I visited Ljubljana for the first time in December and I was absolutely charmed by the city and its environment. This means it is the perfect 2016 opening post for Idonotdespair.com because the city has been awarded the status of European Green Capital 2016, not least because its work in clearing motorised traffic from the city centre and promoting cycling could be a role model for many other cities. This means I can tell you that you must put it on your visitor list for 2016.
I had heard through numerous articles and reports that Ljubljana is a developing cycling city so I was really looking forward to going there for ECF’s annual development workshop for up and coming national cycle campaigning groups from around Europe.
What I didn’t know at all was that the city centre of Ljubljana is an absolute gem of a place to visit as a tourist. It is a compact city centre built around the numerous bridges across the Ljubljanica River retaining architecture from the Middle Ages through to the early 20th Century. The lack of modernisation of the post war era means that it has a delightful period feel, I am sure it is also popular for film sets.
Above the city the castle is always looking down on the centre and was well worth the steep climb up at night because it gave great views over the city.
But what really brought it to life were the pedestrianised streets that connected wide squares and a maze of narrow shopping streets and alleys. The Slovenes are a hardy bunch because there were plenty of people outside despite the snow on the wind and the sub-zero temperatures. There was a gentle buzz to the cafes and restaurants that lined the squares and river banks and a splendid open air market. The noisiest vehicles were the cyclists rattling over the cobbles.
The vision for the city centre was to do away with the motor traffic that had been stifling the city. The car free area is gradually being expanded and in 2016 even the main drag Slovenska Street will become shared space with cars having to give way to pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.
Cycling has stayed at a healthy 10% throughout, already above the EU average and with the freedom of the city centre and investment in wider cycling measures the cycling share is set for significant growth in the future.
The effects of the attractive new environment are already being seen because tourist visits to the city are already on the increase and the economy is doing well against regional comparisons.
And it was this that won them the Green Capital Award, the jury recognised the transformation of local transport and the car free city centre above all in its citation. I am going back again in February when I am looking forward to even more snow covering the rooftops, but I have to say Ljubljana should be on everybody’s visitor list in 2016 as a charming and unspoilt European capital city with really human scale and a growing cycling culture.