Three tours you must take in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Trotting obediently along in a group of 50, behind someone waving an umbrella, is not my idea of fun. I know this because I’ve tried it.
But taking an organised tour in a city? Sign me right up. However much research I do in advance, I can’t hope to think I’ll know all the secrets, the hidden corners, the history and highlights that a specialist would, especially when they’re local.
And whether it’s walking or cycling, food-themed (one of my new favourite things to do) or uncovering ghosts and history, I always try to fit in at least one. And on my recent trip to Slovenia, without a three-year-old’s attention span to worry about, I made the most of it – here are my three top tours in Ljubljana.
Watermelon Ljubljana by bike
Slovenia’s capital is pretty compact. With a few tips from the Lonely Planet guide, a handy map from our hotel and comfy shoes, we had spent our first afternoon tramping around the city’s unfeasibly picturesque streets and discovering everything from Roman remains to Art Nouveau buildings.
So by day 2, I wanted a bit more. And this bike tour was perfect. A lot of the city centre is pedestrianised (although discovering how new that is was one insight from Tevz who runs the tours) so cycling is the ideal way to get through the streets, as well as letting us get further out of the centre.
Views up to the castle, grassy spots along the river, traditional churches filled with modern art and the street art of Metelkova were just a few of the stops. And everywhere we went, we learned something new – the story behind one statue of a former mayor, an unexpected tale of forbidden love, the fact that the main rule of cycling in Ljubljana’s highway code seems simply to be ‘don’t hit anyone’…
The groups are a maximum of six, running every day between April and September (book a day in advance) and by arrangement outside those times. The two-hour tour costs 20 Euros, and there’s a longer four-hour option for 25 Euros in the warmer months – the cycling is all pretty relaxed as well. If you speak to Tevz in advance, there are child-friendly options too.
Ljubljanajam food walking tour
I love a foodie walking tour – not only do you learn more about local traditional dishes, but it’s a great place to get tips on where to eat. And Iva, who runs Ljubljanajam, definitely knows her stuff.
As well as walks themed around wine, craft beer and dessert, there’s a highlights tour and the chance to arrange a personalised version. The friend I was travelling with can’t eat dairy (well, it’s more complicated than that, but for simplicity this is what we told Iva) and is allergic to beer, so Iva whipped up a menu which would suit both of us.
I promised not to reveal all her secrets but we had traditional sausage, an incredible soup with chocolate in and got a taste of some local specialities, along with drinks. We were introduced to a few places I’d never have stumbled across alone – as well as a tasting session where I’m sure you needed to know the owner (helpfully Iva seems to know half the city, or at least the foodie inhabitants).
There’s even a helpful handout with the Dos and Don’ts of eating and drinking in Ljubljana, a mini lesson in how to say Cheers in Slovenian, plus tips on where we should have dinner another night. We went back and it was fantastic – this one I am going to give away, Druga Violina, which works with adults with Downs Syndrome and serves some fantastically warming dumplings.
Tours cost from 35 Euros per person depending what you want to include. Because you can personalise, It’s also suitable for children. Ours lasted a couple of hours.
The Communist history tour
I’d heard very good things about the free walking tour of Ljubljana – but after exploring on our own, plus the bike tour, I felt another general walk would be overkill. Besides, I was really pleased to discover we would be in the city on the day the same company runs the Communist history tour.
Slovenia itself has existed for less than 25 years. As the native of a country with almost a thousand years of (reasonably) consistent history, I find this such a hard concept to get my head around. My friend and I both remember Yugoslavia as a place with a reputation for cheap sunny holidays when we were growing up – and the horrors of the Balkan War which followed its collapse.
But while school history lessons covered the Cold War and countries behind the Iron Curtain, Yugoslavia never quite seemed to get the same treatment so I had large blanks in my knowledge. These had partially been filled in by a trip to the City Museum which detailed the various empires and republics which had governed Slovenia, but our guide Tina was a mine of information – not least because she had first-hand tales of growing up in Yugoslavia, and with a father who had joined the Communist party as the only way to further his career.
The tour itself is themed rather than chronological, so takes you to some spots you might otherwise miss altogether, including stories of everyday life under Tito and how different it was (for Slovenes, at least) than the Iron Curtain. Even locals might not know what lay behind one ordinary anonymous door: the cells of the secret police.
Because with less than a quarter of a century of independence, Slovenia is very definitely a post-Communist country still – the events of that time cast long shadows and not everyone is keen to shine a light upon them.
On the website, it seems to suggest this is only an option as a private tour but it was also scheduled for Saturday afternoons, so worth checking directly. And at 10 Euros, it was an absolute bargain. If you do no other tours, this is definitely worth a few hours of your time.
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