Sailing Slovenia’s Capital Along the Ljubljana River
By Bel Woodhouse
It was smooth sailing as the saying goes. Gliding along the deep emerald green waters of Ljubljana River snaking its way through the heart of Slovenia’s capital.
Ljubljana came to life during this wonderful river cruise sharing its history, local legends and cheeky stories.
Seeing the city from a different perspective was the best way I could have ever dreamed of to start my time in the nation’s capital.
It’s a city of amazing architecture, amusingly meaningful bridges, and European elegance.
I fell head over heels in love with Ljubljana in two hours just from cruising its river.
Local guides gave me a much more in-depth experience and knowledge to make the most of my few days there.
Seeing the city from a different angle helped me explore without the hustle n bustle, throngs of tourists, or jostling through crowds.
Graceful weeping willows draped over the banks hanging like a green curtain added charm to the elegant architecture.
It all felt a little bit like I was in a Disney movie.
Restaurants’ shining white umbrellas lined the riverside restaurants and cafés full of laughing chatting people enjoying the view and a relaxing riverside vibe as the smell of sautéing garlic made my tummy grumble.
Tail Wagging Green Dragons
By far my favorite thing about Ljubljana is its iconic green dragon. Like a child at storytime, I sat rapt, listening to the history of Ljubljana’s famous green dragon as we glided under the bridge.
It’s ironic because it was said to once terrify the people of Ljubljana, almost destroying the castle before being slain by Jason and his Argonauts.
Dragon Bridge, the largest of all bridges is protected by four sculpted metal green dragons wrapped around the entrance pillars.
This triple spring arch bridge is regarded not only as a beautiful example of the Vienna Secession style of bridge but it’s often referred to as the most beautiful of this style.
It’s not hard to see why. The serpentine dragons standing guard at either end are breathtaking.
But for me, the thing I loved most was the little dragons found at the base of each lamppost across the bridge.
The Virgin Legend
That and the local legend that says when a virgin crosses the bridge the dragons wag their tails.
A fun little tale from a local while another laughed telling me a lot of Ljubljana’s menfolk call it ‘mother-in-law’ because of its fiery nature which had me laughing out loud right along with them.
This is the joy of spending a couple of hours on a river tour.
Not only is it a peaceful way to see the city, but the local characters share some fun facts and stories along the way. Along with some pretty gross ones too.
Rivers of Blood turned into Lover’s Lane
Butcher’s bridge: They say the river ran red with blood from where the butchers dumped their offal buckets centuries ago and ever since the name stuck.
To this day it is still known as butcher’s bridge but thankfully now it is bloodless. Now, it’s a rather lovely pedestrian footbridge that crosses over to the central market.
It’s a sweet bridge because lovers have adopted it. Engraving their initials on padlocks and locking them around the steel rails.
Signifying their adoration and unbreakable bond before throwing the key into the river in an eternal seal of commitment.
It’s a sweet gesture with thousands of keys keeping their promises resting down below on the river bed.
A few places along the bridge there are baby dragons that guard the padlocks of soulmates.
A local lady next to me said newlyweds place their padlocks there to bless their marriage and ensure it is a happy one for life.
Green Curtains and Giant Rodents.
Once we left the city behind, Slovenia’s natural beauty really had a chance to shine.
Walls of green weeping willows added elegance to the river like giant living curtains draped along the shoreline.
Couples lounged in the shade reading, picnicking, or just enjoying time in nature.
Hearing a splash, I saw my first nutria.
A huge semi-aquatic rodent bought to Europe by fur farmers, it has since thrived becoming an almost problematic invasive species but the locals don’t mind it too much.
This is because it keeps the river clear as it eats mainly aquatic plant stems.
Still, I was shocked at the size. I thought it was someone’s medium-sized dog cooling off enjoying a swim.
But no, it was a giant rodent escort. If you’ve never seen one before, like I hadn’t, then think of it as a cross between a huge rat and a beaver.
The Italians call it castorino which means ‘little beaver’ and is also the name that its fur is known by.
Lots of Birdlife
Other wildlife we saw along the river was abundant birdlife. The kind you expect to see at the main watercourse.
Graceful herons wading along the shore, shags shaking their tails with wings out to dry after diving for fish and of course, the numerous birds in the treetops serenaded us with their sweet song as we passed by.
Turning a bend the entire boat erupted into laughter as the captain did his best pirate arrrrr.
The most unlikely pirate ship lay ahead. More of a flat bottom barge than a sleek sailing vessel it still tickled my fancy to see that there was a fun way to do a sunset sail.
I half expected it to be full of beer and buxom beauties but that’s reserved for a sunset dinner cruise.
I think the fun river guides are descended from storytellers as they regaled us with tall tales of battling dragons, saving fair maidens, and the rowdy and unruly river pirates that led a nomadic existence by boat.
The closer we came back toward the city luxurious hotels came into view.
With wide sprawling lawns reaching down to the river they looked like something out of a ‘rich and famous’ catalog. More and more bridges crossed overhead.
Pedestrians stopped to watch the river for a while. Listening to the birdsongs and the gentle lapping of the river it did seem like the perfect spot to contemplate life.
Friendly river captains all waved to each other in passing in a sense of sacred seamanship like salty old sea dogs.
The City’s Crown Jewel
Soon the banks turned from graceful weeping willows into elegant buildings in pastel shades in an almost French flamboyance. Which made sense as Ljubljana’s crowning jewel came into view.
Shining like a beacon signaling we were back in the heart of the city, the bright pink of the Franciscan Church in the old town’s square shone. Its pale teak rose columns standing out against the darker deep pastel rose of the church’s façade was quite a sight.
Looking up at it as I disembarked it is easy to see why it’s the most photographed building in Ljubljana. Standing tall in Prešeran Square it is a meeting place and landmark both onshore and on the river.
As a backdrop for the city’s largest and grandest Triple Bridge, it really did make me feel like I was in a fairytale.
This was the most perfect way to start my time in Slovenia’s capital. It set the stage and armed with wonderful history and local legends I couldn’t wait to explore my list of ‘must see’ places thanks to my riverboat captain’s recommendations.
By far, this was the best eleven euros I ever spent and the most enjoyable way to see the nation’s capital.
Bel Woodhouse is a fun-loving Australian travel writer, photographer, and videographer based in the Mexican Caribbean. Head honcho at The Travel Bag and author of ’21 Reasons to Visit …” travel guide series, nothing is safe from her curiosity. Nature, eco-travel, spiritual travel, and immersing herself in different cultures are what she’s passionate about.