Free Lions guide to Ljubljana

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Welcome to Ljubljana (pronounced lyoob-lya-nah) - the capital and largest city of Slovenia. Its name is derived from the Slovenian ‘ljubljena’, meaning ‘the beloved’.

It is fairly small in size, with a population of 283,000, and most of its attractions are clustered together in a small pedestrianised area around the river Ljubljanica.

In 2014, the city celebrated the 2000th year of its founding, when it was the Roman settlement of Emona. This legacy, as well as the following Renaissance, Baroque and Art Nouveau periods are all characterised in the city’s ornate doorways, house fronts and romantic bridges across the river.

Part of the city’s coat of arms is a dragon, depicted on the Dragon Bridge and on top of the castle tower on the coat of arms. The origins of the dragon symbol in Ljubljana is unclear, but one theory is it was taken from St George, the patron saint of the castle chapel.

The Stadium

The Stožice Stadium is the home of both of the Slovenian national team and domestic football team NK Olimpia Ljubljana. It opened on 11th August 2010, with a match between Slovenia and Australia.

The stadium has 16,038 regular seats, 558 VIP seats, 210 press seats and 97 disabled spaces. It is situated in the Stozice Sports Park, which also includes an indoor arena –used to host basketball, handball and volleyball. It is laid out under the plateau in the park so the structure is ‘sunk’ into the ground – only the roof above the stands is above ground level.

Getting to the ground

The stadium is to the north of the city centre in the Bezigrad district, but it should only take about five minutes to get there by car. There are 1,280 parking spaces at the stadium, plus 60 disabled spaces.

Bus numbers 13 and 20 run to and from the city centre, with increased frequency for events.

Things to see and do

The central point of interest in Ljubljana is the castle on Castle Hill. The beginnings of the medieval castle go back to the 9th century, although mentions of the building only go back as far as 1144.

It houses several museums and presentations, including a showcase of 310 million-year-old fossils and an exhibition about Slovenian history.

The castle is accessible by funicular railway. Both are open between 9am and 11pm in June, with the exhibitions, outlook tower and information centre closing at 9pm. Tickets for both the castle and the train cost 10 euros, though if you fancy the hike up the hill you can get castle-only tickets for 7.50 euros.

The other main attractions in Ljubljana can be seen from simply walking around the city centre. Sights include the Rotovz (town hall), which was first erected in 1484 before being rebuilt in 1718. The Dragon Bridge, adorned with its four dragon statues, was constructed between 1900 and 1901. It was the first structure in Slovenia to be paved with asphalt. The Dragon Bridge replaced an old wooden bridge called the Butchers’ Bridge. Other popular city centre buildings include the Stolnica (cathedral), Nadškofijski dvorec (Archiepiscopal Palace), Prešernov trg (Prešeren Square), Semenišče (Seminary) and Ljubljana Old Town - Mestni trg, Stari trg in Gornji trg (Town Square, Old Square and Upper Square).

If you’re interested in shopping, there’s an open-air market where you can buy all kinds of foods including Slovenian delicacies such as Karst prosciutto and the ‘potica’ cake.

If you wish to make the most of your stay and have an official tour, you can do so by foot, bike or boat, with several options (including food and torchlight tours) available on the official tourism website.

Eating and drinking

There is a wide variety of restaurants in Ljubljana, with Slovenian, Italian, Balkan and Central European cuisines particularly well represented.

Slovenian delicacies to look out for are Karst prosciutto (air-dried pork leg), štruklji (a dough roll stuffed with a variety of different fillings), žganci (similar to polenta, served as a main or side dish) and potica (the best-known culinary speciality of Slovenia – a cake made from yeast dough, filled with a variety of fillings such as walnut).

Slovenia also has several varieties of wine, including kraški teran (red wine from the Kras region), malvazija (white wine from the Slovenian coastal region and Istria), cviček (light, low-alcohol red wine from the Dolenjska region), metliška črnina (red wine from the Bela Krajina region), renski rizling (white wine from the Štajerska region) and traminec (white wine from the Štajerska region).

As for places to eat, every Friday the Ljubljana Central Market hosts a street food market called Open Kitchen where you can experience freshly-made food cooked right in front of you. Restavracija Strelec (situated in the shooter’s tower in Ljubljana Castle, (0)31 687 648), Restavracija JB ( Miklošičeva 17, +386 (0)1 430 70 70), Restavracija Maxim (Trg republike 1, +386 (0)51 285 335) and Kavarna Zvezda Slon (Wolfova ulica 14, +386 1 421 90 90) are considered the best restaurants in Ljubljana, though they are at the top end and therefore on the pricey side.

If you just need some fast food, there are six branches of McDonald’s (including Čopova 14), one Burger King (Šmartinska 152 (Citypark)), and Hot Horse (Tivoli Park) is a burger joint that is something of an institution in Ljubljana.

In terms of pubs and bars, again you’ll be spoilt for choice. While Ljubljana is a quiet, quaint town the majority of the time, the bars are normally open late and there are plenty of places to choose from. The obligatory Irish pub is called Patrick’s Irish Pub (Prečna ulica 6) on this occasion. We also imagine Sir William’s Pub (Tavcarjeva ulica 8a, 00 386 (0)5 99 44 825) – which calls itself the House of Beer – will be popular among England fans with its live sport and 120 types of beer.

Louder options popular with students include Brewery Pub (Subičeva 1), Companeros (Slovenska 5) and Kra Kra, (Gosposvetska 2), while there are also more traditional pubs such as Baileys Pub (Kolodvorska 7), Cutty Sark (Knafjlev prehod 1), Guinness Pub (Gosposka 3), Holidays Pub (Slovenska 36) and Katakombe Pub (Stari trg 19).