My alternative Ljubljana

What do you think of when you hear ‘Ljubljana’? Is it a lovely little capital of a beautiful country with a romantic Old Town along the river Ljubljanica… inviting taverns, good food, cosy people, lots to see, always good for a few relaxing days’?

Completely right – and totally wrong!

I’ll introduce you to the other Ljubljana – cheeky, alternative, young, colourful, creative, loud, surprising and unexpected. Let’s go!

The Kino Šiška

Approaching the centre of Ljubljana, you’ll pass through the Šiška district. On your right, there’s a complex of buildings with all the nostalgic charm of socialist modern architecture. This is the Kino Šiška, built 1961 as a classic cinema complex. When cinema attendances fell in the 1980s, it reinvented itself as a centre of urban culture. It’s now one of the city’s most important cultural hubs, with a constantly-changing programme of exciting concerts and exhibitions. As well as hosting the yearly Tinta Cartoon Festival, which has become the venue for one of Europe’s most important cartoon festivals and the Festival of Alternative Music. There are a great coffee house and a reading room where you can browse an inspiring selection of international art magazines. I never fail to find something interesting going on.

Staying in the centre, here are a few other alternative hotspots:

DobraVaga – art per kilo?

DobraVaga means ‘Good Libra’ in English, and it’s a nice metaphor for the way this crazy gallery works. Here, you buy art by weight – but in the sense of weighty or artistic emphasis!

You’ll find the gallery within the covered central market designed by Ljubljana’s famous architect, Jože Plečnik. Young, up-and-coming artists can exhibit here and benefit from free studio space – it’s a real highlight of Ljubljana’s artistic life.

The city has at least 10 ‘important’ art galleries. But if we are talking about ‘crazy’ ones, this is the one to see.

Škuc Gallery

Open since 1978, The Škuc is another of Ljubljana’s main centres of alternative culture and contemporary visual art. It’s famous for its collaborations with top curators and always keeps pace with the latest trends in modern art.

During the time when Slovenia was still part of socialist Yugoslavia, this gallery was where a number of now-renowned ex-Yugoslav artists and art collectives began their careers. Today the gallery showcases the work both of famous international artists and emerging young artists at the beginning of their careers.

Very close to the Town Hall, we find the next highlight of my alternative Ljubljana:

Pritličje

Meaning, in English, ‘Ground Floor’.

Pritličje leads a double life. At night, it’s a nightclub, with a variety of DJ nights and concerts featuring urban electronic music. During the daytime, it’s an excellent café which also offers an interesting programme of social events, lectures, and panel and public discussions. Also, it’s the only comic shop in the city centre – and (of particular interest to me), a rich source of Slovenian craft beer.

Right! We’re heading towards the famous and always surprising Metelkova quarter, but there’s another stop on the way…

The Old Power Station

Ljubljana went electric in 1898, and for that, Ljubljana City Power Station was constructed.

This magnificent technical monument is one of the rare examples of industrial architecture preserved in Slovenia. The handsome brick building was eventually repurposed by The Elektro Ljubljana with the support of the Ministry of Culture and is this year celebrating its 15th anniversary as a cultural centre. It offers a rich programme of theatre, dance, workshops and other activities. And you could say there’s always an electrifying atmosphere.

Metelkova: Ljubljana’s most surprising quarter

Here, you can really expect the unexpected!

Metelkova’s history began in 1993 when a group of alternative artists occupied a deserted Austrian-Hungarian army barracks in order to prevent its demolition. The occupation was more than successful – it’s still there, now a lively, sparkling neighbourhood that’s a must-visit destination when you’re in Ljubljana. The place is permanently changing – the graffiti artists make sure of that – and there’s always so much going on. During the day, it’s a bit quieter – maybe a good time for a visit to the famous Museum of Contemporary Art – so I always time my visits for the evening. Then the place comes alive with small concert stages, art galleries and countless lively pubs and eating places. It’s an unforgettable experience: my favourite hotspot in Ljubljana.

And finally, Tobačna…the reason I live here now

Tobačna was formerly a large cigarette factory, owned by big brands that were my client during my time at an international advertising agency. That brought me to Slovenia. And then I never wanted to leave.

Today, the giant factory is a popular meeting place for lovers of urban culture, music and above all, jazz. The summer garden under the treetops hosts regular musical and other events, including the Festival of Urban Culture Slovenia, Urban Action, Red Bull Factory, Little Havana and Beer Garden. And there are so many galleries, pubs and little concert stages that Tobačna nowadays has become a small creative city all of its own.

Who knows, you might fall in love, too, if you visit my alternative Ljubljana. Good luck!

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