Ljubljana Photo Essay: The Prettiest Capital in Europe

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We were instantly charmed by Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, and one of the smallest and prettiest capital cities in Europe. It’s like something out of a fairytale with its picture-perfect old town of pastel coloured baroque and art nouveau buildings, tree-lined river, and medieval castle perched on a hill.

The city is compact and laid-back, with what feels like more bikes than cars, a youthful artsy population, and delicious food. It felt like a city we could live in for a while.

Prešernov Trg, Ljubljana
Prešernov Trg, the circular main square in Ljubljana
Ljubljana river and triple bridge

The river is the heart of the city. Weeping willows droop into the emerald water, pink, peach, and pistachio houses line the banks, and street musicians play lively Balkan tunes. Cafes spill out onto the cobblestoned pavement by the water—the perfect place for strolling, coffee drinking, gelato licking, or perhaps taking a nap. For such a prime location the cafes are surprisingly affordable.

Ljubljana river
Ljubljana riverside cafes
Ljubljana gelato from fetiche
Ljubljana riverside napping
Street musicians, Ljubljana
Street musicians by the Triple Bridge, Ljubljana

Every bridge is different—the ferocious green dragons of Dragon Bridge, the six pairs of pillars at Shoemaker’s Bridge, and the hub of Triple Bridge which connects the modern city and the old town.

Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana
Dragon Bridge
Love padlocks on Butcher's Bridge , Ljubljana
Love padlocks on Butcher’s Bridge. Couples lock them here to symbolise their eternal love.
Shoemaker's Bridge, Ljubljana
Shoemaker’s Bridge with random hanging shoes and the castle turret in the background
Shoes on wire at Shoemaker’s Bridge, Ljubljana
One of Ljubljana’s quirky details—random shoes thrown over a wire by the Shoemaker’s Bridge, no one quite knows why.

From the riverbank you can delve down side streets and discover little plazas or wander into the medieval centre down Mestni and Stari Trg, a pedestrian street parallel to the river. Here you’ll find more cobblestones, elegant baroque buildings turned into boutiques, chocolate shops, cafes, and restaurants. There are a few souvenir shops but the city doesn’t feel touristy, and we never saw any tour groups, impressive for a European capital.

The Robba fountain in Mestni Trg
The Robba fountain in Mestni Trg
Ljubljana old town
Ljubljana old town
Cafes in Ljubljana old town
Ljubljana old town
Ljubljana Door
The Ljubljana Door, a side door to the Cathedral with portraits of the city’s bishops

We visited the Central Market on our Ljubljananjam food walk. Inside you’ll find piles of dried fruit and nuts, grains, cheese, meat, bread, and Slovenian specialities like pumpkin seed oil. Outside tables overflow with local fresh fruit and vegetables. On Friday mornings there’s also the Open Kitchen with food stalls serving hot meals.

Central Market, Ljubljana
Produce at the Central Market

Near the market we saw our first milk vending machine. These are stocked with fresh raw milk every day and you can bring your own container or buy one of the bottles from the machine and fill it up with as much milk as you like for €0.10 per 100ml.

Milk vending machine, Ljubljana
Milk vending machine

All the food we ate in Ljubljana was delicious—fava bean soup with homemade buckwheat bread on our food walk, good value salad and quiches at veggie friendly Bazilika, mango gelato from Fetiche along the river, and a gourmet multi-course meal at Valvas’or.

Zucchini carpaccio at Valvas'or
Zucchini carpaccio with figs and local cheese at Valvas’or

Ljubljana’s old town is gorgeous but it’s worth exploring further afield to experience the alternative vibe of this student city. In just five minutes walk you’ll leave the tourists behind and discover urban gardens, parks, funky cafes, art galleries, and hole in the wall local restaurants.

Skate shop entrance in Ljubljana
Skate shop entrance in Ljubljana

Ljubljana is one of our new favourite cities. It’s not the place to come for major sightseeing but it’s a beautiful, relaxed city and the perfect place to wander, people-watch in cafes, and soak up the atmosphere.

Note: Ljubljana is pronounced “lyoob-lyAH-nah” and yes, I had to look it up on Youtube before our visit!

Thanks to Spirit Slovenia, the country’s tourist board who provided our accommodation in Ljubljana and our meal at Valva’sor.

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a photo guide to ljubljana, slovenia's pretty capital


  1. The photos are lovely. I have been there but the weather did not cooperate so the colors were dull and grey. I intend to return but there are so many smaller cities in Eastern Europe that it is hard to pick a favorite. Unfortunately the big promotion effort by the Tourist Board is working and many tourists are arriving as one of the new “undiscovered” areas. All these countries suffer from loss of culture and quality of life when they start catering to general tourism. The smaller the city the greater the negative impact.
    When deciding where to move from my native San Francisco area. I had a lot of choices of interest but in these 10 years since, most of those desirable spots are not so desirable now. I picked St Petersburg Russia and have not regretted it once. One reason for for moving here after just under 100 visits in 35 years, was because it was within 3 hours of anywhere in Europe. As fate would have it, I hardly go anywhere since I am so spoiled with interesting things to do, I am afraid I’ll miss something more interesting if I leave for more than a couple days.
    Right now, Central Europe is one of the few areas left that is not overrun with tourists and I fear the damage will be coming swiftly and intensely. I draw a distinction between tourists and travelers with the latter more interesting in engaging the culture as it is.

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  2. A lovely country and plenty to see. Stayed at Lake Bled which is beautiful and went canyoning, which was an interesting way to see the countryside. Some picturesque castles about too.

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  3. Wow! That looks like a beautiful city. I only passed through Slovenia once, but it was at night through the train station. I’d love to go back though. It looks really nice.

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  4. Love your photos and descriptions! We were there in 2006, and lived it -though it was quite a pricey city. A great blend of old and new. Beautiful and artsy. There was an anarchist encampment that was quite interesting to visit (the threat of a government seizure loomed, is it still there?), and next to a unique jail cell hostel where we spent 2 nights.

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  5. What a cute city! A lot of my Facebook followers are from Slovenia and have encouraged me to visit. Ljubljana is definitely high on my list of Eastern European cities to see.

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  6. Sold!

    I’m ready to go after seeing these gorgeous shots! I love a relaxed + beautiful city that I can explore completely on foot. :)

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  7. Ljublijana looks like a beautiful little city, yet another awesome place I must get to in Europe! So many nice roads to walk along it just looks great and would make for a nice relaxing week or so just strolling around the city.

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  8. Ljunljana is one of the few capitals in Europe I still have to visit – I’ve heard so much good things about it and your photos picture exactly that. Thx for taking us along ;)

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  9. It certainly looks like it’s worth a visit. I might be prejudice, but I was just in Berlin last year, and totally loved it, but this seem to be up there as well, but I might test it at some point.

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  10. I’ve been trying to get Tony excited about visiting some places in Eastern Europe when we break out of Asia (he’s very fixated on those pricey Western countries) and this has proved to be the incentive I needed! The pictures are really lovely and I’m sure the town is even prettier in person. I keep hearing so many great things about Ljubljana (thanks for the pronunciation guide, too!) and now, finally, here’s the visually proof!

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  11. Well, I would find even more charming European capitals (Bern, Prague, Tallinn or Vilnius for example) or cities (Lviv!) but Ljubljana definitely has some magic! It’s just so very tiny!! Still I really like returning there (or to Slovenia in general) and I’m not surprised you enjoyed it too!

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  12. You’ve reminded me just how gorgeous Ljubljana is! It looks like the perfect mix of so many other great European capitals (Paris, Vienna, Budapest) but on a smaller scale. I also really loved the non-touristy feel when I was there 4 years ago, so it’s good to know it’s still like that!

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