The Ljubljanica is Ljubljana’s main watercourse, flowing right through the heart of the Old Town, and attracting many tourists to its riverside terraces and iconic bridges. It has a rich history and a delightful setting, making it an unforgettable part of any trip to Ljubljana. Today, we take a trip down the river.
History of the River
I used to live in London, and it strikes me that the Ljubljanica has a lot in common with the river Thames: it was first bridged by the Romans two millennia ago, and the city grew up around the river crossing. It is an archeological treasure-trove: artefacts spanning the centuries have been dredged up from the river bed, making it a magnet for modern-day treasure-hunters. Like the Thames, the river was considered sacred to inhabitants of the city for many centuries, which perhaps explains why they repeatedly cast objects of value into its waters.
In terms of geography, the Ljubljanica is the continuation of several karst rivers, including the Pivka which carved out Postojna cave. It begins at Vrhnika just south of Ljubljana, and flows into the Sava river around 10km downstream of the city centre.
A Trip down the River
In summer, there are plenty of tourist boat trips down the Ljubljanica river. Most begin from the Butcher’s Bridge (Mesarski Most) next to the central market. This bridge was built in 2010 and has been hung with many padlocks put there by lovers to symbolise their love. I have yet to fully understand or appreciate the symbolism of love as a padlock, but if anyone would care to enlighten me please go ahead! I prefer the sculptures by Jakov Brdar, depicting Prometheus amongst other semi-human figures.
The boat tours set sail just below the bridge (there are steps and a lift down to the jetty). We took the Zeleni Zmaj (green dragon) boat, and this was really enjoyable as you can sit right at the front of the boat for the best views. There was no commentary, but I actally quite enjoyed this as it allowed me to appreciate the calm and quiet of the river. If you want to know more about the city’s history and architecture with a running commentary, you can take the electric tourist train tour of the city.
The tour will take you under the Butcher’s Bridge and alongside the Petkovškovo nabrežje embankment: here on both sides of the river you will see some of Ljubljana’s finest architecture, much of it designed by the architect Jože Plečnik.
The next bridge (or rather, bridges) you will pass under will be the famous Tromostovje or Triple Bridge. The central bridge of the three is the oldest, built in 1832 to replace a wooden medieval bridge. Here you may wish to pause and consider that for centuries this bridge linked Northwestern, Habsburg Europe with the Balkans to the South. If Slovenia is truly a meeting point of several nations, this bridge perhaps best symbolises that connection. The additional side bridges were designed by Plečnik and added between 1929 and 1932 to become a unique architectural feature of the city.
The pedestrian Ribja Brv is a modern addition to the Ljubljanica’s bridges, built in 1991, it has a simple steel-and-glass structure and provides another crossing point for tourists. Of greater architectural importance and historical interest is the Šuštarski Most or Cobbler’s Bridge: much like London Bridge, some form of a river crossing at this point has existed since the early Middle Ages, and it has been rebuilt several times due to fire and other forms of damage and decay. The current stone bridge decorated with alternating Ionic and Corinthian columns was built in 1931 to Plečnik’s design.
On the return journey, you will also pass under the Dragon Bridge, just upstream from the Butcher’s Bridge. This bridge was constructed in 1901 from reinforced concrete, and is famous because of the four dragon statues which guard its entrance (two at each end) and symbolise the city itself. It was originally called the Jubilee Bridge of Emperor Franz Joseph I, in order to impress the then Austro-Hungarian Emperor.
After passing below the Castle and the famous Prešeren square, the tour continues into the weeping willow-lined terraces around the boating centre and close to the botanical gardens. These terraces were also designed by Plečnik, whose architectural impact on the city is evident all over the old town of Ljubljana.
This area of the river reminds me of the Thames around Richmond. Lush, green and a perfect place to relax on a summer afternoon. If you prefer a little more active way to visit the river, however, you could try a kayak tour or even a stand-up paddling tour. I think it’s fair to say the river has something to offer every visitor.
I hope you enjoyed this Postcard from Slovenia! Visit my Instagram page for more photos of the river tour.