It happened a few years ago. I was just sitting there, minding my own business, reading (thumbing) through the pages of my trusty European guide book. I stumbled across a place called Ljubljana, Slovenia. Ljubljana was described in cliché phrases such as a ‘cozy’ ‘cafe-centric’ ‘split by a romantic river’, ‘crowned by a stoic castle’, and ‘filled with eclectic architecture and a fantastical bridge adorned with dragons’. Or something that like.
I was sold.
When I eventually made it to Ljubljana I immediately fell in love with the place, as almost every other person I’ve ever met who has gone there has as well. Here are a just a few of the reasons why I love the place, and I have a hunch you will too.
Names play a role in a place’s appeal, no question, and while Ljubljana sure looks tough to pronounce, it actually isn’t. No, it’s a pretty easy “le-yoo-BLYAH-nah” or if you’re feeling lazy just “loo-blana”. Regardless, that’s not the fun part of the name, the fun part is that it looks so intimidating and strange, it scares away a ton of the travel riff raff. This means that compared to other romantic European capitals, there are less people to elbow out of the way in Ljubljana for hotel rooms, restaurant tables, and picnic spots along the river.
This may come as a shock, but I’m no architecture expert. I do, however, know the result of cool construction when I see it, and Ljubljana is chock full of it. From the ‘pretty in pink’ Baroque beauty Franciscan Church of the Annunciation on to the unique Triple Bridge and very Venetian riverside Central Market, Ljubljana just feels different compared to other places, and that’s a good thing. Many of the unique touches to the city were made by famous native son Jože Plečnik, and if you’re an architecture expert, you will definitely want to visit the house he lived in Ljubljana, which is now a museum.
A lovely exclamation point confirming Ljubljana’s storybook setting, Ljubljana Castle sits atop the medieval old town. The castle offers tours, is home to a restaurant, and is also a wedding venue if you’re feeling really romantic.
Speaking of the Ljubljanica River, it pleasantly splits Ljubljana’s Old Town right down the middle, creating a very dramatic city scene that sprawls out gracefully on both sides. Strolling along the Ljubljanica, admiring the flowing waters and the artwork on the banks is a true pleasure. There’s also a fun little bridge with four dragon busts on it just like the guide book says, and you’ll definitely want to take pictures of that.
As the Ljubljanica River flows away from downtown, a wide embankment has been built on its sides with large stone steps perfect for picnics, ‘social gatherings’, and even floating barge bars. And I can think of no better way to spend a sunny afternoon than soaking up sun and a local Union beer on the Ljubljanica embankment.
In keeping with its unique theme, Ljubljana is home to one of the coolest lodging spaces I’ve ever stayed at. A refurbished prison, Hostel Celica’s cells were painstakingly designed by local artists to each be a fun and fanciful space, one that you’ll be thrilled to be locked up abroad in for a night or two
This post originally appeared on TravelPulse