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48 hours in in Ljubljana: Slovenia's fairy-tale capital

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Nestled in an expansive basin and encircled by the blue-hued silhouettes of nearby mountain ranges, lies the city of Ljubljana. Lacking the skyscrapers which cast shadows over most major cities, Ljubljana feels more like a friendly town than a capital city.

The pastel-coloured buildings which adorn the cobbled streets in the city centre could compete with the likes of Vienna or Prague. Yet, Ljubljana remains a lesser-known gem of the European continent.

Image credit: Isabelle Rayner

This enchanting city feels almost whimsical, steeped in fantastic legends which sound as though Ljubljana was born from the pages of a fairytale. Indeed, it is said that the city was founded by Jason and the Argonauts who, while escaping with the golden fleece, came across a dragon who inhabited the lake near to which the Ljubljanica river originates. Jason inevitably killed the dragon and now this legend permeates every aspect of the modern city.

Most obvious are the four dragons which perch atop the Dragon Bridge, baring their teeth at the people wandering below, wings positioned as if they are about to take flight. Less obvious are the dragons which feature on Ljubljana’s coat of arms, a symbol peppered across the city: on the spiral staircase leading up the castle turrets and even on the paving stones beneath your feet.

Crucially, Ljubljana has won numerous awards for its efforts in sustainable tourism. The city was crowned the European Green Capital in 2016. Wandering through the city, the reasons for such an award are clear.

Image credit: Isabelle Rayner

There are ample green spaces, car-free zones, and plenty of vegetarian/vegan options at restaurants with a focus on local specialities. Ljubljana provides hope and inspiration for the future of our urban centres and it shows how much more pleasant a city can be if only it were more environmentally-focused.

Visit the stalls which compose the Central Market. From local honey, wine, and pumpkin oil, to fresh fish, fruit and veg, the market will delight your taste buds.

Wander alongside the river as the sun falls in the sky and keep an eye out for the coypu (resembling a beaver with the tail of a rat). These bizarrely adorable animals playfully chase each other across the banks and into the water.

Many sights around Ljubljana can be seen simply by wandering around the Old Town. In addition to the Dragon Bridge and the many gorgeous squares, make sure to cross over the triple bridge, designed by Jože Plečnik. This architect is responsible for much of the architecture in the city, famously designing his creations to mimic Athens. His work also has great influence in Vienna and Prague.

Have a glass of wine, a tankard of beer, or even a cocktail at one of the many outdoor restaurants that line the streets and rivers.

Image credit: Isabelle Rayner

Finally, take the funicular up to Ljubljana castle for spectacular views across the city, basin, and beyond. Within the castle, there are several museums including one on Slovenia’s history and even a puppetry museum.

Bonus trip: Lake Bled

Take a weekend trip over to Lake Bled, just over an hour outside of Ljubljana. This magnificent area is popular with both Slovenians and international tourists alike. Once you see the sparkling blue waters, you will understand the hype.

Image credit: Isabelle Rayner

Explore the lake on a paddleboard or row-boat, visit the church which perches on the island in the middle, or climb up to the castle which overlooks this gorgeous region. There is plenty to keep you busy here.

Lead image credit: Isabelle Rayner




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