Petite, pretty, and born of a fantastical dragon-slaying legend, Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital city, is straight out of a storybook. Venture just 40 minutes north into the Carniolan countryside and you’ll find another charming community that gives Ljubljana a run for its money. Medieval Skofja Loka is an easy and affordable bus ride away from the city, making it one of the best Ljubljana day trips for anyone who’s interested in history and architecture.
Here is everything you need to know about visiting Skofja Loka, including how to get there from Ljubljana using public transport, where to get the best views, and why you should venture beyond the historic Old Town.
In This Post:
- Why visit Skofja Loka?
- How to get to Skofja Loka from Ljubljana
- How long to spend in Skofja Loka
- Things to do in Skofja Loka
- Arrival in Skofja Loka & orientation
- Eat lunch inside the Skofja Loka granary
- Venture over the Sora to Pustal
- Climb Hribec hill to the Church of St. Cross for the best views in town
- Cross the Devil’s Footbridge back to Skofja Loka
- Explore Skofja Loka’s main square, Mestni trg
- Visit the smaller square, Cankarjev trg
- Visit Loka Castle & Museum
- Walk the Three Castle Path
- Finish the day with drinks at Homan House
- Extend your stay: Accommodation in Skofja Loka
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Why visit Skofja Loka?
One of the things I appreciated most about travelling in Slovenia was the short distances and efficient public transport. In a place where it’s possible to board a cross-country bus in the morning and still be at your final destination in time for a late lunch, there are limitless opportunities for side trips.
Ljubljana is the perfect base for a short stay in Slovenia, seeing as you can day trip to all four corners of the country from the capital. Skofja Loka is a great side trip from Ljubljana because it offers a bit of everything: History, gorgeous architecture, nature and hiking, a castle and top-notch museum, and a food and wine scene that’s renowned in Slovenia.
The first written records of Skofja Loka date to 1248, when it was a bustling market town. Historically, Skofja Loka was enclosed by stone walls and could only be entered by way of one of five gated towers. Not much evidence of the fortifications remains today, but Skofja Loka still retains its original city plan: An Upper Square, the Plac, is separated from a Lower Square, the Lontrg, with the Old Town’s narrow alleys neatly contained, and the hilltop castle standing guard from atop a nearby hill.
Skofja Loka and its surrounding estates were the property of the Bavarian Bishops of Freising for more than 900 years before the land was traded between Austria and Italy. As with Sighisoara in Transylvania, Skofja Loka was inhabited by craftspeople and traders, who were organised into different guilds. The area is characterised by a fantastic blend of cultural influences and a legacy of craftsmanship, visible in everything from the cuisine to the architecture.
Skofja Loka’s main tourist attractions include Loka Castle, its museum, and the historic Old Town. Considered one of the best-preserved medieval centres in Slovenia, Skofja Loka’s upper and lower squares were proclaimed a National Cultural Monument in 1987. The area is made up of churches and monasteries, school houses, and repurposed private residences connected by charming cobbled streets. The Capuchin Bridge, lovely semi-circular stone bridge, greets visitors as they cross the Sora river into town from Skofja Loka’s tiny bus station.
Skofja Loka is located roughly halfway between Ljubljana and Bled, making it extremely easy and inexpensive to visit using public transport. While it might not afford the same awe-inspiring views as Bled or the same sense of adventure as Slovenia’s caves, Skofja Loka is a great choice for culture and history lovers—and anyone who enjoys exploring small towns on foot. (As you’ll see, there are some opportunities for hiking, too.)
Skofja Loka is worthy of a visit any time of year, but it’s an especially good choice if you’re travelling to Slovenia in winter or shoulder season when your options for other day trips are somewhat limited. (I’ll go into more detail on winter closures in a future post.)
How to get to Skofja Loka from Ljubljana
Contrary to some reports, you don’t need to hire a car or join a group tour to visit Skofja Loka. Slovenia’s public transport system is top notch. It’s cheap and straightforward to travel to Skofja Loka independently by train (average 30 minutes journey time) or bus (40 minutes journey time).
We weren’t able to find much information online about travelling to Skofja Loka from Ljubljana, so I’ve put together this detailed guide in the hope that it will come in handy for other travellers.
Ljubljana to Skofja Loka by bus
At 3.10 Euro per person one-way, bus is the cheapest and easiest way to go. Arriva, Slovenia’s most prominent transport company, runs frequent buses between Ljubljana and Skofja Loka on weekdays, and hourly services on weekends and holidays. We visited Skofja Loka on a public holiday and had no trouble.
Skofja Loka-bound buses depart from stand number 28 (in front of the ticket office) at the main bus station in Ljubljana, which is located next door to the train station. You can either pre-purchase a paper ticket from inside the office, or just pay the driver directly as you board (drivers carry change and also accept EFTPOS). The bus to Skofja Loka is a large, comfortable coach, with a toilet on-board and a luggage hold underneath.
The bus makes half a dozen stops before terminating at the main station in Skofja Loka, conveniently located just footsteps from the old town.
Check the latest bus times online here. We didn’t have much luck buying tickets online, but the option is there. For a short journey such as Ljubljana to Skofja Loka, you should be safe buying a ticket on the day as long as you arrive at the station 15-20 minutes early. In summer peak season, you might like to buy tickets in advance and pick up your return tickets as soon as you arrive in Skofja Loka.
Ljubljana to Skofja Loka by train
There is also a train service to Skofja Loka. I usually prefer to travel by train, but since Skofja Loka’s rail station is located 3km outside of town, it’s less convenient than the bus. Trains depart regularly (at least every hour) from Ljubljana, and the journey takes between 20 and 60 minutes depending on the service. From the station in Skofja Loka, you would presumably need to take a taxi the rest of the way into town. Check the latest train schedule online here.
How long to spend in Skofja Loka
As you’ve probably guessed, I recommend visiting Skofja Loka as a day trip from Ljubljana. The town is the perfect size to explore on foot, and you only really need a couple of hours to see the highlights.
Since everyone’s idea of a day trip is slightly different, I thought I’d offer a rough breakdown of the timings based on our visit to help you plan your own trip. The good news is that the bus station is right in the centre, so you don’t need to budget any extra time for getting to or from town.
– Bus from Ljubljana to Skofja Loka: 40 minutes
– Lunch: 1 hour
– Pustal, including the church climb: 1.5 hours
– Skofja Loka Castle (exterior & grounds only): 1 hour
– With museum visit or castle walk: 2–2.5 hours
– Old Town: 1 hour
– Return Skofja Loka to Ljubljana: 40 minutes–1 hour depending on evening traffic
I recommend budgeting at least 5.5 hours to do Skofja Loka justice.
Things to do in Skofja Loka
Here are my favourite things to do in Skofja Loka. Everything mentioned here can be reached by foot from the bus station.
Arrival in Skofja Loka & orientation
When you jump off the bus, walk behind the station building, past the cafe, and head towards town. The first view you get is of the jaw-droppingly beautiful Capuchin bridge. One look, and you’ll instantly thank yourself for choosing to visit Skofja Loka. The crescent bridge was built on orders from King Leopold in the 14th century, making it one of the oldest of its kind in Europe.
Cross the bridge and walk towards the main square. The Tourist Information Office is located on your left as you enter. Google Maps works well in Skofja Loka, but I still recommend stopping by the office to pick up a paper map. There are friendly staff on hand to answer any questions you might have.
Eat lunch inside the Skofja Loka granary
First things first: If you’re visiting Skofja Loka as a day trip, you’ll probably be arriving around lunch time. The town has an excellent food and wine scene—there’s even a special project designed to preserve the area’s culinary heritage.
Most tourists head to the nearest pizza parlour—but not us. We were pretty darn impressed with the Slovenian food we’d already tried in Ljubljana, so we ventured beyond the Old Town to a traditional restaurant instead.
The most atmospheric eatery in Skofja Loka, Gostilna Kašča is located in the basement of the old granary—the second-most important building in town after Loka Castle. Perfectly restored and lovingly maintained by the family who runs the restaurant, it’s a really special experience to sit inside a building of such historical value.
The kitchen specialises in local cuisine, including a dish called ‘Skofja Loka Mix‘: Sausage, beans, millet and smoked pork. Originally served to Skofja Loka’s professional beggars every Friday by the friar at the nearby Capuchin Monastery, the recipe has been passed down through the generations and is still a favourite.
As you can see, that’s not what we ordered! I couldn’t go past the homemade gnocchi with pesto and cherry tomatoes. Ross can recommend the Carniolan sausages with potato salad. There is a small museum and gallery on the upper floor of the granary which you can visit after you eat.
Venture over the Sora to Pustal
Skofja Loka is located at the confluence of the Selska Sora and Poljanska Sora rivers. Before you explore the Old Town proper, I recommend popping over the river to Pustal for the best views of the town. To get there from the granary, walk down Spodnji trg square before turning left onto the first bridge across the river.
Pustal is known for its vernacular houses, many of which are in desperate need of some TLC. These are interspersed with modern chalets. More residential than the Old Town, it’s a good place to get a feel for what life is like in present-day Skofja Loka. Pustalski Grad, the 18th century chapel on the corner as you cross the bridge, features Renaissance cut-stone detailing on its facade, and frescoes by Italian Giulio Quaglio that date back to 1706. It’s just one example of Pustal’s notable architecture.
Climb Hribec hill to the Church of St. Cross for the best views in town
Hribec hill rises 380m above Skofja Loka. The pilgrimage route from the foot of the hill to the Church of St. Cross is marked with the Stations of the Cross housed in coral-coloured alcoves. Like the church, these date back to the 18th century. The way up the hill is a steep but short climb up a gravel path. As you ascend, glorious views of Skofja Loka and the castle start to come into view.
The Church of St. Cross was built at the beginning of the 18th century when the land Pustal now sits on was acquired by a Skofja Loka townsman. The church is modest on the outside, but has some fascinating stories attached to it. The former gatekeeper, a man named Anton Kosenina, lived in a hut nearby and moonlighted as a medicine man, offering salves to religious pilgrims.
Mr Bernick, the modern-day gatekeeper, lives in the house next door and can open up the church for visitors on request. Since it was a public holiday when we visited Skofja Loka, we decided it best to leave him in peace and just take in the views from the top, which is the real highlight anyway. A stone wall wraps around the church offering panoramic views of the town and countryside beyond. On a clear day, you can see all the way out to the Julian Alps. Had we gone inside the church, we would have seen the grand alter, which was crafted in a Franciscan workshop in Ljubljana.
Cross the Devil’s Footbridge back to Skofja Loka
Get back to Skofja Loka via a different route, this time crossing Hudiceva bridge, a wooden foot brige just south of the main bridge. If you picked up a tourist map, you will notice this bridge is marked with an intriguing icon: A frog holding a comb.
As with the church, there is a creative local legend associated with the bridge. Historically, the craftsmen who settled in Pustal were renowned for the wooden hair combs they made and traded at the market. Every weekend, they would carry a load of combs across the river by boat (there was no bridge in those days). According to the legend, the devil himself dwelled in a cave in the stream and was in the habit of upturning boats as they crossed, sending the craftsmen and their combs to the bottom of the river bed. Pustal’s residents built a footbridge to overcome this nuisance and relegated the devil to live under a rock. In revenge, the devil unleashed a plague of frogs into Pustal’s puddles as a way of eternally disturbing their sleep with maddening croaking. The devil then launched a rock at the wooden bridge, intending to destroy it. It survived, and this explains why the bridge has a bend in the middle. In the end, the devil was driven away after a shrine dedicated to St. John Nepomuk, patron of bridges, was erected halfway along Hudiceva bridge (you can see it today).
Legends aside, the bridge is in a very pretty setting and sure beats walking on the main road. It’s possible to (carefully) climb underneath the bridge onto the rocks for a closer look at the rapids. From the Skofja Loka end of the bridge, it’s a quick walk north to reach the Old Town.
Explore Skofja Loka’s main square, Mestni trg
Considering Skofja Loka’s relatively small size, its main piazza, Mestni trg, is huge. The open space is more of a rectangular shape than a square. The Mark of Mary, three statues and an alter sculpted in 1751 from local rock as a token of gratitude for surviving the Great Plague, sits on one side of the way.
The perimeter is lined with historic buildings, the most striking of which is the 16th-century Old Town Hall, which features Baroque frescoes on its exterior.
At the southern end of the square, Zigon House, a former merchant’s mansion also from the 16th century, is noted for its stonework and vaulted archway. Further south in the narrowest part of the square, Martin House is one of the most distinct buildings in Skofja Loka. Built as an extension of the town wall in the 14th century, you can still see how the stonework melts into the house. It formed part of Skofja Loka’s defense, and once sat next to Poljane Gate and a guard tower. Other notable buildings on Mestni trg include the Old Parson’s House and Homan House, which we’ll return to later.
From the northern end of the square, you can walk back over the Capuchin Bridge, just past the bus station, to visit the Baroque-style, 1709-built Capuchin Church. Many Slovenians know Skofja Loka as the birthplace of the Skofja Loka Passion Play, the oldest known dramatic text written in the Slovene language. It’s possible to see its manuscripts inside the Capuchin Church Library. The town also hosts performances of the play—but only every six years.
Just beyond the main square, Skofja Loka’s narrow alleyways open up into Spodnji trg. The Church of Spital sits at one end and the granary at the other.
Visit the smaller square, Cankarjev trg
The more diminutive of Skofja Loka’s twin plazas, Cankarjev trg is a sparse little square dominated by the Church of St. Jacob. Also called The Parish Church, the building’s foundations date back to the 1200s. Modest on the outside, the inside is lavishly decorated with a black marble alter, chandeliers and starry arches. The design was the vision of Joze Plecnik, Slovenia’s most acclaimed architect, who was also responsible for most of Ljubljana’s notable buildings and bridges. Reliefs in the roof joints depict the church’s patrons and supporters of Skofja Loka’s craft guilds.
Located behind the church, the oldest school house in Skofja Loka dates back to 1538. Its distinguishing feature is a stone plaque on the facade which is clearly visible as you descend the stairs. It bears the coat-of-arms of the Loka nobleman Mihael Papler, the building’s patron.
As you continue walking uphill, stop in at the pink-coloured Nun’s Church, which is said to be connected to Loka Castle via a secret passageway.
Visit Loka Castle & Museum
If your legs are up for another steep climb, ascend the pathway to the Skofja Loka Castle before dusk settles on Skofja Loka. Views are less spectacular than those from Pustal, but you do get a good look at the city wall from the grassy knoll behind the castle.
Inside the castle, the Loka Museum displays a vast collection of historical art, handicrafts, taxidermy and weaponry. There’s also a preserved chapel and a few rooms set aside for war history exhibitions. We were really impressed by both the scale and the set-up of the museum and wish we could have stayed longer. In the castle grounds, there is a modest ‘open-air museum’ that features wells, reconstructed houses, and a few other landmarks.
The museum is open from 10am until 6pm Tuesday to Sunday (closed Mondays) and entrance costs 5 Euro.
Walk the Three Castle Path
If you’d rather be outdoors, as an alternative to visiting the Loka Museum you might choose to walk the Three Castle Path. This loop track, which leads through dense forest up a steady incline behind the city wall, connects Loka Castle with the Tower on Kranclju and Wild Loka Castle, which pre-dates the main fortification. First marked out in 1895 by Slavko Flis who is credited with founding tourism in the Loka area, the walking route is an attraction in itself. The way is signposted with the image of a page boy stenciled onto rocks.
Finish the day with drinks at Homan House
It’s impossible to ignore the imposing white house on the corner of Skofja Loka’s main square. On closer inspection, you’ll see gorgeous external frescoes and painted black-and-white sgraffito around the building’s windows and doors, along with some interesting decorative corner brickwork. Originally a Gothic-style mansion belonging to one of the city’s well-to-do residents, Homan House was restored following an earthquake in 1511. It was then that the original frescoes, which depict soldiers and St. Christopher, were discovered.
The house was converted into a restaurant/bar and offers lunch and dinner daily. The cosy dining room is perfect for winter evenings—or if the weather is warm, you can sit on the terrace under the Linden tree.
After last drinks, it’s time to return to the bus station via the footbridge for your departure back to Ljubljana.
Or you could flip the script and stay overnight in Skofja Loka. We were seriously tempted to book a room on the fly and forget our belongings in Ljubljana—that’s how much we enjoyed our day out in this little town.
Extend your stay: Accommodation in Skofja Loka
If you want to stay a little longer in Skofja Loka—or perhaps you’re planning on overnighting there on your way to Bled from Ljubljana—there is just one hotel in the Old Town, plus a handful of guesthouses on the outskirts.
Hotel Garni Paleta is right in the centre of the action, close to the bus station and stone bridge. Budget-friendly rooms feature private bathrooms and river views.
Turistična Kmetija Megušar is the glamping equivalent of a farm stay. Set on a property north of Skofja Loka, it combines beautiful surrounds with well-appointed modern studios and private rooms. You will need your own transport to get there, however.
Have you been to Skofja Loka? Is there another day trip from Ljubljana you can recommend?