Founded by emperor Augustus in 34 BC, long under Habsburg rule, and revamped in the interwar years by architect Joze Plecnik, Slovenia’s capital boasts a rich folkloric history and a mix of old-world Baroque and colorful Art Nouveau architectural styles. Because of its beauty and spirited youth culture, Ljubljana deserves to be treated as more than a stopover en route to Budapest or Zagreb. This compact riverside city offers the romantic delight and hip underground vitality of Prague, without the cost or the crowds.
The bike-accessible city center is easy to navigate by foot. The curvy Ljubljanica River divides the city center, with the picturesque Stare Miastro (Old Town) on one bank and 19th- and 20th-century buildings on the other. About a half-mile from either bank, the historic area gives way to a concrete business district. The train and bus stations are next to each other on Trg Osvobodilne Fronte. To reach the center of the stations, turn right on Masarykova and left on Miklosiceva c.; continue to Presernov trg, the main square. After crossing the Tromostovje (Triple Bridge), you’ll see Stare Miastro at the base of Castle Hill. The tourist office is on the left at the corner of Stritarjeva and Adamic-Lundrovo nab.
The average traveler only stops in Ljubljana for an hour en route from Venice to Zagreb, but those who stay longer become enchanted by Slovenia’s lively capital city. Bridges guarded by dragons span the graceful canals, while street performances liven up summer nights. Its fortified castles, frescoed churches, and modern high-rises, reveals the city’s richly layered history. It has persevered through medieval existence and communism, and soon aspires to be the seat of the EU presidency.
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For homestyle cooking, try a gostilna or gostišče (country-style inn or restaurant). Traditional meals begin with jota, a soup with potatoes, beans, and sauerkraut. Pork is the basis for many dishes, such as Svinjska pečenka (roast pork). Kosher and vegetarian eating is therefore very difficult within the confines of Slovenian cuisine. Those with such dietary restrictions might find pizza and bakery items their best options. Slovenia’s winemaking tradition dates from antiquity. Renski, Rizling, and Šipon are popular whites, while Cviček and Teran are favorite reds. Brewing is also centuries old; Lako and Union are good beers. For something stronger, try žganje, a fruit brandy, or Viljamovka, distilled by monks who closely guard the secret of getting a whole pear inside the bottle.
The festival season kicks off with the International Viticulture and Wine Fair held at the Fairgrounds in April. At the end of June and throughout July, the Festival of Street Theater (Ana Desetnica) transforms the city streets and squares into impromptu stages. In late June, the alternative arts scene hosts the international, avant-garde Break 22 Festival; meanwhile, the International Jazz Festival grooves in Cankarjev dom and Krizanke in late June. The vaguely titled International Summer Festival, from mid-June to mid-September, is a conglomeration of music, opera, and theater performances held at Cankarjev dom and other local venues. The Ljubljana International Film Festival plays in early November. Don’t miss the Krizanke Summer Theater, which hosts open-air music, dance, and theater from June to September.
Slovenia embraces its alternative artistic culture as much as its folk heritage. The Peasant’s Wedding Day (Kmecka ohcet), a presentation of ancient wedding customs held in Bohinj at the end of July, and the Cow’s Ball (Kravji Bal) in mid-Sept., which celebrates the return of the cows to the valleys from higher pastures, are a couple of the country’s many summertime folk exhibitions.
Slovenian literature emerged as an important secular art form in the 19th century with the writings of the country’s most beloved poet Frances Preseren and the codification of the language by Jernej Kopitar. The surge in cultural activity during the first half of the century paralleled the period’s nationalist interest, and set the stage for the century’s first political agenda. Throughout the later Realist Period (1848-1899), writers such as Fran Levstik focused on folkloric themes with a patriotic flavor; the first Slovenian novel, The Tenth Brother (Deseti brat), by Josip Jurcic, was published in 1866. Modernist prose flowered with Ivan Cankar’s 1904 The Ward of Our Lady of Mercy (Hisa Marije pomocnice), while Expressionist poetry showed the social and spiritual tensions brought on by WWI through the works of Tone Seliskar, Miran Jarc, and Anton Vodnik.
Soviet Socialist Realism crushed many of Slovak literature’s avant-garde impulses. Postmodern literary trends emerged in the Young Slovenian Prose movement, which has its strongest representation in short prose pieces. Internationally acclaimed writers include poet Tomaz Salamun and critic and philosopher Slavoj Zizek.
Contemporaneous with the Modernist and Expressionist movements in Slovenian literature, architect Joze Plecnik was a major figure in the development of Art Deco. He transformed his otherwise baroque-leaning hometown, Ljubljana, into a cosmopolitan capital. Musically, Slovenia experienced a politically minded folk revival after WWII. Laibach, an adventurous multimedia band, single-handed ignited an explosion of punk rock. The alternative music movement of the 1980s gave rise to a vigorous contemporary art scene nurtured by the collagist art collectives Irwin and NSK (Neue Slowenische Kunst).