Architecture

Top 23 Spots You Shouldn’t Miss in Ljubljana If You Love Architecture

Earlier this year, my friend and photographer Philipp Heer and I, explored Ljubljana for the first time. We were positively surprised by the vast number of green areas, elaborate bridges and lively atmosphere. We arrived on a Friday. Our trip, however, didn’t begin with a building visit as usual, it began with dinner. So, we set up in motion by savouring the capital’s essence: Slovenian dumplings.

Philipp and I travel for architecture. We spend months researching a city; scouting buildings, tracking the most obscure and secret locations, and scrutinising angles to capture these structures in their full splendour. But we are always dazed when we are in person.

Ljubljana is a city that has many layers. Its beginnings as a Roman city are still visible (a wall, the world’s oldest wooden wheel and the roads in and out of the city to name a few). Its contemporary vestiges might have aged, but their meaning hasn’t – think of the Republic Square or Brutalist petrol stations. It’s when we visit in person that we are able to truly feel these places and understand these layers.

Some people can cover Ljubljana in a weekend, but we thought it of impossible. This is our attempt to share our architectural visits, with the hope of returning and discovering yet another layer of this beautiful city in the future.


1. Ljubljana Castle

© Philipp Heer

Ljubljana’s most symbolic point of reference is the Castle. Perched on a hill above the city for about 900 years, Ljubljana’s Castle defended the empire against the Ottoman invasion as well as peasant revolts. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the castle became an arsenal and a military hospital. It was damaged during the Napoleonic period and – once back in the Austrian Empire – became a prison, which it remained until 1905, resuming that function during World War II. Most recently, renovation efforts have brought back to life forgotten areas such as the lapidary (see photo above), a space for showcasing well-preserved, undamaged, buried inner structures of the rampart as well as the archaeological remains of the castle’s earlier stages. Read more here.

Architect: Ambient
Location: 
Grajska planota, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 2009 (Lapidary KLMT and mini theatre)


2. Cukrarna

© Philipp Heer

Lording it by the languorous Ljubljanica river, Cukrarna – a former sugar refinery – stands proud. Its renovation is one of the most successful building conversions of the last ten years. Ljubljana, full of abandoned and semi ruined architecture, is advocating for transformation, not demolition, a difficult task nowadays. In late 2018, the Municipality of Ljubljana began, with financial support of the Slovenian Government and European Regional Developmental Fund, and in cooperation with the Museums and Galleries of Ljubljana, the first real renovation of the building. The essence of the project is the creation of a space dedicated to contemporary art and culture on the national an international level. The result was a success. Read more here.

Architect: Scapelab
Location: 
Poljanski nasip 40, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 1934/2021


3. Republic Square

© Philipp Heer

Republic Square was the result of a competition that was intended to create an appropriate site in which to erect the Monument to the Revolution. Architect Edvard Ravnikar, a student of architect Jože Plečnik in the years 1938-39, won the open-call competition. He wanted to introduce a new dimension and a new social place to the nation’s capital. The resulting design has its roots in the country’s history, marked with public buildings and places where important events have taken place. Republic Square, –which was originally called Revolution Square and renamed after Slovenia became independent in June 1991 – is the largest square in Ljubljana. Read more here.

Architect: Edvard Ravnikar
Location: 
Trg republike, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 1960-1983


4. Triple Bridge

© Dunja Wedam

Ljubljana is replete with gorgeous bridges, but few are as charming as Tromostovje, the Triple Bridge. The central of the three bridges forming the Triple Bridge has stood in its place since 1842, when it replaced an old, strategically important medieval wooden bridge connecting the north-western European lands with south-eastern Europe and the Balkans. Between 1929 and 1932, the side bridges, intended for pedestrians, were added to the original stone bridge to a design by the architect Jože Plečnik. Nowadays, all three bridges are fully pedestrian. It has a key position on the crossing of Plečnik’s two urban axes, the river axis and the axis running between the Rožnik and castle hills. Read more here.

Architect: Jože Plečnik
Location: 
Adamič-Lundrovo nabrežje 1, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 1932


5. National and University Library of Slovenia (NUK)

© Philipp Heer

Amongst the cobbled streets around the university area of Ljubljana, you’ll find the imposing walls of the National and University Library of Slovenia: A gem of a building bequeathed to the city by Jože Plečnik. It was modelled in the manner of the Italian palazzo, similar to the house of the Italian architect Federico Zuccari. The interior comprises four wings and the central hallway. Light comes to the main entrance through windows in the main reading room, which is at the top of the main staircase, oriented crosswise. This symbolises the central thought of the building’s architecture, ‘From the twilight of ignorance to the light of knowledge and enlightenment’. The staircase and its 32 columns are built of the dark Podpeč marble, which is actually limestone. Don’t miss the handles of the main door, they end with a little head of Pegasus. Read more here.

Architect: Jože Plečnik
Location: 
Turjaška ulica 1, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 1941


6. Petrol Stations

© Philipp Heer

One of the surprising concrete structures that you’ll find across the capital are these unique petrol stations, they were built between 1950 and 1970 by Milan Mihelič. They typify a distinct time period of mid-century modernism in Yugoslavia. These petrol stations were of a pioneering design that combined the material sciences and engineering innovations occurring through the early 1950s and combined these advances with the modernist architectural aesthetics of a style of regional building design called “Slovene Structuralism”. Out of this combination came a series of mushroom-shaped concrete structures whose streamlined gravity-defying shapes inspired one to think to the future, while simultaneously ushering in some the very first ‘modern’ service stations in Slovenia. Read more here.

Architect: Milan Mihelič
Location: 
Tivolska cesta 46, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 1970’s


7. Narodni muzej Slovenije

© Philipp Heer

Along with the Slovenian Museum of Natural History, located in the same building, the National Museum of Slovenia is the country’s oldest scientific and cultural institution. The museum has an extensive collection of archaeological artefacts, old coins and banknotes and displays related to the applied arts. The main building of the National Museum – the true gem for the archie lover – was built in the Neo-Renaissance style by the master builder Wilhelm Treo in collaboration with Jan Vladimír Hráský between 1883 and 1885. Treo mostly followed the plans by the Viennese architect Wilhelm Rezori. The interior was designed by Hráský, with the ceiling of the main hall decorated with medaillons by the painters Janez and Jurij Šubic. Read more here.

Architect: Jan Vladimír Hráský
Location: 
Muzejska ulica 1, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 1885


8. Cathedral of St. Nicholas

© Philipp Heer

With its classic twin towers and trademark single, weather-worn green dome, the city’s cathedral encapsulates everything that represents Ljubljana. Small and interesting, but not too exciting at first glance, a longer look at its history and finer details reveals its hidden charm and beauty. Built on the site of a much earlier church, the cathedral’s main structure and appearance date from the first half of the 18th century. Inside the Baroque masterpiece is a cavalcade of classic creams and golds, littered with extraordinarily detailed frescoes and possessing that calming feeling that only a great church can bring. Don’t forget to check out the astonishing pair of bronze doors on the western and southern sides. Read more here.

Architect: Milan Mihelič
Location: 
Tivolska cesta 46, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 1970’s


9. Vurnik house

© Philipp Heer

The Cooperative Commercial Bank in the Miklošičeva street is one of Ljubljana’s landmark buildings. It  was designed by architect Ivan Vurnik in 1921 and is considered as one of the finest examples of national style. The interior includes a Baroque painted hall with a glass ceiling, consisting of small blue glass squares, with a decorative strip of glass pieces of different colours. Stained glass windows depicting geometric patterns decorate also the staircase hall on the first two floors. The painted hall and façade is the work of the architects’ wife Helena Vurnik, a Viennese by birth, who was involved in her husband’s exploration and creation of typical Slovenian architecture. The geometric decoration is executed in red, white and blue, the colour combination of the Slovenian flag, featuring motifs from the wealth of Slovenian iconography: a stylised landscape of spruce forests, wheat fields and vines, and the motive of women in the Slovenian national costume. Read more here.

Architect: Ivan Vurnik
Location: 
Zadružna Gospodarska Banka, Miklošičeva cesta, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 1921


10. Semeniška knjižnica

© Florian Olbrechts

The library in the Seminary Palace is the hidden pearl of the Baroque Ljubljana. You enter through the impressive entrance portal, made in 1714 in the Luka Mislej’s workshop, supported by the statues of Hercules, which are the work of the sculptor Angelo Putti. The two-storey library was founded in 1701 on the initiative of Academia Operosorum members and was the first public library in Ljubljana. The library was dedicated to the public for 50 years, and then it was left to the theologians. In 1721, Giulio Quaglio painted the ceiling of the library. Qualio’s painting represents the Allegory of Theology that gives power to Faith, next to it are Hope and Love. A massive reading table is adorned with three baroque globes. Read more here.

Architect: Giulio Quaglio
Location: 
Tržnica, Tržnica, Dolničarjeva ulica 4, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 1721


11. Skatepark under the Fabiani bridge

© Philipp Heer

At the initiative of skateboarders, a new skate park under the Fabiani bridge near Cukrarna was constructed, reviving the entire lower part of the Fabiani bridge. The skate park is equipped with a semi-circular mini-ramp and placed between the 4 pillars of the bridge, and two smaller concrete elements. The entrance to it is through a swinging double door, and lighting is provided at bight so that skateboarders can use it even in the evening hours. By building skateboard parks, the young (and the young at heart) can spend their free time actively. Read more here.

Location: Poljanski nasip 40, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 2018


12. Ljubljana Central Market

© Matevž Paternoster

The so-called ‘Plečnik’s Covered Market’, built to designs by the architect Jože Plečnik between 1940 and 1944, is conceived as a two-storey range of riverside market halls following the curve of the river. Shops offering Slovenian products and catering establishments are located in the upper storey. The Central Market consists of an open-air market, located in the Vodnikov trg and Pogačarnev trg squares, a covered market situated in between the two squares, and a series of small food shops along the river Ljubljanica, which are referred to as ‘Plečnik’s Covered Market’ as they are located in a colonnade designed by Ljubljana’s famous architect Jože Plečnik. Read more here.

Architect: Jože Plečnik
Location: 
Adamič-Lundrovo nabrežje 6, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 1944


13. Arena Stožice

© Philipp Heer

The Sports Park Stožice is a hybrid project. Its implementation is the result of the public-private partnership between the City of Ljubljana and the Grep development company. The Sports Park Stožice integrates a football stadium and a multi-purpose sports hall with a big shopping centre, covered by the artificial landscape of the recreational park. The park’s plateau, the edge of the shell scallops and opens towards the interior. The ridges continue all the way to the top, where the facade meets the dome. This outlines the shape of the hall, a shell that opens towards the perimeter with large crescent openings overlooking the park. Read more here.

Architect: SADAR+VUGA
Location: 
Arena Stožice, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 2010


14. Ferant Garden

© Philipp Heer

The business and residential complex Ferant Garden demonstrates that Edvard Ravnikar was not only the most visible and prominent representative of Modernism in Slovenia, but was also its most unrelenting critic. The design of Ferant Garden is an expression of Ravnikar’s critique of the block-of-flats residential construction that accompanied the growth and modernisation of cities in the mid-20th century, and a critique of the principles of modern urban planning that failed to recognise the social importance of open public spaces, streets and squares, or the programme diversity of the city parterre. Edvard Ravnikar built the building named Ferant Garden in the exact spot where Jože Plečnik’s birth house once stood. Read more here.

Architect: Edvard Ravnikar
Location: 
Slovenska cesta 9, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 1975


15. Slovenian Philharmonic Building

© Philipp Heer

The Slovenian Philharmonic (Slovenska filharmonija) is one of the world’s oldest institutions of the kind. Its rich history dates back to 1701 when the first musical association and main promoter of Baroque music in Slovenian inhabited areas were established under the name of Academia Philharmonicorum. The Slovenian Philharmonic Building was constructed in 1891 on the foundations of the former Estate Theatre (Stanovsko gledališče), built in 1763 to mark Emperor Joseph II’s formal visit to Ljubljana and destroyed in a fire in 1887. As a result of a competitive tender, the Graz-based Austrian architect Adolf Wagner was commissioned to develop the plans for the Slovenian Philharmonic Building. The building’s façade was designed in the neo-Renaissance style with rounded corners characteristic of theatre buildings of the time. In 1937, the architect Jože Plečnik added an annexe at the back of the building and redesigned the back facade. Read more here.

Architect: Adolf Wagner and Jože Plečnik (annex)
Location: 
Kongresni trg 10, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 1882


16. Žale Cemetery

© Philipp Heer

The romantic Žale Cemetery is another of Plečnik’s designs. Originally commissioned in 1936 to architect Ivo Spinčič, Plečnik came to rescue after the plans failed to please the authorities. 1940 saw the completion of an unconventionally designed funeral home called Žale, which housed Ljubljana’s first chapels of rest and was quite unlike any other funeral home of the time. Its name subsequently became the name of the entire cemetery complex. The entrance to the Žale Cemetery is marked by a monumental arch with a two-storey colonnade (see photo above), which symbolically divides the world of the dead from the world of the living. Opposite the arch stands the cemetery’s main oratory, inspired by classical models. Chapels of rest are designed on a variety of different architectural models, from classical Greek to Byzantine and Oriental. Some are based on a combination of the three styles, some on pure imagination. In this way, Plečnik enhanced the concept of equality of all religions. Read more here.

Architect: Jože Plečnik
Location: 
Na Žalah 5, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 1940


17. ALEJA

© Philipp Heer

ALEJA integrates the genius loci of the city into its modern, highly-functional retail architecture. The interior invokes the urban-poetic charm of the historic centre of Ljubljana, while the form and the elevations are inspired by the city’s heraldic animal. With its diamond-shaped shingles of metal and coloured glass, the façade recalls the skin of a dragon, as well as meeting ambitious targets in terms of lighting technology and energy efficiency. Read more here.

Architect: ATP architects engineers
Location: 
Rakuševa ulica 1, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 2020


18. Plečnik House

© Matevž Paternoster

Plečnik House comprises a complex of two neighbouring houses and an adjacent garden with a lapidary, which, along with Plečnik’s original furniture, library, drawing tools, personal belongings, and a large archive of sketches, plans, photographs, and models all form part of the Plečnik Collection. One of the two houses within the complex was bought by the architect’s brother Andrej in 1915. When Plečnik returned to Ljubljana in 1921, he and his two brothers and a sister decided to live together, so the architect built a cylindrical annexe to the house (1925). Later he added a glassed porch and, after purchasing an older suburban house next door, a conservatory (1930). Despite the agreement between the siblings to live together, only the architect’s brother Janez lived in the house for a while. When he moved out, Plečnik refurbished the house to make it suit his own requirements. Interestingly, the refurbishment and extension works to the two houses were often done using leftover materials from Plečnik’s other projects. Read more here.

Architect: Jože Plečnik
Location: 
6, Karunova ulica 4, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 1930


19. Ljubljana Mosque

© David Schreyer

Much like its historical predecessors – the case of Sarajevo mosques during 19th century being a nearby example, where mosque complexes (built by rich donors) were the starting points, the ‘seeds’ for the development of the new parts of the city, the new complex becomes one such thing for this part of Ljubljana. The programme of the centre consists of a religious school building, a cultural and office programme, an apartment building for the employees of the community, a restaurant, as well as the mosque, the first one to be built in Slovenia, all of them supported by car parking in the basement. The new buildings of the centre are positioned as separate entities, autonomous buildings surrounding the central square area with a mosque in the centre of it. They are simple volumes, oriented always towards the ‘outside’ world with their respective programmes, simultaneously surrounding the mosque building and allowing views towards it form all sides through the gaps in-between them. Read more here.

Architect: Bevk Perović arhitekti
Location: 
Džamijska ul. 10, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 2020


20. Nebotičnik

© Nancy da Campo

The Nebotičnik Cafe, located on the top of the Nebotičnik (Skyscraper) building, a venerable example of architecture between the two World Wars, affords some of the most beautiful views of Ljubljana opening out in all directions. Built in 1933 to designs by Vladimir Šubic, the Skyscraper was the tallest building on the Balkans and the 9th tallest building in Europe at the time of its construction. The slightly above 70-metre high Skyscraper was built on the model of American skyscrapers and equipped with several technical novelties of the time, including fast lifts, air conditioning and fuel oil central heating. Read more here.

Architect: Vladimir Šubic
Location: 
Štefanova ulica 1, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 1933


21. Brilejeva ulica

© Philipp Heer

No architect should miss the suburban architecture of the post war. The shortage of housing, tight budget and political situation, make these dense blocks an interesting case study. Amongst the many blocks of council housing, I found these rather representative. They are organised in pairs, with a road in the middle separating traffic from pedestrian traffic and are roughly 10 stories high. At basement level there’s a parking, then small shops – convenience stores, launderette and small shops – and then the residential block.

Location: Brilejeva ulica, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 1950’s


22. JB Restaurant

© Philipp Heer

Though strictly speaking this is more art than architecture, what’s better than eating in the most beautiful environment? Janez Bratovz is a chef renowned throughout Slovenia and further afield but his restaurant in the centre of Ljubljana not only offers a refined culinary experience, but also immaculately curated modern art. This sets the scene for the food, where experience, consistency and thorough local sourcing have been the key ingredients for more than a quarter of a century. The tasting menus are the ideal introduction to Slovenia’s cuisine and provenance. It’s one you don’t want to miss! Read more here.

Location: Miklošičeva cesta 19, 1000 Ljubljana (Google)
Year: 1992


23. Farewell Chapel

© Tomaz Gregoric

This farewell chapel is located in a village close to Ljubljana. The site plot is next to the existing cemetery and the chapel is cut into the rising landscape. The shape is following the lines of the landscape trajectories around the graveyard – three curved walls are embracing and dividing the programs. The external curve is dividing the surrounding hill from chapel plateau and also reinstates main supporting wall. Services such as storages, wardrobe restrooms and kitchenette are on the inner side along the wall. On the other hand, the internal curve is embracing the main farewell space. It is partly glazed and it is opening towards outside plateau for summer gatherings. Read more here.

Architect: OFIS Arhitekti
Location: 
Krašnja, 1225 Lukovica (Google)
Year: 2009


Check these and other amazing locations on the map below or download the The Free Architecture Guide of Ljubljana

10 thoughts on “Top 23 Spots You Shouldn’t Miss in Ljubljana If You Love Architecture

  1. Pingback: The Free Architecture Guide of Ljubljana (PDF) | Virginia Duran

  2. Pingback: Ljubljana’s Plečnik – a sketch | Virginia Duran

  3. Pingback: 9 Architecturally Exciting Destinations For A European Autumn Break | Virginia Duran

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