Picking up from last week’s post (here), we continued day 2 of our adventures in Ljubljana with lunch, obviously (this family is wholly food-orientated). We went to an Italian restaurant on the main pedestrianised street through the old town called Mediterraneo (info here), which was a pleasant enough restaurant with tasty food which was reasonably priced. I opted for the pork with creamed potatoes and it was really rather nice!
After lunch we headed to the front of the beautiful town hall, ready for our walking tour. This was included in our Ljubljana card (mentioned in my first post) and there are various tours you can choose from, focussing on different things such as art, architecture etc. We chose the one that included the boat tour (also available with the card, but this one combined both in one whole afternoon stint). Our tour guide was called Urban and I can’t find enough great things to say about him. He was engaging, interesting, extremely knowledgeable and very witty. There were only six of us on our tour, the 4 in our party and two men from Wisconsin, America (we talked, Green Bay Packers, obviously!) and we quickly all got chatting and enjoyed our afternoon as a merry group of 7 including Urban.
The tour started in the town hall itself, continued around the old town where we got to go into one of the oldest traditional taverns in Ljubljana. Whilst there we were told more about the history of Slovenia’s cuisine and it’s mix of Italian, Austrian and Eastern European influences. We also got to try some of the traditional Carniola sausage, which is a slightly spicy sausage made with garlic, saltpetre and black pepper and a traditional cake called Prekmurska Gibanica. I didn’t try the cake as it contained things I knew I didn’t like (apples, dates and walnuts) but it had rave reviews from everyone else and the Carniola sausage was fantastic.
The tour then continued through more of the old town and then went through the really quiet area on the edge of the very centre. Unfortunately I don’t remember the name of this area but I can’t describe how lovely and peaceful it was! The city of Ljubljana is small and quiet compared to most capitals anyway, but this felt like the quiet back streets of a tiny village! It had taken us less than 10 minutes to walk there from the centre.
We continued on to the new town and got to see some of the incredible Georgian architecture. Everything here is a little more spaced out (it’s not hemmed in by the castle hill or the river!) and there’s definitely more of a cosmopolitan feel to it, without losing it’s charm as such as small city. Lots of the museums are on this side of the river as well as the CBD and Tivoli Park. We stopped in the beautiful Kongresni Trg, or Congress Square, that was created for the 1821 Congress of Laibach that was held in Ljubljana (called Laibach at the time) to attempt to heal political rifts across Europe from the Napoleonic wars. It was on our way to this square that we stopped at the statue of Napoleon.
Ljubljana actually hold Napoleon in high regard, which surprised us. In short, this was because of the economic and social reforms that came to Slovenia (at the time known as an area called the Illyrian Provinces, of which Laibach was the capital) as part of the Napoleonic rule. Without this influence, this area wouldn’t have seen the social and economic changes that it did, including an increase in literacy rates and an improvement in health and sanitation.
From the Congress Square we admired the beautiful architecture and found out more about the modern day Slovenia, it’s 19th and 20th Century history and how it came to independence from Yugoslavia on 25th June 1991. This country, for saying how small it is, has such a deep, varied and interesting history.
From the square we crossed back across the river to catch our boat. The boat ride took about half an hour or so and we went up and down the Ljubljanica to the outskirts of the city. Urban continued his wonderful commentary, telling us about the buildings on the side of the river and the role the river has played (a very important one!) on the city. He also told us about the architect Jože Plečnik who designed quite a few of the bridges across the river and had a huge influence on the 20th century architecture of Ljubljana. The Triple Bridges mentioned in last week’s post is one of his most iconic pieces in the city, as well as buildings such as the National and University Library in the new town.
At the end of the boat tour, we had to part ways with our fabulous guide but parted with so much knowledge of the city. It was truly a brilliant afternoon and I recommend to anyone as a great way to explore the city, especially if you are only visiting for a short time.
We spent the rest of the afternoon doing various things, Mum and I continued to wander round the old town, exploring some of the lovely shops. Dad decided to walk up the hill back to the castle (just for the walk, he didn’t go back to a castle without me!) and Aidan headed to the city museum to have a little explore. We then met back up, grabbed an ice cream and then headed to a bar for drinks. Also, as is family tradition, Dad bought along Noodles (Noo-noo!) the Panda. This was the very first stuffed toy Mum and Dad bought for me when I was a baby and I’m not exactly sure how it came about, but he’s now Mum and Dad’s holiday buddy, and gets his photo snapped in various holiday destinations. Obviously, he was enjoying his adventures in Slovenia too!
We headed back to our apartment again for the evening, eating yet more meat and cheese from the market the previous day with some additions from the local supermarket.
Day 3 started with beautiful weather again. Mum and Dad took the opportunity for a couple of hours rest in the morning whilst Aidan and I headed for the gorgeous Botanical Gardens that were a short walk from our apartment, just across the river. The Botanical Gardens were recommended to me by my friend who originally recommended Slovenia and they are just on the outskirts of the city, down near the part where the river splits (Old Town Ljubljana is technically an island in the middle of the Ljubljanica). It was a lovely little oasis of green and calm (if you ignored the sound of the shooting range just behind…) and the greenhouse was especially great with it’s walkway up through the canopy of the plants.
My only negative is that there isn’t all that much signage either in Slovenian or other languages. Most plants are labelled with their Latin name but not much more information than that and the little paper map of the greenhouse wasn’t the most helpful. Overall though, I highly recommend a visit, especially in the warm spring sunshine!
We had agreed to meet back up with my parents at a pub recommended to us by one of Aidan’s friends. This particular pub was north-west of the city, just near Tivoli Park (took us about 20 mins to walk from the centre of the Old Town) and was the pub attached to the Union Brewery! Union is one of the two brands of beer made in Slovenia. It makes a range of great beers including dark beers that kept Aidan and my Dad happy and Radler, which is basically alcoholic lilt (actually a citrus infused Lager) that I was very, very on board with. They also made a range of ciders too. We didn’t have time this holiday, but you get a Brewery Tour included as part of the Ljubljana card (I’m pretty sure that the brewery tour on it’s own is more than the €15/day we’d worked out the Ljubljana card was costing us).
Anyway, as the weather was so nice we sat in the courtyard between the pub and the brewery. The stacks and stacks of beer crates along the fence (brewery side) gave it an edgy feel and I felt more like I was in Shoreditch than Ljubljana, but in a very good way, I was loving the vibe and it totally distracted from the fact that you were between a main road and an industrial production building.
The beer was good value and the food, well that was something else. I cannot tell you how good the food was and just how much there was! We decided to get the platter for 4, we knew we were going out for dinner in the evening so thought that sharing the platter between 4 would make a good lunch for a family with big appetites. This is what arrived:
There was (from what I can remember) beer sausages, veal steaks, two legs of pork, breaded chicken, roasted new potatoes, sauerkraut and roasted vegetables. All in large quantities! It was all cooked to perfection and we were in foodie heaven. If you’re in Ljubljana, this is absolutely a must-visit place!
Feeling verrrrrry full, we decided to head back to town through the park. This was our only time spent in Tivoli Park and it’s another reason I’m itching to come back. Not only is there a Zoo that is pretty highly rated, the park is huge and looks like a place I want to spend a summer afternoon drinking Radler with my friends, quite frankly!
After our slow amble through the pretty park, we headed back into the new town and as the weather seemed to be on the turn and it was the last day of our Ljubljana card, we made the most of it’s benefits and headed to the National Museum of Slovenia and the Natural History Museum of Slovenia, which are conveniently located in the same gorgeous building in the new town.
Downstairs contained the National Museum of Slovenia and upstairs the Natural History Museum. It’s a really well thought out and interesting museum and we enjoyed finding out about the history of wider Slovenia, having found out so much about Ljubljana so far. One of the most interesting objects in the museum is the Neanderthal Flute. This is made from the femur of a Cave Bear with evenly spaced finger holes and was found in the 90s at an archaeological park in North-Western Slovenia. It’s believed to be the oldest musical instrument found in the world! It was fab to see it up close and imagine just how much music has come to change over the years since it’s creation.
We enjoyed our time at the museum but went quite close to closing time and also very tired and full so I hope to go back at some point and take everything in a bit better! We headed back to the apartment and I’m pretty sure had naps before going out again in the evening!
Aidan and I had already planned to go for dinner that evening just the two of us and after some debating and looking at places along the riverbank in the old town, we decided to head to the traditional tavern we’d been to on the walking tour.
Gostilna Sokol, located on the main pedestrianised street in the centre of the old town, was beautifully furnished with wooden beams and barrels giving it that rustic feel and the waiters were all extremely attentive. It was a brilliant decision and the food and wine was beautiful! I know I had some wonderful onion soup to start and I think it was pasta and game for mains, but I’m afraid I can’t remember exactly, but I remember it tasting fabulous! We did however remember to take some nice photos of us by the river in the evening and definitely did not forget to have gelato from one of the river bank stands on the way back to the apartment!
Apart from coming back to Gostilna Sokol again for dinner on the Friday night (for my birthday dinner!), that was the end of our time in Ljubljana itself. We stayed at the same accommodation but explored wider Slovenia for the rest of our holiday. I’ll be writing about this, but it’ll be published later in the year.
Ultimately, I can’t recommend Ljubljana enough (tourist website here). It makes the perfect city break destination or, like we did, a base for a holiday spent some time in the city and some time in the rest of the Slovenia. I am so, so excited to go back and although nothing is set in stone yet, plans are afoot for later in the year and I’m already excited. If you want any further information on Ljubljana, please don’t hesitate to comment, contact us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) or use the form on the Contact page. I’d be happy to make more recommendations or answer any other questions!