Skip The Crowds Of Venice And Head To This European City For A Romantic Canal Ride

The otherworldly allure of Venice has inspired artists and architects for centuries. From the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas to a historic Florida swimming pool, it seems that people all over the world strive to emulate the atmosphere of La Serenissima. Venice itself sees millions of visitors per year — so many in fact that as of June 2024, Italy imposed a 25-person limit on tour groups entering the city in order to better manage crowds. This comes as Venice becomes more vulnerable to rising sea levels due to climate change, with the future of the famous city worryingly in question.

If you are worried about contributing to overtourism in Venice, you do not need to go far to find a beautiful alternative. Just 149 miles from Venice is Ljubljana, the charming capital of Slovenia. This lesser-visited European nation is perhaps more famous for the picturesque Lake Bled further north, but Ljubljana has beautiful buildings and plenty of spots worth exploring in its own right. Of course, Venice's canals are one of the most popular aspects of the "Floating City," but the shimmering river that runs through the heart of Ljubljana acts as a canal of its own that is perfect for leisurely cruising.

Take a boat or paddleboard tour along the canal

The Ljubljanica River Canal cuts through the center of Ljubljana. While strolling along the banks of this canal can bring you to quaint restaurants, packed cafes, and colorful buildings with history in spades, enjoying the city by boat is a particularly relaxing experience. Boat tours leave from the canal's Ribji trg (Fish Square) pier, and visitors can opt for a boat with or without a guide. Though the boats are not gondolas like the iconic water vessels of Venice, these tourist boats are small and open enough to allow for fresh air and optimal views of the city lining the water. Book online at the Visit Ljubljana website to ensure your spots.

An even more unique way to experience the Ljubljanica River Canal is on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP). If you visit during the summer, book a SUP tour with Bananaway. Trips begin at the stylish Špica Cafe in the creative Prule neighborhood and pass by some of Ljubljana's major historical landmarks. Paddleboarders can also enjoy some swimming, with no need to worry about the canal's cleanliness. Ljubljana is renowned for being among Europe's greenest capitals regarding climate health, including water quality.

Enjoy the unique details of the canal's bridges

While walking, boating, or paddling along the Ljubljanica River Canal, pay special attention to its bridges. The Art Nouveau Dragon Bridge (Zmajski most) is a symbol of the city and a favorite of visitors and locals, thanks in no small part to the imposing dragon statues that stand on each side. The Jože Plečnik-designed Triple Bridge (Tromostovje) has lovely white railing details along its curious design and is next to the vibrant pink Franciscan Church of the Annunciation, making this part of town especially postcard-worthy. It all takes place on and around Prešeren Square, the city's main plaza featuring a statue of France Prešeren, the national poet after whom the square is named.

As previously mentioned, the Ljubljanica River Canal is in central Ljubljana, anchoring the two sides of the Slovenian capital's gorgeous old town. A trip along the canal is a fantastic way to get your bearings in town and can help you choose where to go next in the city. The Ribji trg pier is just feet from Mestni trg (Town Square), a pedestrian-friendly plaza dating back to the 12th century, surrounded by Renaissance and Baroque structures that still stand today like the Town Hall (Magistrat), making Ljubljana look like a fairy tale.