Festivals are like birthday parties for the places in which they take place. The city puts on its party dress and fills its streets with celebration. It’s why seeking out festivals can make for an extra special holiday. Depending on the festival genre, it means you get to see the city let loose, spruce up, or display its finest talents.
Our recent trip to the Nights in Ljubljana Old Town festival was a great example of this. Fairytale Ljubljana is the type of city that would look good in rags, but add a bit of festive spirit and it becomes something even better. The buzz becomes bigger, the smiles wider and excitement pervades the air. There is magic all around.
Nights in Ljubljana Old Town is a three-day festival celebrating the city’s music and all the cultures that make it up. You can hear anything from African choir music to Baltic jazz, and all is set within the charming streets of the city’s picturesque old town. You can watch concerts in front of beautiful baroque architecture, see soloists by candlelight in hidden alleys, or eat dinner alongside a jazz stage. It’s the type of festival that’s best enjoyed while wandering and seeing what you might find next. My highlight was the opening concert – a tour around the world’s music, from didgeridoos to classical violins and thumping African dance – all enjoyed with a glass of wine and a view of the pretty town hall.
As the main activity takes place at night, it gives ample opportunity to explore the rest of the city during the day. There’s the medieval castle that sits on a hill overlooking the city. Climb to its highest turret and you’ll have a 360 degree view of all Ljubljana. There are plenty of museums and galleries to keep you busy, but perhaps the best pastime of all is simply walking the city streets. Ljubljana is one of Europe’s most charming capitals, with a pedestrianized old town filled with pretty pastel-coloured buildings and cobbled, winding streets. Do some shopping in its unique boutiques or enjoy a coffee and traditional prekmurska gibanica cake in one of the many riverside cafes. It’s a city that begs for you to take photos or simply admire with your eyes.
If you have some time before or after the festival, it’s worth exploring some more of Slovenia. It’s a small country so most places can be reached within an hour or two. You could head south to the Vipava wine valley, or west to the lakes. Lake Bled is perhaps the most popular destination with its castle set perfectly amid turquoise waters. Lake Bohinj is a less busy, and still very pretty alternative. Caves, beaches and mountains are all within easy reach – Slovenia may be small, but it’s plentiful.
And whatever you do, enjoy the food. Slovenian cuisine is influenced by all four of its neighbours – Hungary, Italy, Croatia and Austria – but also has its own unique twist. I’m vegetarian and it’s one of the best countries I’ve ever been to for veggie fare. Top recommendations include: Majerija in Vipava, Spajza in Ljubljana and Hiša Franko in the Soča Valley. I’m salivating at the memory!
Tips and Insights
- If you’re in Ljubljana on a Friday, don’t miss the Open Kitchen food market, featuring street food from around the world.
- Join other bookworms for some al fresco reading at the Library under the Treetops in the Castle courtyard in Ljubljana.
- Taking a road trip is a great way to explore Slovenia. Journey times are short and there’s plenty to explore. In three days, you could visit mountains, lakes, vineyards and beaches.
Did you know....
- With a population of 300,000, Ljubljana is one of Europe’s smallest capitals.
- Two other festivals happen around the same time as Nights in Ljubljana Old Town. There is the Ljubljana Festival with its summer programme of classical music, and the Mladi Levi (Young Lions) festival, which features progressive theatre from around Europe.