“If a virgin crosses the bridge, the dragons swish their tails”, so the legend goes. Apparently, Jason, of the Argonauts fame, killed a local swamp dwelling dragon in Slovenia as part of his epic quest for the Golden Fleece. A few of his crew stayed behind and settled in the area, establishing a hamlet that would grow into modern day Ljubljana. Today, the dragon is the symbol of the city and one of the earliest constructions of a river crossing using concrete is festooned with statues of the beast. Whether they actually twitch their tails or not is yet to be confirmed, so keep your eyes out for any movement. Nevertheless, the bridge is a great place to start a little tour around the city, which is small enough to easily be covered by foot.

Dragon bridge, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Head into the square to the south of the bridge and you will find the central market. This is the place to find Slovenian produce and products, fresh from the fields, as well as some handicrafts. During the summer months, the square is a foodie haven with the “Open Kitchen” event, where local chefs show off their culinary skills. If you visit on a Saturday you may spot a politician or two, they like to be seen supporting the community. It’s also a great place to pick up some fruity snacks for your walk.

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street market of local fruits and vegetables

Ljubljana market with the church in the backgroundFresh herbs at Ljubljana Market

Towards the bottom of the square, you must make a choice, whether to be bold and brave and ascend the hill via the very steep path, the funicular railway or by the tourist train to the top. Either way, you will be rewarded by the excellent panoramic views across the city from the peak. Sitting proudly above the town is the medieval castle, which was first built in the 11th century. It was subsequently rebuilt in the 15th century and a chapel was added, which is dedicated to St George, the other infamous dragon slayer. It currently houses a museum on Slovenian history, a puppet museum, and an outlook tower, as well as a couple of restaurants, a cafe, and even a nightclub! The castle is also used as a venue for concerts, theatre productions, and weddings.

Ljubljana Castle up on the top of the hill

Side of the castle with the city flag flying aboveView from the top of Ljubljana castle

After digesting the views and the tales of old, a Slovenian lunch with a backstory is very appropriate. The Carniolan sausage originates from the region or Carnolia, unsurprisingly. However, this region was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and although it had been locally made for centuries it was Emperor Franz Josef who made it famous. When the empire dissolved in 1918, Slovenia inherited Carniola and its weiner.

Recently Slovenia applied to the European Commission to give the food special protected status so that only Carniolan sausage producers in Slovenia can lay claim to the name. This greatly upset the Austrians, who also love a good hot dog and felt it was part of their culture too. In the end Slovenia kind of won, on the proviso that other countries can still call their bangers Krainer. What an international food fight! The best place to grab one of these controversial meat products is in Klobasarna, almost opposite the St Nicholas church. Served with a good dollop of mustard and horseradish it is a popular fast food snack.

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Carniolan Sausage in a bun

Once you have chowed down, head back around the church to the Butcher’s bridge. Here you are confronted with some fairly scary statues and guess what? Yep, they are based on legendary stories too. You have Adam and Eve after they have been booted out of the Garden of Eden, Prometheus the naughty fire thief and Satyr, a creature that was depicted as being constantly aroused. Definitely ‘different’ and a stark contrast to the rest of the city centre.

Adam and Eve statues

Ljubljana statue

During the 16th century, Ljubljana was subjected to an earthquake and a large fire, which meant one half of the city was renovated in the Renaissance style. Baroque architecture crept in during the 17th century. After another earthquake destroyed the other side in the 19th century it was remodeled in the Vienna-Secession style. This means that Ljubljana has a sweet little town centre, very chocolate boxy cute. There is even a pink cathedral in the central square.

Ljubljana city centre and pink cathedral

The city does owe most of its cuteness to one particular guy, Joze Plecnik. This guy literally designed half of the city centre, and created the charming river embankments, the iconic Triple Bridge, parks, squares, and many notable buildings, including the National and University library. He was inspired by the styles of ancient civilisations, including the Greeks and the Romans. His work is everywhere, and almost gives Ljubljana the feeling of being fancily decorated, with practical yet pretty creations. He was a big fan of public spaces and giving people places to meet and socialise. Since the city centre has become pedestrianised his dream is truly realised.

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Ljubljana city centre

Head down Plecnik’s river banks and admire his architecture by stopping for a pre-dinner drink at one of the bars that line the water. There is one more piece of history to experience, which may require that you find a warrior hero such as Jason or a shining knight like St George…

Outside of the Sarajevo Balkan grill, Ljubljana

After the first World War and the collapse of the Austro Hungarian empire, Slovenia formed Yugoslavia in 1918 along with Serbia and Croatia. This lasted until 1991 when Slovenia quietly quit the country and became independent. Close ties remain with the countries that were formerly part of the same union, and you can sample some of the Bosnian cuisines at a funny little restaurant called Sarajevo ‘84.

Balkan Pie from Sarajevo '84

Try filo pastry pies or go all out with the sharing platter, which comes with a hearty selection of meats, breads, and beans. However, be prepared to meet a real dragon or two, as the staff tends to get very fiery if you are late or take up a table whilst waiting for the rest of your group. Unfortunately, it seems it is the patrons, not the food that might get fried to a crisp!

If that hasn’t frazzled you out then there are plenty of options for the rest of the evening. The best local bars in Ljubljana is a great guide to getting to know the real city hot spots and maybe make a friend or two. After all, you have a lot of mythical tales to tell them.

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If you need travel advice, request a free 30 minute coaching session. In the chat Annie will help you choose a destination, create your itinerary and review safety precautions. Or she can discuss how you can incorporate more travel into your life by saving, making money, travelling for free or being paid to travel.

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