Why you should care
It’s a holiday destination you may not have considered. With $2.50 pints.
Slovenia, nestled between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea, should be high on any European traveler’s wish list. But the tiny country, home to 2 million people, has long been ignored in favor of its neighbors in Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary.
“People here are happy to go along being industrious and steadfast without any notoriety,” says Ronalee Kodric of Slovenia For You. “You could even say we’re quite boring!” But there’s little boring about Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana, which, as a former Roman garrison, then medieval traveler’s stop, then Napoleonic hub, is a palimpsest of central European architecture. Socialism’s mark, too, is etched all over the city, a compact but vibrant home to 300,000: brutalist buildings poke the skyline and monuments dot the landscape.
Ljubljana is unique because it’s so small, so lively and it has a very strong cultural life.
Photographer Mankica Kranjec
Ljubljana’s creative scene has taken off in the past decade — much of it focused at Metelkova, a warren of galleries, bars and clubs that sprung from the shell of a socialist-era prison. At its heart sits Hostel Celica, home to 20 converted cells. Clubs like Gromka and Gala Hala keep the complex awake 24/7. But while beer is just $2.50 a pint, it’s not the cheapest option for imbibing. Drinks in Prague and Bratislava are half that price. Budapest, while gentrifying fast, is still Europe’s cheapest weekend stay. All three attract ravers and bachelor parties. Not so Ljubljana, says Mitja Jus of Roundabout Travel, which is smaller and less known.
The city has a knack for regeneration. Poligon, once a cigarette factory, is now a working space and bar where the city’s startup scene convenes. It’s where photographer Mankica Kranjec works and meets friends. “There are a lot of abandoned places here, but the young people are really trying hard to make them good again,” she says. “Ljubljana is unique because it’s so small, so lively and it has a very strong cultural life,” adds Kranjec.
But when the capital gets to be too much, she says, getting fresh air is easy. From mountain ranges to beaches, stunning Slovene nature is never more than a couple hours’ drive away. The country’s dilapidated railway system is fun, and cheap. Rental cars offer expediency. Bled, with its pristine Alpine lake, island and 11th-century castle has long been Slovenia’s main attraction. But there’s far more. Adrenaline junkies can visit Maribor Pohorje, a low range that hosts downhill and cross-country skiing in winter, plus more than 30 miles of walking and biking trails. If you’re more of a wine drinker, Slovenia’s wineries, nestled among the verdant Slovene Hills, are tourist sites in their own right. Stunning lakeside basin Bohinj is just a 20-minute drive away. Try the iconic Kremšnita, a vanilla and custard cream cake that just celebrated its 60th anniversary.
Slovenia, with its bustling capital and gorgeous nature, may still be off the radar of most travelers, but it’s “very welcoming for people coming from abroad,” says Kranjec.