First thing’s first, I know what you’re thinking: “Ljubl… whaaaaaat?”. I can confirm that it’s Loo-blee-anna. I think.
My boyfriend and I are keen travellers, especially around Europe; so as part of our interrailing itinerary this year, we decided to explore the capital city of Slovenia: Ljubljana. Neither of us had heard of Ljubljana before (I guess it’s not usually on the typical backpacker’s itinerary), but after scrolling through a few enthusiastic travel blogs raving about its modest charm, we were intrigued and thus inspired to include it in our 17-day adventure.
We arrived in style: an 8-hour coach ride from Pula, Croatia, in 35-degree heat, which crawled through traffic for hours. Glam. Oh well, we knew travelling by coach around Eastern Europe wasn’t going to be pretty. However, Ljubljana was so pretty that it made up for this. Making our way to our Airbnb, whilst narrowly avoiding locals rollerblading and skateboarding down the streets, we immediately felt the buzz of Saturday-night Ljubljana – for such a small city, it had a bustling atmosphere! Before we headed into the city centre to experience the vibes, we checked into our Airbnb, which was so quirky that I feel it deserves a mention! We stayed in a room in a flat owned by quirky, eccentric art students – and it was the coolest Airbnb we have ever rented! Think hand-painted murals on the walls; a box of decorative feathers in the hallway; furniture covered in doodles; copies of someone’s chest X-ray scan on the kitchen door (?!); and pots of homemade green tea. It certainly made our stay in Ljubljana a little bit more interesting.
We only had 2 days in Ljubljana, but we wanted to get to know it as well as we could. Firstly, we headed to Metelkova: an abandoned army barrack which is now swathed top-to-bottom in colourful graffiti. Its graffiti is both weird and wonderful (one building’s façade is covered entirely in massive sea creatures), and there is even a treehouse with a tyre swing for the hipsters to hang out at. Unfortunately, the indoor art exhibition, which displays sculptures created by Ljubljana’s art students, was closed when we were there, but I bet it would have been pretty unconventional. Metelkova transforms into a club at night, blaring underground music into the early hours, however it was having Dubstep-themed nights whilst we were there, so we thought it was for the best to give it a miss…
Despite its areas of extensive graffiti and street art, Ljubljana is also a city of quaint architecture and plenty of green space, with a beautiful river, the Ljubljanica, running through its centre. In 2016, it was the Green Capital of Europe – and it is easy to see why. Like many European cities, the centre is completely pedestrianised, with many locals opting to cycle instead. Along every street is not one, but six bins, each for a different waste material, and the Ljubljanica is so clean that there are talks of opening it to the public for swimming (can you imagine swimming in the Clyde?!). We enjoyed the tranquillity of the Ljubljanica as we walked along it, winding through a peaceful residential area, to the busy city centre. With its low bridges, green waters and many restaurants down by the water’s edge, it reminded us of dreamy Venice.
With our limited time, we had to sacrifice seeing some sights, one of which was the castle. However, this meant we did have time to visit Lake Bled, whose beauty is truly impossible to put into words! Only an hour’s bus journey from Ljubljana, Lake Bled is just astonishing, and a view I could never tire of. We arrived early in the morning, which was the perfect time to see the lake in its still, silent beauty, and set up a spot to chill on a pier. The water was so clear as we sat on the edge peering in, and we even had the delight of seeing an enormous, mysterious fish slowly swim by, almost brushing our toes. However, we didn’t let the presence of this small-human-sized creature stop us from basking in the cool, crisp freshwater! To anyone visiting Ljubljana, I can’t recommend enough that you stop by Lake Bled.
Sadly, we couldn’t spend the whole day at Lake Bled, as we had to be back in Ljubljana in time for our – wait for it – food and wine tasting walking tour. Yep, we got real classy all of a sudden. Well, only because our Airbnb host’s friends generously offered us their voucher as they could no longer go. So, we tried to conjure up the most sophisticated outfit we could from six items of clothing we had stuffed into backpacks, and braced ourselves for an evening of swirling Slovenian wine around a glass and exclaiming things like “oh, what a full-bodied delicacy!” whilst soaking in the rich history of the city. In actual fact, the tour turned out to be super laid-back, and it was an interesting experience trying calamari for the first time, with a family who only spoke Spanish, whilst slightly tipsy. Also, our choir-singer-turned-tour-guide belted out the full Slovenian national anthem for us in the foyer of a hotel, so all-in-all it was an extremely cool way to get to know Ljubljana.
Our stay unfortunately came to a quick end, as we had to leave the next morning to board yet another coach for our 6-hour journey to Budapest. I would have loved to have stayed longer to explore the little boutiques of handmade Slovenian jewellery which lined the cobbled streets; admire the view of this charming city from the castle; and check out the photography exhibition in the thriving Tivoli Park. Ljubljana is a delightfully compact and undeniably adorable city, and one which definitely deserves a spot on every traveller’s bucket-list!
[Photo credits: Sinead Sweeney]