48 hours in: Ljubljana
With its cobbled streets, and riverside al fresco bars and restaurants, Slovenia’s capital is a joy to explore at this time of year on two feet or two wheels, writes Mick Webb.
Why go now?
Slovenia's compact capital is an ideal autumn destination, with plenty to see and explore. The city is especially attractive at this time of year as the deciduous woods draping the hills around it begin to mellow. Meanwhile, the al fresco bars and restaurants along the Ljubljanica river are still packed with locals, students and visitors.
There are no direct scheduled flights from Dublin, except a weekly link during summer with Adria Airways (0044 207 7344 630 — no local number; adria.si). The national carrier of Slovenia flies five times a week from Gatwick and twice a week from Manchester. Easyjet (0044 905 821 0905; easyjet.com) flies daily from Stansted.
Ljbljana's Joze Plecnik airport (lju-airport.si) is 27km north west of the capital. Buses to the city leave hourly, on the hour, Monday to Friday, and every two hours (from 10am) at weekends. Buy a ticket (¤4.10) from the driver for the 45-minute journey to the railway and bus stations (1). Private minibuses from the airport charge between €5 and €8 per person and serve major hotels. A taxi costs around €40.
A more direct route is to fly from Dublin to Venice with Aer Lingus (0818 365 000; aerlingus.com) then catch a bus (00386 1729 2406; drd.si) or train (00386 1291 2100; slo-zeleznice.si) from there. Allow about four hours’ journey time. The Slovenian Embassy in Dublin can be contacted at 01-670 5240. Get your bearings Ljubljana is dominated by its medieval castle (2), on a hill in the south of the city. At its base is the Old Town, arranged along three interlinked, cobbled squares: Mestni trg, Stari trg and Gornji trg.
The commercial and administrative heart of the city is on the other side of the Ljubljanica river.
Just across the eccentric Triple Bridge (3) is the city's main square, Presernov trg (4). From there, Miklosiceva cesta, lined with striking early 20th-century buildings, runs north for 500m to the railway and bus stations (1). The parallel avenue, Slovenska cesta, is the city's main artery and shopping street.
It's easy to explore the heart of the city on foot, although Ljubljana is also bike-friendly. Bicycles can be rented from the national tourist office at 10 Krekov trg (5); 8am-9pm daily (00386 1306 4580; slovenia.si).
The city's main tourist office (6), by the Triple Bridge at 2 Adamic- Lundrovo nabrezje, opens 8am- 9pm daily (00386 1306 1215; ljubljana.si), as does the office at the railway station (1). They sell, for €12.52, a 72-hour Ljubljana card which gives free entry to a number of museums, unlimited public transport and discounts on taxis, restaurants and other services.
At the top end of the market, the Grand Union Executive (7) is centrally placed at Miklosiceva 1 (00386 1308 1270; gh-union.si). Doubles with breakfast start at ¤140. The Old Town's Gornji trg has a number of boutique hotels. The newest is the Lesar Hotel Angel (8) (00386 1425 5089; angelhotel. si). Doubles with breakfast from €150. Mid-price, central accommodation is in short supply, although the lively Macek Café (9) at 5 Krojaska ulica (00386 1425 3791; sobe-macek.si) has six doubles overlooking the river, from €96. The Celica Youth Hostel (10), close to the station at 8 Metelkova ulica (00386 1230 9700; hostel celica.com), is a former prison from the Communist era. The cells have been given an impressive makeover. Dorm beds start at ¤17, with private rooms also available.
Take a hike
Start in Presernov trg (4) with its striking Franciscan church. Cross the Triple Bridge (3), one of the many works of the architect Joze Plecnik. In front of you is the grey and white town hall (11); art exhibitions are often held here.
Turn right and continue along the cobbled streets of Mestni trg and Stari trg, flanked by boutiques and restaurants, before returning to the river bank. Cross the Ljubljanica by the Cobblers' Bridge (12), where shoemakers in the 17th century could trade free of tax. Just beyond Novi trg you'll find a striking Plecnik building: the National Library (13). Go inside to experience the change from darkness to light. It's open 8am-8pm Monday to Friday, 9am-2pm on Saturday and closed on Sunday.
Turn right along Gosposka ulica, passing on your left the Baroque Kongresni trg (14). Mooch around the Knafljev prehod (15), an oasis of bars and restaurants beside a little park. Finally, take a short stroll south for an insight into the genius of the architect Plecnik. Visit his home at 4 Karunova ulica (16). Book ahead (00386 1280 1600; email@example.com). Tours run hourly 9am- 3pm on Saturday, 10am-6pm from Tuesday to Thursday; ¤4.
Lunch on the run
The classic Balkan snack is the burek, a pasty of filo pastry, stuffed with cheese, meat or apple. The Olimpija (17) at 2 Prazakova ulica provides a fine, non-greasy version for ¤2; open 24 hours. Another Ljubljana favourite, the pizza, can be bought by the slice for a similar price at the popular city-centre takeaway the Delikatesa Ljubljanski Dvor (18) at 11 Kongresni trg (00386 1426 9327); 9am-midnight daily, except Sundays.
Stroll through the streets of the Old Town to find small shops specialising in porcelain, designer clothing and jewellery. Among the more unusual is Piranske Soline (19), at 19 Mestni trg, which sells products based on sea salt, including chocolate. A more conventional chocolate shop, Cukrcek, is nearby at number 11. Across the river, Medex (20) has gifts based on honey at 30 Miklosiceva cesta.
The local beer, Union, will cost around €2 for a large glass, while among the wide range of Slovenian wines, the dry and refreshing rosé Cvicek is worth trying (€1.70 for a small glass). In the Old Town, the focal point is Macek Café (9) at 5 Krojaska ulica (00386 1425 3791; sobe-macek.si). Open 9am-12.30am; Sundays to 11pm.
On the opposite bank, at 19 Hribarjevo nabrezje, is the cool Makalonca (21). Descend a spiral staircase to find its waterside terrace; open 9am-12.30am daily; Sundays 9am-11pm.
Dining with the locals
The classiest meal in town is to be had at Restavracija JB (22) at 17 Miklosiceva cesta (00386 1433 1358; jb-slo.com). It is located on the ground floor of yet another Plecnik creation, the Vzajemna insurance building. Expect to pay €50 for dinner with wine from a constantly changing menu; closed Sundays. Sunday morning: go to church The Catholic 18th-century Cathedral of St Nicholas (23), with its imposing green dome and twin bell towers, is at 1 Dolnicarjeva ulica. The vivid ceiling frescos by Giulio Quaglio are a treat for the eye, as are the bronze doors, added in 1996 to commemorate the visit of Pope John Paul II. It opens 10amnoon and 3pm-6pm daily.
Take a view
Start with a 20-minute walk up the shady path which starts at St Florian's Church in Gornji trg and zigzags towards the walls of the castle; the funicular railway from Krekov trg (24) will get you there quicker for ¤1.50. The castle (2) is open 9am-11pm daily; free; €5 to climb the 100 steps of the Watchtower. From the top, enjoy a panorama as far as the peak of Mount Triglav, Slovenia's highest mountain.
Out to brunch
On a corner of leafy Trg Francoske at the Petit Café (25) enjoy an al fresco English or continental breakfast with coffee for €5. Open 7.30am to midnight daily (00386 1251 2575).
A walk in the park
Tivoli Park is Ljubljana's largest green space, with a mix of formal gardens, woods and chestnut-shaded avenues. Access from the city centre is via a pedestrian subway (26). The Art Café Tivoli (27) is at 3 Pod turnom.
Tivoli Park contains the informative Contemporary History Museum (28) in a fabulous building at 23 Celovska (00386 1300 9610; muzejnz. si). Open 10am-6pm from Thursday to Sunday, admission €7.
Ljubljana's other main museums are grouped near the Tivoli Park, a 10-minute walk from Presernov trg (4). If you have time for only one, choose the National Gallery of Slovenia (29) at 24 Presernova cesta (00386 1241 5418; ng-slo.si). The collection of art from the 13th to the early 20th century includes striking landscapes by the Slovenian Impressionist Rihard Jakopic. It opens 10am-6pm daily except Monday, €7.
The National Museum of Slovenia (30) with its collection of Roman artefacts, and the Gallery of Modern Art (31), complete Ljubljana's main cultural offerings.
Take a ride
Get a different perspective on the city with a boat tour along the Ljubljanica, ideally as the early evening sun picks out the colours of the Old Town. Tours leave from Ribji trg pier (32) and cost €10 (00386 1306 1215). Keep an eye out for the dragon on Dragon Bridge (33) which, allegedly, wags its tail when a virgin crosses.
The icing on the cake
End your visit with dinner in the pleasant suburb of Trnovo in Pri Skofu (34) at 8 Recnu. Sit outside under trees and choose from the day's dishes written on a blackboard. Soups and salads cost around €3, mains such as black risotto from €10.