Ljubljana - With its superlative green spaces, car-free historic centre and impressive recycling efforts, Ljubljana is a fitting European Green Capital for 2016.
To celebrate the honour, Slovenia’s capital has rolled out a programme of green-themed events that run through to the end of the year.
Ljubljana’s Joze Pucnik Airport, is 25km north-west of the city. Bus 28 runs from the airport to Ljubljana’s bus station hourly until 8pm, and takes about 45 minutes. Shared or private transfers can be booked through companies including GoOpti that’ll drop you to your hotel door (from about 7am), or as close as possible to it.
The city’s bus station and train station are located beside each other, less than 1km north of the centre, within walking distance of many hotels and guest houses.
Get your bearings
Ljubljana’s historic and cultural centre straddles the banks of the Ljubljanica River that curves through the city. The medieval Ljubljana Castle dominates the cobbled Old Town on the east bank; the more modern west bank houses cultural institutions and parks. Stop by the Ljubljana Tourist Information Centre at Adamic-Lundrovo nabrezje 2, next to the Tromostovje (Triple Bridge) to pick up a Ljubljana Card, which offers free entry to the city’s top attractions, free city bus travel, 24-hour access to the WiFree Ljubljana wi-fi network and other discounts. It’s open from 8am-9pm until September 1, then from 8am-7pm until May 31.
Earlier this year, the smart Hotel Park Ljubljana, at Tabor 9 became the became the first Slovenian hotel to be awarded a Travelife Gold certificate for environmental friendliness.
Housed in a former military prison, Hostel Celica, at Metelkova 8 in the artsy Metelkova district (scored its own green claim to fame by becoming the world’s first eco-certified hostel in June. Twin privates at this quirky budget option go for e66 (about R1 000), with breakfast.
At the fancier end, the boutique Antiq Palace Hotel and Spa, at Gosposka 10, occupies a 16th-century former diplomatic residence. Its 18 spacious rooms (e171 for a double, not including breakfast) are elegantly furnished, some with chandeliers, and there’s a good spa.
Take a view
Ride the funicular from Krekov Trg to Ljubljana Castle for panoramic city views from the ramparts. A ticket to the castle costs e10 and includes the funicular, visits to the exhibition of Slovenian history and the puppet museum. Summer opening hours are 9am to 11pm; times during other months vary.
Take a hike
Start at the Ljubljana tourist office opposite the marble Triple Bridge designed by Jose Plecnik, the Slovene architect credited with shaping modern Ljubljana. It leads to Presernov Trg and the salmon-pink Franciscan church. From here, you can wander down Wolfova ulica, past shaded Kongresni Trg and the National and University Library, another Plecnik masterpiece.
Head towards the river and cross the Cobblers’ Bridge into the Old Town; on Sundays, a flea market sprawls along the embankment. Continue through to Mestni Trg and turn left. When you reach the replica of the 16th-century Robba Fountain (the original was moved to the National Gallery of Slovenia in 2006) in front of the Town Hall, veer left towards the Triple Bridge, and right at the tourist office to the Central Market.
Lunch on the run
If you’re in town on a Friday until November, sample gourmet Slovenian small plates at the Open Kitchen Food Market. From 10am to 11pm, Pogacarjev Trg next to the Central Market transforms into a giant open-air restaurant with local chefs peddling everything from homemade gelato to plates of buttery zlikrofi (Slovenian dumplings). On other days, a plate of fresh, fried calamari (e6.50) served at the fish market (7am-4pm Monday to Friday, 7am-2pm Saturday) should hit the spot.
Seek out the city’s vintage fashion stores. Head to Divas Preloved at Gosposka 3 for pre-loved Chanel, and hunt for ethical bargains at Moje Tvoje at Mestni Trg 8.
Doubling as an art space, Tozd at Gallusovo nabrezje 27 on the east bank is one of Ljubljana’s best riverside bars. It’s open 8.30am to 1am daily and offers Slovenian wines and craft beers.
Dine with the locals
Indulge in the 7-course tasting menu for a reasonable e50 at Monstera Bistro at Gosposka 9. Opened this summer by Bine Volcic, one of Slovenia’s best-known chefs, this small, stylish restaurant specialises in “zero waste” Slovenian fusion cuisine inspired by seasonal ingredients (think polenta with chanterelles, blue cheese and garlic flowers) and has its own-label craft beer on tap. Open 8.30am-5pm Monday to Wednesday; to 11pm Thursday to Saturday.
Sunday morning: go to church
Replete with colourful baroque frescoes and ornately carved choir stalls, the twin-towered Cathedral of St Nicholas off Ciril-Metedov Trg is open from 10am-noon and 3-6pm daily, though there are services (in Slovenian) throughout the day.
Out to brunch
Linger over pastries at Le Petit Cafe which spills on to Trg francoske revolucije on the Weest Bank (open 7.30am-midnight daily). Alternatively, if you’re just after a caffeine hit, sip on a fair-trade, single-estate brew (or a cold-press) on the terrace of Cafe Cokl.
Walk in the park
Learn more about Ljubljana’s green efforts on one of 12 sustainability-themed events throughout the year; September’s Beekeeping Trail offers an insight into the city’s beekeeping history on a wander from Ljubljana Castle to the Ljubljana Botanic Garden. All guided walks (e10) are bookable through the tourist office.
Take a ride
Bicycles can be rented, or you can register for Ljubljana’s bike-share scheme, BicikeLJ for e1 and borrow a bicycle for free for one hour. Mobility-restricted visitors can hail free rides around the Old Town in one of several Kavalir, little green electric carts, that ply the pedestrianised zone, even in winter.
The National Gallery of Slovenia near the lush Tivoli Park at Presernova cesta 24 spans Slovenian art from the 13th to the 20th centuries. One block south, at Cankarjeva cesta 15, the Museum of Modern Art houses works from Slovene greats including expressionist France Mihelic and surrealist Stane Kregar. Both of the galleries are open from 10am to 6pm, Tuesday to Sunday, with a late opening until 8pm on Thursday.
Hop another block south to the National Museum of Slovenia at Muzejska 1 (10am-6pm; e6). A joint ticket for e8.50 also gets you into the Natural History Museum (which has the same opening hours,e4).
Icing on the cake
Just 50km from the city, picture-postcard Lake Bled is a deservedly popular day trip; organised tours start from e39, however, it’s easy to drive, take the bus or train. Admire the emerald lake on a stroll around the perimeter (6km) or take a gondola ride to Bled Island (e12 return) to the baroque Church of the Assumption (e6). -