With less than 300,000 inhabitants, Ljubljana is one of the smallest capitals in Europe. It is also one of the greenest. Located centrally in a country that is small itself, Ljubljana is perfectly positioned to explore every corner of Slovenia and the neighbouring countries. The country’s compact but varied natural wonders – from glacial lakes of the Julian Alps, mysterious world of Kaarst region or mighty vineyards in Dolenjska region – are stretched in close proximity to the capital. For Ljubljana inhabitants, climbing Triglav, Slovenia’s tallest mountain at 2,864 m, in the morning and dipping into the Adriatic in the afternoon is easily achievable. No wonder the city is gaining international popularity with the number of visitors increasing every year – in 2018 the number of tourists that visited the capital by October already exceeded the number of visitors for the whole of 2017.
A look back in history
Ljubljana has a mixture of Central European look and a touch of Balkan attitude. The city dates back to Roman times, when Emona stood where Ljubljana is today. Remnants from those times are still discovered today. Emona had a good strategic location in the middle of a trade route between the Adriatic sea and Danube region. The city was later called Carniola, one of the Slovene inhabited parts of Habsburg monarchy. After the World War II, Slovenia became part of Yugoslavia, with Belgrade as its capital. With the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Slovenia became independent and Ljubljana became the capital city of an independent country.
Mentioning Ljubljana without mentioning Jože Plečnik is impossible. A pioneer of modern architecture, Plečnik designed most of Ljubljana’s’ landmark buildings and attractions. The architect was setting the city up for the sustainable future, focusing on harmony between the natural environment and sustainable mobility. He wanted to make the city more attractive and practical for its citizens. Plečnik’s Ljubljana has put a soul in a city and made it into a work of art. His best-known works include the National and University Library building, the Ljubljanica river embankments and bridges, the most notable being the Triple Bridge and the Cobblers’ Bridge in the heart of Ljubljana, the Central Market, the Križanke summer theatre, the Bežigrad stadium, the funeral home at the Žale cemetery, and the Church of St. Michael in the Marshes.
Nowadays the banks of Ljubljanica river is a vibrant area with eclectic mixture of restaurants, cafes and bars. Local artisans’ market is a special Saturday addition during summer months while every Sunday, regardless of the time of the year, the vendors set up the flea market selling vintage clothes, antique furniture, vinyl’s or Yugoslav memorabilia.
Though Plečnik is synonymous with Ljubljana, the city has other authentic landmarks, such as Metelkova city, an abandoned army base and a leading center of underground art, music and culture. Popular with young people, the area is everything one would expect from a creative alternative scene – from broken bicycles to colourful graffiti sprayed on buildings and trees. This centre of urban culture is an area where ideas of artists old and young can come to life.
Ljubljana’s creative spirit spreads to other areas as Slovenian people in general are very innovative and entrepreneurial. Ljubljana has a vibrant tech scene – Eurosender, Goat Mug, Spirit7, Beeping are just some of the startup companies that succeeded in market breakthrough. The startups also get a lot of help. With offices in Silicon Valley and Ljubljana, ABC Accelerator group runs a three-month acceleration programme for startups designed to grow their businesses and increase valuation. In turn, startups benefit from a large worldwide network of investors and mentors.
Startups are not only focusing on technological solutions. There are also others who like to mix the old with the new. Such is Ljubljanksi brivec, opened In Grand Hotel Union in 2016 with a desire to reinvigorate the forgotten tradition. Hood Burger, set up in 2012 by two friends after failing to land a job after graduating from university, makes all American burgers made of 100% Slovenian beef with a side of organic Slovenian potatoes. The two basically started a burger mania in the city which is now one of Ljubljana folks’ favourite meat treats.
One of the greenest cities in Europe
Ljubljana is touted internationally as one of the greenest cities in the world not just in terms of its landscape, but also in the environmentally friendly policies the city council has been adopting in recent years. The green capital of Europe in 2016, the city won sustainable tourism award within the first European Capital of Smart Tourism competition in 2018. It is also ranked in top 100 of sustainable world destinations. And sure, it deserves it. The old town is car free, reserved for pedestrians and cyclists only, with Kavalir, an electric cart, transporting passengers from one part of the old town to the other. Bicycles are very popular – rain or shine, Ljubljana’s inhabitants make the most of the two-wheel vehicle riding around the city’ 230km of bike paths. The city council encourages citizens to prioritise bikes over cars, introducing BicikeLJ, a bike-sharing system, in 2011. Self-service terminals are located around Ljubljana. The use of the system is practically free of charge. The only cost involved is the EUR 3 annual fee for online registration. It’s really popular with the locals with bikes being used used 6 million times to date.
In order to further reduce the traffic in Ljubljana, municipality established a service that allows anyone arriving to the city to park the car on its outskirts – the parking price is EUR 2.40 per day and it includes two additional bus tickets on the Urbana card. This falls within the city council’s Sustainable Urban Strategy of the City of Ljubljana, which is focused on the implementation of the EU 2020 policy. Part of the strategy is also to increase the number of electric vehicles in the city that already has 80 charging locations available, many of them offering more than one electric plug. The number of registered electric vehicles in the country as a whole has been rising rapidly. In 2017, almost 800 electric and more than 3,000 hybrid vehicles were registered in Slovenia, which represents more than 60% growth compared to the previous year.