in whatever is happening.
The area can get busy at times, so if you are looking for more privacy, leave and walk the surrounding grounds. There is a promenade that will take you through the small forest with views of the city. Take a breather at one of the park benches facing the city and enjoy some time in solitude.
You can find small meals and beverages within the castle grounds or from a vendor in the area. Turn your time there into an impromptu private picnic.
When you are ready to move around, go toward Castle Avenue, which is a chestnut tree–lined avenue that connects the castle to the Šance, which are the remains of the former fortress that served as the precursor to the current one.
There is also a vineyard that, on occasion, features a pop-up restaurant hosted by a local chef. Tables book quickly, so it is best to book in advance. Browse the selections of Slovenian wines.
Take your time before deciding to head back down the hill. When you are ready, go toward Prešeren Square, which may be featuring an event if it is the weekend. Follow the river on the Old Town side to reach…
5. Congress Square
Mostly populated by locals and an ideal place to people watch, Congress Square features medieval ruins and the site of two declarations of independence from both the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and Yugoslavia after its dissolution.
Various buildings surround the square, including a university — but most importantly, the Philharmonic Hall. If the ticket office is open, you can probably purchase a ticket to that evening’s show.
Ljubljana has a number of parks, but its most impressive park is within walking distance of Congress Square. Take Šubićeva ulica, which starts at the northeast corner of the square, and follow it to its end at Bleiweisova cesta. On the other side is…
6. Tivoli Park
With a number of walking trails offering a brief respite from the city, you can wander around aimlessly, view the numerous statues, or stop at one of the cafes located on the grounds. If you want to see local art, go back to Bleiweisova cesta and head to connecting Cankarjeva cesta for the Museum of Modern Art or the National Gallery on Prešernova Cesta.
Ljubljana: Simple Romance
Despite all of these suggestions, the best part of Ljubljana is its simplicity. Ideally, you can view everything in a day, but why would you?
What makes the city an ideal romantic destination is its slower pace. Go back to the waterfront with your own bottle of wine and your partner and have a seat. Let the sun set as it wanders over the landscape.
Stop by restaurant Gostilna Sokol, which serves local meals, and choose this time to exhale and relax. You don’t have to be somewhere or do something.
Take a moonlit stroll up and down the river. Visit Vigò for their ice-cream sponge cake that is ideal for two. Savor each moment.
Central Europe has lots to offer, and Ljubljana’s setting is tranquil. You can escape from other travelers and find space to savor a piece of the country for yourself.