Ljubljana is Slovenia’s capital and home to about 270,000 people. It’s big enough to have all the amenities of a big city with small town charm. We loved our time in Ljubljana and would definitely go back. Since we stayed for a month, we couldn’t go full-on-tourist everyday because it would break our limited budget. Fortunately there are a lot of free things to do in Ljubljana, even in the winter.
People watching along the Ljubljanica River
The first thing you want to do when you get into Ljubljana is walk down to the river and check the place out. Anywhere in the old town is a good place for people watching, especially on the weekends. If you are willing to spend a few Euros, grab a seat at one of the river side cafés for a cup of coffee or tea. There are heaters under the tables and blankets on the back of most seats to keep you cozy while people watching.
Ljubljana Castle – Ljubljanski Grad
The Ljubljana Castle towers over the city and can be seen from most places in the old town. Climb the castle hill and wander the trails. You’ll find a physical fitness course, a vineyard, and great views. Check out the castle courtyard and walk the ramparts for free. If you want to visit the museum or other parts of the castle, you will need a ticket. Don’t miss the swing out front.
Want to see our Ljubljana accommodations? Click the link below and search for “JoJo Apartment Ljubljana.”
Ljubljana Free Tours offers free walking tours of the city daily, even in winter. Anders and I took a free walking tour of Ljubljana and loved it. We learned so much and looked at the city a little differently after that. While it is free, it’s good manners to tip the guide. They don’t get paid for their services.
If group tours aren’t your thing, you can download a range of self guided walking tours of Ljubljana from GPSMYCITY. I didn’t try any of these (I like to ask questions!), so let me know if you use them and what you think.
One of three parks within the city of Ljubljana, Tivoli Park is the largest at five square kilometers. The park area blends into the slopes of the Rožnik hill, which is full of trails.
We entered the park through Jakopič Promenade, a free, open air photography exhibit. Anders and I spent several hours wandering around. I used Google Maps on my phone to keep track of where we were, but mostly we just chose whichever path looked most interesting. We got to the highest point, played on a huge, rustic, physical fitness course, and stumbled on a giant ski jump.
Ljubljana Central Market
The Ljubljana Central Market is a great place to get fruit, veggies, nuts, and meats, but it’s also important culturally. The building was designed by beloved Slovenian architect, Jože Plečnik and stretches between the Triple Bridge and the Dragon Bridge. Adjacent Vodnik Square hosts vendors Mon-Sat, but the most popular day (and some say the most fun) is Saturday. Slovenes congregate for shopping, socializing, and taking advantage of all the yummy prepared foods. Don’t miss the flower market at the junction of Pogačar Square and Vodnik Square.
Saint Nicholas Church — Ljubljana Cathedral
St. Nicholas Church is on the edge of the Central Market. If you take the Ljubljana Free Tour you will learn about the unusual doors and go inside. If the tour isn’t on your list, you can read up about it here. Unless there is sign outside indicating it is prayer time, you are free to go inside. It is quite beautiful.
Look for Dragons
Ljubljana is known for its dragons. From the four that guard the Dragon Bridge, to the top of manhole covers, to scary dragons on the side of buildings and cute cartoon dragons on souvenirs, to dragons wrapped around the label of the local beer, you’ll find dragons everywhere.
From the City of Ljubljana website:
“The Ljubljana dragon is part of the City of Ljubljana’s coat of arms. It symbolises strength, courage and might. It is depicted on the Dragon Bridge and on top of the castle tower on Ljubljana’s coat of arms.”
The story goes that Jason (remember him from Greek mythology?) passed through Ljubljana on his way home with the Golden Fleece, and that he and his Argonauts killed a dragon. That’s why dragons are considered protectors of the city. I don’t totally get this. Since they slayed the dragon, how is it a protector?
This bridge is also nicknamed the “mother-in-law’s bridge.” They say the dragons will fly away once a virgin crosses the bridge (hilararious).
Pee for Free
If you have traveled around Europe at all, you will know this is a big deal. It generally costs money to use the public bathrooms. It’s not expensive, but when there are four of you, and two of you are kids who need to go when they need to go…it adds up. But in Slovenia you pee for free. The public restrooms around the city center are not only free, but clean and warm. Public toilets at the Ljubljana Railway Station and within the city centre are free. You can find public toilets below most of Ljubljana’s bridges and in a number of other locations. Most of the toilets have disabled access. Details on locations and open hours here.
You have to time it right, but the national museums are free on the first Sunday of the month. They are also free on certain holidays.
We toured the Moderna galerija Ljubljana / Museum of Modern Art Ljubljana, the Slovenian Museum of Natural History, and the Ljubljana City Museum on February 8th – the anniversary of the death of the great Slovenian poet France Prešeren. A lot of people take advantage of the free days, so be ready for crowds.
Other free days include: International Museum Day (18 May), Museum Summer Night (the second or third Saturday in June), This Merry Day of Culture (3 December, the birthday Slovenian poet France Prešeren). Museums stay open until midnight or even later and quite a few educational events take place.
Another Kind of Art: Metelkova – Metelkova Mesto
I wrote about this in my Fun for Kids in Ljubljana post, so I will go ahead and quote myself.
Near the train station, abandoned army barracks has become a gathering spot for artists, underground musicians, and Slovenia’s subcultures. Metelkova Mesto is a 12,500 square meter autonomous region just blocks from the capital’s charming, historic, old town.
Most nights, hundreds of people gather within the graffiti-strewn walls, amidst tile mosaics and creepy sculptures, to attend one of 1,500 alternative events in its illegally (but condoned) occupied buildings.
During the day it’s pretty much empty. You can stroll past the artwork, climb a big jungle gym/tree house, and appreciate the other side of Slovenian sensibilities.
Day Hikes Near Ljubljana
Unfortunately, we did not do much hiking near Ljubljana. As I mentioned above, Tivoli Park and Castle Hill are nice for in-town trails. Two others I would have liked to visit are Šmarna Gora and St. Katarina.
Šmarna Gora is the highest hill in Ljubljana at over 600 meters. You can get there via car or bus (take line 8 toward Gameljne to the Tacen station).
St. Katarina is purported to have amazing views of snowy mountains. Drive or take bus 51 from Bavarski Dvor to Žirovnik station.
Read Hiking in Ljubljana: The 5 Best Short Hikes for more details.
Need to Instagram your moment in Ljubljana RIGHT NOW, but don’t have your new sim card, yet? To prevent you from being cut off from the virtual world while wandering around Ljubljana, the city offers you access to its free Wi-Fi network.
What other free things to do in Ljubljana would you suggest?