“Just follow the river” is what any local downtown will tell you when you ask whether Ljubljana has a beach. But, if you follow the direction of the setting sun, you’ll find Ljubljana’s very own Montmartre, the lazy and laid-back districts of Prule and Trnovo, boasting stunning architectural gems, romantic riverbanks, outdoor galleries, and chic places to mingle. Joining locals in their evening drinks on the Ljubljana beach to the occasional sound of a guitar or a stray singer makes one feel the legacy of artists that used to call the area their home. On this tour, we follow the footsteps of Jože Plečnik and wonder what the great architect was thinking about as he walked around and gazed upon boatmen, swimmers and salad fields that covered the area during his days.
FROM BREG TO KRAKOVO
As we’ve been directed to follow the river, we’ll start our walking tour at Breg, literally the river-’bank’, a fine promenade stretching from the Novi Trg Fountain all the way to Zoisova street that cuts across Šentjakobski most (St.James’ bridge) and marks the border of the city centre’s pedestrian zone to the south. Many newcomers to the city tend to stop exploring right there and turn back to the north or cross the river to continue back into the old town, put off by the long wait at the traffic lights to cross over. Little do they know that many of the city’s best kept spots and Plečnik’s wonders lie on the other side.
As you wait for the traffic lights, do notice a small pyramid just by the traffic light to your right, dedicated to natural scientist and art patron Žiga Zois. And since we’re entering the world of arts and architecture, just a little further up Zoisova and across the road you’ll find the Faculty of Architecture where students diligently study and scheme our future.
Green lights and you’ll walk into Krakovo, a district of Trnovo, by arriving at Krakovski nasip. Due to the proximity of the river, this area was historically rich in vegetable produce and fishermen, and like any busy place in the middle ages, rich in diseases. Along with Eipprova Street, where we’re headed next, this walkway enjoys the status of a cultural and historical monument. You’ll find locals having evening drinks at the popular concert-packed and vintage object-ridden bar Nostalgia and coffee during the day at a speciality coffee roaster Mala Pražarna. Then there’s the legendary Krakovc cafe and a draft beer shop.
If you want to explore Krakovo further, you can simply turn away from the river to your right and venture into its little streets called “Garden” and “River” and well, yes, we’ll also mention it - “Stockpile”. Look for the birth house of notable slovenian impressionist Rihard Jakopič, find the old roman gate of Emona and the Krakovo chapel attached to it; and then make your way back to Krakovski nasip, and just before getting there, find your way to probably the finest gnocchi in town at Gostilnica pri Škofu.
When you’ve had your gnocchi and have rejoined us at Krakovski nasip, we’ll meet you where the smaller river Gradaščica flows into Ljubljanica, the home of a legendary heron that occupies the area and we secretly believe is the king of the nutria. A word on river life - the semiaquatic rodents are often confused with huge rats, and unlike the aggressive swans found at the river, are intelligent, friendly and very sociable, talented at posing for instagram shots while they nibble on the carrot you feed them.
Swaying your attention gently away from the cute rodents and the heron, if you’re lucky enough to catch it, the views from the bridge towards one or the other river and the castle are also not bad, and you’ll often catch locals fishing at this river confluence if you’re lucky, or see firemen at their disaster training. Last time we were here they were ziplining rescue dogs across the river.
If you haven’t decided to stray around Krakovo just yet and stayed on Krakovski nasip, following the awesome outdoor gallery you should be arriving at the same place, the Jek bridge over Gradaščica with the ziplining dogs. Cross the bridge and turn right onto Eipprova.
Eipprova Street is a place of bustling restaurants, bars and cafes. It became the big pride of the city’s renovation project as it was officially reopened in 2016 as a one way street. The idea was to make it more pedestrian friendly and pleasing to the eye, using sand-like asphalt and recycling granite curbs in order to make the street elements match in colour and style. So you might do well if you dressed up to match the street elements. Locals show up in tracksuits, as is the way for the Slavs, but you don’t have to do as the Romans.
Starting with Hiša Kulinarike Manna occupying a noticeably yellow house, walk a few meters and you’ll be hearing some good music coming in from the iconic and popular Sax pub. After hearing the jazz, you might smell something fine coming from what’s next up the road. If you haven’t already stopped at Manna, Dežela okusov is the only 100% gluten-free restaurant in the city. Just next to it is one of Ljubljana’s favourite pizza lovers and meat haven, Gostilnica 5-6 kg. For all those who like to move places to get a coffee and dessert after a meal, Lolita is just next door. For some deluxe fast food, check out Rex Bistro, and to finish off, get your “medicine” at Apotheka Bar.
Mind the funny looking statue somewhere in the middle of the street that looks like something of an abacus. It’s actually a “Jože Plečnik: Profil 16” statue designed by academic sculptor Polona Demšar. Don’t look at us - we don’t know what it means. But it does remind us of Plečnik’s presence and his significance for the area, the main reason we’re headed this way.
Whether you’ve strayed into one of the food or drink institutions here or moved quickly through this date with the nicely dressed Eipper, the street ends with Trnovo church overlooking Trnovo Bridge, a UNESCO world heritage site since 2021. You’ll notice the area is arranged like a square, where no pedestrian or driver understands the traffic arrangement. This “square on the river” symbolizes the connection between Trnovo and the city center, so if you start walking up Emonska Street and keep going straight, you’ll end up right at Congress Square or Park Zvezda.
The unique thing about Trnovo Bridge is Plečnik’s “avenue of trees” planted on the bridge itself. The lines of birches and shrubs go well with the rest of the surrounding chestnut trees, as nature usually goes well with, well, nature. You’ll notice pyramid decorations on the bridge that mirror the shape of the church’s bell and the statue of Saint Janez Krstnik, protector of the church. On the left side of the bridge, just across from the church entrance, you’ll see some stoned men. It’s a party of Slovene impressionists who stand there, day in, day out, discussing life, art and first impressions.
Make a left just by the church’s entrance onto Karunova street to find Plečnik house on your right. Part of MGML - Museums and Galleries of Ljubljana, this incredible venue commemorating Slovene cultural heritage of the 20th century is set up as a museum inside the great architect’s house and holds a permanent exhibition on Plečnik. The great architect wrote in a letter once that he wanted to live in a tower, explaining his vision with "A Tower, a mule, me and the garden". We know you were looking forward to it, but you won’t find a mule there. As with all great iimaginators, realising all your imaginations kind of kills the game. So forgive him the mule and visit Plečnik’s crib to see where this dropout turned genius lived and worked after he returned to Ljubljana from his time in Vienna and Prague. A house can tell you much about a person. And this architect used tricks to ensure he didn’t enjoy too many visitors for too long, such as keeping the place cool and breezy and the chairs uncomfortable. You’d do well to get the full story by booking a guided tour of the place any day of the week except Monday, the last tour of the day starting at 17:00.
Now we’ll be turning back to where we came from, but just a word on some other interesting places to stumble upon when walking around Trnovo district. If you continue along Karunova, you’ll find the now abandoned, famed and loved cultural centre “KUD” on your right. What is now an empty, decaying parking lot, ex-caffe garden and low, graffitied building hosting a stage, gallery space and offices, this place, first called the Kulturno in umetniško društvo France Prešern (Culture and Arts Center France Prešern) and later CSK FP - Center slovanskih kultur France Prešern (The center for slavic cultures) hosted one of city's best summer festival Trnfest and for years played house for different alternative arts of the stage, from improvised theatre groups and various concerts to local burlesque squad evenings, exhibitions and locals.
When you get to the end of Karunova street,you can either walk across the road you meet and turn left to get some traditional slovenian dishes at Gostilna pod Vrbo or turn right on Ziherlova to go on a quest to find the city’s most oily pizza at Pizzeria Julči. Before getting to Julči, which is hiding in a quiet, residential area of Trnovo and you’ll surely find it with the help of google maps, do notice a home for the elderly, where, if you look carefully and the balconies, somewhere more to the top left of the building, look for a red star that might be decoration the balcony of a certain Svetlana Makarovič. Below the elderly home is a hairdressers that is called “Trnow stalj”. “Trnow stalk” or the “Trnovo style” is also the name of Klemen Klemen’s first album released in 2000. If you haven’t heard of Klemen Klemen, you don’t know much about the city, or what it’s really about, so go ahead and check out some of his songs and videos on youtube, where he raps about street life and the art of survival in the city.
If you haven’t decided on a hunt for Makarovič, Klemen Klemen and Julči and have decided to turn left at the end of Karunova to find your way back to the river and ignore the main path of our walking tour completely, you might bump into an old sports style building with tennis fields attached to it. It houses the legendary ŠD Trnovo, a sports society originating from the Sokolsko društvo Ljubljana II in 1908 which was part of the Sokol movement. If you’re into sports and Olympic medals, there’s an incredible open air exhibition right now at the Jakopič Promenade in Tivoli presenting Slovenian athletes and Olympic heroes.
After Plečnik House we return to Trnovo Church, where we watch out for the traffic again, cross the bridge and turn right. Part of the Eipprova renovation project we mentioned earlier is the Gradaščica riverbanks we see on our right, pimped up to what they used to look like when Plečnik got a hold of them. Coming up, you’ll see a small Rooster’s footbridge.
The riverbank below is the setting for spring celebrations called 'Gregorčki', which stems from the traditional Slovene lover’s day Gregorjevo in March. And to make sure we don’t miss some opportunities to celebrate happy endings forever (Gregorjevo and Valentine’s day are obviously not enough), the Gradaščica riverbanks held the first Ljubljana LUV festival last year.
Shortly up ahead, you’ll find the renovated Plečnik’s Perišče or laundry place where we can imagine washerwomen crouching down over Ljubljanica to scrub the city’s underwear collection. Nowadays, you might find students sketching away at the picturesque surroundings, making use of the shade provided by huge trees and welcoming a cool breeze in the merciless summer heat.
THE LJUBLJANA 'BEACH'
Leaving the washerwomen behind we head on to arrive back at the Gradaščica - Ljubljanica confluence again, where we might rest eyes on a fisherman or two, fishing to the backdrop of the Ljubljana castle to the northeast. We’ll take a right here to land at the 'Ljubljana beach', or the Trnovo embankment, a former cargo terminal turned into a place of leisure by none other than the leisurely Plečnik. By day, it is simply the most breezy, beautiful, willow-ridden walkaway to rest your eyes and soul on, catch the glistening waves on the sometimes blue, other times brown or green river. With wooden benches and stone terraces to sit, people come here to talk, drink, read and just lazily gaze at the swans, nutrias and Ljubljanica boats or other forms of water entertainment designed by humankind. Pick a book every Saturday at the Library under the Treetops, walk your dog, have a drink at Klub Rečnih Kapitanov that offers boat captains to tie up and have a well deserved drink after a whole day of fishing tourists. You’ll also find an amazing place to get some good meaty Slovenian dishes just a few stairs up from the beach at Jakob Franz. At night, the beach is occupied by the young and young at heart, with a strict Bring Your Own Booze policy, guitars and smokes of all shapes and sizes.
FROM TRNOVO TO PRULE
Not only does Ljubljana have its own beach - it also has an island! Whether you’ve had your river captain cocktail under the bridge or are saving yourself for it later, climb up slightly from the beach to cross the Opekarski (Brickmaker’s) bridge, also known as the Prule bridge. You are entering the Prule district, or 'the island' as some locals call it. Home to 'Žabci' or 'frogs', Prule is synonymous with the German word 'Bruhl', meaning swamp. This is probably where the original term 'žabarji' or 'frog-dwellers' Slovenians from Maribor call people from Ljubljana, insinuating that being from the swamp that is Ljubljana, they’ve grown interdigital fold or 'skin for swimming' between their fingers.
Prule, a district separated from Golovec and the Castle hill by Karlovška street used to be a wet, swampy land across which farmers would transport their produce to the city centre from Ljubljansko Barje. As we turn right and find our way right back down towards the river, we are now walking where the real Ljubljana beach was back in the 19th century, stretched out from the bridge we just crossed all the way to Špica. It was a beach for the public and the army, soldiers would be teaching citizens to swim and apparently, many swimmers were frowned upon for public display of too much skin. You can get a real feel of the beach shenanigans by watching one of the first slovene iconic comedy films Vesna. Not only a great way to cool off in water temperature of 16 degrees during summer heat and flaunt your skin to blushing washerwomen, it was also a great source of entertainment with waterpolo and rowing competitions and boat feuds organised during summer. The grand prize for the last dry boatmen standing would be a huge chunk of prosciutto or 50 litres of wine that would be hanging from Prule bridge for all to crave.
As we turn right and find our way back towards the river, we are now walking where the original Ljubljana beach was in the 1960s, stretched out from the bridge we just crossed into Špica. Špica or 'Pointed end' takes its name from its shape - pointy, and it is also the return point for tourist boats that either turn here or a little upstream. It is relatively peaceful, albeit more crowded as the warmer months commence, a place to chill, have ice cream, feed nutrias and sunbathe. Many events are organised here, such as the Afriška VasFest, and many people pass the area on their way to the Botanical gardens.
If you’re feeling adventurous and you’ve got your straw hat on to guide you from the heat and social relations, you really should wander a little off road from this walking tour and go see Plečnik’s most innovative church Cerkev sv. Mihaela in Ljubljansko Barje. You can cross Hladnikova brv to the Botanical gardens, buy one of the best pastries in town at the Kruharije and Cukrnije shop of the Biotechnical educational centre and stop for a cold drink at the Botanical gardens’s teahouse Čajnica Primula before you head there. The walk to Plečnik’s smallest church will take you about 45 minutes, or you can catch bus 19 at Trnovo station in Prule, get off at the station Barje and walk 10 min.
THE BELLY OF THE FROG
Walk along Grubarjevo nabrežje to the left of Špica to see the boats parked and turn up and left just before the Croatian Embassy to Prijateljeva or 'Friend’s' street. We are now in the heart of the residential area of Prule, the Belly of the Frog, where Prulčani and Prulčanke eat, sleep and watch you from the balcony. Keep going straight and Prijateljeva will bring us straight to the cult live music bar and cafe Prulček, which is right next to the city’s very own centre for contemporary dance PTL - Dance Theatre Ljubljana. Not only does Prulček contribute to Ljubljana’s live music scene with incredible local and international artists playing all sorts of instruments and genres, PTL next door organises festivals like Ukrep and brings artists from far and near to create stage masterpieces of theatre, dance and all in between and beyond.
Now if you’re feeling hungry at this point and have a lot of time to spare, turn right after this unique little “cultural Mercator square” you’ve discovered and find your way up to the busy Karlovška street, walk out of the limits of our walking tour and order some incredibly delicious Hacapuri megruli at the Georgian restaurant.
We’ve had Georgian before, so we’ll take a left after the Dance Theatre instead and just before continuing all the way towards the river again, we’d like to bring your attention to two addresses on Zvonarska street to your left, the number 11 and 13. They might not look like anything special, but it might interest you to know that these used to be brothels or “houses of tolerance” in Ljubljana at the turn of the century. Don’t stare, you won’t find anything that interesting in the current residents over there now, on the contrary, they might squint at you suspiciously, it’s just for you to remember Ljubljana is known as one of the cleanest capitals in the world.
Tolerance aside, we continue towards the river, and just before crossing the street to get to it, we take a right and walk right into the well-known Pizzeria Trta with small tables and large pizzas spread out on the pavement. A little up ahead is the popular craft beer place named after the german word for Ljubljana, Pivnica Lajbah. With crowds gathering in its stylish garden during summer and DJs to spice up the atmosphere, it’s a great place to get some exotic food to match the exotic beer and vice versa. Take a right just before Lajbah to walk back into the belly of Žabjak, the kingdom of the aforementioned frogs of 'Žabci'. You’ll notice two things here that are conveniently placed in each other’s vicinity - a pharmacy and a popular local wine selling shop. Turn left and continue straight on this narrow little street and take a second right to arrive near an antique furniture shop owned by the parents of someone we know. We won’t get into that story now, so take a left on Zvezdarska street and you’ll find the awesome garden of Kiparna or the 'Sculptor's place' on your left, while the building on our right holds the great Archives of the Republic of Slovenia. Turn left towards the river again through the little path in the grass towards the end of Kiparna’s Garden to arrive at a small square.
That brings us to an end of our walking, drinking, eating, maybe swimming, maybe guitar playing tour. If you’ve enjoyed it, you’ll probably venture back and try to look at things we’ve mentioned from other angles, have lunch or a coffee or ice-cream, or keep coming back throughout your visit to get a taste of Prule and Trnovo again and again. With its frog culture, river traffic, and vegetable produce, it was an important, fun and busy part of the city’s life, and a real district for the blending of old traditions and innovative artistic thought. Plečnik did all he could to bring and keep the significance of the river close to the everyday life of the people living right next to it. He succeeded in making it a real blessing to reside in the area, as today, Prule and Trnovo are known as the lively, green, peaceful and romantic areas of Ljubljana.
Every Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun
|The 35th Ljubljana Graphic Biennale|