It’s not often that a place fits my expectations perfectly. In fact, most of the time, I either end up wondering why a certain place is so criminally underrated (I’m thinking of you, Warsaw). Or, on the other hand, I realize that I set the bar way too high from the very beginning and end up getting disappointed.
When it comes to Ljubljana, though, the things I heard about Slovenia’s capital being quaint, charming and just downright adorable couldn’t have been more spot on.
Because Ljubljana is like a smaller and less touristy version of a lot of central Europe’s capitals, or as one TripAdvisor commenter put it, “Prague and Vienna with a little Venice on the side.”
For me, architecture is one of the most defining features of a city. I love walking through the streets of a medieval European town and marveling at all the detail and variety in its buildings. And Ljubljana’s Old Town, while easily seen in a day, certainly didn’t take any shortcuts in that regard.
Take, for instance, the pink-colored Franciscan Church of the Annunciation, arguably one of Ljubljana’s most recognizable landmarks. Although modest and non-imposing, the early-Baroque church could be seen from most parts of the Old Town, and its small square was a meeting point for schoolchildren and university students as well as an outdoor studio for the occasional artist.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention Ljubljana’s castle, seeing how I can never seem to get enough of European castles, no matter how wacky they get.
And besides, how could you not fall in love with a place like this?
Alright, alright, I’ll be completely honest – the interior of Ljubljana’s castle wasn’t all that grand (in fact, a great deal of its rooms were pretty bare and non-eventful). But the views from the top of its lookout tower? Well worth the visit. Definitely.
Ljubljanski grad, as the castle is referred to in Slovenian, was originally built in the 11th or 12th century, although most of its buildings date back to the 1600s – that is, according to Wikipedia (which, by the way, is pretty much my source for everything these days, no matter what my college professors told me).
While the bird’s-eye view of Ljubljana’s cobblestone streets and tight alleyways was spectacular, the real reason I fell in love with the castle’s lookout tower was because of the snow-covered Alps to the north.
In fact, for someone who loves mountains and baroque architecture, the views really couldn’t get much better than this (by the way, here’s a fun bit of trivia – 90 percent of the country is more than 200 meters, or 656 feet, above sea level).
Overall, one of the things I enjoyed most about Ljubljana was its pace of life. I didn’t feel rushed or hurried. Instead, the fact that its Old Town was so small and manageable actually made me enjoy the city even more.
I could walk along the side of a canal (hence the allusion to Venice), sit on the steps of a fountain, or wander the stalls of a marketplace without worrying about missing out on too much. I could sit in a cafe for two hours next to the river, chatting with a newly-made hostel friend over a cup of coffee, and simply watch people walk by.
You could even say that Ljubljana taught me to slow down (at least for a moment) – to enjoy the small things and not fret over checking a bunch of tourist attractions off a list.
So if you’re looking for a small but charming town, a place without the tourist traps of Prague or the steep prices of Venice or Vienna, I encourage you to pay Ljubljana a visit.
Because yes, Slovenia’s capital really is lovely.