As wonderful as Zagreb is with its many sights, eateries, shops, experiences, attractions and more, the city is also very well positioned for several exciting day trips. As well as visiting places in central and northern Croatia such as the Plitvice Lakes, Samobor and Varazdin, or destinations on the coast such as Rijeka or Opatija, how about hopping a border to another country! Slovenia is only about 26km away from Zagreb, so a trip across to its capital city (and more) would be a great little trip to undertake from Zagreb. Here’s our guide to a day trip to Ljubljana from Zagreb.
One interesting thing to note is – what I think – the marked difference between the two cities. Zagreb is (perhaps surprisingly, given Croatia’s size) a large city home to 770,000 people; Ljubljana, meanwhile, has a population of just under 300,000. Zagreb, to me, seems to be an incredibly bustling city all the time, with people absolutely everywhere, at all times of day! Ljubljana seems a little more laid-back and quieter. But it’s still a wonderful place to visit!
Oh, and one thing you might be wondering is…how to pronounce Ljubljana? It’s lyoob-lyana. Go on, give it a shot!
Getting to Ljubljana from Zagreb
There a numerous buses per day between the two cities, including a couple of early morning options that depart Zagreb at 7.15am and 7.35am and get you into Ljubljana at 10am or just after. For the return journey, you can take your pick – but there are suitable options at 6.05pm or 7.50pm.
The bus costs €14.99 each way, and tickets can be bought on the Flixbus website where you can also look up timetables.
Travelling by train is a relaxing way of making the journey between these two capital cities, as the seats are fairly comfortable and you can stretch your legs by strolling up and down the carriages. (The scenery is also very picturesque as the train winds its way along the Sava River for most of its journey.)
There’s an early morning train departing Zagreb Glavni Kolodvor at 6.30am, arriving in Ljubljana at 9.14am – perfect for a day of sightseeing!
The best return option would be the train departing Ljubljana at 6.37pm, which gets you back into Zagreb at 8.45pm.
The train costs €9 one-way for adults, €4.50 for children (2023 prices) which is amazing value!
Should you have access to a car, driving is also a quick and easy way of making the hop over to Ljubljana. Leave Zagreb and drive over to the A2 motorway which takes you all the way to Ljubljana.
Do note that the motorway is tolled – in Croatia, it is a simple case of taking a ticket as you enter the motorway and paying when you leave it. In Slovenia, you need to purchase a vignette, which can be done online at the SI Vignette website.
Now that Croatia is in the Schengen Zone, there is no longer a border between Slovenia and Croatia. So whatever way you make the journey, you won’t have to show your passport!
Additionally, if you have a Schengen visa to enter Croatia, you will also be able to visit Slovenia.
What to See in Ljubljana
Ljubljana is a very walkable city (not least in the central pedestrianised area!) so you can easily make your way to most of the attractions here by foot – and it’s a great way of exploring or uncovering some hidden gems too!
Ljubljana is also a very charming city with a number of great sights, good food, and fun cafes and bars and it’s a great place to spend a day or two. Oh, and dragons! The dragon is the symbol of Ljubljana and this mythical creature appears on the city flag and in the city shops. (And on a bridge – see below!)
I would recommend first making your way to Ljubljana Castle which is perched up on a hill overlooking the city – you’ll see it looking down on you as you make your way around the city. This 15th-century structure was built as a defensive against the Ottomans; today it houses several exhibits and also hosts cultural events.
You can reach the castle utilising the modern, fully glass funicular that’s located at ground level. After just a few minutes’ ride you’ll be up at Castle level where you can enjoy the lovely view across the city.
If you’ve purchased a full ticket for the castle, you can access the Museum of Puppetry; the Virtual Castle; the Viewing Tower with its 360-degree views with local mountain peaks pointed out rather cleverly; the Armoury; the surprisingly beautiful Castle Chapel of St George and the Exhibition of Slovenian History – which I felt was a bit thin on the ground with its content. (Poor Slovenia!)
Tickets for the castle and funicular cost €16 for adults and €11.20 for children aged 7 to 18. A family ticket for four costs €38.40. (2023 prices)
Once you make the funicular ride back down to ground level, you will face Ljubljana’s Central Market, and open-air space with fruit and veg and typical market items being sold. Alongside the river is the Plecnik’s Covered Market, a beautiful structure built in the 1940s and designed by the famous Ljubljana architect Joze Plecnik.
Should you be visiting Ljubljana on a Friday from March to October, you must visit the market to enjoy Odprta Kuhna. Chefs prepare excellent gourmet food options.
Zmajski Most – Dragon Bridge, The Triple Bridge and Other Bridges
It is always rather pleasing for a city to have a river winding its way right through the centre. This is certainly the case for Ljubljana with its River Ljubljanica…and you know what else that means? Lots of bridges!
The most famous bridge of all in Ljubljana is the Dragon Bridge, right around the corner from the Central Market. Built in 1900-1901, this bridge is adorned with four somewhat scary dragons at each edge; the bridge was the first reinforced concrete structure in the city and was one of the largest bridges in Europe at the time.
Further west is the Triple Bridge – literally three bridges, side by side. The original bridge was the central one, it’s current form from the mid-19th century. In the early 20th century, the left and right-hand bridges were added to a design by Joze Plecnik. These three bridges really are quite striking, and fun when you make the decision of which bridge to cross!
Right by the Triple Bridge is the wide open space of Preseren Square (Preserenov Trg), Ljubljana’s main square and clearly a gathering place for many locals. You’ll find the Preseren Momument here, depicting Slovenian poet France Preseren. The Franciscan Church of the Annunciation is also located here, as is the lovely Hauptmann House.
Museums and Exhibitions
Plecnik House covers the life and works of the famous aforementioned 20th Slovenian architect, Joze Plecnik. He contributed greatly to the design of modern Ljubljana (as well as working in Vienna and Prague).
The National Gallery is home to almost 600 works by Slovenian and European painters, including works by Zoran Music, a leading modernist painter.
Eating and Drinking in Ljubljana
For a super hearty lunch, I would highly recommend Moji Struklji, also known as the Dumpling House. The restaurant prepares a variety of dumplings, both savoury and sweet, with traditional fillings such as cottage cheese, meat, carrot and other vegetables, nuts/walnuts, apples and more. You will honestly find it hard to choose! Alongside the dumplings, you may also like to try one of their delicious stews.
Another top tip for a very filling and delicious (not to mention quick) meal is Klobasarna. Essentially, this place is all about the Carniolian sausage…and that’s pretty much all they serve! A half or whole portion will get you the sausage carved up alongside mustard, horseradish and a bread roll; I went for the sausage wrapped in sauerkraut and dough which was fantastic! And seeing as you’re in Slovenia, why not wash this down with a Cockta, the Slovenian soft drink that was invented to rival a more famous drink with a similar name?
Pizzeria Foculus is a very relaxed but fun kind of place with an astonishingly long menu. It’s all exceedingly tasty!
Cacao is the place to head to for the best ice cream in the city.
An extra day in Slovenia
If you’re truly taken by Slovenia and want to extend your time here, another option would be to stay the night in the city and use the next day to visit the magical Lake Bled. There are numerous bus departures from the main bus station in Ljubljana direct to Bled that take just over an hour. It is possible, of course, to also join an organised tour that includes transport, but it’s easy to just do it yourself!
Once you arrive in Bled, make your way down to the shimmering lake itself to take in its beauty. If you have the time and the proper footwear, I would recommend walking the full circumference of the lake for an excellent way of experiencing the nature of the place and seeing the lake and its surroundings from multiple viewpoints.
Another must is to enjoy the lake from…well…water level. There are boats that will take you to the island in the middle of the lake; you can choose from either an old-fashioned-style wooden boat called a pletna which is rowed (really!) across to the island, or an electric boat which is faster but perhaps less traditional. (These two boat types are obviously used to preserve the clean waters of the lake.)
Once on Bled Island, you can visit the Church of the Mother of God (for an additional entrance fee) which has a 52-metre-high bell tower. Alternatively, retire to Poticnica Cafe to sample the local potica delicacy, a filled pastry-type treat; the walnut potice is the most popular.
The boats leave you on the island for a minimum of 1 hour 15 minutes, which is just about enough time to get the most of what there is here. Make sure you don’t miss the return boat!
There are several eateries around the edge of the lake for you to fuel up at. You absolutely must, however, leave room to try the Bled Cream Cake at Kavarna Park, which invented this sweet treat in 1953. The layered cake – made up of a crispy puff pastry crust on the top and bottom and vanilla custard and cream in between – is served up in a cube-like portion and a small glass of sweet wine is a great accompaniment. (Kavarna Park also serves up some other impressive dessert and ice cream dishes if the cake isn’t your cup of tea.) The cafe has apparently served 16 million portions of Bled Cake since its invention!
More info on Ljubljana and Slovenia
You can find more information on visiting this lovely city on the Ljubljana Tourist Board website.
For more tourist advice on Slovenia in general, head to the Slovenian Tourist Board website.