As teenagers touring colleges, my high school best friend and I settled on an easy philosophy for judging campuses: If you love a place in the rain, that’s where you belong. I hadn’t originally planned on visiting Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, on my RTW trip. So when I ended up rerouting there to get from Italy to Croatia overland, it only took a few minutes walking around the city center in the rain to realize skipping it would have been a huge mistake.
Eco-friendly and accessible, the pedestrian-only city center of Ljubljana is teeming with cozy cafes and charming historic facades. Tourism has just begun picking up in the last ten years, giving this underrated European capital a great energy. I have no doubt it’s one of the best cities for creative professionals on the continent.
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When to Go
Slovenia is still just far enough off the beaten path that even the high season in summer isn’t too crowded. Weather can still be a bit unpredictable in June, July, and August. This was one of only two places I experienced significant rain during a summer on the Mediterranean coast.
Shoulder season in spring or fall is the best time if you plan on venturing out to one of the country’s lakes. March and April are the driest months, but you can’t beat the scenery of autumn foliage.
Ljubljana has plenty of tours and indoor attractions running through the off season to make a winter visit attractive as well. It’s a great city to get into the holiday spirit with creative light displays and lots of design-focused boutiques for buying gifts to send home.
How Much to Spend
Ljubljana is a good budget mid-point between the more popular and expensive destinations of Western Europe and the less developed non-EU countries deeper in the Balkans. Hostel dorms run under 15 euro per night, with private rooms starting at 30 euro a night. You can easily grab a budget meal for 3 euro or less, and a nicer sit down dinner with wine can run less than 15 euro. Bus rides cost 1.20 euro each, but if you stay close enough to the city center, you don’t need to budget any money to transportation.
Slovenia is part of the EU and uses the euro. The conversion from euro to dollars is close, so treating the two as equal won’t hurt your bottom line too much.
International flights arrive at Ljubljana Joze Pucnik Airport. There is a bus line that runs from the airport terminal to the main bus station in under an hour for about 4 euro. For a little extra you can get a shuttle directly to your hotel. Taxis to the city center run closer to 35 euro.
Trains and buses leave from the same station, within walking distance of the city center. There are plenty of connections to other Balkan cities like Zagreb and Mostar. Venice is very close by.
While the historic center of Ljubljana is pedestrian-only, the rest of the city is served by a comprehensive bus system. Rides are a mere 1.20 euro apiece, but locals and passengers alike must use a refillable Urbana card to pay. Self-service kiosks are at select stops in the city center. A new card costs 2 euro and you then have to start a new transaction to add money to the card.
Ljubljana has won awards for its accessibility. If you have difficulty walking, you can get around the pedestrian center for free with the city’s electric tram service.
What to Pack
Ljubljana weather can be a little unpredictable even in the summer. Pack light layers and a good raincoat or umbrella. Evenings are cool – don’t visit during peak season without a jacket. Winter travelers will naturally need even warmer clothing. You’ll obviously do your fair share of walking around the historic center, so comfortable shoes are a must.
This is still the EU so you can use a standard two-prong plug as you do in other European countries. Ljubljana is one of the best cities in Europe for settling into a cafe for the entire day. But cafe culture here is largely centered on the riverside terraces and patios, so bring along an external battery pack.
If you plan on getting out of the city on your trip at all, stick to loose clothing. Ticks are very common in Slovenia’s forests. Outdoorsy types may even want to bring along a special tick removal kit.
Where to Stay
Inexpensive dorms can be found even in the exact center of the city. The Tresor, housed in a former bank vault, has a particularly cool atmosphere with a lively bar open to the public in the lobby. There’s often live music just outside and the main square of Ljubljana’s pedestrian center is a mere stone’s throw away. Dorm beds range 15 to 20 euro a night.
Bright and artsy, you’d hardly guess Hostel Celica was a former prison. Located about halfway between the main bus/train station and the pedestrian center of town, this is as convenient as it gets. Celica garners regular attention from major travel guides and is a great option for social butterflies with vibrant common areas. Prices are comparable to the Tresor.
Where to Eat
Summer visitors will have the best dining luck of anyone. On Fridays when the weather’s nice, Ljubljana’s center blooms into the Open Kitchen. Restaurants from all over the country set up booths, giving you the chance to buy as many dishes as you can stomach. Try cevapcici sausages or struklji dumplings. If it’s not Friday, there is a daily farmers market near the visitor center. Grab the fixings for a picnic or drop a couple euro on a burek from one of the food trucks onsite. The traditional Balkan pastry can be filled with cheese curds, meat, or spinach. Consider it regional fast food.
For a nicer dinner that still won’t break the bank, try Julija on the city’s main touristy stretch. Country-style decorations, superb service (even for solo diners), and a strong Slovenian-only wine list make a visit worthwhile. The menu is sizeable with hearty portions of Eastern European cuisine. Meat, be it beef fliet with mushrooms or duck confit with sour cherries and polenta, forms the crux of the menu, but there are a couple vegetarian options like risotto or gnocchi with mushrooms. A fixed price lunch menu is available for just 9 euro.
Where to Work
Digital nomads have their choice of workspace. You can’t turn your head in Ljubljana without spotting an attractive cafe. Most offer free WiFi and whiling away the entire afternoon on a riverside terrace is par for the course among both locals and visitors.
I spent more than one workday on the patio of Petkovsek, where a hot cup of tea and a marmalade-filled croissant ran me just a couple euro. Uber-trendy Magda is a very popular choice, tucked behind the yellow cathedral. Cacao is better known for its ice cream than its coffee, but the super plush chairs right on the river make this sweet spot one of the comfiest WiFi workspaces.
What to Do
The medieval Ljubljana Castle perched atop the historic city center is the Slovenian capital’s main tourist attraction. A 10 euro ticket includes a round-trip funicular rail journey and entry to two exhibits of your choosing. The Viewing Tower is a must as this is the only real place to score a birds eye view of the city. The Museum of Slovenian History is kid-friendly but otherwise underwhelming. Other options include a rotating slate of art exhibits by both local and international artists and a unique Puppetry Museum.
Ljubljana is a surprisingly foodie-friendly destination. In addition to the Open Kitchen, Taste Ljubljana runs food and drink-driven tours on a daily basis. I took a three hour craft beer tour, which hit a range of bars in the city center before moving to the Union Brewery. There are also wine tours and more general food tours, but even my beer tour included some Slovenian snacks. The country proudly produces cheeses, olives, and cured meats. Pumpkinseed oil adorned a dish of sauerkraut and is evidently preferred to olive oil in many parts of the country. Beekeeping has a storied history here as well, and Slovenian honey is quite the treat.
For a night out, you can’t beat Metelkova Mesto. These former army barracks now form the heart of an autonomous commune. “Bare wall” is not in their vocabulary. Colorful murals and experimental art projects adorn every square inch of this site, just a 15 minute walk from the city center. This is also a hub of alternative social activity. It’s long been home to advocacy work for people with disabilities, the LGBT community, and many other minority groups.
Should you tire of the city’s attractions, Slovenia holds gorgeous lake country. Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj are both within day trip distance. Bled, in the Julian Alps, is best recognized by the lonely island church parked squarely in the lake’s center. Bus tickets are 6-7 euro for the 90-minute ride. Buses to Bohinj take two hours and cost 8-9 euro.
Not ready to venture off the beaten path? Read my Creative Professional’s Guide to Paris for a more traditional digital nomad hotspot.
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