Chilling with dragons: Four days in Ljubljana

First things first— it’s pronounced “lib-ill-yana”. Don’t worry, I coasted through life calling it “jub-bill-jana” for a good few years before I decided I should probably google the pronunciation of Slovenia’s capital city.

Walking up to Ljubljana's town square. Pic: Heather Cameron.

Walking up to Ljubljana’s town square. Pic: Heather Cameron.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ljubljana is  a small but beautiful city full of history and amazing architecture. I first added Slovenia to my bucket list six years ago when I had to complete a school project on the country. After hours of research and experiencing the beauty of Lake Bled and Bled Castle online, I knew I would have to see it in person at some point in my life. Luckily that point arrived this year.

Fun fact: the city is guarded by a mythical Dragon who very unheroically lost a fight to Ancient Greek hero Jason. Images of the ferocious beast can be found across the city (the most iconic being Dragon Bridge).

Pre-tty cool town mascot I’d say.

As our train from Zagreb, Croatia rolled into Ljubljana train station and we passed by alpine mountains and fields of green I realised myself and my travel buddy Caitlin had a ton of adventuring to fit into our short four days in the city.

DAY ONE: FREE CITY TOUR

We arrived at Hostel Tivoli a few hours before we were due to check in. Although we both still felt crusty from the 10 hours of train travel, we thought it would be a great excuse to while away the few hours before check in by doing a free tour of Ljubljana.

The Pink Church seen from across Ljubljana's famous Triple Bridge. Pic: Heather Cameron.

The Pink Church seen from across Ljubljana’s famous Triple Bridge. Pic: Heather Cameron.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tours run daily and we heard about it through our hostel. The guides wait outside the Franciscan church in town square – known as the pink church – and usually take groups of about 40 people.

The tour walks up and down the Ljubljanica river and visits the Triple Bridge, the Central Market full of amazing locally produced fruit and veg, the Church of St. Nicholas, Butcher’s Bridge, Dragon Bridge, Town Hall, Cobbler’s Bridge, Ljubljana University, the National Library and a former Monastery. And we did this all in two hours with an amazing guide Daniel who is a Ljubljana local and gave us a background on the city as well as funny tidbits about the city and it heritage.

The rest of our day was spent catching up on some sleep and visiting local grocers to grab some ingredients for dinner.

DAY TWO: LAKE BLED AND BLED CASTLE

A trip to Slovenia is incomplete without a visit to Bled to see the eponymous lake as well as the castle which reaches up towards the sky on Bled’s banks.

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Lake Bled featuring Bled Island. Pic: Heather Cameron.

If you are based in Ljubljana, Bled is easy to reach using public transport. We shuffled onto a bus at 10am and got to Bled just after 11am.

THINGS TO DO IN BLED:

  • Visit the lake – walk around the lake’s edges and take in the scenery. Or you could grab a boat (hired or taxi), sail to Bled Island and explore the church on the island.
  • Visit the castle – for €10 (€7 if you have a student card) you can walk through centuries old Bled Castle. In the Castle there are museums, restaurants, souvenir shops and perfect spots for snapping a pic of the lake. I indulged (a whole €4) and bought myself a hand printed postcard featuring bled castle.
  • Take a hike to Vintgar Gorge- The gorge is a 3.5km walk (mostly flat so easily walkable), or a short drive if you have a car, away from Bled town centre. The walk took us about an hour. Vintgar Gorge itself is beautiful and €4 (€3 if you have a student card) gets you in to complete the beautiful 1.6km walk.
  • Grab some cream cake – Bled is the birth place of the famed Slovenian cream cake so grabbing a slice before catching our bus back to Ljubljana was not even a question for us. I threw in a take away cup of tea. You can find cream cake (Kremsnita) at almost all of the bakeries and cafes around town.
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Bled Castle on a hillside next to Lake Bled. Pic: Heather Cameron.

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Vintgar Gorge. 3.5km from Bled. Pic: Caitlin Courtney.

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The wooden walkway extends 1.6km into the gorge and visitors can experience amazing views of the rock faces, the crystal clear river and a waterfall. Pic: Heather Cameron.

The town is small making it easy to explore in a day but I would definitely go back and stay for about a week to take full advantage of the surrounding nature and do a bunch of hikes (lol never thought I would be typing that. Must be the Slovenian air making me crazy).

TIME: 2 and a bit hours there and back from Ljubljana bus station.

COST:  €12 bled return, €7 for the castle with a student discount, €3 for the Gorge, and €2.90 for a huge slice of cream cake.

DAY THREE: POSTONJA CAVES

Slovenia is as famed for what is found under its beautiful land as for what is found on top. It is home to over 11 000 cave systems, 25 of which are accessible to visitors.

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Postonja caves. The dark underground area proved difficult to capture on camera so the pictures don’t do the amazing space justice. Pic: Heather Cameron.

We went to one of the most well known cave systems; Postonja.

It was a flip up choice between Postonja – more touristy but closer – and Skocjan which is further away from Ljubljana but less touristy and cheaper.

The factor that eventually swayed us was the fact that you get to ride a train through about a kilometer of the Postonja caves. Who doesn’t want to ride a train through a cave like they’re in a mini Slovenian DisneyWorld?? So Postonja it was.

We caught a bus from the Ljubljana bus station and arrived within forty minutes. The weather was horrendous – raining and cold – so I bought a tea and we hid in the café a few meters from the entrance to the caves while we waited for our time slot.

After lining up, we walked through security and waited to catch our (small but still very exciting) train. It chugged though cave corridors illuminated by warm golden lights. People seated throughout were gazing around in wonder at the millions of years old creations. A few of us had to duck our heads to avoid whacking them on low hanging rocks.

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Our tiny but exciting yellow train. Pic: Caitlin Courtney.

After the train, a guide meets the group you are with and takes you on a 90 minute tour of the system. Our guide was great and gave interesting historical background on Postonja (fun fact: the cave had working electricity before the city of London did) and answers any questions you may have. The tour rounds up with a walk past the stalagmite Brilliant; Postonja’s most beautiful, brilliantly bright, and mega-old symbol.

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Final stop of the walking section of the cave tour; the Concert Hall. Pic: Caitlin Courtney.

COST: 

Transport to caves: €12 return by bus from Ljubljana main bus station

Entrance: €19.10

TIME:

Travel: and hour and a half

Cave wondering:  2-3 hours

TIPS:

We went in autumn so we were already prepared for the cold outside. But it can also be cold inside the caves so take warm clothing.There is a constant temperature of about 10 degrees. The wind that hits when you take the train ride is especially frosty.

DAY FOUR: EXPLORE THE CITY

Ljubljana is Slovenia’s capital city. As mentioned above, it is mythically guarded by a dragon and in reality it is home to some really cool dragon statues.

After getting our bearings on our first day during the walking tour, we came back on the last day to visit some more sights:

  • The castle

Catching a view of the city from the castle perched above it is a must for visitors to Ljubljana. We caught the furnicular up for €1.50 and took a slow meander down to the city again using a pathway. The castle is free to visit but there are some exhibitions that charge entrance. The grounds themselves are beautiful enough to spend a while wandering through.

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Walking through the grounds of Ljubljana Castle. Pic: Caitlin Courtney.

  • The market

The city’s open-air market is a great way to experience a slice of local life. While there are some touristy stands, most of the market sells fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese and meat grown and produced on local farms. Veggie gardens and farms are incredibly popular in Slovenia. We stocked up on fruits and veggies for dinner that night as well as some to take on with us to Budapest.

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Some of the delicious produce found at the Central Market. Pic: Heather Cameron.

The market is found just behind St Nicholas’ Church and is opened everyday except Sunday.

  • Tivoli Park:

Tivoli Park is a huge green space located a short 15 minute walk from Ljubljana city centre. It’s an awesome spot to spend a few hours relaxing, playing sport or hiking while in the city. All of these activities are best done in the sun. Unfortunately mother nature was not on our side during our visit.

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Tivoli Park’s greenery under a heavy overcast sky. Pic: Caitlin Courtney.

Tivoli was en route to our hostel but I never managed a visit. Caitlin took a walk over on our last afternoon when I had face-planted on my bunk bed after a long day. She managed to brave the drizzle and see a bit of the park.

Overall, Slovenia is a nature lover’s dream. There are caves to discover, lakes to explore and hikes to embark on all over the place. And if/when nature becomes a bit too much, there is the old-style beauty of Ljubljana to escape to.

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