For those of you who don’t know Ljubljana, you’re missing out on a really special place, especially in winter.
Centuries, even thousands of years old (think Roman era), this little town still provides a lesson when it comes to amazing food, even better wine, and fairytale-like architecture.
The small capital of the equally small nation of Slovenia has a magical Christmas feel in December and plenty of cozy winter amusements. With the picturesque old town and the heavenly Ljubljanica River, the city is a gem to stroll around.
Every season is special in itself, but the wintertime draws many tourists. Even though there are lots of visitors, the crowds aren’t a problem – the more the merrier is the rule during the winter time: everybody is socializing outdoors, strolling under the romantic Christmas lights, and shopping for decorations at the Christmas markets.
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Where to stay in Ljubljana
We’re in the process of creating comprehensive guides on where to stay in various Slovenian cities, but for now, we recommend checking out Booking.com as early as possible since this is a popular time to visit the city.
Winter Weather in Ljubljana
It does get cold between November and February, with the temperatures ranging from -5° Celsius to above 5° Celsius (23°F to 41° F), but with some sunny days, some foggy ones, mainly days with think, thick, cotton-like fog (which magically disappears at noon and then bam, sunshine!), and also some snowy days.
Yes, it does snow in Ljubljana, the first snow coming to put a magical blanket over the special Christmas decorations is in December, but not a lot and not for a long time.
But when it does, the little parks and streets and statues turn into a scene straight from your classic fairytale children’s books. Combine that with Christmas time and you get something that seems to come out straight from a Hollywood movie!
How Long to Stay in Ljubljana in Winter?
Due to the small size of this picturesque city, it takes you only one prolonged weekend to enjoy most of its sights. You can maybe take a week of your time and you’re in for a real treat in Ljubljana and its surroundings.
The Most Inspiring Things to Do in Ljubljana in Winter
In no particular order…
Celebrate the Christmas Season in Ljubljana
So for starters let’s talk about the holiday season. Even if you don’t celebrate the traditional version of Christmas, the Christmas markets all across Europe leave no soul indifferent.
Imagine a small, southeast European version of Vienna, Prague, or Budapest – that’s Ljubljana for you. From mulled wine and warm gin to the little Christmas markets and an amazing display of lights and shining Christmas trees all across town, experiencing the Christmas Markets in Ljubljana is one of the best things to do in Ljubljana in winter.
Combine that with sales at the best boutiques in the city center – think Galerija Emporium – and you’re in for a great time.
See the Lighting of the Ornaments
The mayor of Ljubljana ceremoniously lights the ornaments every year in the beginning of December during a special event that draws people from all over Slovenia and Europe.
It marks the beginning of this cheerful holiday time of the year. You can decide to party and sing along in one of the squares during live concerts by local artists or go to the ballet to attend a performance of Christmas Nutcracker or Swan Lake.
Either way, people around you will be joyful and happy to include you in the collective holiday craziness. While strolling along the crowds holding mulled wine, buy some roasted almonds or toasted chestnuts to keep your hands warm. The whole holiday cheer peaks with the New Year’s Eve and the traditional fireworks.
Across town you have outdoor celebrations and concerts, for kids there is the Santa parade during the day. Restaurants and discotheques invite regional stars to perform and dinner tables collapse under a variety of local and international food. Don’t forget to kiss a stranger on midnight!
On the next day, to survive the famous Maček – that’s what the Slovenians call the hangover (it literally means cat and nobody knows why!), eat something hearty and cleansing.
Think Sarme the first day of the New Year, this dish is made of minced meat rolled into sour cabbage leaves, seasoned, and then cooked in the oven. Pure comfort food after a night of partying!
See Ljubljana Castle Lit Up and Sparkling
Towering above Ljubljana, the centuries-old Ljubljana castle on top of its little hill, glowing in Christmas lights every holiday season.
There is a small Christmas market there and very good restaurants, serving hearty and tasty meals to battle the winter wind on the hill.
It provides spectacular views during the opening ceremony in December where you can watch the whole city being lit up with Christmas decorations. Go by foot or avoid the icy path using the funicular with its amazing ascending views.
Enjoy Ljubljana’s Restaurant Scene
When you’re done with your outdoor drinking and activities, you can warm up in one of the plentiful high-quality restaurants that the city has to offer.
From high-end venues to your local fast food neighborhood joint, there is something for everybody. They don’t forget about vegetarians or people with different food needs or preferences – you can get it all in almost every café or restaurant.
If you like to see and to be seen, don’t forget about the restaurant CUBO. The short trip by taxi from the city center is worth it – this modern design restaurant offers high-class gastronomy a la carte, but they also do love to suggest their best seasonal offerings.
Try Balkan Fast Food
On the other end you have the popular street fast foods – yes, they are out in the open (and therefore not so warm) but, again, worth it.
From kebab to burek, you have to try all the famous Balkan delicacies. Tozd, As Aperitivo, Pop’s Place etc… these are a few of the most popular fast food spots in Ljubljana.
If you’re looking for a modern, chill vibe and great burgers you’re in for a treat. The burger culture in the city is strong with various small and big restaurants serving anything from the classics to truffles and vegan varieties.
One of the wintery things that has rows of people waiting in front of it, is the famous Jesensek “šmorn”. Dough for pancakes, baked together with rum and sugar and then cut into little pieces, covered with powdered sugar and chocolate/strawberry jam. Yummy!
The hearty national Slovenian dishes are perfect for the winter. Beef soup with noodles; black pudding sausage with sour cabbage and baked potatoes; sweet štrudl and potica, strong cooked wine and gin, and strong shots made of various flowers and trees which should heal anything from your headache to the common flu.
Be prepared – that winter liquor, brewed in the fall when the fruit is plentiful, is really strong, invented decades and decades ago when the winter in Ljubljana included two meters of snow and frost all over the place.
Indulge in Sweet Flavors in Ljubljana’s Best Bars
Treat yourself to a cup of hot chocolate or a strong, home made coffee in one of the many cafes around the old town city centre. Daktari provides you with a homey, bohemian feeling with mismatched chairs and couches.
Daktari is the place to go for local homemade ginger tea or to listen to a gig, from singing to instrumental and several other performances and readings.
Of course, you can indulge your senses in other locally famous and fancy bars. For a feeling of Vienna-style sweets check Menagerie, and for the guaranteed best ice cream and macaroons in the city – Zvezda (both the oldest one in the hotel Slon and the one on the corner of Zvezda park right in the heart of the town). Whichever you choose, you will end up having a lovely time.
In the mood for beer? Don’t miss the only real English pub in the city, the CuttySark, famous for its never-ending beer varieties served in all forms of cans, glasses and “krigl” (think large, bavarian Octoberfest kind of monster glasses).
Other Entertainment to Enjoy in Winter in Ljubljana
Although January and February can be gloomy and sleepy, you can still find some activities to amuse yourself. Apart from the amazing restaurants, cafes and shops to explore and enjoy, you can visit the movie theatre or decide to watch some opera or theatre.
Let’s not forget the various museums and galleries you can visit, explore, and spend a couple of hours in. From national to international history and arts, you can find interesting shows in every one of them.
They are all situated around the old city centre and you can walk in between them, checking them in also from the outside, since the buildings and architecture are also remarkable works of art. For a fun afternoon go to the House of illusions to turn your perspective upside down.
Check the Great Outdoors
Moving on with the outdoor activities – the biggest park in Ljubljana is called the Tivoli park. Modelled with the Austro-Hungarian influence in mind, the park offers various paths to stroll along, a pond, cafes, places where artists gather, and more… Even a small castle!
Although we have to admit it is best looking in spring and perfect for relaxing in summer, the park is also beautiful in winter. Especially when it is covered in snow or early in the morning, immersed in mist and a white glow combining with the first sunrays. Winter is the perfect time to feed the local friendly and used-to-humans squirrels in the park and enjoy some fresh air.
All around Ljubljana, there are have little hills and trekking paths and forests… and even in the cold season, they are perfect for a little exercise and some outdoor fun.
Šmarna Gora Hill offers sweet specialties, there is a bar and even a restaurant on top of this little hill. When it’s foggy in Ljubljana, go to this little gem on the outskirts and hike up to see the spectacular views of Ljubljana under the fog.
You can get there with the bus or by car since there’s a lot of parking space available. Stop by Dvor Tacen coffe place on the way back to city centre (situated just on the outskirts of the parking lot) and enjoy some hot chocolate.
Just a short distance from Ljubljana you can ice skate, ski and enjoy other winters activities involving snow and hot tea. The recreation centres usually provide the necessary equipment for you to rent by the day. You can also rent a car simply and cheaply across Ljubljana or even use the city’s car-sharing service.
One of those activities is cross-country skiing. Even during the snow-free days of winter in Ljubljana, you can go cross country skiing in Medvode on the outskirts of Ljubljana – providing it is cold enough, of course, that artificial snow does as melt like the real one.
Treat Yourself to a Local Spa
If you’re here for a little bit longer than a short weekend, make a trip to a spa. You can definitely do it in Ljubljana without moving out of town at all; for example the spa in hotel Union or the spa in hotel Austriatrend.. or maybe the spa/pool/aqua-land center in the shopping zone.
The spot is ideal for families and couples alike, with water games and slides for the little ones and a sauna zone for the older members of the family. And there are a ton of pools included!
While you’re in that part of town go shopping – that’s the place for it. BTC shopping district offers shopping malls, boutiques, from Zara to Prada, and Italian brands, you have it all. Either way, that part is perfect for a couple of hours or a whole day of spending time and money.
But for a really great spa day go to Rimske Terme or Terme Orhidelia in other parts of Slovenia (all doable in about 2 hours, though). You can stop along the way to check a good local restaurant, and then finish the evening in Ljubljana at the city center.
Finish the night the best possible way in places like the trendy cocktail bar Kolibrij on Rimska Ulica, with a variety of cocktails, a piano, and a rustic-chic atmosphere. It’s super tiny but exclusive – there you can’t go wrong with a sour.
Karneval Time in Ljubljana
At the figurative end of winter immerse yourself in yet another festive time – the Pust or Karneval time. The legend says that the Kurenti (national masks) are there to scare the winter away.
They patrol and make noise in the city streets from Friday to Tuesday on carnival week. Go along with them – dress up into anything you like! Just like the famous carnival in Venice and its Italians in masks, the Slovenians have smaller versions in different towns, also in Ljubljana. The clubs and bars transform into masked parties for all age groups alike.
Do not forget to dress up on Saturday and Tuesday! And of course gain some more weight (that’s the common side effect of Ljubljana in wintertime) eating Krofi, local versions of donuts filled witty apricot jam or try the modern version – chocolate and vanilla. Try to get your hands on some homemade grandma versions if you can!
All in all, Ljubljana is the perfect destination to visit during winter. If you can, try to visit it in December to get the real holiday cheer and spirit going on. Taste the mulled wine, enjoy a rich dinner, and go for a classic Christmas concert afterward.
On the next day, check the museums, and some of those Christmas parties in the local club and you’re all set. You can do this also as a part of a bigger Christmas market tour – don’t forget to include the sister cities of Budapest and Vienna.
Discover the great works of the famous Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik in Prague and come back to Ljubljana for another prolonged weekend in May, for some sunbathing, amazing ice cream and, the green flowery boom in the city.
So winter in Europe, winter in Slovenia and winter in Ljubljana have a ton to offer.
Don’t forget to bring your winter hat and gloves and a warm scarf. Be prepared to drink lots of hot lemonade and you’re all set! Battle the wind and flu season like the locals – with ginger, mint, lemon juice all blended together with honey into vitamin bombs. After all, if those Slovenians manage to survive freezing outdoors, you can too! Immerse yourself in the cold an enjoy a great winter time in of the smallest capitals of Europe!
What to Pack for Slovenia in Winter
We have a full Slovenia packing list, but in case you just want the quick version, here are a few essentials you shouldn’t forget to pack!
A good guidebook: While travel blogs are great, we still think a good guidebook is always handy. We suggest Lonely Planet Slovenia if you’ll be traveling quite a bit around the country, or if you are planning a multi-country Balkan trip, Lonely Planet Western Balkans includes Slovenia and many of its neighbors.
One or two swimsuits: While swimsuits may not come to mind for ski season, if you’re staying in a ski resort with a sauna, indoor pool, or steam room, you’ll likely want one! We suggest bringing two so you never have to put a cold wet one back on. We love this one.
Plenty of winter clothing: You can check our packing list above for our full winter packing suggestions for men and women. At a minimum, you’ll want to bring a warm winter jacket (I love this North Face parka), cozy snow boots, warm wool socks, touch-screen friendly gloves, a scarf, and a winter hat.
Any ski equipment and clothing: We’re not skiers ourselves, so we don’t have specific ski gear equipment, but special ski clothes — waterproof pants and jackets, goggles, etc. — and ski gear obviously should be on your packing list, unless you have decided to rent it all when you arrive at your Slovenia ski resort.
Moisturizer: Travel will beat your skin up in the best of times — and winter travel in addition to skiing will really do a number on it! If you use a moisturizer at home, bring it. If you’ve never used a moisturizer before, you really should start. You’ll be happy to give your face a boost before heading outside in the cold all day.
Sunscreen: We strongly suggest wearing sunscreen when you spend time outdoors, no matter the weather outside. The higher altitudes combined with the reflection of the sun off the snow can lead to unexpected sunburns. I love this solid Neutrogena sunscreen – it’s mess-free, works well in carry-ons, is ultra-protective, and blends in well.
More Slovenia Travel Resources
If you’re just starting to prepare for your trip to Slovenia, read our guide to planning a trip to Slovenia which features an 11-step checklist!
If you know you’ll be coming to Bled near Christmas, check out our guide to the Lake Bled Christmas Market, the best things to do in Bled in winter, and how to celebrate Christmas in Bled. And check out the best things to do in Slovenia in winter if you’ll be seeing more of the country.
If you’re an avid photographer, you’ll find our Instagram guide to Bled helpful (Ljubljana on the way!).
If you need more Slovenia travel inspiration, check out the best places to visit in Slovenia, the best Slovenian castles, the most breath-taking Slovenian waterfalls, and what Slovenian souvenirs you should bring home.
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
I’m sure you’re aware that travel insurance is a good idea for traveling in Slovenia (or really, any part of the world)! Allison and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.
While the Balkans are perfectly safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel – especially during the winter! – so it’s better to play it safe.
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Originally from California, Allison has been living in Bulgaria for the last two years and is obsessed with traveling around the Balkans. She has been published in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, Matador Network, and the Huffington Post. She loves befriending dogs, drinking coffee, geeking out about wine, and cooking food from around the world.