Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to one day in Ljubljana. Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia, which is a relatively young country, but don’t let that fool you. Slovenia hasn’t formally been a country for very long, but Ljubljana itself is full of a rich and fascinating history. Join me for a day of fun facts, crazy costumes, friendly rodents, and amazing shopping. Plus, here be dragons!
One Day in Ljubljana
Where to Stay
I recommend the City Hotel Ljubljana for your one day in Ljubljana. The staff is extremely friendly, and the breakfast included every morning is quite tasty. The hotel organizes tours and events as well, which is very helpful. Plus their rates for doing laundry were reasonable, which is important to someone who is traveling all around Europe for several weeks, like I was.
One Day in Ljubljana
What to Pack
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today on our one day in Ljubljana itinerary. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Slovenia is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re American, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with American plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
One Day in Ljubljana
Morning: Made in Slovenia Tour
If I could press just one message into the mind of my readers it would be, “Visit my blog every day!” But if I could press a second message into the mind of my readers, it would be “Support small and local businesses!” You want to help the communities that you visit, of course, and what more delightful way to do that could there be than to bring home some delightful souvenirs and support entrepreneurs in your travel destination at the same time.
That’s why I recommend the Made in Slovenia tour with Urban Adventures. You can learn so much about what makes Slovenia special and get some fabulous souvenirs you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. My guide Tina showed me a side of Ljubljana I wouldn’t have been able to find on my own. I’m not going to tell you everything she told me because I want to leave some surprises for the tour. But I will tell you at least…
Three Fun Facts: Made in Slovenia Edition
1) What If I Want to Buy Something Delicious to Eat or Drink?
There are so many choices in Slovenia! Let’s start with a refreshing glass of Teran, an extremely well-respected local wine. I highly recommend drinking as much wine as possible when traveling in Eastern/Central Europe because you can try many wonderful vintages that aren’t available back in the states. In Slovenia they even turn Teran into a highly drinkable liqueur.
You can buy a bottle to take home with you; I’ve never had trouble getting alcohol past customs as long as it’s clear it’s for your personal use. If you live alone like I do, you might want to get the liqueur because it will last longer. I always feel glamorous having a glass of liqueur after dinner, but drinking a bottle of wine alone makes me feel a wee bit trashy.
Slovenia is also famous for honey! In fact the European World Bee day on May 20th was chosen in honor of a famous Slovenian beekeeper named Anton Jansa. However, above you can see a cartoon of a Slovenian who appears to be Not Super Great at beekeeping, so I am going to assume this is Not Jansa.
At the honey store you can sample more types of honey that you might ever have thought possible. I selected a jar of the pine honey to take home because it was so unusual. And I can promise you that it really zazzles up my Greek yogurt that I eat every morning!
And finally we have some flavorful Slovenian salt to try! This salt is special because it comes from the sea, not mines. My favorite was the fleur de sel, so I bought some outstanding fleur de sel chocolate. One rule of thumb is to buy as much chocolate as you can when you travel, so that if you’re ever trapped on a bus, you have something to snack on.
2) What About Some Very Fancy Shopping?
Let’s pop into Rogaska Crystal, which is one of the fanciest shops in Ljubljana. This crystal is so famous that it is often gifted to dignitaries like Queen Elizabeth II. It’s even used to make Very Important Slovenian awards. I definitely regret not buying something here, but a) I couldn’t afford it and 2) I still had several weeks to go on my Europe trip, and I feel confident it would have gotten smashed in my suitcase.
But if you can afford Rogaska and you can figure out how to take it home, you shouldn’t definitely do it. Then you can pose with it, wave your hand delicately from side to side, and pretend that you are the Queen of England.
3) What’s the Best Part of the Tour?
Subjective, obviously, but I vote for the visit to Catbriyur Porcelain. Catbriyur is a husband and wife team that makes fabulous and original porcelain pieces that are sometimes given to visiting VIPs to Slovenia, just like Rogaska Crystal. (Apparently if you are a foreign dignitary visiting Slovenia, you’re guaranteed to take something gorgeous home with you.)
First of all, you get to drink a cup of coffee or tea directly from one of their gorgeous handmade cups. Second of all, you get a glass of champagne. Third of all, you can meet with the couple themselves and learn how they turned their dream into a successful business.
And fourth of all, you can actually take a piece home for free! They taught me how to make a piece of porcelain jewelry. (Naturally I chose earrings because I’m trying to get my earring collection in the Guinness Book of World Records.) You can either choose to pick the jewelry up in the shop the next day or pay a little to have them ship it for you. This is definitely one of the nicest souvenirs I’ve ever gotten on a trip.
One Day in Ljubljana
Afternoon: Ljubljana Castle
If you only have time to see one attraction in Ljubljana, you haven’t planned your trip very well, Internet Stranger! But if that is the case, that one attraction should definitely be Ljubljana Castle. It is the symbol of the entire city! It gives gorgeous views of all Ljubljana. And it is home to the finest castle rat in all of Central Europe. Ljubljana Castle is up a large-ish hill, but there is a funicular you can take up and down for a small fee.
I don’t want to spill all the castle’s secrets, but I do want to spill:
Approximately Top 5: Ljubljana Castle
1) Lunch at Cajna Hisa Cha
This adorable tea house, Cajna Hisa Cha, is down in the main part of Ljubljana Castle, so remember to stop here before heading up the hill to the castle. But it’s worth it to have such a tasty meal and refreshing tea. If it’s a hot, summer day like it was when I visited Ljubljana, don’t worry! They have iced tea, so you can enjoy this ginger-lemon concoction.
As for lunch, the sheep’s milk cheese salad with fresh tomatoes couldn’t be more perfect on a gorgeous August day. Plus the salty cheese + sour lemon + sweet tea + bitter greens is the perfect combination of all four tastes.
2) Ice Cream at Cacao
One of the most important tasks I perform for this blog is finding the greatest ice cream from all around the glove. It’s a painful job, but I do it all for you, Internet Stranger! So I strongly suggest you stop for a scoop of the sweet stuff at Cacao and take it with you up the hill to Ljubljana Castle. The name is Cacao, so unless you are one of those weirdos with a chocolate aversion, I suggest getting something choco-riffic. My vote is for the sinful chocolate peanut butter.
3) The Roman Poison Well
In order to unlock the secrets of the castle, you should definitely take a guided tour! I recommend the Time Machine tour because it is the most delightfully nerdy and goofy thing you could possibly experience. You can just get a ticket to the Time Machine tour at the ticket booth at the castle. Tour times change throughout the year.
And we will begin the tour in ancient Rome, as you can see from my tour guides’ fabulous costumes above. They even built an encampment where Ljubljana Castle is now. But in fact the Celts were here even before the Romans. I am always surprised to read about the Celts being so far east because I associate them with Ireland. But I am of Irish ancestry myself, and I can attest to the fact that we can survive pretty much anywhere, as long as you give us potatoes.
The coolest Time Machine exclusive is this little room behind the Romans. It actually contains a Roman well, and you can only see it for yourself if you are on a tour. I will not even show you a picture! But after the Romans left, the people who stayed behind in Ljubljana covered up the well so that no one could sneak into the city through the well or worse…use it to poison the citizens.
4) Saint George’s Chapel
This fine fellow here, for starters! You might have heard of Saint George, the famous dragon slayer and the patron saint of England. Well, maybe he was really Slovenian even though Wikipedia says he was Greek because the locals here credit him with slaying a dragon to save the daughter of the lord of the Slovenian city Slovenske Konjice. I don’t see how anyone can slaying three different dragons in Greece, England, and Slovenia all at the same time, but I don’t want to ask too many questions about this story because I don’t need any saintly dragon slayers getting angry at me.
Anyway, this legend is why there is a chapel dedicated to Saint George in the castle. (You can see him killing the dragon in the chapel in my photo below.)
And the legend is perhaps also why the dragon is a symbol of Ljubljana. You can see all around the city.
The other symbol of Ljubljana Castle is Friderik the castle rat. The gift shop sells tons of gear with his image on it. I even bought some earrings with his cute little rat face. Be sure to get something for any strange children out there in your life who would enjoy a Slovenian stuffed rat.
5) The Penitentiary
So many people have been imprisoned in this castle or imprisoned others, including the Emperor Napoleon pictured above. (Note: probably this guy wasn’t the real Napoleon.) Apparently he conquered Slovenia for a brief period of time, among many other places. Now there was a dude who knew how to get around. But you can visit the prisons in the lower part of Ljubljana Castle without worrying about running into Boney here.
I think the most famous prisoner in Ljubljana Castle was a lord named Erasmus who was imprisoned for losing his temper and decapitating another lord. Lords can be so sensitive about that kind of thing. He escaped from the castle, according to our guide, by swimming through the tunnels used for the potty. So I guess he was the original inspiration for Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption? I do wonder if Erasmus started to regret his decision to cut off another dude’s head when he was swimming through a river of feces.
6) Exhibition of Slovenian History
The permanent exhibit in the castle really takes you through objects relating to every period of Slovenian history, from the ancient Romans, to independence at the end of the 20th century. Be aware that many of the objects are replicas. Also be aware that some people at the museum are pretty rude. Like, this guy above would not answer any of my questions.
You can learn about Slovenia in medieval times, when apparently skeleton people ruled the land.
Or you can see a bust of the former Communist leader of Slovenia, Josip Tito. This is back when Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia. Probably the most disturbing part of the exhibit is the photos of the brief war between Slovenia and the rest of Yugoslavia (especially Serbia, according to the exhibit) when Slovenia tried to gain its independence.
But according to the museum, the war didn’t last long because Serbia was more concerned with preventing Croatia from leaving Yugoslavia. I guess they were more concerned with keeping Croatia’s coastline than they were with keeping Slovenia’s mighty army of dragons? Trying to understand the rationale here.
One Day in Ljubljana Itinerary
Evening: Dinner at Atelje
Fine dining concepts have spread all over the world, and I for one am here for it! What is better than eating a series of adorable little dishes made from the best possible local ingredients and combined in mad and interesting ways by an ambitious chef? Nothing! And in Ljubljana, the best place to go for fine dining is Atelje.
At Atelje there’s no written menu. You just tell them how many courses you would like to order, so this isn’t a place for picky eaters. I have NO IDEA what you will get when you dine here, which is just part of the magic of Atelje. But I hope to give you an idea of what to expect with…
The first course was a refreshing fish, watermelon, and cucumber dish that tasted as summery as a white cotton dress. But because Atelje is a zero waste kitchen, the broth was made of cucumber too. So you’re filling your belly and helping the environment at the same time.
At many tasting menu restaurants I have been to, they alternate light dishes with heavy dishes. But at Atelje, they served several light dishes up front. I guess it was so you don’t get stuffed! This scallop with tomato oil was possibly as summery as the fish with watermelon and cucumber, if such a thing is even possible.
Now we get just a smidge more rich because these onions are stuffed with meat and served with a mayonnaise. But they were still teeny tiny, so we’re not getting stuffed yet. And the onions were served with basil oil, just to continue the seasonal summer theme.
I always love a good “vegetable prepared as if ’twere meat” dish, and this braised cauliflower with a velvety sauce does the trick very nicely.
Just a simple lettuce roll, right? WRONG! This lettuce is filled with tender veal sweetbreads and served with a curry sauce. Just think, I bet 100 years ago Slovenians had never even heard of curry. Truly globalization is a marvelous thing, at least when it comes to cuisine.
Every good tasting menu needs a fish course, and here we have an exquisitely tender octopus. It’s so tender that if you lean close, you can hear Elvis Presley crooning “Love Me Tender”. Between this and the amazing octopus I had in Croatia, I have to conclude that they really know how to cook mollusks in this part of the world.
At last, the course you have been waiting for! Meat! This was a perfectly woodsy deer with blueberries. In fact it tasted so much like the woods, I could practically see a witch lurking in a gingerbread house when I was done eating. And it’s nice to know that blueberries mean summer in Slovenia just like they do in Maine.
All the best tasting menus have more than one dessert. First is a light palette cleanser featuring blackberry ice cream.
And for the main dessert, it’s buckwheat ice cream with caramel. Buckwheat ice cream in a dessert just screams Eastern Europe. But the crunchy texture made the ice cream that much more enjoyable. It was like rainbow sprinkles, but healthier and less colorful.
That’s a Perfect One Day in Ljubljana!
What would you do on one day in Ljubljana? Who is cooler, Napoleon, Erasmus, or Friderik the Castle Rat? Would you rather have a sweet coastline or an army of dragons? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend one day in Ljubljana.