Should you visit Ljubljana or Zagreb on your next trip to the Balkans or Central Europe? Is Slovenia or Croatia more suited to your travel desires? Both of these capital cities are located within about 2 hours of each other but can offer significantly different things to travellers. One boasts a fairy-tale-like Old Town that is completely pedestrianised, the other is a metropolitan urban centre with a number of interesting attractions.
Both Zagreb and Ljubljana have a lot to offer visitors, but are wildly different cities despite their proximity. So if you’re short on time when planning a Croatia or Slovenia itinerary and don’t know which capital city to include on your route, then you’re in luck. We’ve spent extensive time in both Ljubljana and Zagreb and have some great knowledge of what each city has to offer individual travellers.
So if you’re planning a trip to Croatia or Slovenia and can only visit one of their respective capital cities, make sure to keep reading to figure out which city is the right one for your travel style!
Quaint and compact, Ljubljana is one of Europe’s most charming capital cities. Blessed with beautiful architecture and a lovely, pedestrianised old town. Ljubljana can instantly take a traveller’s heart, so if you’re wondering if the Slovenian capital is the city that you should choose to visit, read on to learn more about it.
How easy is it to get to Ljubljana and how to you get around the city once you’re there? Well, Ljubljana is located in Central Europe and is easy enough to reach overland from numerous nearby cities, including Vienna, Venice, or Zagreb. You can browse train and bus timetables here.
It is also home to its own international airport, however, it doesn’t serve the budget airlines like Ryanair, so it can be a bit more expensive (search on Skyscanner for the best deals!) and inconvenient to visit if you’re just planning on heading there as a city break.
Once in Ljubljana, you will find that that the city centre is gloriously compact, flat and walkable. In fact, the Old Town is completely pedestrianised and has been for over a decade. It is also quite small, so you can easily get around from one end to the other on foot.
If you want to go up to Ljubljana castle, which is situated on a hill overlooking the city, it is also worth knowing that there is a funicular that can take you up the hill, so you don’t need to worry about hiking up the steep pathway.
Because of how small Ljubljana is, it is entirely possible to explore all of the main tourist attractions on foot without the need for public transit or having your vehicle. The pedestrianised Old Town also makes for numerous lovely street-side cafes to relax in without having to add on traffic noise.
When comparing Ljubljana vs Zagreb, the price of either city is going to end up being a major factor in your decision making and when it comes to prices, Ljubljana does come out slightly more expensive than the Croatian capital. While Ljubljana certainly isn’t the most expensive capital city in Europe, prices in Slovenia and its capital city more closely mimic those of its western European neighbours in Austria than prices in other Balkan countries.
Accommodation is where you will see the highest prices in the Slovenian capital, as the city imposes nightly tourist taxes on top of the nightly rate that can increase the cost per night significantly. If you want to stay in a mid-range hotel in the centre or Old Town, expect to pay around €80 per night.
Hostel dorms in Ljubljana are likely going to be the cheapest option if you’re pinching pennies, with dorm beds starting from €15-20 per night. If you’re travelling as a couple you may also find that getting a private room in a local’s home through Airbnb will only set you back about €40 per night.
There are certainly ways that you can save money on accommodation in Ljubljana, however, if price is a major determining factor, you will find that Zagreb is generally the more affordable city.
In regards to things like meals and drinks, you will find that prices between Ljubljana and Zagreb are about the same and, depending on where you go, it can be fairly affordable to eat out or go for a beer or glass of local wine in Ljubljana.
Things to Do in Ljubljana
Though small, there are a lot of things to do in Ljubljana and you could easily keep yourself occupied for a day or two in the city. The city itself is incredibly walkable and you could lose yourself for an entire day just wandering through the cobbled streets of the old town. There are also numerous attractions, historic sites and museums to visit in the city that are sure to keep your occupied for a couple of days, as well.
Many people also tend to use Ljubljana as a base to explore other areas of Slovenia and as the country is quite small, it is easy to reach a lot in just a couple of hours from the capital. If you want to spend a bit longer in the capital and be able to see a lot of Slovenia, then it can be worth choosing to visit Ljubljana over Zagreb for this reason. Places like the famous Lake Bled are only a stone’s throw away and you can also venture to the charming city of Maribor, the seaside town of Piran, or even to the famous Postaja Cave all as day trips from Ljubljana.
Ljubljana also has a certain charm to it and will definitely invite you would be remiss if you didn’t allow yourself the time to enjoy the city’s ambience by kicking back and people-watching at a cafe along the lovely Ljubljanica river.
All in all, there are lots of things to do in Ljubljana and it can be a great option to add to your Balkans or Central Europe itinerary, especially if you have an affinity for beautiful architecture and picturesque cities.
Where to Stay in Ljubljana
Ljubljana has a lot of option when it comes to places to stay and there is something to suit all travel styles. If you’ve decided that Ljubljana is the city for you and are looking for the perfect place to rest your head while in Slovenia’s capital, take a look at these suggestions:
Hostel Celica — A great option for budget or solo travellers, they have both private and dorm rooms available. It is also centrally-located and equipped with great common areas. Click here to check their availability
Adora Hotel — A good mid-range boutique hotel that is located within easy walking distance of Ljubljana’s main attractions. They have a range of clean and comfortable rooms and a great breakfast included in the price. Click here to check their availability
City Hotel Ljubljana — This boutique hotel is the perfect option if you’re after a bit more luxury. Located in the centre, you can reach everything of interest on foot easily. There are numerous plush rooms available and a delicious breakfast included in the nightly rate. Click here to check their availability
Airbnb— A great alternative option for accommodation in Ljubljana is Airbnb. There are numerous properties available on the platform ranging from private rooms in locals homes — like this bright room near the train station — to entire apartments — like this cosy flat in the city centre. Click here to browse the best Airbnbs in Ljubljana!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Ljubljana hotels!
Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, is a city that often gets passed over in lieu of Croatia’s coastal metropolises like Split or Dubrovnik. A bit more trendy and edgy than Ljubljana, Zagreb is an excellent place to visit for couple of days as it can give you a perfect glimpse of the many different sides of Croatia.
Zagreb is home to Croatia’s busiest international airport and it is the place where most travellers to this Balkan nation will begin their Croatia itineraries. The airport serves a number of major European airlines, however, it doesn’t serve any of the budget favourites like Ryanair or Easyjet, meaning that, like Ljubljana, it isn’t the easiest place to reach for a short city break.
However, Zagreb is well-connected by both bus and train to cities like Belgrade, Budapest and, of course, Ljubljana. It is also easy to get virtually anywhere in Croatia from the capital city, meaning that it still serves as the perfect jumping-off point for a trip through this Adriatic nation.
Once in Zagreb, you will find that the city centre isn’t quite as compact and easy to navigate as Ljubljana, however, there is an extensive public transit network that’s easy to use and very affordable. The Old Town is small enough to see entirely on foot, however, it’s worth noting that there are significant hills that may prove daunting for those who have mobility issues.
If you want to explore any areas outside of the Old Town, it is super easy to use the bus and tram network in the city. Google Maps has great transport details and you can purchase tickets from any newsstand kiosk around the city — just make sure to validate your ticket in the machines once you’re on the bus or tram!
If affordability is a major determining factor when it comes to choosing between Zagreb or Ljubljana, then Croatia’s capital certainly has the upper hand. While it isn’t the most affordable capital in all of Europe, Zagreb is perfect for budget-minded travellers and you can easily experience the city to it’s fullest while travelling on a shoestring.
Like elsewhere, accommodation is going to be the most expensive aspect of costs in Zagreb, however, you’ll find prices to be about 20-30% less than in Ljubljana and more if you stay a bit further from the city centre.
Food prices in Zagreb are low and you can eat a high-quality meal for two for no more than about €15-20. There is also a great craft beer scene in Zagreb and you can get a pint of a local microbrew for quite low prices, as well.
There are lots of museums that are of interest in Zagreb, as well, and entry into those will land somewhere around €5-10, with discounts available for students and seniors.
All in all, Zagreb is quite an affordable destination to visit and is probably preferable to Ljubljana if you’re trying to stick to a tight budget while travelling.
Things to Do in Zagreb
Zagreb is quite a small city when it comes to tourist sites and while it isn’t as compact as Ljubljana, it still packs a fair amount to see and do within it. There are a fair amount of sights to see and museums to visit in Zagreb, however, it is quite a small city and you can easily see the vast majority of what Zagreb has to offer tourists within the span of about a day.
All of the main highlights of the Old Town are within easy walking distance of each other, however, it is also very much worth taking the time to get lost and exploring Zagreb on its own. Take the time to see sites like the Stone Gate, St Marks Church, and take in the views from St Catherine’s Square and also make sure not to miss the interesting and unique Museum of Broken Relationships.
If you want to spend more than one full day in Zagreb, the city is also well-suited to go on some day trips to other areas in Croatia — most notably to the incredible Plitvice Lakes National Park. Alternatively, you could visit a few more of the museums or let yourself wander and people watch from the numerous streetside cafes.
One thing worth mentioning is that if you plan to visit during the month of December is that Zagreb has one of the biggest and most elaborate Christmas markets in all of Europe. If this is something that appeals to you, then it can definitely be worth it to visit the Croatian capital during this season.
All in all, both Zagreb and Ljubljana are probably equal when it comes to things to do, it just matters which activities appeal to you most.
Where to Stay in Zagreb
Though it isn’t as visited as many other cities in Croatia, there are still numerous accommodation options available in Zagreb that will suit and travel style and budget. If you’re planning on visiting Croatia’s capital and want to find the perfect place to stay, then have a look at our top recommendations:
Hostel Mali Mrak — The perfect option for budget and solo travellers, this small hostel offers both dorm and private rooms available. They also have great common areas and a helpful and friendly local staff. Click here to see their availability
Casablanca Boutique B&B — A cosy boutique hotel, this is a great mid-range option in the city centre. They have a range of clean and comfortable rooms available and a fantastic breakfast included in the price. Click here to check their availability
Airbnb — Airbnb is an excellent option if you would rather have a private room or entire apartment to yourself while visiting Zagreb. There are countless properties available on the platform, like this modern flat just outside of the city centre. Click here to see the best Airbnbs in Zagreb!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Zagreb hotels!
Ljubljana or Zagreb: The Verdict
So should you visit Ljubljana or Zagreb? Where have we come to the Zagreb vs Ljubljana debate? Well, after reading this, I’m sure that you’re aware that each city has something different to offer visitors and the decision doesn’t have to be all that difficult.
Ljubljana is an excellent choice for those who have a slightly higher budget are and want to enjoy the classic charms of a Central European city. It is an altogether prettier city than Zagreb and it is also great for those who are architecture fans.
Zagreb is a great option for budget-conscious travellers or for those who want to avoid tourist crowds a bit more — it is slightly lesser visited than Ljubljana. It has a more edgy and creative vibe than Ljubljana and though it isn’t as obviously picturesque, it certainly has its own unique charm.
All in all, both Zagreb and Ljubljana have a lot to offer visitors and have different aspects that make them appealing to different types of travellers. Whether you choose to visit Zagreb or Ljubljana, one thing is for certain — you won’t be disappointed!
When travelling in either Ljubljana or Zagreb, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We recommend WorldNomads and always use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads
Are you decided whether to visit Ljubljana or Zagreb? Have you been to either city? Let us know in the comments!