Lede Destination: What to Do in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Editor’s Note: While Slovenia sounds exotic, it’s my second home. I lived there for nearly 18 months as a wide-eyed twenty-something, soaking up the Adriatic vibes and as much potica — that’s rolled walnut bread — as I could get my hands on. Despite my obvious bias, I guarantee this is one destination you don’t want to miss. I’ll be sharing more about Slovenia in later posts.

A sweet confection of baroque charm and old world nuance, Slovenia’s petite capital is more than a passing decadence topped with a medieval castle. It’s the Cinderella of the European Union. And although it arrived late to the world’s stage, the former Yugoslavian bastion has transformed in recent years, boasting a burgeoning food and fashion scene, top-of-the-line hotels, and an ever expanding tourism industry — up more than 130 percent in the past decade. With this walkable city nabbing headlines for its epicurean community, green living, and posh royal guests, there’s never been a better time to put Ljubljana on your must-hit list.

Pronunciation

Lyoo-BLYAH-nah

How to Get There

You’ll need to take a connecting flight to land at Jože Pučnik Airport, a 30-minute drive from downtown.

Where to Stay

The Grand Hotel Union (Miklošičeva Cesta 3; 386-1308-1270; www.gh-union.si) is the located in the heart of the city near Prešeren Square. Constructed in 1905, this Art Nouveau masterpiece houses 173 elegant guest rooms, a state-of-the-art wellness spa, and the Union Cellar restaurant, where you can sample many of Slovenia’s rich wines. A royal bonus? This is Queen Elizabeth’s favorite haunt when she’s in town.

What to Buy

Idrija Lace

What Parmigiano-Reggiano is to Italy, Idrija lace is to Slovenia. That’s because the intricate details of this regional handicraft require years of training to master. Galerija Idrijske Cipke (Mestni Trg 17; www.idrija-lace.com) sells authentic goods and provides daily bobbin-juggling demonstrations.

Local Goods

For other Slovenian products, head to my favorite traditional outpost — Skrina (Trg Republike 1; 386-1425-5161; www.skrina.si). Located on the perimeter of the city’s bustling outdoor market, this delightful shop sells high-end Slovenian flatware, ceramics, and woodwork. And be sure to bring home some artisanal honey and a painted hive door — Slovenes are the original gentleman beekeepers.

 

Restaurants

Skriti Kot

With a name that literally means hidden corner, this eatery (Ajdovščina 4; 386-1430-2206; www.skritikot.com) is sequestered beneath the city in an underground passage. Since Slovenian cuisine takes cues from its European neighbors, you’ll find hearty dumplings, goulash, polenta, and gnocchi on the menu. Don’t miss the salad bar — it’s served inside a baby grand piano.

Slaščičarna pri Vodnjaku

A staple of Old Town, this sweet shop (Stari Trg 30) serves up hot chocolate in true Slovenian style — a warm ring of pudding garnished with ice cream. With thirty-two different flavors on tap, you’ll need more than one visit to sample the immense selection.

Čajna Hisa

The swinging tea pot out front signals that this quaint tea house (Stari Trg 3) is the best place in town for an artisan cuppa. A steaming pot of black, green, or fruit tea goes for about three euros. If you like what you sip, pick up a tin of your favorite brew on the way out.

Burek Olimpija

You haven’t lived until you’ve sampled burek, the savory Balkan equivalent of the cronut. The best place to score this flaky, cheese-filled pastry is at Burek Olimpija (Slovenska Cesta 58), a 24/7 shop popular with the nightlife set.

Historical Sites

Prešeren Square

Named for the bard behind Slovenia’s national anthem, this square is dominated by the coral façade of the Franciscan Church, completed in 1660, and a large bronze statue memorializing the poet himself. From here you can also take in a view of the Triple Bridge. The pedestrian causeway crosses the sparkling Ljubljanica river and was designed by famed architect Jože Plečnik in 1929.

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Tivoli Mansion

In Ljubljana’s sprawling central park you’ll find Tivoli Mansion (Pod Turnom 3; www.mglc-lj.si). Erected by Jesuits in the 17th century, the property passed through several hands before an Austrian field marshal gave the site a neoclassical facelift. The mansion currently houses the International Centre of Graphic Arts. Tours are offered daily, but the printmaking demonstration is worth scheduling in advance.

Ljubljana Castle

Hovering above the city is Ljubljana’s castle (Grajska Planota 1; 386-1306-4293; www.ljubljanskigrad.si), but it’s not a crumbling medieval edifice. The castle has been under renovation since 1511 and currently affords visitors a completely modern experience with digital exhibits, regular musical performances, and fine dining at Restaurant Na Gradu. The castle is easily accessible on foot, but you can also opt for the funicular railway. It’s a zippy sixty-second ride, but the panoramic views are unbeatable.

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Slovenian National Opera and Ballet Theatre

On the heels of a 42-million-euro restoration, Ljubljana’s neo-Renaissance opera house (Župančičeva 1; 386-1241-5959; www.opera.si) is back in business with hundreds of performances slated for the season. The theatre’s ensembles boast extensive classical repertoires; this year’s performance of “Carmen” is generating buzz.

Shopping

Koda386

Koda 386 (Tavčarjeva ulica 4; 386-0590-33350; www.koda386.com) offers fashion collections from Matevž Faganel, Sanja Grcić and Nina Šušnjara, three up-and-coming Slovenian designers.

Niti Niti

The Niti Niti wool gallery (Breg 4; 386-1426-4078; www.nitiniti.si) offers a choice of top quality wool, designer knitwear and other wool products. At the gallery, visitors are welcome to do their own knitting, swap stories, or read magazines.

Piranske Soline

This shop (Mestni Trg 19; 386-1425-0190; www.soline.si) sells salt and all its imaginable accessories. The salt is harvested from Secovlje Salina Nature Park on Slovenia’s Adriatic coast. The harvesting methods haven’t changed since the 14th century.

Cukrcek Candy Shop

A family-run business, this chocolate shop (Mestni Trg 11; 386-1421-0453; www.cukrcek.si) has been serving up handmade treats for fifteen years. Their signature product is a fig coated in dark chocolate (a rumored favorite of national treasure Prešeren), but the folks at Cukrcek don’t shy away from creative ingredients, such as red pepper and apple strudel, either.

Events

Rich Culture

With nearly 10,000 cultural events every year, Ljubljana throws the kinds of parties you’d expect of a city triple its size. In December the capital pulls out all the stops, stringing nearly 40 miles of lights through its winding streets. When I last visited in 2014, artist Zmago Modic was behind the vibrant — and cheeky — display. His installation “The Feast of Existence” featured a sparkling egg surrounded by twinkling sperm.

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