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Wednesday 21 December 2022

Meet the city that might be the best-kept travel secret in Europe

Ljubljana is difficult to pronounce, but easy to love: the delightful capital of Slovenia is also surprisingly simple to get to.

Slovenia has just been named one of the top 25 destinations in the world for 2023 by National Geographic - and its capital is both charming and easy to get around.

Less than two hours by bus from Venice in Italy, Ljubljana is vibrant and green with a lively bar and restaurant scene, and plenty of cultural offerings.

It is a cliché, but Ljubljana is really one of the best-kept secrets in the world of travel.

Think lovely architecture, great walking, tons of lively bars and cafes along the banks of the Ljubljanica River and very reasonable prices - all within a just few hours of not only Venice, but also Innsbruck, Munich and Zagreb.

My second visit - a few months ago - confirmed that the city remains charming and accessible.

The people are super friendly and all appear to be impressively multi-lingual, perhaps not surprising given the city's storied history.

Ljubljana is the largest city of Slovenia, which became independent in 1991. It has a population of under 300,000 and is reminiscent of Prague before it was discovered by the masses.

Over 2,000 years old, it is the country's cultural, educational, economic, political, and administrative centre and is easy to walk around. The Old Quarter is the best base for visitors.

The city is known for its university population and many open spaces, including expansive Tivoli Park and the river, which is lined with outdoor cafes.

For those looking for a small, centrally situated boutique hotel, the Hotel Mrak (below) - located in the heart of the old town and just a short stroll from the river - fits the bill. It is quiet and well equipped with helpful staff

The chic Hotel Vander Urbani is another good option. It has just 20 rooms and a rooftop pool and is tucked away on a cobbled side street.

For those on a grander budget, the Lev Hotel which has hosted world-renowned artists including Luciano Pavarotti, Agatha Christie, and Bob Dylan, recently reopened after a complete refurb. The hotel first opened in 1964, was the first international five-star hotel in Slovenia. It had a spell as an InterContinental.

Budget travellers might want to check out the centrally located AI Apartments at

Gourmets will enjoy the Open Kitchen; a section of the city food market where you can experience the delights of freshly cooked food prepared by different Slovenian chefs right in front of you at their own market stalls.

Every Friday from mid-March to October, the Open Kitchen offers an opportunity to meet Slovenian chefs, taste Slovenian and international dishes, and learn about different methods of food preparation.

The Yummy Market Walk is a recently added tourism option.

Visitors walk around the market, accompanied by a local guide who reveals the most interesting stories and hidden secrets.

Guests get to taste fresh seasonal delicacies produced by local farmers from the vicinity of Ljubljana and finish their visit with a fresh local breakfast.

From the market, hop on the funicular that takes you to Ljubljana Castle for a magnificent view of the Ljubljana basin and the city.

The castle, with elements dating back to the 12th and 15th centuries, towers over the city.

Ljubljana hosts free open-air classical music performances during summer and is easy to get around - and the old city is mercifully quiet with all motor vehicles banned; except for motorised golf carts that transport the old and infirm.

The National Museum of Slovenia was founded in 1821 and is also worth a visit, but Ljubljana, with its mix of Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture, is also a city that rewards the casual stroller or cyclists, who can get around on a bike using the Bicikelj bike-sharing system.

Along the banks of the Ljubljanica River admire arts and crafts that local artists sell from makeshift stalls.

One thing is certain: visitors will eat heartily in Ljubljana. The locals are fond of sausages (try them at Klobasarna, a hole-in the-wall takeaway, above), schnitzels and other warming Central European dishes, while breads, cakes, soups and dumplings all play major roles on local menus.

Try the historic restaurant Spajza (eat inside in one of several small rooms, or outside in a delightful garden) for dishes including an appetiser of cheek of young colt (maybe not for everyone but horse is a staple in Slovenia, along with boiled beef tongue and frog legs).

More mainstream choices are smoked trout with horseradish terrine and veal medallions with local mushrooms (another staple). Also make time for some struklji, local dumplings made in over 80 different styles, both sweet and savoury, but typically using cottage cheese or baked apples.

For dessert – or just a sweet treat - make sure to try the icy popsicles from Lučkarnica.

Wine lovers will want to spend time with for an informative and entertaining tasting in the cellar at Dvorni Bar in the city.

Alternatively opt for an informal tasting at wine bars like Suklje, Balthazar and Vinotheka Movia.

For a relaxed experience, you can pick up a boat tour and enjoy a cruise past many of the city’s major sites, including the historic Dragon and Triple bridges, centre points of the old city.

Head to or for up-to-date local info.

Images:  Winsor Dobbin 

This is an edited version of a story that first appeared in Ciao Magazine.   

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