Tips and things to do in Ljubljana, Slovenia: The three-minute guide

WHY

Slovenia's petite capital is a pretty Central European city set on the bend of a river and overlooked by a medieval hill castle. Really pretty. Drop-dead gorgeous. Even the city's name derives, arguably, from an Old Slavic word meaning "of lovely appearance". But then you notice her tattooed walls and street art and she becomes more interesting. You find out that her so-called autonomous cultural zone was a Yugoslav military barracks and realise she has a history. You discover she's specialised in urban sustainability for a decade then been named European Green Capital of 2016 and recognise a bright future.

Ljubljana – pronounced lyoob-LYAH-nah because Slovenians say all their letters – is not to be underestimated.

VISIT

Krakovo and Trnovo are Ljubljana's oldest suburbs, separated by only a small canal. In these well-preserved neighbourhoods you can find the city's oldest market gardens, attend cutting-edge summer festival events within the archaic stone walls of Krizanke Outdoor Theatre, visit the former home of Slovene architect Joze Plecnik (mgml.si). A central figure in the reconception of Ljubljana after its 1895 earthquake, Plecnik's life and work will be heavily celebrated by the city throughout 2017.

EAT

Druga Violina, in Old Town, serves traditional Slovenian food made with love and care from fresh local produce (FB/drugaviolina). Trta makes the best pizza in Ljubljana and also has some charming accommodation upstairs (app.trta.si). For traditional Serbian dish cevapcici – now a Slovenian staple – sit outside near the grill at Gostilna Dubocica (dubocica.si). Cafe Cokl is the place for coffee (cafecokl.si), and locals also love Tozd (FB/TOZDbar). Open Kitchen takes over Pogacar Square every Friday when international dishes made with local ingredients by Slovenian chefs are sold at reasonable prices (odprtakuhna.si).

LOOK

A 60,000-year-old Neanderthal flute made from bear femur and the world's oldest known wheel were found in Slovenia and are on display in their National Museum (nms.si). Use a Ljubljana Card for entry to most museums, galleries, libraries and the castle plus transport on city buses (visitljubljana.com).

MUST

If you visit Ljubljana as a tourist, CurioCity hope you'll leave feeling like a local (curiocity.si). Their unconventional walking tours include Express your Selfie, Lazy Sundays and Dragan's Tales. From Ljubljana with Love introduces the city's socially minded businesses. Another local group offers free graffiti tours (ljubljanagraffititour.com), which always finish up in the amazing cultural zone of Metelkova Mesto (metelkovamesto.org).

SLEEP

Bed down behind bars at Hostel Celica, the world's first certified eco-hostel and a repurposed military prison (hostelcelica.com). And just nearby is the city's first green hotel. Despite a concrete tower block appearance, Hotel Park is vigilantly reducing its energy consumption and water use, has rooftop beehives and herb gardens, makes organic ice-cream, and guests can earn free coffee by choosing stairs over elevators (hotelpark.si). Antiq Palace is a rambling 15-suite hotel for those who dig centrally located historic accommodation ingrained with character and quirk (antiqpalace.com).

TIP

Ljubljana's paved centre is closed to motorised traffic, nearly three-quarters of the city is forest and parks and there are more than 220 kilometres of managed cycle paths. So forget the hire car and ride (en.bicikelj.si).

Elspeth Callender travelled as a guest of Ljubljana Tourism (visitljubljana.com)

This story Tips and things to do in Ljubljana, Slovenia: The three-minute guide first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.