Hello! I’m Beth, wife to Aidan, some-time blogger and as of now, guest contributor to Flights & Times. You’ll get used to me popping up now and again on here, writing up destination reports from our trips past and present. I’m afraid you won’t find me writing any of the reviews of train or plane journeys though…
Anyway, last April, Aidan, my parents and myself headed away for a week to Slovenia. It was probably the best holiday I’ve ever been on. We did so much, yet I came back feeling refreshed and having left a bit of my soul in Slovenia, I can’t describe how much I’m wanting to go back, I think about Slovenia a lot.
So, why Slovenia? I admit it’s not the first place that comes into people’s minds for a holiday, but an ex-colleague had gone the previous year and told me about how much she loved it. I’d also seen some posts on Instagram and Facebook from friends who had been and it looked fantastic, so I started researching. Within a couple of weeks, the decision was made, I’d like to go to Slovenia with my family for my next Birthday, and so we did! For info, the weather whilst we were there was pretty similar to the UK in April, we had a couple of days that were rainy in parts and overcast but other days that were sunshine and t-shirt weather. We carried light jumpers/jackets most of the time but often didn’t need them for hours at a time.
We’d found ourselves an AirBnB on the edge of the capital city, Ljubljana, hoping it wouldn’t take too long to get to the centre (it seemed not on the map) and paid a very reasonable price for it. The city is pretty central in what is overall a small country, so we were able to explore other areas of the country with ease from our base in Ljubljana. We set off on the 8th April for Luton and flew with Whizz Air, who were pretty good to be honest. We also spent time in the airport lounge, which for my very nervous-flyer mother was well worth it, the calm atmosphere of the lounge away from all the chaos and noise made her feel a lot better. Lounge access was via DragonPass (info here).
We landed in Ljubljana quite late at night and after an alarmingly expensive taxi ride from the airport, we arrived at our AirBnB. Obviously having only just arrived, we worried that this might be a far more expensive city than our research had led us to believe, however it turns out this was the only thing we found to be a lot more expensive than we had anticipated. Phew! Everything else was comparative with the UK, or cheaper.
Our AirBnB (this one) was lovely and our host was very attentive. He was easy to contact and although we didn’t meet him in person, he helped us whenever we needed it. The kettle stopped working whilst we were there, so we messaged him and by the time we got back to the apartment again later that day, a brand new one was waiting for us in the lobby. Also, as will become apparent in another post, it had parking which was very handy. The apartment had a hallway, living room/dining room/kitchen that was really spacious and full of light, three double bedrooms and a good-sized bathroom. It was a first-floor apartment with stepped access though so unfortunately may not be suitable for those with accessibility requirements. It’s currently around £47/night which is extremely reasonable for saying it can sleep 6 people comfortably, it’s a great option for those who are travelling in a group. For those who are travelling as a couple, there are loads of reasonably priced AirBnBs across the city.
Our AirBnB was in the suburbs of the city, just south of the main city centre with the area being extremely quiet and peaceful, with the only noises being the occasional car, a couple of dogs next door and some chickens. Although the views were nothing special, just the surrounding houses, it was a pleasant area, so you weren’t looking out onto anything you didn’t want to see. There was a couple of bars and a supermarket just down the main road our residential street led to and a bus stop just up the main road too.
Having arrived late the previous evening, we were grateful for the selection of supplies that our host had left for us (milk, bread, croissants etc) and after breakfast headed into the city centre. We needn’t have worried about being close enough, as to our surprise everything was so much smaller than we had realised and within 15 minutes of strolling we were on the main streets of the old town. For those that know London, it took less time to walk from our apartment to the very centre than it would take to walk from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road tube stations…Perfect! The walk was really lovely, most of it along the banks of the Ljubljanica that runs through the middle of the city, splitting the old and new parts of the town.
My first impressions of the city was that I couldn’t believe how a) small it was (the population of this capital city is a mere 280,000!), b) how clean it was (everyone tidies up after themselves, there was no littering and everywhere has recycling bins that the general population use properly) and c) how safe it felt. Later in the holiday when we were walking around the city at night, I couldn’t believe how at ease I felt. I wasn’t alone at any point but if I’m honest, I’d have felt pretty safe to walk around on my own and crime in the city is at very low levels, with violent crimes decreasing year on year.
We spent the morning strolling around the old town, getting our bearings and enjoying the sites of the city centre. At the very heart of the centre is Three Bridges, which cross the river and links the North/West banks of the Ljubljanica (New Town) with the South/East banks (Old Town) as well as connecting two of the city’s pretty squares one of which is home to this incredible church that forms a beautiful pink focal point.
We found the Tourist Information Centre and although we had a good idea of things we wanted to do from the guidebook (this Lonely Planet one), it was great to find out more and it was here we found out about the Ljubljana Card. This fantastic travel pass was quite honestly, brilliant. You can read more about it here but in short, it provides entry to most of the main attractions in the city (well over 20 attractions), free travel on the busses (including a return journey to/from the airport), access to Wi-Fi across the city, a spot on one of the range of walking tours of the city and four hours of bike hire in the summer months. You can buy the pass for a 24, 48- or 72-hour period. We opted to get one each, all for 72 hours (current price for this is €40.50 bought online or €45 over the counter) and we saved so much compared to paying for everything individually, €15 a day for access to all of the above is not to be sniffed at!
We spent the rest of the morning exploring, taking in the beautiful market (and buying Italian cold meats and cheeses) and then stopping for lunch at the fish restaurant attached to the fish market, on the banks of the river.
In the afternoon we made our first use of the Ljubljana Card, heading for Ljubljana Castle (the first of four this holiday. I just REALLY like castles, ok?!). Set on a rocky outcrop above the old town, the castle is surrounded by a park now. It was the location of the original Iron Age hill fort that eventually grew to become Slovenia and although there are trails that walk up the hill, there was no way my Mum was getting up there so we decided to take the funicular that goes up the steep side of the hill from the centre of the town. It turned out to be an excellent choice. This modern funicular isn’t a train as we first thought, it’s best described as a glass cube sliding up and down the track! This meant that the views over the city were uninterrupted and stunning. In the photo below you can see the old town in the foreground, new town in the middle, Tivoli Park (more about that another time) behind the new town and in the distance? That’s the Alps (!!) and Triglav National Park.
The castle itself is pretty and informative. There was a good audio guide in multiple languages, and it took us about an hour or so to explore. Some of the castle has been turned into a museum about puppetry (we didn’t go in this bit) and some of it is an exhibition space and venue for a range of events. The rest has been maintained in its previous use including the bell tower and the beautiful chapel.
The café was nice with incredibly rich and thick hot chocolate and delicious cakes. Overall, although for reasons that will become clear in other posts, it wasn’t my favourite castle of the holiday, it’s well worth going to. Highlights include the incredible views across the city and its really interesting film that is played in one of the towers, which gives a great introduction to the founding of Ljubljana and the city’s history (including the city’s link to dragons and St. George).
After some more exploring of the old town and some of the lovely shops, it was time to head back to the apartment and feast on the meats and cheeses we’d bought at the market. Day 1, done.
Day 2 started overcast and we decided to take a divide and conquer approach. My parents headed to the City Museum of Ljubljana and Aidan and I headed to the north of the city on the bus and walked out into the northern suburbs to find the Slovenian Railway Museum. Both the museums are included on the Ljubljana card. Parents confirmed that the city museum was excellent. I never had a chance to go later in the wek so it’s high on the revisit to-do list.
Although I’m not as interested in the modern railways as Aidan is, I do find the history and heritage of railways interesting and was more than happy to go to the museum. Readers, it was a delight. Although not a huge site, there was plenty to see and lots of information in both Slovenian, English and I think German (I can’t remember!). With two large engine sheds, and another building housing all sorts of other railway paraphernalia including signalling systems, communications and a display of uniform, we spent a good two hours taking it all in. Unfortunately, by the time we were ready to go out and see all the carriages, engines etc that were outside, the heavens opened, and it would be fair to say it was a rush job as neither of us had taken waterproofs…! We then tramped through the rain back to the bus stop to head back to the city centre and were soaked through!
By the time we got back to the city centre the rain has stopped and it was back to being overcast. As our plans for the afternoon involved a lot of time being outside, I jumped into one of the tourist shops and picked up a cheap umbrella and as soon as I did, the clouds parted, and the rest of the day was wall to wall sunshine…!
I’m going to leave it there for today (congrats if you made it this far! Virtual gold stickers for you!) and will pick up in another post from lunchtime on day 2…