A day trip by bus to Ljubljana, Slovenia from Zagreb, Croatia
After having a few days to explore Zagreb last summer, my husband and I decided to venture out and explore the neighbouring city of Ljubljana, Slovenia. We initially wanted to visit the picturesque town of Lake Bled, however the itinerary was a logistical nightmare for a day trip and we would’ve spent the majority of our time in a bus/train and transiting so chose to minimise our travel time and visit Ljubljana instead which had options for a direct train or bus from Zagreb.
If you are determined to see both places, Viator , Zagreb Tours and Best Croatia Tours offer group day trips starting from $160 USD per person. We chose not to go with this option as it was 5 times the cost of our bus tickets to Ljubljana and we preferred slow down our pace having previously travelled through Split, Plitvice and Skradin in 5 days.
If you have a spare day up your sleeve and want to do a day trip to Ljubljana from Zagreb, below are a few ideas of what you can see and do that you can incorporate into your itinerary. We managed to do all of these in our 6 hour visit to the capital.
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Pass by the iconic Dragon Bridge
Before the Night King aka Dragonslayer to Viserion, there was Jason and the Ljubljana Dragon #theOG. The Ljubljana Dragon guards all 4 posts of the Dragon Bridge, watching over all those who pass by- and legend has it if you happen to be a Virgin, you might see one of the dragons waving its tail. #whytho #creepy
Cruise down the Ljubljanica River
There are a few boat operators that you can choose from priced at 5 Euro – 9 Euro per person along the banks of the Ljubljanica River. We had just missed one of the boat departures but the tours are only 45 minutes so you can book your tickets for the next departure, explore then come back or find another company operating one sooner. The boat we were on cost 5 Euros per person and has a bar if you wanted to have a drink (extra cost) and is covered so you won’t get too hot from sitting in the sun for almost an hour. The cruise was quite enjoyable and relaxing – the boat we were on doesn’t offer any commentary unless you ask for it but we preferred to just sit back and enjoy the city from a different perspective.
Discover boutiques in small alleys and streets
Ljubljana is one of the prettiest cities I have been lucky enough to visit in Europe. The colourful buildings, cobblestone paths, lush gardens and the many quaint bridge crossings gave the city a unique charm. Explore the little alleys and streets and you’ll most likely find unique stores and boutiques selling souvenirs like dragon figurines, artwork from local artists and crafts, and my favourite thing to take home – food products.
Eat your way through Central Market
Every Friday between mid March and October, the Central Market hosts an event called Open Kitchen where several stalls sell different street food. We visited on a Tuesday so missed out on the Open Kitchen event, however there were still grilled seafood, baked goods, cold cuts, desserts and fresh fruits from the produce stalls to choose from. Enjoy your feast on the steps of the Tourist Information Centre or the many tables set up around the Square.
Have a memorable meal at Gostina Dela
After reading that Gostilna Dela supported disadvantaged and disabled youth by giving them job opportunities at the restaurant, we wanted to support the initiative and try their food. We visited after the lunch hour peak time so we were able to be seated immediately – the place is quite cosy so you might have to wait if you go during peak time. We ordered a simple meal of garlic tomato mussels with crusty bread and a creamy ravioli, downed with a glass of amazing red from their changing daily menu. Service was friendly, fast and prices were very reasonable for the high quality food you are served.
Take in the views from Neboticnik Skyscraper
The glass terrace of the Neboticinik Skyscraper offers a view of the Ljubljana Castle, and if it’s a clear day, views of the mountains as a backdrop to the brightly coloured red and orange hued rooftops of the city. It’s free to enter but most visitors sat outside on the terrace having coffee or a cold beverage.
Stroll around Metelkova
Having somewhat a slight resemblance to Christiania in Copenhagen sans
weed Pusher Street, Metelkova is a mixed use venue that plays host to the various arts like live music, performances, installations and exhibitions. Previously the site of the old military barracks, it was squatted in the early 90’s and has since transformed into the alternative cultural centre it is today. We visited in the afternoon and didn’t really get a chance to see the venue come to life as most of the bars were closed. However, it’s still worth paying a visit to see the buildings that the artists have transformed into works of art with grafitti and sculptures scattered throughout the grounds.
Check out the artwork and love locks on Butchers Bridge
The Butchers Bridge is Ljubljanas answer to the famous love locks bridge at the Pont Des Arts in Paris with locks affixed to its railings. Apart from its sinister sounding name, it’s also adorned with sculptures created by Slovenian artist Jacov Brdar that are far from symbolic of love. From the disemboweled Prometheus, the first sinners Adam and Eve and the strange and deformed creatures on the bridge railings, it’s quite an ironic place for lovers to proclaim ones love for each other. Even if you find the concept of love locks cheesy (me), the sculptures are interesting and worth a visit to the Bridge.
Other things to do
If you find that you still have time after visiting all of the places above, here are some other suggestions of things to do to finish off your day trip.
Ljubljana Castle: This usually comes up as the number one suggestion for places to see, but as we only had a limited amount of time, we skipped the castle.
A Food tour: If I had known howwww amazing Slovenian food was before I went, I probably would have booked a food tour of the city to
get fat and indulge acquaint myself with the local food.
Have a picnic by the river or in Tivoli Park: European summer is the best. Grab some sandwiches from the bakery, fresh fruits from the Central Market and a nice bottle and people watch while you feast!
SUP down the river: We passed a group of SUP paddlers while we were on the boat cruise who looked like they were having a great time.
Bus tickets, cost and tips
We purchased return tickets on the morning of our planned trip at the main Zagreb bus depot and luckily there were still tickets for the times we wanted to go. There were a few bus companies operating the route but we chose Flixbus as we had a good experience travelling with them through Germany in a previous trip. If you prefer to plan ahead, you can also book your tickets online and and print them yourself – I used Get by Bus and Go Euro to prebook my other bus trips around Croatia.
Our 2 return tickets cost 406 Croatian Kuna (equivalent to 54 Euros), departing at 07:30 returning the same day at 16:30.
If you’re travelling with luggage that you don’t need for the day, you can hire lockers at the depot for a small fee. The bus depot also has a post office, cafes, bakeries selling fresh strukli (yum!) and news agencies which is convenient if you have a long waiting time.
Although Croatia is part of the European Union, it’s currently not in the Schengen Area so there is a border crossing to also consider when travelling through the 2 countries. Being the peak of summer holidays, I expected long queues for border control, however the bus lane was really efficient. All the passengers alighted from the bus and lined up inside immigration where officers check and stamp your passport. All up, the journey from Zagreb to Ljubljana took approximately 2 1/2 – 3 hrs including border control.
|If you have a long wait at the bus depot, make sure you have some coins to use the bathrooms.|
|Bring a good book or a good playlist for the long bus ride if you plan to stay awake during the trip.|
|The bus we were on did’t have toilets onboard, however we had about 2 toilet breaks during the trip – to be on the safe side, keep your valuables on you if you do decide to have a bit of a stretch outside as some people stay on the bus.|