While Slovenia in general and Ljubljana in particular are still relatively 'off the beaten path,' they attract more and more tourists each year.
It’s no surprise why: Slovenia is the perfect destination for people who like beautiful scenery and peace and quiet.
Surrounded by Italy, Austria, Croatia and the Adriatic sea, Slovenia’s weather is ideal in summer.
It’s so nice, in fact, that more and more people like Kara Scott, 888poker ambassador and famed ESPN WSOP host, have fallen in love with it and moved there.
What should you see and do if you visit Ljubljana and Slovenia?
Scott has lived in Ljubljana for a couple of years now and and shared her best tips about this beautiful country and its quaint capital city.
PL: When and how did you fall in love with Ljubljana and Slovenia?
KS: I fell in love with Ljubljana immediately. We drove into the city from our house in Italy, just to check it out, and as soon as we crossed the city limits I felt like it could be home.
We were actually supposed to go to a few countries to check out places to live but Slovenia was the first place we looked at and that was it - we decided to move here as soon as we could.
Love at first sight.
PL: How long have you lived there?
KS: It’s been two years now, although it feels strange to say so. Time goes so fast!
I’ve always believed that it takes 2 years minimum to start feeling at home in a place and really become part of the community. That seems true here, too. It was faster than usual but it still takes some time to understand a place properly.
PL: Do you speak Slovenian? To which other language could it be compared, or is it close?
KS: I don’t speak Slovenian, at least not yet! I was taking lessons last year but work took me away so often that I kept missing them and so I stopped.
I need to start them up again because it’s impossible to really be at home unless you speak the language. Most people here speak English but that’s no excuse to be lazy!
I’m still learning Italian as well right now. My husband’s family is Italian so it’s important that I’m able to speak it properly.
Trying to learn both Italian and Slovenian at the same time is such a headache though. They’re nothing alike! I suppose to my untrained Canadian ear Slovenian sounds a bit like Croatian, but I could be very wrong about that.
PL: What do you like the most about Ljubljana (and Slovenia in general)?
KS: The city is so built for living. It’s green - both in how eco-friendly it is and in how ACTUALLY green it is. There are plants and trees everywhere. The center is pedestrianized and that zone gets bigger every year.
It’s so peaceful to be able to walk or bike everywhere and not always have to hear the noise of traffic. And the people are wonderful. There’s a sense of optimism here that I didn’t sense in Italy.
City made for living.
PL: Few people may know Ljubljana was elected "Green Capital of Europe" in 2016. How does it translate?
KS: Every year the European Commission awards the title to a city with a consistent record for achieving high environmental standards, and one that is committed to big goals towards environmental improvement and sustainable development, as a way of inspiring other cities to emulate the best practices. Not easy tasks!
Ljubljana was once a city that depended on individual cars to transport people but they’ve focussed on public transport, bike lanes, pedestrianization and protection of green spaces. They’ve also committed to a zero waste policy, which is pretty amazing.
PL: I also read on your blog it's a very cultural city with lots of festivals?
KS: There’s always something happening here and I don't know how the city manages it. It really makes people feel part of the community and there’s always something celebrating either the city's history, art, ethos or food and drink. There’s always something going on.
Always something going on.
PL: Still, do you see any downsides?
KS: The more popular it becomes I worry that it’ll end up being too expensive for the local people.
I don’t want to be part of that gentrifying process and so we do our best to use and talk about the local goods and services and to support local small businesses.
It’s another really important reason to learn the language, I think.
PL: How many days would you advise to visit the city of Ljubljana (and Slovenia)?
KS: I’d say spend up to a week in Slovenia with 2-3 days in Ljubljana and then a day out at Lake Bled, a day in Piran on the coast and a day at the Postojna Caves.
A day in Piran a must.
PL: Which sights shouldn’t be missed?
KS: If you’re in Ljubljana you actually CAN’T miss the castle as it’s at the top of a hill, right in the center. Take a walk up there and check out the view, see some of the history and then have a spritz while the sun goes down.
Spend a good long afternoon just walking around the center and seeing all the different small shops. It’s even more beautiful than many European centers as there are no cars around.
If it’s during the week, walk to the fresh market that happens each day and buy some fruit and veggies to make yourself dinner. It’s amazing to me that this is open nearly every day and it’s a lot of fun to check out.
If it’s Friday, go to Odprta Kuhna - the open kitchen or street food market. You can get some incredible wines, cocktails, high-end food from the best restaurants in the country or deserts that will blow your mind. It’s an outdoor event every Friday and they usually have some incredible DJs providing the ambiance.
If you have some extra time and just want a nice place to relax and work on your laptop then check out Ziferblat. It's a really welcoming spot where you only pay for the time you spend there, not the coffee (or pancakes they sometimes make!).
Just be sure to clean up after yourself as it's a collective that relies on the people who use it to keep it working well. Sometimes they have really great musicians do little workshops there too.
And of course, you have to go to the Dragon Bridge to say hi to the dragons. I'm not saying it's lucky to touch his claw, but I mean, it can't hurt!
Don't miss the castle.
PL: Let’s talk about food! What are your favorites dishes/specialities/drinks from Slovenia?
KS: If you love good food there are loads of restaurants in Ljubljana to try but you should absolutely go to Hiša Franko, outside of the city.
The head chef Ana Ros is one of the best chefs in the world. She was on the recent series of Chef’s Table on Netflix and was named best female chef in the world. Her husband is the sommelier for the restaurant and is amazing at what he does.
Or if you prefer something simpler, one of their famous foods is Slovenian sausage and you can grab some at a place in the centre called Klobasarna. They serve it with freshly grated horseradish and it’s so good.
There is some of the best ice cream in the world here (award winning apparently) so you have to just walk around and try it all in the center.
If you fancy a great burger and some high end craft beer, Pop’s Burgers is the place to go. It’s right on the river so you can watch the world go by while eating some of the best burgers and BBQ ever.
And for a nice dinner with great wines, go to Valvas’or and sit outside. Ask them to bring you whatever Slovenian wines they think are best and be prepared to be amazed by how good they all are. I’d never heard of Slovenian wine before moving here but it’s ridiculously good. They have some of the best white wines I’ve ever tried in my life, but I always start with a glass of sparkling Bjana rose.
Also, if you want to grab some incredible fresh bread then go to Pekarno Osem - Osem means the number 8 but is also pronounced 'awesome' and it really is). It's like a fresh-bread smelling, hipster haven and it's worth a stop by.
More Information on Ljubljana/Slovenia
Ljubljana and Slovenia in Brief:
- 2,070,000 inhabitants (Ljubljana: 280,000)
- Size: 20,273 km² (Ljubljana: 275 km²)
- Density: 102 people per km² (Ljubljana: 1,019 pax/ km²)
- Money: Euro
- Average Summer Temperature: 13 to 28° Celsius