As a Brit, I found Slovenian Sundays hard to adapt to at first; in fact weekends in Slovenia are quite different from what I’m used to, and it’s quite useful to know what to expect should you be making a weekend trip to Ljubljana or a longer trip that includes a weekend.
At lunch-time on Saturday the city centre shops close and they don’t open again until Monday morning. A German friend thought it was odd that I should mention that but in the UK our stores – be they in a town centre or an out of town mall – can open for six hours on a Sunday (local convenience stores can open longer). In Slovenia some, but not all of the out of town malls open on a Sunday while a few convenience stores open for a couple of hours on a Sunday morning. Generally town centres are deserted after Saturday lunch time unless there’s an event taking place.
You’ll see a few more people on the street in Ljubljana on a Saturday but most will be tourists, or else people switching buses on their way somewhere. On summer Sundays, though, Ljubljana locals come out in their droves and fill the waterside cafes in the city centre. Dog walkers, families, cyclists, young women who want to be seen – everyone comes out for a few hours to stroll through town and catch up with friends.
Most people have a coffee or a soft drink and maybe some ice cream; the only people drinking are old men with a spritzer, or tourists. Some Slovenians can spend hours at a café with just the one drink and nobody seems to mind. Café Macek is one of the most popular; it’s on Cankarjeva nabrezje, the southern embankment of the Ljubljanica, not far from the TripleBridge. Look for the sign of the black cat and you’ve found it. There’s loads of seating outside and the location is great for people watching. In winter the interior is really cosy and Café Macek does the best milky coffees (bela kava) in town.
On Sundays many Slovenians do something athletic, often as a family or group. Most towns have walking groups who meet every Sunday for a day’s walking with lunch somewhere; a notice-board somewhere in the town or village will list forthcoming walks and there’ll be photographs from previous trips. It’s customary when out walking in the countryside (whether that’s in the mountains or just on the edge of town – any hill will do) to say hello (‘Dober Dan’) to other walkers. Many people jump on the train with their walking poles on a Sunday morning and you’ll see them coming back all rosy cheeked if you’re near the station around 6 on a Sunday afternoon. Those who stay in town like to walk to the top of Roznik, the hill at the top of the city’s TivoliPark.
For a less energetic walk you could visit the magnificent Plecnik designed cemetery north east of the centre (if you aren’t driving and don’t want to walk there you can catch a bus to the suburb of Nove Jarse or to the BTC shopping centre and walk from there. Closer to the centre, the embassy area behind Trg Republike makes for a pleasant stroll as you ogle some of the grandest houses in Ljubljana.
Do check out the opening hours of attractions such as museums. In the capital the times are more obviously geared to tourists but in other towns, even quite large ones, you might be surprised to find that opening hours can leave you a bit stumped for what to do. We once jumped on a train to Murska sobota with the intention of spending a Sunday there; we knew there was a castle and we thought we spend a few hours seeing that and generally strolling round town, stopping for lunch. However, by the time we arrived late morning the castle museum was just closing up because it’s only open in the morning on Sundays. By the time we’d walked around the deserted centre, had a beer in the Irish pub and made some dry sandwiches from bread buns and Frankfurters, we were ready to head home to Maribor but there were not trains until early evening.
I’m all for doing stuff spontaneously but in Slovenia it pays to do some planning, especially if you’re using public transport, which tends to shut down for a few hours in the middle of the day at weekends. It’s not much fun to arrive somewhere to find that there’s nothing to see and everything is closed and to add insult to injury there’s no train for four hours.
Sundays can be good days for taking a trip to a tourist attraction in some other part of the country and Ljubljana has the advantage of being within reasonable travelling distance of several excellent options. You can ask at your hotel or at the tourist information centre about organised excursions to the Skocjan caves, or those at Postojna. Often a trip to the showcaves at Postojna includes a visit to the nearby Predjama castle, an impressive sight, built into a cave. You can visit Lake Bled independently with the service bus taking just over an hour but there are also guided tours available. Alternatively the towns of Kranj and Skofja loka to the north of the capital are well worth a visit and there’s the option to take the train or bus. Skofja loka has an interesting castle and a old town square with painted burghers’ houses, while Kranj is a handsome place with numerous interesting sights in its charming old town.
Many restaurants in the most touristy parts of Ljubljana do open on Sundays but a good number don’t and some have reduced opening hours compared with weekdays. If you’ve got your heart set on somewhere in particular, check that it is open first to avoid disappointment. If your accommodation doesn’t offer breakfast you may find it tricky to get a conventional breakfast in Slovenia, even in Ljubljana, and you will need to be quite flexible in what you’ll have instead. Café Macek does offer an interpretation of an English style breakfast and several places offer ‘tost’ but for a really special breakfast, go to the Hotel Slon on Slovenska Cesta.
You learn more about Slovenians from doing what they do on a Sunday than you will from any museum (which may not even be open!). Relax, order a coffee and watch the world go by along the Ljubljanica embankment