Ljubljana The perfect eco-friendly city break
Slovenia’s capital is the ultimate green holiday destination, and here’s how to get the most out of it
Take a short hike up Rožnik Hill for fantastic views of the park and city, and stop for a long break and coffee on the banks of the Ljubljana River. (highly Instagram-able by the way)
Green is the colour of Slovenia, and its capital Ljubljana (pronounced Lube-lee-yah-na) celebrates the hue enthusiastically. Its literal greenness is immediately striking. The-tree ringed castle grounds, the turquoise river, the foliage-lined city walks and the stunning public parks create a fresh, clean environment you rarely experience in a capital city.
Even Ljubljana’s iconic dragons, that stand guard on the Dragon bridge, are striking green.
So it’s fitting that the city was awarded European Green Capital for 2016 by the European Commission. And if you dig down into the city’s award-winning eco credentials you’ll discover the Slovenians are extremely dedicated to their environment.
Their visionary sustainability strategy - Vision 2025 - and an ambitious set of goals, has seen the city transform itself since 2007 into a mecca for the eco-conscious. Motorised vehicles are banned from the entire centre, free fountains offer naturally potable water throughout spring and summer, and outside the pedestrianised centre, buses are methane-powered to reduce emissions. Litter, as you might expect, is non-existent, and the diversity of recycling bins will make even the hardiest eco warrior swoon.
Make the most of your green city break
Explore: As a city of wheels, with 230km of cycling routes, the best way to get to know Ljubljana is by bicycle. The BicikeLJ bicycle-sharing system is perfect for short hops around town especially, as rides are free up to one hour (register before you go here). Or rent a bike from your hotel or from the tourist information centre on Krekov trg for longer adventures.
On your bike, you can whizz around the Old Town, the Central Market, Triple Bridge, Prešeren Square and the cool, graffitied Trubarjeva Street. Free wheel and take your time to enjoy the stunning architecture. The modern design of the city is largely thanks to architect Jože Plečnik, who designed the iconic Triple Bridge and the embankments along the river itself. He’s also responsible for the national library, the Ljubljana open market buildings, the city cemetery, and of course the parks and open spaces.
Head next to one of those - Tivoli Park is the perfect place for a picnic with five kilometres of open space, chestnut tree-lined walks and landscape gardens full of flowers. And don’t miss the Jakopič Promenade (Jakopičevo sprehajališče), which has become an outdoor photo gallery, open year-round.
Remember: A beautiful way to get in touch with the city’s history and collective memory is to walk, jog or bike a section of the Path of Remembrance and Comradeship, which circles Ljubljana. This 35km trail followed the exact tour of barbed wire erected by Fascist forces in 1942, that cut the city off from the outside world. Today it is a tribute to nature, a mostly-gravel path, much of it tree lined, with memorial pillars marking historical WW2 bunkers.
Do: Take a short hike up Rožnik Hill for fantastic views of the park and city (highly Instagram-able by the way), and stop for a long break and coffee on the banks of the Ljubljana River. If you’re feeling extra active, hop on a paddleboard or row a canoe down the river for a different view of the city.
A short walk away are the oldest botanical gardens in Europe, established in 1810 and containing 4,500 different species and subspecies.
Speaking of wildlife, go on a scouting mission to find one of the 161 bird varieties you can spot in the area (86 of them endangered). For the best chance of a good twitch, head south of the city to the Ljubljana marshes, a wetland area which offers a natural habitat for birds and animals.
Not on two wheels? Get around the centre by hailing down an electric-powered Kavalir, for a free ride. This small fleet of little golf buggy-style vehicles are great for zipping short distances and keep the pedestrianised area pollution-free.
Support: When it comes to looking for sustainable souvenirs from your trip, head to the Smetumet cultural and ecological society, an interesting project involving the Star Roba, Nova Raba (Old Stuff, New Use) thrift store and fair trade shop 3muhe (Stari trg 30, Ljubljana Old City Center), which sells various ingenious items made from recycled products. The society is mainly dedicated to creating useful, originally designed products made from items that would normally head to landfill.
But when it comes to home time be warned, heading back to your own grubby city might be a bit of a culture shock.