July 27, 2023: Lovely Ljubljana gets our vote for the most enchanting capital in Europe, with its uniform architecture and lively evenings on the river.
We’ve visited some fascinating cities so far on the Central Europe Trip – Prague, Krakow, Budapest, Zagreb, Bled. Each had fascinating history, important historical landmarks, and poignant history. Ljubljana… some, but not so much.
So why was it our favorite?
While Ljubljana (Lyube-lee-yah-nah) didn’t have those things, it was the most charming. An early evening here along the river with a glass of wine, just watching the people stroll by, was the best yet.
Our second evening was even better. After strolling the river, we stopped on a park bench with locals and listened to live jazz drifting out from a local pub in our neighborhood. Nice.
A Small Capital
Ljubljana is the cultural and political center of Slovenia, its largest city, and a college town. But it is one of the smallest capitals in Europe, with a population of less than 300,000. It feels much smaller. There are tourists in the city center, but they didn’t seem to outnumber the locals. There are sights to see – an old castle, a few museums, a park. But as long as you stroll the riverfront in the evening, it doesn’t matter if you get to any of the rest.
Architecture and Ambience
In 1895, Ljubljana was rocked by a powerful earthquake. When Emperor Franz Josef came to see the destruction, the locals sensed an opportunity. They propped up sound buildings and knocked over ugly old houses – all to make the damage look even worse that it was. As hoped, the emperor took pity and allocated funds to rebuild. Local architect Jože Plečnik took the lead and recreated the city center in his own unique art nouveau style. A century later, his work still resonates.
A Run and a Market, of course
With all of that beautiful architecture, an early morning run along the river was a must-do. I tacked-on Tivoli Park also, a pretty green space near the center, and enjoyed the shady paths and sculpture. This too comes from Plečnik’s vision for his city. Well done sir, well done.
And as you might expect if you read these posts occasionally, Jean hit the city’s produce market while I ran. It is on the river near the Dragon bridge, a big open square fringed by more of Plečnik’s buildings.
So Ljubljana is not the place for big sights or deep lessons. But it is a lovely place to visit, and perhaps just to live.