Family Fun in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Our family recently visited the lovely capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana. We immediately fell in love with the old town and wished we had planned to spend more time. Arriving in the morning and leaving in the afternoon, we had just one day to explore and get the most out of our visit, and that’s just what we intended to do. Keep reading to find out what we loved and how we spent our day in Ljubljana.
But first, where is Ljubljana?
This capital city is located right in the heart of Slovenia, a small country bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. Slovenia even has a small coastline of about 40 kilometers on the Adriatic Sea sandwiched between Italy and Croatia. It’s approximately 2.5 hours by car from Venice and about a 4 hour drive from Vienna. At the widest part, it would take you just 3 hours to drive from one end of Slovenia to the other. And here’s one last map detail you and your kids have to know about Slovenia: it’s shaped like a chicken! Check out a map and see for yourself. Your kiddos will like that one.
A Brief History
Legend has it the Greek mythical hero, Jason and the Argonauts founded Ljubljana. After they stole the Golden Fleece from King Aetes they came to a large lake near what we now know as Ljubljana today. But when they arrived at the lake, they discovered a dragon living in the lake. So Jason slayed the dragon (because that's what heroes do) and today Ljubljana’s flag still adorns a dragon. From mythology, we go to a number of different Celtic tribes that lived and ruled in this area beginning about 4000 years ago. Then the Romans arrived around 50 BC. The area of Ljubljana was a perfect place for a thriving settlement. Merchants and craftsmen would pass through here. All was going well until the Huns came and conquered the area. In the 12th century, Germanic influence spread throughout the region with the Habsburgs Empire ruling until the 20th century. And like many places throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire, you’ll see evidence of this influence through the architecture. In World War I, Slovenia entered into a union that would eventually become Yugoslavia. During World War II, the city was occupied by fascists and surrounded by a barbed wire fence. After World War II, Ljubljana and Slovenia became part of Yugoslavia once more, under the rule of Tito. He later died in Ljubljana in 1980, and with him gone Yugoslavia slowly began to fall apart. Slovenia declared their independence on June 25, 1991 and Ljubljana finally became the capital of its own state.
Our day in Ljubljana began when we arrived in the morning by car. We were coming from the Lake Bled area, just a quick hour drive away. Our fun started with a bike tour with Watermelon Ljubljana Bike Tours. We followed directions to the parking garage located under Park Zvezda and met up with our cycling group. Watermelon Ljubljana Bike Tours was a great find! I booked ahead of our arrival after finding their great reviews on TripAdvisor. It was a perfect fit for our family. We met up with our guide, Tevz, and the rest of the group in the main center square in Park Zvezda. From there Tevz led our group to the storage unit where the bikes and helmets were kept. The bikes were in great shape, comfortable to ride and they even had the perfect sizes for our boys. I had previously emailed the boys’ heights when making the reservation, but was glad to see a perfect fit when we arrived. Our boys are 11 and 13 and I was especially glad to know that the bike reserved for my 11 year old fit him well. Our two-hour bike tour of Ljubljana started with an easy ride along pedestrian streets to a large open square in front of Ljubljana’s famed Triple Bridges. A map of the city provided the perfect opportunity to learn about the city’s past and points of interest.
Tevz did a fabulous job of including the boys in the discussion with scavenger-hunt type questions and hidden secrets in the architecture and statues.
While in the square, we saw a group of people gather for a traditional Slovenian dance.
From there we rode across one of the bridges and around castle hill and along the river. One of the things I really appreciated about this bike tour was how safe and free of cars it was. Ljubjana has to be one of the best European capitals to ride a bike in. We were in car-free zones almost the entire time.
We learned about the original inhabitants of the land and the 5,200 year old wagon wheel that was found nearby in the marshes of Ljubljana in 2002. We visited churches and typical Slovenian neighborhoods and learned about Slovenia’s flag with the three peaks, community gardens and famous artists and architects.
We also visited an unusual communal area that was once a prison and has now become an interesting place of self-expression through graffiti and street art.
When our two-hour tour had come to an end, we had an even greater appreciation and understanding of this beautiful capital city.
Museum of Illusions
After a quick bite to eat at Klobasarna for a traditional Carniolian sausage (which we absolutely loved) and a sweet treat of gelato (available everywhere), we walked over to the Museum of Illusions for more fun. This may not be traditionally Slovenian, but when we saw there was such a place in Ljubljana, we had to visit. We have an aspiring magician on our hands and both the boys love hands-on museums and especially ones with optical illusions and brain tricks. We spent about two hours exploring the various exhibits on three different levels and had quite a few funny photo opportunities.
Then we headed over to Ljubljana Castle. It had been above us and in our sight of vision all day, a spectacular medieval fortress watching over all of Ljubljana. Finally, it was time to visit.
There are several ways to get up the hill to the castle. There is a funicular that connects the old town to the castle in a matter of minutes, a trail that winds up the incline perfect for walking or cycling or public transportation. We chose the funicular.
We spent about three hours exploring the various exhibits, enjoying a snack at the Castle Coffee House and taking in the expansive views from the fortress wall. “Virtual Castle” was a 12 minute multi-media presentation on the castle’s history showing how the actual buildings have changed over the years all the way to the present. This was an excellent continuation of what we had learned earlier in the day about the area’s history.
The Museum of Puppetry was a fun stop on our castle tour. Admiring Slovenia puppets from some familiar and some not-so-familiar children’s tales was fun. Then having the opportunity to play with puppets and put on our own show in a shadow theater was even more fun.
We thoroughly enjoyed the views from around castle hill and even tried to retrace our bike route from earlier in the day.
And then sadly, it was time to leave. We all wished we had planned to spend the night in this lovely city we had fallen in love with. One day just didn’t feel like enough and we all wished we had had more time to explore the old town, get lost on the narrow cobble stoned streets, and play in Ljubljana’s beautiful parks and green spaces.
Where to Stay
If you are planning a trip to Ljubljana and wondering where to stay, this is my recommendation. Use TripAdvisor and pick a spot right in the center of the old town (or close enough to walk) that meets your budget and requirements. I would recommend waiting to pick up your rental car until you are leaving the city, as you won’t need it while staying in Ljubljana and parking will only add to the cost of your stay.
When to Go
Ljubljana and Slovenia have four distinct seasons. In the summer months when crowds are the largest, average temperatures hover in the 70’s with some humidity. Winter temperatures average 20’s to 30’s with snow in January. October is traditionally the wettest season. If you’re able to travel in the shoulder season, consider May, June or September as ideal times to visit.
Interested in more information about Slovenia? Read about our Perfect Day in Bled.
Our family loved Ljubljana and dream about a return visit one day. In all, we spent four days in this lovely country, but there is still so much to see. We can’t wait to return.
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We would like to thank the Slovenia Board of Tourism for hosting us at Ljubljana Castle.