The current pandemic has given us the opportunity to take account of how our typical international mobility impacts all of us. Perhaps this time is an opportunity to rethink the very way we travel. By choosing sustainable destinations, we have the power to promote sustainable initiatives for the betterment of the entire world. For Earth week, we want to explore one of Europe’s true hidden gems: Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia and greenest city in the world.

What makes it sustainable? 

With a population of 293,000, Ljubljana is one of the smallest and most livable European capitals, nested in a basin between the Alps and the Adriatic. This sustainable city won the prestigious title of European Green Capital in 2016 for having achieved the largest number of sustainable changes in the shortest period of time. In 2019, it won the Best of Cities category in the Sustainable Top 100 Destination Awards.

Now, what makes Ljubljana one of the most sustainable travel destinations in the world? For one, the city has been traffic-free since 2008. It is so far the largest car-free zone in the European Union. To enjoy all the beauty and magic of the city, you can easily take a tour of the city center aboard the urban electric tourist train. Let’s explore this sustainable city together! 

Since car traffic is restricted in the center, you can easily cycle or walk on the banks of the Ljubljanica River, which flows right through the city center. According to the 2019 Copenhagenize Index, Ljubljana is the 14th most bicycle-friendly city in the world. The popularity of urban cycling is growing rapidly and the city’s cyclists thoroughly enjoy using the (free!) BicikeLJ bike sharing network. Whether on foot or riding a bike, the summertime is perfect for enjoying the specialty cafes, craft pubs, and boutiques crowded with handmade inventory along the river. At night, the cafes are still so lively that the whole area takes on the vibe of a lively street party.

window looking at city rooftops
Photo by Lauren Breedlove.

Even by vehicle, the process of getting around and paying for it is intuitively streamlined in Ljubljana. An electric-powered vehicle named Kavalir has recently been introduced that runs around the historical city centre at a speed slow enough to be hailed anywhere on the street, in the style of a greener hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus. 

Public transport, parking and an increasing amount of other urban services can be paid for using a single contactless payment card called Urbana. And through the car-sharing scheme Avant2Go, one can easily find an electric vehicle to use in Ljubljana and the surrounding area.

With accessibility and ease of experience a priority across the board, Ljubljana’s public areas and transport services are designed with travelers of limited mobility in mind. An increasing number of public areas, and also city buses, are adapted for people using a wheelchair. Visitors to Ljubljana with reduced mobility can make use of the Ljubljana by Wheelchair mobile app.

In both green practices and green spaces, Ljubljana really is the greenest city in the world. It boasts an incredible 542 square meters of green space space per inhabitant, and offers direct access to the countryside from the city centre itself. A rich beekeeping tradition in the city just underlines its harmonious relationship with nature, with as many as 4500 beehives in the area. This tradition is said to continue on from the first prehistoric settlements here, and honey produced in the area is of very high quality. The city of Ljubljana also takes care of bees by planting perennials with many pollinator-friendly plants among them.

Of course, all this leisurely walking and biking might leave you pretty thirsty, and finding water free of a plastic container can sometimes be a challenge when traveling. But Ljubljana has you covered here, too, with 30+ drinking fountains scattered throughout the city center that, you guessed it, can also be located via an app called Tap Water Ljubljana.  

A Hidden Gem 

The city is not only environmentally friendly, but offers also a high quality of life for both its citizens and visitors. Ljubljana is a compact walking city with an atmosphere that is both historic and lively, with influences both from Central Europe and the Mediterranean. The city is well-renowned for its architectural heritage and the eclectic nature of its culture, which is also reflected in its emerging reputation as a culinary destination. The city encourages the use of locally produced food in hotels and restaurants according to the principle ‘from local field, to local table, to the guest’. 

The city’s sustainability is just one aspect of its highly original flair. If you want to see the city through a creative and sustainable lens, you might want to try out the innovative activity-based guided tours like the Moustache Tour, the Taste Ljubljana Food Tour and the Ljubljana Beer Experience. These tours highlight the sustainable elements of Ljubljana’s lifestyle, such as the local cultural heritage and its traditional dishes.

The city is not only enjoyable, beautiful and sustainable, but also one of the safest and cleanest in the world full of lovely and approachable people. The Prime Minister even has a publicly available email address, to underscore the openness that Slovenes value. It seems that genuine hospitality is always present at every corner of the city! 

Located in the centre of Slovenia and close to many of its major tourist attractions, Ljubljana is the perfect base for discovering the many facets and rich experiences of the country. If you want to travel in good conscience once the pandemic subsides and we must confront the environmental impact of our travels, this little slice of paradise in Slovenia will be waiting, but there’s no telling how long it will continue flying under the radar. Go green while you can!