Walking Tour: Tivoli Park & Lower Šiška

26 May 2023
Most locals will tell you that Ljubljana is a city made for bikes - a veritable cyclists' paradise in the making. They'll also tell you that it's a city made for bike theft, but that's not something we'll get into here. And while they're not wrong (on either count), if you ask us, the very best way of exploring Ljubljana, or pretty much any other city for that matter, is on your own two feet. First of all, at walking speed you have much more time to take in all the small details and it's much easier to stop and smell the proverbial roses. Second, you've got much less to worry about, namely running into people or getting hit by a car, if you're only strolling around at a reasonable 3-4km per hour. If you still need further convincing, there are all kinds of studies and anecdotal evidence from famous historical figures that trumpet the benefits of a good old walk about town. Anyway, without further adieu, this issue we're headed through Tivoli Park and then on to the neighbourhood of Lower Šiška.

From Prešeren to the park

Since Prešeren Square is the centre of town, the unofficial centre of the country and Ljubljana's most popular meeting point, we'll go ahead and start there. Čopova Ulica might only be a couple hundred meters, but it's one of the city's main pedestrian streets, which you'll take upwards and across Slovenska Cesta (keep an eye out for buses and cyclists), and continue on what is now Cankarjeva Ulica. Another couple hundred metres will have you passing the National Opera & Ballet on your left (that big black cube on the back is the...ahem...interesting modern addition) and the National Gallery on your right (which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2019). A few more steps and you'll notice a large yellow Serbian Orthodox church through the trees on the left and a low, boxy, rather aesthetically challenged building to the right. The Museum of Modern Art might not look like much from the outside, but it's constantly hosting some of the best exhibitions in the region, to go along with its extensive permanent collection. You've now got a clear line of sight to what will be the first main stop, Tivoli Mansion, which is that large mansion-looking building at the base of the hill across the park.

Now that you've spent all of five minutes walking across almost half the city (Ljubljana is quite small you see!), and past a half dozen of Ljubljana's major national cultural institutions, we're ready to slow down, take in some details and begin our walking tour in earnest! The passageway in front of you leads under the main road and railway tracks, and more often than not you'll be treated (whether you like it or not) to the music stylings of a busker or two, as the space offers some pretty decent acoustics. In the support beams in the middle of the passageway, you'll find two large circular openings and you've now got your first serious decision to make: either sit inside of one and have someone take your photo, or wait for a cyclist or pedestrian to walk past on the other side and snap a blurry, artistic shot. Don't worry, both options are totally original and will look excellent on your Instagram feed!

Tivoli Park: The city's green heart

Up the steps and now you're in Tivoli Park proper, standing at the beginning of the Jakopič Promenade, which is almost always hosting an interesting open-air, large-format photography exhibition. If you visit in March, you'll find A City with Plečnik's Signature, which features some stunning shots of the master architect's work around the city (and is not the last time you'll be reading his name during this walk). Take your time to check out the works, and breath in the fresh park air, as you stroll down the promenade and the sounds of the city slowly give way to the chirping of birds, laughter of children and crunching of gravel beneath your feet. You'll soon arrive at Tivoli Mansion, which is home to the International Centre for Graphic Arts. The 19th century estate also has a very intriguing origin story, which we only very recently learned about on a visit to Ruska Dača (see page 52), but won't spoil for you here.

Peering over the shoulder of Tivoli Mansion, you'll see another large building, which will be your first actual stop on this tour. But before mounting the hill take advantage of a couple more photo opportunities. First is another great selfie spot next to the charming Dancing Couple sculpture in the small lawn, while four-legged tourists will find their own chance for a selfie in the form of the two canine statues guarding the bottom of the stairs (which always remind us of that scene from Ghostbusters). Now up to the building that looks like it was relocated from a Bavarian mountain top.

A little piece of Switzerland in Ljubljana

Originally opened in 1835 as Hotel Tivoli, it was not long before locals began referring to it as Švicarija (Slovene for 'Switzerland') due to its distinctive architectural style, and for decades it served as a centre of Ljubljana's social scene. Now it's the perfect spot to take a break on the terrace and enjoy a coffee or tea along with the leafy green vistas of the park and the city in the distance. After your refreshment you could head into the forest, along one of the popular pathways to the top of Rožnik hill, but quite frankly we've already had enough of nature and exercise for one day, so we're going to take you in the opposite direction.

Bid this little piece of Switzerland auf wiedersehen, and follow the pathway down, but this time you'll want to veer a bit to the north, in the general direction of a large concrete monstrosity that is now home all kinds of activities. If you can't see it through the trees, listen for the sounds of skateboards sliding across metal rails and concrete, as there's a newly built skatepark next to the ramp leading upwards. Of the many facilities here our favourite is by far Spider Bowling, mainly because we were born in the US, bowling is awesome and we're much better at it than all of the people we regularly play with (winning makes everything more fun - that's just a fact). It's also the only alley anywhere near the city centre, making it super convenient to roll a few games any time of the day or night. Our pro tips for improving your game are 1) focusing on the triangles at the top of the lane rather than the pins, 2) keeping the same routine and number of steps each roll, and 3) drinking at least two large beers. There's unfortunately no time to play, as we've spent too much time in the park and really need to hurry up now - we're running out of daylight (and room on this page).

Grunge is dead, long live grunge!

On the way out of the park, there'll be another mansion on your left hand side, this one housing the Museum of Contemporary History. It's one of our favourite cultural institutions in the city, with lots of great Yugostalgia items in the permanent collection that brings you all the way up to 2008. While the iconic yellow Yugo Zastava car is no longer out front, if you're in the mood for another unique selfie (it's been a while since your last one!), you should be able to find it hidden around the back of the building to the right. It's looking a bit worse for wear these days, but that just makes it even more photogenic in our book. And now you're also standing next to the answer to one of the most interesting bits of contemporary history in Ljubljana. No, not the museum, but the building next door, Hala Tivoli. One of the city's oldest major concert venues, this is where Nirvana played their second to last show ever, on 28 February 1994, before Kurt Cobain's untimely death just over a month later. Music aficionados and grunge gurus will be even more impressed by the fact that they shared the stage that evening with the Melvins, who were Cobain's heroes and are somehow still touring three decades later. Now we've really got to hurry!

The last few steps out of the park will take you past the city centre's only mini golf course (which has recently been renovated), and one of the handful of places that can truly be called a Ljubljana institution: the original location of Hot Horse, which has been serving up piping hot horse burgers since almost the days of that legendary Nirvana concert next door. Back on the main road and what passes for an urban environment in these parts, we've now got to pick up the pace, so no time to cross the street to the Union Brewery for a pint, meal or award-winning Union Experience tour, nor can we stop at Lepa Žoga, Ljubljana's most popular sports bar, which now even has a bike park next door.

On the road to Klagenfurt

Another few steps down the road, known as Celovška Cesta (or Klagenfurt Road) as it runs all the way to, you guessed it, Klagenfurt in Austria, will bring you to what is exclusively referred to as the Old Church (Stara Cerkev) by locals. Originally built in 1370, its real name is St Bartholomew's Church (Cerkev Sv Jerneja), which we literally just learned as we were writing this. At the next corner you'll find Jagode, which according to an Australian-Slovene and certified foodie friend of ours has the very best kebab in Ljubljana. We've never tried it, at least not sober enough to remember, and unfortunately won't be able to do so this time either, as we've got to cross the road and then round the corner to Aljaževa Ulica. Why? Because with all due respect to Gornji Trg, Križevniška Ulica and countless other contenders for the title of Prettiest Street in Ljubljana, there's no prettier sight than this unassuming strip of tarmac when the trees that line it are in full bloom come in spring each year!

Of cakes and churches

Before walking this flowery pink gauntlet, settle into a table at the wonderful Čopomana, a family-run bakery and cafe, that makes some incredible cakes and homemade ice cream, and has long been one of our personal local favourites anywhere in town. With that caffeine and/or sugary goodness coursing through your veins, you'll definitely be in high spirits for the last leg of this now epic journey, which finally comes to an end down the street and around yet another corner at the Church of St Francis of Assisi. In our humble opinion it's one of the most impressive of Plečnik's (see, we told you you'd hear his name again!) many, many, many original creations in Ljubljana, and is all the more fascinating due to the fact that it's well off the beaten path and rarely visited by tourists, despite being just a couple kilometres from the centre of the city.


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