In the 2,000 years since Caesar Augustus laid one of Ljubljana’s first stones, then for a settlement called Emona, this city has often hidden in plain sight. No longer: As Slovenia’s capital cheers its bimillenary throughout 2014, it’s putting its treasures on parade.
Emonan daily life and ancient artifacts take the spotlight at the City Museum of Ljubljana and National Museum of Slovenia, and the summer’s marquee festival—Ave, Emona (“Hello” in Latin)—takes over Congress Square with military and civic reenactments.
Meanwhile, Ljubljana’s modern renaissance plays out a few blocks away along the Ljubljanica River. An award-winning reinvigoration of its banks sparked efforts to also bring back the gleam of the baroque facades of Old Town. At cafés, restaurants, and wine bars serving seasonal ingredients and prized wines from the countryside, convivial crowds overflow onto cobblestoned walkways and squares.
Eastern Europe’s pocket-size surprise remains free of major hotel chains, and a dozen boutique hotels, including the hip Hotel Cubo and swanky Vander Urbani Resort, have in recent years infused modern design into historic structures. “Ljubljana is just small enough that you know everybody,” says Cubo’s general manager, Sandi Kovačevič, “but big enough to get lost.”
- Travel Tip: Glimpse the architectural legacy of native son Jože Plečnik (1872-1957)—Ljubljana’s Gaudí—on a walking tour.
- Travel Trivia: The city of Ljubljana’s emblem—a dragon—has roots in a Greek legend, which holds that Jason and the Argonauts battled one here.
This piece, written by Stephen Edwards, first appeared in the August/September issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.