The best building in the city is probably: Nebotičnik, the first “skyscraper” to rise in the former Yugoslavia. At the time of its completion, in 1933, Nebotičnik was the ninth-tallest building in Europe and is now primarily home to shops, office space, and private residences. The top few floors, however, comprise a café, bar, and observation deck that are open to the public. After entering through a very nondescript, unguarded entrance, stop to see the famed art deco spiral staircase and then hop on one of three elevators to the top floors for underpriced coffee, snacks, and cocktails. Given its 360-degree view over the entire city, it’s a very overlooked tourist destination; you’ll likely have the place to yourself.
Give back to the city: Ljubljana has many impressive social initiatives, one of which is Gostlina dela, a perfect spot for brunch or lunch with a rotating daily menu of fresh and healthy dishes. The staff are all young people who, due to various reasons, face long-term unemployment. By eating here, you not only get a lot of bang for your buck, but you also support the staff in their journey to successfully enter the food and hospitality job markets.
Modern accommodation with a historic twist: The Grand Hotel Union was the first locally-owned and operated guesthouse to have such a high success rate that the owners expanded into three additional spaces. The four hotels now offer both budget-friendly and luxury accommodations, all while reflecting each building’s unique history. For example, the Grand Hotel, built in 1905, retains its Secession style, and despite Hotel Lev’s major renovation earlier this year, there still remains elements of the original architecture and decorative elements designed by Emil Medvešček — including a giant stone sculpture of a lion (“lev” in Slovenian) above the in-house restaurant’s door.
To refuel: Head to Café Čokl, a small coffee shop in the centre of town. The menu here offers a variety of drip brews and espresso-based drinks as well as home-made lemonades and natural, low-sugar sodas. In addition to tasting great and welcoming visitors with a sign that reads “Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks”, the café is also committed to sustainability and waste-reduction. So be warned: if you want a coffee to-go or to purchase beans to take home, bring your own containers.
For a natural reprieve: If the crowds in the old town are too suffocating, look no further than Tivoli Park. Located just northwest of the city centre, this five-square-kilometre green space provides a tranquil retreat filled with lush forestry and gardens. If you don’t want to completely give up the city vibe though, stop by the zoo or the International Centre for Graphic Arts, which hosts rotating exhibitions and has a café with some of the Ljubljana’s best ice cream as well as a terrace with a beautiful view over the cityscape, including the castle looming in the distance.