10 reasons to travel to Ljubljana

When I found cheap airfare from Istanbul to Ljubljana, I didn’t find many other travelers who’d been there or even say for sure which country it’s in. The tiny of country of Slovenia is slightly smaller than New Jersey and its capital city isn’t known for much other than being difficult to spell and pronounce (say “lyoob-lyAH-nah”). After spending a few days there last month, I quickly fell madly in love with the city, and recommend to everyone to add to their travel list.


Here are some reasons to love Ljubljana:

1. It’s Prague without the tourists – Ljubljana has been called the next Prague for at least the last 10 years, but the comparison is still apt. Architect Jože Plečnik is known for his work at Prague Castle, but he was born in Ljubljana and is responsible for much of the architecture in the old downtown and the Triple Bridge that practically defines the city. While Prague is a lovely place to visit, it’s overrun in summer with backpackers and tourists. In Ljubljana, the only English I heard was spoken with a Slovenian accent, and there were no lines at any of the city’s attractions.

2. Affordable Europe – While not as cheap as say, Bulgaria, Ljubljana is a lot easier on the wallet than other European capital cities and cheaper than most of its neighbors. I stayed in a perfect room above the cafe Macek in an ideal location for 65 euro a night. A huge three-course dinner for one with drinks at Lunch cafe was 20 euro, and a liter of local wine in the supermarket is around 3-4 euro. I paid 6 euro for entrance into 4 art museums for the Biennial, and the same for all of the castle, including the excellent Slovene history museum, and the funicular ride there and back.3. Everyone speaks English – Sharing borders with Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia is multi-cultural and multi-lingual. Everyone I met in Ljubljana spoke at least a few foreign languages including English; one supermarket cashier I met spoke six languages! While a language barrier shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying a foreign country, it’s great when communication is seamless and you can get recommendations from nearly every local you meet.

4. A delicious melting pot – Slovenia’s location also means a tasty diversity of food; think Italian pastas and pizzas, Austrian meats, and Croatian fish. One waiter I spoke to bemoaned the fact that he could never get a decent meal in ITALY like he can in Slovenia. While I’d never doubt the wonders of Italian food, I did have several meals in Ljubljana so good I wanted to eat them all over again as soon as I finished. Standout spots include Lunch Cafe (aka Marley & Me) and it’s next-door neighbor Julija.

5. Great wine – Slovenia has a thriving wine culture, but most of their best stuff stays in the country. A glass of house wine at most cafes is sure to be tasty, and cost only a euro or two. Ljubljana has many wine bars and tasting rooms that are approachable, affordable, and unpretentious. Dvorni Wine Bar has an extensive list, and on a Tuesday afternoon, there were several other mothers with babies, businesspeople, and tourists having lunch. I’m already scheming when to book a stay in a vineyard cottage, with local wine on tap.

6. Al-fresco isn’t just for summer – During my visit in early November, temperatures were in the 50s but outdoor cafes along the river were still lined with people. Like here in Istanbul, most cafes put out heating lamps and blankets to keep diners warm, and like the Turks, Slovenians also enjoy their smoking, which may account for the increase in outdoor seating (smoking was banned indoors a few years ago). The city’s large and leafy Tivoli Park is beautiful year-round, with several good museums to duck into if you need refuge from the elements.

7. Boutique shopping – The biggest surprise of Ljubljana for me was how many lovely shops I found. From international chains like Mandarina Duck (fabulous luggage) and Camper (Spanish hipster shoes) to local boutiques like La Chocolate for, uh, chocolate and charming design shop Sisi, there was hardly a single shop I didn’t want to go into, and that was just around the Stari Trg, more shops are to be found around the river and out of the city center.

8. Easy airport – This may not be first on your list when choosing a destination, but it makes travel a lot easier. Arriving at Ljubljana’s airport, you’ll find little more than a snack bar and an ATM outside, but it’s simple to grab a local bus into town or a shared shuttle for a few euro more. Departing from Slovenia, security took only a few minutes to get through, wi-fi is free, and there’s a good selection of local goodies at Duty Free if you forgot to buy gifts. LJU has flights from much of western Europe, including EasyJet from Paris and London.

9. Access to other parts of country – While Ljubljana has plenty to do for a few days, the country is compact enough to make a change of scenery easy and fast. Skiers can hop a bus from the airport to Kranj in the Slovenian Alps, and postcard-pretty Lake Bled is under 2 hours from the capital. In the summer, it’s possible to avoid traffic going to the seaside and take a train to a spa resort or beach. There are also frequent international connections; there are 7 trains a day to Croatia’s capital Zagreb, and Venice is just over 3 hours by bus.

10. Help planning your visit – When I first began planning my trip, I sent a message to the Ljubljana tourism board, and got a quick response with a list of family-friendly hotels and apartments. Next I downloaded the always-excellent In Your Pocket guide, which not only has a free guide and app, it also has a very active Facebook community with up-to-the-minute event info, restaurant recommendations, deals, and more. On Twitter, you can get many questions answered by TakeMe2Slovenia and VisitLjubljana.

VIDEO: Inside new German high-speed train

In 2013, Europe could become even easier to navigate, with a new high-speed train connecting Germany with other major cities in Western Europe. The new Deutsche Bahn train would travel at 200 miles per hour from London through the Euro Tunnel, arriving in Amsterdam in four hours (currently only reachable with a connection) and Frankfurt in five hours (down from seven hours on DB). Additional services are planned for Brussels, Cologne and Rotterdam and officials are hopeful this could pave the way for additional high-speed routes.

The above video from BBC goes inside a prototype train currently at London’s St. Pancras Station for safety checks and a test run. Reporter Richard Scott shows off the train’s reclining seats, real-time travel information, and even multi-country emergency stops. Let’s hope they work out any air conditioning problems for the new trains.

Photo of the day (10.14.10)

For many of us, dreaming about travel and planning a trip is a favorite part of a travel process. Those early days of discovering a destination and imagining the delights it may hold, before the reality of long airport security lines, bad hotel rooms, and jet lag spoil the fun, are some of the sweetest. This photo by Flickr user Chris Maki titled “Wanderlust” recalls the immense possibilities a map and a few guidebooks can hold. When traveling on frequent flyer miles, I used to look at places where American Airlines and Marriott hotels intersected (a lot of South America and Western European destinations), and now my inspiration tools include a Turkish Airlines timetable, a stack of inflight magazines, and a Kindle full of Lonely Planet guides.

Have any travel photos to inspire wanderlust? Upload them to our Gadling group on Flickr and we might use one as our Photo of the Day.

Travel from the rest of the world to the U.S. falls … again

Travel fell again in 2009, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data, as a weak economy put pressure on both personal and corporate travel budgets.

Only 3.6 million people arrived from other countries, marking a decline of 11 percent from June 2008 to June 2009. For the six months of the year, international arrivals were off 10 percent year-over-year. The spending situation was even worse. Guests to the United States fell 22 percent from June 2008 to June 2009, the eight month in a row in which this measure dropped. For the first half of the year, foreign visitors spent $60 billion – a 15 percent decline.

Travel from Canada took a hit in June, down 13 percent in June. Land arrivals fell 15 percent, with 11 percent fewer coming by air. For the first half of the year, Canadian visits were off 9 percent. The situation with Mexico was more favorable. Land arrivals jumped 5 percent, with air travel down 15 percent. Overall, travel from Mexico to the United States showed a modest decline of 1 percent for the month of June. For the year, however, visits from Mexico plunged 13 percent year-over-year.

Excluding Canada and Mexico, foreign visits fell for 16 of the top 20 countries in June – nine at double-digit rates. For the first two quarters of 2009, the results for the top 20 are the same, though only eight countries posted double-digit drops. Travel from Europe fell 11 percent for the first half of the year, with the United Kingdom posting a worse-than-average rate of 17 percent. This country accounts for 36 percent of all Western European arrivals, and Western Europe is responsible for close to half of all overseas visitors to the United States. Visits from Eastern Europe were up 3 percent from June 2008 to June 2009 and 1 percent for the first half of the year.

Asia, however, sustained the greatest drops. From June 2008 to June 2009, visitation from Asia fell 28 percent – driving the first-half results down 17 percent. Visits from Japan plunged 39 percent from June to June and 18 percent for the first half of the year. Japan sent 51 percent of Asian visitors to the United States in the first half of the year. Travel from South Korea and India fell 17 percent and 14 percent, respectively, with China down 4 percent for the first half of the year.

Record influx of visitors to U.S. in 2008

Last year, 58 million international visitors came to the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. That’s an increase of nearly 4 percent from 2007. To sweeten it up a bit, 13 of the top 25 arrivals markets saw new records set. In the last month of the year, nearly 4 million people came here from abroad – down 7 percent. The fourth quarter was down 6 percent year-over-year.

So, we saw most of the action in the first nine months of 2008.

The first three quarters were grand, last year. Seventeen of the top 20 arrivals markets were up from 2007, with one flat and two down. Visitors from Canada were growing at a double-digit rate, though trips from Mexico were down. The rest of the world was up 9 percent for the first nine months of 2008, relative to the same period in 2007.

It all changed at the beginning of October, though. Only 12 of the top 20 countries sent more visitors than in the first quarter of 2007. Canada and Mexico were down, and visits from the rest of the world dropped by 3 percent. You can check the arrival stats monthly by clicking here.
Canada sent 18.9 million people to the United States last year, most of them by land. But, air arrivals grew at a faster rate – 8 percent compared to 6 percent. Another 13.8 million people visited the United States from Mexico. The total is down 4 percent from 2007, with air arrivals down 9 percent.

A total of 25.3 million people visited from the rest of the world – i.e., countries other than Canada and Mexico. While this is up 6 percent from 2007, it’s still 2 percent below the record set in 2000. Since 2003, the number of guests arriving from overseas is up 33 percent.

Western Europe shows no signs of slowing down. Last year, that part of the world brought 12.2 million tourists to the United States, a 12 percent gain year-over-year. This group comprised 48 percent of all overseas arrivals. But, they slowed down in December (by 3 percent). France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark and Norway set arrival records.

  • Germany: 17 percent
  • France: 25 percent
  • Italy: 23 percent
  • Netherlands: 20 percent
  • Spain: 27 percent
  • Ireland: 8 percent
  • Sweden: 18 percent
  • Switzerland: 15 percent

No records were set in the United Kingdom. Visitors from the country to which we once belonged were up 1 percent for the year but down 14 percent in December. Thirty-seven percent of Western European arrivals come here from the United Kingdom.

And, there’s a hell of a lot more of this available, thanks to the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Travel & Tourism Industries.

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