Ljubljana is a City Split in Two.
Updated: Dec 28, 2020
In 2016 I went interrailing with three of my friends to celebrate the end of college before
heading off to uni and I found a city that I fell in love with. It was not what I expected, it was a total unknown before getting there to be honest. I always find these the best places. This unknown city is the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana. From the travel brochures and Lonely Planet articles you would just assume it is like any other European city. A classic European break like Vienna or Rome, just much smaller and less well known. Lovely but a bit been there, done that, right? But Ljubljana has a hidden secret.
It is a city split in two!
On one side of the river Ljubljanica, you have old town Ljubljana, on the other side you have Metelkova. A gritty, urban squat, covered in graffiti. It is an autonomous region within the capital city and it is where Slovenian alternative culture lives. It is one of the craziest and most free places I've seen. Not legal but not illegal, liberal but with rules, outside of normal society but hugely important to Slovenians in expressing their culture. But more on that later.
First let's get into the classic European side of this oxymoron of a city.
Ljubljana is like a medieval fairytale, a castle on the top of a hill surrounded by quaint colourful houses. At the centre of the city is it’s classic university with Ljubljana having a huge student population. You can really see this young vibe in the city especially with the amount of festivals there are. We saw a great one with a huge water slide that went all the way down one of the main streets, young people drinking at either side of the slide or chilling in the university gardens with friends. You can also take a stroll down the river and sit in one of the lovely riverside cafes, restaurants and bars. They are full and vibrant with young professionals having a good time.
Ljubljana and Slovenia in general is home to outstanding food! The food is heavily influenced by Italy’s world famous cuisine just across the adriatic. If you take that Italian food and sprinkle in some of the Balkan emphasis on fresh food for a low price, you get amazing food for a fraction of the price. One of my favorite dishes of all time is the slice of pizza I had in the university gardens. Check out my Foodies on Tour blog for more details on that. I would love to live in Ljubljana as a student!
After writing this blog I am looking at English teaching jobs in Slovenia. Sandeman does a great tour which shows this classical city in all of its glory. It tells stories of love, poetry and the amazing architect and urban planner Jože Plečnik who designed most of the city.
He also left his imprint across other cities, incharge of renovating Prague Castle and Zacherl Palace in Vienna. You can see his imprint on Ljubljana and it’s stunning architecture. It is the classic European city and perfect for a European getaway as well as an ideal jumping off point to head to Lake Bled and the other stunning natural beauties of Slovenia.
But what makes Ljubljana different to the other cities like Vienna or Bratislava or Krakow that I visited when interrailing? Adventurous-travels.com says that Ljubljana is ‘similar to other medieval towns’ so you should visit the more attractive cities of Piran, Bovec and Bled. There is no denying that these cities are stunning and are also definitely worth a visit, I mean Slovenia is just amazing. However, the other three cities don’t have the ‘grit’ you can find in Ljubljana. They don’t have the autonomous region of Metelkova! This neighbourhood is inhabited by squatters, covered in graffiti.
Once the sight of the imposing military barracks of an Austro-Hungarinan garrison that occupied the city, now a liberal autonomous commune.
The Guardian calls it ‘Europe’s most successful urban squat.’ This place is a must visit for lovers of street art, it adorns the walls of every building in Metelkova, it is known as the ‘Metelkova City Autonomous Cultural Centre’ after all.
Home to all manner of clubs and Slovenia’s LGBTQ+ scene it is a great place. Metelkova is what really makes me want to move to this fabulous city. I wouldn't live in Metelkova, it could be a bit rough.
I had one of the strangest nights of my life here. Drinking and talking with strangers on a climbing frame surrounded by amazing street art, getting beers from a bar set up by squatters whilst hearing drum and bass music from all the underground clubs. Then playing football till 5am, a good night. Metelkova gives Ljubljana the grit I look for in a city. It is what made me love it.
Are you looking for a city complete with everything? Ljubljana has it, the classic European break. Nice architecture, good food and a great jumping off point for the other destinations in Slovenia, as well as a crossroads to the other European regions. But you also want a crazy night out right? Book your trip to Ljubljana as soon as you can. I am definitely going again, I only spent four days there, I need so many more.